by Adriana Dadà


War On War

Thanks to this effort, in the period between the last decade of the 19th century and the First World War, the Italian anarchist movement had grown both in numbers and in political influence, above all through its massive presence in the camere del lavoro (Labour Clubs) and in the professional structures of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (CGdL - General Confederation of Labour) and the Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI - Italian Syndical Union) (2). Furthermore, in 1914 it had to dedicate itself to intense organizational activity in order to make the most of the large influx of new members as a result of the struggles against the Libyan campaign and in defence of the working classes (3). This need was matched also in other countries, to such an extent that the idea of an international congress was raised. By way of preparation, in March 1914 the editorial group of the journal Volontà and the Fascio Comunista Anarchico di Roma (Rome Anarchist Communist Group) promoted a congress, to be held in Florence which, because of its markedly pro-organization line, was met with some suspicion by the promoters of the unity of the various currents such as the editors of Il Libertario and the individualists of L'Avvenire Anarchico (4). However, neither the Italian nor the international congresses came about due to the worsening international situation and the preparations for war, though there were eight regional meetings between April and June dealing mainly with "questions relating to the specific organization of the movement and its relations with the workers' organizations" (5).

Despite the war, debate between the various positions and the construction of a national organizational structure continued to develop with the conventions in Pisa in 1915 and Ravenna in 1916 (6). It must be said that in Italy, both on an ideological level and on other levels, the effects of the conflict were less damaging to the anarchist movement (and to the left in general) that in other countries. This is partly because of the choice of the Partito Socialista Italiana (PSI - Italian Socialist Party) - a choice in itself influenced by the strong anti-militarist and libertarian element of the proletariat - which was summed up in the fairly ambiguous motto "neither support nor sabotage" but which was frequently contradicted in daily practice by the collaboration with the industrial mobilization by the CGdL which was controlled by reformists. In fact, "interventionism in the Italian anarchist movement was not a phenomenon, or a current, or even a question of debate or the basis of a split. It was only a series of sporadic, unconnected personal cases" (7), which in general were to be found in the Nietzschian-Stirnerite individualist fringe which had already been in difficulty at the time of the Libyan campaign (8). The anarchist presence was crucial to the clarification of the USI's position on intervention. The clash with the revolutionary syndicalist group, a part of which favoured Italian participation in the conflict, delivered the organization into the hands of the anti-militarist majority in September 1914, with the passing of a motion by Alberto Meschi, secretary of the Carrara Labour Club, which expressed "their trust in the proletariat of all countries to rediscover in themselves the spirit of class solidarity and the revolutionary energy required to take advantage of the inevitable weakening of State forces and of the general crisis caused by the war in order to act to sweep away the bourgeois and monarchist states which have been cynically preparing for this war for fifty years" (9).

In reconstructing the positions of anarchism regarding the problem raised by the conflict, alongside the condemnation approved by the Pisa convention in January 1915 (10), one must also consider those of the various local groups which had newspapers and could therefore influence militants and a wider range of readers. Of the most important magazines, Volontà had the strongest anti-patriotic and anti-war line and in no way questioned the internationalist and anti-capitalist role of anarchism (11). It was in its pages, in fact, that the international anarchist manifesto against the war was published in March 1915 (12) as a response on the part of the majority of the movement to the "Manifesto of the Sixteen", the pro-French interventionist declaration of certain individuals such as Kropotkin, Grave, Malato, etc. (13). For some time, instead, Il Libertario allowed room for debate, for example publishing articles by Jean Grave and Maria Rygier, although the line of its editor, Binazzi, and its contributors had been made clear as far back as July 1914 with the article "Né un uomo né un soldo per l'iniqua guerra" (Not one man, not one penny for this unjust war)(14). But there really was not much debate. While anarchism's greatest exponents published widely-distributed pamphlets against the conflict (15), the "interventionist anarchists were unable even to raise the question 'intervention: yes or no' within the anarchist movement and were even unable to constitute a minority. They did eventually form as a group, but only after their position had been demolished by the immediate and spontaneous reaction of a healthy organism" (16).

But, whereas the vast majority was united by the anti-militarist struggle, on a whole range of other questions there continued to be theoretical differences which came to the surface even on the occasion of the Pisa meeting promoted by the individualist newspaper L'Avvenire Anarchico and the editorial group of Il Libertario, who had in other times been against permanent organizational forms and, consequently, sceptic on the usefulness of congressional decisions. In fact, Volontà, the mouthpiece of the anarchist communist current declined to participate, holding such conventions to be academic (17) and drawing a response from Fabbri, who instead considered it "indispensable to meet in order to discuss, to decide [...] Past experience has shown that a large part of our movements failed because we did not know what to do" (18). The Zimmerwald Conference provoked great enthusiasm as a sign of the internationalist renaissance in the workers' movement, but with strategic evaluations which differed on the question of relationships with revolutionary socialism. While recognizing the importance of the event, Fabbri and Borghi were inclined to assign anarchist organization a fundamental role in the reconstruction of internationalism. The more eclectic Binazzi was somewhat more positive regarding the renaissance of the Socialist International, while the individualist Renato Siglich accused everyone of deviationism in the pages of L'Avvenire Anarchico (19). Dissent re-emerged during the clandestine meeting in Ravenna in August 1916 - "the first [...] since the one in Rome in 1907 which represented such a wide range of views within the Italian anarchist movement" (20) - where, while welcoming the re-birth of the socialist international and the establishing of good relations between socialists and anarchists, the latter were considered to have the task of creating an International "which would be open to all the workers and every current of socialist and internationalist thought" (21), forming an Anarchist Internationalist Committee which was to carry out badly-needed work on the internal coordination of the movement, above all in organizing support for the victims of repression, for internees and for exiles. However, it met with some difficulty in carrying out its primary and institutional tasks. The clash between the various tendencies on the role, scope and limits of any agreement with the socialists and the constant efforts of Binazzi to bring together the various factions, ended up paralyzing it to the point that it became impossible to participate in the 3rd Zimmerwald Conference.

The movement developed during the difficult war years, even at the level of nuclei of varying strengths (depending on location), and there was intense activity of class opposition. The anti-militarism of the movements was translated into desertions, single and collective mutinies (22), the promotion of and participation in popular demonstrations, all of which was tangible evidence of the proletariat's resistance to the war. In particular we should mention the protests and public meetings in support of Carlo Tresca (the Italo-American anarchist who was under threat of execution along with other members of the Industrial Workers of the World for having organized strikes in the mining sector) (23) which culminated on 8th September 1916 in a national demonstration in Milan that was massively attended, given the limits imposed by the state of war (24)

The USI, the greater part of which was anarchist, began a series of important struggles such as the action by Valdarno miners directed by the local secretary Riccardo Sacconi. This action began in September 1916 and demanded an 8-hour day which was granted the following May (25). In Sestri Ponente, too, where there was a strong anarchist presence, action by metalworkers seeking the same goal and beginning in January 1917, led to violent clashes and to demonstrations against the war and was followed by repression and the arrest of many militants including Alebrando Giovanetti, one of the leaders of the organization who would later be interned (26). The enthusiasm sparked off by the "February Revolution" in Russia gave further impetus to mass action (27). In the Turin revolt in August 1917 - which brought together all the discontent, the open hostility of the Italian proletariat to the war and the desire for social change, but which also made it clear that any spontaneous insurrection was bound to fail - "some anarchists here and there tried to give the uprising a more decidedly insurrectional direction" (28), as demonstrated by one leaflet which was later used during a trial and contained in the court's final judgement:

"Bring the rifles you make onto the streets and the barricades. Let all the forces of the proletariat rise up and arm themselves. Let us put an end, by force of arms, to the systematic destruction of the human race. Proletarians! Raise now your axes, your picks, your barricades, the social revolution! Proletarian soldiers, desert! If you must fight, let it be against those who oppress you! Your enemy is not at the so-called border, but here. Proletarian women, rise up! Impede the departure of your loved ones! Let it be you, O worker of the factory and of the field, conscious and strong, let it be you who throws down your tools and cries: Enough! No more! We workers no longer wish to make rifles which bring death to our brothers in struggle and in suffering" (29).

The final year of the war saw a noticeable weakening in anarchism, as in the rest of the left, due to repression. Arrest, trial and confinement was the fate for a great many anarchists, who had been at the forefront of the popular revolts. All the movement's newspapers were closed down, with the sole exception of the individualist paper L'Avvenire Anarchico which was published in Pisa and edited by the ambiguous figure of Renato Siglich. The internationalist action committee was broken up with the arrest of Binazzi, Gobbi and Monticelli (who were all sent into confinement) and the death of its fourth member, Gregorio Benvenuti. Even in Switzerland, the numerous colony of exiles, draft-dodgers and deserters was decimated by arrests and deportation to concentration camps. "Over a hundred refugees, many of whom were closely involved in the local workers' movement, [found it] impossible to act for many months, though they were later cleared of all charges" (30).

Next section: The Post-War Organizational Boom



2. See: M. ANTONIOLI, Il movimento anarchico cit.; G. CERRITO, Il movimento anarchico cit.; G. CERRITO, Dall'insurrezionalismo cit.; C. COSTANTINI, Gli anarchici in Liguria durante la prima guerra mondiale, in "Il Movimento Operaio e Socialista in Liguria", 2, 1961, pp. 99-122; E. SANTARELLI, Il socialismo anarchico cit.
3. See: M. ANTONIOLI, Il movimento anarchico cit.
4. On the projected congress in Florence see: Congresso Comunista Anarchico Italiano, in "Volontà", 8 August 1914; C. COSTANTINI, op.cit. p. 102
5. M. ANTONIOLI, Il movimento anarchico cit.
6. On the two conventions see: C. COSTANTINI, op.cit. pp. 107-112; G. CERRITO, L'antimilitarismo cit., pp. 46 and 54; and Un trentennio di attività anarchica 1914-45, Cesena 1953, p. 13.
7. P.C. MASINI, Gli anarchici tra "interventismo" e "disfattismo rivoluzionario", in "Rivista Storica del Socialismo", 5, 1959, pp. 208-212.
8. See: G. CERRITO, Dall'insurrezionalismo cit., passim.
9. Reported in R. DEL CARRIA, Proletari senza rivoluzione. Storia delle classi subalterne dal 1860 al 1950, II, Milan 1970, p. 18.
10. See: Un trentennio, cit., p.13.
11. See in particular: the column Contro la guerra published in "Volontà" starting in October 1914, later substituted by the polemical column Gli interventisti e noi.
12. Manifesto internazionale anarchico contro la guerra, "Volontà", 20 March 1915.
13. Published in "Freedom", London 28 February 1915.
14. See: "Il Libertario", 30 July and 3 September 1914.
15. Amongst many others the most notable are: E. MALATESTA, Réponse de Malatesta au "Manifeste des Seize" Anarchistes du Gouvernement, no publishing information but Paris 1916; UN GRUPPO DI ANARCHICI, La guerra europea e gli anarchici, edited by L. Fabbri, Turin 1916. Amongst those published by the Italian anarchist community in the United States see: P. ALLEGRA, Disonoriamo la guerra, New York 1916, p. 278.
16. P.C. MASINI, Gli anarchici tra "interventismo", cit., p. 209.
17. See: Il Congresso di Firenze, in "Volontà", 26 December 1914.
18. CATILINA [L. FABBRI], Per il Convegno anarchico, ibid, 1 January 1915.
19. See: C. COSTANTINI, op.cit. pp. 109-111.
20. G. CERRITO, L'antimilitarismo cit., p. 54. Participating in the convention were delegates of groups and federations from Bologna, Ravenna, Piacenza, Ferrara, Parma, Modena, Florence, Pisa, Piombino, Carrara, Ardenza, Livorno, Naples, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Sestri Ponente and Valpolcevera, La Spezia, Terni, Vicenza, Venice, Rome, Pesaro.
21. The committee members were: Pasquale Binazzi, Torquato Gobbi, Virgilio Mazzoni, Gregorio Benvenuti and Temistocle Monticelli (see: "Avanti!", 12 August 1916).
22. See: G. CERRITO, L'antimilitarismo cit.; Un trentennio cit.; E. FORCELLA-A. MONTICONE, Plotone di esecuzione, Bari 1968; and the significant work by F. SBARNEMI [B. MISEFARI], Diario di un disertore, Florence 1973.
23. Regarding this, see: A. DADÀ, I rapporti dei "radicali" italo-americani con il movimento operaio statunitense e italiano, in "Italia Contemporanea", 1982, p.146.
24. See: Comunicazione del 10 ottobre 1916 della Prefettura di Milano al Ministero dell'Interno, in ACS, Casell. Pol. Centr., b. 5208.
25. See: "Guerra di Classe", 2 September 1916 and 13 January 1917.
26. See: Sempre, Almanacco n.2 of "Guerra di Classe", 1923, pp. 86-87.
27. See: P.C. MASINI, Gli anarchici italiani e la rivoluzione russa, in "Rivista Storica del Socialismo", 15-16, 1962, pp. 135-169.
28. G. CANDELORO, Storia dell'Italia moderna. VIII. La prima guerra mondiale, il dopoguerra, l'avvento del fascismo, Milan 1978, p. 172.
29. Quoted in Un trentennio cit., p.18.
30. G. Cerrito, L'antimilitarismo cit., p.63.