Thursday, April 27, 2023
In Venice with Marco Baravalle of S.a.L.E. Docks -- Part One
While I was resident in Venice recently, I had the chance to speak with Marco Baravalle, a principal in the autonomous art space S.a.L.E. Docks. As its Facebook and website tell, "S.a.L.E. Docks is an independent space for arts and politics initiated in 2007 by a group of activists who decided to occupy an abandoned salt-storage docks in the heart of Venice." As well as a principal in that space, Baravalle is an academic and curator. He researches creative labor and the position of art within neoliberal economics. He is a composed, even austere figure, and although I’ve met him a few times – in Madrid, in New York where he was a research fellow at my home institution, and this time in Venice – he remains something of a puzzle. There’s a lot to unravel with S. Baravalle, not least his extensive writings and work with the Institute of Radical Imagination. And we didn’t get to most of it. But in the first instance, I present here in two parts a transcript of our interview in March where Marco speaks directly to issues around occupation and art. And explains in a nutshell the occupation movement of which he was a part, and its solidarity with the traditions of Italian partisans.
Alan W. Moore: You gave an interview to an Italian partisan organization recently, and said you began working in the Morion social center in Venice. Were you involved in the original occupation?
Marco Baravalle: I wasn’t involved, because the original occupation is from 1990. Morion has been around for decades now. This was the moment in Italy when this adventure of centro sociale began, in 1990. We are talking a decade [or so] after 1977 when the Italian social movements, especially the movement of 1977 was defeated. [Wright, 2002] It was defeated with this operation led by a judge Calogero. He was linked to the Communist Party. But the CP didn’t have a great relationship with the social movements and with Autonomia in particular. So on the 7th of April 1979 the judge Calogero ordered the arrest of hundreds of militants of the Autonomia movement all over Italy with the accusation that basically the Autonomia was behind the kidnapping of Aldo Moro. And his thesis was that [radical philosopher] Toni Negri was among the leaders of that organization that kidnapped Aldo Moro, a thing that was proved absolutely wrong and totally absurd.
Image of a demonstration from a portfolio at my-blackout.com
But basically after 7th of April 1979, that syMBolic date for the radical leftist movements of the ‘70s in Italy, it opened up this decade of desert for Italian social movements: the ‘80s. The ‘80s were a period in which the Italian economy was booming. Silvio Berlusconi opened his first private TV channels. It was a moment of market euphoria. And even culturally speaking it was a moment in which post-modernism came to occupy the cultural, philosophical and artistic scene of Italy. Somehow it was a decade that wanted to forget the so-called anni di pioMBo [the years of lead], the years, the decade of the ‘70s which was characterized by armed positions, by terrorism and so forth.
AWM: La lucha continua. [Points to poster for relief of Alfredo Cospito, in prison under harshly punitive conditions, an international anarchist cause.] This guy was not a sweetheart.
MB: No, definitely not. But at the end of the ‘80s, early ‘90s, those who were still somehow inspired by radical left social movements – some were anarchists, most were autonomists – mostly young people who wanted to restart the social movements, or restart where Autonomia got interrupted at the end of the ‘70s – began to occupy spaces. This practice of squatting spaces was already present in the movement of the ‘70s, but it became really the core stuff, the engine that made it possible for social movements to restart in Italy, and to have a sort of presence among the youth of Italy in the early ‘90s. The idea was basically the necessity to find free spaces for sociality that were free from market logic, with low prices, independent music, with the possibility to gather around values that were not the usual market values that were affirming themselves so radically in the ‘80s.
AWM: Leoncavallo was from the middle-’70s.
MB: Yes, this was already present as a practice. It started in the ‘’70s. It was interrupted in the ‘80s. And then there was a wave of occupations and social centers in the ‘90s. And Morion is exactly part of that wave. I arrived in Venice in 1989, but I only got really involved with the collective of Morion in 2005. I went to Morion before, but more as someone who went there for concerts and other initiatives that Morion was doing.
I blogged my visit to Morion earlier.
AWM: There are different generations involved in the social center movement. Leoncavallo starts from a kind of desert of social services. They want very basic things. And Morion is now a fully functional cabaret, a cultural space, with a bar, a beautiful stage, lights and everything. It seems that it comes from a cultural need, not so much from –
MB: I would say that it’s all connected. The ‘80s were a decade that saw the spread of heroin. So many people, so many activists died because of heroin. Social centers wanted to provide a safe space, a space against the sociality led by the market, and also against heroin. Heroin was seen as put into circulation by the system itself in order to destroy the will to rebel of the youth. And it worked. So in these first social centers, the slogans were for free socialization and against heroin. This was also something that characterized Morion. Morion was also a center for the struggle for housing rights. In Venice the prices of houses are crazy, rents are skyrocketing, and so on. But even then, when Venice was much more populated than now, Venice was undergoing this neoliberalization of housing rights in which you had less and less public housing and more and more houses on the market. Morion was in the struggle for housing rights. Again with this idea is to aggregate around other values that were not market values. Of course anti-fascism was and still is very important. It was and still is a staple of what Morion is. Even militant anti-fascism.
AWM: Compared to Spain, which had a fascist government for 40 years, the anti-fascism here comes out of the partisan movement.
MB: It does.
AWM: And that was armed struggle against first Mussolini, and then the Nazi occupation. The partisan movement in Spain was starving guys in the hills, and expatriate exiles. Then with the return to democracy there was a grand bargain that, although the fascists expropriated all the Republicans’ stuff, and murdered all these people and filled mass graves all over the country, we’re not going to talk about that. It’s coming back now as a return of the repressed. It’s not the kind of continuous thing that I assume is more the case in Italy.
MB: Well, the Red Brigades [Italian armed struggle group of the 1970s] saw themselves as a direct continuation of partisan struggle. They saw themselves as those who had to avenge the resistance that was, according to them, betrayed because fascism wasn’t extirpated as it should have been after 1945.
The partisans of the war era are dead by now. And the ANPI [Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia, which published the 2018 interview I cited] is a social association of Italian partisans. For many reasons it is a very noble association, and we as social centers like to collaborate with them. They do very important work on memory of the partisan struggle. But their political positions are very mild. They are linked to center left parties in Italy, and dismiss any type of militancy. Even if the situation is different from Spain, Italy is not a nation that has dealt with fascism the way it should have. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a prime minister who is a direct continuation of fascism. She comes from the MSI [Nuovo Movimento Sociale Italiano], which is part – now she founded FdI [Fratelli d'Italia] which is a new party, a new face, but the historical and political roots are within the fascist party. That’s how complicated the situation is in Italy.
AWM: That’s the federal government.
MB: But even the region of Veneto has always been very conservative. Very Catholic, and also somehow very fascist. Also with a strong, nurtured group of right wing terrorists that were based in Veneto or in Venice. People who put boMBs in the ‘70s, and people who got involved in state killings. Those terroristic acts happened in order to create disorder and to boost the repression against social movements which were very strong in the ‘60s and the ‘70s.
AWM: The fascists now are not so active in that way in Spain. When they stick their head up and start things they get legally sanctioned and resisted on the street. Many Spanish social centers are dedicated centers of anti-fascist activism.
MB: We had to fight on the street in Venice. In 2013, maybe ‘16, I don’t remeMBer, but I will check, when Forzo Nuova, one of these fortunately small, but violent radical neo-fascist parties came here. They had a whole campaign in Venice for a couple of years, to root themselves in Venice. They wanted to open their own space. They organized a years-long campaign to somehow conquer Venice from their point of view. And we had to go very radical. We had clashes with the police that were protecting the fascists in Piazza de Roma and in front of the train station.
AWM: In the U.S. there was a rise of fascists under Trump. They didn’t call themselves that. MB: Yeah, alt-right, or whatever.
AWM: And the fight against them was led by anti-fascists, anti-fa, which for some reason the news media ended up calling “an-TEE-fah”, so as not to say the “f” word, I guess. This was mostly mobilized in the anarchist milieu. A nuMBer of radical media outlets report on these fights, but the mainstream media did not choose to understand these as battles between fascists and anti-fascists in the way that would be very clear in Europe. They didn’t sympathize, or even report on anti-fascist struggles in the US, even after classical anti-semitic fascist violence in a synagogue massacre.
MB: From what I saw they criminalized the anti-fa movement. AWM: The U.S. is in denial that they had a big fascist movement during the ‘30s. Even in New York City in the ‘70s you could see Mussolini t-shirts in Little Italy.
MB: Even now. I saw them in the Bronx.
AWM: In Fordham Road.
MB: A market where you had mozzarella, and ham and Mussolini pictures all over. The Italian-American community is pretty conservative, I guess.
AWM: I lived in Staten Island.
MB: So you know.
In this 2015 video Marco described the S.a.L.E. Docks project succinctly to the Creative Time Summit audience.
Salvatore Marchese, “Su fascismo e antifascismo: intervista a Marco Baravalle del Laboratorioccupato Morion”, n.d. ca. 2018. Auto-xlt’d to ENG.
Steve Wright, "Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism" (Pluto Press, 2002; pirated at libcom.org)
Movement of 1977
Mike Greco the salami king