Revolutie en reactie: de repressie van de Italiaanse anarchisten, 1870-1900

Peter Olaf Reinhard van der Mark

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The book Revolution and Reaction forms a chapter in the history of the split between Italia legale and Italia reale. The young Italian state, whose unity was confirmed with the taking of Rome in 1870, had to contend with many reactionary, revolutionary and criminal groups which threatened this unity and the monarchy. The boot, pieced together with difficulty, was constantly exposed to destructive forces. The Destra (right) government chose to manage the situation by a centralising approach: society had to comply with directives coming from the capital. The forceful implementation of liberal economic policies and strong centralist direction of the royalist political classes increased the differences between the state and the people. In this situation the state and the anarchists acted as full-blown opponents. There were reciprocal reactions and influences in this confrontation. Both presented themselves as doctors wanting to eradicate the sickness of the other party. The central question of this book is to what extent the state and the anarchists had an effect on each other. Apart from the first two chapters, in which the structure of the Italian state is addressed, this book follows the chronological development of Italian anarchism. Each chapter traces the course of affairs of the anarchist movement, the splits, the intrigues of police spies, the Government’s reactions and the attitude of the judiciary. In chapter I the reader is introduced to the political situation of Italy around 1870. The emphasis is on the unstable basis of the monarchy, the political opposition and the gap between state and people. Chapter II addresses the political classes which governed the country between 1860 and 1900 and the means that the Government had available to persecute any opposition. Following this, attention is given to the role of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the judiciary. The right to associate and to meet and the freedom of the (printed) press are closely examined because of their great importance for the functioning of anarchist groups and because they often formed the core of legal cases against anarchists. Special police powers such as the ammonizione (admonishment, personal restrictions and police supervision) and the domicilio coatto (internal deportation, forced residence) severely affected the free movement of anarchists. The use of these measures occurred without interference from the judiciary. The registration system for anarchists and subversive persons (Casellario Politico Centrale) was developed and perfected during the period in question. Later, during the fascist regime, the system was taken over and expanded to include all political opponents. Finally, the chapter analyses the network of political police and police spies. The political police and infiltrators had a major destructive impact on the anarchist movement. The anarchists could not respond to the presence of police spies among their members given that any reaction seemed to work to their disadvantage. Chapter III explores the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association in Italy. The Naples section of the International is described in depth, since the development of this first association of internationalists clearly shows which factors defined the position and strategy of the Italian Federation of the International: Bakunin’s intellectual heritage on the organisation and actions of government. The chapter shows how the governments of the Destra followed a clear policy with regard to the internationalists. Liberal policies alternated with repression and arbitrary rule. The chapter also shows that governments did not hesitate to use force against other opposition groups such as republicans. However, the political powers required to eradicate the opposition were often blocked by the judiciary. Chapter IV describes the policies of the Sinistra (left) governments with regard to the internationalists. Following a revolutionary attempt in 1874, its repression and subsequent court cases, the internationalists changed course. They organised themselves in a sectarian party and developed a strategy of ‘propaganda of the deed’. Within the framework of these tactics, an armed group of 26 revolutionaries - the Banda del Matese - moved through the Matese mountains in 1877. This led to the complete repression of the International. The state’s response confirmed the internationalists in their strategy. Meanwhile, the government accused the internationalists of an attempt to assassinate the king and of a series of bomb explosions in 1878. These acts of terror led the government to change its attitude towards the International which, from this point on, was seen as a criminal movement. In 1879 the International ceased to exist as a national organisation. The consequences of the internationalists’ sectarian strategy and of the government’s policies are described in chapter V. The 1880’s were dominated by the politician Agostino Depretis. It was his policy of trasformismo that led to the political classes operating in unity. The terms Destra and Sinistra lost their meaning. In this period, the anarchist movement could only organise at a local level: there was no longer a national anarchist party or movement. The most remarkable development in the anarchist movement was the conversion of one of the anarchists’ leading figures, Andrea Costa, from anarchism to legal socialism, i.e the establishment of socialism through parliamentarian means. No longer did Costa focus on the revolution to realise socialism. Another important phenomenon was the birth of an apolitical labour party. Like the anarchist movement, this party did not believe in political instruments. At the same time, the apolitical labour party also did not adopt the strategy or the final goals of the anarchists. Most important Italian anarchists lived abroad in the 1880s, where they started the so-called emigrant-anarchist movement (Chapter VI). The anarchist strategy in the 1880s was laid down during the International Revolutionary Congress in London in 1881. The decisions taken during this Congress and the assassination of Tsar Alexander II ensured anarchism’s violent image. After Costa’s move towards legal socialism and Carlo Cafiero’s mental crisis, Enrico Malatesta became the anarchist movement’s uncontested leader. His brief presence in Italy led to a revival of the movement. After his forced departure in 1884, the anarchist movement again fell apart. The presence of anarchist leaders, notably Malatesta, proved to be a decisive condition for the organisation and activities of the Italian anarchist movement. Their absence gave room to an individualist and anti-organisational form of anarchism. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1882, the Italian government organised a European political police network. Espionage services were set up in the most important European capitals and in cities in Italy’s neighbouring countries. These espionage services dealt exclusively with anarchism. Chapter VII analyses the start, organisation and development of these police services. The police services initially lost some of their importance after the budget cuts in the 1890s and the increasing international cooperation against anarchism, but gained strength in some European cities after the attack on King Umberto I in 1900. It was again Malatesta’s return to Europe, in 1889, that led to the revival of socialist anarchism (Chapter VIII). An important event was the Anarchist Congress in Switzerland in 1891 during which the Italian anarchist party was founded. The Congress also decided to turn the 1891 May Day celebrations into a revolutionary day. The riots that broke out in several cities on May Day resulted in increasingly strict police action. They also led to a deeper split between the socialist and individualist anarchists. The Sicilian anarchist Paolo Schicchi was one of Malatesta’s strongest opponents. Malatesta was forced to reply to Schicchi’s continuous criticisms of socialist and organisational elements of anarchism. Additionally, Malatesta had to fight against rising anarchist terrorism which was causing deaths in France especially. Chapter IX describes anarchism’s isolated position within the labour movement. This position was clearly noticeable at several international socialist congresses, during which anarchism and Marxism supported completely opposing views. The schism between the two movements became definitive after the 1896 International Congress in London. Anarchism’s separate position at national level became clear at the founding congress of the Italian socialist party in 1892, where Italian anarchists were not admitted to the decisive meeting. The economic crisis, various corruption scandals which involved the political classes, high unemployment and the necessity of budget cuts, led to an extremely tense situation in Italy in 1893-1894. This situation is described in chapter X. In an aggressive way, the Crispi government suppressed the revolts of the fasci (workers and peasant associations) against poverty and authority. Anarchist leaders, such as Malatesta and Francesco Saverio Merlino, tried to spread these revolts to the mainland in vain. A solidarity revolt of anarchists and republicans in the Lunigiana was easily crushed. The affected areas were placed under martial law. Anarchist terrorism in France and an attack on Prime Minister Crispi increased the fear of anarchism. In this climate, Crispi was able to introduce a series of anti-anarchist laws in July 1894, which were also used against socialists. The causes of this repression are described in depth in this chapter. Crispi’s successor Rudini was an advocate of liberal policies, but he soon became entangled in the conservative web (chapter XI). At a later stage, his policies were characterised by persecution and arbitrariness. Malatesta’s return to Italy increased the activities of the anarchists. Their protests were aimed especially against the elections and measures that limited political freedom. Soon, the anarchists joined the riots that resulted from increases in bread prices. The bread riots came to a climax in May 1898, after which they were crushed with violence. The repressive policies that followed the bread riots were aimed not only at the anarchists but at the opposition as a whole. The new Prime Minister Pelloux, who wanted to normalise the political situation in Italy, was forced, like his predecessors, to take repressive measures. In the end it was the House of Deputies that prevented Pelloux from taking a dictatorial path. It was the murder of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria in September 1898, by an Italian anarchist, that led to the Italian initiative to set up an International Anti-Anarchist Conference in Rome. The motives for this conference, its results and subsequent Russian-German initiatives are addressed in chapter XII. The ‘new’ Italy is described in the Epilogue. The fall of the Pelloux government, the anarchist assassination of King Umberto I and the formation of the Zanardelli-Giolitti cabinet marked the end of “Liberal Italy” and the beginning of “Small Italy” or “Giolittian Italy”. The socialist and catholic representatives involved the population in the administration of the country and the government took a neutral position in labour conflicts. Italy seemed to be on its way towards an effective liberal administration. However, these liberal policies were not extended to the anarchists or to anarchist strikes. Anarchists paid the price for the temporary rapprochement between social democrats and the government. The main conclusion of this book is that anarchists and state influenced each other significantly. The state affected anarchism in the following ways: strategy changes, the splintering of groups and individuals from the anarchist movement, the lack of direction in the movement due to emigration and prison sentences, the increasing feeling among individualists that any form of organisation was a restriction of freedom, and police infiltration which increased distrust among anarchists. In general it can be stated that the government’s actions led to an increased tendency among larger groups of anarchists towards more radical and isolated views. Anarchists influenced the state in the following ways: repressive measures were extended to include other opposition groups, political police forces were set up in foreign countries, various repressive laws were enacted, there were an increasing radicalisation of the Risorgimento politicians and increasing fears of the political integration of the public. The presence of the anarchist movement initially led to an increased isolation of the political classes. At a later stage it made possible the rapprochement between social democratic and catholic organisations.
Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Huussen, A.H., Supervisor, External person
Award date20-Nov-1997
Publication statusPublished - 1997

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