CLASS WAR, REACTION & THE ITALIAN ANARCHISTS
by Adriana Dadą
The Post-War Organizational Boom
Despite all this, the end of the war marked a return to mass activity and organization within the movement. The October Revolution had awoken in anarchists (and not only them) hopes that Italy could replicate events in Russia. Historians are still unclear on the extent of such expectation and on the role that parties and labour unions played in feeding, directing or moderating these hopes, but some studies have been made on the causes and the international dimensions of the phenomenon (31). However, from 1917 until the end of 1920, the libertarians' internationalism led them to be convinced of the possibility of revolution in Italy (32), bearing in mind the differing positions of the various currents and individuals - from that of Malatesta (still insurrectionalist but conscious of the roles assigned to the anarchist organization and the mass organization) to the more articulate views of Fabbri, passing through the myriad nuances of all the various individuals and groups reflecting their geographical differences, social composition and involvement of militants with the class.
In February-March 1919, two important periodicals resumed publication - Il Libertario in La Spezia and Volontą in Ancona which, edited by Luigi Fabbri, made a notable contribution to the analysis of the problems of the post-war period together with a lucid and critical defence of the Russian Revolution (34). In April, the process of re-organization was already well under way with the convention held in Florence in the rooms of the local Labour Club (35). A significant point regarding was the fact that it was preceded by a series of preparatory regional meetings (amongst which one in Umbria-Marches and one in Emilia-Romagna which were notable for the efforts made to emphasize the question of political and economic organization before and after the revolution and relations with other parties on the left) (36) and also the lively debate in the press which sought to ensure that delegates were really representative and came from groups which were active among the masses. The Unione Anarchica Anconetana (Ancona Anarchist Union), a strong organization, was in the frontline of this battle, demanding that those who were to participate in the convention be really representative of organized anarchist forces" (37).
The organization which grew out of the convention took the significant name Unione Comunista Anarchica d'Italia (UCAdI - Anarchist Communist Union of Italy) and marked a separation from the humanistic and individualist currents which in general were composed of a series of groups and often individuals but which possessed journals such as L'Avvenire Anarchico, La Frusta and Cronaca Sovversiva that had a certain influence over some sectors of the movement which had not yet been integrated into the various territorial organizations. The convention also re-affirmed the urgency of re-establishing international contacts (the UCAdI considered itself to be the Italian section of an International Anarchist Union) and it therefore began the necessary preparations for participating in the founding congress of the Third International "which [censored] would support anarchism's heavy demands" (38). Together with the directing committee, a correspondence commission was created, which functioned as a secretariat (39). But attention was focused mainly on the situation in Italy in an attempt to establish what propaganda instruments and political action were most needed.
"With regard to workers' organization the convention holds that workers' organization and struggle against the bosses is essential for the revolutionary movement and that therefore it is in the interests of anarchists to participate in this in order to promote revolution and anarchism. We must remember that the destruction of the capitalist and authoritarian society is only possible through revolutionary means and that the use of the general strike and the labour movement must not make us forget the more direct methods of struggle against state and bourgeois violence and extreme power. We note that the Unione Sindacale Italiana is currently (and was during the war) the closest [labour organization] to the cause of internationalism, without compromise or wavering. Without wishing to create binding duties which are incompatible with the conviction that political groups and class organizations must be autonomous and independent, this convention recommends that its worker comrades assist the Unione Sindacale Italiana to the best of their abilities and each within his or her own trade category, so that it may continue to hold to its revolutionary, anti-State and anti-centralization positions" (40).
In other words, the motion expressed a precise position in favour of labour intervention, while confirming the need to preserve a precise, autonomous role for the anarchist political organization. As for how Italian anarchists were involved in the labour struggle, there was great variety in the unions to which they belonged. A large number were members of the USI, which in the following two years would reach a membership of 800,000 workers and 27 Labour Clubs. Others were active in unions belonging to the Confederation, with a significant number in the FIOM (the metalworkers union which was federated to the CGdL), even appearing at the confederal conference of 1921 as a single group (41). Others still were members of independent unions such as the Sindacato Ferrovieri (Railworkers' Union) and the Federazione dei Marittimi (Maritime Workers' Federation). But it was above all in the struggles that the anarchist presence grew and strengthened.
The attack on L'Avanti! in April 1919 gave impetus to the anarchist proposal for the creation of a revolutionary single front, in other words the union of all workers and organizations of the left (which was to become a fundamental element of the tactical-strategic line in the mid-term), approved during the Bologna congress in 1920 (42). The first real test of the practicality of this came about during the protests against the rising cost of living, adjudged by some commentators to be the peak of the revolutionary tensions of the Biennio Rosso, the Two Red Years. Borghi would later say: "It was the moment when we were best placed for a revolution" (43). For Fabbri too they represented, together with the Ancona revolt of June 1920 and the factory occupations, moments when the "monarchical institutions were on the point of being overthrown. It was only because their adversaries were lacking order that they were not overthrown" (44). Furthermore, Fabbri attributed the principal responsibility for the failure of the revolution to the socialists without, however, hiding the shortcomings of the anarchist movement:
"This did not exclude the fact that in many places and in various spontaneous ways, revolutionaries of the different schools of thought acted, prepared and agitated. But what was missing was coordination of their efforts, concrete facts and wide-ranging preparation which could have initiated the revolution even in spite of the reluctance and passive resistance of the more moderate socialist elements" (45).
Anarchists were without doubt closely involved in the workers' and peasants' demonstrations which marked 1919 "as a period of preparation, clashes and an indication of a much deeper and radical crisis which was affecting the country's institutions and structures" (46). But the movement (which was still regrouping after the constitution of the UCAdI) did not yet have a solid, definite strategy to offer its member groups in an advanced stage of organization, at least in regions such as Liguria, Lazio and especially Emilia-Romagna, where delegates from 80 different groups met at a congress in Bologna in September 1919 (47). On its part, the USI was enjoying a boom in its membership following the war years and was acting more as a collateral organization that as an autonomous force (48), in effect mimicking the role of the CGdL with respect to the PSI.
Next section: The Role Of Malatesta
31. For information about anarchist involvement in the
Biennio Rosso, see: L. FABBRI, La contro-rivoluzione preventiva, Bologna 1922, now in
Il fascismo e i partiti politici italiani. Testimonianze del 1921-23, edited by R. De Felice, Bologna 1966; A. BORGHI,
½ secolo di anarchia, Naples 1954; A. BORGHI, La rivoluzione
mancata, Milan 1964 (revised edition of A. BORGHI, L'Italia fra i due
Crispi, Paris 1921); E. MALATESTA, Scritti. I. "Umanitą Nova". Pagine di lotta
quotidiana; II. "Umanitą Nova". pagine di lotta quotidiana e scritti vari del
1919-23, Geneva 1934-1936 (reprint, Carrara 1975); Un trentennio cit.; P.C. MASINI,
Anarchici e comunisti nel movimento dei consigli a Torino (1919-20), Turin 1951 (reprint, Florence 1970); P.C. MASINI,
Antonio Gramsci e l'Ordine Nuovo visti da un libertario, Livorno 1956; P.C. MASINI,
Gli anarchici italiani e la rivoluzione russa cit.
32. On the positions of the Italian anarchist movement regarding the Russian Revolution, ibid.
33. See: G. BIANCO-C. COSTANTINI, "Il Libertario" dalla fondazione alla I guerra mondiale, in "Il Movimento Operaio e Socialista in Liguria", 6, 1960, pp. 131-154.
34. L. BETTINI, Bibliografia dell'anarchismo. II, Periodici e numeri unici anarchici in lingua italiana pubblicati in Italia (1872-1970), 1, Florence 1972, pp. 167-171, 277-278; and P.C. MASINI, Gli anarchici italiani e la rivoluzione cit., passim.
35. For a report on the convention see: "Il Libertario", 17 April 1919.
36. On the conventions in Umbria-Marches (Fabriano 22-23 March 1919) and Emilia-Romagna (Bologna 23 March 1919), ibid.
37. Per un convegno fra gli anarchici, ibid, 13 March 1919.
38. Ibid, 17 April 1919.
39. G. BIANCO, L'attivitą degli anarchici nel biennio rosso (1919-20), in "Il Movimento Operaio e Socialista in Liguria", April-June 1961.
40. "Il Libertario", 17 April 1919.
41. See the pamphlet Sulle direttive della Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. Il pensiero dei comunisti anarchici confederati. Febbraio 1921, Rome 1921, p. 10.
42. Infra, pp. 391 ff.
43. Infra, pp.
43. A. BORGHI, ½ secolo cit., p. 153.
44. L. FABBRI, La contro-rivoluzione cit., p.19.
45. Ibid, p. 21.
46. E. SANTARELLI, Storia del fascismo I. La crisi liberale, Rome 1973, p. 157. On the activity of anarchists in 1919, see also: ACS, Min. Interno. Dir. Gen. P.S., Affari Gener. e Riservati, K 1, 1920, b. 79.
47. See: Un trentennio cit., p. 23.
48. See the motion from the the Florence convention, above.