CLASS WAR, REACTION & THE ITALIAN ANARCHISTS
by Adriana Dadà
A Re-Think On Strategy
For many years in Italy, anarchists "made up, after communists, the largest contingent of political prisoners, internees and subjects of police survey" (116). In the meantime, the emigrant community had begun a tortuous process of reflection on the causes of their defeat, on a review of their strategic lines and their operational decisions which, apart from the various tendencies singing their own praises, saw the initial basis for a clarification.
Some pounced on the negative judgements of the FUR to contest even the need for any agreement with the left, which had shown itself to be "untrustworthy" during the Biennio Rosso. Consequently, they sought to put their energies into the construction of an exclusively "libertarian" coalition, seen as a vast and undefined series of alliances (allowing as much room as possible for initiative by individuals and groups, held together by a generic reference to libertarian principles and methods) which would take the place of the existing anarchist organization which had revealed itself to be inadequate. The choice was reflected in the instruments of the struggle against fascism. In fact, after the unhappy experience of the Comitato d'azione antifascista (Committee for Anti-Fascist Action), led by Ricciotti Garibaldi, the Comitato dell'alleanza libertario (Committee of the Libertarian Alliance), made up only of anarchists, was formed in Paris (117).
The same positions had already been adopted in 1922 by the group behind L'Adunata dei Refrattari (118). Heirs to the worst individualist tradition of Cronaca Sovversiva, which it was inspired by, this newspaper was founded during a difficult period of bitter repression which followed the war and which affected the local revolutionary-inspired workers' movement, involving the Italo-American anarchists. Examples of this were the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, sentenced and executed for crimes they had not committed, of Salsedo, who was arrested and "committed suicide" in prison, and of Galleani, who was deported back to Italy and immediately sent into confinement by the regime (119). Such a situation should have led to the formation of the widest possible proletarian movement with a union of anarchist forces as an integral part of it. Instead, L'Adunata dei Refrattari from the beginning set itself up to "disturb this cosy harmony theorized within the family and which has been fashionable for some time now, in the guise of a Single Front and an alliance of labour". As far as struggle against fascism was concerned, it postulated an ideological "purity" which, rejecting workers' organization as "more a hindrance that an help to the emancipation of the workers", promoted pure and heroic individual action (120). Having arrived in the United States, Armando Borghi accelerated the convergence of the anti-organizationalist currents and launched a campaign against any united anti-fascist agreement which, in his opinion, would only have repeated the failed experience of the FUR (121). At that stage it was becoming inevitable that there would be a clash with the organizationalists who in 1923 had promoted the Alleanza antifascista del Nord America (Anti-Fascist Alliance of North America), with an autonomous and original line, with the aim of combating fascism in Italy and its spread to the United States, grouping together all those political and labour organizations who agreed with that goal (122).
The increasing bitterness of the polemics (which reached crisis point starting in 1926) provoked a split among Italian anarchist immigrants into two opposing camps. It was a split which would spread from the US towards Europe, where with the help of various factors, amongst which the stress of exile, the anti-organizationalist faction was to gain greater momentum. Although in his public statement Malatesta took a prudent line in order not to accentuate the divisions, he felt that it was necessary to take a more decided position in private. Writing to Borghi in July 1926, he said:
"As far as I am concerned, organization between men with the same goals and who want to reach them with the same means is always the first thing to do. Since the UAI has a programme that I accept and seeks to unite only those who accept its programme, I am for the UAI. Cordial relations with anarchists of all tendencies, specific agreements for specific aims, general cooperation in everything on which there is agreement, yes; but fusion and confusion, no. Uniting on any other basis with the so-called individualists and anti-organizationalists would effectively mean putting oneself under the control of these people who, when they are not je m'en fautiste, are authoritarians who reject the word organization but who in reality aim at creating personal organizations, dependent on the uncontrollable wishes of a few people [...] Apart from anything else, what is important to me is not organization as such, but the spirit of organization; when there is this spirit of organization, organization arises when it is needed and takes the forms that circumstances require and permit. Now, it is the spirit of organization which is generally lacking among anarchists; and mixing together the organized and the 'anti-organizationalists' is no way to develop it. My wish would be for all anarchists to organize themselves according to their various tendencies and that the various organizations would establish cordial relations of mutual aid. And this would naturally be without stopping individuals or small groups, whether they belong to the general organizations or not, from acting separately for specific purposes. They would be free to do so and would also receive, when possible, any necessary aid. If only they would do it, instead of acting stupidly!" (123).
It was a bitter realization of the failure of the attempt made in 1920 to keep the various tendencies united by omitting the very things that provide that clarity which is indispensable for the life of a political organization if it is to be successful and be a point of reference for the masses. In fact, the nature of a synthesis (more in name than in fact) of the non-homogeneous positions of the emigrant anarchist organizations could not bestow on them the presence and strength which even the UAI, with all its faults, had demonstrated during the Biennio Rosso, as they were lacking the essential elements which the UAI had: a programme and a strategy for creating the necessary alliances in order to carry it out. In these circumstances, the intransigent opposition to fascism by the anarchists, even though fiercely waged under various forms both inside and outside the country, sorely lacked coordination and, even more so, a united strategy.
However, there was now growing awareness of the need for a critical re-think on the causes of the defeat of the revolution in Italy and elsewhere in the world, the need to come up with a plan, a strategy, an organizational and operational concept which could firmly establish anarchism on the left and allow it to regain its dominant position in the revolutionary process. A firm step in that direction was taken by the "Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists - Draft" published in Paris by the Delo Truda group of exiled Russian anarchists (124). Its programmatic points were: the principle of the class struggle and anarchist communism, labour activity as an indispensable method of revolutionary struggle and the creation of a positive programme for the period of transition of the revolution. It also promoted an organization whose members would have to be fully responsible with regard to the common strategy.
Leaving aside the excessive importance attributed to the organizational structures, it has to be admitted that the "Platform" was the first constructive re-thinking on the international defeat which the anarchists had suffered in the 1920s, and it was to be received with enthusiasm by some groups, such as the French and Bulgarian federations. Clearly, such a proposal sparked off debate in Italy's libertarian circles. One group of militants joined the initiative and formed the 1st Italian Section of the new organization (125). Fabbri gave a calm and balanced view when he wrote that
"it places under discussion a number of problems inherent to the anarchist movement, to the place of anarchists in the revolution, to anarchist organization in the struggle, and so on. These need to be resolved if anarchism is to continue to provide answers to the growing needs of the struggle and of present-day social life" (126).
Nevertheless, the majority of the Italian movement, though accepting that it had committed some of the errors indicated in the document, refused to accept its organizational proposals which were essential if a new direction was to be taken. And the lack of receptiveness to this essential point was to be one of the principal causes of the decline in the anarchist presence within the class struggle in Italy.
116. E. SANTARELLI, Il socialismo anarchico cit., p. 195.
117. On the birth and the programme of the Committee of the Libertarian Alliance, see: Comitato Alleanza Antifascista di Parigi, 2-page pamphlet with attached 4-page pamphlet Compagno ascolta, deposited at the Internationaal Anstituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (abbr. IISGA), Fondo Ugo Fedeli, b. 109.
118. See: G. CERRITO, Sull'emigrazione anarchica italiana negli Stati Uniti d'America, in "Volontà" (Genoa) 4, 1969.
119. See: Un trentennio cit., passim. On the repression against the US workers' movement after the First World War, see: W. PRESTON, Aliens and Dissenters, New York 1963; and R.C. BOYER-H.M. MORAIS, Storia del movimento operaio negli Stati Uniti, Bari 1974.
120. È permesso, in "L'Adunata dei Refrattari", New York 15 April 1922; and A che serve l'organizzazione, ibid, New York 15 May 1922.
121. On the positions taken by A. Borghi in the United States, see his Gli anarchici e le alleanze, New York undated [but 1927]. Later, he was to deny his involvement in the FUR during the Biennio Rosso in Italy (see: A. BORGHI, Mezzo secolo cit., p. 314).
122. On the organization's programme, see: Alleanza Antifascista del Nord America, in "Il Martello", New York 24 October 1925.
123. Lettera di Errico Malatesta ad Armando Borghi dell'11 luglio 1926 in IISGA, Fondo Nettalu, b. Adunata-Malatesta, Borghi-Malatesta correspondence.
124. The document was published in Paris in 1926 by Edition des vres Anarchistes. Librairie internazionale. The Platform and material concerning the successive debate are contained in Italian translation in G. CERRITO, Il ruolo dell'organizzazione anarchica, Pistoia 1973, pp. 259-360. Available in English at The Nestor Makhno Archive
125. See: Manifesto Comunista Anarchico della I Sezione in IISGA, Fondo Ugo Fedeli, b. 175. For information on the group, see: G. CERRITO, Il ruolo cit., p.92. Available in English at The Nestor Makhno Archive
126. L. FABBRI, Un progetto di organizzazione anarchica, in "Il Martello", New York 17 and 24 November 1927 (now in G. CERRITO, Il ruolo cit., pp. 315-324). Available in English at The Nestor Makhno Archive