One advantage of a rainy camping holiday in Devon was that it gave me plenty of time to finish reading Ian Birchall’s 600 page plus biography of Tony Cliff.
The book is as much a biography of the Socialist Review Group / International Socialists / SWP as it is of Cliff himself and reading a couple of paragraphs in chapter 9 reminded me of a small post I had been meaning to do for a while.
Avanguardia Operaia was an Italian organisation which grew out of the ferment of 1968. Trotskyist in origin it grew rapidly, fusing with other smaller and local groups- many of spontaneist or Maoist leaning and moved itself in a Maoist direct.
As with other nationally isolated groups, AO cultivated links with groups and individuals in other countries and to this end it produced a monthly Bulletin in the English language.
Headed “International Bulletin of the Communist Organization Avanguardia Operaia- Italy” this was a modest duplicated and stapled affair which consisted of translated articles from Quotidiano Dei Lavoratori / Workers Daily.
We have 3 issues of the Bulletin from 1976, which were found amongst papers loaned from Ian.
I asked Ian where the Bulletins came from and got a very detailed and interesting response:
“The story of Avanguardia Operaia is a bit more complex. This is from memory so I can’t vouch for exact dates. AO originated from a split in the Italian section of the FI in c1968. It was pro-Chinese, but, unlike most Maoist groups of the time, was not Stalinist.
The first contact with IS was made by myself and Norah Carlin during a visit to Italy in 1969. Fraternal contacts were developed over the next couple of years. Andreas Nagliatti, who was Italian-speaking and a member of the Executive, necessarily played a significant role in this.
The IS international strategy at the time was to develop cooperation and political discussion with various post-68 groups in Europe and elsewhere. AO and Lutte Ouvrière were the most important groups but there were several others. This was replaced in the later 70s by the attempt to build an international tendency.
In 1972 there was an AO conference to which we were invited to send delegates. The Executive decided to send Nagliatti; I was unhappy with this, as I felt the relationship with AO was being mediated entirely through Nagliatti. I proposed that Higgins also go. Higgins, who didn’t like travelling, found some excuse, but it was agreed that Rosewell should also go. Rosewell and Nagliatti came back with a very positive view of AO.
With Rosewell it was a very short-lived enthusiasm – he was a total opportunist – and in any case he dropped out of the organisation in early 1974.
There was generally a positive view of AO’s industrial strategy – a rank-and-file orientation embodied in the building of base committees (CUBs). See Mike [Sebastian] Balfour at https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1973/no057/balfour.htm .
However, it appears that by 1974 Nagliatti was increasingly under the influence of AO, and was effectively working as a supporter of AO inside IS.
This was all entangled with the internal disputes of the time. Nagliatti did not have an organised “faction”, but there was certainly a group of people sympathetic to his positions. He was promising to write a major document setting out his position, but nothing ever appeared. He drifted out of the organisation by the summer of 1975.
AO’s strategy was to build an international current of groups on their politics. The best known was probably Révolution! in France (a split from the LCR). They may have hoped for a time that the group around Nagliatti would split to form a British AO affiliate, but nothing emerged.
In 1975 the Cliff-Hallas-Harman leadership decided to have a public confrontation with AO, to clarify the political differences. This was published in International Socialism, see https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1975/no083/ao.htm and https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1975/no084/ao-is.html
AO peaked by 1975-76. In the Italian elections (1975/1976??) they got six deputies – but this was followed fairly rapidly by a split and rapid disintegration.
So it is unlikely that Rosewell or Nagliatti had anything to do with the 1976 bulletins, as they had both left IS by then. But there were a number of other IS comrades who visited Italy and had contact with AO – Pete Glatter, Glynis Cousin, Mike Balfour etc. etc. They may well have come from Joanna Rollo, who was the full-time international organiser.
That’s just an outline of my recollections – I hope it helps to clarify the situation.”