The end of the hunger strike by Alfredo Cospito (AC) on 18 April brought a first, momentary but victorious conclusion to this cycle of struggle. It was victorious because it followed two judicial decisions that eliminated the “reasons” for AC’s assignment to the 41bis regime. These were precisely the acquittal of the previous conviction for “incitement” (to violence and terrorism, through articles published in the anarchist newspaper Vetriolo) and the Constitutional Court’s rejection of the request for mandatory life imprisonment without any possibility of mitigating circumstances (in practice, actual life imprisonment). The result, the latter, will have to take shape in the forthcoming judgment of the Turin court (whose trial date is now set for 19 June), and will very probably come to pass, since it was precisely this court that raised the question of constitutionality, refusing to apply the Court of Cassation’s injunction to the mandatory life sentence. The game therefore remains open, with extended deadlines, AC’s choice is certainly the right one, and may result in a clear victory.
Politically, all this is the result of this incredible, unexpected movement of struggle and solidarity that began 11 months ago, in June 2022. Let’s retrace the essential stages and features.
1) The first phase saw the formation of a solidarity assembly in Rome, promoted by the anarchist movement closest to the prisoners, but open from the outset to all those who wanted to get involved in a mobilisation that was to last for a long time. In fact, only a handful of communists joined in. The initiatives taken were rallies in front of the headquarters of the institutions directly involved in the hyper-repressive decisions that affected Alfredo Cospito, Anna Beniamino and Juan Sorroche. The institutions responsible, the anti-terrorist apparatus and the supreme judiciary, were precisely identified and these first mobilisations were launched against them. However, these were not widely followed, and were still limited to the usual circles that had already been involved in the fight against 41bis for years.
2) Since AC declared a total hunger strike on 20 October 2022, a first qualitative leap was made. Permanent assemblies, like the one in Rome, were set up in the main cities to promote and coordinate the struggle. We’ll look at the Turin experience in more detail below, but the Rome assembly is particularly important because it is the seat of the centres of power where the greatest mobilisation effort is concentrated. It was clear from the outset that AC’s choice was a radical one, and those who knew him knew that he would go all the way, opening up an unprecedented scenario. With no precise reference to his possible physical stamina, the dynamic is one of urgency. Initiatives gradually became almost daily, coordinated with collectives and assemblies in various other towns. This gives the whole movement a very tight, constant rhythm. There is a density and diversity of initiatives and actions, including attacks, and a growing international dimension – from European countries to Latin America.
3) After a first month like this, towards the end of November, a number of public figures took a stand and articles appeared in the major newspapers. Doubts emerged about the glaring disproportion between the alleged urgency of the anarcho-insurrectionary danger and the heavy sentences handed down, including AC’s confinement to 41bis. Most of the time, doubts were expressed without questioning the legitimacy and usefulness of this detention regime. But these opinions had a knock-on effect, and the issue was given media coverage. And by always emphasising only the bad side of the anarchists (violent and, at least potentially, terrorist) at each deadline, a public debate was created. For the first time, the 41bis regime emerged from the shadows of a state secret, legitimised by the “general” stigmatisation and demonisation of its detainees.
4) Thanks to this unblocking, participation in the struggle has widened considerably. In particular, the most important sectors of antagonism and grassroots trade unionism are beginning to get involved, to confront each other in public assemblies and demonstrations. And the clear perception is spreading that this question, apparently extreme and of marginal interest, is on the contrary something which, in its seriousness, is part of the authoritarian repressive involution which is going to weigh on the whole of subordinate society, the extreme dissuasion of a whole legislative, police and penitentiary apparatus, directed against rebellions, resistance movements and, above all, against revolutionary bodies. This is how the street demonstrations between November and December swelled, with peaks of up to 2,000 participants, and how in others of a general nature – against the war, the government’s anti-social policies – the presence of our mobilisation was fully integrated, with marches and various interventions along the route.
5) At the same time, the government’s strategy of military encirclement became more and more pronounced. Each time, the police forces are equal to, or even superior to, the demonstrators. The attack posture and the various means of support are on display. A real military display, an intimidating and terrorist message. On a few occasions, attempts were made to break through the encirclement, but to no avail; but even with a wide distribution of truncheons, the repressive response stopped short of containment, without unleashing heavy and massive blows. The rain of denunciations and other preventive measures began.
6) As early as December, we started thinking about the changes to be made to the fight, taking into account the mortal risk hanging over AC. This is a factor that has a major impact on the decisions we take and the type of momentum we build. What’s more, the international, internationalist dimension comes into play. It’s really powerful and widespread. Anarchist practices have certainly been the backbone, but other components have also contributed. Ours, that of the RHI, and that of groups of prisoners linked to revolutionary organisations, like the 11 close to the DHKP-C detained in Greece. Their interventions, contemporaneous with their own hunger strike, were significant and encouraging, establishing a concrete link on the same ground of resistance to the torture of solitary confinement in the special sections, to its political use to break the political identity of the prisoners and push them to surrender.
7) January and February. Under the growing pressure of the movements, contradictions and uncertainties emerged within the authorities, but it was then at the highest level that the decisions were taken: the government, the Minister of Justice and the Court of Cassation imposed the total closure. The above-mentioned contradictions kept hope alive during the mobilisations, offering a glimpse of a possible “victory”, which is why the movement as a whole continued to grow during these two months. The brutal blow came on 24 February with the ruling of the Court of Cassation which, in the final instance, had the power to revoke the 41bis.
8) The judgement was seen as a death sentence for AC. It was at this point that a turning point was reached: the objective and method of struggle became to make the State pay a price. It was no longer a matter of seeking consensus and social enlargement, but of attack in all its forms. This was the aim of the demonstration in Turin on 4 March (defined as “urban guerrilla warfare”) and of many other actions in Italy and other countries.
9) But an unexpected glimmer of light appeared in mid-March, during the appeal against the conviction for “incitement to terrorist violence”, handed down years ago to AC and three other comrades for articles published in the anarchist newspaper “Vetriolo”. It was precisely on the basis of this (albeit minor) conviction, and therefore of the role of “inspirer” and alleged “leader of the FAI” played by AC himself from prison, that the 41bis decision was taken against him. Today, the appeal judges rejected the charges, considering that the newspaper remained in the realm of freedom of expression and that there was no evidence of an operational link with specific actions, and acquitted everyone. This is a resounding breakthrough, as it removes one of the two grounds for AC’s summons to 41bis (the other being the life sentence for attempted murder, which has not yet been handed down). In addition, AC is authorised to read a declaration document, and it is distributed. So this is the first time we’ll be able to hear exactly where he stands after May 2022. The game has been reopened, and the mobilisations are continuing, but at a less intense pace than before.
10) The turning point came on 18 April with the ruling of the Constitutional Court (no one thought they’d get there with AC still alive, after 180 days on strike). And the decision is in fact a victory: the Court denies the mandatory life sentence for certain crimes, stating that judges must always be able to weigh up mitigating circumstances. In this particular case, the mitigating circumstances were that the damage was small (a massacre with no injuries, sic!). And this is also affirmed in general, not just for his specific case, so it is a victory for the battle in the collective interest waged by AC against life imprisonment. AC calls off the strike. At this stage, it is quite possible that the Turin court, which will have to rule on this famous “massacre attack”, will return to a sentence of around 20 years’ imprisonment. This would remove the other basis for 41 bis! The trial is now set for 19 June (!)
Over the last three months, between the tombstone of 24 February and these unexpected openings, in a change of pace and intensity of the struggle, the debate has tended to focus on prospects, on how to transform what had been accumulated positively into a large-scale, long-term movement. The great value of AC’s approach lies in the fact that, based on a specific and limited objective, “Fuori Alfredo dal 41bis”, but situated in the general criticism of the regime as such and of life imprisonment, this campaign finally succeeded in combining a concrete character, which is being achieved, with a broad horizon of an antagonistic and revolutionary nature. This is rare, and its success confirms it. The next stage, however, is a delicate one, requiring political capacity and strategic planning. By seeking to overcome the precarious, movementist reality of the collectives that manage the affair.
In Turin, as in other cities, from the start of the AC hunger strike, the need to be active and mobilise was expressed, giving rise to a metropolitan assembly. A weekly assembly, mainly run by the Cassa Antirepressione delle Alpi occidentali, in which some communists (including comrades from the RHI) took an active part, trying to make their own contributions, albeit in a clear minority. Together with other communist comrades from the Cassa di Resistenza Territoriale, we tried to broaden the debate, integrating the fight against 41 bis and the prison into the general wave of repression and social regression: from exploitative conditions in the workplace to rampant impoverishment, from environmental devastation and territorial plundering to racist and patriarchal violence.
The assembly sometimes managed to expand, involving other political, trade union and student organisations and different sectors of anarchism. As a unit, we organised and participated in all the initiatives, in numerous and repeated information presences in the squares, in small and large demonstrations against 41 bis and life imprisonment. At the end of AC’s hunger strike, it was decided to make the assembly a monthly event, and although the tension has eased (the emergency phase is over), we are still trying not to disperse the links that have been created and consolidated.
It has been decided to give the assembly not only a territorial but also a national dimension, by involving the assemblies of other towns in a coordination process. An initial meeting is planned for mid-June, to develop the possibilities for uniting the struggles that this intense phase of mobilisation has nurtured. The aim is to ensure that the energies gathered are not dispersed, but reorganised by continuing along the path we have begun and expanding the scope for action.
There are two permanent assemblies in Rome: the first is the more anarchist one, made up of the movement closest to AC itself, as well as others, including some communists, ourselves included. This assembly was set up immediately, in May ’22, when the seriousness of the affair became apparent, and became an open assembly. It was this assembly which, almost single-handedly, encouraged mobilisation in the months leading up to 20 October, when AC’s declaration of an all-out strike effectively shook many circles and finally broadened participation. It is also growing stronger and continues to be a major driving force. At the same time, especially since December, other struggles, such as that of students and academics who are facing increasing and specific repression, are also beginning to intersect. So a second permanent assembly centred on La Sapienza (Rome’s historic university campus) was set up, with a well-attended public meeting as its opening act. Its characteristic feature is, of course, its youth, which gives it a great deal of energy and momentum, but with limits to its politicisation, so that it develops on its own, in its own time of maturation. At the same time, the rather identity-based nature of the first Assembly does not facilitate a path of convergence. There is, in fact, a parallel path of unity in the streets, within the timeframe of mobilisation, but not beyond.
On the other hand, a real dividing line appeared with reformist circles. These began to coalesce around the speeches of a number of political and intellectual figures, speeches that no doubt served to break down the wall of silence and censorship, but which clearly indicated an institutional reformist horizon. MPs from the PD and the Radical Party even joined in an appeal to “die of penality”. Today, a proposal for a Committee against 41bis and repression has been launched, on the initiative of the AC lawyers. This committee is being proposed on a national scale, on the basis of a unitary intention around a “minimal common denominator”, which is, however, moving in the direction of a para-institutional reformist horizon. This is where the components of the “disobedient” movement (ex Autonomia, dissociated from its own past) and even certain former prison activists advocating a “political solution” converge. This is why there was already a political confrontation at their convocation meeting on 10 May..
This divergence of perspective goes back to questions of content and substance. It was right, as we have already said, to concentrate the struggle on a concrete and limited objective, precisely because it could be won. But, while giving strength in this way to the long-term struggle against 41bis, etc., do we think that concrete results can be achieved at the general level of these repressive regimes? Are we not living in an era of permanent repressive and militaristic closure? On an institutional level, aren’t all the parties committed to the worst liberticidal positions? Is this not part of the general imperialist, warmongering and devastating degeneration? (On the other hand, the aforementioned “democratic figures” are, moreover, completely aligned with NATO, the USA, Israel, the imperialist ENI, Leonardo, Confindustria, etc.) In short, never more than today is everything linked, everything holds together, and in a widespread formula, it’s “imperialist war and domestic war”: that’s what we have to tackle. It is on this dimension that we must situate ourselves and give ourselves a perspective for struggle and for building class strength. With the awareness that we are relying solely on our own forces, antagonistic and autonomous class forces, in a process of development and maturation, with qualitative leaps in organisation and on a strategic level.
It is to the credit of the most consistent anarchist circles that they have maintained this level, with a constant practice of direct action, aimed not only at the prison dimension but at the aforementioned nexus of “imperialist war and internal war”, the dimension of social oppression and exploitation. This is how the link was made with AC itself and with long-term prisoners, precisely insofar as they continue to defend the revolutionary perspective. We never descended to the level of a simple “victimist” and objectively reformist defence, but rather affirmed the internality of the question of political prisoners in the confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution. The torture character of 41bis is based precisely on the extortionate claim of the state to bring about surrender, political and ideological capitulation, to preventively prevent the reaggregation of a revolutionary tendency within the class conflict. The political pivot of this solidarity movement has been to align ourselves in this direction, and therefore with the reasons and continuity of our revolutionary identity (anarchist, communist, anti-imperialist). And this, together with the other objective set, against life imprisonment, made it possible to make the link with prisoners for more than 40 years. We must remember the gestures of solidarity expressed by some of them towards AC, with a stop in the exercise yard and a “casserolade” at the bars, with letters. It is very important to maintain and develop this link of content and referents, precisely as an immediate prospect in the coming months.
In all of this, the RHI acted with dignity, with characteristic interventions that helped to maintain the perspective we are talking about. However, in the absence of sufficient local consistency, it is by virtue of the credibility of the RHI’s international presence and militant history (and in this sense, the initiatives undertaken simultaneously in certain European cities have been significant). But on an organisational level, progress has not yet been made, for the good reason that the aforementioned assemblies absorb all the available energy and in a type of horizontal practice that excludes the presence of political structures. An exception to this rule is the recent Rete di collettivi e comitati di lotta in Rome, which, by basing itself precisely on specific collectives with a communist tendency, gives space to constituted entities. When we joined the network, we drafted and signed a few leaflets and a poster together. A reality which, moreover, participates in the front with the Assemblies mentioned above. A promising development, side by side. The perspective we see is precisely that of a class front, of unity in diversity, but on a clear basis of autonomy and hostility towards the institutional camp, all the more so in this phase when the latter is trying by every means possible to regiment society in its warmongering and militaristic spiral.
Proletari Torinesi per il Soccorso Rosso Internazionale (Torino e Roma)