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Anatomy of the Red Brigades: The Religious Mind-set of Modern Terrorists



The Red Brigades were a far-left terrorist group in Italy formed in 1970 and active all through the 1980s. Infamous around the world for a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings, and bank robberies intended as a "concentrated strike against the heart of the State," the Red Brigades' most notorious crime was the kidnapping and murder of Italy's former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978. In the late 1990s, a new group of violent anticapitalist terrorists revived the name Red Brigades and killed a number of professors and government officials. Like their German counterparts in the Baader-Meinhof Group and today's violent political and religious extremists, the Red Brigades and their actions raise a host of questions about the motivations, ideologies, and mind-sets of people who commit horrific acts of violence in the name of a utopia. In the first English edition of a book that has won critical acclaim and major prizes in Italy, Alessandro Orsini contends that the dominant logic of the Red Brigades was essentially eschatological, focused on purifying a corrupt world through violence. Only through revolutionary terror, Brigadists believed, could humanity be saved from the putrefying effects of capitalism and imperialism. Through a careful study of all existing documentation produced by the Red Brigades and of all existing scholarship on the Red Brigades, Orsini reconstructs a worldview that can be as seductive as it is horrifying. Orsini has devised a micro-sociological theory that allows him to reconstruct the group dynamics leading to political homicide in extreme-left and neonazi terrorist groups. This "subversive-revolutionary feedback theory" states that the willingness to mete out and suffer death depends, in the last analysis, on how far the terrorist has been incorporated into the revolutionary sect. Orsini makes clear that this political-religious concept of historical development is central to understanding all such self-styled "purifiers of the world." From Thomas Müntzer's theocratic dream to Pol Pot's Cambodian revolution, all the violent "purifiers" of the world have a clear goal: to build a perfect society in which there will no longer be any sin and unhappiness and in which no opposition can be allowed to upset the universal harmony. Orsini's book reconstructs the origins and evolution of a revolutionary tradition brought into our own times by the Red Brigades.
Alessandro Orsini
Ithaca and London
Originally published in Italian as Alessandro Orsini,
Anatomia delle Brigate rosse: Le radici ideologiche del terrorismo
rivoluzionario, by Rubbettino Editore S.r.l., Viale Rosario
Rubbettino n. 10, 88049 Soveria Mannelli (CZ), Italy.
Copyright © 2009 by Rubbettino Editore,
English translation copyright © 2011 LUISS University of
Rome “Guido Carli”
English translation first published 2011 by Cornell
University Press
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review,
this book, or parts thereof, must not be reproduced in any
form without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information, address Cornell University Press, Sage
House, 512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York 14850.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Orsini, Alessandro, 1975–
[Anatomia delle Brigate rosse. English]
Anatomy of the Red Brigades : the religious mind-set of
modern terrorists / Alessandro Orsini ; translated from the
Italian by Sarah J. Nodes.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8014-4986-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Brigate rosse. 2. Ideology. 3. Terrorism. I. Title.
HV6433.I82R436313 2011
363.3250945—dc22 2010047281
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Introduction 1
1. The Pedagogy of Intolerance 9
The Revolutionary Vocation 9
Violence as the Only Way 14
The “Binary Code” Mentality 17
Political Violence and Social
Marginality 21
Eschatological Politics 26
2. The Sacralization of Politics 30
The “Fanaticism of a New Religion” 30
Radical Catastrophism 33
The Revolutionary Sect and the
Obsession with Purity 36
The Hatred of Reformists 42
3. Toward the Bloodshed 48
Daily Life in a Revolutionary Sect 48
The Red Brigades’ Organization Plan 54
The Blood Crime and Its “Story” 58
The Path to Bloodshed 66
Shedding Blood and the Role of the
Revolutionary Sect 83
The Detachment from the Surrounding
World 89
4. The Genesis of the Red Brigades 93
The Red Brigades’ Social Roots 93
The “Cultural Lag” Theory 108
When Were the Red Brigades Born? 118
The Red Brigades: “Imbeciles” or
Real Revolutionaries? 122
Antonio Gramsci and the “Hour
of Redemption” 125
The Italian Communist Party’s Role in
the Genesis of the Red Brigades 131
An Oxymoron: The “Leninist-
Reformist” Party 147
5. The Masters of the Red Brigades 155
Illustrious Predecessors: Thomas
Müntzer 155
John of Leiden, King and
Revolutionary 162
The English Revolution and the
Puritan Movement 165
The French Revolution and the
Jacobin Experiment 170
Babeuf: “The world has plunged
into chaos” 184
Karl Marx’s Pantoclastic Dream 187
The Revolutionary Tradition of
Russian Populism 196
6. The Purifiers of the World in Power 208
Lenin and State Terrorism 208
The Bolshevik Revolution and the
“Victims of the Victims” 213
The Gulag, or The Promise Kept 217
Mao and the Myth of the “New Man” 226
The Cambodian Revolution 237
Not a Conclusion: Portrait of a
Red Brigadist 253
Appendix: Red Brigades and Black Brigades 263
A Note on Method 285
Bibliography 289
Index of Names 313
It is a frightening idea that envy, resentment,
and hate can sometimes have a decisive effect on the course of history. A
rational vision of politics, in which the actors’ choices are always based on a
cost-benefit calculation, is much more reassuring.1
In this book I tell the story of a pathos that became a political movement
and kept an entire country under siege for almost twenty years, leading it to
the brink of civil war.2 We’re talking not about an army but about a handful
1. J. Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory.
2. According to the comparative analysis of modern terrorism by G. Chaliand and A. Blin (“Dal
1968 all’islamismo radicale, 243), “Italy was by far the country most affected by terrorist activities
between 1969 and 1985. The latest figures on terrorist violence in Italy in the 1969–2007 period are
given by L. Manconi, Terroristi italiani, 22ff. A total of 333 people were killed in attacks and massacres
in Italy between 1969 and 2007. Of these, 144 can be ascribed to left-wing terrorism, 54 to right-
wing terrorism; 135 were killed in massacres. Victims of international terrorism are not included. No
less impressive are the statistics concerning damage to things and violence against people. Between
1969 and 1980 12,690 political attacks were recorded. Of these, 4,035 were carried out between
1969 and 1974, and 8,655 from 1975 to 1980. Out of a total of 362 victims, 92 (25 percent) died
during the first period, 270 (75 percent) in the second. Between 1969 and 1974, 63 people were
victims of right-wing and 9 of left-wing terrorist attacks, and 10 were killed in shoot-outs with
the police; for the remaining 10 the identity of the attackers is unknown. Between 1975 and 1980,
115 people were killed by right-wing terrorists, 110 by left-wing ones, 29 by the police, and 16 by
unknowns. The least blood was shed in 1971 (6 deaths), the most in 1980 (135 deaths). The great-
est number of people were wounded during the late seventies (551, including 200 in Bologna alone
in 1980). At least 75 people had been “kneecapped” up to December 1978. See M. Galleni, ed.,
of men and women animated by a fierce ideological determination. The
story of the Red Brigades and their homicidal fury is the story of a sociopsy-
chological process that strips the victim of humanity.
I call this process the “pedagogy of intolerance.
The immediate object of pedagogical theories, as Émile Durkheim teaches
us, is to guide behavior. Such theories do not identify with the action but
prepare for it.3 The pedagogy of intolerance finds its raison d’être in action; it
is itself a tool of social change. Before being killed, the enemy is degraded to a
subhuman species. For the Red Brigade terrorist who has finished his or her
educational pathway, the enemy is a “pig”4 who arouses “absolute loathing.5
When the enemy becomes a “filthy pig,6 his life no longer has any value.
Political homicide in the ultra-left terrorist groups is above all a narrative,
a unilateral version of the facts without cross-examination; the world is a
“marsh”7 immersed “in the gloom of political slavery.8 There are some
men responsible for this state of affairs. Killing them is an “act of justice”;9
Rapporto sul terrorismo; see also H. Hess, La rivolta ambigua, 125. For figures on “kneecapping,” see
G. Dossena, “Il polpaccio nel mirino,” 30–41.
3. E. Durkheim, L’educazione morale, 466.
4. Comunicato no. 1—D’Urso Campaign. Red Brigades document issued on 13 December 1980.
It states: “On Friday 12 December, an armed nucleus of the Red Brigades captured and placed in a
people’s prison the bastard, slave driver of thousands of workers, Giovanni D’Urso, judge, director-
general of the Ministry of Justice. This pig is chiefly responsible for the treatment of all proletarian
prisoners in both normal and special prisons. Everything that, in compliance with the directives
imparted by the imperialistic head offices, concerns the prisoners’ general and particular treatment,
the differentiation between prisons, the transfers, the tortures, and the political-psychic-physical an-
nihilation goes through his hands. Or rather went, because he is now in a people’s prison and will
be judged by that proletariat that the pig believed he could massacre with impunity” (see www.
5. Document claiming responsibility for the Labate kidnapping issued on 12 February 1973. Bruno
Labate was a manager at Cisnal. Now in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:217.
6. Red Brigades document claiming responsibility for the Taliercio kidnapping issued on 11 June
1981. Giuseppe Taliercio was a director of the Montedison petrochemical company in Marghera.
Kidnapped on 20 May 1981, his body was found riddled with sixteen bullets on 5 July 1981. Some
extracts from this document are published in M. Clementi, Storia delle Brigate rosse, 299, from which
I quote.
7. V. I. Lenin, Che fare? 39. Lenin writes: “We are marching in a compact group along a pre-
cipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by
enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely
adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbor-
ing marsh. . . . Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free . . . to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the
marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every
assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word
“freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but
also against those who are turning toward the marsh!”
8. Ibid., 45.
9. The Red Brigadist Giulia Borelli speaking to L. Guicciardi, Il tempo del furore, 251. Borelli
says, “What is most amazing, thinking back with a different mentality and maturity, is the naturalness
with which we came to accept (and I personally accepted) the idea of political homicide as a positive
a loving gesture toward humanity awaiting an “apocalyptic palingenesis.10
The enemy is a “monster.11
In brief, this is the thesis that I propose to illustrate and document through
the history of the Red Brigades.
What do brigadists think as they are about to kneecap the enemy? What
group dynamics and mental processes enable them to perform and justify
shedding blood? Where do they find the strength and psychological support
to live constantly at war with the world around them? To tackle these ques-
tions we have to attempt to see the world through the eyes of professional
revolutionaries. We have to reconstruct the Red Brigades’ mental universe,
which “sees politics as indivisible from the use of force”12 and is based on the
“denial of reality.13 Renato Curcio, Alberto Franceschini, Margherita Cagol,
Mario Moretti, Mario Galesi, and Nadia Desdemona Lioce, to cite just some
of the more famous names, are all part of a shared history: the history of revo-
lutionary gnosticism and of the pedagogy of intolerance—the educational
process that turns the rebel into a professional revolutionary.
A few notes on the phenomenon of revolutionary gnosticism are neces-
sary to help the reader understand the interpretative key used in this book.
In a literal sense, “gnosis” (from the Greek verb meaning “to know”) is a
superior knowledge, to which only some have access (the elect). Understood
as a sociological category, gnosis is an approach to the great issues of human
existence.14 The gnostic mentality has some recurring themes. I will focus on
three: waiting for the end,15 radical catastrophism, and obsession with purity.
The gnostic design can be summarized as follows: the world is immersed in
pain and sin; it is populated with “infected” presences that attack the purity
of the elect; the last day is near, when evil people will be punished for their
form of battle, that is even an act of justice in a certain sense. It is also very difficult to explain how
I could have arrived at this junction. I have to admit that things had become so contorted that, when
we discussed serious actions, for me it was also a matter of choice in which I certainly did not ques-
tion the matter in itself.
10. The interpretation of Marxism as a “religious” phenomenon is now accepted by the most
famous Marxist historians. See E. J. Hobsbawm, Il secolo breve, 92: “Like the early Christians, the ma-
jority of Socialists before 1914 believed in a great apocalyptic palingenesis that would have canceled
out all social evils and would have established a society without unhappiness, oppression, inequality,
and injustice. Alongside the millenarianist hope, Marxism offered the guarantee of a doctrine that
was proclaimed scientific and the idea of historic inevitability; the October revolution then offered
the proof that the palingenesis had begun.
11. Lenin, Che fare? 59.
12. D. Novelli and N. Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 197. I quote the brigadist Nitta.
13. Ibid., 240. I quote the brigadist Silvia Arancio.
14. See M. Introvigne, Le sette cristiane, 15–16.
15. See G. Filoramo, L’attesa della fine, 64: “There is a moment in the myth in which the different
gnostic traditions appear not only to run in parallel but almost to flow into the same doctrinal bed in
which any detailed distinctions are superfluous. This moment is ‘the end time.
misdeeds. The gnostic revolution is a political practice that yearns for an
“absolutely perfect world.16 “I imagined a future in which every wrong
would be righted, every inequality repaired, every injustice corrected. . . . This
justified the means that we would have used,” explains the brigadist Anna
Laura Braghetti.17
Typical of the Red Brigades’ mentality is their apocalyptic vision of his-
tory. Their “search for the absolute means that politics becomes a religious
issue and the revolution the mundane form of the mystic.18 In their docu-
ments, the revolution is “an immediate idea of radical change, of upturning
the foundations,19 which will free men from every form of suffering and
unhappiness after “a series of battles that mark the beginning of the last war:
the class war for a communist society.20 The revolution—we read in the
document claiming responsibility for Marco Biagi’s murder—“is a historic
necessity.21 The brigadist Gianluca Codrini said that the Red Brigades con-
sidered themselves “knights of a bloody apocalypse.22 The brigadist Enrico
Fenzi was convinced the revolution would be an apocalypse that would re-
generate the world. He never wondered about the future. His millenarian-
ist faith nailed him to the here and now. In his words: “I’ve never had any
particular ability to imagine the new, I’ve never contributed to a novel and
positive scenario! No, I’d say there was an apocalyptic type of vision rather than
a vision projected toward the future.23 In the words of the Red Brigades, the
person who embraces the revolution is “the Christ who sacrifices himself
to redeem humanity.24 “In those years, the brigadist Mario Ferrandi recalls,
16. G. Filoramo, Il risveglio della gnosi ovvero come si diventa Dio, 13. Filoramo made the following
distinction between ancient and modern gnosis: “Ancient gnosis, with its concept of an evil world
supported by an ignorant or wicked demiurge, introduced an atheism in our cosmos based on the
absolute transcendence of the unknown God, whereas the modern gnosis, whose most significant
representative is Marxism, depreciates the present world in the name of an absolutely new future
aeon. In other words, while the former tells you how to free the soul from the prison of the cosmos,
the latter tells you how to construct an absolutely perfect world.”
17. A. L. Braghetti, Il prigioniero, 17.
18. N. Matteucci, “La strategia del terrorista.” For an in-depth study of the relationship between
revolution and religion, see V. Mathieu, La speranza nella rivoluzione, 187ff.
19. Novelli and Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 238. This is from the account of the brigadist Barbara
Graglia, and merits citing in full: “The problems are at the source, as it was said in those years, and
had to be solved at the source. For me the idea of fighting to change society is the idea of a radical
change, of shaking the foundations.
20. “Document of Internal Reflection,” published in the periodical Brigate rosse, no. 1, June
1975, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:372. Italics added.
21. Red Brigade document claiming responsibility for the Marco Biagi murder of 19 March 2002. The
entire text is available at
22. G. Codrini, Io, un ex brigatista, 18.
23. E. Fenzi, Armi e bagagli, 214. Italics added.
24. Brigadist Enzo Fontana to G. Bocca, Noi terroristi, 42.
“we never asked ourselves what base we had to build, the only thing we knew
was that the present had to be destroyed.25
But not all the gnostic sects make use of revolutionary violence. To clarify
this point, I distinguish between passive and active sects.
The former are characterized by their radical isolation. If the world is
impure, one has to get as far away from it as possible. Waiting for the end
involves mystical-religious practices, prompting a withdrawal from the pro-
fane world. The passive sects—as Max Weber has it—are in “flight from the
world.26 They don’t want to destroy; they want to protect themselves against
the imminent collapse caused by human corruption.
The latter, by contrast, are characterized by the presence of a premise that
the former lack, and which I call definition of evil. In the active sects, the “ob-
session with purity” becomes the “obsession with purification” or the im-
placable fight against the forces of evil. It is no coincidence that the language
of active sects is borrowed from parasitology: the enemies are “parasites”27
that “infest” the world.28 A Red Brigades militant who admires Pol Pot
helps us understand the obsession with purification: “If I win, I don’t want
any positions or honors. I just want the job of getting rid of our enemies,
all those who have to be got rid of. It’ll be a difficult task because there will
be millions of people who have to be eliminated. That’s what I want to do after
[the revolution].29 The typical attitude of the active sects is hate, even when
they profess an ethics of peace and love.30 As Lenin wrote: “The hate of the
representative of the oppressed and exploited masses is the origin of every
wisdom, the foundation of every Socialist and Communist movement and
of its victories.31
A revolutionary sect is a sociopolitical organization formed by separation
from a historically consolidated political-cultural tradition.32 The experience
25. Interview with the brigadist Mario Ferrandi, “Una pistola per riconquistare il paradiso,
7 March 1984.
26. M. Weber, Economia e società, 2:233.
27. The raid in the offices of “Iniziativa democratica. Red Brigade document of 15 May 1975, in
Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:369.
28. There are also religious sects that try to change the world with peaceful means, although
obsessed with purity and rejecting this world, such as Quakers, called after their “quake” of religious
fervor when, in their meetings, they have direct communion with the Divine Spirit. Radical pacifists
and believers in nonviolent action, the Quakers believe it is possible to transform humankind through
conversion. See A. Prosperi and P. Viola, Storia moderna e contemporanea, 2:39.
29. S. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 221. Italics added.
30. See W. Stark, The Sociology of Religion, 2:101.
31. V. I. Lenin, “L’estremismo, malattia infantile del comunismo,” 1432.
32. I found this definition in E. Pace, Le sette, 11ff. For an excellent introduction to the socio-
logical concept of the sect, see M. L. Maniscalco, Spirito di setta e società.
of separation assumes an already existing system of values, united around a
determinate institution. Therefore every revolutionary sect is a “church-
party. The birth of a sect involves a minority group, willing to subject itself
to a new interior and exterior discipline, setting itself against a constituted
political authority. To justify this separation, the sects typically accuse the
“church” of reaching a compromise with the powers of “this world.
Ernst Troeltsch, referring to Max Weber, has made a distinction between
church and sect.33 The church, like the state, is considered a “spiritual power”
that addresses all humankind with a permanent body of officers. Its ecu-
menical vocation, underpinned by a bureaucratic apparatus, forces it to com-
promise with the systems of “this world.” Instead the sect, at least in its initial
stage, is a “product of the will.” Its leaders are the founders of a new experi-
ence and not continuers of a tradition. One is born in the church; instead,
the sect imposes a conversion that marks a “rebirth.”34 Through a ritual—of
varying complexity—the initiate is required to change identity (metanoia),
acquiring a new name. The church, because it wants to attract an increasing
number of adherents, is prepared to compromise; the sect adopts the more
drastic aspects of a determinate “message” to induce the radical rejection of
the world. In short, the church tends to include and absolve; the sect excludes
and condemns35 in the name of purity.36
The history of the Red Brigades—created from “a real schism37 within
the Italian Communist Party (PCI)—is the history of a political movement
operating with the typical words, thoughts, and dogmas of a religious sect. It
is an authentic part of the tradition of political messianism, which “postulates
a scheme of orderly, harmonious and perfect things, toward which men are
irresistibly led and which they are forced to achieve. They acknowledge only
33. See E. Troeltsch, Le dottrine sociali delle chiese e dei gruppi cristiani, 1:463ff. For a development
of the Weber-Troeltsch church-sect typology, see J. M. Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion, and
B. Wilson, Religious Sects. What I call a “passive revolutionary sect” is similar to what Wilson calls
an “introversionist sect.
34. Troeltsch, Le dottrine sociali, 1:481.
35. Troeltsch writes: “The sects thus gain an intense Christian life, but lose universalism,
since they have to keep the Church for apostate and they do not believe it is possible to conquer
the world with human forces, so that they are always forced to have eschatological expectations.”
Ibid., 1:478–79.
36. Sects can also be formed without the presence of a charismatic figure. It is not essential for
a sect “to be able to boast a founder who has demonstrated himself to be a saint in life: he asks his
followers to become saints, to be pure and virtuous. Thus the sect does not necessarily have to have a leader:
mutual correction, the control that the community exercises over the individual, can sometimes be
stronger than any established authority.” E. Pace, Le sette, 24, italics added.
37. F. Alberoni, “Movimenti sociali e società italiana,” in Classi e movimenti in Italia 1970–1985,
one plan for living, the political one. They extend the scope of politics to
embrace all of human existence.38
The Red Brigades’ dream was to raze to the ground all aspects of current
life, in order to build “the society of the just,39 a dream characterized by the
“prevailing sensation of the inevitability of revolution.40 The determination
with which they operated came from the aspiration—present in all profes-
sional revolutionaries—for a “perfect society,41 which—the Red Brigades
were convinced—would be born from the clash between the mighty forces
of good and the dark forces of evil: “I felt cleaner, that is, I was the good and
the others were the evil,42 recounts Roberto Minervino, a militant in Prima
Linea, a revolutionary group second only to the Red Brigades in number of
The Red Brigades have always shouted to the entire world that they were
animated by a “fatal” and “despotic” purity aimed at repressing the impure in
the name of an unshakable faith.43 In their documents they are “children of
the light, arriving in this world to punish and redeem, to destroy and purify.
The Red Brigades want to wash away the sins of capitalism with blood.
The Red Brigades documents all talk about waiting for the end, the idea
of purity, and the radical rejection of the world. There is also a fourth aspect,
with all too well-known effects: the purification of the world through the
extermination of enemies. The ruling logic of the Red Brigades’ mentality was
not a “calculation of the effects” (albeit obviously present) but a political-
religious concept of history whose main aim was to satisfy a spiritual need
and achieve a political end: heaven on earth.44 It was Friedrich Engels who
highlighted the profound analogies between revolutionary and religious prac-
tices: “Both Christianity and the workers’ socialism preach salvation from
bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after
38. J. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, 1.
39. See L. Pellicani, Revolutionary Apocalypse.
40. Novelli and Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 191. This is the full testimony of the brigadist Nitta:
“My political culture was dominated by a sensation of the inevitability of revolution and the facts I
witnessed further convinced me.
41. Ernesto Che Guevara, “Una nuova cultura del lavoro” (21 August 1962) in his Leggere Che
Guevara, 174. Guevara writes: “Even if it involves a distant future, we must already think about com-
munism, which is the perfect society, the fundamental aspiration of the first men who knew how to
look beyond the present and foresee the prospects of humanity.
42. Brigadist Roberto Minervino talking to L. Guicciardi, Il tempo del furore, 304.
43. V. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 114.
44. Sabino Acquaviva writes: “Individuals who shoot are people who, having lost traditional
religious values, find a ritual in shooting and killing, the experience of the final and the absolute.
And what is more final, more absolute than death? Than the almost ritual sacrifice of the ‘guilty’?”
S. Acquaviva, Guerriglia e guerra rivoluzionaria in Italia, 55.
death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of so-
ciety. Both are persecuted and baited, their adherents are despised and made
the objects of exclusive laws, the former as enemies of the human race, the
latter as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, social order. And
in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously,
irresistibly ahead.45
What distinguishes the Red Brigades is their search for an all-absorbing
ideology to guide militants’ thoughts, sentiments, and actions, to a large extent
independent of the political and institutional conditions in which they oper-
ate. The Red Brigades’ logic is that of “all or nothing, of winning or dying.
And nothing in between,46 because “the middle way has been wasted.47
We do not get a true picture of the Red Brigades’ politics if we try to
explain terrorism leaving out political-ideological variables. The violence
they used can be correctly understood only within a specific ideological
program.48 As they have admitted: “The Red Brigades had another politics.
Or rather the same politics but taken to the extreme. They were asking the
other politics to be ‘pure.’ Just as Savonarola asked it of ‘his’ Church. Purifiers
of the world or exterminating angels.49
These were the Red Brigades.
45. F. Engels, Sulle origini del cristianesimo, 17.
46. They are Barbara Balzerani’s words: “We were an underground group that couldn’t just close
an office, perhaps a newspaper office, return the keys to the landlord, and wait for better times at
some other address. In that war, in which political bargaining was almost absent, we had introduced
the logic of all or nothing, of winning or dying. And nothing in between.” B. Balzerani, Compagna
luna, 87–88.
47. Il sequestro Amerio—Comunicato no. 1, Communiqué dated 10 December 1973, in Dossier
Brigate rosse, 1:226. Ettore Amerio was a Fiat personnel manager. He was kidnapped on 10 Decem-
ber 1973.
48. To decipher the Red Brigade universe, the words of the multiple killer Antonio Savasta are
illuminating. Between the end of April and the beginning of May 1982, he testified for twenty-seven
hours during eight sessions of the first “Moro trial.” The presiding judge, Santiapichi, after inviting
Savasta to testify to the kidnapping of Aldo Moro without expatiating in ideological speeches, was
told that Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and execution could be understood only in the terms of a specific
ideology, according to which enemies deserved only to be exterminated. “Moro 1,” Rome Court
of Assizes, trial records, 28 April 1982, reel 2, p. 4. Savasta’s testimony is also mentioned in R. Drake,
Il caso Aldo Moro, 61–66.
49. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 143. Italics added.
Chapter 1
The Pedagogy of Intolerance
You will ask if these are the means to use?
Believe me, there are no others.
—Mara Cagol
The Revolutionary Vocation
The first lesson that the aspiring revolutionary receives is that the world is in
The “children of the light” are engaged in a fight to the death against
the “children of the shadows.” The outcome of this battle—however steep
and painful the road leading to the goal—is already written: society will be
cleansed of the “pigs”1 that infest it. After this, communism can finally be
constructed and people will no longer suffer hunger and oppression.
“The politics on which our conduct was based,” recounts the brigadist
Valerio Morucci, “was revolutionary, and the revolution would have led to a
society without conflict. A society without the need for mediation, compro-
mise, or filthy bourgeois politics. A pure politics.2 Without these certainties
you don’t find the vocation to become a revolutionary. The Red Brigades
conceived revolutionary action as a mission and not as a simple profession to
be performed and paid for.
1. Red Brigades pamphlet no. 4. Attack, strike, liquidate, and disperse the Christian Democrat Party,
pillar of the restructuring of the State and of the imperialist counterrevolution. This is a resolution of the Red
Brigades’ strategic management, November 1977. In Dossier Brigate rosse, 2:148.
2. V. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 140.
The brigadist Patrizio Peci, arrested on 19 February 1980, accused of being
directly or indirectly responsible for seven homicides, seventeen injuries, and
dozens of other crimes, states: “It is obvious that you don’t make this choice if
you don’t believe completely in communism, if you don’t believe in the armed
struggle as the only way to bring it about, if you don’t believe in victory. I
had these three certainties. . . . If I’d not been sure of winning, I wouldn’t have
To achieve the grand design of a society in which conflicts are banned
forever, the Red Brigades have to follow an ongoing training pathway. Their
first task is to learn to think differently from the “common” person: the en-
emies of the proletariat are hidden everywhere. To recognize them, you have
to embrace a new vision of the world, enabling you to grasp what others can’t
see. Evil has to be flushed out, fought, and destroyed because our enemies—
this is written in a Red Brigades document of 26 November 1972—are “an
army of bastards.4 Only the dialectic method, that of Marx and Engels, gives
access to the knowledge of reality. There is only one truth. True brigadists
cannot and must not tolerate opinions other than theirs. Those who oppose
the revolution are “pigs.5 They must be killed or disabled for the rest of
their lives.
To kill for the revolution is the noblest of gestures, a demonstration of love
to humanity awaiting redemption. We read in a Red Brigades document of
September 1977: “The revolution signifies continuity, solidarity, and love.6
And it is in the name of love that the organization exercises the power of life
or death over its enemies. Brigadists—according to the document claiming
responsibility for the Labate kidnapping (12 February 1973)—must shake off
their bourgeois morality and understand that the enemy has to be eliminated.
Denying it would mean not being able “to distinguish between the violence
of the oppressor and that of the slave.7
3. P. Peci, Io, l’infame, 41 and 103. It is the same determination we see in the testimony of the
brigadist Raffaele Fiore: “I had an immense faith in the organization. I believed in its political pro-
grams and in the revolution. . . . I was sure that the way was sound, that it was just. See A. Grandi,
L’ultimo brigatista, 64–65.
4. Crush the fascists in Mirafiori and Rivalta! Throw them out of our factories and our districts, leaflet
issued in Turin on 26 November 1972, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:194.
5. Red Brigades—Fighting Communist Party’s document claiming responsibility for wounding the
Labor Ministry adviser, Gino Giugni, issued 3 May 1983 (full text available at
6. Diary of the Struggle: Special Tribunes of Bologna, Torino, Milano, Red Brigades document of
September 1977, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 2:128.
7. Red Brigades document claiming responsibility for the Labate kidnapping issued 12 February 1973,
in ibid., 1:216. Bruno Labate was a Cisnal manager.
The Red Brigades are philanthropists, friends of the people. The brigadist
Patrizio Peci is firmly convinced that political violence “is also a question of
altruism and generosity: it means risking everything for a cause you believe
is just, forgetting personal advantage.8 The feeling that inspired the brigadist
Sergio Segio “was basically, totally, a feeling of love.9 “Love and strength,” we
read in a Red Brigades document of 26 May 1982, “will subdue and destroy
the imperialist bourgeoisie; we shall build a society free from the slavery of
salaried work.10
But the brigadist is not everyone’s friend, because those who are against
the revolution are enemies of humanity. They are accessories to and respon-
sible for all unhappiness and suffering. This is what Renato Curcio writes to
his mother in a letter from prison dated November 1974: “Yolanda dearest,
mother mine, years have passed since the day on which I set out to encoun-
ter life. . . . Seeking my path, I found exploitation, injustice, and oppression.
People who handed them out and people who submitted to them. I was one
of the latter. And these latter were in the majority. I therefore understood
that my history was their history, that my future was their future. . . . What
more can I say? My enemies are the enemies of humanity and of intelligence, those
who have built and still build their monstrous fortunes on the material and
intellectual misery of the people. Theirs is the hand that has banged shut the
door of my cell.11
The world is divided into two. On one side the oppressors of humanity,
on the other the avengers. This is why “we have to kick the bosses’ asses,
after kicking those of some work colleagues; we have to kill the team lead-
ers one by one; we have to kill the department heads, workshop heads, and
all toadies. Brigadists have to “organize teams for lynching scabs and man-
agers; the struggle continues without respite: strikes, thrashings, and beatings;
violent struggles,12 until it is clear that “those who intervene to stop the
workers’ struggle and their interests are our enemies and as such must be
struck down!”13
8. Peci, Io, l’infame, 42.
9. S. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 387.
10. In honor of Umberto Catabiani. Red Brigades document issued 26 May 1982. Catabiani was
a member of the Red Brigades–Fighting Communist Party strategic management. He was shot in
the stomach and killed by the police not far from Pisa on 24 May 1982. The document is available
11. Letter from Renato Curcio to his mother, November 1974, in D. Settembrini, Il labirinto
rivoluzionario, 2:295.
12. From interviews in Potere Operaio with workers in the Mirafiori factory in Turin, April 1969,
quoted in P. Casamassima, Il libro nero delle Brigate rosse, 25.
13. Fogli di lotta di Sinistra proletaria ( July–October 1970), in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:77.
And yet violence is never a choice. The Red Brigades are forced to vio-
lence by circumstances. They kill because the “imperialist system of the
multinationals,14 “society,” the “means of production, the “capitalist state,
“imperialist technological fascism”15 leave them no alternative. In other cases
the formulas are even more abstract. It is “the antagonistic contradiction
with the general system of economic, political, and cultural exploitation”16
that means the enemy has to die.
For the Red Brigades, society is always “ready to explode.17 The convic-
tion that the revolution is imminent gives an extraordinary emotive charge
to gnostic activists. This certainty enables them to cope with even the most
dramatic consequences of the armed struggle, such as the death of one’s
fighting comrades, prison, or separation from the family, dictated by the
choice of going underground.
The brigadist is convinced that everything is possible. Happiness is around
the corner. The world might live in abundance, but the “system, explains
the brigadist Margherita Cagol, in a letter of 1969 to her mother, stops this.
Society oppresses us; it “rapes” our lives continuously. We are never free,
even when we think we are. Happiness is an illusion. It’s the fruit of the
manipulation of minds that “the system” uses to guarantee its own survival.
The world has to be destroyed to be totally re-created. Those who don’t
fight to bring down society are guilty of a crime against humanity. It’s the
“rejection of everything”18 that characterizes the militants of the ultra-left
terrorist groups. The world is described as a “fierce monster, inhabited by
“vampires.19 The brigadists feel deprived of everything. Oppressed, humili-
ated, and degraded, they move in a “spectral” landscape from which every
gleam of humanity has disappeared.
In the words of Cagol to her mother:
Milan is a great experience for me. At first sight this big city seemed
full of light and attractions, but now it seems like a fierce monster that
14. Resolution of the strategic management, Red Brigade document of April 1975, in ibid., 1:356.
15. Written by Curcio from the Casale prison, published in the magazine Abc on 6 March
1975, in ibid., 1:341.
16. This expression comes from the “yellow book” (from the color of its cover), a twenty-eight-
page document titled Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis, launched in Chiavari in the
autumn of 1969 during a convention of the Metropolitan Political Collective. In ibid., 1:22.
17. This is the testimony of the Red Brigadist Enrico Fenzi to Sergio Zavoli, La notte della
Repubblica, 225.
18. The testimony of a Prima Linea militant, Vincenza Fioroni, in L. Guicciardi, Il tempo del
furore, 228.
19. Document of the Prima Linea terrorist group claiming responsibility for the attack on the offices
of the Association of Small Industries in Turin, 4 January 1976, quoted in C. Stajano, Il sovversivo, 211.
devours everything that is natural, human, and essential in life. There is bar-
barity in Milan, the true face of the society we live in. . . . This society
does violence to us all the time, taking away anything that could eman-
cipate us or make us really feel what we are (it makes it impossible
to cultivate a family, to cultivate ourselves, our needs, it represses us
on a psychological, physiological, and ethical level, it manipulates our
needs, our information, etc., etc.). This society has to be changed by a
profound revolutionary process. . . . When I think that all this could be
easily remedied (remember I said to you last year that, by using mod-
ern technology in the production process, it would be possible to pay
10 billion people the American average wage?) if we no longer had
political systems like the European or American ones. But we now
have the opportunity to change this society and it would be criminal
(toward humanity) not to exploit it. We must do everything possible
to change this system, because this is the profound meaning of our
existence. These things are not impossible, you know, Mama. They are
serious and difficult things that are really worth doing. . . . Life is too
important to waste or fritter away in stupid chatter or squabbles. Every
minute is vital.20
The Red Brigades document in which the catastrophic-radical concept of
history is expressed most fully is Gocce di sole nella città degli spettri (Drops of
Sun in the City of Ghosts), written by Renato Curcio and Alberto France-
schini in 1982. The world, they write, has become a “total factory.” Men are
engulfed by the shadows and wander around like “ghosts, swallowed up by
capital “that suffocates and kills everything.21 Egoism triumphs. There are
no longer any spaces for freedom. The most elementary needs are trampled
on. Capital has taken over bodies and minds. No one, except the Red Bri-
gades, is aware of this, because the “system” plays with its victims. Reality is
just a show; happiness is self-deception. A happy person is a person who does
not see. Only the Red Brigades know, see, and live. All the others are caught
up in a “nonlife. A new social formation has been formed, called “comput-
erized metropolises. It’s a “huge prison, which one can escape from only
with the extensive use of violence and by launching a “total social war.” With
high-flown and apocalyptic language, Curcio and Franceschini define “war
as the mother/father of everything, a distinction that destroys everything
20. Letter from Mara Cagol to her mother (1969), quoted in Casamassima, Il libro nero delle
Brigate rosse, 39. Italics added.
21. R. Curcio and A. Franceschini, Gocce di sole nella città degli spettri, 8.
to change it into something else. War as destruction/construction.22 The
recipe is always the same: to destroy and purify to construct a “new order”
in which there is no trace of the present world. Revolutionary violence is
“humanity’s greatest conscious act.23 Humanity will be saved after a revo-
lutionary apocalypse that will devastate the world—completely—through
a “catastrophic and revolutionary implosion/explosion.” A minority of the
“elect” have the task of destroying the “city of ghosts” to restore “light” to
the kingdom of darkness.
The future of humanity is in the hands of the Red Brigades.
Violence as the Only Way
The Red Brigades are “forced” to violence because the system oppresses
them and gives them no escape. For this reason they are never “executioners.
Even when they shoot they are “victims. They are desperate people who
have no real alternative to murder. Responsibility for their actions is always
collective and never individual. According to the Red Brigadist Angela Vai,
the Red Brigades “act for others, not for yourself; our comrades in the fac-
tory, the workers, were the ones who decided, and I was only their armed
wing, the vanguard; it is the system that imposes violence, a necessary evil and
not an aim in itself.24
This is how the brigadist Alessio Casimirri pleads for the release “without
preliminary conditions” of all the Red Brigades members still in prison ten
years after the death of Aldo Moro (1988): “I think that all the responsibili-
ties were collective and political and cannot be reduced to individual responsibilities,
when calculating single crimes, single indictments, or when calculating years
or centuries of prison.25
This approach to the issue of violence—summed up in the formula “brig-
adist against my will”—is to be found in all the Red Brigades’ documents.
“Revolutionary violence,” we read in a document of the Metropolitan
Political Collective (Collettivo politico metropolitano, or CPM), established
on 8 September 1969 in Milan by the militants who would found the Red
22. Ibid., 266.
23. Ibid., 264.
24. G. Bianconi, Mi dichiaro prigioniero politico, 74. Italics added. The events described in Bian-
coni’s book have been reconstructed on the basis of news reports, literature, legal and parliamentary
proceedings, as well as the protagonists’ testimonies.
25. Quoted from Grandi, L’ultimo brigatista, 162. Italics added.
Brigades the following year,26 “is not a subjective fact or a moral need: it is
imposed by a situation that is by now violent in its structure and superstruc-
ture. This is why its organization is now a parameter of discrimination . . . the
violent struggle is an intrinsic need, systematic and continual, of the class
In the words of the Red Brigadist Mario Moretti: “We chose the armed
struggle because every other road was closed, we felt forced to it. Forced to
do dreadful things. . . . Just as in war, where they do dreadful things because
they’re considered terrible and necessary.28 Violence takes on such a central
role that it becomes politics. Violence is politics: “For us, Moretti points out,
“armed action is not just another way of being in politics. On the contrary, it
is where politics is at.29 No less significant is the testimony of another leader
of the armed struggle: “I wasn’t excited at taking up the armed struggle; in
fact I said, ‘Damn it, why can’t someone else do it?’ But I considered it a logi-
cal choice, the right choice. . . . I considered it a possible choice, the choice of
someone who was aware of a whole series of things he had to do.30
Margherita Cagol, in a letter dated 18 September 1974, reassures her par-
ents about her health. She tells them that her husband, Renato Curcio, was
arrested because of a spy and that she has no intention of interrupting her
fight for the good of humanity. The armed struggle is the only way to go
and her battle is “just and sacrosanct. History, she asserts, will prove her right:
“Dear parents, I write to tell you not to worry too much about me. . . . Renato
was arrested thanks to a big international spy, Father Leone, a priest work-
ing for the CIA. . . . Now it is up to me and all the comrades who want to
combat this rotten bourgeois power to continue the fight. Please don’t think
that I’m irresponsible. . . . What I’m doing is just and sacrosanct, history will
prove me right as it did for the Resistance in ’45. But you’ll say, are these
26. On the Pecorile convention and the effect it had on the foundation of the BR (Brigate
Rosse), see the testimony of A. Franceschini, Mara, Renato e io, 23. Franceschini: “A single act that
founded the Red Brigades has never been documented but it is commonly thought they were created
during a convention we held in Chiavari in the autumn of 1969. But this is not so. There we only
discussed what the newly created Metropolitan Political Collective should do. We didn’t talk about
the armed struggle, and ‘going underground,’ as a means of political fighting, was rejected. To find
an official occasion when what was to become the Red Brigades took their first steps we have to go
to Pecorile, a town at the foot of the Apennines, 20 kilometers from Reggio Emilia.” As we shall see
later, the decision to take up armed struggle, contrary to what Franceschini wants us to believe, was
made prior to September 1970.
27. Quoted from Casamassima, Il libro nero delle Brigate rosse, 40.
28. M. Moretti, Brigate rosse, 49.
29. Ibid., 47.
30. This is the testimony of an anonymous Red Brigades member interviewed by D. Della Porta,
Il terrorismo di sinistra, 190.
the means to use? Believe me, there are no others. This police state relies on
the strength of its weapons and those who want to fight it have to use the
same means. . . . Therefore my revolutionary choices, despite Renato’s arrest,
remain the same . . . no prospect shocks or frightens me.31
Society is a battlefield. Political ideas require a military organization. The
streets of the cities of Rome, Milan, Turin, and Genoa are the “jungle” in
which the warrior moves because—as we read in the Communiqué on the
death of Mara Cagol of 5 June 1975—“it is the war that decides, in the final
analysis, the question of power: the war of the revolutionary class.32
In the Fogli di lotta di Sinistra proletaria, published in the July–October
1970 period, the political clash is conceived in terms of an authentic “guer-
rilla warfare. No negotiation is possible. The enemy has to be eliminated:
“The proletariat has experienced its first phase . . . and is starting to under-
stand that the class struggle is like a war. We have to learn to strike suddenly,
concentrating our forces for the attack, rapidly dispersing when the enemy
recovers.33 The conclusion is always the same: “The organization of violence
is a necessity of the class struggle.34
For the Red Brigades—old or new—violence is the only solution, the
only road to take.
In the document claiming responsibility for the murder of Marco Biagi
(19 March 2002), violence is the only tool to free the world from unhappi-
ness: “Power cannot therefore be achieved without revolutionary violence.35
The enemy, explains the BR assassin Enrico Galmozzi, can be tackled only
“in terms of destruction.”36 Those who try to indicate an alternative way are
supporters of reactionary forces. As such, they have to be struck down be-
cause they are openly on the side of the “continuous and systematic violence
that the bosses have organized against the working class.37
31. Letter from Mara Cagol to her parents (18 September 1974) in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:249–50.
32. Communiqué on the death of Mara Cagol. Red Brigade document of 5 June 1975, in Dossier
Brigate rosse, 1:374.
33. Fogli di lotta di Sinistra proletaria, in ibid., 1:75. The magazine’s editorial staff consisted of
Renato Curcio, Sandro D’Alessandro, Gaio Di Silvestro, Marco Fronza, Alberto Pinotti, and Corrado
Simioni. Contributors included Duccio Berio, Alberto Franceschini, and Vanni Mulinaris.
34. Ibid., 1:75–76.
35. Red Brigades document claiming responsibility for the murder of Marco Biagi of 19 March 2002.
The entire text is available at
36. Guicciardi, Il tempo del furore, 60. I quote from the testimony of the terrorist Enrico Gal-
mozzi, assassin of Enrico Pedenovi, MSI (Italian Social Movement) provincial councillor killed in
Milan on 29 April 1976.
37. Red Brigade Communiqué on the Lonigo expropriation issued on 14 July 1975, in Dossier Brigate
rossi, 1:376. The document refers to an “expropriation” of 42 million lire by an armed group of the
Red Brigades from the Banca Popolare di Lonigo (Vicenza, 14 July 1975).
The “Binary Code” Mentality
One of the aims of the pedagogy of intolerance is the dissemination and
consolidation of “dichotomous thought.
The Red Brigades’ mentality is elementary, instinctive, and brutal in its
immediacy. This is why it is effective. It is a “binary code” mentality. By this
I mean the mental process typical of the professional revolutionary that re-
duces even the most complex phenomena (the reasons for underdevelopment,
for example) to two opposing concepts: good/evil, friend/enemy, exploited/
exploiters, innocent/guilty. The “binary code mentality” is a mechanism that
simplifies reality, that favors the use of political violence. The Red Brigades
are well aware that “to fight you need an easily identifiable enemy, without
fine distinctions and without having to follow circuitous paths to find it.38
The brigadist Adriana Faranda considers slaughter a demonstration of
love of one’s neighbor. Her political sentiments, she recounts, were of two
kinds: love and hate. To her, humanity seemed divided into two sectors:
those who deserve love and those who deserve hate: “I considered that the
armed struggle, the choice of taking up arms, could only go together with an
implacable passion for humanity. And the love-hate bipolarity automatically
implied hate for those who prevented the achievement of harmony and the
different quality of life of which we dreamed.39 For Faranda, the difference
is not only between those who deserve love and those who deserve hate, but
also between those who hate and those who don’t hate. Those who don’t
hate don’t know how to love. In the Red Brigades’ logic, the absence of hate
is a sure index of moral baseness. Speaking of a friend who was not politically
committed, Faranda expresses herself in these terms: “Well, I’m fond of her,
but what separates us is that she doesn’t hate.40
Hatred of the enemy dominates every moment of the Red Brigades’ life.
Their thoughts, their words, their gestures are filled with it. When this hatred
slackens, they doubt, hesitate, and step back.
Enrico Fenzi tells of a punitive expedition against a local representative of
the Christian Democrat Party in Genoa with a heavy sentence hanging over
his head. He is a “diabolical” presence in the service of “evil” forces. In the
Red Brigades’ judgment he is “the minor agent of diabolic power strategies
and evil plans.41 The victim lives in Cornigliano, in a working-class area.
38. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 130.
39. Testimony of the brigadist Adriana Faranda to Silvana Mazzocchi, Nell’anno della tigre, 76.
Italics added.
40. Valerio Morucci recounted this episode to Silvana Mazzocchi in ibid., 75.
41. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 217.
The Red Brigades spring into action. They intercept him and are about
to shoot him. Suddenly they realize they’re looking at a middle-aged man,
owner of a small, beat-up car. He lives in a miserable public-housing apart-
ment building. He’s a Christian Democrat activist, but he’s also working
class. The hatred abates, the sentence is not carried out. “All this, concludes
Red Brigades member Fenzi, “is interesting because it shows the schizophre-
nia between the reality and the consequences of an ideological, abstract way
of reasoning.42
Without their resentment, their hatred, and their desire for revenge, the
Red Brigades would be paralyzed.
In the words of a leader of the armed struggle: “I participate emotionally
in what I do. And I want to have a reason that echoes within me if I’m going
to attack someone or rob a bank. . . . My gun is something I hope will serve
everyone. But meanwhile this is also my rebellion, my hatred, my revolution,
just as it is my road that has led me to take up a gun.43
Valerio Morucci, in his autobiography covering the years prior to his
entry into the armed struggle, blames his errors on “that same fucking
rigidity—it has to be said—that later ruined my life. Always black or white,
without gray areas, either friends or enemies, either love or hate, either moral
or immoral.44 Paolo Zambianchi, a Prima Linea ex-terrorist, recalls: “I split
the world into two parts: on one side the exploited who worked and sweated,
on the other the bosses. And I always felt a great moral indignation.45
A leader of the armed struggle has very effectively described the power of
the pedagogy of intolerance and binary code mentality.
The revolutionary ideology—the witness explains—radically changes the
way in which we perceive reality. The world appears divided into two sides:
on one side there are your friends, and on the other your enemies. Your
enemies are not human beings but just symbols to be attacked. This way of
perceiving the political conflict strips the enemy of their humanity, so the
brigadist can carry out political homicide with great naturalness. Assassina-
tion thus becomes a routine task, leaving its perpetrator entirely indifferent
to the victim’s feelings.
Also here, the words leave nothing to the imagination: “For me it was
like carrying out a routine job. . . . This is the aberration, because you’re on
42. Ibid.
43. Memorie dalla clandestinità, 71. This is an anonymous work in which a Red Brigadist tells
his story.
44. V. Morucci, Ritratto di un terrorista da giovane, 31.
45. See D. Novelli and N. Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 144.
a side with your friends, on the other instead are your enemies. And your
enemies are a class, they are functions, symbols to strike, not human beings.
Treating these people with the symbology of the enemy means that you
have an entirely abstract relationship with death. So that if I’d worked in
the land registry office instead of killing, nothing would have changed. I
left home in the morning, went to check on people and prepare the opera-
tions. Obviously this was when I wasn’t going directly to kill someone. Then
I calmly returned home, continuing with my life, which was that of a normal
As we shall see later on (chapter 3), murder assumes a change in the rela-
tionship with reality. The brigadist is formed through a sociopsychological
process, the aim of which is to create a “new man” programmed to kill. This
educational pathway enables militants to be “reborn.” Their previous life
belongs to a very remote past. They have performed an interior revolution so
that they can now look at the world through the eyes of a redeemer. They are
no longer like the “others. They are different, with a superior vision of real-
ity. They are the keepers of a knowledge reserved for the chosen people—the
revolutionary gnosis—that contains the message of salvation to be revealed
to the entire world. They are “missionaries of the revolution. They redeem
people and look for new converts.
The brigadist Nitta’s testimony merits particular attention because it sum-
marizes, with extreme clarity and incisiveness, the typical traits of the Red
Brigades’ mentality.
Nitta recounts that encountering the materialistic concept of history was
the decisive moment of his life. After having embraced Marx’s texts, “my
tensions lead me to identify the duty of the revolution with my need-duty to
fight against ‘evil.’ I will finally understand the children of Biafra with their
swollen bellies and I’ll have enemies to face. Imperialism, capitalism, a class-
conscious society, and the exploitation of man by man for me symbolized
the incarnation of evil, the enemy to destroy, everything that I couldn’t nail
down found a response in the fideist value of revolution.47
In Nitta’s testimony there are all the elements of the gnostic scheme:
(a) the “binary code mentality” that identifies reality as the battle between the
forces of “good” and the forces of “evil”; (b) “radical catastrophism, according
to which the world is immersed in pain and suffering; (c) the identification
of an “enemy” on whom to heap the blame for all human unhappiness; and
46. This is told by a leader of the armed struggle to D. Della Porta, Il terrorismo di sinistra, 183.
The same extract appears in D. Biacchessi, Una stella a cinque punte, 41.
47. See Novelli and Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 190.
(d) the salvific conception of the revolution that sweeps away the shadows, van-
quishing “the dark forces of the counterrevolution”48 and establishing “a
perfect society.49
The Red Brigades never imagined they would be defeated. They were
convinced that capitalism was on the way out. For them, armed militancy
was a “sacrificial gesture. This spirit is, under some aspects, similar to that
of the “apocalyptic fanatics” so masterfully described by Norman Cohn:50
“We were the saviors, states the brigadist Roberto Rosso, “and we wanted
to bring valid values to support our judgments.51 Anna Laura Braghetti also
lived in “a time of waiting, looking for a way to change the world and at-
tempting to understand if the Red Brigades were an instrument for making
the revolutionary dream come true.52
For the Red Brigades, society is always “ready to explode.53 The convic-
tion that the revolution is imminent gives an extraordinary emotive charge
to the gnostic activists. This certainty means that even the most dramatic
consequences of the armed struggle can be overcome, such as the death of
your fighting comrades, prison, or separation from the family, imposed by the
choice of going underground.
Sergio Segio, founder of Prima Linea—a political group second only to
the Red Brigades for number of homicides—saw the revolution as a salvific
event that would liberate people: “The revolution and communism were
nothing else for me but the possibility of being happy and free, knowing
that you can be free only if everyone is.54 In other words, “a revolutionary
project of that stature, of that ambition, cannot be carried out if any margin
of doubt remains.55
Absolute faith in the revolution, understood as the final solution to all
humanity’s problems, is a typical trait of the Red Brigades’ mentality.
48. Sossi kidnapping—Communiqué no. 1, document issued on 19 April 1974, Dossier Brigate rosse,
49. The expression is Nitta’s, interviewed by D. Novelli and N. Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 186.
“In the Catholic environment I’d never been totally influenced by a particular figure, I stood out
with all my diversities; now, in contact with the communist ideology, which did not propose perfect
models for living but a perfect model of reality, I was strongly influenced by the people living in
that environment.
50. N. Cohn, I fanatici dell’apocalisse, 1976.
51. Testimony of the brigadist Roberto Rosso to S. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 378.
Italics added.
52. A. L. Braghetti, Il prigioniero, 15.
53. Brigatist Enrico Fenzi talking to S. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 225.
54. S. Segio, Una vita in prima linea, 78.
55. Braghetti, Il prigioniero, 36.
Political Violence and Social Marginality
The brigadist is a “marginal” individual who perceives the condition in
which he lives as profoundly unjust. But “marginality” is not “marginaliza-
tion, which is a condition of objective privation. Marginality instead is a
state of mind that can also involve those of high social status. It is seen when
individuals consider that their role in society is inferior to their merits or
abilities. Hence the conviction of being the “victim” of an injustice. Typical
marginal individuals have a neurotic and frustrated personality that makes
them project the reason for their unhappiness on an external enemy. They
wait obsessively for their day of deliverance.
Whether we are talking about a promising assistant at the University of
Trento, like Margherita Cagol,56 a literature teacher in a high school, like
Maria Rosaria Roppoli, or a worker at the fruit and vegetable market in Bari,
like Raffaele Fiore, the Red Brigades reject the values of the society in which
they live. Their aspiration for a better world clashes with a reality that ap-
pears impossible to change through reforms and good intentions. For them,
violence is a compulsory route. As Vincenzo Guagliardo explains, “The
brigadist doesn’t choose violence, he accepts it.”57 In the words of Fiore: “We
considered that the only way to achieve our aims, those of the revolutionary
Left, was through armed struggle, and we rejected the parliamentary path
since we didn’t consider it capable of altering society in the way we wanted.
We wanted to change it completely.58
No less significant is the way in which Patrizio Peci describes his frustra-
tion and anger when employed in the factory: “The work was always the
same, the most stupid and monotonous that exists. Every day I had to make
a hole in 3,000 pieces of a very tough material that was softened with oil.
The oil burned with the heat of the drill and gave off a terrible smell. Holes,
holes, holes all day. 10,000 holes a day, 50,000 holes a week, 200,000 holes
a month, 2,400,000 holes a year. Was this living? Was this the fate of the
proletariat? And why? The boss acted paternalistic. . . . And if we’d drilled
a hole in his legs? Would he and his kind have continued to hassle us for a
hole done badly?”59
56. Margherita Cagol graduated with honors on 26 July 1969 from the Sociology Faculty at the
University of Trento. Her thesis was on “The Qualification of the Labor Force during Capitalistic
Development. She was offered a two-year assistant professorship in sociology at the Milan Umani-
taria. See P. Agostini, Mara Cagol, 62–63.
57. V. Guagliardo, Di sconfitta in sconfitta, 53.
58. Grandi, L’ultimo brigatista, 65. Italics added.
59. P. Peci, Io, l’infame, 52.
Fiore was born in Bari. The oldest of six children, he started working at
the age of ten, first as apprentice builder, then auto-body repairer, then fac-
tory worker, and finally in the wholesale food market as a goods handler.
Fiore moves from Bari to Milan in October 1970, aged sixteen, to attend a
course for turners. He recounts that his encounter with the city and its smog,
leaden sky, and traffic, is awful. It is a chaotic, hostile, and depressing environ-
ment in which he feels an outsider. In Milan he earns the same money he
would have earned in Bari. All in all, he would have been better off at home,
but, he recounts, a desire to improve his social condition gets the better of
him. He’s convinced that Milan can give him more. He decides to stay. After
finishing his training course, he finds employment in the Breda factory as a
turner. He observes the other workers, their efforts, their sacrifices, and their
alienating life. He’s certain he can aspire to a better future. He refuses to
think that he’ll spend all his life in a factory. He starts to ask himself ques-
tions about politics and society, but he has little education (it’s not clear from
his autobiography whether he even completed junior high school). He needs
to meet someone who knows more than he does, who is able to answer his
questions about the world. In 1972, he meets a Red Brigades militant, Ari-
aldo Lintrami, who will lead him to the armed struggle.
Fiore lives in the suburbs. He doesn’t have a house, just a bed. He hates
his life. He irons his own clothes, eats always in the same café with other
workers. His days are monotonous and repetitive. He leaves home at half past
six in the morning to reach the factory by eight. He finishes work at five
o’clock and by seven he’s home again. He just has time to wash, eat some-
thing, and go out for a stroll to meet his friends. At midnight he has to be
back home, otherwise he’s forced to spend the night in the street. This isn’t
the life he wanted. It’s a life that forces him to live on the margins and he
finds it unsupportable.
When he starts working in the factory, Fiore is faced with a depressing
sight: “Men who’ve been working for over thirty years on the same machine,
pathologically wedded to their job and their alienation; workers who empty
flagons of wine to endure the casting fumes, like soldiers at the front who,
aware they’re cannon fodder, cloud their minds as they go into battle; work-
ers hard of hearing, because they’ve hammers in their heads like football fans
have the ball. I slowly started to feel a strong conviction: I would never spend
all my life doing that work. At the time I wasn’t able to see any solutions, but
I knew I would have found them.60
60. Grandi, L’ultimo brigatista, 35. Italics added.
Fiore was to find his “solution” in the Red Brigades, where he became a
leader of the Turin faction.
The aspiring brigadists have the same ambitions for money and success as
any normal person. They want to improve their social status. They dream of
a world in which they’ll be respected and admired. But the reality they en-
counter causes them constant frustration. If the “boss system” relegates them
to the margins of society, the only thing left to do is to demolish it. It has to
be destroyed and rebuilt in the image and semblance of the Red Brigades’
ambitions. To succeed in this undertaking, they have to possess power. They
also feel a “lust for power” and the “will to power.
Nitta, recalling his youth, writes: “I wanted to draw on that will to power
in which I could fully tap my thirst for justice. . . . What was voluntary service
against the possibility of changing the material cause of injustice?”61
Although the Red Brigades feel a lust for power, their mission is not
completed when they gain it. Taking over the coercive apparatus is the first
step in the regeneration of humanity through violence. Do not forget that,
in eschatological politics, power is a means and not an end.
In a document of July 1970, the Red Brigades explain their immediate
objective:What do we want? We want power! We said it at the outset: we
want power. Because as long as the bosses have power, our condition cannot
change. And we don’t want just a part of it, we want it all. There’s no pos-
sibility for cooperation. Our interests are conflicting.62 This is because “all
the contradictions in this society are resolved only on the basis of specific
strength relationships.63 “The workers’ movement . . . must concentrate on
the issue of power, on the dictatorship of the proletariat.64 In the document
claiming responsibility for the Biagi murder it is written that “power can-
not therefore be gained without revolutionary violence; that is, without an
armed struggle to destroy the state machine that creates class dictatorship and
constitutes the armed instrument that protects and guarantees the interests
of the ruling class. The communist revolutionary process is thus essentially a
class war against the state and the ruling class.65
61. Novelli and Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 188.
62. This is what can be read in “Fogli di lotta di Sinistra proletaria,” published July–October
1970. See Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:76.
63. Sossi kidnapping—Communiqué no. 8. On 23 May 1974 the BR released Mario Sossi with the
task of distributing communiqué no. 8. The text, published by the Roman daily Il giornale d’Italia on
24–25 May 1974, is in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:297.
64. Communiqué for the liberation of Curcio. Red Brigade document of 19 February 1975, in
ibid., 1:338.
65. Red Brigades document claiming responsibility for the Biagi murder of March 2002. The entire
text is available at
Hatred, envy, resentment, and the desire to avenge one’s marginal status
are among the sentiments that prompt people to enter the Red Brigades:
“We hated with all our hearts,66 recalls Valerio Morucci, who added these
important words: “I had learned that you couldn’t be a communist without
hating, that those who understand hate, and those who don’t understand
don’t hate.67
I call the reader’s attention to the next passage because it offers sociological
considerations. Besides providing an excellent picture of the Red Brigades’
mental universe, it also shows once again how important the ideological di-
mension is in their actions and, more precisely, when shedding blood.
This is what the brigadist Peci thought before shooting Antonio Munari,
then shop foreman at Fiat, eight times in his legs (22 April 1977): “I didn’t
have any second thoughts. This man—he must have been around forty to
forty-five, balding—was a boss, someone the factory comrades had indicated
was harsh with the workers, a servant of the boss. I didn’t know if he was a
bully, I didn’t work at Fiat, but as I waited I thought: ‘This is a man who’s
doing well, he goes home for lunch while the workers eat in the canteen. He
has a nice car given to him by Fiat, he lives in a pleasant place, in a residen-
tial suburb, possibly also given to him by Fiat, while the workers’ houses . . .
What struck me most of all was the fact that he would go home to eat, while
the workers probably ate disgusting food in the canteen, then he’d come
back, happy and well fed, and make them work like dogs. I thought about
my father, who is a builder, when he left for the site with his cold lunch.
I geared myself up in this way . . . , thinking about what I would have said to
the factory brigade: Munari didn’t behave well; besides being a boss—which
in itself has a specific meaning—he was inflexible, demanding. I was there,
I told myself, for an act of justice. Strike one to educate one hundred. . . . An
infernal din, with that gun echoing loudly in that garage and him yelling like
a madman. . . . I could have lost my nerve but I stayed cool and finished the
magazine, eight shots. Too many, but I was so tense I couldn’t stop myself.
He was shouting like a madman. As I left, out of the corner of my eye I saw
him drag himself toward the door, but he didn’t make it, because I read in
the papers that he was there for about twenty minutes.68
Brigadists are prompted by a feeling of deep frustration caused by their
marginality. But before acting they have to define the reasons for their depri-
vation. The Marxist-Leninist doctrine is their beacon. It tells them that the
66. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 103.
67. Morucci, A guerra finita, 17.
68. Peci, Io, l’infame, 14–16.
roots of their exploitation are to be found in “relations of production,” in the
relations established between capitalists and proletarians during the produc-
tion process. These relations are based on the private ownership of means of
production. Communism is the solution to all evils. Once established, there
will no longer be any distinction between rich and poor, employers and
workers, exploiters and exploited. But every attempt to demolish the pres-
ent order of things comes up against the reaction of the ruling class. For this
reason, politics is an ongoing war in which the army of the “good” fights
against the army of the “bad. There is no room for dialogue or consultation.
Revolutionaries have to be intolerant because their enemies live in error, far
from the scientific and incontestable truth of Marxism-Leninism. However,
the Marxist-Leninist formula is not in itself sufficient to save the world. The
revolution needs a handful of trained and well-organized people to transform
Marx’s thinking into a tool of social change. The professional revolutionaries
have the task of saving humanity from the tyranny of capitalism and from
people’s wickedness.
Conclusion: the conquest of power is the antechamber of happiness.
Paraphrasing Max Weber, we could say that “they work with the striving
for power as an unavoidable means. Therefore, the ‘power instinct, as it is
called, belongs indeed to their normal qualities.69 The Red Brigades could
see themselves in this description, where Weber is referring to the “profes-
sional politician, except for one thing: they do not have the same ambitions
as the middle classes. The Red Brigades consider themselves anthropologi-
cally different from their enemies. They could never admit that they have the
same impulses as those who infest the world with their corrupt presence, and
their daily life must continually confirm this unshakable “diversity.” The Red
Brigades are absolutely certain that their war is in the interests of humanity
and they think it entirely justified “to respond to the fascist atrocities with
armed justice.70 They practice terror and preach love. With one hand they
kill, kneecap, and terrorize; with the other they outline the perfect society. It
will be built with their heroism, their love for others, day after day, death after
death, because—as we read in the first communiqué of the Sossi kidnapping
69. M. Weber, La politica come professione, 95–96.
70. Leaflet claiming responsibility for the Padua assassination, 18 June 1974, in Dossier Brigate rosse,
1:299. The document refers to the actions of 17 June 1974, when an armed Red Brigade group oc-
cupied the MSI (Italian Socialist Movement) provincial headquarters on via Zabardella, Padua. There
were two MSI victims: Graziano Giralucci and Giuseppe Mazzola. According to the Red Brigades,
Mazzola and Giralucci reacted violently and were “executed. According to forensic findings, they
were handcuffed and shot in the back of the head.
(19 April 1974)—“there can be no compromise with the executioners of
Political violence always needs to justify itself. It has to define an abstract
principle as its foundation.
Eschatological Politics
At this point the reader may be tempted to conclude that the communist
ideal, along with the utopia of the perfect society, the liberation of the op-
pressed, and heaven on earth, were the Red Brigades’ “political formulas.72
That is, they were the ornaments with which they tried to embellish the
crude reality of politics, which is the battle for power. But this would be a
hasty conclusion, because the final aim of the Red Brigades’ action is not the
conquest of power and the enjoyment of the pleasures it involves, but the
radical transformation of the world. The Red Brigades’ mission has a very
real goal: to take over the establishment and purify the world from the moral
corruption generated by private property. Taking power—it can never be
repeated enough—is only a stage in the brigadist plan whose final goal is the
extermination of their enemies through revolutionary terror and the con-
struction of a perfect society. In other words, the political realism lecture can
hinder our understanding of the brigadist mentality. Machiavelli and Pareto,
Mosca and Michels—according to whom politics in the end comes down
to the struggle for power—can illuminate only some minor aspects of the
phenomenon we are analyzing.
In the words of Dolf Sternberger, the Red Brigades’ type of politics is
“eschatological.73 Author of a fundamental work on the great metamorpho-
ses of the concept of politics, Sternberger is worth studying in depth. He has
pinpointed three “roots” of political thought in the West: the “politology”
of Aristotle, the “demonology” of Machiavelli, and the “eschatology” of
Augustine. For Aristotle—writes Sternberger—politics is the administration
of the state for the “common good, whereas for Machiavelli it is the art of
command. There is also a third tradition, Saint Augustine’s eschatological
71. Sossi kidnapping—communiqué no. 1, Red Brigades document of 19 April 1974, in ibid.,
72. See G. Mosca, “Elementi di scienza politica,” 2:633: “The political class does not exclusively
justify its power with its de facto possession, but tries to give it a moral and also legal basis, making
it a necessary consequence of doctrines and beliefs that are generally recognized and accepted in the
society it governs.
73. D. Sternberger, Le tre radici della politica.
politics, described in his famous work De civitate Dei, written between 413
and 425 during the reign of the Christian emperor Honorius.
Eschatological politics aims to prepare people spiritually for the day of
the apocalypse and universal judgment. In eschatological politics—explains
Sternberger—the “great transformation” is awaited with profound faith.
This “living in expectation” requires a strict ethical self-discipline, conceived
as a daily “sacrifice. Eschatological politics is thus the politics of believing,
since only an invincible faith can relieve the anguish of those waiting for the
apocalypse. It is also a politics that leads to a fierce ethical radicalism. Since
it is focused on the opposition between those who live in the light of Christ
and those enveloped in the darkness of Lucifer, it is destined to condemn ob-
sessively anything not included in the church orthodoxy. Lastly, it is a politics
of conversion. Believers consider themselves the guardians of an absolute
truth because it is of divine origin. There will be no tolerance for reprobates.
Saint Augustine admonishes pagans who do not believe in the “true God”
with the Hebrew commandment: “Those who offer a sacrifice to the gods,
and not to the Lord alone, will be cursed.
The Red Brigades never worried about the governance of the state nor
asked themselves how they would exercise power once they had gained it.
There are no traces of Aristotle or Machiavelli in their thinking. As Nitta
explains, recalling his political training: The communist ideology was offering me
a perfect model for real life.74
The Red Brigades’ documents—hundred and hundreds of pages—
obsessively reiterate the same concept: this sickening and putrefying world is
about to die. A radical upheaval will change the course of history. A “new
world” will come, in which every form of exploitation will be eliminated
forever and people will live in universal harmony. A terrible anger will over-
throw the “ungodly” bourgeoisie, who will pay for their atrocious crimes
with their blood. In the “Red Brigades’ city” there will be room only for
the pure in spirit. Its doors will open only to those who, during the dark
age of waiting, have lived in the “catacombs, renouncing the sinful temp-
tations of this world.
The Red Brigades’ actions are prompted by hatred of the enemy, an obses-
sion with purity, pantoclastic fury, and the fideistic concept of the revolution.
Their ideology is not a simple reflection of underlying material concerns;
it is not a trite “anecdote” to embellish the fight for power—as a follower
of Hans J. Morgenthau would say75—but the primum movens of the Red
74. Novelli and Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 186. Italics added.
75. H. J. Morgenthau, Politica tra le nazioni, 1997.
Brigades’ thoughts and actions. The brigadist ideology—to recall Karl Mann -
heim’s fundamental work—is itself an “instrument of collective action.76
The Red Brigades are not simple “creatures of prey,”77 as political realists
would assert. They are not satisfied with gaining power. They are much
more ambitious. They want a “new world” and a “new person.”78 The
Marxist-Leninist ideology—in the hands of a group of people willing to
use violence—is in itself a very powerful instrument of political and social
change; it is a way of perceiving reality and of reconstructing it. For the Red
Brigades it is the only link between people and reality. In other words, it is
the most powerful of bullets.
The words of the Red Brigades’ brigadist Anna Laura Braghetti are re-
vealing here. They make us reflect, once again, on the importance the Red
Brigades placed on ideology. Braghetti writes: Our only medium was ideol-
ogy. . . . Ideology was the crime that permitted me to enter the Red Brigades and to
shoot other people. But it was also the crime against my very existence. Against all our
lives.79 For the brigadist Paolo Lapponi, “the revolution has a moral aspect
that in some way justifies [political violence].80 The brigadist Alfredo Buo-
navita states that “the issue of violence . . . is treated as something absolutely
normal.81 And for the brigadist “Piero,” violence is “a method, an instru-
ment of liberation.82 In the Red Brigades—explains Morucci—“it had be-
come a mark of distinction and of courage to have killed someone when you
had no idea who he was.83 The Red Brigades militant Alberto Franceschini
describes the brigadist ideology as a “killer drug.” These were his words: “We
were only drug addicts, with a particular kind of drug, ideology. You just
need a few cubic centimeters and you’re stoned for life.84
76. K. Mannheim, Ideologia e utopia, 7.
77. R. Niebuhr, Uomo morale e società immorale, 18.
78. Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis (see n. 16 above), 57. The passage is worth
quoting in full: “The fight for a ‘new world’ is also the fight for a ‘new person.’ The political revolu-
tion finally becomes a real and profound process of social and cultural revolution. The revolution
that has left utopia behind becomes relevant first of all in the revolutionary community. It passes
‘inside’ and ‘outside’ each of us at the same time, inside and outside every revolutionary community,
inside and outside every labor collective. It requires a real contemporaneity between the transforma-
tion of man and the transformation of his institutions, between the transformation of needs and the
transformation of the production and consumption apparatus.”
79. Anna Laura Braghetti talking to S. Mazzocchi, Nell’anno della tigre, 14.
80. R. Catanzaro and L. Manconi, eds., Storie di lotta armata, 197.
81. Ibid., 98.
82. Ibid., 255. The authors do not give the surname of the terrorist quoted.
83. Morucci, Ritratto di un terrorista da giovane, 219.
84. Franceschini, Mara, Renato e io, 204.
The Red Brigades would not have been content just to gain power. Every-
thing leads us to believe that, if they had succeeded in doing so, they would
have conscientiously and scrupulously carried out their promised “purifica-
tion” of society through an extortionate use of political violence and terror,
exactly as happened in all the societies in which the purifiers of the world
succeeded in taking over the state machine. The Red Brigades wanted to
free humanity from any form of unhappiness and oppression; they wanted
to build a world based on solidarity and love. And they wanted it to last
The Red Brigades cannot tolerate a world inhabited by individuals not
inspired by the revolutionary ideal. The complete elimination of their en-
emies could require many years, because the world is infested with them.
There could be millions of people to kill, but no matter. True revolutionaries
are willing to devote their entire lives to this project of total annihilation. As
we saw in the testimony of the brigadist who admired Pol Pot, many gnostic
activists do not want to obtain privileges or honorary appointments. They
want to exterminate their enemies; they want to punish the reprobates and
inflict “fair punishment” on those who have refused to take the “path of
light” that leads to salvation. They are intransigent. No party in this corrupt
world could stop them. They will win or die.
Chapter 2
The Sacralization of Politics
Politics is beyond people’s lives.
It’s a “great plan” close to the divine.
—Valerio Morucci
The “Fanaticism of a New Religion”
One of the typical traits of the Red Brigades’ mentality is the sacralization of
politics. The Red Brigades have the task of redeeming people, showing them
the way to salvation: “We were the saviors, says the brigadist Roberto Rosso,
“and we wanted to bring people convincing values to judge with.1 Like all
self-respecting saviors, the Red Brigades are the guardians of an absolute truth
that contains the “formula” for eliminating every form of human suffering.
This formula consists of the destruction of the present world through revo-
lutionary violence. Which means that the future of humanity depends on
politics. That politics is certainly not a “bourgeois politics” vulgarly aimed
at the conquest of power. Rather, the Red Brigades practice a “new” politics
that aspires to a metapolitical aim: the perfect society. Human conduct is
meaningful only in the service of the revolution. Someone who does not
espouse the Marxist ideal is not even a person.
The brigadist Nitta recalls that for him politics had a marginal impor-
tance. But everything changed after his encounter with Marxism. From then
on, the meaning of his life depended solely on the revolution: “My cultural
and existential baggage was not focused on politics, but I gradually started
1. S. Zavoli, La notte della Repubblica, 378.
to interpret reality through political criticism according to Marxist catego-
ries. . . . I encountered a mentality in which the value of an individual life was
relative and man was such only if he was revolutionary.2
Nitta ends with these words: “The communist ideology did not propose
perfect models of man, but a perfect model for real life.3
Thus the Red Brigades’ politics has a soteriological nature and as such is
“sacred.” As Morucci wrote about his militancy in the Red Brigades: “Poli-
tics is beyond people’s lives. It’s a ‘great plan’ close to the divine.4 Only those who
follow Marxism can see the world with “pure” eyes. This “privilege” makes
the Red Brigades “gnostic” activists, or people who have “a revolutionary
gnosis, a knowledge reserved for the select few, who have the “duty” to save
humanity, defeating—after “a series of battles that mark the beginning of the
last war”5—“the vast army of black soldiers.6
Everything has to be sacrificed on the altar of politics, including life—
your own and that of your enemies. The Red Brigades’ mission—as Morucci
wrote—was the result of the “fanaticism of a new religion.7
The communist ideal enabled the Red Brigades to pour their mystic-
religious vocation into politics, which takes on a salvific character. Politics
becomes their obsession: “Politics was everything,8 asserts the brigadist En-
rico Baglioni. Outside revolutionary politics, life has no significance what-
soever. Through it, it is possible to resolve all the contradictions that afflict
human coexistence. But it has to be a politics illuminated by the Marxist
“truth” and supported by the “faith” in the palingenetic power of the revo-
lutionary procedure. The Red Brigades’ need for the “absolute” is thus ful-
filled. All their psychic energies can be addressed to an ideal of redemption,
giving an elevated meaning to their existence. The Red Brigades can shake
off their status as marginal individuals to become “heroes. They choose to
sacrifice themselves for the good of humanity, shouldering the task of lead-
ing the oppressed and the exploited to the kingdom of light.
You enter the Red Brigades “with the same absolutism as that involved
in a sacrifice. Entering the Red Brigades—these are the words of Valerio
2. D. Novelli and N. Tranfaglia, Vite sospese, 185. Italics added.
3. Ibid., 186. Italics added.
4. V. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 104.
5. Internal Reflection Document; published by the periodical Brigate rosse, no. 1, June 1975, in
Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:372.
6. “Giornale ‘Brigate rosse’ no. 2. Br di Roma, from the periodical Brigate rosse, no. 2, May
1971, in ibid., 1:112.
7. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 108.
8. R.
Catanzaro and L. Manconi, eds., Storie di lotta armata, 99.
Morucci—is “like going to the stake.9 As Sergei Nechaev, whose teaching
the Red Brigades eagerly imbibed, wrote: “The revolutionary is a dedicated
man; he must not be driven by his personal impulses but must be directed
by the common interests of the revolution. For him, the only thing that
is moral is that which contributes to the triumph of the revolution. All
that obstructs this is immoral and criminal.”10 The Red Brigades practice an
authentic “secular alternative” to religion. Therefore—and this is my core
theory—they fall within the vast phenomenology of religious phenomena.11
For the Red Brigades, the choice of the armed struggle is an authentic “sac-
rificial gesture.12
To understand the phenomenon of the Red Brigades we have to realize
that they, by their explicit admission, were “invaded with political purity.13
Their enemies’ ideas were only an instrument to oppress the workers. The
ideas of those who support the revolution are instead “just, “true, and
“indisputable.” Imposing them with force is nothing to be ashamed of, since
violence is necessary when its aim is to purify the world of reprobates. We
read in a Red Brigades document of April 1974: “Striking the fascists with
every means and in every place is just and necessary.14 “The claim that a
fascist’s life is worthless, clarifies the brigadist Alfredo Buonavita, “was a cul-
tural legacy. . . . In the sense that the fascist as an enemy whose life is worthless
is not the legacy of youthful extremism, it’s the acceptance of a whole left-
wing mentality that has filled the squares of Milan.15
The Red Brigades documents show the perspicacity of the social psychol-
ogist Milton Rokeach, who had been suggesting the existence of “left-wing
authoritarians” since 1956. These would be those left-wing extremists who
preached equality and liberty but oppressed and crushed those who expressed
9. Testimony of the brigadist Valerio Morucci to S. Mazzocchi, Nell’anno della tigre, 74.
10. Quoted in M. Nomand, Apostles of Revolution, 232.
11. As Pellicani says: “The modern, secularized, and positive society has not entirely succeeded
in suppressing religious need. It satisfies this need through ethical-political utopias. L. Pellicani, I
rivoluzionari di professione, 12–23.
12. The testimony of a brigadist to D. Della Porta, Il terrorismo di sinistra, 174. With his entry into
the Red Brigades, the militant recalls that he underwent “a profound change and upheaval in my life,
in the sense that I, devoting myself practically body and soul to this type of commitment spiritually
linked to my comrades on the run, to this idea of our lives overturned, had a series of virtual pictures
before my eyes: the need, the legitimacy, the justice and, if you want, also the beauty of that type of
sacrificial gesture. Mark Juergensmeyer’s comparative study of religious terrorism, Terror in the Mind
of God, is a good resource for understanding the religious mindset of the Red Brigadists. See also
Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God.
13. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 141.
14. Against neo-Gaullism to strike at the heart of the State. Red Brigades document issued in April
1974, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:256.
15. Catanzaro and Manconi, Storie di lotta armata, 64.
different opinions. This narrow and intolerant mentality is similar to the
fascist one.16 The brigadist Patrizio Peci’s testimony is very instructive. Both
fascism and the Red Brigades, explains Peci, want to impose their vision of
the world with force, but fascism supports “impure” principles and ideas not
in line with the Marxist “truth. This is Peci on the difference between Red
Brigades and fascists: “My benchmark was always fascism as the opposite
of communism. Fascism is the arrogance of wanting to impose one’s ideas
with force and with violence. You could say, and someone has said it, that
the Red Brigades also did this; they wanted to classify the Red Brigades with
fascism because both use violence and want to impose, as an elitist group,
their ideas on the majority. I think they exaggerate. Fascism is the exaltation
of individualism, communism is the exaltation of collectivism. But above all,
communism is in the interests of the majority class, of the proletariat, of the
class that works, not of a select group.17
Radical Catastrophism
So those who live outside the Marxist doctrine must open their eyes. They
are blind and must accept a vanguard that will conduct them to the kingdom
of “truth. It is only under these conditions—we read in a Red Brigades doc-
ument issued in Milan in 1971—“that the pigs won’t crush the people.18
Imposing the “right” way of thinking is a duty. But the “boss system” is
everywhere. There is no respite. It takes over minds and thoughts. As soon as
they are born, people are inserted in a machine that humiliates, degrades, and
exploits them twenty-four hours a day. The political, economic, cultural, and
legislative systems have to be eliminated. Everything is “bourgeois” and thus
impure. State, political parties, trade unions, legal institutes, the entire capitalistic
productive-distributive apparatus, the dominant ideology in all its aspects, cus-
toms, “morals”—there is nothing in this world that deserves to be preserved.
This is what we read in the first programmatic document of the Metropolitan
Political Collective (CPM), Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis,
16. See M. Rokeach, “Political and Religious Dogmatism”; see also his The Open and Closed
Mind. See also P. E. Tetlock, “Cognitive Style and Political Belief Systems in the British House of
Commons, 1314–24. Tetlock questioned a random sample of the British House of Commons on
their political convictions. It was found that Conservatives and extremist Socialists had the same
tendencies toward absolutism and intolerance.
17. P. Peci, Io, l’infame, 45.
18. Class against Class: Class War. Red Brigade document issued in Milan during 1971, quoted
in ibid., 118.
drafted in November–December 1969, and printed and issued in Milan in the
form of a pamphlet in January 1970.19
Television, the press, cinema, schools, even kindergartens are tools of social
oppression. In a leaflet of the Metropolitan Political Collective, Emancipation
of Women? issued in Milan in March 1970, we read: “But emancipation from
whom? From husbands who are exploited in the factory eight hours a day,
who work in dangerous conditions, who are made to believe they have privi-
leges by the boss system? Emancipation because women ‘can’ work? Eman-
cipation because today women ‘can’ go to the pub or cinema alone, buy a
few more clothes or necklaces, take the pill? In our society based on exploitation
twenty-four hours a day. . . . In the name of their emancipation, the bosses offer women
the right to be exploited in the factory, which they call the right to work. So women are
super exploited: once because they have to work in the factory to manage to pay the rent,
to buy books for their children and send them to school. . . . And again when they have
to look after the home and children and maybe ‘fight’ to have a kindergarten built, with
mimosa branches! All this serves to support the boss system; in fact, in the terms of
the system, the kindergarten serves to remove the so-called ‘weight’ of the edu-
cation of your children so that you can work when and how it wants; to del-
egate the education of your children to it from birth for its own interest.20
The world is caught up in permanent disaster. No one can escape alien-
ation. For the brigadist Codrini: “The rot is there, it’s spreading, ruining
everything: we’re become increasingly aware of it every day. A quagmire in
which we’re inexorably sinking. The soul of modern society is in tatters, it’s
bleeding everywhere, there’s no hope for it.21 He observes “the behavior
of children from the so-called well-off families and realize[s], with dismay,
that the seeds of the drugs they will inject in a few years’ time are already
germinating inside them.22
Our thoughts, our desires, are not really “ours.” They’re the reflection of
“forces” extraneous to us, occult powers that move like shadows in our minds.
The “boss system” thinks and desires for us: “We’re profoundly marked
by an alienated social life,” the Red Brigades write, “in which ‘separation’
seems to be the prevailing law: separation between public and private, separa-
tion between being and awareness, separation between your mind and your
balls.23 To escape this condition of unsupportable privation, a revolution
19. Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:21–58.
20. Emancipation of Women? Red Brigades leaflet issued in Milan in March 1970, in Dossier Brigate
rosse, 1:71–72.
21. G. Codrini, Io, un ex brigatista, 52.
22. Ibid., 61.
23. Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis, 56–57.
that changes only the nation’s political-institutional system is not sufficient.
Much more is needed. An anthropological revolution is needed, able to up-
root the egoism that “the system” has sown in people’s hearts. This is the Red
Brigades’ ambition: to change people. To purify their eyes and minds from
the contamination of a corrupt and evil society: “The ‘new man’s’ fixation
on constructing, writes the brigadist Prospero Gallinari, “raises the criticism
of middle-class morals, the theory of militant abnegation, to embarrassing
With the radicalization of their revolutionary ideology, the Red Brigades
adopt a rigid dividing line. On one side the “pure, the “elect” who have the
task of judging and carrying out sentences; one the other “the black fascist
soldiers.25 In Mario Moretti’s words: “On one side the armed struggle, on
the other all the rest.26
In the programmatic document of the Metropolitan Political Collective,
Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis (1969) cited earlier, the range
of enemies to attack is extended with effects that were to be devastating.
No longer only those who “deliberately” defend the system, but also those
who unconsciously support it.27 It is the distinction—typical of totalitarian
terror—between “objective enemy” and “potential enemy. The former de-
liberately and resolutely oppose the revolutionary project; the latter instead,
even if they haven’t actually carried out any counterrevolutionary behavior,
are persecuted for the sole fact of belonging to a social group considered
But who are the enemies? They are all those who are not friends; all
those who are not deployed in the armed struggle. The “binary code” of
the Red Brigades’ mentality leaves no way out because—as their document
of September 1971 states—the boundaries between “good” and “evil” are
rigorously “scientific. As such they have nothing arbitrary or subjective
about them. They are inspired by Marxism-Leninism, the Chinese Cultural
24. P. Gallinari, Un contadino nella metropoli, 80.
25. “Giornale ‘Brigate rosse’ no. 2. Br di Roma, from the periodical Brigate rosse no. 2, May 1971,
in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:113.
26. Moretti’s statement: “It was as ideological as you want, but it consisted of the armed struggle
on one side, and on the other all the rest. M. Moretti, Brigate rosse, 44.
27. We read in the document of the Metropolitan Political Collective, Social Struggle and Orga-
nization in the Metropolis, 51:‘To act with the masses like fish in water’ for us means preventing the
powers that be from forming a real idea of their strength, hounding them in their dens and unloading
on them and their representatives (or on those who consciously or unconsciously take their defense and become
their accomplices) all the violence that they continually use against the great majority of the people.
Italics added.
28. See H. Arendt, Le origini del totalitarismo, 580; and also D. Fisichella, Totalitarismo, 40.
Revolution, and the experience of the metropolitan guerilla movements.29
Following the Marxism-Leninism doctrine means upholding a principle of
absolute truth that brooks no contradiction: “The working class and the
working masses,” we read in another Red Brigades document issued in Milan
in April 1972, “cannot defeat the armed middle classes without the power of
guns. This is a Marxist law, not an opinion.30
Revolutionary violence is an appealing ideal because it meets a funda-
mental need for self-fulfillment. A need that cannot be met through the
exaltation of individual qualities (the “boss system” systematically represses
any “real” attempt at social ascent) but through the violent and radical trans-
formation of the world.
The Revolutionary Sect and the Obsession with Purity
The political group confers significance on human existence. It becomes the
only link with reality. The relationship with your comrades, sharing a great
project, the bonds of solidarity, take on an absolute value that transcends the
meaning of individual existences.
With the language and mentality typical of the gnostic revolutionary, a
brigadist describes the communist ideal as a choice that involves every mo-
ment of his existence. Politics has a “total” meaning with all the aspects of
a mystic-religious experience: “Being part of a great organization justified
me, at least that is what I felt, in front of the world and of history, and for
years it was to become the only transcendence, the only immanence to which
I could sacrifice myself. Not so much by unorganized reading but rather by
daily experience, my conception of the world became strongly materialistic,
dialectics was to rationalize even the irrational. I gradually became convinced
that my ideals were fulfilled in my relationship with my comrades, in our
unity of intentions and solidarity. Politics became my way of life, the way
in which I related to reality. . . . My life is now completely immersed in po-
litical practice. I internalize the reasons for the revolt that drives thousands
of young people . . . who during the demonstrations all become ‘brothers’
against the common enemy. The noise of thousands of people marching in
29. Self-interview. BR leaflet issued in Milan, September 1971, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:127:
What ideology did you support? Our benchmarks are Marxism-Leninism, the Chinese Cultural Revo-
lution and the ongoing experience of the metropolitan guerilla movements; in brief, the scientific
tradition of the international workers’ revolutionary movement.
30. Votes Don’t Work, Guns Do! Red Brigade document issued in Milan, April 1972, in ibid.,
the streets, yelling slogans at the top of their voices and the odor of the tear
gas became synonyms of authenticity for me.31
In the light of all this, it becomes very difficult to agree with those who—
like Luigi Bonanate—try to explain the phenomenon of terrorism in Italy
leaving out ideological variables. According to Bonanate, when the political
system is no longer able to answer the questions asked by civil society, it
becomes “blocked. This political-institutional situation creates favorable
conditions for subversive movements, since they come to believe that politi-
cal violence is the only practical way to achieve their goals.
In Bonanate’s words: “The appearance of a terrorist event becomes an
indicator of a blocked situation . . . , one could say that the appearance of ter-
rorism allows for a kind of ‘early diagnosis’ . . . of the fact that a determinate
structured organization . . . is nearing, or has already entered, a blocked situa-
tion, that is, it is only able to perform its tasks repetitively, without adapting
to new needs or new stimuli, without developing or regulating itself. In other
words, the blocked situation is that of a system that has consolidated its base,
its structural organization, to such an extent that no innovation of any kind is
possible. . . . The terrorist thus knows he is in a blocked route: thus he needs a
fighting technique that permits him to explode that block in his path.32
Less dogmatic is the position of Gianfranco Pasquino, who states that
the “blocked system” does not in itself create the demand for terrorism. At
most, it can be considered a facilitator: “The block of the system, writes
Pasquino, “acts as a factor facilitating the approach of a consistent number
of young people to the armed struggle; it is not the cause of terrorism in a
technical sense.33
My theory is that the Red Brigades’ action is the result of a gradual inter-
action in which the support of a particular political ideology plays a decisive
role. This is in disagreement not only with Bonanate but also with Donatella
Della Porta and Carlo Marletti. The former denies that ideology is one of the
“causes for collective behavior.34 The latter, using the economic approach to
the study of political phenomena, claims that terrorism always has a strategic
31. Ibid., 1:190.
32. L. Bonanate, Dimensioni del terrorismo politico, 176–78.
33. G. Pasquino, “Sistema politico bloccato e insorgenza del terrorismo,” 218.
34. Della Porta, Il terrorismo di sinistra, 123–24. Della Porta’s contributions also include Terrorismi
in Italia; Il terrorismo; Gli incentivi alla militanza nelle organizzazioni clandestine della sinistra; Social Move-
ments and the States; Movimenti collettivi e sistema politico in Italia 1960–1995; and with M. Rossi, Cifre
crudeli Bilancio dei terrorismi italiani.
content; it is a type of selective action, calculated for the effects it can produce
and that develops according to a specific logic of behavior.35
The Red Brigades documents—and the history of this revolutionary
group—lead us to the opposite conclusion.
The Red Brigades are required to carry out the colossal mission of saving
the world. They feel that the fate of humanity is their responsibility. Their
life has a meaning only in the function of the revolution. The system can only
be destroyed, since, we read in a Red Brigades document of 1971 published
in Milan, “power is born from the gun barrel.36 The Red Brigades’ gnostic
vision is a “mental barracks” that guides their behavior in a way mainly
independent of the political system’s capacity to reform. This explains how
the Red Brigades reestablished themselves—not once but twice after their
first defeat in the early eighties—in very different institutional political situ-
ations. The Red Brigades—we read in the document claiming responsibility
for the Rossi attack (4 June 1977)—are fighting not to “unblock” the politi-
cal system but, on the contrary, “to block and destroy the murdering and
counterrevolutionary initiative the state is implementing to reorganize, on
the back of the working class’s sacrifices and deaths, the tottering power of
multinational capital.37 In Comunicato no. 10, Giovanni D’Urso kidnapping
(14 January 1981), we read that “we of the Red Brigades have nothing either
to ask or to barter. The guerrilla warfare achieves the goals of its program
with its weapons in hand and it is not negotiable.38
The “blocked system” theory removes attention from the Red Brigades’
particular characteristic, their political-religious vocation.39 We can attempt to
understand this phenomenon through what elsewhere I have called the “par-
adigm of Pareto.40 According to this sociologist’s typical approach, politics
can be understood only in its innumerable relations with other social areas.
The Red Brigades have a particular vision of the world based on some defla-
grating ingredients: (a) social marginalization, (b) denial of reality, (c) obsession
35. See C. Marletti, “Immagini pubbliche e ideologia del terrorismo, 191. Italics added.
36. “Classe contro classe,” 117.
37. Leaflet claiming responsibility for Rossi shooting published on 4 June 1977, in Dossier Brigate rosse
1976–1978, 2:86. Emilio Rossi was director of RAI Channel 1 News.
38. Comunicato no.10—D’Urso kidnapping, Red Brigade document issued on 14 January 1981
39. The “blocked system” theory can be useful, at most, to investigate how the Red Brigades
phenomenon gained its consensus, but not its genesis and persistence. We have to examine the pro-
fessional revolutionaries’ mental universe, the way in which they are formed and the social processes
that encourage them on their path.
40. See A. Orsini, “Sociologia politica e scienza politica,” 433–68.
with “purity,” (d) hatred of capitalism, (e) fideistic expectation of the revolution,
and (f ) pantoclastic fury.
The choice to embrace the Red Brigades’ cause is prompted mainly by
sentiment and passion and only to a very limited extent by the capacity to
adjust the means (the armed struggle) to the end (the communist revolu-
tion). The Red Brigades’ vision of the world is mature when “principle of
hope” prevails over the principle of reality.41 Being educated for the revolu-
tion means espousing a new faith. The revolutionary sect is a very powerful
agency for socialization with the task of forging the “ideological person. Its
most important aspect is what Herman Schmalenbach has called “emotional
This concept needs to be examined.
Ferdinand Tönnies had distinguished between community and society.42
The first, supported by the power of tradition, is founded on deep emotional
links and on solidarity; the second is dominated by rationality and by egoisti-
cal interests. In the community, individuals are an “end”; in society they are a
“means. Their value is commensurate with their “usefulness. Community
bonds are given; social ones are acquired. This means that you are “born”
into the community, whereas you “enter” society.
Alongside these two sociological categories, Schmalenbach introduces a
third, called Bund.
You enter the Bund out of free choice, but the bonds of solidarity unit-
ing its members are very tight. The Bund is a fusion model. Once inside, it
is very difficult to leave because the emotional involvement is very intense.
“Emotional sodality,” explains Schmalenbach, “is typical of religious com-
munities. You become a believer, but sharing the faith creates a ‘fraternal’
bond. The true disciple is prepared to die to defend his teachers and his
‘fellow believers. ” “The sect, concludes Schmalenbach, “is a Bund in the
pure state.43 And so is the Red Brigades’ community, whose militants are
fused into a single body. The “sacrifice” in defending one’s comrades—
renouncing all the pleasures of this world—has a deeply religious conno-
tation. The Red Brigades are ready to die with the same determination
with which they are ready to kill. Their action is driven much more by
“emotional sodality” than by instrumental logics. The revolutionary sect is
a source of life. It has the power to confer a very high significance even on
41. E. Bloch, Il principio speranza, 2005.
42. See F. Tönnies, Comunità e società, 1963.
43. H. Schmalenbach, La categoria sociologica del Bund.
the most “insignificant” existences. Outside the sect, the brigadists are lost;
in the Bund, they are heroes fighting for the salvation of humanity.
Morucci recounts that, before embracing the revolutionary cause, he was
living a life he felt to be useless and aimless and of which he was ashamed.
He felt a great need to battle against an “obscene” world. Man can redeem
the world, he thought, because he is the “incarnation of the divine.” His
testimony is invaluable: “After being a kind of drifter, comfortable because
I had some money that was no use for anything, I’d started to feel ashamed
of myself. The world continued to be obscene. Violence after violence
and abuse after abuse. And there I was thinking only of my problems. It
wasn’t right. There was something inside me, a sensation that brought me
to tears, which wasn’t even ideological. It came from before. From further
away. I couldn’t ignore it. An old itch. A cultural itch. Man ‘has’ to act to
change the world. To ‘improve it.’ He has to be an active part of history.
Whatever the cost. He bears everything, because he’s the incarnation of the
divine. The king of the universe. The breakup of the static and suffocat-
ing pyramid of God-Church-Man has given us magnificent things, but its
stagnation and barely concealed arrogance has made everything in its way
capitulate or be swept away: things, which is not so bad; nature, unavoidable
but within certain limits; and people themselves. The fanaticism of a new
The Red Brigades have the same features Jean Guitton described for the
“party of the pure.” We can break them down into six categories.
Segregation: The Red Brigades have no contact with the social universe.
Their existence is closed, invisible, and clandestine. Just as the church achieves
its “incandescent state” when it takes shelter in the catacombs, so the Red
Brigades become more themselves in segregation.
Permanent Indignation: The Red Brigades love to despise, which is why
they tend to become so outraged. They need it because their inner purity is
confirmed through indignation.
Desire to be Persecuted: The Red Brigades are gratified by being persecuted.
The state’s violence against the “pure” proves their extraneousness to this
world. If everything that lives outside the “confraternity” is corrupt, every
attack on its members confirms an implacably pure diversity. As the left-
wing revolutionary Ulrike Meinhof writes: “If the enemy fights us, that is
good, not bad. . . . If the enemy opposes us vigorously, paints us in the blackest
44. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 107–8.
colors, and allows us no good points, that is even better; it shows that . . . we
have drawn a clear dividing line between ourselves and the enemy.45
Purification of Means through the End: Another characteristic of the Red
Brigades’ mentality is the acceptance of a temporary evil in view of a greater
good. Saying that evil is justified by good is the same as saying that the end
purifies the means. Remember the words of Anna Laura Braghetti, one of
Aldo Moro’s executioners: “I imagined a future in which every wrong would
be righted, every inequality repaired, every injustice corrected. . . . This justi-
fied the means we would have used.46 Vincenzo Guagliardo recounts that his
decision to enter the Red Brigades was for an eminently “moral” reason. He
felt like a “heretic” who would lead people back to the way of “purity. In
his words: “When we decided to embark on the armed struggle for com-
munism, in the very early sixties, I think we were all convinced we were her-
etics. . . . In the end, by deciding on the armed struggle, in our heresy we just
wanted to be consistent compared to those we considered had abandoned the
purity of the ideal by accepting middle-class values.47
The brigadist responsible for shedding blood is convinced that violence
represents only a cruel interlude before communism is established. In this
way, “the immaculate character of the end, explains Guitton, “gives the
bloody means an aura of innocence. This is why the pure are violent and the
violent feel pure. The stronger the force, the gentler it seems, since it saves
the time of pain.48 The Red Brigades’ violence is “compassionate.
Principle of Secrecy: The “secret” is the fifth pillar of the Red Brigades’ uni-
verse. Not only because the goal of destroying the world cannot be publicly
declared but also because there is the utmost solidarity among comrades. The
Red Brigades have a “very high” goal. The “traitor” jeopardizes the salva-
tion of humanity and is guilty of a “very base” action that offends the sacred
nature of the salvific mission. Treason is a “spiritual” crime.
Preventive Internal Terror: To prevent the spiritual collapse of the weaker
members, the Red Brigades rely on preventive internal terror. What a “party
of purists” fears most is betrayal. It is a duty to accuse those who could betray;
it is a duty to eliminate anyone who has collaborated with the “guardians” of
this corrupt world. The Red Brigades live in a state of permanent alert toward
45. This is an extract from the manifesto of the Rote Armee Fraktion, The Urban Guerrilla Con-
cept, written by Ulrike Meinhof probably in 1971.
46. A. L. Braghetti, Il prigioniero, 17. Italics added.
47. V. Guagliardo, Di sconfitta in sconfitta, 23.
48. J. Guitton, Il puro e l’impuro, 31.
the surrounding world and toward themselves. The revolutionary fury moves
in all directions.
The Hatred of Reformists
Hatred and disdain toward all reformists was a typical, and obsessive, trait of
the Red Brigades’ mentality.
What compromise would ever have been possible with that “filthy fascist
scum”49 who defend the “monstrous killing machine”50 represented by the
state? Those who claim they can reform the system are only “its puppets.51
“The only feasible politics for the proletariat at this stage is the revolutionary
class war.52 The Red Brigades’ task is to “wreak total havoc in the enemy
front”53 and in its “degenerate party”54 because—we read in a Red Brigades
leaflet issued in Milan on 5 February 1971—“asking us to fight by the bosses’
laws is like asking us to cut off our balls!”55 The Red Brigades’ desire to de-
stroy every aspect of the present world will never be changed by the political
parties’ strategic choices. As we read in the communiqué claiming responsi-
bility for the Coco crime (8 June 1976), political elections do nothing else
but establish “who gives the order to shoot on the working classes.56
49. Leaflet claiming responsibility for the Brescia attacks published by Controinformazione no. 7–8,
June 1976, in Dossier Brigate rosse 1976–1978, 2:29.
50. Communiqué claiming responsibility for the attack on the prison inspectorate published by Con-
troinformazione no. 7–8, June 1976, in ibid., 2:38.
51. Milan Trial. BR Communiqué no. 1, document issued by the BR on 15 June 1977, at the start
of the Milan trial against Renato Curcio, Nadia Mantovani, Giuliano Isa, Vincenzo Guagliardo, and
Angelo Basone, in ibid., 2:90.
52. Lettera aperta al processo di Bologna, “Open Letter” signed by the Red Brigades members on
trial in Bologna, published by Controinformazione no. 9–10, November 1977, in ibid., 2:76.
53. Morucci. La peggio gioventù, 141.
54. Raid in the offices of “Iniziativa democratica.” Red Brigades document of 15 May 1975, in
Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:368.
55. Red Brigades Pirelli. Communiqué no. 6, leaflet distributed to Pirelli factory in Milan on
5 February 1971, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 1:99. The first Red Brigades’ actions were signed in the
singular: “Red Brigade.
56. Communiqué claiming responsibility for the Coco crime issued in Genoa on 8 June 1976, in
ibid., 2:41. Francesco Coco was the Genoa state prosecutor. He was killed with his guards on
8 June 1976. The passage is worth citing in its entirety: “In this situation there are the elections of
20 June, that will have to establish the political framework, the political alliances that will manage
the implementation of this project. On 20 June one can only choose who will give the order to
shoot the proletariat. Anyone who considers that, with the elections, there could be a balance
favorable to the proletariat or even an alternative power created is not only acting out a miserable
falsification, but is also indicating an adventurist and suicidal line. The only alternative to power
is the armed struggle for communism.”
Those who assert that big changes require time and that the world cannot
be altered through an act of will, those who attempt to broaden the range
of problems, doubting the effectiveness of radical solutions, are just “guard
dogs”57 at the service of the exploiters. We read in a Red Brigades leaflet is-
sued in Turin on 18 December 1972 that “we have to silence these enemies
of working-class unity, we have to strike them hard, with method, in their
persons and in their belongings.58 As Patrizio Peci explains: “At the time
I was naive enough to still think that, in the end, perhaps the trade unions
were preferable to the Christian Democrats. Then I realized that the trade
union was more harmful for the revolution because it did not directly attack
the working classes but instead inveigled them to act in its interests. The Red
Brigades claim that the same applies to the PCI (Italian Communist Party)
because it restrains the proletariat’s revolutionary tendencies.59
The Red Brigades’ hatred of reformists is even greater than their hatred
of capitalists. In the document claiming responsibility for the Traversi attack
(13 February 1977), the reformists are “elements proposing laws and reforms
that are basically ultrareactionary and counterrevolutionary.60 In Renato
Curcio’s analysis, L’ultrarevisionismo, written from prison in 1976, we read
that “the Social-Democratic, reformist parties are an organizational screen
behind which the bosses construct their counterrevolutionary revenge. Their
complicity consists of restraining the revolutionary drive, giving the bour-
geois time to return to the attack.61 Curcio had already started to launch
his invective against the reformists in November 1969, in Chiavari, during
the “congress” of the Metropolitan Political Collective: “The attack on
reformism is today the only condition for the defense and development of
proletarian autonomy.62
In the Red Brigades’ Strategic Management Resolution in November 1977,
Berlinguer’s followers are the leading actors of a “shameful work” and “shabby
maneuvers,63 whose aim is to make the working classes accept the interests
57. Communiqué claiming responsibility for the Borello attack published by Controinformazione,
no. 7–8, June 1976, in ibid., 2:34. Giuseppe Borello was a Fiat manager shot twice in the legs on
13 April 1976.
58. Mass Force, leaflet issued in Turin on 18 December 1972, in ibid., 1:197.
59. Peci, Io, l’infame, 72
60. Document claiming responsibility for the Traversi attack issued by the Red Brigades on 13 Febru-
ary 1977, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 2:73. Valerio Traversi was a government minister in charge of prison
reform. He was shot in the legs five times in Rome on 13 February 1977.
61. L’ultrarevisionismo, short study written in prison by Renato Curcio; published by Controinfor-
mazione, no. 7–8, 1976, in ibid., 2:47.
62. Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis, 37.
63. Red Brigades pamphlet no. 4. Attack, strike and disperse the Christian Democrat Party, pillar of the
State reorganization and of the imperialist counterrevolution. This is the BR strategic management’s resolu-
tion of November 1977. In ibid., 2:134–35.
of the bourgeoisie. The Red Brigades are an “elect class, the class of the
“pure.” They are children of the “light, and as such they have to guard against
any possible contamination from the institutions and practices of bourgeois
politics: “We could dirty our hands with blood, recounts the brigadist Mo-
rucci, “but never with the fetid fluid of compromise. That was the job of the
‘bourgeois parties. 64
In a Red Brigades communiqué of June 1977, we read: “For a com-
munist worthy of the name, what you call ‘democracy’ is only and always a
form of politics that conceals the dictatorship of big capital. . . . There is no
continuity between our democracy and yours, as false as a lead coin, but an
absolute historic antagonism that has its roots in the class structure of the
capitalistic way of production, that is, in the unshakable antagonism that sets
the exploited classes against the exploiting ones.65 And in a previous Joint
Red Brigades-Armed Proletarian Nuclei Communiqué of June 1976, Berlinguer’s
politics is nothing else but a “shameful compliance with the bosses.66 Any
self-respecting communist well knows that “behind its democratic appear-
ance, the Imperialist State hides its true nature of harsh counterrevolutionary
dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.67 In the Red Brigades communiqué claiming
responsibility for the Cacciafesta attack, issued on 21 June 1977, the “sys-
tem” can neither be “unblocked” nor reformed: “The task of the vanguard is
unquestionably that of organizing the proletariat for an armed struggle.68
A revolutionary education admits neither uncertainties nor doubts. Those
who doubt, like those who hesitate, are potential enemies. And they are no
less dangerous than the real enemies. They live in a healthy environment but
are carriers of an infectious disease called critical thought. They question the
orders of the “sect-party, seeking an alternative to violence and revolution.
They are contemptible beings, “snitches,” but they can be identified. They
have a specific name: they are “reformers.” The community is endangered by
coming into contact with them. Revolutionaries must be constantly vigilant
because the reformer attacks the purity of the group. They have to scruti-
nize the thoughts of those beside them along the path that leads to salvation.
Weeding out the “impure” is a fundamental rule, “because it is better, as
64. Morucci, La peggio gioventù, 140.
65. Milan Trial. BR communiqué no. 2 issued on 20 June 1977, in Dossier Brigate rosse, 2:92.
66. BR-NAP Joint Communiqué, published in Controinformazione, no. 7–8, June 1976, in ibid.,
2:32. NAP stands for Nuclei Armati Proletari, an organization created at the beginning of 1974. Its
founders include Pasquale Abatangelo, Domenico Delli Veneri, and Giorgio Panizzari.
67. Turin Trial, communiqué confiscated from the historic nucleus of the Red Brigades on trial
in Turin, 3 May 1977, in ibid., 2:81.
68. Red Brigades communiqué claiming responsibility for the Cacciafesta attack issued on 21 June
1977, in ibid., 2:97.
written in a Red Brigades communiqué of March 1972, “to have your en-
emies in front of you instead of disguised as communists among the ranks of
the combatants.69
The first Red Brigades’ kidnapping (3 March 1972) happened immedi-
ately after the start of the trial for the anarchist Pinelli’s death. The victim, to
be released after a “political process, was Idalgo Macchiarini, a Sit-Siemens
manager disliked by the workers for his dictatorial methods. In the tense cli-
mate of those months, fed by the clashes between police and demonstrators,
Pino Masi wrote the song “Free Them All. There is no difference between
reformers and bosses. Both deserve to be “done away with”:
Free them all
It means going on fighting
It means organizing ourselves
Without losing one hour.
Filthy bosses
You’re deceiving yourselves
Prisons aren’t enough
To keep us in
And all the reformers
Who act as informers
Together with the bosses
We’ll do away with them.
The normal democratic game, in which the political parties address in
parliament the issues raised by the workers, is just a way of hiding the real-
ity of a “stealthy civil war.70 The reformist idea of fighting to improve the
workers’ conditions without violence is unacceptable. For the Red Brigades
there is no alternative: “Either acceptance of exploitation or rejection of the
capitalistic society.71
In the hierarchy of hatred, the pentiti take first place. Repenting is dif-
ferent from distancing oneself from terrorism. Those who have distanced
themselves do not deny the past, and they refuse to collaborate with the
police. They simply state that the historic conditions for continuing the
armed struggle no longer exist. Instead the pentito strikes a harsh blow to
the organization, revealing the places and personalities of the total war
69. Taking Sides, Red Brigades communiqué issued on 30 March 1972, in ibid., 1:155.
70. Social Struggle and Organization in the Metropolis, 1:43.
71. Ibid., 1:40.
against the world. It is not the contribution offered to the enemy that is
unpardonable, but the ideological attack on the “community of absolute
revolution. The pentito recants the revolutionary faith, and, since revolu-
tionary politics are “sacred, recantation is the most atrocious of crimes.
Penitence is an offense against the symbols and dogmas of the sect-party.
Because the pentiti are guilty of a “symbolic” offense, they must be given
a symbolically significant punishment: they have to die among garbage,
their faces shot to disfigure them. Having lost the faith, they are no longer
revolutionaries and thus are no longer people. As such they have no iden-
tity. Since they no longer identify with the group, they must be rendered
unidentifiable to everyone.
Roberto Peci, Patrizio’s younger brother, first and most important Red
Brigades pentito, dies in this way.
Roberto enters the Red Brigades in the summer of 1976. In January 1977
he is arrested after the three pistols and a Sten machine gun he is keeping for
the Red Brigades’ Marche Committee were discovered. He spends a few days
in prison. Once outside, he decides to leave the armed struggle. On 26 October
1979 he is again arrested for something that had occurred three years earlier.
He is charged with breaking into the Ancona offices of Confapi (Association
of Small Industries). He is arrested again and released after a few days. The
next year, it is his brother Patrizio (19 February 1980) who is arrested and
who starts to collaborate with the police. Patrizio was imprisoned for the first
time in December 1979, and, according to the Red Brigades, in exchange for
freedom he had accepted the role of “mole” in the Turin column up to his
final arrest—a “fake” arrest therefore—organized with the police (this is the
Red Brigades’ theory of Patrizio Peci’s double arrest).
On 10 June 1980, Roberto is taken from a house at via Boito 6 in San
Benedetto del Tronto.72 His jailers are Giovanni Senzani and Roberto Buz-
zati. The execution is filmed, with the notes of the “Internationale” in the
background, so that all the Red Brigades can view the event. Roberto is killed
on 3 August in front of a ruined wall in the Rome suburbs, surrounded by
garbage. He is wearing the same clothes he had on fifty-four days before. His
body is riddled with eleven bullets. His face is unrecognizable. They shoot
him in the mouth, cheek, temple, and ear. His hands are tied with a chain. He
has gauze and sticking plaster over his eyes, mouth, and ears. For his execu-
tioners: “There can be no hesitation, no uncertainty, no extension. . . . Roberto
72. The story of the kidnapping of Roberto Peci has been reconstructed by G. Guidelli, Op-
erazione Peci.
Peci is a traitor and must be treated as such.73 “Death to traitors” is written
on the wall. On the ground, next to the body, there is a Red Brigades docu-
ment that reads as follows: “Annihilation is the only possible relationship
between marginal proletariat and traitors.”74
To cure the ideological wound inflicted by those who choose to leave the
revolutionary faith, the Red Brigades deny the existence of the pentiti. The
Red Brigades who turn state’s evidence have been deceived or tortured by
the police. They can no longer repent because those who have had access to
the “kingdom of truth” cannot fall into error. This is the significance of the
words that Roberto Peci writes under his jailers’ vigilant gaze: “I realize that
I have erred and because of this I submit to the judgment of the proletariat.
I trust in the magnanimity that it has often shown, but I understand that
everything I have done has been the result of a methodical plan prepared by
Dalla Chiesa, Pignero, and Caselli, a plan that has been studied, calculated,
and weighed up. Those people have played with the minds of some of the
weaker comrades and they are the actual guilty ones. I’ve been controlled
without fully realizing it. It’s only recently that I’ve become aware of the
political games behind all this. There are no pentiti, they are only the weaker
comrades who don’t want to shoulder their responsibilities and who’ve been
manipulated like puppets, and I include myself among them.75
73. Peci Kidnapping. Communiqué no. 5, 10 July 1981. This document was then published by the
magazine Lotta Continua of 30 July 1981, from which I quote.
74. See P. Casamassima, Il libro nero delle Brigate rosse, 247–49.
75. Roberto Peci’s letter from the BR prison, in Lotta Continua, 30 July 1981.
Chapter 3
Toward the Bloodshed
To kill someone, you rely on the most responsible
person because you need a very great ideological and
political conviction to do it.
—Raffaele Fiore
Daily Life in a Revolutionary Sect
Discipline is very strict in the Red Brigades. Every moment of the militant’s
life is subjected to a serious of rigorous rules. The Red Brigades—explains
Valerio Morucci—lead “a hidden life at all times.”1
And this life is a “nightmare.
Going underground, testifies a brigadist, “isn’t easy. You have to live a
double life and keep the rules religiously and behave accordingly. . . . Going
underground is a nightmare that follows you month after month and year
after year, never changing.2 The Red Brigades member Fiore recalls:If you
wanted to carry out what they asked, you had to be very strict with yourself. This
meant giving yourself rules; you needed an iron self-discipline, starting as soon as you
got up.3 “Life in the Red Brigades,” Fiore continues, “was all-absorbing and
highly demanding.4
There is no moment in the day that isn’t taken up by the obsessive thought