We hope to write more posts in the future about our holdings from the work of Danilo Montaldi, who is perhaps the father of workers inquiry in Italy (and whose conceptualization of the ‘working class’ encompassed those who American sociologists would derisively condemn as “the underclass”). Today’s post is about Montaldi’s remarkable project with Giuseppe Guerreschi, Vietnam Suite.
As Jacopo Galimberti documents in his newly published (and groundbreaking, for English-speaking audiences) work Images of Class: Operaismo, Autonomia and the Visual Arts (2022), Montaldi’s interests in art are an under-discussed part of his intellectual and political trajectory. His engagements with the Italian artist Guerreschi (collected in the book Lettere), including Vietnam Suite, were “intentionally or not, implemented an unusual type of co-research involving an artist” (p. 204).
Vietnam Suite, as a collection of etchings by Giuseppe that portray often brutal images related to the Vietnam War, was published twice, but with different texts. The first publication was a catalogue for the 1973 exhibit at the Fanto de Spade gallery in Milan, which did not contain Montaldi’s adjoining text. This second version was published the following year, in 1974, by Fratelli Pozo in Turin. Montaldi’s essay is entitled “Sul Vietnam, Problemi, Date E Immagini” (“About Vietnam, Issues, Dates And Images. To Nikolaus, Diego, Max.”)
Montaldi’s essay begins by explaining that it was in the “summer of 1947 that, for the first time, we heard about Vietnam, about the war in Indochina.”
“We are only ten years away from the Spanish ’37, from those days of May that had revealed how necessary it was, in order to proceed along the path of workers’ power, to carry out a revolution within the revolution itself. And we were only two years into the Second World War. Still fresh were the images of the great revolutionary writings on the walls of the Nazi concentration camps of the liberated Spanish fighters; Spain had been the testing ground for the second imperialist war; with Vietnam there was almost the impression of a new Spanish war.”
He goes on to describe what would become Vietnam War as “the war, in no other terms, the war of horror, of obsession, of hate” (rough Deepl translation). Montaldi is unsparing with his analysis of Ho Chi Minh. Following the Ho-Sainteny agreement of 1946, he sees a counter-revolution.
Behind the movement that led Ho Chi Min to the agreement lay the whole Stalinist conception of revolution in stages, no matter how many defeats it had had to suffer from China to Spain. The Viet Minh, i.e. the Indochinese People’s Union (l’Unione popolare indocinese – ed.), had, in fact, renounced to take measures that could put it in conflict with the feudal bourgeoisie: it had respected the Banque de l’Indochine; it had not proceeded to any agrarian reform, except for giving land to some collaborators of the Japanese; it maintained and legalized the usury system, limiting itself to asking for a lowering of the rate. Nor did he decree the abolition of debts and mortgages. He made a pact with the bourgeoisie by asking its representatives for financial aid, while on the ideological level he tried to establish a sort of unanimity based on racial presuppositions. On the other hand, in February 1946, in order to prepare the ground for the compromise of March 6, the Viet Minh proceeded to the massacre of the leaders, non-nationalist internationalists, of the Trotskyist communist party and of many of its militants, thus practicing counter-revolution in the revolution.
Relying on a particular reading of Lenin and Trostky on the question of so-called ‘historical materialism’, Montaldi argues:
The theory adopted by Ho Chi Min, according to which the backward countries must catch up with the countries of mature capitalism by overcoming, time after time, the stages they have passed through at other times – as if there were an itinerary of history constantly identical with itself, regardless of the mode in which it takes place – is the least dialectical theory that can exist; and it can only lead to the sacrifice of the proletariat, to a series of defeats.
Montaldi soon transitions to discussing the violence of the war into the early 1970s, and Guerrechi’s work directly. Guerrechi’s etchings are haunting:
Vietnam Suite (1974) was published in an edition of 1000 books. The first 200 copies include original etchings, with 1-100 having one image, and 100-200 having another.
The book comes inside a gray slipcase. We hold book #168, with etching #68. The book is fairly common in the trade, but copies with the original etching are uncommon. We locate 6 institutionally-held editions internationally, via OCLC.