"Enemies and fascists should be beated up and eliminated and we reserve the right to do just that,"said Sandro, a tow-headed youth with steel-reemed glasses who works at Radio Sherwood, the FM radio station run by Padua's leftwing Autonomous Extremists.

Sandro and several other young Italians in their late teens and early twenties gathered recently in the poster-filled studio tucked away in the university quarter of this highly Catholic and prosperous northern Italian city.

Uppermost in their minds was the fate of 46-year-old Leninist political science professor Toni Negri, arrested two months ago with 11 other extremists on charges of armed insurrection against the state, and in their eyes a victim of "Bourgeoise repression."

But the main topic of discussion was the autonomi's belief and practice of what they term "revolutionary violence." The widespread violence in this rich commercial center has led some Italians to term Padua a "laboratory for subversion" an dothers to describe it as a breeding ground for Italians terrorists.

In the last year and a half there have been more than 400 acts of terrorism in the flat and fertile Veneto region, most of them in Padua itself. The violence, primarily bombing, shooting or arson attacks on the homes or cars of professors, policemen and politicians has created a growing climate of fear in a city that lives largely off its 60,000 university students and the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who come here to visit the religious shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua.

Negri and those arrested with him theorized that "mass illegality" and an "armed struggle" are the necessary midwives of change in Italy. In a potentially explosive area like Padua - characterized by rapid industrialization, unchecked immigration and an overcrowded university - their theories have easily taken root.

"A peaceful communist revolution is impossible in Italy," says Sandro. "Our enemies must be punished," he adds, speaking of two university professors who were seriously beaten last March for their "anti-student behaviour."

Responsibility for the terrorist activities has been claimed by a host of groups like the Armed Worker Squads, The Fighting Workers, the Communist Workers Organization and the Organized Communist Proletarians, but their actual numerical strength is difficult to guess.

At an April rally to protest the arrest of Negri, about 6,000 people showed up to demonstrate for armed revolt under a banner showing a hammer and sickle crossed with a machine gun. But according to socioligist Sabinio Acquaviva, author of the recent best-selling "Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy," there are probably only a few hundred hard-core militants.

Acquaviva disagrees with Paduan judicial authorities who maintain that the autonomi are only an above-ground version of the Red Brigades. He says the young workers and students attracted by the movement have created a real social base for their anger over the widespread inequity within Italian society.

To an outsider Padua appears tranquil, a place where shops do a brisk trade in luxury consumer goods and where outdoor cafes, wine bars and restaurants are crowded.

But the extremists have clearly left their mark. Near the university's department of humanities in the downtown Piazza del Signori, the facade of the Capitanio Palace with its 15th century clocktower is smeared with red-painted slogans like "Honor to the fallen comrades" and "The revolution will not be stopped." The lobby of the Institute of Political Science a few blocks away is plastered over with posters warning enemies and calling for the release of those in jail.

There is widespread agreement here that Padus's prestigious, 13th century university - Italy's second oldest - is the epicenter of the current violence. In recent years a small number of extremists at the traditionally leftwing humanities departments have interrupted classes, beaten opponents, terrified professors and set up small "revolutionary centers."

"The situation had become totally intolerable," says international relations professor Ennio di Nolfo who last year decided to leave Padua after his office was destroyed for the second time.

"I am just now starting to stop being afraid," says Oddone Longo, a professor of Greek who is dean of the humanities department. Repeatedly insulted and pressured to resign, on March 21 the gray-haired scholar was attacked by three youths wearing ski masks and beated with metal bars and hammers.

Hostory professor Angelo Ventura has also been threatened for rejecting extremists' demands for student-run courses on non-curriculum subjects and for "political" or automatic passing grades. "It is hard to live with the certainty that sooner or later something is going to happen," he says. CAPTION: Map, Italy, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post