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Giovanni Rossi and his anarchist Utopia in nineteenth century Brazil.


Giovanni Rossi was an Italian anarchist who promoted an experiment in socialist life by founding an alternative community in the countryside of Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century. The experiment, however, was short lived and lasted only from 1890 to 1894. After the collapse of the community, Rossi remained in Brazil until 1907, working as an agronomist. In the meantime, he wrote a novel, Il Parana nel XX Secolo, in which he describes the future of the southern Brazilian state of Parana, imagined as one of the greatest world powers at the end of the twentieth century, along with Belgium. The future of Parana combines advances in technology and social life and resembles Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, published a few years before. In this article, I want to present a study of this novel, relating it to some of Rossi's main commentators and to more general studies about Utopian and anarchist thought.

Keywords: Giovanni Rossi; Cecilia colony; Utopia.


By the end of the twentieth century the southern Brazilian state of Parana would become one of the greatest world powers, along with Belgium, having replaced the burdensome bureaucracy of government with the spontaneous associations of individuals. That is how Giovanni Rossi, an Italian anarchist, novelist, and founder of a Utopian community, foresaw the future in a short novel--Il Parana nel XX secolo (Parana in the twentieth century)--written in 1895 and published in 1897 in Utopie und Experiment, an anthology edited by Alfred Sanftleben, a Swiss libertarian activist. This novel was far from popular, unlike an earlier work, Un comune socialista, that ran to five editions and, according to the Italian historian Paolo Favilli, was the only title of among around fifty from the Biblioteca di Propaganda Socialista to go out of print in the 1880s. (1) Even today, Il Parana nel XX secolo is not widely known beyond a small circle of scholars. Nevertheless, the novel is an exemplary nineteenth-century Utopia and it is important for the reassessment of Rossi's ideas following the ending of the anarchist colony that he founded in Brazil a few years earlier.

Il Parana nel XX secolo is a first-person narrative told by Cardias, an Italian anarchist who lives in Brazil--the character is actually Rossi's alter ego. After spending the day fishing in the Nhundiaquara river, Cardias is invited for dinner at a friend's house. His friend, Diego Diaz, offers him coffee, aguardente (an alcoholic beverage made out of sugar cane) and a cigar. Those elements, combined with the effect of having spent the entire day in the sun, make Cardias dizzy, producing a state of semiconsciousness, something like a dream. In this state he consents to Diego Diaz, who is a follower of Allan Kardec's doctrine, summoning the spirit of Dr Grillo, a deceased old friend of both. Without completely committing himself to the belief in the after-world, since he is an atheist, Cardias describes what happens next:
In fact I don't recall that moment very clearly, but I remember that my
spiritualist friend sank his hands on his forehead and was immersed in
profound concentration. It is certain, however, that my altered state
of mind produced an effect of auto-suggestion, and I fell victim of a
visual and auditory hallucination; because little by little, on the
armchair in the dark living-room, a body took shape; at first with
uncertain and vague lines, but in the end there it was, the good old Dr
Grillo in flesh and bone. (2)

As a spirit, Dr Grillo is no longer bound by the limits of time and space: he can see the future and describe it to Cardias. Patiently explaining the temporal metaphysics of the afterlife, the ghost eagerly tells Rossi the good news about the future development of socialism in Parana:
Towards the end of the nineteenth century an anti-political movement
took shape in our country [Parana]. The wickedness, the shocking
robbery, the violence that was perpetrated everywhere in the last
period of the revolution, had already filled many citizens with
indignation against all party politics. The systematic plunder of the
public treasury, the ridiculous claim of glory and intellectual
nullity, [...] the evident aspiration of the opposition to take the
place of the dominant party to faithfully continue its game, all this
had demonstrated to many in Parana what we already knew, that is, that
the government is always constituted of comedians, troublemakers, and
bandits, with the only purpose of taking advantage of the situation for
their own profit. The first ones who cherished this clear and exact
conception of politics launched the battle cry: 'Down with the
government! Long live the free initiative! Long live the free
association!' These were only a handful of men; but they soon developed
a phalange, started a reaction against politics and later on grew into
a socialist movement. (3)

Belgium followed the Parana example, after a single terrorist attempt killed all the members of the government, thus allowing the population to establish anarchy. The narrative goes on to give specific details about the new world. It describes how it was prepared in the first instance by a generalised reading of Darwin, Wallace, Spencer and Letourneare (on natural and social evolution), Marx (on the genesis of capital), and Diderot, Fourier, Proudhon, Bakunin, Reclus, Kropotkin and Grave (on social life and the end of the state). The world of the future has made advances in urban life and technology, brought the traditional bourgeois family to an end and developed new ways of conceiving parenthood. In many respects the picture is strikingly similar to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, in which the narrator is also introduced to the world of the future by an almost omniscient character, who coincidentally, perhaps, is also a physician. But, before dealing with an analysis of Parana in the twentieth century, let us first explore some aspects of Giovanni Rossi's life and work, so that we can understand the meaning of this novel in a larger context.


Giovanni Rossi was an Italian veterinarian and agronomist who, as early as 1873, proposed establishing a socialist colony in Polynesia to the International Workingmen's Association section in Pisa. His project was rejected, but it helps us appreciate the strength of Rossi's commitment to practical experimentation in socialist living and the consistency of his advocacy throughout of his (anti)-political activities. According to Rossi, experiences of this kind would prove scientifically, and once and for all, the viability of socialism. For Helena Mueller, an interpreter of Rossi's thought:
The question of experimentalism is the epicenter from which derives
all his action: the anarchism is always present as a natural
expression of a society. For 'natural' he understands the relation
that human beings develop before they become 'civilized', when,
according to him, human beings separate themselves from their essence.
It is by means of experimental nuclei of anarchist life that one could
prove to the whole world the excellence of socialism. (4)

In 1878 Giovanni Rossi published the novel Un comune Socialista--A Socialist Commune--with the purpose of disseminating his ideas to a larger audience. The book tells the story of young Cardias--who we should take to be Rossi himself --who visits Poggio al Mare, a property owned by his friend Alessandro di Bardi. Alessandro argued that the misery and violence that afflicted the peasants' lives were in fact the thorn that comes with the rose, that is, private property. Cecilia, Alessandro's sister, however, disagrees:
What kind of joy does this immense property offer us? A very uncertain
one, or good only for a greedy, greedy soul. Here we have a splendid
palace, tapestries, artistic furniture, expensive paintings, jewels,
fancy clothes, servants, dinners, horses... but brother, I will be
equally glad to have none of this. A happy cottage, good furniture,
simple but elegant clothing would also please me. (5)

Shortly afterwards Cardias and Cecilia fall in love and convince Alessandro to restructure the community on collectivist principles. Thanks to the motivation of the workers, organised in work groups according to their affinities, to modern equipment and agricultural techniques, Poggio al Mare prospers and is totally transformed..

The plot of Un comune Socialista is extremely naive and mellifluous, as Rossi himself would later admit. But in an introduction to the book, bearing the title Ai Borghesi'--to the bourgeoisie--Rossi presented in a very clear and straightforward way some of the main principles of his thought: anarchy, love, collective property of the means of production and atheism. He was probably inspired by Bakunin's Principles and organization of the International Brotherhood, (6) and it is highly informative about Rossi's political ideas.

Rossi was prepared to make practical compromises in order to ensure that his book was widely read. When Andrea Costa decided to leave the anarchist movement and join the the socialist movement in Italy, provoking a period of crisis in the anarchist movement, Rossi published a new edition of Un Comune Socialista with a preface written by Costa. In the light of the sustained criticism that Costa attracted from 'hard line' anarchists, notably Erico Malatesta, this collaboration could easily be misunderstood as a sign that Rossi accepted Costa's social democratic view of politics. Yet he still rejected any participation whatsoever in the political structure of the Italian state. And it was as an anarchist that Rossi decided to exploit Costa's enduring influence in the Italian socialist movement to promote his own politics, no matter how incongruent this alliance seemed to others.

Rossi's pragmatism affected the book's literary style. Un commune socialista was published in five editions and Rossi made significant changes from one edition to the other. Reference to technological innovations in agriculture and cattle breeding appear in later editions and in the final, 1891 edition, he alludes to agricultural machinery presented at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889. However, in the preface to this same edition Rossi informs readers that he has reinserted some of the more 'sugary' features of the first edition of 1878. The 'aridity', to use Rossi's terminology, of the three intermediate editions can be explained by his alignment with the Partito Socialista Rivoluzionario, of which Andrea Costa was a member. This is the argument that historian Helena I. Mueller compellingly advances.

In 1886 Rossi founded Lo Sperimentale, a journal designed to inform its readers about socialist experiments across the world. The journal's clear purpose was to encourage Italian workers to form a socialist communities, as the editorial to the first issue stated:
We will propose the creation in Italy of a model group, or experimental
socialist colony, in which attempts and proofs of new social life will
be possible on a grander scale. From the intimate existence of these
groups we will make an exact and serious report in the columns of Lo
Sperimentale, and for this guidance it will justify its name. (7)

The same year an opportunity that Charles Fourier had waited for all his life opened up for Rossi: Giuseppe Mori, a philanthropist and landowner in Cremona invited him to direct an experiment in collectivization in Cittadella, an association of agricultural workers. In 1889 the workers themselves put an end to the experiment, principally because their main expectation was to become landowners, an ideal that ran entirely counter to Rossi's ideals. The workers enjoyed a level of material comfort that was above average, but they wanted to hold private property, and Rossi was unable to accept this. From this experience Rossi learned that a socialist life could never begin from 'the outside', but could only develop from the initiative of its members. Overwhelmed by the intense and constant flux of Italian immigrants to the Americas, Rossi decided to found a colony overseas.

According to the reliable researches of Helena Mueller and Isabelle Felici, in 1890 and motivated by the immigration campaigns, Rossi and a few companions, arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and from there headed to the south. (8) Their destination was the state of Rio Grande do Sul, but one of Rossi's companions became ill and they decided to establish themselves half way, in the state of Parana. There they founded a colony that took the name of 'Cecilia', the heroine of Rossi's first novel. In a dissertation about anarchism in Brazil, Eric Gordon offers a lucid account of the arrival of the group:
After a period of recruitment, [...] Rossi departed from Genoa in
February 1890 with an initial group of about a dozen colonists. Within
two months they arrived at the 278-hectare site between Santa Barbara e
Palmeira which was to be their home for the next four years, and
immediately began clearing the land and building primitive shelter.
Later in the year, Rossi returned to Italy to recruit more colonists,
and his lectures received much friendly coverage from the anarchist and
socialist press. Successive groups of colonists arrived at the Cecilia
colony in the early months of 1891, and by June the experiment included
150 people. As new members of the colony came at any moment, the number
of colonists was always in fluctuation, reaching an estimated 200 at
one point. (9)

Rossi wanted the members of the colony to live according to anarchist principles, one of these being the rejection of the patriarchal family. Although it was not generalised, there were some cases of 'free love' in the colony. Rossi himself played a role in a love triangle that later became the plot for a new book, Un episodio d'amore libero nella colonia Cecilia--An episode of free love in Cecilia colony. The affair involved a couple--Annibale e Eleda (an anagram for Adele)--who had arrived at the Cecilia colony in 1892. It included yet another man, Jean Geleac, but, in respect to Annibale's jealousy, he omitted this fact and only referred to it much later, in a letter to his friend Alfred Sanftleben. The colony, however, lasted only a few years and the experiment ended in 1894. The failure of the crops, the precarious conditions of housing, the isolation and the members' lack of experience in agricultural work were the main reasons for its collapse. A year later Rossi would describe the situation in these words:
We enjoyed liberty in our internal relations, but we missed the
material commonweal, and man esteems and wishes mostly what he does not
possess. Our little anarchic world was too small and consequently too
poor to procure us the white bread, the bottle of wine, the seat in the
theatre, the soft bed, the loving comrade; against the rhetoric of the
poets we have preferred the roses of slavery to the spines of liberty.

After the end of the colony, Rossi remained in Brazil until 1907, when he returned to Italy. During this time he worked as an agronomist in southern Brazilian states, first in Rio Grande do Sul and then in Santa Catarina. It was during this period that he wrote Il Parana nel XX Secolo. Even after his return to Italy, Rossi kept alive his idea of socialist experimentation. In 1916, for example, he published Il Socialismo dei Margini, an article in which he proposed the use of small plots of land to help form the embryo of a communist organisation. (11)


As we have seen, Il Parana nel XX secolo gives an account of a life dedicated to 'experimental socialism' as Rossi himself defined his own political ideals. But how should this particular novel be read, in the light of Rossi's earlier writings and deeds? Should it be interpreted as a continuation of the project that began with the publication of Un Comune Socialista?. Or does it represent a break, inspired no doubt by the failure of the communities he helped organise, Cittadella and Cecilia? To answer that question it is interesting to compare the introduction of Un commune Socialista to the preface of Il Parana nel XX secolo, for in both works Rossi keeps the same rhetorical strategy: before developing the plot, he explains, on a theoretical level, the principles that inspired the story.

In Un commune Socialista Rossi explains what he takes to be the four basic ideas of his thought. The first is anarchy, usually misunderstood, Rossi argues, because it is taken as a synonym of disorder. Against this he argues that hierarchical social organisation establishes not 'the' order, but an order of a particular kind, that is, an artificial arrangement that makes society look like a 'corpse in an advanced stage of decomposition'. (12) In this condition, we are faced with misery, exploitation of work, unhealthy food, prostitution, etc. The free association of individuals, on the contrary, would establish a natural order, removing all of these evils.

The second idea is Love, by which we should understand 'free love' and consequently the end of the family. According to Rossi, two thirds of marriages result from selfish interests such as material wellbeing, from lust, or from the coercive will of the parents. The remaining third result from sincere affection, but in time this gives out to coldness and indifference. 'Love, this gentle feeling that dresses as poetry an ineluctable law of nature, in most cases is neither eternal nor exclusive'. (13) Since Rossi also takes the family to be the cradle of authority, the place where people become property of one another--this is my husband, my wife, my child -the end of the family would also mean the end of authoritarianism. It was, therefore, a necessary step in the instantiation of a libertarian society.

The third idea is Collective Property of Capital. Rossi agrees with the bourgeois common sense that private property is the fruit of labour. But he adds: 'not however the proprietor's labour, but the labour of the proletarians'. (14) Rossi is especially incisive about the right to inheritance. For him this is nothing more than a legal apparatus whose purpose is to keep wealth always in the hands of the same social classes. He recognises the value of the legacy of previous generations, but argues that this must be conceived collectively. 'If past generations, with their collective work, produced the social patrimony, made the soil fertile, explored minerals, made buildings, roads it is obvious that all that exists belongs, by right, to all humankind as a collective entity'. (15)

The fourth and final of Rossi's ideas, the Denial of God. In accordance with a general anarchist worldview, this is grounded on scientific evidence. The inner force of matter, by itself, would be enough to account for the harmony of the universe, without the need of a transcendental all-powerful being. However, since an anarchist society should respect individual freedom, Rossi argued that the idea of God might not disappear completely in the future society.

If we now move on to an analysis of the introduction to II Parana nel XX Secolo, we will find many of the basic ideas presented almost two decades earlier in Un Comune Socialista. As one would expect, the critique of capitalism, the family and of any form of authoritarianism are still evident. We can notice also a shift from a resolute collectivism, requiring each to work for the well-being of the commune, to an uncertain kind of communism, in which liberty would be the ultimate goal, including the liberty to be idle. One difference, however, is striking: while in the Un Comune Socialista he grants utopia a lesser value, presenting it only as a stage in the process towards socialism, in II Parana nel XX Secolo, Rossi praises utopia, arguing that it is the privileged bearer of a unique kind of truth. It is interesting to compare two brief passages. In Un Comune Socialista, using the word 'science' three times in the same paragraph, Rossi affirms that:
Modern socialism is not, as the communist utopia, the invention of a
feverish mind, the dream of a generous heart. Socialism today is a
science. Its field is indefinite, since it covers all the other
positive sciences that offer it a great amount of facts and laws. With
their help socialism tries to explain the reasons for all the facts,
useful or harmful to society, that result, in their natural
affiliation, from their causes. Finally the aim of socialism as a
science is to discover and bring about the necessary means to reduce
the evils and improve the social wellbeing. (16)

In II Parana nel XX Secolo, on the contrary, Rossi favors the utopian form of representation:
Utopia is a form, a literary artifact able to represent things in
digestible form; and in a novel there can be as much truth as a
portentous volume of political economy contains nonsense. That is why I
don't see any problem of conscience, and let Il Parana nel XX Secolo
join the fleet of Poggio al Mare, Cittadella, and La colonia Cecilia.

In the first text utopia is legitimised by its association with science, in the second utopia is defended in its own terms. How can we explain this contrast? Had Giovanni Rossi's views changed so much from 1878 to 1895?

That is the idea that Isabelle Felici develops. In Il Parana nel XX Secolo, she argues, 'Rossi's system is very close to what we could call an "anarchist liberalism", and it has nothing in common with the convictions that Rossi maintained before he went to Brazil'. (18) According to this interpretation, the disappointment with the end of the colony was decisive and changed Rossi's political ideas. Felici is undoubtedly right about the disappointment. One of her most compelling arguments is that Ebe Rossi, Giovanni Rossi's daughter with Adele, learned very little from her father about the colony. Drawing on an interview conducted in 1974 Felici says: 'Her parents never spoke about the subject because, according to her, they had many disappointments with this experience and had not kept a very fond memory of it'. (19) However, I want to suggest that Rossi's disappointment alone does not support Felici's judgment about the change in Rossi's ideological orientation, from an emphasis on egalitarianism to an emphasis on liberty (in Rossi's later thought egalitarianism would be merely a path to achieve liberty and happiness, not an end in itself). The significant change in Rossi's understanding of science and utopia should be set in the context of the broader shifts in socialist thought and can also be explained by the significant influence Edward Bellamy's work had on Rossi.

In terms of the context in which Rossi worked, it is important to remember that Un Comune Socialista was published in 1878, the same year that Engels published his Anti-Duhring, where he established a rather harsh distinction between utopian' and 'scientific' socialism. According to Engels, 'To make a science of socialism, it had first to be placed upon a real basis'. (20) In other words, to become a science, socialism had to overcome utopia. Even if we allow that Rossi might not have had contact with this work by the time he wrote Un Comune Socialista--after all, French and Italian translations of Engels' Anti-During only appeared after 1880--we can at least assume that the prejudice against utopia was then widespread.

Turning to Bellamy, it is interesting to note that he is one of the four utopists that Rossi cites as a main sources of inspiration in II Parana nel XX Secolo--Claude-Henry de Saint Simon, Robert Owen, Charles Fourier are the other three. Of these, only Bellamy produced a fictionalised utopia and only Bellamy was contemporaneous with Rossi: in fact only seven years set apart Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, published in 1888, and Giovanni Rossi's II Parana nel XX Secolo, written in 1895. It is reasonable, then, to infer that Bellamy left a particular mark on the Italian novelist and that Rossi's own vision of the future took shape under his influence.

The similarities in the plot structure of these novels is undeniable. In Looking Backward the main character, Mr. Julian West, goes to sleep in the end of the nineteenth century and wakes up in the year 2000, when he meets Dr Leete, a man of the future who explains to him the changes that the United States went through on the way to becoming socialist. In II Parana nel XX Secolo the main character, Cardias, also meets a men who knows everything and tells him about the future, and in both novels the omniscient character--Dr Leete in Looking Backward and Dr Grillo in II Parana nel XX Secolo--take most of their time describing the differences between the world of the twentieth century and the society which the main characters inhabit.

These two factors suggest that Rossi's change in orientation was not due to a radical change in his social and political views and instead reflected Rossi's attempt to keep up with the prevailing intellectual trends; we must not forget that Bellamy was very fashionable at the time: Looking Backward sold millions of copies and was translated into more than twenty languages. Rossi's shift towards utopianism thus followed the pattern of his pragmatic alliance with Andrea Costa. Rossi did not accept social democracy, but believed that Costa's endorsement of his work would call a greater attention to it. By the same logic, Rossi later turned to utopian writing because the genre was very popular at the time and not because he denied the 'science' of experimental socialism.

II Parana nel XX Secolo of course brings new ideas, new convictions. One of the most important conceptual innovations is the refusal of egalitarianism as an end in itself for the socialist movement. Rossi realised that personal interests, the hypertrophy of the T was very powerful and it would be naive to think that egalitarian communism would be capable of suffocating it. But the problem, he argued, rested on a confusion of means and ends. Egalitarianism should be seen as a means to achieve freedom, and it would be a mistake to pursue it for its own sake. Rossi's new concern is evidence that much had changed in his thought over the years. Nevertheless, a basic set of principles remained the same throughout his life.


In his Les Socialismes utopiques, Jean-Christian Petitfils affirms that when Sir Thomas More wrote his classic utopia social change was almost unattainable. (21) Because of the landowners' intransigence any attempt to bring change 'from above' was unlikely. On the other hand, a change 'from below' was equally impossible, since the idea of Revolution was still beyond the horizons of the lower classes. This is very clear in More's concluding remark: 'there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments'. (22) In sixteenth-century England More wanted and could do no more than to inspire a dream and the wish of a better world.

From the seventeenth century on, however, the social, economic and intellectual context became very different from that of More's time. The utopian impulse was no longer a matter of dreaming, but of making an experience lived here and now. According to Frank Manuel and Fritzie Manuel:
By the seventeenth century utopia was no longer restricted to a
speaking picture, a dramatic narrative portrayal of a way of life that
is so essentially good and fulfills so many profound longings that wins
immediate, almost instinctive approbation. It could embrace as well the
underlying principles of an optimum society expounded and argued either
by the author directly or by several interlocutors. Utopia also came to
denote general programs and platforms for ideal societies, codes and
constitutions that dispensed the fictional apparatus altogether. (23)

In 'Toward a psychological history of utopias', an article published in 1965, but whose insights are still very pertinent, Frank Manuel identifies a more radical rupture with the traditional understanding of utopia in the nineteenth century. (24) The presence of four main elements makes this rupture evident: nineteenth-century utopias are dynamic, that is, they depict a society in a continuous process of becoming; they are concerned with individuality; they are also concerned about the means to achieve the ideal, since utopia is no longer a chimera, but a possibility; finally Manuel calls attention to the desirability of the end of the state. To these we could add a fifth sign of rupture: the question of sexual freedom. Of course we can find some noteworthy exceptions to this model, such as William Morris' News from Nowhere, in which the ideal is not an advance in science and technology, but a romantic return to a bucolic way of life, or the asceticism of Etienne Cabet in his Icaria. Nevertheless, as a general framework for nineteenth-century utopias, Manuel's model works satisfactorily. And it is a model that fits perfectly to Il Parana nel XX Secolo.


The dynamism, the refusal of a placid and changeless state of affairs, was one of Rossi's main concerns. Even if we admit a certain degree of monotony in Poggio al Mare, where there are no complaints because everything is good and should remain as it is, we must also acknowledge the fact that II Parana nel XX Secolo sets a different pattern. In the Parana of the future the organisation is spontaneous, with everyone changing places with each other in the different groups of production. Rossi insists that his utopia cannot be a place of boredom:
The practice of associate life develops itself into conciliation on the
basis of the natural phenomenon and the adaptation to new conditions.
Therefore we try today [that is, in the future] to rise above petty
disagreements over which people were ready to kill each other. If there
is too much disagreement everyone minds his/her own business and
remains in or gets out of the group. Besides, life without
misunderstanding would be too monotonous. (25)

We should also remember that Un Comune Socialista has an optimistic view about technological progress. This motif is revived in Il Parana nel XX Secolo, in which Rossi foresees fantastic developments in science and industry:
It is here [in Parana] that the most beautiful intelligences of science
in the field of discovery and research meet. It is here where all the
magic materials of the public and private illumination, the telephone
network and the phonographic devices are produced. Here is where
machines are made, from the smallest to the most powerful, very dear
machines that centuplicate the results of all industrial sectors,
relieving the fatigue of the workers. Here new discoveries are studied
and prepared, from the safe pneumatic expedition to the transmission of
images, forms, colours and movements. Eletropolis is the sacred temple
of science, the powerful avant-garde of all future progress. (26)

The society that Rossi foresees, as we can see, renews itself continuously. And more, it is open to the unexpected: whatever is fair and true comes about all of a sudden, and in away no one expects'. (27) To which Rossi adds: 'Who knows how many discoveries our positive sciences can make, leaving our little utopia thousands and thousands of miles behind. [...] it is a rebellious future that persistently insists to be something different from what the past has tried to dream or foretell'. (28) This dynamism, however, is not gratuitous, for only in an open utopia, such as Rossi's, can we conceive the need of preserving individuality, an idea that becomes relevant in an era when the great industry threatens to impose common patterns on all human behavior.


Contrary to what we may expect from a utopist, Rossi founded his ideal society on inequality. Egalitarian communism, even if viable in practice, would not provide for all human cravings. And that for a simple reason: egalitarianism, turned into an imperious necessity, would be regulated by public opinion that would then become the most tyrannical of all authorities. In twentieth-century Parana no kind of work would be underrated, 'be it either the work of a peasant with limited intelligence or that of a skilled architect of a large brain and feeble muscles'. (29) In his utopia Rossi goes even beyond that, securing a place also for the idler, that is, the one who cannot or does not want to work much, without attracting scorn from the other members of society. Besides, the indolence that Rossi finds among the 'caboclos'--Brazilian mixed-race white and indian--is taken as a 'gift from Providence', since their behaviour is a way of resisting the discipline that industrial work imposes on them. Searching for a new model of society, trying to reconcile his proposal of total human emancipation with the imperatives of personal interest, Rossi refers to Fourier, for whom work and pleasure should be one and the same thing:
From Fourier we have studied all the ways to find a pleasant image of
work. [...] If it is true that the spur of individual interest cannot
be replaced either by the spirit of solidarity, nor by the frugality of
the production, nor by mechanic help... is it so dramatic? And then let
us look for another solution in which the above mentioned 'I', with its
narcissistic demand, would find even in the most remote relations the
propulsive force of personal interest. If one changes the means but not
the end I don't see why one has to cry drops of blood. (30)

And in fact Fourier's utopia is not egalitarian. The phalanstery would gather around 'fifteen hundred people of different fortunes, ages, characters, practical and theoretical knowledge, [...] and one would take care the greatest possible variety would exist, for the greater the variety the easiest it will be to harmonize them in little time' (31) Rossi in fact does not reach the point of stimulating competition between work groups, as Fourier does in the phalansterian model. In II Parana nel XX Secolo he accepts diversity in the rhythm of work among the associate groups, but this is because the formation of groups is based on the individual characteristics of their members, and not because one group aims to become 'better' than the others. Nevertheless the similarity between Fourier and Rossi is outstanding as the importance of the individual is concerned. Therein Rossi's ideas constitute a clear example of what Frank Manuel has in mind when he stresses the question of individuality as one of the main distinguishing characteristics of utopian thought in the nineteenth century:
Equality, no longer a psychic need, was decried as egalite turque by
Saint-Simon and condemned as a source of discord because its
presumption that human beings were interchangeable counters, forced men
into the wrong slots, creating social chaos. French nineteenth-century
utopians were in quest of an order that emphasized individualism, self
-expression, and self-fulfillment. It is perhaps symbolic of the
contrast between the two utopian styles that while in More's utopia the
identification of people is not an issue, the Saint-Simonian orators
had to assure their prospective adepts that under the new system
personality would be preserved and their individual names emblazoned
upon their costumed breasts. (If the utopia provides what men most
keenly miss, the utopian of the earlier period did not fear a loss of
personality because he had it, while the nineteenth-century romantic
felt endangered by anonymity because his identity had already been
threatened by the new industrial society. (32)

The concept of individuality certainly helps us understand the Fourier's permanent encouragement to the diversity of human passions. Rossi, however, goes beyond Fourier. The French utopist argued that the desire for luxury was a powerful force of socialisation. Wouldn't a general spend part of his own payment to embellish the uniforms of his soldiers and, by doing so, surpass other regiments? The same logic would apply to the phalanstery, where luxury would be an essential part of its life, as long as it kept limited to the groups of production. Rossi, however, is more daring and advocates the right to individual luxury. When Cardias asks about this question, Dr Grillo's response is unequivocal:
During the first years of the new social life, all activities were
concentrated, as it was natural, on the production of things more
necessary to life; and this continued until the moment in which all the
essential needs of the population were fulfilled. But after one has the
necessary, the useful and the pleasant, one feels necessary a higher
degree, the need for luxury. Many workers refused to work to meet this
demand that many considered false and dangerous for twentieth-century
morality. They were perfectly in their own right. But others saw things
from a different point of view; they recognized those demands for
luxury as justified and considered them important factors in the
development of the new society. They constituted themselves in groups
of voluntaries for the production of luxury goods. And they also were
in their right according to the principle generally accepted: do and
let others do. These naturally found trouble with the groups that
provided raw materials and machines, that in general refused to take
part in this new field of production; but some accepted and still
others organized themselves towards this goal. And so the organizers of
luxury arose in complete freedom, from jewelers to decorators, from
upholsterers to producers of perfumes. (33)

'And also for the construction of palaces of marble; because a palace of marble is a luxury', (34) Rossi adds, referring to the architecture in a classic style that, according to Dr Grillo, would characterise the new part of twentieth-century Curitiba, the capital city of Parana. The construction of houses and buildings, as all the other productive activities in the Parana of the future would reflect the will of individuals. A gardener or a group of producers cultivating an orchard, would have the right to offer it to whomever they want, and that is the regulation for all the circulation of goods. No one buys anything and money does not exist, for each offers the fruit of their labour to the most deserving people. For this purpose there is a 'white book' with the biographies of the most outstanding members of the groups of production. Once more, therefore, it is evident Rossi's concern is to ensure that individuality be preserved.


The way Giovanni Rossi presents the process of social change differs from those of other nineteenth-century utopian in important aspects. It is neither a matter of 'letting things happen' as Saint-Simon advocated, nor of starting a vast movement based on partial experiences of socialist life, as was the case for Owen and Fourier. Rossi integrates these two perspectives. The existence of colonies, according to Rossi, would only make sense while articulated by social movements that comprised nothing less than tout le monde. Nevertheless we can notice what Nico Berti calls the 'explicit dimension' of the anarchist utopia: the realist character of their social projects when they suggest models for the future society with a remarkable level of details, indicating the means for its accomplishment. And nothing of it is alien to Rossi's thought. Poggio al Mare does not turn into an 'earthly paradise; by magic. It is the result of ten years of deeds and mistakes. In a similar fashion the love triangle in the colony of Cecilia is accepted not only because it takes place in an anarchist colony, but also because the members of that colony were being prepared for it, by means of lectures and discussions about the plurality of affections and other anarchist subjects. But it is in II Parana nel XX Secolo that Rossi treats the concern with the means for achieving the ideal society in a more emphatic way.

In the Parana of the future that Rossi describes the people in general had at last been convinced that 'with a government the good citizens became useless and the bad became dangerous; they had learned the shame of being governed, administered, excoriated and tormented'. (35) This journey was only made because socialist journals and professional associations had spread anarchist ideas throughout the country. Besides, Dr Grillo, the omniscient character, lets us know the elements upon which the new society in Parana would be based:
A country more than largely endowed with natural resources; A
population of about twenty million inhabitants, of which four fifths
came from socialist immigrations; A relatively high degree of popular
instruction; A considerable number of inventors, engineers, men of
science; An efficient organisation of work and the whole national
economy, from which all the forces, all the capacities come into action
spontaneously and with energy, developing without antagonistic
conflicts and thus cooperating to a common goal; A movement of free
exchange between Parana and socialist Belgium, that is, between the two
countries that find themselves in the highest degree in the scientific
and industrial movement; From these premises, the most sceptical of
your future readers will also admit that the history of Parana, by the
middle of the twentieth century could not be other than the boreal dawn
of a splendorous day. (36)

While Rossi establishes conditions for the existence of a perfect society, his project should not be confused with the communism of Marx and Engels. If the forefathers of 'scientific' socialism, from a highly deterministic anthropological perspective, affirm that the revolution would only succeed when capitalist society had reached a certain stage in development of productive forces, for Rossi and the anarchists, anarchist change can happen at any moment, because it only depends on human will and action. This 'indetermination' inherent to anarchist thought in general has as its ultimate foundation what Nico Berti calls the 'implicit dimension' of the anarchist utopia: the criticism to the principle of authority in all the levels of its given historical manifestations and in all its levels of possible historical manifestations'. (37) For Giovanni Rossi, therefore, the concern with the means to achieve the desired society is not intended to put obstacles in the way of the idea that the desire can become reality immediately and in an overpowering way. To borrow Miguel Abensour's words, it is a utopia that 'no longer has the function of convincing or making others understand the value of a model or of a solution for the social question; it aims at desiring, moving forward the desire of the masses'. (38)

Quite a few anarchists--if not all--share an optimistic perspective about social change. According to the American historian Thomas Martin, 'almost all [anarchists] have assumed a blank-slate explanation for human nature: violence and aggression are learned, not innate', and thus, under proper circumstances, there is a tendency in humankind towards voluntary cooperation. (39) Some of the most important anarchist thinkers--Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, among others--advance beyond mere disapproval of one or other superficial aspect of political institutions; they attack their main foundation, the principle of authority. The critique of the state is part of a larger critique of the matrix order/obedience that refers not only to the power of the state but also to any other forms of domination.

Giovanni Rossi also ferociously attacks all kinds of authority, those founded on the state, on religion, on property, on personal relations etc. But it is interesting that when presenting socialist Belgium, Rossi uses a metaphor that reminds us of the beginning of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The modern English defender of absolutism compares the functioning of the state to a living body: sovereignty corresponds to the soul, the magistrates to the joints, rewards and punishments to the nerves, wealth and prosperity of individual members to force, counselors to memory, justice and laws to reason and will, concord to health, sedition to sickness and finally civil war corresponds to death. In II Parana nel XX Secolo Rossi uses a similar metaphor, but instead of advocating for the need of the state, he comes to the conclusion that the government, any kind of government, should be extinct:
All Belgium was socialist, only one man was not. This man had a head,
it was called Bourgeoisie; had a heart, it was called law; had a ruling
apparatus, it was called bureaucracy; it had an arm, it was called
army. This man was strong and it was necessary to murder him or at
least to wound him mortally. (40)

And the attack against the state continues. According to Rossi the government is not only a stage for corruption and intrigue, but also a warranty for the perpetuation of the great evil that afflicts our bourgeois society: private property. It is because of the economic model of the bourgeoisie that we have the cycles of prosperity and recession, that is the reason of so much apprehension among the workers, sometimes deprived of their means of subsistence. It is because of private property that we have wars--devastations perpetrated in the name of patriotism, but that in reality serve to safeguard the interests of rival capitalists of other countries and to repress popular uprisings. (41) Still, underneath all this, we can find, according to Rossi, the most primary, the most insidious kind of power: the authority exerted by one member of the family over another. It is to this kind of authority that we now turn.


Among the inhabitants of Thomas More's utopia, a system of marriage is carefully arranged to reduce to a minimum the possibilities of sexual competition. Having sex before marriage carries severe punishment. This moral norm is not maintained in the utopias written after the eighteenth century, when the influence of religion is relatively weak. According to Frank Manuel:
Perhaps the greatest distinction between the sixteenth- and the
eighteenth century utopias lies in the redreaming of ideal sexual and
marital happiness. As the Christian character of utopia began to wear
off, the utopian fantasy allowed itself more and more to envision a
wider gamut of sexual relationships. [...] In these utopias, Christian
monogamy, not rooted in nature, is exposed as both hypocritical and
provocative of strife. A freer sexuality, as the utopia purports to
demonstrate, does not lead to the disruption of the social order and
the exacerbation of hostile emotions among men, but on the contrary
contributes to peaceful, amicable relationships among the fortunate
islanders. (42)

For Giovanni Rossi the role of women and the question of the family follow this trend. The end of the monogamist family and emancipation of women were topics passionately discussed in Rossi's works, especially in Un Episodio d'Amore nella Colonia Cecilia.

The family, according to Rossi, is based on an absurd dogma: that one cannot love more than just one person. Against this assumption, he presents 'scientific' arguments: don't flowers and animals need polygamy to their genetic refinement? And in primitive history, don't we notice the precedence of matriarchy and that polygamist patriarchy and monogamy only emerged because of political and economic reasons? And how about adultery? Would there be a better proof that monogamist marriage is against true human nature? And if all this were not enough, Rossi suggests that we interrogate our consciences:
Conscience of mine, nobody feels you, nobody sees you. Conscience of
mine, can you swear, without lying, my fidelity? Don't you realise that
that only affection wasn't enough to fulfill my heart? Don't you
realise that that other love did not kill the first one? Haven't you
felt my fantasy fly around fast, eager for beauty, for spirit, for
tenderness, for knowledge? Haven't you felt the ferocious battle, the
useless and inglorious battle that love and duty, desire and sadness,
tenderness and shame, fought inside of yourself? Haven't you seen the
germs that in the spring were introduced in the trunk of my heart? They
had plenty of leaves and flowers those new germs; who knows which
splendor of green, what delicacy of perfume and what sweetness of fruit
they could have given to my sad life? And I destroyed them because to
destroy them was my duty, because to obey them was a sin. Tell me, tell
me conscience of mine--we are alone and no one sees you--if in the
world there were neither duty nor sin, wouldn't I have the need to love
someone else without making an injustice to the person I love?
Conscience of mine, answer me at once the truth. (43)

And if our conscience told us the truth, concludes Rossi, this little book is beautiful and it accomplished its purpose.

Against bourgeois morality and the bourgeois idea of the family, Rossi argues that it is in the family that the worse human barbarities happen, hidden and unpunished. It is in this very institution that the husband turns the woman into something vulgar, where incest, sodomy, masturbation and all kinds of abject practices occur. But most of all, it is in the family that 'the young grow up with the sad habit of obedience, of simulation, with the desire of being able to command someday, when it is their turn. [...] It is in the partiality, in the predilection of one over another that little siblings learn envy and jealousy. In the first maternal teachings they learn selfishness, superstition and lies'. (44) In opposition to all this, Rossi presents the experience of free love lived in the colony to demonstrate the viability, and even the desirability of the plurality of affections.

In II Parana nel XX Secolo Rossi deals again with topics such as women's emancipation, free sexual expression, the education of children etc. But this time he introduces a new element: voluntary parenthood. In the socialist future that Rossi foresees, the woman who wants to leave all her other activities to dedicate herself entirely to her children is free to do so, for she will be producing a human being, something certainly more precious than any other product. But if she does not want to take care of her child she can leave this job to others, and she will be free to visit her child whenever she wants. It is interesting to notice that, from all the targets of anarchist criticism, it is just with the family that Rossi closes his narrative about the future society, for after that Dr Grillo's spirit disappears. We should also remember that in the preface to Un Comune Socialista Rossi pointed to the family as the worse of all evils. The end of the family is considered more important than the end of the state, religion or private property, because it is in the family that other kinds of domination begin. Therefore, according to Rossi, if we want to eradicate all forms of authority, it is with the family that we should start.


Bearing in mind all the theoretical influences we can find in Giovanni Rossi's thought, and imagining all the others that we are not even aware of, there is an important question to be asked: how could maintain the internal coherence of his writings? A short an easy answer to that question would be: he did not. Some inconsistencies are blatant. In the same book--II Parana nel XX Secolo--Rossi affirms that public opinion is the most tyrannical of all kinds of authority, but he foresees in his socialist future the existence of a book of biographies that will enable the population to form a public opinion about each member of a group of production. This same idea--of a book of biographies to support the meritocratic distribution of wealth--is almost an exact copy of Bellamy's proposal on the subject, but with one significant difference, that Bellamy advocates a centralised state administration. Applying this system to a libertarian social organisation, as Rossi imagines, is confusing to say the least.

Nevertheless, his main ideas, such as the question of the state, family and property are explained in logical, clear and straightforward prose. Rossi developed his thought in an eclectic and yet orderly fashion. Rossi was a well-informed intellectual, he read a lot, he knew a lot, and he borrowed from each author he read whatever he believed he could profit from the most, taking whatever best fit with his own convictions. He thus identified with Owen's ideal of autonomous utopian communities, but rejected Owen's authoritarianism, asceticism and egalitarianism. He incorporated the idea of the phalanstery from Fourier without assuming Fourier's absurd classifications. As Etienne Cabet, Rossi made propaganda for socialist experiments after the publication of his utopian novel, but in almost everything else Rossi's utopia was the exact opposite of Cabet's.

Despite the incongruences mentioned above, among others, we must bear in mind that, if we had to define Rossi's social thought in a few words, we could use the following expression: 'evolution as a means and revolution as an end'. When he insists on the need for socialist propaganda and the formation of communities of anarchist life he comes close to what many other utopists in his time had thought and done. Rossi, however, did not believe that words and examples would be enough to change the world. It would be necessary to take more radical action to produce the rupture with the past defined by the capitalist exploitation of the workers. Rossi evidently assumed a rationalist perspective, but that does not mean that he believed in universal Reason before which everyone would bow. Influenced by other utopists, Rossi does not fall prey of some of their excessive pretentiousness and authoritarianism. His purpose was to make people wish, and from that to begin building the foundations of the new world to come.


I wish to thank Professor Helena Isabel Mueller who made important comments on an earlier version of this article and who lent me hard-to-find research material on Giovanni Rossi and the Cecilia Colony.

Jose Antonio Vasconcelos was awarded his PhD in History from the State University of Campinas, Brazil, in 2001 and has been Professor of Historical Theory in the Department of History at the University of Sao Paulo since 2008. He has recently published Reflexoes: Filosofia e Cotidiano (Reflexions: Philosophy and Everyday Life), (Sao Paulo, Editora SM, 2016) and is the author of 'Edward Bellamy's urban utopia' ('A utopia urbana de Edward Bellamy', Dimensoes: Revista de Historia da UFES, v. 30, p. 245-265, 2013.)


(1) Paolo Favilli, Storia del marxismo italiano: dalle origini alla grande guerra, 7 ed. Milano: Franco Angeli, 2007, p.152.

(2) Giovanni Rossi, 'Il Parana nel XX secolo', in Roselina Gosi, Il socialismo utopistico: Giovanni Rossi e la colonia anarchica Cecilia, (Milano : Moizzi, 1977), p. 150.

(3) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX Secolo, p.151.

(4) Helena Isabel Mueller. Flores aos rebeldes que falharam: Giovanni Rossi e a utopia anarquista: colonia Cecilia. Sao Paulo, 1989. Doctoral dissertation--departament of history, Universidade de Sao Paulo. p.216.

(5) Giovanni Rossi, Un Comune Socialista, Milano : C. Bignami e Comp., 1878. p.30-31.

(6) Mikhail Bakunin, "Principles and Organization of the International Brotherhood", in:

Arthur Lehning (ed.), Mikhail Bakinin: Selected Writings,, London : Johnathan Cape, 1973, p.64-93.

(7) Lo sperimentale. n. 1, Brescia. Maio de 1886.

(8) Helena Isabel Mueller, op.cit., p.255; Isabelle Felici, Les Italiens dans le mouvement anarchiste au Bresil, 1890-1920. These de Doctorat (Nouveau doctorat): Etudes italiennes, dir. Mario Fusco, co-dir. Jean-Charles Vegliante. Universite de la Sorbonne nouvelle-PARIS 3 : 1994. Both scholars agree that the ship that took Rossi and his first companions--Evangelista Benedetti, Lorenzo Arrighini, Giacomo Zanetti, Cattina et Achille Dondelli--arrived at the port of Rio de Janeiro and from there they intended to go to the state of Rio Grande do Sul. They also agree that because of the "mal di mare" (illness of the sea) they decided to stay at Parana.

(9) Eric Gordon, Anarchism in Brazil, New Orleans, 1978. Doctoral dissertation--Tulane University. p.248.

(10) Giovanni Rossi, in The Firebrand, v. I. no. 24. Portland, Oregon, Sunday, July 21, 1895.

(11) The paper was signed under "Cardias e Ille Ego". II Socialismo dei margini. Critica Sociale, Milano. 16-31.03.1916, p.93-94.

(12) Giovanni Rossi, Un Comune Socialista, p.7. "Il vostro ordine ci appare un ammasso di ceppi che avvinghia un cadavere inpiena decomposizione".

(13) Giovanni Rossi, Un Comune Socialista p.9. "L'amore, questo gentile sentimento che veste de forme poetiche una legge inelutabile di natura, nel maggior numeri dei casi, non e eterno, ne exclusive".

(14) Giovanni Rossi, Un Comune Socialista, p.10. "La proprieta voi [burgueses] dite, e il frutto del lavoro. Sta bene; ma non del lavoro dei proprietary si bene diquello dei proletari".

(15) Giovanni Rossi, Un Comune Socialista, p. 10.

(16) Giovanni Rossi, Un comune socialista, p.6.

(17) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p.143-144.

(18) Isabelle Felici, op. Cit, p. "Malgre la bonte generalisee, l'absence d'agressivite et le desir d'aider les inferieurs [sic], qui caracterisent la facon don't s'effectue la concurrence, le systeme de Rossi est assez proche de ce qu 'on pourrait appeler le "liberalisme anarchiste" et n'a plus rien de commun avec les convictions que Rossi ajfichait avant son depart pour le Bresil."

(19) Isabelle Felici, op.Cit., p.67. "Ebe Rossi, la fille d'Adele nee a la Cecilia, sait tres peu de choses sur la colonie. Sesparents n 'en parlaient jamais car, selon elle, ils avaient ete tres decus de cette experience et n'en gardaient pas un souvenir tres heureux."

(20) Friedrich Engels, "Herr Eugen During's Revolution in Science", in: Robewrt C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader, 2. ed. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 1978, p.694.

(21) Jean-Christian Petitfils, Os socialismos utopicos, Sao Paulo, Circulo do Livro, s.d., pp. 16-20.

(22) Thomas More, utopia, p.88. Available in the Internet at

(23) Frank E. Manuel & Fritzie P.Manuel, Utopian thought in the western world, Oxford : Basil Blackwell, 1982. p.2.

(24) Frank Manuel. "Toward a psychological history of utopias", in Deadalus, n. 94, 1965.

(25) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p.166.

(26) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo 159.

(27) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 147.

(28) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 164.

(29) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 162.

(30) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 145-146.

(31) Charles Fourier. El Falansterio, Alfredo Cepeda, los utopistas. Buenos Aires : Futuro, 1944. p.151.

(32) Frank Manuel. Toward a psychological history of utopias, p.306.

(33) Giovanni Rossi. Il Parana nel XX secolo. p.165.

(34) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 165.

(35) Giovanni Rossi. Il Parana nel XX secolo. p.152-153.

(36) Giovanni Rossi, Il Parana nel XX secolo, p. 157.

(37) Nico Berti, La dimensione utopica del pensiero anarchico. In: Volonta: rivista anarchica trimestrale. n. 3, 1981 p.3.

(38) Miguel Abensour, 0 novo espirito utopico, Campinas : Editora da Unicamp, 1990. p.56.

(39) Thomas Martin, 'Anarchism and the Question of Human Nature', Social anarchism, Issue 37 (2004-05)., access on jun.17.2016.

(40) Giovanni Rossi. II Parana nel XX secolo. p. 155.

(41) Giovanni Rossi, II Parana nel XX secolo, p. 154.

(42) Frank Manuel. Toward a psychological history of utopias, p.302.

(43) Giovanni Rossi, Un episodio d'amore libero nella colonia Cecilia, Quaderni della liberta, 1932, p.16.

(44) Giovanni Rossi, Un episodio d'amore libero nella colonia Cecilia, p. 19 All translations are by the author.
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Author:Vasconcelos, Jose Antonio
Publication:Anarchist Studies
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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