George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.

11 Anarchism in Italy

The tendency of anarchist movements to take on local characteristics has been particularly evident in Italy, where the revolutionary attitude developed during the Risorgimento was one of the shaping influences on the libertarian movement. The first anarchist militants in the country were former Mazzinians or Garibaldians; under the Savoy monarchy anarchism continued for long periods the same kind of clandestine life as the republican movements of the earlier nineteenth century, and the traditions of conspiracy, insurrection, and dramatic deeds developed by the Carbonari helped to determine anarchist ways of action. Even the loose organization of the movement resembled that which the Carbonari assumed under persecution, and the typical libertarian heroes, such as Errico Malatesta and Carlo Cafiero, lived in the flamboyant manner of Garibaldi and Pisacane.

But if the movement of national liberation influenced Italian anarchism -- and through it, as we shall see, anarchist methods in other countries -- the ideas of foreign anarchists in their turn influenced the general development of revolutionary movements in Italy. Even before the arrival of Bakunin in 1864 the ideas of Proudhon were already having their effect on Italian republican thought, particularly through the writings and preachings of that Don Quixote of the Risorgimento, Carlo Pisacane, Duke of San Giovanni.

Pisacane had played a distinguished part as a young man in the Revolution of 1848, when he was Chief of Staff in Mazzini's Army of the Roman Republic. In 1857 he anticipated Garibaldi's Sicilian adventure, but with more tragic results, by sailing from Genoa with a small army of republicans in the steamship Cagliari and landing on the coast of Calabria. The local insurgents he had expected did not rally to him, and he was defeated by the Bourbon forces, himself dying upon the battlefield.

Pisacane became one of the hero-martyrs of the Risorgimento, [308] but it was only after his death, with the publication in Paris of his collected essays (under the title Saggi), that his libertarian ideas became known widely. During the years of exile between 1848 and the fatal Calabrian adventure he had read deeply in Proudhon and Fourier, and had entered into polemical discussions with Mazzini on the nature of the forthcoming Italian revolution. Pisacane's attitude was not unlike that of Bakunm during his pan-Slavist phase; he looked for a national revolution by means of a social revolution. The peasants must be aroused before the nation could be free, and this could only be done by offering them economic liberation, liberation from the yoke of their immediate tyrants, the landlords. For this reason Pisacane became a Proudhonian socialist. He demanded, like Proudhon, that every man have 'the fruit of his own labour guaranteed' and that 'all other property be not only abolished but denounced as theft'. Pisacane in fact went beyond Proudhon in the direction of collectivism, since he wanted industrial plants to become collective property and the land to be cultivated by the communes in such a way that the people should share equally in the produce of agriculture.

Not only did Pisacane accept Proudhon's basic economic theory. He also adopted his ideas on government, and saw the ultimate aim of the revolution not as the centralized state of the Jacobins and the Blanquists, but as 'the only just and secure form of government; the anarchy of Proudhon'. He demanded the simplification of social institutions, and further declared that 'society, constituted in its real and necessary relationships, excludes every idea of government'. But perhaps the most striking link between Italian anarchism and the earlier traditions of the Risorgimento is to be found in Pisacane's advocacy of what later become known as the propaganda of the deed.

The propaganda of the idea is a chimera [he wrote]. Ideas result from deeds, not the latter from the former, and the people will not be free when they are educated, but will be educated when they are free. The only work a citizen can do for the good of the country is that of cooperating with the material revolution; therefore, conspiracies, plots, attempts, etc., are that series of deeds by which Italy proceeds towards her goal
[309] It would be easy to write the history of anarchism in Italy as a record of the effort to carry out these injunctions.

Pisacane left no movement behind him. Nevertheless, he had a great influence on the younger republicans, both through his personal associates and posthumously through his writings, and that influence helped to prepare the friendly reception Bakunin encountered when he reached Florence in 1864. It is significant that among both the Florentine Brotherhood and the International Brotherhood later founded in Naples there were several old comrades of Pisacane.

The influence of Proudhon also permeated Italy in the more direct form of mutualism; the first socialist journal founded in Italy, Il Proletario, edited by the Florentine Nicolo lo Savio, was Proudhonian in inspiration. However, as in France, the mutualists in Italy tended toward moderation and conservatism, and their part in the development of anarchism there is negligible. The Italian anarchist movement virtually begins with Bakunin's arrival.

I have shown already how in Florence Bakunin finally abandoned his early pan-Slavism and adopted anarchism as his revolutionary doctrine; as a consequence, the birth of anarchism in Italy coincided with the birth of the international anarchist movement in its rudimentary prototype, the Florentine Brotherhood. I have also told what little is known of that short-lived organization, and I have described its successor, the International Brotherhood, as an event in Bakunin's life and in the international development of anarchism. Here I shall discuss the International Brotherhood in so far as it can be regarded as an Italian movement.

In the constitutional documents drawn up by Bakunin and his immediate associates, the Italian section of the Brotherhood was variously called La Societa per la Rivoluzione Democratica Sociale and La Societa dei Legionari della Rivoluzione Sociale Italiana. There is no reason to suppose that these were separate organizations; Bakunin's passion for high-sounding titles is enough to explain the duplication. The high command of the society seems to have coincided roughly with Bakunin's Central Committee of the International Brotherhood in Naples. Several members of this caucus of initiated militants were later [310] to play considerable parts in anarchist history. Giuseppe Fanelli, a veteran of 1848, was actually a deputy of the Italian parliament, but he fell so far under Bakunin's spell that later he went on a strange but successful mission to convert the Spanish masses to anarchism. Saverio Friscia, a Sicilian homeopathic physician, was also a member of the Chamber of Deputies, but more important to the International Brotherhood as a thirty-third degree Freemason with great influence in the lodges of southern Italy.1 Carlo Gambuzzi, a Neapolitan lawyer, was to become a close personal friend of Bakunin and the lover of his wife Antonia, as well as remaining for many years an active leader of the Italian anarchist movement. The last important member of this early elite was Alberto Tucci, another young Neapolitan lawyer.

The size of the movement which these men led is hard to estimate, largely because of the pretentiousness of its paper organization. An Italian Central Committee was created, and the whole country was optimistically divided into regions, in each of which the members would be controlled by a general staff appointed by the Central Committee; at this stage the Bakuninists, while accepting generally anarchistic ideas of organization for society after the revolution, had not yet shaken free from the authoritarian forms of conspiratorial tradition within their own organization. However, it seems clear that the only parts of Italy where branches of the Brotherhood became active were the city of Naples and the towns of Palermo and Sciacca in Sicily; no reliable figures for the membership of any of these groups exist, but they were probably small. In addition, a few of Bakunin's old associates in Florence may have adhered as individual members to the Brotherhood, but there is no trace of a Florentine branch. Even the sections that existed seem to have languished as soon as Bakunin left Naples for Geneva in August 1867, and it is safe to assume that the International Brotherhood, which was not formally dissolved until 1869, became in Italy, as elsewhere, a skeleton organization of Bakunin's immediate associates. [311]

During these early years the association between Bakunin and his Italian followers was close. Fanelli, Friscia, and Tucci all accompanied him into the League for Peace and Freedom and later resigned with him to become founding members of the international Alliance of Social Democracy. Fanelli, Gambuzzi, Tucci, and Friscia, with Raffaele Mileti of Calabria and Giuseppe Manzoni of Florence, formed the nucleus of the National Committee of the Alliance. Again, it is difficult to say what strength the Alliance attained in Italy, since early in 1869 the organization was dissolved, and its branches automatically became sections of the International Workingmen's Association. The Italian militants had opposed this move, but it was from this time -- the early months of 1869 -- that an influential anarchist movement began to arise in Italy.

At first it was restricted to the Mezzogiorno, and the most active branch was in Naples, under the leadership of Gambuzzi and the tailor Stefano Caporosso. Many local artisans joined it, and at the Basel Congress of the International, in September 1869, Caporosso reported a membership of 600. Two months later, the Naples section founded the first Italian anarchist journal, L'Eguaglianza, edited by the ex-priest Michelangelo Statuti, whose ideas seem to have anticipated those developed later by Georges Sorel, since he maintained that strikes were useful only because they developed the spirit of solidarity among the workers.

After three months L'Eguaglianza was suppressed by the police, but the Neapolitan section continued to flourish. Indeed, after intervening in a leather-workers' strike it expanded so rapidly that early in 1870 the local police reported a membership of 4,000. Other branches appeared in the Campania and Sicily, but it was still some time before the movement spread to the rest of Italy. In fact, police persecutions, the imprisonment of Gambuzzi and Caporosso, and the discovery of agents provocateurs among the members of the Naples section resulted in a decline even in the south.

In the middle of 1871, however, a new group of militants appeared, different in character from those veterans of earlier struggles who had first gathered around Bakunin. The leaders among them, Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta, and Carmelo [312] Palladino, were all young men in their early twenties, the educated sons of southern Italian landowners; all of them came from regions where peasant poverty was endemic (Cafiero and Palladino from Apulia and Malatesta from Capua in the Campania); they were in fact the Italian equivalents of the conscience-stricken Russian noblemen who in the same decade felt the burning urge to 'go to the people'. Their sense of injustice done to the poor and the defenceless made them intolerant of the pietistic liberalism of Mazzini, and -- with Garibaldi ageing and reluctant to become involved again in the struggle -- Bakunin was the leader to whom they turned, though Cafiero flirted briefly with Engels and Marx. The triumvirate of Cafiero, Malatesta, and Paladino reconstructed the section of the International in the Mezzogiorno, but their work proceeded slowly, hampered by further police persecution, and might have come to little if Mazzini had not decided on a course of action that played into the hands of Bakunin and gave him the opportunity to intervene massively in Italian left-wing politics.

In his old age Mazzini had become steadily more conservative and more distrustful of the activist elements within the Italian republican movement. He was disturbed by the growing influence of socialism in Europe, and he had already denounced the Paris Commune for its godlessness and its denial of true nationalism. Now he turned against the International, and attacked it similarly in La Roma del popolo. Many of his own followers, who had admired the heroism of the Communards and knew that some of the best of them were Internationalists, were repelled by his attitude, and one of the left-wing republican journals, Il Gazzetino Rosso of Milan, published on 24 July 1871 a sharp reply from Bakunin, entitled The Reply of an Internationalist to Giuseppe Mazzini; Bakunin accused the veteran leader of 'turning his back on the cause of the proletariat' at a time when it had suffered the horrors of the last days of the Commune. Immediately after completing this article, Bakunin, who realized that at this moment the influence of anarchism in Italy was in the balance, set to work on a much longer essay entitled Mazzini's Political Theology and the International, which appeared in the autumn of 1871.

The immediate effect of these polemics was a spread of [313] Inationalist organization, which now began to break out of the Mezzogiorno and into its later strongholds in Tuscany, Romagna, and the Marches. On 18 October Cafiero gave Engels a list of towns in which Internationalist activity had begun; they included, besides the old southern centres, Florence, Parma, Ravenna, Pisa, Turin, Milan, Rome, and Bologna. How many of these towns had active sections at this time it is hard to tell, but when the Jura Federation issued its Sonvillier Circular against the General Council in November 1871, branches in Bologna, Milan, and Turin supported it along with those in southern Italy.

About this time, however, a rapid change began. Bakunin had circulated at a Mazzinian congress of workers in November 1871 a fresh pamphlet entitled Circular to My Italian Friends, which induced some of the delegates to withdraw from the congress rather than condone Mazzini's attitude. In the following month, a movement of Fascio Operaio (Workers' Unions) appeared in central Italy; this movement was from the beginning socialistically inclined, and in February 1872 a gathering of its members from Ravenna, Lugo, and Forli allied themselves to the International, adopting the anarchist demand for autonomous communes. In the following month the fourteen Romagna sections of the Fascio called together in Bologna the first anarchist gathering that was really national in scope, since there were also delegates from Naples, Turin, Genoa, Mantua, and Mirandola.The congress was dominated by a group of young Romagnols, headed by Andrea Costa, a student of philology who had been led into the International by his enthusiasm for the Paris Commune, and who was to join Malatesta and Cafiero among the moving spirits of Italian anarchism during the greater part of the 1870s.

The Bologna Congress destroyed any hope the Marxists may have had of establishing their influence, for the present at least, in the nascent Italian socialist movement. On the question of political action which divided Marx and Bakunin its delegates voted against participation in elections and stated pointedly that 'any authoritarian government is the work of the privileged to the detriment of the disinherited classes'. They also declared in favour of a general insurrection aimed [314] at the solution of the social problem. Organizationally, the Congress resulted in the foundation of a Federation of the Bologna Region, which shelved any decisions in the Marx-Bakunin struggle by deciding to remain autonomous and to treat the General Council and the Jura Federation equally as corresponding bureaux. Marx and Engels, who believed that whoever was not with them was against them, decided that the Italians had 'unmasked themselves as pure Bakuninists'; as time quickly showed, they were not wrong.

The Romagna now became the centre of anarchist militancy, largely because of Costa's energetic organizational work. In the rest of Italy many sections of the International were formed, but there was little regional coordination, except in Umbria, and it was only the initiative of the Romagnols and of Fanelli in Naples, anxiously prodded by Bakunin -- who wished to consolidate his forces for the struggle in the International -- that brought the anarchists of the country together in a national congress. This congress, which met at Rimini on 4 August 1872, was of historic importance, since it not merely established the anti-authoritarian tendency of socialism in Italy for almost a decade, but also decided indirectly the fate of the International as a whole.

Twenty-one sections were represented, and their distribution showed the geographical shifts that were taking place in anarchist influence. The once-dominant Mezzogiorno sent delegates for only two sections; in this region of poverty-stricken peasants anarchism had been unable to make any advances outside the larger towns. Except for one Roman section, the rest of the delegates came from the north-central provinces -- Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia. Milan, whose delegate, Vincenzo Pezza, was ill owing to recent imprisonment, sent a message couched in fervently anti-Marxist terms. Both generations of militants were represented among the delegates -- Fanelli and Friscia from the old republican left, and Costa, Cafiero, and Malatesta from the younger generation.

The Congress established the Italian Federation of the International as a simple network of autonomous sections, whose only common organs would be correspondence and statistical bureaux. The customary anarchist resolutions against political [315] action were passed unanimously, and then, in its third day, the Congress moved on to the question of its relations to the General Council and its attitude to the Hague Congress. Bakunin and his followers in the Spanish and Jura Federations had urged the Italians to send as many delegates as possible to The Hague, but, led by the fiery oratory of Cafiero and Costa, the Italians passed a drastic comprehensive resolution in which they broke off 'all solidarity with the General Council in London', refused to acknowledge the Hague Congress, and called upon all Internationalists who shared their opposition to authoritarian methods to send representatives to a separate anti-authoritarian congress in Neuchatel. Thus the Italian Federation, the last to be founded in the life of the old International, was the first to begin the breakaway which all the anarchists knew in their hearts was inevitable.

The Italians kept to their resolution not to support the Hague Congress. Carlo Cafiero went there, but only as an observer; when he returned through Switzerland he met four other delegates from Italy and participated in the Congress at Saint-Imier which confirmed the breach with the Marxist sections of the International.

The militancy displayed by the Italian anarchists at the Rimini Congress did not diminish during the following months. They not only severed their connexions with the Marxists; they also refused any alliances with the left-wing republicans, and daily drew nearer to a consistently Bakuninist attitude. This implied not merely an insistence on libertarian forms of social and economic organization; it meant also the decision that, as one clandestine journal declared, 'today propaganda is no longer enough; now we must organize ourselves for the struggle'. Clearly, the insurrectional struggle was meant. As its attitude became more extreme, the anarchist movement in Italy also grew stronger, and when the second national congress took place in Bologna in March 1873, its fifty-three delegates represented 150 sections, seven times as many as had been represented seven months before at the first congress.

This rapid growth of the Federation was observed by the Italian government with concern; the Minister of the Interior sent instructions to the provincial authorities to destroy the [316] International in their regions. The police raided the Bologna Congress and arrested Cafiero, Costa, and Malatesta, but the remaining delegates merely shifted the meeting place and carried on their deliberations, with suitably defiant resolutions attacking the persecution to which they had been subjected. Apart from the reaffirmation of general principles, the most important resolution adopted by the 1873 Congress was one calling for propaganda work among the peasants, in the hope of tapping that great reservoir of 'fourteen million peasants in Lombardy and the southern provinces who are in agony because of fever and hunger and anxiously await the hour of emancipation'. The attempt to carry out this hope and spur the peasants to action was to have a great influence on future anarchist activity.

In nineteenth-century Italy there was nothing discreditable or even fearful about police persecution. The sufferings of the heroes of the Risorgimento had made it almost a badge of worth and the efforts of the government to stamp out the International merely brought new recruits to its sections, so that by the early months of 1874, which was to be one of the dramatic years of Italian anarchism, the police and the anarchists -- preparing separate estimates -- came to roughly the same conclusion; that the membership of the International had grown to more than 30,000. Moreover, owing largely to the activities of Costa, who was in constant contact with Bakunin, this small army of anarchists was at last united by an organizational network which operated through ten regional federations, extending into every district of Italy and even into Sardinia.

It was at this time that the Italian anarchists decided to shift the centre of their activities from the congress halls to the open field of revolutionary struggle. Not until 1876 did Cafiero and Malatesta actually emerge as missionaries of the Propaganda by Deed, carrying it as a new gospel to the rest of the international anarchist movement. In that year Malatesta declared in the Bulletin of the Jura Federation: 'The Italian Federation believes that the insurrectionary deed, destined to affirm socialist principles by acts, is the most efficacious means of propaganda.' Picked up by theoreticians in France and Spain, this [317] Italian viewpoint dominated European anarchist activities during the 1880s. But as a matter of practical tactics it emerged from the circumstances of the Italian movement as early as 1873.

The anarchists had now gained a considerable popular support, but -- remembering Italian revolutionary traditions -- they realized that they could only sustain their position if they dramatically rivalled the feats of the Garibaldians and the Mazzinians. 'Violent action,' said Andrea Costa in recollection of these days, 'was considered ... a necessity ... to pose the problem, to show the new ideal above the old ones.' The winter of 1873-4 was one of distress and unrest, and its strikes and hunger demonstrations gave the anarchists an opportunity to demonstrate their direct-actionism on a small scale. But this was not enough; a deliberately planned programme of action was needed, and for this purpose the militant leaders of the Federation revived Bakunin's old idea of a secret inner organization to initiate insurrectionary action. Accordingly, toward the end of 1873 they established, as a shadow group within the International, an Italian Committee for the Social Revolution, which acted entirely by clandestine means. Its purpose was to provoke a group of well-planned risings in carefully selected parts of Italy, which it was hoped might set going by chain reaction a whole series of regional insurrections in which the sections of the International would guide the mass uprisings toward a general social revolution.

The Committee for the Social Revolution planned an elaborate action for the summer of 1874. On the night of 7-8 August, the anarchists of the Romagna would seize Bologna, and the news of their success would be the signal for risings in Rome, Florence, Palermo, and Leghorn, and also in the country districts of Apulia and Sicily, after which it was hoped that the conflagration might spread across Italy and the 'social liquidation' be accomplished. It was a fearsome project, but the performance of the Internationalists was far from equal to their intentions. Through informers, the police gained a fair knowledge of their plans, and before the day of the great rising they arrested Andrea Costa, the key organizer of the insurrection. The conspiracy had been scotched: it had not been destroyed, [318] and on the morning of 7 August a proclamation of the Italian Committee for the Social Revolution appeared in towns and cities throughout Italy, calling on the workers 'to fight to the death for the abolition of every privilege and the complete emancipation of mankind'.

The plans for the Bologna insurrection were elaborate. A thousand Bolognese would gather at two points outside the city, where they would be joined by 3,000 insurgents from other cities of the Romagna. The united force would march in two columns into the city, where Bakunin was waiting to join them; one column would attack the arsenal -- two sergeants had already promised to throw open the gates -- and then distribute the arms to the other insurgents, who in the meantime would have raised barricades out of materials already collected at key points.

The Bolognese rebels gathered in considerable numbers, but of the forces from other cities who had promised to gather at Imola, less than 200 arrived out of the expected 3,000. These set off for Bologna, but they were intercepted on the way by carabinieri and troops, and those who escaped arrest fled into the hills. The Bolognese, having waited in vain for the supporting column, buried their arms in the fields and dispersed. The projected risings in other Italian cities were frustrated by the action of the alerted police, and only in Apulia did Malatesta quixotically raise the standard of revolt even when his hopes were clearly doomed to disappointment. There is a wry humour in his own description of the event which shows the quality of this man who was soon to become the real leader of Italian anarchism and to remain so for half a century.

Several hundred confederates had promised to be at Castel del Monte. I arrived there, but of all those who had sworn to come, we found we were only six in number. It does not matter, the case of arms is opened; it is full of old muzzle-loaders; non fa niente, we arm ourselves and declare war on the Italian army. We fought the campaign for several days, seeking to involve the peasants on our side, but without getting any response. The second day, we had a fight with eight carabinieri, who fired on us and imagined that we were very numerous. Three days later we saw that we were surrounded by soldiers; there was but one thing to do. We buried the [319] guns and decided to disperse. I hid myself in a hay wagon and thus succeeded in getting out of the danger zone.

Malatesta was actually arrested at Pesaro on his way north toward Switzerland, and joined the other anarchist leaders in prison. The final result of the great plan for social liquidation was that the International in Italy was crippled for many months. Most of its active militants were behind bars or in exile, its sections were dispersed, and its press was suppressed. On the other hand, the insurgents won a great deal of popular sympathy, not because they were anarchists, but because they had defied the government of Victor Emmanuel, and the consistent acquittal by respectable juries of these men who were obviously guilty before the law, became a cumulative popular gesture against a regime that had done little to improve economic and social evils. By June 1876 all the insurgents had been found 'not guilty' and set free; their main suffering had been from the law's delay, which kept some of them almost two years in prison without trial.

Reinvigorated by the propaganda success of the trials, with their interminable revolutionary orations -- Andrea Costa alone stayed in the witness box for three days -- and by the return of the most active militants to public life, the International began in 1876 to rebuild its organization. Regional federations were reconstructed and held conferences in Bologna, in Florence, in Jesi, unmolested by the police. The anarchist press revived with the appearance of Il Nuovo Risveglio in Leghorn and Il Martello in Fabriano. Finally, a national congress was called for late October in Florence. This time the police again moved into action, fearing -- or pretending to fear -- that the real aim of the congress would be to plan another series of uprisings. Andrea Costa and other delegates were arrested at the station as they arrived in Florence, while the congress meeting hall was occupied by the police. But almost fifty delegates still remained at liberty, and the congress finally took place in a wood among the foothills of the Apennines, with the rain falling steadily throughout the day.

Cafiero and Malatesta dominated the congress, and under their influence the delegates adopted an intransigently insurrectional and anti-political programme. More important, [320] theoretically at least, was a resolution which showed the Italians moving away from Bakuninist collectivism toward anarchist communism.

Each must do for society all that his abilities will allow him to do, and he has the right to demand from society the satisfaction of all his needs, in the measure conceded by the state of production and social capacities.

But, whatever their thoughts on such economic questions the dreams of the revolutionary deed which would act like the stone precipitating an avalanche still haunted the minds of the anarchist leaders. Despite the failure of the Apulian rising in 1874, Cafiero and Malatesta remained convinced that there was combustible material in the hearts of the southern Italian peasants, and in the summer of 1877, after elaborate preparations, they set up their headquarters in the mountain village of San Lupo, near Benevento in the Campania. They had recruited the Russian revolutionary Stepniak, and also a mountain guide named Salvatore Farina, who turned out in the end to be a police spy. His activities led to the arrival of the carabinieri before the conspirators' plans had matured, and, after a brisk gun battle in which one of the police was mortally wounded, twenty-six anarchists loaded their equipment on mules and set off into the Apennines. Two days later, on the morning of 8 August -- it was a Sunday -- the little troop descended into the village of Letino carrying their red-and-black flags. In the presence of the assembled peasants, Cafiero deposed King Victor Emmanuel, and his companions solemnly burned the local tax records. The villagers applauded the latter act, and Father Fortini, the priest of Letino, welcomed the anarchists as 'true apostles sent by the Lord to preach his divine law'. The muskets of the militia were distributed, and Cafiero exhorted the people to make use of them and assure their own liberty. Then, guided by Father Fortini, the anarchist band set off for the next village of Gallo, where Father Tamburini came out to welcome them, and went from house to house, shouting to the people, 'Fear nothing. They are honest folk. There has been a change in the government and the burning of the register.' In Gallo the insurgents not only burned the tax records. [321] but also appropriated the cash in the collector's safe and smashed the meter that assessed the tax on flour at the local mill. All this delighted the peasants; it was good practical action that might save them a few lire in taxes owing to the confusion that would result. But neither the men of Letino nor the men of Gallo were inclined to take up arms for the cause. They remarked very reasonably that, while they were grateful to the insurgents for what they had done, their parishes could not defend themselves against the whole of Italy. 'Tomorrow the soldiers will come and everybody will be shot.' Their prophecies were partly correct. A battalion and a half of infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, and two companies of Bersaglieri were deployed against the tiny band of insurgents, who took once again to the mountains. They were drenched with rain, walked into snowdrifts, and eventually got lost in the fog. Finally they took refuge in a peasant house, and there they were surrounded and captured, too exhausted to make any effective resistance. Their comic little attempt was prophetic of the fate of anarchist efforts to reach the Italian peasantry; unlike the landworkers of southern Spain, those of southern Italy were impervious to libertarian messianism, and anarchism in Italy was to remain for the most part a movement of the smaller cities.

The Benevento rising set going another cycle of governmental repression -- imprisonments, bannings of papers and organizations, followed by the customary acquittals of internationalist prisoners by juries hostile to the Savoy monarchy. By the end of the year the legally suppressed International was reorganizing itself and in April 1878 a secret congress in Pisa decided on a 'general insurrection' on a national scale, 'without heeding the sacrifices, since the day is not far distant when the armed proletariat will bring about the downfall of whatever remains of the bourgeoisie, throne, and altar'. A series of local congresses dutifully approved the plan, but the failures of Bologna and Apulia and Benevento had sapped the enthusiasm of even the most militant insurrectionists, and the plans for a countrywide revolution never got beyond the talking stage.

Instead, perhaps as a result of collective frustration, individual acts of violence began. On 17 November 1878, as the new King Umberto was driving through the streets of Naples, [322] a cook named Giovanni Passanante jumped on his carriage and tried to stab him with a knife engraved with the words, 'Long live the international republic'. There was no evidence linking Passanante with any anarchist group, but popular opinion -- perhaps not unjustifiably -- saw a connexion between his act and the exhortations which had appeared recently in the libertarian papers to destroy 'all kings, emperors, presidents of republics, priests of all religions', as 'true enemies of the people'. On the day immediately following Passanante's attempt a bomb was thrown into a monarchist parade in Florence and four people were killed; two days later another bomb exploded in the midst of a crowd in Pisa, without any fatal result. There is a strong possibility that the bomb in Florence may have been thrown by an agent provocateur; it is certain that the Pisan bomb was thrown by an anarchist.

These acts became the excuse for an even greater persecution of the International. By the end of 1878 every anarchist militant of standing, whether or not suspected of complicity in the terrorist acts, was either in prison or in exile, and the government attempted to persuade the courts to consider the International an association of malefactors, which would automatically justify the detention of its members. This attempt failed, since the courts realized that the International itself could not be held responsible for the acts of individuals who --like Passanante -- might not even belong to it, but the result of the relentless pressure which the police maintained during the winter of 1878 and the spring of 1879 was the final break-up of the International as an organization.

Its failure to revive was due largely to the fact that the dynamic young leaders who had guided the movement through the years between 1871 and 1877 were no longer active in Italy. Cafiero and Malatesta were both in exile, the former presiding over the group of expatriates who gathered in Lugano, and the latter ranging through Europe and the Levant in search of revolutionary adventure. Even more serious than their absence was the defection of Costa. In 1877 Costa went to the last congress of the Saint-Imier International at Verviers, and there he followed, in collaboration with Paul Brousse, a consistently extremist line. Shortly afterward, in Paris, he was arrested and [323] imprisoned for two years for activities in connexion with the revival of the anarchist movement there. In 1879, while still in prison, he announced his abandonment of anarchism, and wrote a letter, which the moderate socialist Bignami published in Il Plebe of Milan, announcing that he now believed in political action. Though it is impossible to trace the mental evolution by which Costa reached his changed viewpoint, it is significant that already in 1877 he had turned so far against insurrectionism that he tried to persuade Cafiero and Malatesta to give up their plans for the Benevento rising. Costa was to turn his great eloquence and his popularity in the Romagna to the cause of parliamentary socialism; in 1882 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, and during the following years he played a leading part in creating the Socialist Party in Italy.

All of Costa's close associates among the anarchist elite denounced him. But one at least of them, Cafiero, eventually followed him into apostasy; in March 1882 he unexpectedly issued a statement in Milan calling upon the Italian anarchists to adopt social democracy, and shortly afterward he supported the candidacies of parliamentary socialists. However, his former friends found a charitable explanation for Cafiero's defection when, in the spring of 1883, he was found wandering naked in the hills outside Florence; he never recovered his sanity, and died in 1892 in a mental home, haunted by the thought that the windows of his room might be giving him more than his just share of sunlight.

Costa's defection was the result of personal convictions, but it coincided with a general shift toward parliamentary socialism among the workers in Italy; from 1878 onward the anarchists became a dwindling minority. It is true that in December 1880, when a socialist congress of delegates from fifteen northern Italian cities met in the Ticinese town of Chiasso, the anarchist refugees from Lugano secured a victory for their point of view. Cafiero, as chairman of the congress, advocated eloquently the policy of political abstention, and the anarchists received a new and formidable recruit in the person of Amilcare Cipriani, an ever-young veteran of the Risorgimento who had fought with Garibaldi at Aspromonte and had just returned from New Caledonia, where he had been transported for his part in the [324] Paris Commune. It was Cipriani who drafted a declaration to which the great majority of the congress adhered, declaring that only an armed insurrection offered any hope for the Italian working class. But this declaration was principally the work of exiles who were already beginning to lose sight of the realities of Italy in the dawning 1880s, and its ineffectuality was shown by its scanty outcome in real action.

The exiles in Lugano actually set up a new Revolutionary Committee and -- if the police reports can be trusted -- planned an uprising in the Romagna for the next spring in which Italian anarchists would be assisted by a legion of Russian political exiles and French ex-Communards, led by Cipriani. It is certain that Cafiero and Cipriani crossed the border and went secretly to Rome in January 1881, but Cipriani was arrested in Rimini and Cafiero returned over the border.

By this time anarchist activity in Italy had in fact declined to the sporadic functioning of local groups, with little regional and no national organization remaining. At the International Congress of 1881 only two Italian delegates were present, Malatesta and Saverio Merlino, a young lawyer who had been Malatesta's schoolfellow and had been brought into the movement through his interest in the case of the Benevento insurgents. Malatesta represented one regional federation, that of Tuscany, and about sixteen individual groups, mostly in the Mezzogiorno, Piedmont, and the Romagna, were also represented. But neither Malatesta nor Merlino held mandates from groups in such former anarchist strongholds as Bologna, Rome, or Milan. On the other hand, Malatesta represented expatriate groups in Constantinople, Marseilles, Geneva, and Alexandria.

Here already emerges a pattern that was to characterize Italian anarchism for at least a quarter of a century. There were many individual anarchists in Italy during this period, and they continued to form local groups, but, partly through police persecution and partly through a distrust of organization, they rarely formed federations like those of the 1870s. A deceptive appearance of rich activity was given by the number of anarchist journals which appeared. For the six years from 1883 to 1889, for instance, Max Nettlau, that indefatigable bibliographer, lists thirteen cities in which such papers were [325] published; all of these journals, however, were ephemeral, some surviving only for a single issue and the longest-lived lasting no more than a few months. To a great extent anarchism in Italy was now maintained by the phenomenal activity of a few individuals, among whom Merlino and Malatesta were particularly prominent during the 1880s and 1890s. The groups that existed were constantly disappearing and changing their membership not only because of governmental suppression, but also because the anarchists shared the urge of so many other Italians at this period to emigrate where there was the chance of a better living.

What distinguished the Italians from anarchists of other countries is the extent to which, in emigrating, they became the missionaries of their ideas. Men and women like Malatesta, Merlino, Pietro Gori, Camillo Berneri and his daughter, Marie Louise Berneri, exerted a continuing influence on international anarchist thought and activity down to the middle of the present century. Throughout the Levant the first anarchist groups were Italian, while in Latin America and the United States, the Italian immigrants played a very great part in spreading anarchist ideas during the 1890s, and published more expatriate journals than all the other national groups put together.

Furthermore, though the Italian anarchist leaders, and particularly Malatesta, were opposed to deeds of individual terrorism, Italian assassins acquired a dubious fame during the later years of the nineteenth century for the relentlessness with which they acted as self-appointed executioners of heads of state in many parts of Europe. Caserio's assassination of the French president, Sadi Carnot, in 1894, was only the first of a series of spectacular political murders carried out by Italians. In 1897 Michele Angiolillo travelled to Spain and shot the reactionary prime minister, Antonio Canovas. In 1898 Luigi Luccheni carried out one of the most abominable of all political assassinations by stabbing the tragic and gentle Empress Elizabeth of Austria in Geneva. And in 1900 King Umberto of Italy, who had already escaped two attempts, was finally shot by Gaetano Bresci as he was attending a country fete in Mosca. Caserio, Angiolillo, and Luccheni all appear to have been obsessional fanatics who acted on their own initiative from a [326] desire to strike at the symbolic figureheads of the system of injustice and authority they detested; Bresci, on the other hand seems to have been the chosen agent of an anarchist group in Paterson, New Jersey.

But though the acts of these assassins helped to give anarchism its bad name and provided excuses for continued persecution of the movement in general by the Italian government they were by no means typical of the movement during the 1880s and 1890s. There were other Italian anarchists who travelled abroad in the hope of setting up Utopian colonies which would show by experiment the possibility of living in voluntary communism. The most famous was the Cecilia Colony in Brazil. A number of anarchists left Italy in February 1890 to take up land granted to them by the Brazilian government in accordance with its policy of encouraging immigration. A successful beginning was made during the first year, and by the spring of 1891 some 200 people were living and working in the colony. But it lasted only four years; by the middle of 1894 the last of its members had departed. Its failure was due to a number of causes; undoubtedly the unsuitability of the land allocated to the colonists was one of them, but even more important were the increasingly bitter differences of opinion which arose over every conceivable point of action and organization, and which in the end divided the community -- as so many other communities have been divided -- into irreconcilable factions.

The majority of the Italian anarchists, however, were neither individualist assassins nor community-minded Utopians; at this period, whether in Italy or abroad, they combined agitation with a precarious economic existence, and the career of Malatesta during these years, while exceptional in its dramatic adventurousness, seems almost to epitomize the character of the movement after the collapse of the International at the end of the 1880s.

Malatesta, who -- despite the legends that quickly crystallized around him -- was in no way connected with the Tyrant of Rimini, came of the southern Italian landowning class. As a medical student at the University of Naples, he joined in the student republican movement and was expelled for taking part [327] in demonstrations. Soon afterward he became an anarchist, and from his conversion he decided to subordinate all his other interests to the revolutionary cause. He learned the electrician's trade, and when his parents left him property in Capua he got rid of it immediately by giving the houses to the tenants.

Malatesta's activities in Italy during the 1870s, which we have already described, were punctuated by his earliest expeditions abroad. After being acquitted in connexion with the Apulian uprising in 1874, he wandered for two years around the Mediterranean, conspiring in Spain and trying vainly to reach Bosnia in order to take part in the revolt against the Turks which broke out in 1875. He was back in Italy to lead the Benevento insurrection of 1877, but after his acquittal in connexion with this affair he set off again on his wanderings, which took him from Alexandria through Syria and Turkey to Greece, hunted by the police and founding Italian anarchist groups in almost every country he entered. After a brief interlude in Romania he travelled for a while in the French-speaking countries, and in Paris challenged the renegade anarchist Jules Guesde -- already a leading parliamentary socialist - to a duel which never took place. Finally, he reached London in time for the International Congress of 1881. There he encountered Cafiero, and collaborated with him in the short-lived Insurrezione, probably the first expatriate Italian anarchist journal to appear outside Switzerland.

Malatesta did not return to Italy until 1883, when he and Merlino tried to reorganize the International so as to counter the growing influence of Costa and his political propaganda. Under their influence the groups in Rome, Florence, and Naples were strengthened, and Malatesta founded a journal, La Questione Sociale, devoted particularly to attacking the Socialist Party. Shortly afterward he and Merlino were arrested; they were tried at Rome in February 1884 and received sentences of three years' imprisonment for belonging to a forbidden organization, while fifty-eight Florentines who signed a statement in support of them were given thirty months each. The sentences were appealed, and eventually, a year later, reduced. In the meantime the prisoners were free, and carried on their propaganda activities until the cholera epidemic of 1885 broke [328] out in Naples. Then Malatesta and his friends immediately set out for the stricken city, where they worked with a complete disregard for their own safety until the end of the epidemic The Italian government is said to have offered Malatesta a medal, but it did not think of wiping out his sentence, and accordingly he and many of his Florentine comrades escaped to Argentina before the time came for surrendering themselves to the court. The Malatesta legend tells how, being watched constantly by the police, he had himself nailed into a case which was supposed to contain a sewing machine, and in this way was carried on board the ship of a friendly captain.

In Buenos Aires Malatesta found the beginnings of a movement inspired by Ettore Mattei, an emigrant from Leghorn who in 1884 founded the Circolo Comunista-anarchico. Malatesta opened a mechanical workshop and restarted La Questione Sociale; with a missionary intent typical of him, he made it a bilingual Spanish-Italian journal. When funds ran short, Malatesta and a group of his comrades set off on a prospecting expedition in the wilds of Patagonia. They actually found gold in one of the rivers, but were almost immediately dispossessed by a company which had bribed the government officials to transfer the concession.

Malatesta returned to Europe in the summer of 1889. He settled in Nice, whence he hoped to influence affairs in his own country by publishing a magazine, Associazone, to be distributed clandestinely in Italy. The French police soon began to pry into his activities, and he left for the more tolerant atmosphere of London, where he rented a house in Fulham, installed a printing press, and resumed publication of Associazone; the journal expired when Malatesta fell ill of pneumonia and one of his comrades ran away with the editorial funds.

Meanwhile, in Italy there had been new outbreaks of unrest, particularly through the May Day celebrations of 1890. These disturbances, some of them incited by republicans and anarchists, and others evidently spontaneous popular reactions against economic distress, helped to bring about a perceptible revival of anarchist influence, and in January 1891 some eighty-six delegates, claiming to represent several hundred groups from all parts of Italy, assembled at Capolago in the Ticino. [329] Malatesta and Cipriani were the leading speakers of this gathering, which decided to found an Anarchist-Socialist-Revolutionary Party to unite all the scattered libertarian organizations and points of view into an insurrectionary movement opposed to government of any kind, either on the right or on the left. The division between the two left-wing trends was finally established when the socialists, meeting shortly afterward, in Genoa, decided to form a new united party from which the anarchists would be formally excluded.

After the Congress, Malatesta went secretly into Italy, where he spent some time organizing groups in the Carrara region; there was a strong anarchist tradition among the marble workers which lasted down to the, 1950s. Returning to Switzerland, he was arrested at Lugano; the Italians demanded his extradition, but the Swiss refused, and in September 1891 Malatesta returned to London. The following year he was in Spain, and in 1894 he was back in Italy. In 1896 he took part in the stormy sessions of the London Congress of the Second International, where the anarchists were finally expelled from the ranks of world socialism, and the next year he returned again to Italy and settled in Ancona. There he began to publish another newspaper, and gained such a wide influence among the factory and harbour workers that the authorities soon became anxious about his presence; an excuse was found for arresting him and sentencing him to six months in prison for agitational activities. Perhaps it was as well for his own safety that he happened to be still in confinement during the May days of 1898, when severe rioting broke out in the Mezzogiorno and spread to Florence and Milan; in the cities there was fighting in the streets, and demonstrators were shot down by the government forces. It was in revenge for the severe repressions of this year that Bresci later killed King Umberto.

As a result of the tense atmosphere which followed the 1898 rising, Malatesta was not released at the end of his prison term, but instead, with a number of other leaders of the movement, was sent to exile for five years on the island of Lampedusa. He did not stay there long. One stormy day he and three of his comrades seized a boat and put out to sea in defiance of the high waves. They were lucky enough to be picked up by a ship [330] on its way to Malta, whence Malatesta sailed to the United States. There his life once again took a sensational turn, which this time almost brought it to an end. He became involved in a dispute with the individualist anarchists of Paterson, who insisted that anarchism implied no organization at all, and that every man must act solely on his impulses. At last, in one noisy debate, the individual impulse of a certain comrade directed him to shoot Malatesta, who was badly wounded but obstinately refused to name his assailant. The would-be assassin fled to California, and Malatesta eventually recovered; in 1900 he set sail for London, which by now had become his favourite place of exile.

He did not return to Italy until 1913, and spent most of the intervening time running a small electrician's workshop and trying to influence affairs at home by writing for periodicals and publishing pamphlets which had a wide circulation in Italy, where his influence, even from exile, remained strong, particularly in the South and in Tuscany and Romagna.

Even in London, where he played a very slight part in the anarchist movement centred around Kropotkin and Freedom, Malatesta could not keep clear of trouble. He narrowly escaped being implicated in the famous Sidney Street affair, since one of the gang of Latvian terrorists involved in that strange battle had been a mechanic in his workshop. Two years later, in 1912, he was imprisoned for libel, because he had quite accurately described a certain Belleli as a police spy; he was also sentenced to deportation, and only the energetic representations which Kropotkin made to John Burns, then a minister in Campbell-Bannerman's government, prevented the order from being enforced.

During Malatesta's absence the Italian anarchist movement remained a minority, and not always an active one, in comparison with the parliamentary socialists. Nevertheless, its influence was maintained partly by recurrent economic distress and partly by the violent methods habitually used by the government in suppressing strikes and demonstrations, which led many of the workers in times of strife to be guided by anarchist counsels of direct action. For this reason the movement fluctuated greatly in the number of its adherents. Certain places, like [331] Carrara, Forli, Lugo, Ancona, and Leghorn, consistently remained anarchist strongholds, and the movement was generally influential in Tuscany, the Romagna, and the Naples region, but everywhere groups tended to be impermanent because of police persecution, and attempts to create a national organization failed because of a stress on local autonomy which the Italians shared with the French. The Anarchist-Socialist-Revolutionary Party founded in the 1890s came to nothing, and a general anarchist congress held in Rome in 1907, under the influence of the Amsterdam International Congress of the same year, led to no effective national organization. Some of the anarchist intellectuals, led by Luigi Fabbri, attempted to create a progressive education movement centred around Fabbri's journal, Universita Populare, and in this field they had a limited influence.

As in France, it was syndicalism that brought about a real revival of the libertarian trend in early twentieth-century Italy, and this explains the stress which Malatesta placed on the relationship between anarchist communism and syndicalism at the Amsterdam Congress. In the early years of the century two groups emerged in the Italian trade unions -- the federalists, who advocated strong national unions, and the cameralists, who stressed local solidarity through Chambers of Labour similar to the French Bourses de Travail. At first the two trends worked side by side, but disputes quickly arose over the question of the general strike, which the cameralists (later to become the syndicalists) supported. A National Secretariat of Resistance was formed in 1904, and the syndicalists gained control of this, but in 1906, when a national congress of trade unions was called together to consider setting up a General Confederation of Labour (C.G.L.), in imitation of the French C.G.T., they were in a minority. The Confederation was controlled from the start by the socialist moderates, against whom in 1907 the syndicalists set up a Committee of Resistance Societies based on Champers of Labour and local unions. Many anarchist communists joined this organization, which gained strength and prestige through the adherence of the railway workers. Shortly after its formation the syndicalists led a general strike in Milan and a strike of agricultural workers in Tuscany which led to serious [332] fighting between the police and the strikers. The failure of these strikes temporarily weakened the syndicalists, and in 1909 they held a Congress of Syndicalist Resistance in Bologna, attended by delegates of local Chambers of Labour and of the railway workers, at which they decided to join the reformist C.G.L. for the purpose of infiltrating it. The tactic was ineffective, and in 1911 the railway workers left the C.G.L., followed by many of the Chambers of Labour and local syndicates. Finally, in November 1912, the syndicalists held a congress at Modena to consider founding their own organization. The delegates represented 100,000 workers, of whom the railwaymen, agricultural labourers, building workers, and metal-workers formed the largest groups. Their resolutions showed the strong influence of French anarcho-syndicalism; they supported methods of direct action and stated that 'a general strike of all workers in all branches of production is the only way to bring about the definite expropriation of the bourgeois classes'. Finally, the Congress established the Unione Sindicale Italiana as an open rival of the C.G.L. Its influence grew rapidly, and, although a minority of the U.S.I, which supported the allies broke away during the war, by 1919 it claimed a membership of 500,000, largely among the industrial workers of Turin and Milan. It even developed its own group of intellectuals, of whom Arturo Labriola was the most important; his ideas were largely derived from Pelloutier, with a tinge of Sorelian mysticism.

Meanwhile, in 1913, Malatesta returned to Italy in the hope of reviving the orthodox anarchist movement so as to counter the growing influence of the syndicalists. Once again, he started a weekly newspaper in Ancona, and carried on his propaganda in spite of constant police interference, until, in June 1914, popular discontent suddenly flared up in the Adriatic region owing to the police shooting down a number of unemployed demonstrators. Under the leadership of Malatesta a general strike was immediately called in Ancona, and it spread rapidly through the Romagna and the Marches, involving both rural and urban workers, and then into other parts of Italy. During the 'Red Week' that followed, the railway services were largely at a standstill, and serious fighting broke out in many of the [333] towns and also in the country districts. To the anarchists it seemed the beginning of what Malatesta called afterward 'a period of civil strife, at the end of which we would have seen our ideal shining victoriously'. For a few days the nation-wide movement, under leadership of the anarchists and the Unione Sindicale Italiana, seemed on the verge of overthrowing the monarchy. Indeed, it was not the power of the government so much as the defection of the moderate trade-unionists that brought the movement to an end; after a brief period of hesitation, the C.G.L. ordered its members back to work, and the strike collapsed.

The end of the First World War saw a new resurgence of revolutionary hopes in Italy, encouraged by the example of the Russian Revolution. When Malatesta returned at the end of 1919 from London, where he had spent the war years in renewed exile, he was welcomed as a popular hero, and in 1920 he founded in Milan the first Italian anarchist daily, Umanita Nova. In that year a wave of strikes ran through Italy, and in August, largely under the influence of the Unione Sindicale Italiana, led by Armando Borghi, the metal-workers of Milan and Turin occupied the factories. Once again it seemed the beginning of a revolutionary era, the chance of a generation. 'If we let this favourable moment pass,' said Malatesta, 'we shall later pay with tears of blood for the fear we have instilled in the bourgeoisie.' But the pattern established in the Red Week of 1914 was repeated. The C.G.L. counselled moderation, the workers gave up the factories in exchange for vague promises of reform, and within a few weeks there were mass arrests of strike leaders and of anarchist and syndicalist militants, including Malatesta and Borghi, who were held for ten months without trial before they were eventually acquitted in 1922.

At this point, encouraged by the disillusionment that followed the breakdown of the general strike, the terrorist individualists who had always -- despite Malatesta's influence -- survived as a small minority among Italian anarchists, intervened frightfully and tragically. On the night of 23 March 1921, a group of them went to work in Milan, placing bombs in a theatre, a power station, and a hotel. In the theatre twenty-one people were killed and many more were injured. The deed did immense [334] harm to the reputation of the anarchists, among the workers as well as with other classes, and, besides leading to further arrests, it provided the Fascists with a justification for their campaign against the Left and with an excuse for counter-violence. They raided and destroyed the offices of Umanita Nova, and by threats and persecutions prevented its reappearance in Milan.

Italy was already on the downward slope toward dictatorship, and the anarchists were as paralysed by their own lack of decision as the socialists and the communists. Malatesta restarted Umanita Nova in Rome, but it survived only for a few months, until Mussolini took power. Then, as the Fascist terror spread, all anarchist organizations, as well as the Unione Sindicale Italiana, were suppressed ruthlessly. The militants either fled abroad or disappeared into prisons and penal settlements. Only Malatesta was left, watched by the police but unharmed until his death, at eighty-two, in 1932. Perhaps there was after all some sincerity in the expressions of respect which the renegade revolutionary Mussolini had often made toward him; perhaps it was merely that his exploits had made him, like Tolstoy in Russia, too much a name in the world's ear to be easily shuffled into oblivion. He remained the symbol in Italy of a movement that otherwise lived out the Fascist terror in exile. The expatriate groups, particularly in the Americas, kept Italian anarchism alive until after 1944, when it could revive again in its own country where, though its influence is far slighter than in the past, it has become the strongest of the minute libertarian movements that survive into the world of the 1960s.


1 Bakunin himself, like Proudhon, was a Freemason; a study has ye to be made of the links between Continental Freemasonry and the early anarchist movement.