The Ruling Class in Italy
|Vol. 01||October 20, 1895 — pdf.||No. 02|
You ask me to tell you all about Italy, but you cannot imagine what an enormous task it is to examine even superficially the conditions prevailing in that beautiful yet unfortunate country.
It is not so many years ago when Wm. E. Gladstone, witnessing the infamous spectacle then presented by the tyrant Bourbons in the kingdom of Naples, summed up the indignation of his soul in a memorable letter, which created great excitement in all Europe, and concluded by styling that government: "The Negation of God." If another Gladstone, with eyes wide open across the horizon of the future, was to visit Italy nowadays, and wished to sum up just in one sentence the sense of horror provoked by the ruling class over there, personified by Francis Crispi, thief and tyrant, I cannot tell what kind of negation he could find that would tally with the skepticism of the times, and with the frightful ugliness of the picture.
Certain it is that the mere objective enumeration of all the banking, political and anti-social enterprises perpetrated by the governmental brigandage, now saddening Italy, would furnish sufficient material, not for a letter, but for whole volumes. And the impartial historian of the future will be frightened, and perhaps linger in doubt before such a sewer of moral depravity and political cruelty.
But Europe and the so-called civilized world care little nowadays of what is going on over there, because the systems of governments of the ruling class are so much alike in their whimsical sequence of violence and fraud, that it is not considered wise to raise one's voice against these perfidious effects, the natural and inevitable outcome of class-government, and of governments in general.
It then devolves upon us, Anarchist-Communists, to analyze these phenomena of economical and moral distemper of the reaping class, and to denounce to the workers of all countries, the extortions and the wickedness of the several ruling classes and of the several governments, in order to trace back the general causes, from which we might come to universal conclusions, applicable to all countries and all peoples.
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In Italy, then, the economical and political system of the ruling class is fast approaching bankruptcy.
Now, too late, alas! we can understand how all the patriotic declamations of the Italian high class for the "unification" and the "independence" of the peninsula tended only (except the disinterested sacrifice of the true martyrs) to the conclusion of a good bargain. After the foreigners were expelled and the bargain closed, the Italian people had to pay a dear and salty bill.
The patriotic awards became a title of annuity for life. He who had served the Bourbons, or the Pope, or the Croats, quietly changed his livery and put forth all his efforts to serve the new masters. It was simply a changing of coat of arms and colors; nothing more.
The servants at court, at the seat of government, at the magistracy, at the army, at the police, were all the same; in spirit, if not in person, always more Croat and Bourbonic than ever.
The economical conditions of the laborers became worse. In northern Italy the pellagra poisons the blood of the poor fanners. A never-ending succession of commissions of inquest—after many lunches and few serious studies—came to the conclusion that the pellagra was caused by insufficient and poor nourishment! Just imagine: the greater part of the fanners, in the Venetian province, work (when they are lucky enough to find any work) for a salary, oscillating between 50 centimes and a franc a day, always below a quarter of a dollar. The women working on the rice plantations for the consideration of a few cents a day, will do an awful, trudgesome work, bending over the putrid water of the marshes.
Oh! I never will forget the shiver of horror that crept all over me the first time I saw those poor women, bent low, under a burning sun, dragging themselves along like the souls of purgatory, in the midst of those malignant exhalations of the marshes. Many of those among them who do not contract the pellagra, die of consumption.
Well, would you believe that, after so much thinking and laboring of Commissions of Inquest, anything has been accomplished in behalf of those poorly fed mortals?… No need to dream of it. The salaries are still on the low ebb, the work is scarce, and yet, before the eyes of the despairing toilers there are to be seen stretching away far distant immense plains still wild and unredeemed which the joint work of men truly free and possessing these lands in com-mon, and the tools to cultivate with, would surely convert into luxurious gardens.
Instead of this, however, the avarice of the owners and the stupidity of the government allow the soil to lay sterile and full of malaria, and the poor farmers in want and poverty.
No wonder that the visiting foreigner, turning his dazzled eyes from the enchantments of the riviera, beholds, on the port of Genova, group after group of discouraged people, emigrating from that land of beauty; poor, unhappy mortals who are going to bear away to the remotest shores of Africa and America their inheritance of wretchedness, of ignorance, and, I am sorry to say, even those criminal impulses that are the consequence of their having been so poorly fed and brutalized.
Still, do not despise them; love them as your brothers, these rejected of Italy. O you, our American brothers, be lenient toward them, in spite of their faults, because they have suffered a great deal; many, many tyrannies, the worst that have downtrodden the earth, have passed over their neck, from the invasions of old, down to the very Italian Huns of our times, led by that brigand of venture, Francesco Crispi.
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Worse yet, if possible, is the wetchedness and shame of southern Italy. The political world of the Neapolitan provinces is enslaved to a high handed coalition of ruffians called the Camorra. which creeps, insidiously, through every highway and by-way, from the church to the state. Below, there is only a multitude, noisy but sad, in the midst of such splendor of sky and sea; a whole nation darkened by centu-ries of slavery and superstition, who, even after C. Darwin, is stupid enough to crowd in masses, to go and see—the miracle of San Gennaro.
And the ruling class of Italy finds it very convenient to have it so because, as long as the people will be satisfied to dwell in the hope of gaining an entrance to paradise—on the other side—the easier will they bear, without rebelling, all the torments of the real hell on this earth.
But it is in Sicily, where the rapacity of the landlords, on one side, and the wretchedness of the laborers, on the other, reach the most frightful extremes. There, the feudal system is still in vogue, in all its crudity, and the agricultural establishments squeeze out ferociously the blood from the tortured muscles of the peasants.
In the sulphur mines the condition of the laborers is heart-rending. For a few cents a day, crowds of little children are made to perform a dreadful work. A very heavy basket of mineral is loaded on their backs, and they are then pushed on, up the steep path of the mine, like the damned souls in Dante's Inferno. They climb, out of breath, howling and exhausted. Their bodies become distorted. They are young in years, yet they look old and decrepit, they are in the fulness of their virility and you would think them to be sickly, starved. They are called carusi.
Do not think I am exaggerating; on the contrary, the heart, horrified, lessens instinctively the truth, out of respect for human dignity. You only have to read the description of that bestial life written, in powerful and tragical words, by a senator and ex-minister of the king, Paskale Villari, in his "Lettere Mieridionali," in order to be overawed.
Well, it is just there, in that island, kissed by a smiling sun, and yet so unmercifully scourged by the perfidy of all the rulers that passed over it; it is there in the midst of those poor peasants, looking more like skeletons than human beings; in the midst of those deformed carusi that in the heart of the winter 1893-94, was heard the pitiful cry of the famished, echoing from vale to vale, joined with another of protest. It was so long since the rulers of Italy had promised a more humane food to those poor wretches, they were obliged to resort, very often, to wild radishes and a mixture consisting of mud and bran, in order to satisfy the cravings of their empty stomachs. This would seem incredible, and yet it is too true. A chunk of that mixture was brought before the Deputies and this calumny on bread was passed around, from hand to hand, among the Honorables, as they examined it in disgust. Then, as usual, the matte" dropped, and no more was said. And when the cry of the hungry Sicilians frightened the better classes, a story was circulated giving an account of secession, of secret understandings, between the islanders and France: Some armed troops were dispatched into the Island; the officers and the soldiers having received the order to scatter, right and left, a gift of cold lead, for every request of bread. And the shot of their soldier brothers tore open the chests that had dared to refuse to be silenced by mere promises. And there had been no lack of promises to be sure!! Thirty-four years previously, the Italian fatherland had sent Garibaldi, with his famous one-thousand followers, to liberate the Island from the Bourbonic tyranny. To make the lie even more atrocious, the Fates had reserved for future history to remark that, one of the organizers of the Garibaldian expedition, Francis Crispi, should himself ordain the state of siege and the shooting of the Sicilian plebeians.
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After the Sicilian fratricide, following close on that of Lunigiana, where the anarchic masons, in order to respond to the appeals of the Sicilian brethren, had organized insurrectional bands, the senile mad-ness of Signor Crispi, which to his Italian admirers seemed and seems sheer energy, grew still worse and nothing could check it.
He began with the monstrous condemnations by martial law, which, allowing no sort of guaranty for the defense of the accused, inflicted thousand" upon thousands of years of reclusion, and reached the maximum of the most cynical frenzy with the exceptional laws and the deportation en masse.
The Bourbons of Naples and the other small tyrants of other lands had never yet brought such contumely upon the most elementary principles of the liberty of the citizens, as the Jannizzaires of Crispi have done right along, since the promulgation of the exceptional laws against the Anarchists.
Laws wrested from the knavery of the deputies by governmental frauds, and applied with treachery.
With no more evidence than the bare police-reports, certain commissions, enslaved to the central power, and in a secret session, as if concocting a crime, have condemned en masse the most upright citizens, whose only guilt consisted in having been faithful to the cause of the meek, the wretched, the downtrodden. And, after having wrested the fathers from the sons, the husbands from their wives, and even little children from the arms of their mothers, (as was the case, the most pitiful among the rest, of the women-comrades Ballerini, Borani and Grandi), after having destroyed the happiness of so many families; after having scattered more hatred than could be done by millions of lectures and incendiary pamphlets, they brought all these poor unfortunates to the dark fortress of Porto Ercole and shut them in, proceeding then to inflict on them incredible tortures, leaving them exposed to the cravings of hunger and thirst and cold, and provoking them so, in a thousand ways, that they might rebel and furnish a pretext for a general massacre.
And, more than once, did the soldiers shoot them down, until these poor wretches, becoming aware of that infamous project, began to advise reciprocally each other to be calm, choking within their breasts the impetuosity of their indignation and grief. Some of them who were ailing from the time of their ar-rest, became seriously ill and some died. The unhappy Bandoni, whom I recollect to have known in Piomburo (and I almost can see him yet, meek, laborious, idealistic, doubled up over his shoe-maker bench, and never tiring of work, following up the bright dreams of his upright mind toward a future of love and of justice) they arrested, and hand-cuffed him in a brutal manner, although he was not feeling well and had lost one of his legs when working in his younger days. They threw him into the infernal ditch of Porto Ercole, where he died of want, suffering and grief. When the poor fellow had been already two days dead, like a grim Neronian joke, the order was given for his liberation!
But for these tortured ones, for these martyrs, barbarously destroyed in the social warfare, the crocodiles of the hired press, have no tears, as they have no condemnation for these assassinations committed slowly yet in cold blood upon the undefended. Their cries and maledictions are all against the avengers, who, raising up suddenly and terrible from the livid hole of the human wretchedness, sum up with a thrust of the dagger or with a bomb, hurled against some powerful man of the earth, all the despairs unknown and derided by the multitude.
These are some of the iniquities and there are still many more that strike the lower class. But would it be possible to enumerate all the meannesses, all the turpitudes of royal Italy?
Rome, the city which has seen, from the heights of her seven hills, all the greatness possible to man-kind, has been converted at the present time, (accord-ing to the sayings of Carducci himself, the great poet, now become a court minstrel), "into a forest of thieves and a brothel of sou1s." There it is, in the coarse and ugly hall of Montecitorio, that the representatives of the Italian privileged class are now presenting the last act of the political farce, the dirtiest of any which a ruling class has ever dared to inflict on a public of imbecile slaves.
Francis Crispi, whom several news-papers and men in power daily call an extortioner, a trigame, a prevaricator, a forger—and there are undeniable proofs of it—is the boss, the idol of the dominant class in Italy. There is no need of another thermometer to measure the fever of cowardice and of moral tuber-culosis which will finally drag to an inevitable and shameful death the all-grasping class in Italy. The more frantic he gets, the more this class, fearful for the coming storm, clings to this renegade Jacobin as to a rock of safety.
But no force whatever will prevent his total down-fall, when the waves of popular indignation will surge against him.
And we have faith that the day is coming; because we understand the Italian people. Centuries of darkness are heavily weighing upon Italy together with unheard of oppressions of physical and intellectual sterility. All the barbarians of by-gone times, all the oppressors of the dark ages have passed over her form and torn her in pieces.
In no other country has the power of money kings so scourged the laborers as it has in Italy.
But there is yet a lion calmly slumbering in fair Italy! Woe! when the people of the peninsula wake up! Woe! when the laborers of Italy take up the glove of defiance hurled against them by the tyranny of their capitalistic foes.
Perhaps, no people in the world can show, in its history, so many pages of formidable rebellions and generous rescues, as the Italian commoners.
Tell it yourselves, O American comrades, to our American laboring brethren, that, in the great final struggle of all the oppressed against their oppressors, the unfortunate, yet magnanimous Italian people, looking wistfully toward the coming day, in which all nations will be gathered together in a universal nationality, will give to the cause its most fiery enthusiasm and heroic dash.