Stop That Train

Reflections on the struggle against the high-speed train line in Italy and the no-global movement

Raffaele Sciortino

Turin, December 2005

The struggle against TAV* (high-speed train line) went even further than the train-stopping actions, a high point in the anti-war movement that reached the masses during the cycle of protest from Seattle to Genoa . Its hallmarks have been direct action and self-organised spontaneous intervention without the support of predefined traditional structures. These features were decisive, since we appreciate that only direct action, if wisely organised, timed and co-ordinated in determined spontaneity, made it possible for a conscious yet unheard of protest to become an effective struggle. The drift towards resignation and fragmentation was eliminated.

Varied in its forms and implementation, this action was precise in its timing, blow after blow. At the same time, rather than a mere expression of anger in danger of blowing over, it always was a shared intelligence capable of creating its own moment collectively and without proxy. Each step up to now has thus contributed to drive the movement forward and strengthen its possibly decisive lever: the unity, never presumed, between different individuals and visions brought together in the selfsame binding goal of resistance.

We can discuss the particular conditions of this struggle. To see its emerging features as limited and passing, either due to the excessive militarisation of the valley or to memories of past struggles would not take us very far. True enough, there are elements of that, but something more profound happened to these peaceful people who reacted in a somewhat un-Ghandian way. This something by no means concerns the people of the Susa Valley alone, for while the issue is specific, its underlying theme isn't, nor are, dare we say, the forms of its mobilisation.

It is no coincidence that ‘the local' - quite different from the localist that was rightly rejected by the people of the Susa Valley - first received attention, then solidarity and eventually concrete support from well beyond the confines of the valley. Without such appeal and the appreciation that the NO TAV movement was working towards it, the success of the demonstration held in Turin on the 17 th of December could not be explained; this success was desired and built with tenacity and conviction. Now, how to name this widening of the NO TAV movement that by no means occurred to the detriment of the incisiveness of the actions in struggle and of its local roots? It might be interesting to pick up the thread that ties the NO TAV movement to what lies in the depths of the recent cycle of global struggles, in order to see whether the Susa Valley struggle, being more than a mere hologram in this cycle, can be a step forward precisely because it shares some of its basic features.

What are its features?

The last two months have seen a crescendo of cooperation, for and by means of the struggle, of ordinary individuals who basically lacked traditional forms of belonging typical of the old cycle approaching its end. With no organised defences they faced means of production and reproduction that are increasingly omnivorous and break social ties in order to suck the random and dispersed elements into their mechanism. Men and women essentially reduced to a mere existence, as hollow as artificial, of consumption and production in a land criss-crossed by flows of circulating goods, studded with cathedrals of consumerism, vehicle of daily mass commuting branching out from the new ganglions of a city with global aspirations.

So much for the valley cut off from Europe , so much for backwardness! It is no coincidence that what is at stake in this struggle is the land; the land is increasingly connected to economic and power relations on the one hand, and bound up with the daily lives of people on the other. As in the cycle of global struggles of recent years, existence and social reproduction have become the ground for clashes with the logic of the market. According to this logic, existence and social reproduction are not, as they once were, simple givens, but increasingly marketable goods.

The people involved acted purely as individuals, not because, since the disintegration of old forms of collective interaction, class relations have been abandoned, but rather because the pervasiveness of capitalist relations is today so deeply burrowing into the tissue of reproduction that the individual is already, per se, a knot of social relations; under normal circumstances, subsumed to alienating and divisive dynamics, yet at times capable of overriding them and forming a community which has little or no givens, and almost everything to build. This includes the possibility of reviving even just the memory of past experiences, and of saving what can be saved of the old structures of class composition and approaches - as for instance in the movement's relations with the metalworkers federation (FIOM) or grass roots trade unionists.

How does this co-operating community act?

Spontaneously, but not off the hook. It creates its own ties, or resumes old ones, but places them in a horizontal network capable of getting the most out of individual resistance and everyone's skills, and of enhancing them in the process. It seeks decision-making mechanisms as and when required, often catering for extremely diverse sensitivities. It deploys multiform activities. At the same time, it produces a body of information that is not usually available to ‘ordinary people', by using ‘specialists' intelligently, not as an afterthought. It then embarks on a real process of self-training thanks to which energies and ideas begin to circulate within a wider body where they meet, cancel each other out, and enrich each other. It might be interesting to find ideas for new approaches to possible joint-research in this process that goes alongside the creation of antagonistic co-operating organisation.

With what prospects?

The non negotiable objective is to stop the high speed train, no ifs and buts. Every single participant in the struggle, each in their own way, proved willing to put their own body on the line, as a fundamental part of their existence and the life of the entire community is at stake. It is the depth of this involvement that makes this resistance embrace more global ones, despite its starting point being a specific issue. Inherent to the ‘particular' struggle is the question of a possible alternative model of development, of its criteria, its social ends, and of the centres of power to be reckoned with. Worn away and teetering well outside the Susa Valley is the trust in the advantages of industrial development per se. All compromises – whether or not conflictual – between power and workers for the sake of capital's development have ultimately been proven illusory. Even if initially isolated, it seems that each specific episode of resistance to the march of neo liberal capitalism irresistibly arouses a demand for re appropriation, as confused as you like, yet in some way capable of squaring up with a relationship with capital that tends to cover the whole spectrum of life.

This demand has begun its reckoning with power. Here the No Tav struggle has shown features common to the global movements, yet it also marked a leap forward as regards Italy and countries of the global ‘North' in general (excluding the Battle of Seattle; with Genoa 2001 the question is more complex). This was made possible by the capacity to deploy a mass force of resistance and direct action in the occupation and defence of the land, not limited or delegated to ‘specialist' areas. The movement has also been capable of using violence, limiting it to the bare minimum in response to the moves of occupying troops, so as to preserve and strengthen internal unity as well as outside consensus. In short, it has proved itself on the ground of the reclamation of legality, asserting its own legitimacy against that usurped by government, but to do so it had to continuously breach the limits of this legality in order to exercise its own power locally. Within a practice of ‘democracy of control' of the government moves, ideas for counter-power have thus come to the fore.

This ‘external' level of relation-clash with local, national and European power was well suited to the ‘internal' need regarding the constitution, maintenance and enrichment of the No Tav's internal co-operation and social relations, rightly perceived, against all attempts to divide, as essential for the struggle. In this respect, fundamental was a thorough and timely search for unity within the heterogeneity of the participants, their visions, individual backgrounds, prospects and also roles, even if this unity was never resolvable once and for all. This was not the same old movie, with compromise between organisations, associations, parties, unions and so forth, necessarily instrumental in the search for ‘hegemony'. Rather, a real process - and as such not always painless or linear - of the constitution of a unification of the flesh and blood of participants who did not belong to a homogenous social group; a process with predefined common perspectives that would be transformed in the struggle, creating relationships and producing something which until a few days earlier would have seemed incredible. It is only on this basis, on the work on oneself which the movement has been doing day after day, that its multiple ‘structures' have managed, as the time demanded, to deal with this or that external organisation or association engaged by the struggle.

A wise dosage of clash with power and ‘internal' social co-operation are the two facets, both indispensable that made it possible to negotiate with the adversary on the ground of the movement and without compromise. Always debating and deciding together, without delegating one's own ‘tactics' to anyone.

Now, continuity with movements on a global scale in these last few years does exist, but it must be understood and assessed in the light of the discontinuity marked by struggles like the No Tav.

Defined in terms of place and theme without being localist or particularistic, the No Tav movement -like Scanzano - constrains its struggle against capitalist globalisation to a here and now imbued with all the crucial moments of the last few years and at the same time capable of a practical move forward; a tangible, inevitable given for any subsequent redeployment in which its specificities can be articulated without losing in radicalism, maintaining all their force of rupture.

Turin, December 2005

To find out more, watch No Tav. Video inquiry into the social movement. Images and interviews from the struggle documentary (Italian with English subtitles) or follow the latest news on NOTAV EU (in Italian).

little site banner