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(en) Class War, Reaction & the Italian Anarchists - Part II

Date Fri, 04 Nov 2005 15:33:22 +0200

The daily was only one of the ways the anarchist voice could be heard.
"Throughout the Biennio Rosso the anarchists were able to participate in force
in the popular and workers' movements, first mixing in with them and then
aiming at a more marked distinction" (70). As was observed,
"they are not external to the working class, but represent a precise sector of
it, the most unstable sector, newly formed and not linked to the reformist
tradition. They have their greatest support among the new, young working class,
among the proletarized middle class of office workers and posts and telegraphs
workers, and also among the old islands of traditional anarchist support (the
railway workers, independent trades, etc.)" (71).

Actually, they were also present in other sectors such as the metalworkers.
They were already in the majority in the USI, but in some regions formed
independent unions and were often in charge of or well represented in
autonomous Labour Clubs in places like Sestri Ponente, Sampierdarena,
Savona-Vado, Livorno, in various parts of Emilia-Romagna and the Marches. They
had militants in the Sindacato Ferrovieri, the Federazione dei Lavoratori del
Mare, and others. In places where it was not possible to create independent
unions or where their creation would have provoked artificial divisions, they
worked in the Labour Clubs and within the professional unions of the CGdL, for
example in Turin, where they formed a conspicuous and active component of the
important metallurgical sector. The anarchists in the Piedmontese capital gave,
in fact, high importance to action in the confederal mass organization.
According to the anarchist Pietro Ferrero, secretary of the local metalworkers'

"In Turin there was no branch of the Unione Sindacale Italiana at the time and
the anarchists, with the exception of the anti-organizationalists, were members
of the FIOM branch and, as convinced partisans of proletarian unity, actively
participated in this new movement [the factory councils], in the hopes of their
bringing results" (72).

Anarchism was able to establish itself "at the heart of the class struggle in
the city of Turin during the four years after the end of the war and provided
one of the best militants in the course of the resistance in the person of
Pietro Ferrero, who was murdered by the fascists on 18 December 1922" (73).
Particularly significant was the influence anarchists had on the theories
expressed by Ordine Nuovo, thanks especially to Maurizio Garino and Pietro
Mosso an assistant in theoretical philosophy at the local university and author
of the book "Il Sistema Taylor ed i consigli dei produttori" (The Taylor System
and the producers' councils) under the pen-name of Carlo Petri (74). It comes
as no surprise that the Gruppo Libertario Torinese (Turin Libertarian Group)
was one of the signatories of the manifesto "Per il congresso dei consigli di
fabbrica. Agli operai e ai contadini di tutta Italia" (For the congress of
factory councils. To the workers and peasants of all Italy), launched in March
1920 by Ordine Nuovo in order to promote the use of councils (75). Even at the
meeting of the Labour Club in December 1919, Garino and the anarchists had been
decisive in the victory of the pro-council current. As Gramsci wrote:

"When Garino, the anarchist syndicalist, spoke [...] on the matter and spoke
with great dialectic efficacy and warmth, we (unlike comrade Tasca) were
pleasantly surprised and felt a deep emotion [...] The attitude of comrade
Garino, a libertarian, a syndicalist, was proof of the profound conviction we
have always had that in the real revolutionary process the entire working class
spontaneously discovers theoretical unity and practical unity" (76).

The struggle of the metalworkers in the spring of 1920 began in February in
Sestri Ponente and reached its peak with the "sciopero delle lancette" (a
series of strike actions in protest of the introduction of summer time) in
March in Turin. Anarchists constantly dedicated their efforts to expanding the
councils, in an attempt to transform the labour action into insurrectional
action. Undoubtedly, the conception developed in anarchist circles of this new
institution (the factory council), bore noticeable differences from that if the
supporters of Ordine Nuovo, set out in the motion presented by Ferrero and
Garino at the Turin Labour Club meeting in June and detailed in the report
presented to the anarchist national congress in July of that year in Bologna.
At the congress, Garino confirmed the need to promote the creation of factory
councils as "they bring the class struggle into its natural terrain, endowing
it with the strength to conquer". He considered their primary tasks "first,
immediate action; second, to guarantee the continuity of production in the
insurrectionary period; third, to be perhaps the basis for communist
management". Basically, for anarchists the importance of the councils lay in
the fact that they ensured the participation of all workers "without
distinction [...] organized or not, on the basis of their various sectors" and
that they could operate as unitary instruments of struggle and management: "the
Council as an anti-State organ and the Council as an organ of power" (77).

The common point between the anarchists and the Ordinovists was their demand
that every worker, whether belonging to a union or not, had an equal voice
within the councils. However, they differed in that the former refused to
consider the councils as the basis for a new State, a soviet State. Other
differences lay in stressing the criteria that only in the revolutionary phase
could the councils act as effective instruments of class struggle (and,
therefore, spread to all sectors of social life) and in pointing out the risks
of their degenerating into joint management bodies of a non-communist system.
Endorsing these points, the anarchist congress in Bologna approved a motion
which read (in part):

"While noting that the factory and departmental councils are important above
all in light of the proximity of the revolution and of the fact that they can
be the technical organs of expropriation and of the necessary, immediate
continuation of production, but that, by continuing to exist within the current
society, they would be prey to the moderating and accommodating influence of
this society, we believe that the factory councils and suitable instruments for
grouping all manual and intellectual workers in their workplaces, for communist
and anarchist purposes and that they are absolutely anti-State organs and
possible nuclei of the future running of industrial and agricultural
production. They are useful for developing in the waged worker the
consciousness of producer and also, for the purposes of the revolution, for
helping to transform the discontent of the industrial and agricultural workers
into a clear desire for expropriation. We therefore invite comrades to support
the formation of factory councils and to participate actively in their
development in order to maintain their organic structure and their functions as
outlined here, to fight any tendency towards collaborationist deviations and to
ensure that when they are formed all the workers in each factory participate,
whether they are organized or not" (78).

As far as the soviets were concerned, the meeting relied on the report by
Sandro Molinari which, in effect, repeated what was said regarding the
councils. They were adjudged to be important bodies during the revolutionary
phase but mention was made of the risks of authoritarian, collaborationist or
statist deviations (79). The introductory report on workers' organization was
made by Fabbri, who stressed the need to "let workers' organizations and
political organizations remain independent of each other" and to "occupy
ourselves with the work of anarchist comrades [within the unions] to ensure
that it increasingly promotes revolutionary and libertarian goals" (80). Fabbri
had already written on the subject in Umanità Nova during the days leading up
to the congress, proposing that the motion on the matter approved at the
Florence convention the previous year be presented again, and suggesting that
"a statement in favour of proletarian unity be added". In recalling this
principle, he criticized the split between the Unione Sindacale and the CGdL
which, he said, though "provoked by the evil designs of the reformists [...],
was a mistake", as it had not produced the effects desired by the reformists,
given that "in many places the anarchists remained as members of the
confederation", because of their "desire for unity". he also negatively
considered the USI's propensity for encouraging others to leave the CGdL:

"If I had to give advice, I would ask the comrades to avoid provoking splits
within the unions, the Labour Clubs, etc., to which they belong [...] Workers'
organization, which is based on the workers' interests, tends to adapt itself
to its environment in order to obtain the best results for its members. It is
not, as was once said, automatically revolutionary or libertarian".

The real question lay instead in the strategy anarchists should have within the
unions: an anti-collaborationist and anti-reformist strategy, able to involve
non-anarchist workers, to create "that revolutionary minority whose function is
to give the first blow on the closed doors of the future" and to coordinate
themselves within the structures of the party (81). But there were other
positions argued during the meeting, such as Fantozzi's, which held that it was
"disgraceful that anarchist workers are still members of the Confederation of
Labour", Borghi's, which extolled the virtues of the USI without demanding that
people join it, Binazzi's (poorly supported) middle-of-the-road position, which
saw no difficulty with people joining either union. Then there was the Turin
group's position, which insisted on the importance of action within the
confederation, if possible forming "opposition groups of anarchists,
syndicalists and revolutionary communists". Garino maintained that it was
because "this was not the moment to force a split in those places where there
was proletarian unity, given the times that were in it". At the end, a motion
prevailed (with the support of Malatesta) which did not take into account the
breadth of debate and in effect took an easy line of exclusive support for the

"This Congress [...], given the current situation where several workers'
organizations exist, once more considers that the Unione Sindacale Italiana is
the one which today best embodies revolutionary and libertarian ideals. Our
solidarity goes to those comrades who devote their activity to it with a spirit
of abnegation. We advise comrades to promote the action of the USI as and as
long as it remains on the terrain of revolutionary, anti-State action, both by
becoming members and helping to form new branches, and (where this is not
possible due to local conditions and in order not to provoke damaging splits)
by uniting into direct action groups or committees to oppose reformism all
those revolutionary elements who are still (as a result of the above needs)
members of other organizations, and ensuring that these groups or committees
act together with the USI" (82).

In more general terms, though marked by lively and complex debate, the Bologna
congress was an indicator of the internal difficulty in the growth of the
post-war movement where recourse was made to compromise between the various
tendencies. In effect, the "pact of alliance" approved at the meeting was an
attempt to hold together federations, groups and individuals with different
ideas, binding them through a "programme", which would become impossible to
realize given the total local and individual autonomy which the pact itself
guaranteed. Discussion on the subject revealed at least two well-defined
positions. The first position was hostile to any form of organization, tied to
the guarantee of absolute freedom of the individual or the group. The second
position was that in order to guarantee that the Unione Anarchica Italiana (UAI
- Italian Anarchist Union) - the new name of the UCAdI - could function well,
only those who accepted an organization which though not centralized, operated
on the basis of federations according to a programme that would have to be
binding for all once approved.

"The contradictions in the UAI's action and in the 'Pact' it approved are
evident, and are obviously the consequence of the instrumental function which
the UAI was to have had at that particular political moment. Thus it tried to
bridge the gap between the founding principles of anarchism and operational
efficiency, in order to reach certain goals, by artificially overcoming the
contrasting methods and strategies of its militants. It reminded its members of
the moral obligation attached to decisions reached but recognized, on the other
hand, the right to full autonomy. It gave its members a series of practical
regulations regarding the working of groups, the payment of dues, the process
for convening assemblies, expulsions, etc., while on the other hand confirming
that every group or circle which was a member of the UAI could establish its
own internal constitution and decide its own activity in whatever way it chose
and in full autonomy, thereby automatically permitting the various groups to
establish their own regulations even if they differed from those set out in the
'Pact'" (83).

Furthermore, the Programme itself, which should have provided cohesion for all
the components of the movement, limited itself to outlining the project for a
future anarchist communist society without defining the tactics and strategy
required in order to reach this objective, trusting practically exclusively to
the insurrectional moment, for which it was necessary to "prepare oneself
mentally and materially so that the outbreak of violent struggle would lead to
a victory of the people" (84). Instead of an organic line, the congress created
a badly-connected series of strategies and failed to create adequate mechanisms
for the main proposal, the Fronte unico rivoluzionario (FUR - Revolutionary
Single Front). In Fabbri's words, approved by the congress:

"it is not a single front of revolutionary parties, but between revolutionary
elements in various places, even in opposition to the will of the leaders and
without the blessing of the various organizations, the UAI included. It is a
matter of local agreements made possible by an affinity of intent, especially
with regard to action" (85).

Given such a set-up, if it were to be practicable there would have to be
theoretical, objective and organizational unity together with a good level of
efficiency, on the part of the whole movement. But within the Unione Anarchica
Italiana this unity was only apparent, not real.

Alongside the official pronouncements, the congress was also the scene of a
secret meeting in order to agree (it would seem) a plan of operations in light
of the expected insurrection (86). In this area the anarchists showed
themselves to be full of initiative and capable of acting as advanced nuclei of
attack and defence in the waves of popular and workers' uprising, and in
extreme resistance to fascism with an effect that was superior to their
numbers. The group from la Spezia had established relations with sailors and
soldiers and in May 1920 they launched an assault on the Monte Albano fort in
Migliarino and, in agreement with some of the guards, tried in vain to take
possession of an arms depot. Significantly, the police did not make any arrests
even though they were well aware of the incident, for fear of provoking "a
general strike of protest" (87). The Fascio Libertario Torinese (Turin
Libertarian Group) formed close ties with soldiers (even with officers and
junior officers) who secretly frequented the Labour Club. "The anarchist
communists of Turin", according to a June 1919 report by General Scipioni,
"have well-defined tasks for action: to blow up railway bridges, to cut
telegraph and telephone communications and to isolate local authorities from
any outside contact" (88). In April 1920, anarchists from Piombino, Livorno and
Genoa blocked a convoy of troops being sent to Turin, the scene at the time of
the "sciopero delle lancette". Not to mention the role of anarchists in the
Ancona revolt the following June where "soldiers armed the workers", as Borghi
reports, "and the workers defended the soldiers" (89).

The FUR was prepared to put into application temporary, local agreements which
were often imposed by events, with socialists, republicans and subversives. Its
best prospects seemed to lie in national initiatives and conventions jointly
called by the mass organizations in defence of political victims and of the
Russian Revolution, which fostered fervid hopes. Nonetheless, even the
convention in Bologna in August 1920 called by the railworkers' union, which
was massively attended, did not lead to the creation of unity. Certainly, a
large part of the blame was due to the unwillingness of the PSI, but in part
also thanks to the attitude of Malatesta who was reluctant to accept a
permanent committee for fear of the power it could have assumed (90). Once
again, then, we see the uncertainty of his position (shared at the time by a
large part of the movement) whose roots lay in uncritical trust in spontaneity,
in the imminence of the revolution and in the intent to leave the people to do
things by themselves.

Above all, it was the workers' and peasants' struggles (which reinforced the
conviction of their leading automatically to a revolution in society) which
provided anarchists with fertile terrain to push for the immediate putting into
operation of the FUR. The effect was the transformation of a mid-term strategy
into the only strategy and the loss of understanding of the need for an
organization of anarchists which would function as a centre of coordination and
a reference point for the masses. However, their work went well beyond their
intense operational activity, encompassing well-aimed analysis of the situation
and the reformist attempts at limiting the initiative of the proletariat with
the usual rules and regulations. Even after the end of the Mazzonis case (a
conclusion effectively stage-managed by the government, which re-possessed
factories occupied by workers in order to hand them back to their owners after
agreeing new contracts with the workers), Umanità Nova wrote:

"We regret that those who we believe to be sincerely revolutionaries have acted
with complicity in this affair. What have our friends of Ordine Nuovo got to
say about this parody of communism of the Factory Councils, which they support
so warmly? Or about this loudly-acclaimed attempt at communism in a bourgeois
regime with the blessing of a minister of the king? And what about the
abstentionist communists in the Partito Socialista?" (91).

It must be stressed that this denunciation anticipated (and perhaps led to) the
position of the Ordinovists laid out in Togliatti's article "New Tactics" (92).
In more general terms, it has been noted, with respect to the views of the
other forces on the left, that

"the position of the anarchists during the period of the factory occupations
was always one of revolutionary intervention and extension and, at the same
time, of conflict with respect to intervention on practices. It is not a
hurriedly cobbled together political position, just a step in the development
of an analysis and tactics rooted in a wider background and in decisions and
choices which are particularly referred to the period following the First
World War"

In fact, right from the very start of the metalworkers action, it was followed
closely and commentated, its development was examined, the position with regard
to the reformists was examined and there were attempts to extend the struggle
and connect it to other categories of industry and agriculture (94). Equally,
attention was focused on the new proletarian grassroots organizations which had
developed out of the need to organize and manage production in order that the
revolutionary transition could begin (95). When the action culminated in the
occupation of factories, the anarchists showed themselves to be aware that
there were no longer sufficient economic margins for negotiation and that the
clash with the bourgeoisie had shifted onto the political terrain. The
understood the particular nature of the moment when the masses, overcoming the
traditional insurrectional methods, took possession of the means of production,
actually putting revolutionary expropriation into practice (on 7 September,
after calling for the factories not to be abandoned, Umanità Nova stated that
"never again will such a favourable occasion present itself to begin
expropriating the capitalists with the minimum loss of blood")(96). Seeing the
risk of isolation, they proposed expanding the movement to other sectors up to
the level of local administration. This was the situation in which a convention
was called by the USI for 7 September in Sampierdarena, with the participation
of the rail, sea and port workers, grocers and CGdL delegates. "All these
workers", wrote Borghi (97), "are in favour of a courageous decision: to do the
deed, to occupy immediately Italy's biggest port, Genoa, the other Ligurian
ports, and other branches of industry". Equally perceptive was the prediction
that the abandonment of the factories would inevitably spark off the fury of
reaction. (98).


The end of the great wave of struggle that had culminated in the factory
occupations added to the repercussions in Italy of the international economic
crisis to create the conditions for the defeat of any revolutionary hopes that
anarchists had had during the Biennio Rosso. At the same time, the wounds
produced by the war in the capitalist world were healing, while it was becoming
ever-clearer that there would be no further spreading of the Russian Revolution
in its Bolshevik version. At this point, the anarchist movement (which had
provided, both in Italy and elsewhere, a not irrelevant contribution to the
blocking of episodes of armed counter-revolutionary intervention) was losing
the reserve which it had thus far maintained for the sake of unity of the left,
and began to voice its dissent regarding the management of and the road to
revolution and to protest against the persecution of anarchists in Russia. The
basic criticism lay in the degradation of the soviets, proclaimed by the
Bolsheviks as the basis of revolutionary action and the instruments of the new
order, but which were instead suffocated by the "dictatorship of the
proletariat". This, in practice, was a dictatorship of the communist party
which, with its centralizing apparatus, crushed the truly democratic
structures. This was the line taken by Fabbri in his "Dittatura e rivoluzione",
written in August 1920 but, significantly, only published the following year
(99). So it was that the 3rd Congress of the UAI (in Ancona, November 1921)
confirmed "its enthusiastic solidarity with the Russian revolution and its firm
intention to rise in its defence against any reactionary attempt to destroy it
by governments of other countries", while declaring however that it "in no way
recognized the so-called communist government of Russia as the representative
of the revolution" and expressing "its heartiest solidarity with the anarchists
of Russia who are being denied all freedom and who are imprisoned and
persecuted for the [...] crimes of publishing, meeting, organizing and
propagating their ideas" (100).

But the debate on the conduct of the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists on the
dictatorship of the proletariat would only later have any sort of notable
influence on attempts to revise strategy. In the years from 1920 to 1925,
instead, attention was fixed on the re-emergence of State repression and on the
spread of fascism which was unleashing armed acts of aggression against the
workers' movement, destroying the organizational structures which the masses
had devoted untiring energies into building. The more dedicated militants were
being assassinated or forced out of their home towns into exile or temporary
refuge elsewhere. Already in October 1920, that is to say practically
immediately after the abandoning of the factories, the offices of Umanità Nova
in Milan were twice subjected to searches. The police arrested some of the
best-known members of the UAI and the USI, such as Malatesta and Borghi, for
"conspiracy against the State". Preparations for the trial dragged on for a
long time as the prosecution struggled to find a plausible charge on which to
prosecute and the trial did not begin until July 1921 (101). The prisoners
began a hunger strike in March, which led to a series of solidarity protests
and strikes led by the USI. The unease created by the arrests and by police
measures drove some individualists into isolated action. On 23 March 1921, a
bomb at the Diana Theatre in Milan, designed to hit the police chief, missed
its target and killed around twenty people (102). The resulting shock in public
opinion led to the most violent repression, while fascist squads ransacked the
offices of L'Avanti! and of Umanità Nova (which in May had to move to Rome
where it was able, with some difficulty, to continue publication until December
1922)(103) and began a vicious hunt for "subversives".

Anarchists have long debated the episode and it is still difficult to establish
to what extent infiltrated agents provocateurs were involved in the attempt on
the life of the police chief. "If E. Malatesta had not been arbitrarily
detained in prison for such a long time", declared one of the men sentenced for
the slaughter, "the bombing would never even have been thought of" (104). And
though Malatesta (who, together with his comrades, had immediately suspended
the hunger strike) totally disagreed politically with the bombers, while
demonstrating a certain comprehension from a human point of view, the position
of others was much more severe.

"Let it be perfectly clear", wrote Fabbri, "that given the choice between the
bourgeois judges and the prisoners, between the accusers and the accused, we
will defend the latter - in full accord with our function as defenders of the
downtrodden and the weak, but we defend them for superior reasons of humanity
and justice, as irresponsible victims and not as defenders of an idea. We
defend them and help them, but we by no means celebrate them" (105).

The affair contributed to some extent to weakening the anarchist movement and,
more generally, the whole workers' movement, exposing its weaknesses which were
already to be seen with the first signs of repression. The convention of
popular forces which was quickly called in Florence in order to promote
protests and active solidarity with Malatesta, Borghi and the other prisoners,
brought no results (Serrati even went so far as to describe the arrest as a
"sporadic episode")(106), demonstrating the inability to reach agreement, even
on common defence, among the parties and organizations of the Italian left,
their incomprehension and their unreadiness to face up to the reaction and
fascism. For anarchism in particular, this shortcoming was closely linked to
the basic fact that "it had not been able to develop a strategy for the
revolutionary transition which would place it in a position to lead the masses"
(107). Certainly, as we have already seen, the Bologna congress had established
certain points, a number of partial policies. And in fact, the supporters of
that strategy had involved themselves in the class struggle which, during the
Biennio Rosso, was at its height in exactly those areas where they were
concentrated - and it was no coincidence. But just as these actions, though
widespread over some while, failed to lead to a more generalized revolt, the
Italian anarchist movement too (fooled by a false theoretical unity and unity
of purpose which undermined any chance of debate or organizational growth
within the UAI) was unable, as a political movement, to work out a strategy
which could face the various stages of development, based on experience and
political development. This insufficiency did not escape Malatesta, who
remarked on it with great clarity in January 1920:

"On the streets, in action, the masses are with us and are ready to act; but at
the moment of truth, they allow themselves to be sweet-talked, becoming
disheartened and disillusioned; we always find ourselves defeated and isolated.
Why? [...] Because we are disorganized, or not organized enough. The others
have the means to transmit news, be it true or false, quickly and everywhere,
and they use these means in order to influence opinion and direct any action in
whatever way they want. By means of their leagues, their sections and
federations, by having trusted elements in every area, safe houses, and so on,
they can launch a movement when it serves their purposes and halt it when the
goal is reached [...] The situations I have described will certainly be
reproduced in Italy and in the not too distant future. Do we really wish to
find ourselves in the same unprepared state, powerless to successfully oppose
the manoeuvrings of tricksters and to obtain the best possible results from any
revolutionary situation?" (108).

But the project of an alliance of leftist forces, built mainly from the
grassroots at local level, was matched by an inefficient synthesis between the
various anarchist currents, founded on a "pact" and a "programme" which should
have served to unify through a common appeal to the principles, but which
instead were avoidable and avoided thanks to the autonomy of individuals and
groups. Undoubtedly, experiences and the rapid worsening of the situation were
an incentive to overcoming the contradiction. The Milan nucleus, which was
gathered around the journal Il Demolitore stated in 1922 that

"the Unione Anarchica Italiana [...] must not limit its work to studying the
situation and carrying out the modest task of 'correspondence commission'. It
must hold (if it really wants to be strong) under its control everything that
regards the anarchist movement, its day-to-day expressions, its press, its oral
propaganda, its manifestoes to the proletariat, its labour action,
international relations, periodicals, its relations with the other vanguard
parties, absolute control of the direction of every delicate organism and,
above all, responsibility".

And it rightly attributed the functional shortcomings of the organization to
the presence of

"two distinct currents which block each other out: on the one hand the
pro-organization anarchists who, though convinced of the need for solid
political and labour organization, make tremendous efforts to free themselves
from the fear of denominations and from the terror of having to be (and about
time, too) nothing more than disciplined militants; on the other hand, the
individualists struggling along from day to day on the margins of the two
manifestations of anarchism - communist and terrorist" (109).

Nevertheless, the dark years of total resistance to fascism were not best
suited to a process of profound revision. Thus, the anarchists faced the test
with the policy of the single revolutionary front, with the various leftist
parties each bringing their own specific elements; engaging (with no great
success) in action designed to unite, with appeals to the need for "direct
agreement between all the active elements, over and above the official
organizations" (110), and urgently appealing to the proletariat for an
"organized resistance" (111), of which they felt themselves to be the vanguard;
promoting the formation of the Arditi del Popolo (seen as the military
application of the FUR) who, despite the diffidence of the PSI and the Partito
Comunista d'Italia (Communist Party of Italy - PCdI), tried to react blow for
blow. They were the protagonists of episodes of armed opposition both to the
fascist squads and to the armed forces and police and also arms raids on
military barracks, but paid a high price in deaths and jail sentences (112).
They were, however, fully aware of the need not to become isolated and to fight
with the masses: if the fascist attack represented the reaction of capitalism,
"the need of the leading elements in modern society to defend themselves" (113)
against the proletariat which had continued to grow after the Great War, it was
becoming indispensable for the resistance to be massive and for the defensive
phase to become an offensive, a revolution which could overthrow the
bourgeoisie and establish a new society.

Ultimately, Fascism was able to win easily simply because of the deficiencies
of the Italian left. And in the eyes of many anarchists, these deficiencies
were added to in no small way by the absence of any appropriate strategy by the
anarchist party and above all by the lack of revolutionary initiative during
the Biennio Rosso (114). But Fabbri looked further than most and realized that
the success of the adversary and especially the way this success was
consolidated depended a great deal on international factors. As he wrote in
December 1923:

"The worst reaction is predominating all over Europe, and this is the principal
reason why the Italian reaction is so strong; this is the most important reason
why Italian fascism has cause to hope that its triumph can be longer-lived than
would be the case if it depended solely on its material strength and the
conscience, the state of mind and the spirit of the Italian people [...] The
miserable state of freedom in Italy depends much more than is thought on the
whims of plutocrats in Paris, London and Washington" (115).


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

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.


The full version of the text, complete with footnotes is available on the FdCA

Italian original in "Storia della società italiana", Volume XXI - La
disgregazione dello stato liberale, published by Teti Editore, Milan, 1982.
Translation by Nestor McNab.

The documents referred to in Notes 124, 125 and 126 are available in English
translation on internet, at the Nestor Makhno Archive

Available as a pamphlet from the Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici. For
downloadable PDF version, please visit our website at http://www.fdca.it/fdcaen

From: Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici <internazionale@fdca.it>
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