n Many people across the world know Antonio Negri as aninternationally renowned political thinker whose book, Empire,co-authored with Michael Hardt, is an international bestseller.
Much less well known is the fact that, up until 1979, Negri wasa university professor teaching in Paris and Padova. On April 7th,1979 he was arrested, charged with the murder of Italian politicianAldo Moro, accused of 17 other murders, of being the head of theRed Brigades and of fomenting insurrection against the state. Hehas since been absolved of all these accusations, but thanks to theemergency laws in Italy at the time, he was sentenced to 30 yearsin prison. Then, in July 1983, he was elected as a member ofparliament, which meant that he was released from prison after fourand a half years of preventive detention. After months of debate,the Lower House decided to strip him of his parliamentary immunityD by 300 votes in favour and 293 against. At that point heleft Italy for exile in France where he remained until 1997 andcontinued to maintain his innocence of all the crimes of which hewas accused.
This book is Negri's diary in which he tells of hisimprisonment, trial, the elections, and his escape to and exile inFrance. Both personal and political, it recounts a little knownaspect of Negri's life and will be of great interest to anyoneconcerned with the work of this enormously influential politicalthinker.
24 February to 24 May 1983: Folios 1–37
24 February. Thursday. Morning wake-up call at 6.30. I am very tense. For four years I have been waiting for this fateful – is that the word? – day. I am already tired as I come to wakefulness. The sky is dark, but you can see that it is a cold crystalline blue, as often happens in Rome at this time of year. We come down to the disgusting narrow little cells. We wait. I read the graffiti on the walls. The body searches begin. Then we’re chained together, four at a time, and we’re loaded into the vans. The helicopter arrives. Buzzing overhead. A barking of military-style orders. Swarms of motorcycle police. We wait in the trucks. A joke or two among the comrades. Then our very noisy convoy moves off. Roads blocked off, guns pointing everywhere, one truck with a soldier in a kind of armoured turret, ready to shoot. Continuous stream of radio babble, the kind of thing you hear in the movies: ‘Panther calling Eagle … Swan replying …’ We’ve left the quiet of prison behind us. Now we’re caught in the trappings of war. We stretch to peer out of the windows of our van. People look alarmed as we pass. Green grass along the outlying roads where they’re taking us. Then, finally, the bunker, the infamous Foro Italico. Again we wait. By 10.30 a.m. we are in court. It’s taken four hours to get here. Is it going to be like this every time? I’m done for. We enter the specially built cages in the courtroom, with the cameras and TV crews homing in on us. ‘Cheese, cheese.’ Do you know what it’s like to have spent a year, a month, even a day, in prison? ‘Cheese, cheese.’
Enter the judges. The repressive machine seems to thrive on this concocted routine. The stage-setting is antiquated, and the spectacle of force does nothing to remove the sense of anachronism. The machine, however, enjoys its airs and graces. Silence – apart from the continuing click, click of the cameras. ‘Cheese, cheese.’ No, this court is a useless add-on. This trial is already a foregone conclusion for the institutions. Why carry on the pretence? How can there be any hope of finding justice in this trial, prejudiced as it is by four years of preventive detention? The cameras click and the film cameras whir. ‘Cheese, cheese.’ It’s hard to take in everything that’s going on. Right at the back of this huge armed encampment we can see friends, relations and comrades. I’m terribly short-sighted, so the comrades point people out to me: ‘Look, there’s X, and there’s Y …’. An equation with too many unknowns. However, in this feverish excitement I pretend that I too can see. Greetings, emotion. Santiapichi, the judge, starts. Giuliano, my lawyer, also starts. They exchange formalities, which seem like mafia signals. The problem this morning is how we are going to get out of a particularly absurd situation: today, apart from being on trial in Rome, I am also supposed to be on trial in Milan. The formality of their exchanges does nothing to conceal the fierce irrationality of the whole proceedings.
The court adjourns. We go down to the cells. We wait there for hours and hours. The machine grinds away, the handcuffs cut into your wrists, the court decides …
You might wonder how the court can make a decision in a situation like this. But it will decide, that’s for sure. It has to decide. And thus the decision will conclude this imbalanced – I would say incoherent and ferocious – trial dialectics. So we won’t go to Milan – we’ll stay in Rome? We’ll see tomorrow. Ah, mysterious decisionism [decisionismo], what a vulgar situation you have fallen into! We return to prison, physically exhausted. I experience a strange and horrible happiness at being back in my cell. I throw myself onto my bed. I want to sleep. The other comrades ask how it went. Finally I take a book, in the hope of getting off to sleep. Starobinski, Transparency and Obstruction. I can’t sleep. My mind is caught up in the plot of the story. Rousseau as a Hölderlinian hero – but this trial of ours, is it not in reality a persecution of the ‘beautiful soul’ of the movement? Enough! Thought cannot stoop to concern itself with this trial. Reaching out, I pick up another book from the floor, the first that comes to hand. It is an issue of the German journal Alternative, the latest to arrive and also the last of the series. The comrades are saying ‘1968 is finished’. Alternative ran for more than ten years as a sourcebook within the movement. Now the story has come to an end, gentlemen, and another story is starting.
This picking up of a book from the pile is somehow symbolic. I laugh. It’s like Erasmus picking out a page of the Bible at random, or myself as a child opening random pages of Leopardi. So the party is starting over, says the casual soothsayer. Maybe that is the case in Germany. But here everything’s carrying on just the same. Including this infamous trial. I read, distractedly. The caricatural machine of justice is writ large before me, and I see how it is shored up by the daily torment of prison and the ferocious stage-setting of the trial. Four long years. And then, all of a sudden, I see the faces of Paola and Rossana, of those faithful old witnesses to truth. A sudden doubt rises in me. Maybe in this trial truth cannot win. This enlightenment of ours, this communist hope of ours, which does not surrender. Tell the truth, shout the truth. But what is truth in a political trial? On the one side – the stage-setting, the machinery, the dramatization. On the other – this wounded humanity of ours. Four years of preventive imprisonment. A great heap of memories, passions and suffering. And, first and foremost, a revolutionary passion lived to the limit, the joy of transformation. Two worlds. This trial is pitting two worlds against each other. It is recomposing life in the form of legality. No, this cannot be done … ‘Cheese, cheese.’ They, too, know that it’s not possible. That’s the reason why nothing surrounding this trial has any rationality to it. The courtroom cages, the handcuffs, the hours and hours of waiting in the cells. No, they don’t want the truth. They want the ritual. They want a sacrifice. Legality is restored in the symbolic, not in the rational. Paola, Rossana, why are you there, loyal, full of reason and beautiful? Go away! This is Aztec justice. Giuliano, why do you continue playing the lawyer, you who know about these things? At last I drop off to sleep. Just for a while. I dream that I am sleeping on a mattress full of knives and spears. The density of the institutions? How many times have you recalled me to that? ‘Merde. Cheese.’ And yet I am serene. I smile. Pietro wakes me with a kiss. I sit down to write. (G12 Rebibbia – 24 February)
Second day of the trial. It’s going to be postponed until 7 March. In other words, until Milan decides to release me from the trial that I am supposed to be undergoing up north. What looked at first like a great procedural mess has been sorted out and becomes insignificant. But the fact remains that I still have to undergo two trials – one here in Rome, for insurrection and for having supposedly set up an armed band, and the other in Milan, for crimes (demonstrations, robberies and so on) which, according to the prosecution, substantiate and demonstrate both the ‘armed band’ charge and the charge of insurrection. First the sentencing in Rome, and then the proofs in Milan. There’s always something new to learn – absurdity is never sufficiently appreciated in our life. To arrive at this crazy result, which presumably he thinks is a neat operation, the president of the court is playing for time. He wants to wind up today’s proceedings without having the charges read out, so as to delay the formal opening of our trial; he wants to avoid a situation in which we end up being judged ‘simultaneously’ in both Rome and Milan. The likelihood is that this would make one of the two trials collapse: most probably the one in Rome, under his jurisdiction. In short, two trials on the same evidence is fine, but those two trials taking place simultaneously is not fine. The contradiction within the system has to be controlled and contained, so that ‘systemic circulation’ is maintained. The contradictory fact is put out of the way. However, this operation of systemic logic is happening in the most banal fashion. Sometimes the spectacle is downright comical. For Santiapichi, it is a question of ownership: he has a property to be defended. For Abbate, the assistant judge, the problem is how to get into a position where he can pass the sentence he already has in his pocket, ready-made. Great confusion in court, a fluttering of robes and continuous sharp interchanges on all sides: between the court president and the lawyers, between the lawyers and the aggrieved parties, between the lawyers and the prosecuting counsel, and between the latter and the president. Our friends – Massimo, Giacomo, Marco – watch the scene in a state of consternation. Myself much...
"At once a narration of philosophy, politics and personal memoir. The experience of the oppressed political prisoner divests the courts of their own web of rationality, exposing the system which upholds the semblance of justice."
Irish Left Review
"No one who seeks to comment on global capitalism or the movements opposing it can afford to ignore Negri. He remains one of Europe's few truly public intellectuals."
Katharine Ainger, The New Statesman (The New Statesman list of 12 great thinkers of our time)
"A guru of the post-modern left."
"One of the most important thinkers of our time."