The Red Brigades: What We Can Learn From Italian History

Origins of The Red Brigades

The Red Brigades, an Italian far-left guerrilla group, were active between the 1970s and 80s. They represent the most important terrorist group in all Italian history. The Red Brigades are also known for the abduction and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The group grew in universities of the north of Italy. Its aim was to change Italian politics and law to create a revolutionary state according to communist principles. They saw themselves as the continuation of the Italian Partisan Movement, and they opposed both the right and capitalism.

Political Background

The group began by expressing its dissatisfaction with the status quo through the sabotage of industries and private properties. Then, their strategy changed to the carrying out of high-profile political kidnappings in order to obtain resources, capture attention, and fight the state and capitalists. The Red Brigades were against the state because they believed that the state was an “Imperialist collection of multinational corporations.”

Instead, their aim was to guide the working class towards revolution. To recruit people, they distributed propaganda in factories to attract the “proletariat” to join their fight against capitalism and power. The killings of high-profile figures and propaganda were their main tactics to attract attention and new recruits. Their most well-known act was the abduction and killing of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Moro was the main mediator between the Christian Democrats Party and the Communist Party. The killing of the Prime Minister was defined by the group as the last expression of the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary action. They believed that Aldo Moro was the symbol of the imperialist counter-revolution.

Violence and Political Agenda

Though the violence of the Red Brigades has to be understood in its historical context. The Red Brigades grew during the Italian Years of Lead, a period of political turmoil and violence in Italy. This period was marked by violence from both the far-right and the far-left. Far-left groups drew inspiration from Communism and the far-right sought to push Italy back towards Fascism. This far-right agenda grew from the fear of Communism during the Cold War.

The group’s growth happened in a period when the Christian Democrats had ruled since the early 1940s. And it was during a time when there was no prospect of change. The Christian Democrats Party contained many ideas, it integrated many different political figures and maintained a hold on power. This created a sentiment of inability to change politics. This, together with the influence from other ideologies spreading in Europe, pushed some groups towards extremism and violence.

The Red Brigades and Terrorism

The theory of terrorism arising from the inability to change the status quo, legally, was developed by Professor Deniz Aksoy. Aksoy hypothesised that some opposition groups have no access to a legislature, they are more likely to turn to terrorism. According to her empirical findings, there is a positive correlation between the presence of an opposition party in the absence of a legislature and the emergence of terrorist groups. This was not the precise case during the Italian Years of Lead, due to the presence of a legislature and the opportunity to compete in politics. However, the political scenario in Italy seemed stagnant to many young people. For this reason, they engaged in violent means to change the status quo.

The Red Brigades existed in a specific Italian historical context in which democracy was new and there was a lot of instability across Europe. However, we can learn from this case how the inability to change politics and express ideas can be a source of frustration and means towards violence. In order to have peace, it is important to listen to different actors and to take them into account. Implementing new reforms and being open to political debate may be a source of strength moving forward if we want to create peace.

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