Chapter 7. Propaganda of the Deed

I am beginning to suspect that Merlino may see in the individual acts of rebellion — rebellion against the church, against the State, against property or morality — and in the iconoclasts who commit themselves to them, almost always losing their freedom or their lives — the essential source of disagreement and the insurmountable obstacle to a cordial and productive understanding among the various tendencies of anarchism.

If that were the case, I would be very sorry ... for a long series of reasons.

Because, if I remember the disdainful and bitter attitude Merlino assumed in Paris a quarter of a century ago against the ‘Intransigent Groups’ (in these, side by side with some scoundrels who exploited the fervour and generosity of some comrades and, in the name of anarchism, thought only of piling up money for themselves, becoming capitalists as greedy as all the others, sincere and courageous men were to be found working only to provide adequate means for action — propaganda of the deed — as it was then called. It is enough to remember Vittorio Pini[44] was one of them); I also remember Merlino’s gesture, (which was considered heroic and was certainly unusually courageous in that moment of white terror) when he assumed the defence of Gaetano Bresci at his trial in Milan, a task he performed with great dignity and determination before a public cowed by the bullying police and their spies, the insidious provocations of the prosecutor, and the stern admonishments of an impatient judge.

For that gesture of courage, loyalty and honesty — a gesture that had to be inspired, if not by a feeling of true political and moral solidarity, certainly by a deep and sincere understanding of the causes which made the Monza tragedy an act of vindication and retribution — I have in the inmost recess of my heart the deepest gratitude and admiration for Francesco Saverio Merlino.

The purity of Gaetano Bresci’s sacrifice must have told him something that he could not reject.

I would regret it, too, because Saverio Merlino has such a wide knowledge of history and the philosophy of history, as well as economy and jurisprudence, that it must be sooner envied than equalled even among the better informed. And therefore, he cannot separate the individual act of rebellion from the political climate in which it strikes, from the causes, remote or near, complex in any case, by which it is almost fatalistically determined, from the particular psychology of the medium Nemesis has chosen for its ends of atonement, reparation, justice, from the consequence, from the admonitory impact it puts on everybody’s memory and experience.

The church, of course, aborret a sanguine (abhors the spilling of blood) and anathametizes any attempt . . . that doesn’t serve its interests and, so, finds rewards, indulgence and beatifications for Dominic Guzman, Clement and Ravaillac, for the Dragonnades and the St Barthelmys.[45]

The State sees only a criminal in anyone who breaks a law and, by delivering him to a dozen bigots or butchers, is certain to have him committed to the executioner, to the penitentiary, to hell in any case.

The conventionally-minded cry out contradictorily that “Human life is sacred and inviolable, and whoever attacks it offends both divine and human laws”; while they are fattening their wallets and their bellies without the least scruple; condemning the helots toiling in the fields, the factories and the mines to starvation, despair and early death, their women to prostitution and their children to the gutter. Or else, they push them over frontiers into monstrous slaughter tor the sake of a killing in the stock market.

The clowns and spellbinders of self-serving politics, who only yesterday proclaimed the martyrdom of Sophia Perowskaya and Albert Parsons,[46] having hardly wiped their obscene mouths, now spit upon our own rebels because they have suddenly thrown into the web of their plans and machinations the carcass of the tyrant they had been cursing the day before. They shed their crocodile tears over the royal victim; they sententiously declare that political assassination is sheer folly, that “When a pope dies, another takes his place”, and that the world continues without a tremor on its immutable way.

Even in our own ranks there are short-sighted persons who, looking at the immediate consequences of shock and reactionary fury caused by violence, hesitate and wonder whether the rebellious act, by provoking wild, unexpected repressions and by corroding our already scanty liberties, may not have compromised our slow, but persistent and certainly beneficial, work of propaganda, organization and preparation.

Whatever our doctrinal and tactical disagreements may be, we have too much respect for F S Merlino to assign him to any of the above-mentioned categories.

He never would, nor could, separate the individual act of rebellion from the revolutionary process of which it is the initial phase — not an episode — and whose following phases are, in their turn, inevitable consequences and developments.

The Ideal, a solitary aspiration of poets and philosophers, is embodied in the martyrdom of its first heralds and sustained by the blood of its believers. Their sacrifice raised as a sacred standard leads the first heroic but doomed insurrections and triumphs in the end through revolutionary deeds, the joy and glory of all.

Without going far from home, doesn’t the history of the last Italian revolution offer a clear outline of this process?

Who said first;

. . . a l’umile paese
. . . ai dissueti orecchi
ai pigri cuori, a gli animi giacenti.
Italia! Italia!? . . .[47]

Was it Vittorio Alfieri, with the impetuous rumble of his tragedies? Or Gaetano Filangeri, who, in his Declaration of the Rights of Man, first revealed and spread among the young the idea of the fatherland and the dignity of the citizen? Or was it Melchiorre Gioia who, towards the end of the century, discoursing on the best form of government under which the Italian people might live in freedom and happiness, concluded that “. . . everything invites us to unite in the best possible way under one indivisible republic”?[48]

We are not concerned with these details. But certainly here we are in the first phase of the revolutionary process where protest has no other means of expression but faith and word.

The second period will come: the time of the believers when thought becomes flesh and action, and Zamboni, De Rolandis, Carafa, Pagano, Cirillo, Luisa Sanfelice, daring both the wrath of the powerful and the apathy of the masses, unsheath the arms of their faith, putting on the halo of a martyrdom devoted to victory.[49]

What Bloodshed! Against a gloomy background of anguish and grief, the dawn of redemption — the second phase of the revolution — is all blood.

However, the day comes when the executioner can no longer cope with his shameful task. There are no jails big enough to stifle the expanding insurrection of the subjects. The palladium crumbles, the army conspires and then rises in Alessandria, Pinerolo, Brescia, Nola, Palermo. A storm of perdition shocks the world and upsets the peninsula; it rocks the Holy Alliance, which can only stem the torrent in Troppau, in Laibach, in Verona with the terror of bayonets, but these are too fragile a barrier against the irresistible press of the insurrectionists in Venice, Palermo, Rome, and Milan [1848-1849], who savour the joy of victory — ephemeral, yes — but a tremendous spur to the final desperate conquest.

But we are not here to write the history of the Piedmont conquest of Italy . . . with all due respect for the rights of the Holy See.

It is sufficient for us to deduce from this quick foray — which could, with a little more effort and patience, be repeated for any other historical cycle — that the individual act of rebellion is a necessarily intermediary phenomenon between the sheer ideal or theoretical affirmation and the insurrectionary movement which follows it and kindles the torch of the victorious revolution.

A necessary and inevitable medium; it is what it is, that which the circumstances command or consent to, above and beyond any preference of ours. Can you reject or condemn it? You may as well reject a thunderbolt, an earthquake, or any unlucky meteor; you can only endure them, for they originate from causes acting beyond the will and power of man.

And it is what it is, not only because of the intricate convergence of the causes, which demand it at a certain time, in a certain way and not otherwise; but also because of the instrument called upon to accomplish it.

The paid journalistic hacks of the ruling class, the police and their informers, the cowardly and reactionary magistrates may still believe in the legends of plots, of drawing lots to choose the instrument of the revolutionary act, the avenger. But F S Merlino has lived long enough among or near bomb-makers (uncontaminated, of course) to be able to testify that in most cases the individual act of rebellion comes even more as a surprise to the comrades than to the enemies.

Who, for instance, would have thought that Michele Angiolilo,[50] calm kind and gentle as a girl, could have grasped a gun and coldly shot Canovas del Castillo in Santa Agueda, that filthy and ferocious hyena, who renewed and intensified all the horrors of the Holy Inquisition against the anarchists in the prison of Alcala del Valle, though their innocence had even been recognized by tribunals? And, among those of us who knew Sante Caserio[51] intimately as an excellent youngster, modest, reserved, sober in words and in deeds, who could have foreseen that, one day, armed with a formidable knife, he, on a street in Lyon, crowded with delirious vassals, would leap impetuously and render justice to Sadi Carnot, the sponsor of the lois scelerates, [the anti-anarchist laws] passed for the purpose of choking off freedom of thought on the threshold of the twentieth century?

And why did Kropotkin, who had been a member of the Tchaickowsky Group, which had produced the most audacious iconoclasts — why did Elisée Reclus, who had survived two blood-baths and barely escaped the Cavaignac and Gallifet slaughters — why did they seek to fight the enemy without respite, to disconcert him in other ways, with other means, on an altogether different field?[52]

Why do those who attack the church, property, State, morality and destroy their symbols — why do these avengers, with few exceptions, almost always arise from the twilight of oppression and suffering, from the proletariat? And, far from being stigmatized by rickets, idiocy, or even worse, degeneration (which would please the police of Sernicoli’s ilk,[53] or some wiseacres of the new school of penology) why are they, out of all the proletarian multitude, among the foremost in normality, equilibrium, education and intelligence?

This is a problem of elementary mechanics. And since our readers are more at home in this field than the present writer, it will not be difficult to come to an understanding.

In order to function in a normal way, every boiler must have a gauge indicating the steam pressure and two essential valves, one registering any excess of pressure, the other the water level. An excess of heat could produce too great a volume of steam for the capacity of the boiler and bring about a corresponding danger of explosion.

The same danger would be incurred if the water level was lowered excessively, causing the walls of the boiler above the water level to become red hot to the point where careless contact with water would cause an explosion.

Furthermore, when the walls of the boiler are dirty (ie covered by a chalky sediment that accumulates between the water and the boiler’s wall), this forms a crust which slows the heating of the water so that, when the metallic walls become red hot and the water is still much colder, the least crack in the crust again creates the danger of an explosion. Hence the need for safety and warning mechanisms to keep the engineer on guard: pressure gauges, water level and venting valves, feed and discharge pipes.

An episode of unusually cruel ferocity (in the prison of Alcala del Valle the anarchists waiting trial underwent testicles distortion, brain compression, insertion of wedges between finger nails and flesh), the mass slaughter on an unarmed crowd (as happened in Milan during the month of May 1898 under the command of Bava Beccaris,[54] for the purpose — now clear to everyone — of a coup d’Etat), or the legal murder of a rebel, even though no one is known to have died as a consequence of his act (as was the case of Vaillant’s[55] attempt against the French Parliament, which gave rise to Caserio’s act), provoke the same indignation, the same violent shock on a cold, balanced, experienced mind as on pure minds and primitive souls. With different results, however! Because . . . because the boilers are different.

One has all its valves in full working order. Scholars, writers, speakers and poets react promptly to the shock and relieve the enormous pressure by means of the discharge valves of their many faceted activities. They confront the fulminations that crash from Olympus when public powers are endangered, when vested interests are disturbed, when hypocritical morality is subverted; and they throw the awful responsibility for the rebellious act back into the face of the exploiters who squeeze out the last drop of sweat and blood from the common people, back into the face of the cops holding the bag open for the crooks, the judiciary winking indulgently and conniving impunity for oppressors, exploiters, corruptors. And they courageously denounce all these with vehemence and passion, in the name of right, justice, civilization or humanity, in vibrant public meetings, in relentless articles and from every forum, pouring out to their audience the fullness of the noblest feelings, hopefully arousing enthusiasm and sympathy for the fallen rebel, and a deep active solidarity with the ideal that inspired the rebellion.

Relentlessly they strike right and left; they work; they give vent to their feelings; they discharge their excessive steam through many open valves... the pressure, dangerous for a moment, returns to normal; the boiler regains its breath, its usual rhythm, and its regular function.

When Reclus or Kropotkin are at the wheel there will be no explosion except in absolutely exceptional circumstances.

* * *

The other ... the other alas! functions in an altogether different condition. It has no safety valves, no discharge pipes, no gauge to register the sudden pressures, which swell it to the point where its rhythm is upset and its function and safety are threatened. And its walls are all encrusted with dangerous superstitions.

This is the proletarian soul. Although our propaganda has barely begun to touch it, still our criticism of the vicious social order has received a profound approval, confirmed by their experience and their reasoning: the gluttons leave for the poor, who create wealth and joy with their hands, no bread, no peace, no love, no future! How true! How terribly true!

Thus, the poor living in despair have been deeply enraptured by our vision of an egalitarian society, together with the hope that a coalition (even if temporary or accidental) of all the proletarian forces could, on a daily basis, abolish abuses, avoid misfortunes, restrain the injustice and violence of the exploiters and the oppressors, and start humanity on the path of security, well-being and happiness that is its destiny. Although it lacks a precise and clear consciousness of its own right and even more, of the irresistible strength it could attract to the defence of its sacred cause, the proletariat has a deep faith (and this is perhaps rooted in the evangelical idea of punishment for evil and reward for good) in the final triumph of truth and justice.

But, partly because of this persistent evangelism, and more because of the millennial resignation which has for centuries paralyzed its initiative and its confidence, the proletariat believes that the revolution will be realized by some strange, distant force and it will be propelled by the enigmatic and fatal weight of things, undermining events and men. It harbours an ambiguous, almost religious mix of reverence and terror in this belief.

And the humble people wait for it to come and try to hasten it with all their wishes: “How great if the revolution breaks out some day”! And to that day, to that revolution which will finally destroy every obstacle, they turn their hearts, their energy, their hates and their longings for revenge . . . far, very far away from thinking that we, ourselves, have to start the revolution from within ourselves, by discarding old superstitions, selfishness, self-imposed ignorance, foolish vanities and moral deficiencies.

We are children of the bourgeois regime, heirs to all its degradations, materially and actually incapable of shedding its bestial yoke at this time, except for a few, and we are revolutionary only when and insofar as we know how to resist and react against the wickedness, corruption and violence of our environment. And, when, through experience, we have become worthy of the cause, we will be able to arouse the same need of moral elevation and freedom that will spread in an ever-widening concentric movement, reaching those groups farthest from us, like the effect of a stone cast into a pond.

The revolution cannot be made by the anarchists alone, at a pre-established time and by pre-arranged movements; but if a movement should burst out tomorrow — no matter where — they could place themselves in the forefront, or near it, with the sole aim of pointing it towards decisive positions or solutions, and in so doing, counteracting the usual intriguers who take advantage of the good faith and sacrifices of the proletariat to foster their own interests and political fortune

But the proletariat doesn’t think of it. Didn’t a great anarchist writer state many years ago that the revolution is inevitable? One must only wait for it; it knocks on the door; the glittering announcement says it’ll be here tomorrow. No return to the past is possible; after so many years of anti-religious propaganda, the Inquisition is no more than a sad memory of an age that has been overcome; after so many years of anti-militarist propaganda, war is only a sterile wish of a handful of stock market manipulators; after the workers’ strikes that, starting from the modest borders of a province, have invaded a whole nation and even dare to form coalitions of the international proletariat; the bourgeoisie is compelled to moderation and discretion.

And so on. But while they are navigating full of hope, towards their happy Atlantis, a clash of arms at the frontier, a machine-gun volley in the foul ditch of a castle tower, the flash of an axe in the sleepy dawn, a hurried gallop of dragoons through the streets and squares to the sound of trumpets and death rattles, plunges them back again into reality. The Inquisition is still alive and unrelenting; war is more insane, paradoxical, and horrible than ever; massacres of the proletariat are daily occurrences everywhere.

The shock is tragic; the pressure intolerable; even more intolerable because, in disillusion and defeat, in the limbo of despair, imprecations and invectives come from every side.

Swollen by the shock, the soul is embittered by its shameful defeat and lives with a throbbing pain that only revenge, a tremendous, exemplary revenge can soothe. And revenge stands as the only purpose, the only possible reparation for the anguish that torments it every living day.

No discharge is possible. He who is lost when among books, he who as a child was compelled to leave school for the factory or the mine, how can he write, speak, or hope to gain the attention of others?

Where can the militants be found for a sweeping agitation, when the reaction has banished or imprisoned them?

This old boiler has no discharge valve; the pressure rises; the level of resignation drops; the slightest touch breaks through the crust of prejudice and convention that had been acting as a restraint, and the explosion roars dreadful, deadly.

Isn’t it so?

The individual act of rebellion is what it is, caused by a long series of predisposing conditions, which has suddenly met an imponderable accidental cause.

Of what value is repudiation?

* * *

“And, after this, you would conclude that we must unconditionally approve any act of individual rebellion, even those acts that are disgusting and harmful, even Duval’s or Ravachol’s or Luccheni’s?”[56]

Let us clear up quickly a misunderstanding which has been cleared up many times before, but which arises now and then with the qualms and bigotry of a certain respectable anarchism.

It is the misunderstanding concerning revolutionary expropriation, usually called theft by others, although the noun does not fit the deed.

Everyone agrees on one point: in an egalitarian society, where all means of production and exchange are common property and where the products of work have only one purpose — to assure the satisfaction of everyone’s needs — theft has no meaning. It is impossible, absurd.

Therefore, among anarchists, no question of principle concerning theft exists.

When it comes to action, or tactics as it is usually called, there was a time when some comrades believed (and some still do) that in order to develop our propaganda, to equip vanguards, to arm them for action, boldly to initiate attacks, or to repel violence by force of arms, financial means would be needed that could not be provided by poor militants with more energy and courage than weapons: so they expropriated, as they used to say, with rigorous precision.

They took wherever they found it.

What does expropriation mean?

It means to take from somebody the goods or real estate that he owns, claiming he has no right to them.

From Saint Clement[57] to Babeuf, Proudhon, Bakunin and the most modest of our comrades, the invalidity of all property titles has never been questioned: expropriation is legitimate unless it ends as its opposite, appropriation.

To make myself better understood: if Tom takes Harrys wealth for his own enjoyment, we say that he has appropriated it. The property in question has only changed its titular owner, but as an institution it remains just what it was before. Tom is getting rich, as Harry did in the past, on the shoulders and the labour of harnessed slaves.

Nothing has changed, and there is no reason why we should congratulate Tom for having taken Harry’s wealth.

But suppose, as it recently happened, a band of revolutionaries attack a bank; they immobilize the guards, empty the safes and, weapons in hand, defend their retreat. Then, having secured it, they deliver their loot to insurrectionary committees to further the revolutionary movement in their community, to provide the necessary means for attaining victory.

Do you disapprove?

No, you cannot disapprove. There has been expropriation, the very expropriation you have invoked a thousand times as a revolutionary necessity. There has been no appropriation in the sense that the confiscated wealth has been used to re-establish some other private property with all its consequences. Not at all. We are faced exactly with an initial, partial act of revolutionary expropriation. Besides the material advantages for the movement, it initiates, enables and encourages the multitude to proceed to the final expropriation of the ruling class for the benefit of every one. This has been our desire and our aim.

How can we curse, condemn, or reject?

Clement Duval, Vittorio Pini, Ravachol have never taken for themselves a single penny of the loot that they obtained with the constant risk of death or life imprisonment. You may say that they have used that money for questionable propaganda means and action and even conclude that it could have been used in a better way. But you can’t condemn.

We stand with Severine[58] and Reclus, who, without reservations, have extolled the courage, the heart and the self-abnegation of these lost sentinels.

Furthermore, to be completely frank and to close this parenthesis we confess that we can’t even rage against the petty thief who, pressed by need, reaches for a loaf of bread, a herring or a tempting slice of ham in the shop window.

Even before Lino Ferriani, the royal prosecutor, extenuated these pariahs from a theoretical point of view, and before President Magnaud, the good judge, acquitted them, disturbing and horrifying the wealthy, a German philosopher, named Johann Gottlieb Fichte[59] in his Principles of Natural Right delivered the impartial sentence: “He who has no means of subsistence, has no duty to acknowledge or respect other people’s property, considering that the principles of the social covenant have been violated to his prejudice”.

We agree that, face to face with the enemy’s brutal, overwhelming preponderance, vanguard minorities cannot gain respect nor inspire confidence without an exemplary and transparently austere way of life. And, again, we agree that in order to avoid ugly suspicions of personal material advantage, those who proclaim the necessity of the final expropriation and justify partial expropriation in certain specified cases, must surround themselves with a voluntary and evocative poverty, a holy dread of other people’s property. But that we should submit to Origen’s[60] operation — no! At this juncture there is no third solution. If we are forced to choose between private property and its supporters, or against private property and its attackers, we cannot and will not align ourselves with the former, and certainly it is not we who will try to revoke the decisions of Magnaud and Fichte. No!

And then ... to hell with it! Surrounded with strong-boxes, ignoring and despising the sufferings of the world, the bourgeoisie and its misfortunes do not move us one bit.

A few more words, before closing this chapter.

We do not believe there are useless or harmful acts of rebellion. Every one of them, together with the accidents inseparable from any violent change of the monotonous routine of life, has deep echoes and lasting gains, which compensate abundantly for them.

Let us be understood: we are not being nostalgic for unneeded brutality nor for vulgar coarseness. We too would prefer that every act of rebellion had such sense of proportion that its consequences would correspond perfectly to its causes, not only in measure, but also in timeliness, giving it an irresistible automatic character. Then every act would speak eloquently for itself with no need for glosses or clarifying comments. Furthermore, we would like this unavoidable necessity to assume a highly ethical — and even an aesthetic — attitude. Michele Angiolillo, after attacking Canovas, the despicable organizer of the inquisitorial torments in the Alcala prison, found himself face to face with the latter’s wife. Letting his revolver fall from his hand, he took off his hat and bowed, saying, “Madam, I am sorry for the grief I am causing you, but your husband was a monster unworthy of any pity”. There is something noble and chivalrous in Angiolillo’s gesture that illuminates the profound humanity and civility inspiring his rebellion. It would be pleasing if such sentiments were always present in our actions, for anarchism, being truth and kindness, is, above all, beauty.

Unfortunately (and we have at length stated why), the individual act of rebellion, due to intrinsic and extrinsic causes, due to the pressures of the moment, the environment and the subject’s own psychology, cannot be different from what it is, no matter what our preference may be.

Then it follows that it would be absurd and ridiculous for us to think of compiling a new calendar of saints, the saints of the social revolution, as it would be to think of condemning them posthumously.

No act of rebellion is useless; no act of rebellion is harmful.

Philosophasters of the quiet life may declaim, for instance, that Gaetano Bresci’s act was a pointless folly, immediately rendered senseless by the constitutional aphorism: “Le roi est mort, vive le roi.” When one king dies, another king is crowned; and the death of Umberto I leaves the throne for Vittorio Emanuele III. It was hardly a prediction that Gaetano Bresci couldn’t make beforehand and better than those cheap salesmen of political common sense. But, after an atrocious chain of proletarian massacres, after the slaughters of May 1898 in Milan, after the years of imprisonment that the sinister monarch thought would forever disperse the revolutionary movement in Italy, after the acclaim and decorations this majesty had bestowed on underlings and rogues (beginning with Bava Beccaris) thereby proving that the king, despite the constitutional fiction, both reigns and rules and assumes all the responsibilities and risks of government; after this repression had been endured by all with a resignation even worse than the outrage — the humble weaver from Prato rose alone above the general indolence, and alone faced the symbols of so much infamy. With a stroke he put back history, wayward and arrested, back on the path of its future, towards its destiny. That gesture spoke to the confused masses. It said something that neither silence nor indifference can erase: “The king you fear, the king who was picked by the grace of god, the king who oppresses and bleeds you, the king who commands everyone and can be commanded by none, the king who judges everyone and can be judged by none, the king who is glory, myth, power — is like any other man, only a miserable bag of fragile flesh and bones. A single revolver shot can reduce him to litter the way he did with you, your aged, your children, the way he did in Conselice, in Milan, for an evil whim, for an obscene lust for power. Your dependence is a shame from which you can redeem yourselves; your devotion is unworthy of you and is wasted. Stand up on your feet, slaves, you resigned, cowardly slaves who could free yourselves from the millennial yoke with a shrug of your shoulders and reach the pinnacle of freedom”.

Isn’t this what the Monza tragedy means?

From the ashes at the foot of the stake in Campo di Fiori,[61] Angiolillo gathers the tradition of free thought and warns that the blazing dawn of the twentieth century will tolerate neither the shadow nor the shame of the Inquisition. Vaillant exposes those who, under the anonymous mask of the representational system, are responsible for the same infamies and exploitation and slashes their obscene faces. (The Sun King, at least, had the courage to present himself before his subjects and History, shouting, “I am the State!”) Luccheni, himself a bastard, warns that priests try to throw out the fruits of their inadmissable loves in vain. Duval, Ravachol, Stellmaker ,[62] all those who have attacked private property for the sake of revolution reveal that the sovereignty of money can’t be so sacred, nor so enviable, after all, if it gets slapped around every day. All, all of them scourge cowardice, rebel against submission, engrave a lesson; they do the work of revolution.

A king dies and another takes his place. But the king who picks up the crown with his father’s blood on it learns prudence, moderation, wisdom. He restores the national covenant and refrains from violence and abuse. It is enough to recall that, opening the new Parliament, immediately after Bresci’s attempt, Saracco not only abstained from proposing emergency laws, but he also declared that the anarchist idea should be opposed with civilized debate and that there was sufficient restraint in the penal code for illegal anarchist activities. And this doesn’t consider the renewed courage of the common people and the stronger consciousness of their strength, the firmer faith they have attained in their own emancipation.

Thus! None of the apologetic fanaticism that would indicate a religious state of mind incompatible with the slightest anarchist conviction, and no frenzied diatribes which might be suspected of opportunism, preoccupation, or more unworthy sentiments.

Salvation lies always in a free, objective and conscientious examination, in the investigation and explanation of the causes, social context) the age, the immediate and remote repercussions of events; these are the elements for a correct evaluation of the individual acts of rebellion.

But everybody should understand that any such free examination, using reasonable criteria, cannot leave out of consideration the fact that the first cause of all individual acts of revolt is the psychological climate created by our propaganda among the people.

It seems unnecessary to point out that no revolutionary act is conceivable where the rebel does not feel himself surrounded by a certain spirituality of consent and by a broad-based consciousness which is ready to receive him sympathetically.

When Bresci rendered justice to the august and unpunished butcher of Italians, he felt that, though the bigoted and fainthearted rabble would be shaken, shocked and scandalized by his act, many others would assent to his act of justice, and he acted in the faith that the first spark would start a more intense rebellion, a greater fire.

But our responsibility in all acts of rebellion is more precise, more specific and undeniable, where our propaganda has been energetic, vigorous, and has left a deep impression.

After all, did we not open the first breech in the devotion of the faithful to constituted authorities, in their vassalage to the king, in their submission to the law, in their respect for and in their holy fear of the codes, the judiciary, the police?

With honest conviction and corrosive persistence, haven’t we proved the futility of hopes in legal means of resistance, progress, or success?

In the camp opposed to socialism and its political activity, its electoral or parliamentary victories, its supposed improvements in economic affairs, have they ever found more convinced disbelievers, more acrid critics, more unrelenting scoffers than us?

And in every circumstance, in our papers, all our lectures, in our meetings shaking with empty stomachs or ill contained passions, haven’t we underlined a thousand times over that since political and economic privilege has no basis in equity or right, it could be justified only by its own violence and our cowardice? And that therefore capitalism and the state could not resist the impact of the working classes, whose right and strength, together, would be sure warranty of final victory?

That, instead of wasting time chattering in town, provincial, or national councils, searching for the philosopher’s stone of good law, or for a good master, it would be better to start the revolution inside oneself and realize it according to the best of our abilities in partial experiments, wherever such an opportunity arises, and whenever a bold group of our comrades have the conviction and the courage to try them?

What else was the goal of the armed bands in Romagna in 1874, or those with Cafiero, Malatesta, and Stepniak in 1877?[63]

Now, we have been inciting, convincing, screaming at the people for half a century: “Arise, revolt, attack, expropriate, strike! Strike without pity, for there comes a point where revenge takes on the necessity and the awesomeness of justice and hastens its triumph”. After fifty years of having instilled the necessity of action among the suffering people, as soon as the plebeian lion strikes the first blow (and perhaps it is awkward, because it has been chained for centuries and has lost the habit), and just as we should show our coolness and our resolve, we become disturbed by problems of conscience, made uneasy about the threat of reaction, distressed by residual evangelism, tormented by the burning need, if not of confusing ourselves in the Umbo of common morality certainly of lessening the contrasts. Too often, especially in the more responsible circles, we rush to belittle, to shame the act of rebellion, and, at times, are even inclined to classify it among the usual ‘police frame-ups’.

Well, then, in plain words: it is supreme cowardice to reject acts of rebellion when we, ourselves have sown the first seed and brought forth, the first bud, it is supreme cowardice to add our cursing to the indignant outcry of the paid journalistic hacks, professional mourners, and evil cut-throats.

And like all cowardices, this one too must be paid for with the spasm of impotence and the anguish of abandonment.

F S Merlino should remember the fervour of propaganda and action that brightened the four years from May 1,1890, to June 24,1894. When we would leave our garret in the morning, we never had the slightest certainty of returning in the evening; arrests were made every day, at any hour; trials and sentences followed; and in case of acquittal, banishment was the rule. But it meant living! And inside the cells of Mazas,[64] or in the sadness of exile, early in the morning we would hear the echo of a dynamite blast, a judge’s chamber had blown up with one of the accomplices still inside, and the unknown author of the rebellious deed had accepted full responsibility for his act and was walking with a song into the ‘widow’s’ arms [the guillotine]. And that tragic wave of enthusiasm and of fervour, brightened by sacrifice, filled everyone with an irresistible pride. Poets and men of letters, impressed by that fervour for renewal, were paying daily homages of sympathy and veneration to the fallen rebels, the Parisian newspaper Figaro, frightened, dedicated one of its special issues to the ‘peril anarchiste’ and, Octave Mirbeau[65], waved his anarchists appeal to abstain from voting over the obscene electoral shows, a document which to this day is unsurpassed for its fierceness of thought and beauty of expression. That was living!

Compare that period with the one in which we live.

We have mocked, rejected, cursed revolutionary action because it exceeded our canons, our expectations, the ethical and aesthetic lines within which we wanted it contained. And we have dried up the sources from which it could spring, we have cut the nerves anxiously stretching to reach it, we have extinguished any flame that might nourish it. And now we pay with humiliation and bruises. Naturally!

Those who are eager for action find that we are very hard to please: “We make faces at the good Lord and you grumble! We rise against the state or its representatives, and you grumble; we revolt against property, and you frown and look at your pockets; we rise against morality and you, afraid of the scandal, retreat to your shell and excommunicate us! But will you do us the great favour of stirring yourselves, once and for all, you who know so well how revolution should take its first steps, you who hold its strings and have learned the decalogue, and . . . you who never move, not even under the lash?”.

They argue and then they leave us in the lurch.

But internal and profound causes of inertia and decay are to be found here, not any doctrinal disagreement between the organizationalists and the individualists of anarchism. These disagreements — neither many, nor forceful, negligible in comparison to the immensity of the task and the goals — will lead them under the sharp spur of experience and necessity to find the appropriate way, the way to revolution, whose initial phase must be the individual act of rebellion, inseparable from propaganda, from the mental preparation which understands it, integrates it, leading to larger and more frequent repetitions through which collective insurrections flow into the social revolution.
This, then, is the result of this contempt for action.