Diary of an Escape – Antonio Negri

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Book Review:Diary of an Escape – Antonio Negri (Polity Press, 2010)

“The recent days have shown the enormous gap that exists between our capacity to produce truth and the court’s inert expression of its unbelievable desire to repress it.”

Antonio Negri.

A discussion of truth in any situation may well be defined as a paradox. Truth – in a trial, in a country which declares itself a democracy, becomes a manifestation of a particular bond of servitude.

Diary of an Escape is Antonio Negri’s version of truth. Negri was accused of conspiring with the Red Brigades, of creating conditions for an insurrection in Italy, as well as charged with seventeen murders and the murder of Aldo Moro, which he deems, “A high level accusation, sustained by lies, and one which cannot be criticized once it has been consecrated by justice.”

Placed in preventive detention for four years, Negri was released from prison in July 1983, after being elected to the House of Representatives. His release and foray into politics created a frenzied debate which was exploited by the media. A few months later, he was stripped of parliamentary immunity and took up residence in France.

Negri’s book is at once a narration of philosophy, politics and personal memoir. Departing from Marxism as opposed to oppressive democracy, the concepts of truth, justice and exile resonate throughout the book. The experience of the oppressed political prisoner divests the courts of their own web of rationality, exposing the system which upholds the semblance of justice. Negri portrays justice as a procedure which disrupts the reason behind the trial.

The necessity of vilifying communism went beyond the objectives of the trial. A spectator as well as participant, Negri discerns the court’s motives; the mandatory expectation of morality to be upheld through the immoral culture of power. The court’s sanctioning of the ‘pentiti’ – people in the communist movement who defected to gain some semblance of immunity from prosecution was a reminder that courts consider themselves to be above all definitions of justice. “…this is just what one would expect: that corruption, dissolution and decadence should give each other a deformed reflection in this infamy.”

Justice manages to deform reality beyond its own illusion. “Democratic prison and democratic political trials – democratic exploitation.” The consequences of conspiracy charges tarnish the eloquence of language and actions. Viewed from the democratic bench of justice, truth and exile become terms which represent a distorted image of the oppressed person’s reality. To the political prisoner, truth is entwined within the revolutionary struggle – it is not to be separated, forged or diminished because to do so would mean annihilating the concept of revolution. Truth was the weapon which flung the conspiracy theories back to the mahogany benches.

Once released from prison, Negri hardly had time to savour freedom. Each time he visited his comrades in prison, whom he had left with the promise of campaigning for their release, they urged him to flee Italy – the threat of re-arrest remained relevant. Negri ponders the spectrum of freedom and exile. Once stripped of immunity, he decides to flee to France out of the desire to safeguard his freedom from the hypocrisy of the courts. Also, Negri realises that mediation with regard to political prisoners is destined to fail. Here again, exile is destined to be mangled by the court’s power. But for the political prisoner, exile is a means of regeneration. An escape which defies the torture of corrupt justice and, even then, it is a last resort, when one realises that to remain within the confines of a country results in deterioration of identity. Therefore, exile is preservation of freedom, a transformation of survival.

Through the book, Negri maintains the fact that courts are frequently irrational and out of contact with society. Due to the strict interpretation of defining guilt and innocence within their own parameters, as well as within the laws that function in favour of power, resistance, especially Marxist and communist ideologies of resistance are considered subversive and therefore negativity accumulates in their regard. With the distinct ideology of class struggle, justice is tasked with forging a strategy which seeks to accommodate society. It fails to identify the minorities or else seeks to engulf them through forced assimilation.

Negri’s language and philosophy is brimming with revolutionary consciousness. In a simpler reflection towards the end of the book, the regeneration of ideals and humanity is pondered upon, as a means to combat the cycle of vengeance found in the halls of justice and oppressive politics. “There is no struggle between nature and liberty – there is a continuity of struggle and of continuous building, of the one and the other.”

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