Bologna, April of 1977.
Giovanna, a young foreign languages student from Uni, after having a beer with her friends near Via Santo Stefano, is going home.
Crossing the busy streets of her city, she thinks of what had been. The squats, the riots, the armored vehicles, the murder of Francesco Lo Russo, the end of a culturally vivid era for what had been “the freest city of them all”, in the words of our then mayor, Zangheri.
As her mind starts drifting into memories of friends, comrades, who had since then taken different paths, she struts through Piazza Maggiore, the central square of Bologna. Tens of youths lay still near the walls of the administration buildings, their eyes blanked out, as were their minds. They all had a needle in their vein.
Amongst them, a former friend of hers. Their eyes meet. She stays there, in shock, for a moment, as if her mind was trying to process what could have happened. But then, her body took control again, and she bolted through the streets once more. It was over, and she knew it. She could tell from the look in her friend’s eyes.
“Where are you going with this?”, I hear you ask.
I’m going to a place where many people, to this day, never want to go.
Bologna, as were many cities in the start of the ’80s, was a wounded beast. After the brutal repression of the Student’s Movement in 1977, not much remained. Depression, angst, delusion, had paved the way for what would become the plague of a generation: heroin. The failure of a genuinely marxist political movement had suppressed the ideas of many people, and political apathy was the main dish, served every day in the final period of the Years of Lead. The youth was completely detached, it had nothing to hold on to. What had been workshops for photography, music, arts, cinema and theater, were all closed down, so there was no proper way to express rage or any kind of radicalized emotion. The collapse of the movementist parties, due to a fractionalism that in Italy has now become a recurring theme, had left no place for self organization.
The most brutal side of capitalism, that which aims to maintain order after a possible revolt, had kicked in. The most blatant effect of this had been the introduction of Heroin. The secret services of Italy, in cooperation with the CIA, under the banner of Operation Gladio, had started to suppress the youth with that powerful venom. They needed a way to keep everything under control. And they were being successful.
But what went wrong?
Everything would have been “fine”, if it hadn’t been for a few scoundrels scattered around Italy who had started dressing with black leather jackets and Doctor Marten’s. They sang their rage through untidy guitar riffs and growling, exhausted vocals. They expressed the paranoia and angst of their time with their songs. No, they didn’t express them. They puked them right on the doorsteps of the middle class.
It’s necessary to make a distinction, though.
While most punks in Great Britain, in the beginning, at least, were just there for the music and the style, in Italy it was much, much more. The working class was at an all time low. Wages were terrible, the neighborhoods were a wreck, and at the end of the day, most people didn’t know if they would come home alive. Punk in Italy was the perfect way for anyone to shout out the dissatisfaction they felt. More and more working class kids started to adopt the style, listen to the music, express their fears and the things that made them want to demolish everything.
And then, in 1982, it happened. In Via Correggio 12, Milan, in between abandoned blocks filled with junkies, punks from all over Italy created the first italian punk squat: VIRUS. It was a chance to not only bring out everything that was kept inside, but to discuss on how to take action, and most importantly, on what the worst thing for any raging prole was. That was the beginning of the end for widespread heroin abuse in Italy. The first ever trans-regional punk rock concert was declared “Against Heroin”, and it was a massive success. People from all over the country talked about it. The bourgeois media talked about these evil, deranged youngsters who dressed badly and smelled worse, and… sang about how shit heroin was.
How it killed their friends, their brothers, their parents.
How it made them go numb in front of the injustices of the world.
How they wanted none of it.
Because the same people that created injustice, war, exploitation, were those that created heroin, as so they could be prevented from seeing it all.
Of course, it all had an anarchistic-at-best political approach, but it sure as hell highlighted one of the most subtle yet most terrible practices of capitalism. Punks incouraged the youth to throw away the needle, pick up the mic, and tell those crooks why they didn’t want them and their wretched system. Groups like Nabat, Impact, Upset Noise, Nerorgasmo, Bloody Riot, and RAF PUNK started to bring in more and more teenagers, teenagers who had seen the filth of the ’80s in Italy, and gradually, politics started to become a recurring theme in discussions.
“If the 1977 movement failed”, they asked, “how can we prevent any further failure?”.
Discussion started to kick back in. More and more squats started to appear everywhere around the country. If one was defeated, another ten arose the next day. And gradually, people started to bond together.
They defeated paranoia.
They defeated delusion.
They defeated depression.
They defeated heroin.
Maybe they didn’t defeat capitalism, but they keep on fighting to this day. Because once you’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, all you want to do is climb back up.