Italy: Interview with Anarchist Prisoner Alfredo Cospito
The following text is from the second part of “Which international? Interview and dialogue with Alfredo Cospito from the Ferrara Prison,” part of a debate that some comrades are undertaking with imprisoned anarchist comrade Alfredo Cospito, published in winter 2019 in the anarchist newspaper “Vitriol” in Italian.
Analyzing the history of the movement of the exploited, of the poor, oppressed and proletarians, we see that anarchist ideas are born, nourished and developed in these contexts; on the other hand, most of the anarchists also come from there (of course there are also exceptions). These ideas were born mainly during the birth and growth of industrial capitalism (indicatively from the early 1800s to the 1970s), and up to 40 years ago, the organizations of the exploited and of the workers are mainly mass and the anarchist groups (and the individuals who are part of them) are also the fruit of that historical era. With the advent of capitalist restructuring in the 1980s, followed by a drastic change in the world of work, even anarchist action and organization undergo changes; to the classic organizations of synthesis (or mass), the less rigid structures, based on affinity and informality, are opposed. The new technological restructuring, based mainly on robotics will obviously lead to other drastic changes (mass unemployment) and the new proletarians will probably be employed in moving goods. In this context, in which the impoverishment of the proletarians (and obviously the exploitation of humans, animals and land) and the wealth of the exploiters will increase, does it still make sense to talk about class struggle? Are there still margins to involve – in the struggle for the destruction of this techno-industrial civilization – the exploited, the proletarians, the excluded? Should we try or renew forms of struggle organization?
This question starts from logical assumptions by making the organizational method depend on external conditions. But, for us anarchists, it is not all so simple, linear and logical because, not being “politicians,” in our case, the “means justify the ends,” not vice versa. Consequently, if capitalism “restructures,” it must not change our way of “organizing ourselves” because it is in the means we use that our anarchy lives.
Our luck is that the anarchist practice of informality and affinity groups has never been as close to reality as it is today. Paradoxically, we were not the ones to adapt to reality; it was reality that adapted to us. The reality has run towards us, making our practices extremely effective, which over time have become the ideal to unhinge a complex and chaotic system like the one we are forced to survive in today. Only a simple, extremely reproducible and equally chaotic, elusive and adaptable practice as informality and the affinity groups can do it. These ways of “organizing” are not an adaptation to the “capitalist restructuring” of the 1980s: since the time of Cafiero and his “propaganda of the deed,” they have always been at the base of anarchist action, so much as to characterize our organizations of synthesis. Within each anarchist synthesis organization that was posed in a revolutionary manner, there were in fact affinity groups that acted informally, often indicating the way to go and rekindling the action.
It is also absurd to think that the class struggle is over; we are immersed up to the neck, but unlike yesterday the barbarization due to the technological isolation (that each of us carries with us) deprives us of the real perception of the phenomenon in its complexity. This barbarization involves a return to primordial, wild (and therefore purer) forms of class conflict. The mediation figures “unions” and “parties” are skipped. In the most technologically “advanced” part of the world, the social subject that once characterized the oppressed class, the “proletariat,” has been replaced by an indefinite and desperate class that has no self-awareness. Meanwhile, hatred and anger have accumulated, saturating the air, making it unbreathable and ready to explode at the first spark of the right intensity. The power is well aware that despite having less than good cards in our hands, it plays them well, fueling conflicts between the poor. But they are only palliative, only slightly effective. The unions and left-wing parties no longer work. Their role has been replaced by weapons of mass distraction like racism and patriotism. But how long will it last? The strategy of putting the poor against the poorest is short sighted. The general impoverishment, due to the technological wave and the consequent unemployment, will defuse racisms and patriotisms, but only if we play our cards well. In the time necessary to settle down and to guarantee to all citizenship incomes, the system will be exposed, almost unarmed, to our attacks. In that time, the hatred will reach its climax and perhaps it will be the right time that in this unfortunate country, the anger will be directed towards the real people responsible for the misery: the State and masters.
Furthermore, the popular madness of sovereignty is undermining parliamentary democracy from its foundations. This sort of “populism” produces contrasting and irrational thrusts that are difficult to manage for the ones that triggered them. Today, the possibility of our action opening a breach becomes real. We must have clear ideas, conviction and tenacity to change hatred, to open the eyes of the exploited. Will and determination can bring back the clock of history, making us start again from where we started to lose those two irreplaceable qualities. A century ago we were overwhelmed by the force of an authoritarian “communism” that poisoned us with its fruits, “social democracy” and “dictatorship of the proletariat,” which, with their brutality, brought to the end the “myth” of the social revolution of “the sun of the future” and of anarchy as concrete prospects for total liberation. We argued in our “modernity” that we did not need “myths,” but so we killed utopia, the greatest weapon we had to subvert this world. Historically we have focused too much on rationality, on science, neglecting the instincts of revolt, the feelings, the passions underlying the human.
We have lost sight of “the possibility of making it” and this has made us so enraged that we do not recognize, for example, the greatness of the gesture of one of our brothers, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in the Arkhangelsk FSB headquarters to avenge his own comrades, tortured by Russian cops. This very young companion has acquired today the founding value of a vital anarchy, ready to play with everything in order to free this world. Things are changing fast; the anarchists are awakening from their torpor. We are witnessing phenomena unthinkable up until a few years ago, for example the spread of anarchist communism in a country like Bangladesh where the leading role of the working class remains strong. (Incidentally, it is premature to talk about the end of the working class, as for much in the southern hemisphere human labor will be cheaper than that of robots). We are witnessing the passage from the tragic failures of state communism to the hopes of anarchist communism. An important part of an entire population, the Kurdish one, would seem to have adopted a sort of “libertarian socialism,” ecologist and feminist.
Closer to my vision of anarchist practice, the informal trend acts “organizing” itself in half the world through international campaigns called by affinity groups, striking like a leopard in a chaotic and nihilistic manner. The air is saturated with electricity, this tension is felt even in this cell. Convinced, as I am, that we are inexorably going towards a “perfect storm,” we cannot afford to put aside any hypothesis of struggle. Much less can we renounce violence in all its nuances and gradations. We are relatively few, the time at our disposal is limited, we just have to play our cards well and put aside false moralisms and hesitations. If we want to have at least one possibility, we must be bearers of a more open vision, not waste precious energy trampling our feet on each other.
You ask me if you should experiment or renew forms of struggle organization; it would be more than enough if everyone put their planning into practice with conviction, tenacity and consistency. Whether it is in a social or anti-social perspective or through the informal or specific organization of synthesis or individually, the only discriminant from my point of view to avoid being an instrument of the reformists is insurrectional violence. We must start immediately, now to practice it, each according to the intensity necessary for our own planning. A strategy that does not include direct confrontation, armed with power, is destined for recovery, failure and defeat. This recovery has many names and justifications: “gradualism,” “post-anarchism,” lately Negri and Hardt have produced another one, theorising an “antagonistic reformism”. The usual sirens that justify our fears, which feed our resignation, doing a great service to power. To avoid any form of recovery, it would be enough to act as anarchists. The atrocities that cry out for vengeance are endless; we must demonstrate with the action that the king is naked, that the master can and must bleed. In company or alone, hit and aim well. If our discourse wants to become “social subversion,” it is necessary to go back to being “recognizable” and “credible.”
The “recognizability” can be obtained through the risky, clear and direct practice of the claimed actions, with or without acronyms. Or from those anonymous actions that are immediately recognizable for the objectives that strike or for the modus operandi of the action itself. Equally clear and direct can be the anarchist fragment of a procession that clashes with the police service, a block, a burning barricade that takes the guerrilla into the metropolis. A circled A drawn alongside a burning barracks speaks as clearly as a claim. If our goal is that of “social subversion,” communicating with others who are oppressed becomes a priority, and everyone understands who we are and what we want. Our media, magazines, books, sites … are not enough. They have a strong meaning in the deepening, in the improvement of our vision of reality, in the strengthening of the analysis, in the knowledge and consequently, in the development of our practices, but they are not able to affect the curtain of silence that power erects in defense of the “totalitarian democracy.” A silence, that of democracy, made of a deafening noise of endless opinions that cancel each other out. Only destructive actions manage to break through that chatter and through them our words acquire real value, managing to arrive with strength and concreteness. Television, newspapers, radios, sites are forced to talk about it, sending our message loud and clear, even to those who never dreamed of questioning the existing. We are talking about facts and words that reach millions of women and men. It is not absurd to think that someone of them can in this way become aware and become our accomplice. That would be enough to give us one more chance.
The “credibility” is instead given by the coherence between thought and action. For those who approach us, our extraneousness to leaders, hierarchies and sexisms of any kind must be clear. Those who approach our practices must know with certainty that we will never compromise with power and that no one will be left alone to face repression. The “credibility” of conquest also through the courage and consistency that we demonstrate individually when things go wrong. Once arrested, at the cost of being isolated and crushed by relentless repression, don’t give in a step. But above all it consists in the trust we gain in the field. Who joins the anarchists must have the certainty that we will never betray the word given and that it costs the goals we have set ourselves or we will succumb to it.
“Recognition” and “credibility” will cost us tears and blood and can only be achieved through desperate tenacity. Who fills the mouth of “social war” must necessarily take note of it and prepare for war. The time has come to revive the “avenging anarchy,” to return to be frightening. As difficult as it may seem, it is necessary to succeed in bringing together the suggestion of the “myth” with the reflection of “planning.” Only in this way will the “revolution” return to being a real prospect for millions of exploited people, losing its connotation of “waiting for mature times” that today makes it an empty, enemy word. Through the individual revolt, each of us, in groups or alone, one step at a time, one attack at a time will give new life to the idea of revolution, giving it a concrete, anarchic sense.
Anarchists have historically “intervened in the social,” as we would say today, with clear ideas and necessarily violent actions, in different areas and contexts. In history they have always created fear, terror and concern both to the privileged classes and to every authority, government or institution and, naturally, also to all those revolutionary authoritarian political components. Today, similarly to the level of violence that capitalism puts in place in the permanent war and in the techno-industrial society, the response of rebellion should certainly be greater than it is. However, if on the one hand we find at the social level, citizenship struggles that already start with a certain type of political orientation and also fringes of the antagonism that put into effect logics of recovery of the social conflict, such as: the political candidacy, institutional bargaining, the regularization (occupied house), authoritarian drifts, peaceful strikes, providing a good shore pad on which the system can count on supporting; on the other hand, there is also a movement of radical opposition and living solidarity, despite the fact that in recent years there has been a decline and a reduction in conflict, even by anarchists. What worries most, and from which no one is exempt, is the condition of loss and lack of preparation that returns despite interesting moments and opportunities in some contexts of struggle. Expressions, such as “intervention in the social,” or “real struggle,” have become semantic games, words that can sometimes justify a secular, alternative, associational policy among many. In your opinion, it should not be of interest to anarchists, revolutionaries, to lead and push to a desirable level of confrontation and conflict with the State, against private property, with violent means and practices, instead of seeking strategic-political mediators with the legalistic and institutional civil society?
I can only agree with you and answer “yes” to your question. I go further by telling you that the first wall we find to defend the system is precisely these recovery logics, these “strategic-political mediators” as you call them. Accepting the logic right now that this wall is cracking is more than ever suicidal and despite everything, even today, in this period of systemic crisis, too many “anarchists and revolutionaries” fall into the trap without even realizing it. Every time we avoid the street clash because a “communicative” parade was decided in the assembly. Every time during the strike, one submits to the decisions taken by the “base” representatives, avoiding the violent “suicide” clash with the cops. Whenever media is moving towards peace in order to maintain its occupied home or social center, this wall is strengthened. At the base of this reinforcement is the continuous postponement of the violent and armed conflict with the system. We should find the courage to stand against the majority of our own comrades and take on the responsibility of raising the level of confrontation. Only the angry impetus of individual initiative, bypassing the “rationality” of assemblies can give us this strength, defeating hesitations and fears. But strength and courage are not enough, one must also have a certain lucidity. Despite the opportunities that the times give us, we cannot take advantage of the opportunities presented to us. Our efforts must be dispersed; we are at the forefront of any conflict, street clash; in many cases, it is we with our decision and initiative to strengthen the “movements,” but then the fruits are collected by others. Our message appears blurred; it cannot take flight. It is increasingly our action to make these movements visible and to strengthen, but then? It is as if something is missing and that something, from my point of view, is the armed actions that should, in a clear and punctual way, stand alongside, even in different times and spaces, the various struggles, giving more space to our message, to our struggle in the street.