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Tearing Down the Joint: 1976 riots in Le Nuove and the end of Revolution

By Eleanor Chiari


In the summer of 1976 around 1000 prisoners in the Turin prison known as ’Le Nuove’ started a series of protests which would paralyze the prison for close to a month. Inmates were protesting the failure to apply the 1975 prison reform and against the abysmal conditions in which they were forced to live each day. These were more than ordinary protests, however, since they were partly organized by political prisoners, members of the armed bands that were spreading terror all over the peninsula. The alliance of ‘terrorists’ with ordinary criminals was seen as deeply dangerous and would become part of the strategy of ‘attacco al cuore dello stato’, which was conceived as an initial step in the path of an armed proletarian revolution. The riots in ‘Le Nuove’ spread to other prisons across Italy and gave newspapers infinite material to fuel anxieties and fears that the country was falling in the hands of violent criminals who would stop at nothing.\ud \ud This paper examines the atmosphere of fear and utopist fantasy that surrounded the prison riots and the dramatic consequences they had for the lives of prisoners in their immediate aftermath. By considering newspaper articles from 'La Stampa' and 'La Gazzetta del Popolo' from the time, the proclamations of the rioting prisoners found in the prison archive, as well as the oral testimony of a political prisoner interviewed today, I hope to highlight the way the stato di eccezione came to interrupt revolutionary hopes as well as to forever transform the memory of the anni di piombo

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