Introduction - Max Sartin

Submitted by GrouchoMarxist on April 26, 2012

The first decade of the twentieth century seemed to be quite promising. We were being told at school and on the streets that a new era of democratic freedom and social justice had opened. Criticism of the old institutions was encouraged by politicians, and the hopes of working people were raised by the labour unions’ promises of protection. The vanguards of political and social thought were spreading the seeds of new ideas among the workers of the world about ways and means to bring about a thorough emancipation from the oppression of political power and from the exploitation of land and capital by private ownership.

Rulers and employers had not changed, of course, and used violence and terror from time to time. But their brutality was beginning to provoke tentative efforts at resistance. In the industrial centres, the mining fields, and agrarian communities, sporadic explosions of rebellion were registered. In Russia a serious revolutionary movement shook the old order of things during the years 1905-1906. The movement was finally defeated, but it had badly destroyed the myth of the Czar’s absolute authority, and, even more important, it had deeply hurt the old regime at its roots, the countryside.

In Western Europe working people were in motion. The class struggle was in full development, and no police or military bloodshed seemed able to stop it. Governments use jails and guns against dissent, but there are not enough jails and guns to silence all dissenters when they are determined to speak out and fight for their rights. Everywhere dissent had found ways to express itself. In Italy alone, more than eighty anarchist periodicals were published — with varying success — during the first seven years of the century. And many, many more were, of course, being published elsewhere, in Europe and the Americas.

At the beginning of the year, 1907, some Belgian and Dutch comrades proposed an International Anarchist Congress to be held some time in the following Summer. It was considered the first truly international Anarchist Congress, and it took place in Amsterdam from the 23rd to the 31st day of October 1907.

During this period, one of the most absorbing debates among the anarchists was about the attitude they would take on the subject of syndicalism. [1] Born in France, syndicalism was substantially a rebellion against the submissive character the trade unions and similar labour organizations had assumed under the leadership of the legalist socialists. Regional and national conventions were promoted in all countries. In Italy, one such congress was held in Rome from the 16th to the 20th day of June 1907, with the participation of more than one hundred militants from all parts of Italy.

It was the first public gathering of anarchists in Italy since the beginning of the century, and the conservative circles, the faint-hearted and the fanatics, informed by an alarmist press, could not help noticing it and brooding over it. How great and how imminent could the danger of such ‘subversive’ activities be? Mr Cesare Sobrero, the Roman correspondent of a Turin daily newspaper, La Stampa, remembered that a Roman lawyer, Francesco Saverio Merlino, [2] who had been for many years a capable and learned anarchist militant and a competent writer on social matters, might be of exceptional help in searching for an answer to these questions.

Merlino consented to be interviewed, and the result was published by La Stampa on 18 June under the sensational title, ‘La Fine Dell Anarchismo’ (The End of Anarchism). Other orthodox newspapers, such as L’Ora in Palermo and L’Unione in Tunis reprinted it verbatim for the benefit of their middle-class readers.

Obviously, the more than one hundred anarchists gathered in Rome — as well as their comrades scattered throughout all parts of Italy and the world — felt that the offensive statement was unwarranted, that anarchism was very much alive in their hearts, in their minds, and above all, in their words and deeds.

Luigi Fabbri,[3] who was then co-editor with Pietro Gori [4] of the fortnightly review Il Pensiero (Thought) and a personal friend of Merlino, couldn’t believe his eyes. He wrote to Merlino, asking if the ‘strange’ published text of the interview was really a faithful presentation of his opinions. A reply came to him promptly, saying that everything in the published interview, except for the title, reflected his opinions on anarchism. Both Merlino’s letter and Fabbri’s commentary were later published in Il Pensiero in Rome and in Cronaca Sovversiva, the Italian language weekly Luigi Galleani had been publishing in Barre, Vermont, since 1903.

Luigi Galleani had been, like Merlino, a well known militant in the Italian movement since the eighteen-eighties. Both were then passionate fighters for freedom and social justice against the brutal repressions of the Italian Government. In 1884 Merlino was tried for ‘conspiracy’ and sentenced by a Roman tribunal to four years in prison. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to three years, but by then Merlino had gone abroad. For ten years he travelled through Western Europe and North America, spreading everywhere, by word of mouth, by books, articles and essays, his competent criticisms of the existing order of things. In 1892, while in New York City, he, with other Italian comrades, founded the journal, Il Grido degli Oppressi, (The Cry of the Oppressed), which existed until November 1894. But, by that time, Merlino had returned to Italy where he was arrested in Naples and imprisoned to serve his old sentence.

Galleani was also in prison, having been arrested in Genoa at the end of 1893, tried for conspiracy with 35 other comrades and sentenced to three years in prison.

But, at the end of that period, while Galleani, was more resolute than ever in his convictions, was forced to take up residence on an island under police supervision (domicilio coatto), Merlino was set completely free at the end of his term. And at the beginning of 1897, having established himself in Rome, he sent a letter to the conservative newspaper, Il Messaggero declaring that his opinions had changed. This provoked a debate with Errico Malatesta,[5] a debate that continued until 1898, when Malatesta was arrested. In conclusion, Merlino stated that he no longer considered himself an anarchist, but that he would rather define himself a ‘libertarian socialist’. Furthermore, he now approved of parliamentary action, so much so, that, in agreement with other friends, he proposed to present Galleani (who was then confined to the island of Pantelleria, situated between Sicily and Tunisia) as a candidate for Parliament on the Socialist Party ticket as a protest against political detention and as a means to set him free by popular request.

Galleani refused the offer, publicly and most emphatically, and sent to the anarchist paper L’Agitazione (of Ancona) a signed statement to that effect. After this, a collective proposal from the anarchist prisoners on Pantelleria was sent to all other anarchist prisoners, either in Italian jails or in domicilio coatto. It was an appeal to publish a special paper, edited and paid for by themselves, for the purpose of asserting once and for all their firm refusal to compromise, or in any way distort, their opposition to the State — a fundamental tenet of their convictions as anarchists

Their proposal was accepted by all. The comrades from Ancona agreed to publish the prisoners’ declarations, and a four-page newspaper appeared on the second day of November 1899 under the title, I Morti(The Deceased). It carried the byline, “Edited and published by the political prisoners”. Articles and statements were signed individually or collectively by the detained anarchists. The front page carried an editorial by Galleani entitled, Manet Immota Fides (The faith remains unshaken), stating that the hostages of reaction were very much alive and determined to save the dignity of their principles. They would rather remain in the squalor of their jails or their islands of confinement, at peace with themselves, than return to the so-called free world by bowing to their jailers — whom they despised — with concessions they knew to be false and shameful.

The paper was confiscated by the police, but enough copies were saved and circulated all over Italy and abroad to secure it an enduring place in the hearts and memories of militants and concerned people.

Shortly after this, Galleani escaped from the island of Pantelleria. He landed in North Africa and tried to settle in Egypt, but without success. In fact, he found himself facing the danger of extradition to Italy. So he moved to London with his family and from there embarked for the United States, where he had been offered editorial responsibility for La Questione Sociale, an Italian language weekly which had been published in Paterson, NJ since 1895.

Arriving in Paterson in October 1901, he found thousands of weavers and dyers of the textile industry in turmoil against their employers and exploiters. Of course, he was soon involved in their struggle and he contributed unsparingly, not only with the spoken and written word, but also with his personal solidarity. So much so, that on 18 June 1902, on the occasion of a sharp clash, he was wounded in the shooting. He saved himself from arrest by crossing the Slate line. Comrades William McQueen and Rudolf Grossman (Pierre Ramus),[6] although not involved in the clash, were arrested, tried, and sentenced to live years in prison. Galleani found refuge in the State of Vermont, where under the name of Luigi Pimpino he started with the help of the local anarchist group the weekly Cronaca Sovversiva, which continued until the year 1918 when it was suppressed by the US Federal Government for its stand against the war.

Merlino’s interview was duly noted in Cronaca Sovversiva, as was the text of Merlino’s letter to Fabbri. Once the authenticity of the interview had been established, Galleani felt that something else had to be said. And he said it in a very interesting way.

Under the headline ‘La Fine del’Anarchismo?’ — Galleani turned the title of Merlino’s interview into a question — a series of ten articles was published from 17 August 1907 to 25 January 1908. Then the series stopped never to reappear on the pages of Cronaca Sovversiva.

To be sure, Galleani never resigned himself to leave the essay on anarchism unfinished, but things were happening in the world which attracted his immediate attention. He was a fighter, an agitator, if you prefer, and he conceived of anarchism as a way of life, a method intended to open and expand a coherent way to the eventual emancipation of mankind. He felt that his time and energies should be dedicated to the immediate tasks and problems of the daily struggle that are necessary to assert the vitality of anarchism and pave the way to the future.

Those, the pre-World War One years, were dynamic times. There was the world-wide awakening of the toiling masses to the consciousness of their place in society and to their right to be free from capitalist exploitation and political oppression. There were strikes on an unprecedented scale and violent repressions; military conquests, warmongering and intrigues among capitalists and rulers. In the United States it was the time of the truculent T. Roosevelt regime that, in the name of freedom, conquered alien territories in the Caribbean Sea and in the Pacific Ocean, and introduced at home the inquisitorial crusade against anarchism. Then came the First World War. Cronaca Sovversiva was suppressed — as were hundreds of other more or less radical newspapers and reviews, accused of heresy or treason; Galleani was deported to Italy — as were hundreds of others deported to their respective native lands, marked as undesirable for their unorthodox opinions.[7]

Such were the reasons that compelled him to give priority to the daily struggle against the immediate evils. When, at the beginning of the year 1924, he was released from a Turin prison (he had spent a fourteen month sentence imposed on him by the local criminal court for some anti-militaristic articles), he found himself alone, old, ill and under the constant police surveillance of the fascist regime. His mind returned to his unfinished works. One was the translation of the last chapters of Clement Duval’s autobiography.[8] The essay on anarchism was the other. Both were published by L’Adunata dei Refratian The Call of the Refractaires) the Italian language weekly that had started its publication in New York City, 15 April 1922.

‘La Fine dell’Anarchismo?’ appeared in its entirety lor the first time in twenty-four installments from 11 October 1924, to 11 April 1925. Later, in the same year, the whole series was issued in book form by the editors of L’Adunata; a book of one hundred and thirty pages, fifty-two of which cover the text written and first published in 1907 and the remaining seventy-eight pages, the section which was written in its definitive form in 1924.

The text was preceded by a six-line inscription, handwritten and signed by Luigi Galleani. It was dedicated to his old comrades, living in America, in memory of the many years they had spent side by side, working, hoping and struggling for their mutual cause of freedom and justice. This was followed by a preface, written by the first editor of L’Adunata, Costantino Zonchello.[9] In the second edition these two items do not appear. In their place, instead, was a ‘presentation’ by G Rose.[10] who added a considerable number of footnotes to the essay, many of which are translated for the present edition.

The book was well received by the movement on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Errico Malatesta, who received one of the few copies that passed through the thick wall of fascist censorship, wrote favourably about it in Pensiero e Volontà (the review he was publishing in Rome) — saying that it was not only, “A clear presentation of anarchist communism”, it was also “A lucid statement of the ever-present problems of anarchism in relation to the would-be revolutionary movements”. He deplored the fact that very few Italians had the opportunity to read it.[11]

That anarchism is neither dead nor dying is — in these final decades of the twentieth century — better proved by facts than words. The chronicles of the Russian and the Spanish Revolutions have documented beyond any reasonable doubt the great importance of the anarchist ideas and activities in the struggle for the overthrowing of the old feudal and militaristic regimes. No less important have been the anarchists’ experimentations with new forms of social existence, production and distribution.

Equally impressive is the fact that, even where the self-styled socialist revolutionaries have managed to impose their party’s rule, they have failed to live up to their original promises of freedom and justice for all their subjects. Where they rule alone, they inflict on their peoples the yoke of a political and economic tyranny that has no equal except in fascist dictatorships. And where they have entered into a partnership with the old politicians of capitalism and the privileged classes, they function more as custodians and guardians of the common people who vote for them, than as defenders of their rights and freedom.

In these circumstances, men and women, endowed with heart and brains, concerned about the future of mankind, feel they have nowhere to turn for hope and inspiration except to the ideas, experience, and history of the anarchist movement. And that is where Galleani’s little book will be of great help today, tomorrow and forever, until the total emancipation of mankind from the scourges of oppression, exploitation and ignorance are erased from the face of the earth.

It is, of course, one man’s conception of anarchism, its meaning, its history and its hopes for the future. But that man has knowledge, experience, integrity and a whole life of struggle, suffering and courage’ It is worth seeing what he has to say.

Galleani’s book was well-received by his friends and comrades, but, as a result, he was increasingly persecuted by his enemies. Immediately after the publication of La Fine dell’Anarchismo?, in America the Italian police began to intensify their harassments with more frequent invasions of his house, with arrests and imprisonments for receiving ‘dangerous’ newspapers from abroad. Before the end of the year 1927, he was finally arrested and sent back to confino in the Tyrrhenian Archipelago of Lipari, off the northern coast of Sicily, where he remained until 28 February 1930. Even there he was arrested again and sent to Messina, where he was formally tried — and sentenced to six months and six days in prison on a trumped-up charge of having insulted. . . Mussolini. In a small mountain village, still under police surveillance, he died on 4 November 1931, at the age of seventy.


— M.S.

November 1981