Interview with Alfonso Natella by Ralf Ruckus (Italy, April 2018), conducted for the Chinese edition of ‘Vogliamo tutto’ (or ‘We want everything’) and the Chinese collection of texts on the struggles and theoretical explorations in the Italian 1960s and 1970s, focusing on operaismo and its critique.
Ralf Ruckus (RR): Some comrades have translated the book “Vogliamo Tutto” into Chinese. It is not a commercial project. The translation of the whole book will be finished some time soon.
Alfonso Natella (AN): In a country like China which has a tradition of revolutionary struggles what could anyone learn from struggles in a country like Italy, from a small revolutionary story?
RR: Well, we have also started another project. We translate a range of texts from the 1960s and 1970s written by Panzieri, Alquati, Dalla Costa, Federici, and others into Chinese. We see it as a contribution to the debate on Marxism and different revolutionary currents going on in China. So it’s not just “Vogliamo Tutto” but several other texts, too. We also write about class struggles in China now and in a historical perspective, but, what is most important, we want an exchange. Workers in China can learn from struggles in a place like Italy, and we want to take material from China and disseminate it in Europe and elsewhere. So it’s both ways.
AN: Okay, I get that. We, workers in the 1960s and 1970s in Italy, have our origin in rural areas, like many workers in China, however, isn’t the proletariat from the countryside in China very different from us back then in Italy?
RR: Yes, workers in China have their own history and a rich experience of struggle. But, as most of them speak Chinese only, they don’t have much access to experiences from other countries. Some are interested in experiences made here in Italy, especially during such an important period of struggle like fifty years ago. So, I think, it really makes sense to provide them with literature so they can learn from your experience at that time. But let me ask you this: The comrades in China translate “Vogliamo Tutto” but they know little about the way the book was made at the time. So could you tell me what your role was and what Balestrini’s role was?
AN: In 1969, during the early autonomous struggles of workers at FIAT, struggles without a union, we (the workers) had contacts with many Italian intellectuals. They came to workers’ assemblies in Turin. During one assembly, Nanni Balestrini met me. He was probably impressed by the way I spoke and how I had started a struggle at FIAT on my own. He met me as someone who represented the heart and soul of the proletariat at the time. Balestrini had already been a writer and poet and intended to write a book about the people in the struggle, and he wanted to interview various workers who had participated. However, after he heard my story he thought it would be better to write a novel about just one person. He wanted to condense all experiences as a worker from the South, working in Brescia, in Milan and in Turin at FIAT, in the form of a novel about one person. That was his idea as the author.
RR: So who decided it would be a ‘novel’ instead of, for instance, a documentary interview?
AN: That decision was made by Balestrini alone. He wanted to write a novel about workers. Italian novels at the time were nearly all about the bourgeoisie and very few about proletarians. So this was about writing a proletarian novel that was more or less authentic, and Balestrini made use of our casual encounter. I was not thinking about participating in the making of a novel at the time but about making revolution.
RR: So how did this happen? Did you meet Balestrini a few times, and did you know what he would do with the material?
AN: Balestrini decided about what happened with the material. At the time, I did not write much at all, only letters to my mother or leaflets for the workers’ struggle. I was no writer at the time. Only later did I write two novels of my own, and now I am writing something about financial capital. For the book, I met Balestrini three times at his house in Milan, and he taped the interviews. The third time, I was arrested at his house because of something that had happened during an antifascist demonstration. I had mistaken a guy for a fascist while, in fact, he was a cop. They did not know what to do with me when I was in prison. Then the book was published, and they let me go.
RR: What happened after the book had come out? Were you invited to present it? Were you involved in any way?
AN: No, I wasn’t involved. I thought other workers had been much more courageous than me and their role in the proletarian culture was much stronger than mine. The book was also not for proletarians, it was written for intellectuals, it was illuminating only for the left-wing bourgeoisie. I was once interviewed by the film director Guiseppe Griffi who had made a film about a guy who had been in prison, and I told him that proletarians like watching films with landscapes or baroque scenes but not films showing poverty and misery. I did not believe in a proletarian filmography. This kind of films was also not very successful in Italy at the time and more successful abroad. It is kind of like showing today’s war in Syria to Syrians.
RR: Still, did the book “Vogliamo Tutto” represent what you had talked about, what you wanted to say?
AN: It is my story, it’s not twisted, but it is not the whole story, and more happened later. For instance, the first part is about a neighborhood on the outskirts of Salerno, on the countryside with vineyards etc. They have erased all agriculture since and built a big prison there. I have written about that myself in the book “Lo spirito del bosco” [The spirit of the forest; published 1989].
RR: “Vogliamo Tutto” was translated into several languages, German, English…
AN: … and Greek. There was an anarchist circle in Athens called Vogliamo Tutto but I never got in contact as I was afraid I would get arrested.
RR: Were you informed about the translations by Balestrini or how did you hear about them?
AN: After the translations into German and Spanish I did not hear from Balestrini anymore. It’s about fifty years since then. When the Chinese version is out, I would like to get one, though.
RR: Of course, when the book is out we will send you a copy.