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Autonomism refers to a set of left-wing political and social movements and theories close to the socialist movement. Autonomism (autonomia) emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of the Italian revolutionary era in the 1970s and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio autonomist group. It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide Social Center movement, and today is influential in Italy, France, the United States and some other English-speaking countries. Those who describe themselves as autonomists now vary from workerist Marxists to post-structuralists and (some) anarchists.

Raised fist, stenciled protest symbol of Autonome at the Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus in Vienna, Austria

Meaning of autonomy[edit]

The term Autonome is derived from the Greek "auto-nomos" referring to someone or something which lives by their own rule. Autonomy, in this sense, is not independence. While independence refers to an autarcic kind of life, separated from the community, autonomy refers to life in society but by one own's rule. Aristotle thus considered that only beasts or gods could be independent and live apart from the polis ("community"), while Kant defined the Enlightenment by autonomy of thought and the famous "Sapere aude" ("dare to know").

Italian Autonomism[edit]

Autonomist Marxism appeared in Italy in the early 1960s, around the review Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia, founded by Antonio Negri and Mario Tronti. In 1969, this operaismo movement split into two different groups, Lotta Continua, led by Adriano Sofri (Pasolini also contributed to it) and Potere Operaio, directed by Toni Negri, Franco Piperno, Oreste Scalzone, and Valerio Morucci. Autonomia Operaia was then created in 1972. In Bologna, Radio Alice was one of the free radio involved in the autonomist movement. In the context of the strategy of tension (strategia della tensione), which aimed at destabilizing the country through a campaign of "false flags" terrorist attacks in order to promote an authoritative government and impede the historic compromise (compromesso storico) between the Christian Democracy (DC) and the Communist Party (PCI), the autonomist movement engaged itself in various direct actions operations, including propaganda by the deed (refusing to pay public transport, electricity, gas, rent, food - a practice called "autoreduction" of prices -, riots and sometimes bank robberies).

Following the December 12, 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, 4 000 left-wing members were detained by the police, which accused Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist, of having carried out the bombing. It would be only in the 1980s, with the neo-fascist terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra's confessions to magistrate Felice Casson, that it was proven that the massacre had been carried out by Ordine Nuovo, supported by Gladio, in an attempt to push the state into declaring a state of emergency. Giuseppe Pinelli was held and interrogated for three days, longer than Italian law specified that people could be held without seeing a judge. On December 15, he died after allegedly being pushed by the window. Luigi Calabresi, one of the police officers who had interrogated him, was put under investigation in 1971 for murder but charges were dropped because of lack of evidence. The next year, Calabresi was killed by two shots from a revolver outside his home.

On March 11, 1977, riots in which the autonomists participated took place in Bologna following the killing of a young man by the police. Gladio, NATO's "stay-behind" secret paramilitary organization, as well as the Italian secret services and the outlawed Propaganda Due masonic lodge (aka "P2") were later found to be directly involved in the strategy of tension, which culminated with the 1978 murder of prime minister Aldo Moro, who was also the leader of the Christian Democracy and engaged in the historic compromise. Starting from 1979, the state launched a heavy repression campaign against the movement, claiming it protected the Red Brigades, which had kidnapped and assassinated Aldo Moro in obscure circumstances (the Italian state surprisingly refused to negotiate with the terrorists, and the secret services' role wasn't clear). 12 000 far-left activists were detained, while 300 exiled themselves in France and 200 others in South America, on a total of 600 people who escaped away[1]. In 1988, former Lotta continua member Adriano Sofri was arrested with Ovidio Bompressi and Giorgio Pietrostefani for the murder of Luigi Calabresi, the police officer who had allegedly assassinated Giuseppe Pinelli after the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing. The charges against them were based on testimony provided, sixteen years later, by a pentito (an ex-militant who accused himself of having carried out the murder of Calabresi, under order from Adriano Sofri, and collaborated with the magistrates). Claiming his innocence, Sofri was finally sentenced 22 years after a long series of trials, in 2000, giving rise to a book from historian Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a Late Twentieth-Century Miscarriage of Justice.

In contrast with other forms of Marxism, autonomist marxism emphasised the ability of the working class to force changes to the organisation of the capitalist system independent of the state, trade unions or political parties. Autonomist Marxism is a "bottom up" theory: it draws attention to activities that autonomists see as everyday working class resistance to capitalism, for example absenteeism, slow working, and socialisation in the workplace. The US Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are popularly taken as a prototypical "autonomist" labor union.

Like other Marxists, they see class struggle as of central importance, but unlike most Marxists, they have a broad definition of the working class that includes the waged (white collar and blue collar), and the unwaged (beneficiaries, homemakers and so on). The movement drew a line between the waged blue- and white-collar, protected by trade unions and the Welfare state, and other unwaged people, including unemployed people, students and immigrants, deprived from any form of political organization. Autonomists were less concerned with party political organisation than other types of Marxist thought; instead it focuses on self-organised working class action and the development of its theoretical tools in accord with actual working class struggles. Early theorists were Mario Tronti, Antonio Negri, Sergio Bologna, Paolo Virno and others in Italy in the 1970s. These thinkers theorized a "immaterial" and "social labour", a notion which extended the marxist concept of labour to the whole of society. As such, they explained how one modern society's wealth was produced by unaccountable collective work, of which only a little part of it was redistributed to the workers under the form of wages. For example, the operaismo movement insisted on the importance of feminism and un-payed female labour, which regroups not only domestic labour but also affective aspects leading to new forms of social organization.

The French autonome movement[edit]

In France, the marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie, led by philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, may be said one of the first autonomist groups, as well as being important in the council communist tradition. Socialisme ou Barbarie ("Socialism or Barbary") harshly criticized stalinism and the USSR, which it considered a form of state capitalism and not at all of state socialism as it pretended to be. Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, famous for his work on post-modernism, was also part of this movement. However, the Italian influence of the operaismo movement was more directly felt in the creation of the review Matériaux pour l'intervention (1972-1973) by Yann Moulier-Boutang, a French economist close to Toni Negri. This would lead in turn to the creation of the Camarades group (1974-78) by Yann Moulier-Boutang. Along with others, Moulier-Boutang would join the Centre International pour des Nouveaux Espaces de Liberté (CINEL), founded three years before by Félix Guattari, and would give refugee to Italian activists accused of terrorism, of whom at least 300 escaped to France.

The French autonome mouvement then organized itself in the AGPA (Assemblée Parisienne des Groupes Autonomes, "Parisian Assembly of the Autonome Groups"; 1977-78). Many tendencies were present in it, including the Camarades group led by Yann Moulier-Boutang, members of the Organisation communiste libertaire (OCL - an anarchist-communist group), some people referring themselves to the "Desiring Autonomy" of Bob Nadoulek, but also squatters and street-wise people (including the groupe Marge). French autonomes supported the Rote Armee Fraktion ("Red Army Faction" - RAF) political prisoners, a cause also defended by Jean-Paul Sartre.

The militant group Action Directe appeared in 1979 and carried on several direct actions. The murder of Renault's CEO Georges Besse was blamed on them, although they denied it. It was later alleged that this murder had in fact been carried on by the Iranian intelligence services (George Besse had been CEO of nuclear company Eurodif, involved in Iran's nuclear program). Action Directe was dissolved in 1987.

In the 1980s, the autonomist movement almost disappeared from Italy because of state repression, and was stronger in Germany than in France. It remained mostly present in Parisians squatts and in some riots (for example in 1980 near the Jussieu campus in Paris, or in 1982 in the Ardennes department during anti-nuclear demonstrations, etc.)

In the 1990s, the French autonomist movement was present in struggles led by unemployed people, such as l'Assemblée générale des chômeurs de Jussieu ("General Assembly of Jussieu's unemployed people"). It was also involved in the alter-globalization movement.

From July 19 to July 28, 2002, a No Border camp was made in Strasbourg to protest against anti-immigration policies, in particular inside the Schengen European space.

In 2003, conflict opposed autonomists to the French Socialist Party (PS) during a demonstration that had taken place in the frame of the European Social Forum in Saint-Denis (Paris). End of December, hundreds of unemployed people helped themselves in the Bon Marché supermarket in order to be able to celebrate Christmas (an action called "autoréduction" in French, meaning "autoreduction" of prices). French riot police (CRS) physically opposed themselves to the unemployed people inside the shop.

The German Autonomen movement in the 1970-80s[edit]

In Germany, Autonomen was used during the late 1970s to depict the most radical part of the political left and supported anarchist and anarcho-communist ideas. These individuals participated in practically all actions of the social movements at the time, especially in demonstrations against nuclear energy plants (Brokdorf 1981, Wackersdorf 1986) and in actions against the construction of airport runways (Frankfurt 1976-1986). The defense of squats against the police such as in Hamburg's Hafenstraße was also a major "task" for the "autonome" movement. The Dutch anarchist Autonomen movement from the 1960s also concentrated on squatting.

Tactics of the "Autonome" were usually militant, including the construction of barricades or throwing stones or molotov cocktails at the police. During their most powerful times in the early 1980s, on at least one occasion the police had to take flight.

Because of their outfit (heavy black clothing, ski masks, helmets), the "Autonome" were dubbed der schwarze Block by the German media, and in these tactics were similar to modern black blocs. In 1989, laws regarding demonstrations in Germany were changed, prohibiting the use of so-called "passive weaponry" such as helmets or padding and covering your face.

Today, the "autonome" scene in Germany is greatly reduced and concentrates mainly on anti-fascist actions. There are more militant and bigger groups still in operation, such as in Switzerland or Italy.


Due to the inspiration provided by the Autonomist Marxist and Autonomen movements for some of the revolutionary left, some English-language leftist groups with a fundamentally anarchist bent describe themselves as Autonomists. The Italian operaismo movement also influenced Marxist academics such as Harry Cleaver, John Holloway, Steve Wright, and Nick Dyer-Witheford.


  1. Template:fr On the Autonomist movement


  • (French) L’Autonomie. Le mouvement autonome en France et en Italie, éditions Spartacus 1978
  • (French) Autonomes, Jan Bucquoy and Jacques Santi, ANSALDI 1985
  • (French) Action Directe. Du terrorisme français à l’euroterrorisme, Alain Hamon and Jean-Charles Marchand, SEUIL 1986
  • (French) Paroles Directes. Légitimité, révolte et révolution : autour d’Action Directe, Loïc Debray, Jean-Pierre Duteuil, Philippe Godard, Henri Lefebvre, Catherine Régulier, Anne Sveva, Jacques Wajnsztejn, ACRATIE 1990
  • Template:en icon The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life Georgy Katsiaficas, AK Press 2006
  • (French) Un Traître chez les totos, Guy Dardel, ACTES SUD 1999 (novel)
  • (French) Bac + 2 + crime : l’affaire Florence Rey, Frédéric Couderc, CASTELLS 1998
  • (French) Italie 77. Le « Mouvement », les intellectuels, Fabrizio Calvi, SEUIL 1977
  • Template:it icon Una sparastoria tranquilla. Per una storia orale del'77, ODRADEK 1997
  • (German) Die Autonomen, Thomas Schultze et Almut Gross, KONKRET LITERATUR 1997
  • (German) Autonome in Bewegung, AG Grauwacke aus den ersten 23 Jahren, ASSOCIATION A 2003

See also[edit]

Autonomist Marxism thinkers[edit]

Other movements or organizations[edit]

Italian 1960-80 context[edit]


External links[edit]



This article contains content from Wikipedia. Current versions of the GNU FDL article en:Autonomism on WP may contain information useful to the improvement of this article WP

fra:Mouvement autonome