Nanni Balestrini was born in Milan in 1935 and was a member of the influential avant-garde Gruppo 63, along with Umberto Eco and Eduardo Sanguineti. He is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, including Blackout and Ipocalisse, and novels such as Tristano, Vogliamo Tutto, and La Violenza Illustrata.
During the notorious mass arrests of writers and activists associated with Autonomy, which began in 1979, Balestrini was charged with membership of an armed organization and with subversive association. He went underground to avoid arrest and fl ed to France. As in so many other cases, no evidence was provided and he was acquitted of all the charges.
He currently lives in Rome, where he runs the monthly magazine of cultural intervention Alfabeta2 with Umberto Eco and others.
Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything (Vogliamo tutto), published in 1971, captures an explosive moment of worker militancy in Italy during 1969. It is the story of one man, told by a narrator whose experiences are based on those of the worker and militant Alfonso Natella. It is also, however, the collective story of workers from the Italian south who arrived at the Fiat Mirafiori factory in Turin during the 1960s. These workers were described, in approving terms, by the Italian radical political theorist Mario Tronti as a ‘crude, pagan race’. Balestrini’s narrator says of these new workers: ‘The monsters were coming, the horrible workers’ (WWE 65).
The novel is primarily set during Italy’s ‘hot autumn’ (autunno caldo), a massive wave of strikes between 1969 and 1970 that affected the northern industrial centres of Italy. In particular it is focused on Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, which by the late 1960s was a powder keg ready to explode. The plant employed 50,000 workers, with an annual staff turnover of 10% and 60% of these workers, like the worker in We Want Everything, came from the Italian south. Introduced to the new discipline of factory labour, these workers soon came into violent conflict with the bosses. Unlike skilled workers, traditional union members, and the representatives of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), they saw no value in work. As Balestrini’s narrator says, ‘When I came to Fiat I believed I’d be saved. This myth of Fiat, of work at Fiat. In reality it’s shit, like all work, in fact it’s worse’ (WWE 82). These workers practiced the ‘refusal of work’: carrying out wildcat strikes and making ‘impossible’ demands, like ‘we want everything’.
In the end, big business and its science won’t be the prizes for the one who wins the class struggle. They are the field on which the battle itself is fought. And for as long as the enemy occupies this ground, we mustn’t hesitate to fire our guns at it, without any tears for the roses.
Mario Tronti, Workers and Capital
Endless novels present fixed versions of events, and it’s baffling that those few to challenge this should attract opprobrium…Tristano is particularly successful in raising the idea that the structures that authors choose are not always necessarily the best possible.