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Italian Anarchism: 1864-1892.

by Nunzio Pernicone. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1993. xiv, 326 pp. $39.50 U.S.

Given the significance of the subject, it is surprising that the history of Italian anarchism has captured the imagination of only a handful of writers in the English-speaking world. The first fifteen years of Italian socialism was defined by Bakuninist anarchism and not by Marxian socialism and, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the anarchists were an important element of the revolutionary left in Italy. Professor Pernicone's Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892 deals with the first three decades of the history of this fascinating movement. The Bakuninist phase of the movement, the 1860s and 1870s, is covered in several works in English (for example, see Richard Hostetter's 7he Italian Socialist Mawment and the reviewer's Bakunin and the Italians) and more extensively in Italian (Aldo Romano, Nello Rosselli, Elio Conti, and others). While the first half of Pernicone's book covers the well-charted course of the Bakuninist movement, his is no rehash of Romano, Hostetter, and others. The author has many important things to say, often providing new insights into old issues. However, his greatest contribution is in the later sections of the work dealing with the 1880s and early 1890s. There is practically nothing for this period outside of Italian and even there the reviewer can offhand think of only two studies of any significance -- Pier Carlo Masini's 1969 Stolia degli anarchici itatiani da Bakunin a Malatesta and Enzo Santarelli's 1959 Ii socialismo anarchico in Italia. Pernicone's Italian Anawhism has now superseded these works by a wide margin.

After a succinct introduction, Pernicone begins with an examination of socialist ideas in the risotfflmento, particularly the thought of Carlo Pisacane. Pisacane, former chief-of-staff of the army in Mazzini's Roman republic of 1849, had become a martyr in the cause of Italian unification with his doomed Sapri expedition of 1857 to oust the Neapolitan Bourbons, anticipating Giuseppe Garibaldi's more successful effort by some three years. In his own lifetime and long after his death, Pisacane was considered a nationalist-patriot in the tradition of Mazzini and Garibaldi and not a socialist, as his ideas and writings were poorly dispersed in Italy. For the past three decades a debate has been going on about Bakunin's debt to Pisacane for his anarchist-socialist ideas. In a chapter entitled "Bakunin and the Italians, 1864-1870," Pernicone gives an excellent synthesis of the state of this debate as it stands now. The author also provides admirable treatments of Bakunin's early political and recruitment activities in Florence and Naples, his various revolutionary brotherhoods, the significance of the pamphlet La Situazione Italiana and the newspaper Liberta e Giustizia, the Congress of Peace and Liberty of 1867, and the formation of the Neapolitan section of the First International two years later under the aegis of Bakunin's most ardent disciples in Italy at the time -- Carlo Gambuzzi, Saverio Friscia, Giuseppe Fanelli, and Alberto Tucci.

It is a paradox that the First International had its greatest impact in Italy during the 1870s after it had ceased to exist almost everywhere else in Europe. It was the outbreak of the Paris Commune on 18 March 1871 which ushered in the era of the International in Italy. Although the Italian revolutionaries had little understanding of what was happening in Paris in the spring of 1871, they interpreted the Commune as the French proletariat's battle against social injustice under the auspices of the International, despite the fact that the I.W.A. itself had played no part in initiating the rebellion. The subsequent attempt to win the hearts and minds of Italian revolutionary youth led to the intervention of Mazzini, Garibaldi, Bakunin, and Engels in the Commune-International debate. The furious eighteen-month-long ideological struggle which followed their intervention drove the Italian radicals to embrace Bakunin's anarchist socialism. Pernicone tells the story of how and why Bakunin emerged victorious over his formidable opponents -- Mazzini's dogmatism, Engels's idiocy and Garibaldi's political confusion -- with verve and insight. The post-commune period also brought into the forefront a new Bakunist leadership under the aegis of Andrea Costa, Carlo Cafiero, and the legendary (later) Errico Malatesta. This leadership was to delineate the course of Italian socialism for the rest of the decade.

The question of why Bakunin triumphed over Marx has been a controversial issue in Italy for more than a century. Italian Marxist historiography, represented by Aldo Romano, Elio Conti, and others, attributes Bakunin's victory to the socio-economic and political backwardness of the Italian proletariat. In Pernicone's view such an interpretation overlooks all the counter evidence. According to him, Bakunin won not because his victory had anything to do with the stage of Italy's industrial development, but because of the Italian radicals' desire to continue in the revolutionary tradition of the risorgimento, in which the Russian "possessed the kind of mythic and charismatic appeal that Marx could not match" (p. 53). Bakunin's impassioned defence of the commune and the International against Mazzini enabled him to strengthen his position further. The Italians also found Bakunin's antiauthoritarian, federalist philosophy more compatible with their own individualism and love of liberty and were afraid that a Marxian variety of socialism would introduce a new type of despotism into the Italian workers? movement.

Pernicone discusses the story of the formation of the Italian Federation, the ill-fated insurrections of 1874 and the trials and repressions of the internationalists in their wake with clarity and acuity. With poor harvests, falling wages, increasing prices and mounting popular discontent, the years 1873-74 were the worst in the history of Italy since unification. Cafiero, Malatesta, and other Italian Bakuninists felt that the time was now ripe for a series of anarchist-led insurrections in the country. When the attempts were made in early August 1874 in cities throughout central and southern Italy -- the Romagna, the Marches, Tuscany, Lazio, Puglia, the Campania, and Sicily -- the internationalists received no support from the masses. The best known of the uprisings, of course, is the Bologna insurrection, a fiasco in which Bakunin personally participated. According to Pernicone, the internationalists in 1874 stood little chance of realizing their revolutionary goal of a decentralized, anarchist society; internal weaknesses, the apathy of the masses and the power of the state all militated against such an outcome. These insurrections were followed by a series of trials of the internationalists. The most famous of these was the Bologna Trial of 1876, where the chief "malefactor," Andrea Costa, acquitted himself with great distinction. Most of the defendants in Bologna and elsewhere were acquitted because of the skill of the defence lawyers, comportment of the young defendants, testimonies of distinguished character witnesses, incompetence of the prosecution and the bourgeois jury's ignorance about socialism and socialism's potential threat to its own interests.

The failure of the insurrections had already set in motion a "legalitarian" current in the Italian labour movement. Holding an ambiguous position between anarchism and Marxism, and owing their ideology to Benolt Malon's "integral socialism," the legalitarians challenged the anarchist leadership of Italian socialism, particularly objecting to its fetish for insurrectionism. The anarchists replied with another insurrection in the mezzogiorno in the spring of 1877, which came to be known as the Banda del Matese after the mountainous region near Naples where the episode occurred. This insurrection, inspired by Cafiero and Malatesta, too was easily suppressed by the state. Although a failure, Pernicone finds merit in Malatesta's later testimony that the peasants of the Matese would have joined the anarchists' guerrilla war if the latter had been able to survive on the field for another month, especially in view of the local peasants' sympathetic treatment of the internationalists.

One of the results of the failure of Matese was the defection of Andrea Costa from the anarchist ranks to legalitarian socialism. The exact reasons for Costa's apostasy, as Pernicone rightly points out, have eluded historians because of the disappearance of his correspondence for this crucial period. Be that as it may, in a chapter entitled "The Defection of Andrea Costa, 1879-1882" in Italian Anarchism, the reader will find the most satisfactory account of the event, which is considered a historical landmark in the subsequent evolution of Italian socialism. As the author notes, Costa's famous svolta led to a great boost for legalitarian socialism and created widespread dissension and internicine warfare within the anarchist ranks, precipitating an excessive anti-authoritarian reaction against any sort of leadership or organization. This attitude dissipated the anarchist movement as a viable social and political alternative in Italy.

In the final section of Italian Anarchism, entitled "Crisis, Transformation and Decline," in six pithy and well-crafted chapters, Pernicone describes how, through endless ideological disputes, internal quarrels and state repression, the anarchists were defeated by the legalitarian socialists, culminating in the formation of a nation wide socialist party at the Congress of Genoa in 1892. Virtually everything in these chapters would be new to a non-Italian readership. Essentially it is the story of the frequently-exiled Malatesta's untiring efforts to maintain the anarchist movement as a going concern with the assistance of comrades such as Francesco Saverio Merlino, Amilcare Cipriani, and others.

In writing Italian Anarchism, Pernicone has utilized a vast array of published and unpublished sources in five languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. He has consulted an incredible number of anarchist, socialist, and other newspaper collections, nearly eighty in all. The author has also exploited important archival material for the 1880s and 1890s, particularly from the Archivio Centrale Dello Stato in Rome. While reading Italian Anarchism, the reviewer got the distinct impression that Pernicone had not missed a single relevant secondary source, including both articles and books. He is also superb at the comparative approach as he demonstrates, for example, in his treatment of the land question in Spain (Andalusia, New Castile, and Estremadura) and Italy (Sicily, Puglia, and the Po Valley) (pp. 79-80).

All in all, with his Italian Anarchism, Pernicone has made an outstanding contribution to European history in general and Italian social and labour history in particular. The reviewer hopes that this rirst-rate study receives the wide readership it richly deserves.
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Author:Ravindranathan, T.R.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
Words:1678
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