The Ferrer "Myth" Spreads through Tuscany

Francisco Ferrer arrived in Italy along with a few hundred other Spanish delegates to take part in the International Freethought Congress held in Rome from 20 to 23 September 1904. In the Italian capital, he met up with numerous libertarians like the Frenchman Paul Robin, the Dutchman Domela Nieuwenhuis and the Italian Luigi Fabbri. One anarchist, Antonio Agresti, has left us vivid testimony regarding the active presence of the Barcelona educationist.

The respect and personal friendship Ferrer earned on this occasion fuelled the solidarity campaign launched in mid-1906 when the Catalan educator was first arrested. In Tuscany as elsewhere in Italy, over several months in 1906 and 1907, there were conferences, demonstrations and fund-raising "for Ferrer". Many publications started to carry essays by Ferrer with especial attention given to his educational theories and achievements.

That international solidarity campaign was revived between September and October 1909, following the Barcelona educator's second arrest. Throughout Tuscany there were numerous demonstrations which peaked between 13 and 16 October, immediately after Ferrer was shot. On 14 October especially, there was a general strike throughout the entire Tuscany region and lots of businesses posted up notices reading "closed for international mourning." Several processions of workers and anti-clericals crossed the cities and ended in street-fighting: this was the case in Florence, Pisa and Livorno. All of the leading elements of the subversive and democratic left were involved in the solidarity campaign, from the anarchists to the socialists, republicans and freemasons. Among the anarchists, those most active were the lawyer-poet Pietro Gori, the Sicilian anti-organisationist Paolo Schicchi (1865-1950) and the Tuscan journalist and agitator Virgilio Mazzoni (1869-1959).

In the weeks and months after Ferrer's death, the image of the "freethinker martyr" spread throughout Tuscany and 13 October was added to the secular, subversive calendar of the lower classes. In several cities as well as villages, that date became the occasion for the naming of streets, unveiling of plaques and inauguration of monuments commemorating the educator shot in Barcelona. One of the most impressive commemorations took place in Carrara on 13 October 1913: upwards of 20,000 people (out of a total population of 50,000) took part in the unveiling of the plaque: industrial and commercial activity in that city in Apua ground was at a standstill all day. Such monuments and sculptures represent a standing testimonial to Ferrer's enduring with the history of the Tuscan libertarian and labour movement. It was no accident that the fascist authorities were to try everything to destroy such examples of secular working class memory, in which they were not entirely successful. After the second world war, albeit on a lesser scale, the plaques and monuments which had been smashed or removed were reerected. Signifying that the life of the educationist Ferrer had not been forgotten: indeed by then he had become one of the emblems of the struggle for progress against "ignorance and fanaticism" and of the yearning of the oppressed for a "free and fair" society.

From: Bollettino Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli 18, p. 43-47 . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.