An interview with TUTE BIANCHE activists CHIARA CASSURINO and FEDERICO MARTELLONI on mobilizing after the G8 Summit in Genoa

Tute Bianche

Ever since the protests against the G8 Summit in Genoa, tute bianche (“white overalls”) have appeared again and again in the international press. As they have been for some time, they are now a public presence like hardly any other leftist radical group in Europe. They’re still on the offensive and have concrete plans for mobilization plans for the future. Tute bianche activists Chiara Cassurino from Genoa and Federico Martelloni from Bologna clarify the beginnings and background of this Italian form of activism.


DARIO AZZELLINI: Why did you choose the white overalls?
CHIARA CASSURINO: The concept of the tute bianche is derived from an analysis of the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. A regime of accumulation, based as it is on mass production in large factories and the assembly line worker with his compartmentalized labor as the central figure of production and of conflict, is being replaced by a flexible, net-like labor system in which atypical and independent work is rapidly increasing and producers no longer share in a standardized, relatively homogeneous way of life, but rather, fragment into countless, various, pluralistic subjectivities. The shared characteristic remains expropriation, now taking on larger dimensions because all of life is measured “in value” or “in work” and the whole of it becomes subject to capitalist sovereignty. White, understood as the sum of all colors, should serve as a form of representation of the multifarious subjects who combine their efforts against capitalist domination and find themselves within that conflict as a single multitude. In classic iconography, white is also the color of ghosts, a symbol for invisibility: the invisibility of the one “without”: without work, without papers, without guarantees, without appropriate citizenship, without rights. At the same time, the collective representation of this invisibility makes the exact opposite possible, that is, a tremendous visibility.


What sort of media effects have the tute bianche achieved with their actions? What sort of changes in communication have you brought about?
FEDERICO MARTELLONI: When put on display, invisibility leads at first to a triumph over the dependency on media producers, to a sort of reversal of roles. Broad visibility doesn’t have to be weaned from a “friendly” journalist, but instead – at least at the beginning – accomplished specifically with spectacular actions at certain places or at moments within view of the media. Based on an analysis of the central role of the media then, the phase of penetration into media space begins. If television and the newspapers aren’t much interested in what we have to say, then we go to them. Over time, an exchange of roles takes place. Tute bianche are a small player on the political stage, but their actions are far more “appetizing” than those of the traditional players. And you can do a lot with media that are ready and willing to give you space. We very quickly realized that it was necessary to learn how to use the media. They present a twisted reality, often untruthful, sometimes slanderous, but after a confrontation on the streets, they’re guaranteed to do a story on you for millions of people. So one should be prepared to deal with them right off. And then you can make the whole thing so public that it enables others to take part in the actions you plan instead of remaining clandestine for the masses as well, even if you’re quite well-known to the police.


You talk about “civil disobedience,” and there’s a certain history behind this term. The idea that offensive resistance should be avoided is sometimes associated with it. How, precisely, do you understand the term and how do you use it?
CHIARA CASSURINO: We aim to be innovative by bringing new ideas to the concepts of civil disobedience and the right of resistance. It’s not just about saying NO, putting up resistance to sovereign power, but rather, to radically call into question the laws, rules, norms and institutions of the political, economic and legal order. Above all, that means postulating a positive order, creating an order of rebelling and antagonistic communities, forms of cooperation and collective living which – relative to established power – are “different.” With this as a foundation, it’s important, necessary and possible to defend one’s own space and rights by all available means, including actions of civil disobedience appropriate to the given situation and power relationships in general.


In what ways do you want to, as you say, extend the concept?
FEDERICO MARTELLONI: The lesson of “questioning while running” that we learned from the Zapatistas is related to form and content. Civil disobedience is an instrument capable of calling up conflict and resolution as long as you don’t lose track of the collective goal. But our goal remains the radical transformation of the current status quo, liberation from enforced labor, from wage slavery, and much more, that, within the system of production, work is massively reduced while citizens’ rights, particularly essential rights, remain coupled with wage labor. Within this framework would be, for example, the fight for a guaranteed basic income. Or the problem of the rights of migrants, the last link in the capitalistic value chain of this post-Fordian epoch, the new slaves with “non-person” status whose rights of even freedom of movement are denied while, at the same time, limits on the circulation of goods and money go on being dismantled.


Tute bianche often talk about a “body.” What role does the body play in the concept of the tute bianche?
CHIARA CASSURINO: Just as workers in the past went out on the street with their tools (screwdrivers, sickles, hammers), we now go out onto the street with our tools: Bodies and minds that are so valuable that we’ve decided to protect them with helmets, shields, foam rubber, inflatable tubes, cork and Plexiglas. In order to attain the goals we’ve set for ourselves, we also use active means, that is, not just helmets but also catapults, decorated carts and everything that our imagination comes up with. The protected body, protected collectively as well, leads to women and men who once again become protagonists in the conflict since the practice is inclusive and the fear of arrest and injury can be overcome for those who are determined to reach their goals. It’s no longer just about a subjective appropriation of the body. It’s also about realizing a dimension in which “doing” and “being” are no longer separated, but rather, flow together into a single mechanism of the production of subjectivity. It’s about the dimension of biopolitics, the politics of life, the politics of the body. Biopolitics is the form of politics that reconstructs from the interior of the post-disciplinarian paradigm of control the opportunity for collective action. But the danger there is to get lost in the epoch and to turn to the only form of collective expression that we think we know: that related to the confrontation of masses so clearly defined that it has become over time a confrontational form of discipline. At the same time, the rubber tubes point to a crossover to another grammar of the political … We’re up against something new. Seattle, the protests against the WTO. Bodies are carried away. The materiality of the body, its weight and its disruptive presence appear on the political stage. The establishment had adjusted to its surfaces, but now, biopolitical subjectivity has once again discovered its materiality, its depth, its flesh. And while, since Seattle, the body has been used as a “blockade” or a “buffering tool,” it has, in Quebec, in Göteborg and in Genoa, become a means of occupation. The goal of blockading the summit delegates crossed over to become one of invasion and occupation of the space in which the summit took place. The body is returning as a concrete symbol of civil disobedience and is a paradigm of this era of biopower, control over life itself.

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