The Proletarian Armed Squads:
or rather, prison and machine guns
The violent and desperate fight of the NAP (Nuclei Armati Proletari), active over a period of only four years, is part of the history of the ‘organized fighters’ with particular characteristics. Under the slogan of “general revolt in the prisons and armed struggle of the external squads”, they aspired to a society without classes and, above all, without prisons. The NAP turn to the common delinquent, among whom are ex-convicts, politically conditioned in prison. Many have roots in Southern Italy, (Naples), and make a practice in the use of explosives, a modality which is decisively different from that of the BR (Red Brigades), with whom the NAP were later to realize an operative alliance.
Maria Pia Vianale( photo ansa)
Among the Left “extra parliamentary” organizations, it is, above all, theLotta Continua (Continuous Struggle) which is the most active on the question of the “prisons”, followed since 1970 by a special Commission and with the column “the damned of the Earth” (2) , published in the group newspaper. In 1974, exiles from Lotta Continua, convinced of the ineluctability of the resort to violence, creates the NAP in Naples (3) , together with other local groups (among which are representatives of the Proletarian Left), while a second nucleus is formed in Florence, based on the George Jackson Collective, one of the first aggregations of former convicts who have “turned to politics”.
The Antonio Gargiulo kidnapping, son of a prominent Neapolitan professional (25th July 1974), and that of the cement industry businessman, Giuseppe Moccia (18th of December of the same year and always in the Neapolitan area) bring in a considerable amount of money, which enhances the growth of the organization, permitting the purchase of weapons and explosives, the establishing of “bases” and the maintenance of the affiliates.
Since the beginning, the NAP, as declared in its acronym, is dedicated to the armed struggle; structured as a clandestine organization and divided into diverse nuclei; these are composed of “legal” elements, who conduct apparently normal lives, and of clandestine people, who are paid by the organization. In the absence of a strategic core capable of directing and deciding the operations to be carried out, the autonomy of the single nuclei (4) grows steadily and, naturally, results in a certain ideological confusion and dispersion of strength.
After a few actions against the headquarters of certain political parties (particular targets are mainly the MSI-DN and the DC), the NAP activity concentrates against the Magistracy, the police forces and, above all, against the gaols.
The decidedly spectacular “political” beginning of the group occurred on the evening of the 1st October 1974, in front of the Poggioreale prison in Naples, and the San Vittore prison in Milan, where a kind of programme is broadcast by a loudspeaker, which destroys itself by exploding at the end of the transmission (5) . A similar device is placed outside the Rebibbia prison in Rome, the next day.
The message is addressed to “proletarian inmates”, inviting them to take up the “struggle” within the walls of the gaol. It announces the secret constitution of the Armed Proletarian Nuclei, (NAP), which has been created to flank and support the prisoners’ fight against the “lagers of the bourgeois state and its justice”. The Nuclei, themselves, come from the gaols. They are “ex-prisoner comrades who have suffered imprisonment, fighting and maturing politically, they have suffered…And… have not forgotten”.
The target; “our contribution to the proletariat revolutionary process” is the “general rebellion within the gaols and the nuclei armed fight without”, because “we have no choice: or to rebel and fight or to die slowly in the gaols, in ghettos, in asylums, where the bourgeois society forces us”.
This “well” of desperation seems to characterize the whole of the short and violent experience of the NAP which, in proportion to the number of its militants, is probably the armed group with the highest number of dead. In the history of this group recurs, if not an auto-lesionist streak, then a sort of tragic nonchalance in carrying forward an armed fight, united to a pessimist vision, and a desperate will to rebel against a society which is essentially perceived as unchangeable.
On the 29th of October 1974, in Florence, A NAP group is caught by police while attempting a robbery. In the following shoot-out, Luca Mantini, 25 years old, and the 22 year-old, Giuseppe Romeo (battle name ‘Sergio’), a former Neapolitan convict, die, while Pasquale Abatangelo and Pietro Sofia, both wounded, are captured; a fifth member manages to escape. Mantini, an ex-militant of the Lotta Continua in Florence, has served a short gaol-sentence for involvement in riots during the MSI rally in 1972. In these circumstances he becomes part of the gaol world and founds the Collective Jackson, one of the first aggregations of politicized ex-convicts. His sister, who shares his political militancy, will die a few months later, in Rome. On the 11th of March, 1975, in Naples, Giuseppe Vitaliano Principe dies, blown to pieces while preparing a bomb; his accomplice, Alfredo Papale, is seriously injured. The episode permits the police to find out an important NAP base. After this episode, the NAP will concentrate its activity in the Capital. After a short time, the 30th of May, 1975, an analogous incident happens to Giovanni Taras, who loses his life while placing a bomb on a terrace of the Judicial Asylum of Aversa (6) . The inexpert management of explosives, which on more than one occasion proves to be fatal, is a prerogative of the NAP organization, which distinguishes it, totally, from the Red Brigades. Right in those years, the largest terrorist group, after the initial phase of the “armed propaganda”, adopts the strategy of “attack at the heart of the State” through targeted strikes, finalized to a “selective annihilation” and it is contrary to methods of indiscriminate attacks, which are likely to involve “innocent people”.
Compared to the RB, the Nuclei also distinguish themselves for a rather simplistic political and ideological culture. Not without incongruities, however; the few programme documents of NAP, on the one side, hail the total destruction of the prison system, and on the other, claim for the reform of the criminal code and the penitentiary system.
The most known action of NAP is the kidnapping of the magistrate, Giuseppe Di Gennaro, member of the General Direction of the Institutes of Prevention and Punishment of the Ministry of Grace and Justice. The action is carried out in Rome on the 6th of May 1975, about one year after the clamorous kidnapping of the Judge Mario Sossi, by the Red brigades. The handling of the kidnapping is entangled with the story of three prisoners in the Viterbo gaol; two founders of NAP (Pietro Sofia and Giorgio Panizzari) and a “common politicized prisoner”, (Martino Zicchitella). After their failed prison escape on the 9th of May, these three take several gaol wardens prisoner, and claim the kidnapping of Di Gennaro. The affair is over within a couple of days, the 11th of May, with the liberation of the magistrate while the prisoners obtain the broadcast of their communiqué and transfer to other penal institutions.
Also in Rome, on the 8th of July, Anna Maria Mantini is killed by the police force while returning to her apartment (7) . The “29th October Armed nucleus” will revenge her death with the attempt on the life of Vice-Brigadier Antonino Tuzzolino who will remain paralyzed (9th of February 1976) and the following 5th of May, the magistrate Paolino Dell’Anno will be wounded, accused of having hidden the true dynamics of the killing of Anna Maria Mantini.
In the period between 1975 and 1976, NAP intensifies attacks against personnel and offices of the Ministry of Grace and Justice (8) . It is regular “campaign” against gaols in which the NAP intervenes with the agreement of the Red Brigades. During the night of the 2nd of March 1976, in many Italian cities, simultaneously, (Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Rome, Turin) a series of attacks and vehicle burnings are carried out against Carabinieri barracks, jointly claimed, the next day, with a leaflet signed by the two groups, “for the unity of the guerrilla warfare”.
photo of archives
For the first time a sort of alliance is formed between the two organizations “with respect for the individual autonomy” and diversity of practice and political origin; they declare that there“do not exist substantial strategic differences” (9) and commit themselves, therefore, to practice “common terms of struggle and to realize a unity of action in a single combat front”, prophesying a unification of the whole revolutionary movement.
Notwithstanding the strong differences which exist between the two groups, the Nuclei, therefore, experiment an operative alliance with the Red Brigades, a rare example of cooperation in the history of the “combat organizations” in “gli anni di piombo”, (lit: the years of lead = bullets) (10) . This agreement, however, is an isolated episode and the relation will be all to the advantage of the larger terrorist group, which, in fact, will inherit the logistic structure of the Nuclei, while single members of the original NAP group, after its breakdown, will join the RB.
Among the main objectives of the NAP, which are organized both inside and outside of the prisons, is the liberation of its arrested members. The escapes of Martino Zicchitella, Giuseppe Sofia and many others detainees, among whom is the bandit, Gaetano Mesina, from the gaol at Lecce, on the 20th of August 1976 are very clamorous (11) , while on the 22nd of January, 1977, Franca Salerno and Maria Pia Vianale escape from the Pozzuoli gaol (with the help of Antonio Lo Muscio, ex-prisoner politicized in gaol). Their freedom will end in the following summer.
The evasion takes place simultaneously with the first NAP trial at Naples, in which also the two women are indicted. As had already happened for the RB in Turin, the militants organize a so-called “Guerrilla warfare trial” with the difficulty, however, of forming a ‘people’s jury’ and with a succession of pronouncements and judge substitutions, with the scope of invalidating the proceedings (12) .
In Rome, on the 22nd of March, a police agent, Claudio Graziosi, on board a bus, recognizes Maria Pia Vianale in the bus and instructs the driver to drive directly to the nearest police station; Graziosi then proceeds to arrest the woman, but a militant with her, perhaps Lo Muscio, shoots and kills Graziosi. While hunting the two NAP terrorists, a zoophilist guard, Angelo Cerrai, who has joined the search, is also killed, in error.
The last chapter in the NAP history takes place on the evening of the 1st of July, 1977, on the steps of San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome, where a patrol of Carabinieri recognize the three NAP militants; in the following gun-fight, Antonio Lo Muscio is killed and Maria Pia Vianale and Franca Salerno are arrested.
The activities of the terrorist group are, therefore, definitively ended, even if the acronym re-emerges periodically to claim actions of little importance and dubious authenticity.
Although it proved to be a story of failure, the NAP does not remain without a follow-up, that is to say, to have attributed a revolutionary role to the common delinquent and, in general, to the world of the social outcasts.
It is precisely the outlawed proletariat which becomes the central theme of the so-called “party wing” of Giovanni Senzani who, in the first years of the 80’s, animates the internal discussions of the Red Brigades. Overcoming the traditional concept of central position of the working class, the ‘Senzanian Front of the Gaol Column of Naples, which proposes to establish the “metropolitan guerrilla” also in the South of Italy, identifies as the new revolutionary subject the “socially outcast and outlawed proletariat” (i.e. the area of unemployment, the socially outcast and the small underworld), which is present in the South and in the great urban centres (13) .
Over the last few years, the NAP experience has been nominated in propaganda leaflets of certain extra-parliamentary leftist groups committed to “prison problems”. Their publicity initiatives can be found also on the web.
(1) In May, 1974, the revolt in the Alessandria prison concluded with police intervention: 7 dead – two prisoners and five prison wardens who were held as hostages by the rebel prisoners.
(2) The title is borrowed from a work by Frantz Fanon, medical psychiatrist, who, in the 60’s, had a profound influence in the anti-colonial fight; Fanon identified in the mass of people who compose the lower-proletariat, among which were the convicted prisoners, a determined force for the revolutionary process. In 1972, Lotta Continua publishes a volume, entitled “Free all the damned of the Earth”, in which are writings of prisoners connected to the LC, many of whom will become members of the NAP.
(3) The NAP, also active in the North, will always claim their essentially Southern roots, in those ‘masses’ “ always left alone in the fight for emancipation” proposing itself as “a more conscious avant-garde of a certain class pole (Southern proletariat and the detainee proletariat)”.
(4) The political and organizing autonomy of the single nuclei, composed of “comrades who act in diverse situations and places” is underlined in the self-interview of June, 1975, in which is also stated that the acronym NAP is not “a signature which characterizes an organization with a complex programme, but…. synthesizes the real characteristics of our experience“.
(5) In Milan, the device of the transmission does not work, and only the explosion takes place, simultaneously with the one of Naples.
(6) The action is claimed by the ‘Sergio Romeo Nucleus’.
(7) Anna Maria Mantini was the 22 year-old sister of Luca Mantini, who died the year before in the Florence robbery. The young woman was among the founders of the “29th October Armed Nucleus”, which organized the Di Gennaro kidnapping.
(8) Among these attacks, the wounding of the custodian, Cosimo Vernich, in Milan on the 7th October, 1975 and that of the Appeal Counsellor, Pietro Margariti, Head of the Prevention and Punishment Office, on the 28th January, 1976, in Rome.
(9) An operative and organizational connection between the NAP and the RB is, instead, denied in the self-interview, diffused after the Di Gennaro kidnapping.
(10) The NAP and the RB act together again in Milan on the 22nd April, 1976, in the raid on the District Inspector’s Office for the Institute of Prevention and Punishment.
(11) Almost all of them recaptured within two months, with the exception of Gaetano Mesina and Martino Zicchitella. The latter dies on the 14th December, 1976, in an ambush of the NAP set for the Head of the Security Services for Lazio, the Vice- Police Suprintendent of Anti-terrorism, Alfonso Noce, in which is also killed an agent of the escort, Prisco Palumbo; Zicchitella is erroneously hit in the shoulder, by one of his companions.
(12) The trial is started on the 22nd November, 1976 and concludes on the 15th February, 1977. Of the twenty-six indicted, a full twenty-three are detainees.
(13) The Senzani faction, supporter of the building of a ‘party’ which is constantly in dialectic with the mass and in favour of modest military action (‘armed propaganda’) will finish by being in the minority and consequently expelled from the RB organization, (March 1985)with the prevalence of ‘orthodox militarists’ (RB-PCC), faithful to the Leninist formula, centred on the avant-garde role, and to a practice geared to“selective annihilation”.