Acclaimed author and journalist Alexander Stille provided a near-full Corwin Pavilion with a historical look at one of Italy’s most notorious terrorists yesterday.
Stille delivered his lecture “Italy’s Lost Generation: Italian Terrorism, Then and Now” on the life of Antonio Negri, a controversial Italian revolutionary involved in the Italian Communist party during the 1960s and ’70s. Stille is the author of Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History, and Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic.
“I want to try to sort out fact from fiction,” Stille said. “I thought there was a lot of misinformation put out both on the left and the right, portraying Negri as a victim or a monster. The reality is somewhere in between.”
In the 1980s, Stille studied the violence that had occurred as a result of a weakened government after World War II and decades of political strife.
“I lived in Italy in the early 1980s,” he said. “People were being killed almost every day. I met people whose mothers had been kidnapped.”
After World War II, radical groups, such as the Red Brigade, used violent tactics to induce economic and social changes. The Italian Communist Party was thriving by the mid 1970s, but without a majority of citizens behind it, the group entered a period of historical compromise in which it decided to share power with the more moderate Christian Democrats.
Negri, along with his group, Worker Autonomy, advocated mass illegal actions, which included burning police cars, robbing banks and beating up political opponents.
Stille interviewed Negri, who now resides in an Italian jail in Rome, about members of his group who violently beat professors with metal wrenches. Negri said it was the “work of a few stupid students” for which he had no responsibility.
“If beating up professors was not what Negri had in mind when he had the idea of mass illegality, he should have said so,” Stille said. “His early theories praised any form of violence.”
“It was very interesting,” computer science professor Giovanni Vigna said. “I think the book that was addressed here is definitely something people have to confront. This guy is considered morally responsible for terrorism in Italy and now he is talking about globalization.”
Several students who attended the lecture had difficulty comprehending Stille’s argument. Many said they felt overwhelmed by his abundance of historical information.
“It could have been in Italian,” freshman music major Christi Wismann said.
Stille will speak again on Wednesday Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. in Victoria Hall downtown.