Interview with Giuseppe Galzerano - What's all this about a Bourbon plot?

Giuseppe Galzerano is working on the second edition of his [Italian language] book Gaetano Bresci: The Life, Attentat, Trial, Sentencing and Death of the Anarchist Regicide. We looked him up at home in Casalvelino Scalo. He is putting the finishing touches to his new edition and shuttles between his computer and old books, newspapers, photocopies, notes and other documentation. His 1975 publishers put out books about emigration and antifascism and Giuseppe Galzerano is the author of texts about Carlo Pisacane, the assassination attempt by Giovanni Passanante, the anarchist Vincenzo Perrone from Salerno who died fighting for freedom in Spain and Antonio Galotti who fought in the Cilento revolt in 1828.

How far back does your interest in Bresci go?

It started in 1970 when I was 17. I read Arrigo Petacco's book on Bresci, an essay by Armando Meoni in a magazine from Prato and a French comrade wrote me to say that she was in touch with Bresci's daughters in America, but at the time it never even occurred to me to press her for the addresses. In 1988 I published my book which met with reasonable critical and public success. For the centenary I thought about bringing out a second edition, but then I embarked on some fresh research and a tour through the archives and that added to the book considerably. It now stands at 700 pages … At the Milan Archives I looked at the trial records, records that vanished and have only recently become accessible again: 6 hefty volumes, a total of nearly 10,000 pages. As I was combing through them it occurred to me that I was having more luck than the lawyer Francesco Saverio Merlino who was appointed to defend the regicide just two days before the trial, sought a postponement and was turned down and had very little time to go through the trial papers. I carried out research at the archives in Rome and Naples and have come up with a lot of unpublished material. I found 'fragments' by Bresci here and there: some of his letters at the Criminological Museum in Rome, some photographs taken of Bresci in the National Carabinieri Museum. I have had priceless help from the Berneri-Chessa Archive in Reggio Emilia, from the CIRA in Lausanne, from the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam and lots of other comrades, male and female who - at my suggestion - successfully tracked down newspapers and pamphlets from the time.

And what of the Italian-American anarchist press?

Yes, I have looked at L'Aurora, La Questione Sociale and Cronaca Sovversiva, titles hard to get hold of here in Italy. I have touched upon the debate on the regicide, the substance of the anarchist movement in America during the 19th century, evidence as to the work of émigré comrades and reports of infiltrators, whose activity I document. I reprint almost verbatim the interrogations of the Italian-American anarchists from Paterson, the city that the press described as 'anarchy's capital' and where there was indeed a massive anarchist presence, when you think that La Questione Sociale was a massive weekly with a print run of 15,000 copies!

But why a second edition?

Above all because it was out of print and orders were still pouring in for it. Then, to place on record the sacrifice and selflessness of Bresci. And also because Bresci is surrounded by masses of speculation and disinformation.

Any new historical findings from this new research?

Above all it confirms that Bresci acted alone and that there was no plot, no anarchist plot and no Bourbon plot to execute the king of Italy.

But in his book Arrigo Petacco…

I am none too happy about Petacco's reviving the conspiracy story. A thesis that, for all their good intentions and mischief-making intent, even the detectives could not get to stick at the time! Petacco makes a number of mistakes: starting with Bresci's birth date and his contention that Bresci returned to Italy under an assumed name. There is no truth in this: I have seen the list of the 67 passengers who left New York on board Le Gascogne on 17 May 1900 and landed in Le Havre and Bresci is listed, name and surname, as No 36. Then he talks about a certain Granotti who was supposedly to have opened fire if Bresci had missed. This too was a police invention and poor Granotti returned to America and avoided capture. He was tried in his absence, on the basis of accusations extorted under torture from a cousin of his from Biella, who promptly recanted the whole thing and fled to Argentina. Furthermore, the Italian consulates in America offered a $100 reward for anyone who could supply information about Luigi Granotti and he was spotted simultaneously in Shanghai, New York, Buenos Aires and London and so on. Some people even made a profession out of it: changing names occasionally they used to call to the consulates, give their information and cash in. Granotti was never caught as Luigi Galleani had predicted in a splendid article in 1902. I have discovered that he died in the United States in 1949 - where he had been living under an assumed name, unmolested by the police and unrecorded by the register of his home district. Unintentionally I turned into something of a 'history detective'. I was able to consult his file and lots of other files of people who were implicated and managed to reconstruct a number of intriguing human and political stories.

And what of poor Bresci's death?

That was a state suicide, in Santo Stefano penitentiary. That was quickly understood at the time and is still the case today. Bresci was Italy's most closely watched prisoner and in those circumstances there was no way for him to attempt, let alone contemplate suicide. The earliest reports were contradictory and there was mention of a scarf (a likely story!), a hand-towel and a sheet. But then the papers, who carried the ministry's version of things, leaked a morsel of truth: the corpse stank. Meaning that he had been strangled some days before the official date of death. Not only that, but I also query the date of death, because, according to one witness I have come across it happened even earlier. Then, thanks to further evidence, I give the name of the convict who actually carried out the killing of Bresci and who rewarded with a royal pardon, whilst the prison governor's career took off and his salary was raised from 4,500 to 9,500 lire - more than doubling.

And what of the Bourbon plot that Petacco talks about?

Even that is nothing new. Benedetto Croce referred to it back in 1926 when he wrote that in 1904 a pro-Bourbon journalist had come to Italy - at the instigation of Maria Sofia - to secure Bresci's release. Note that date: can one release a prisoner who was killed three years earlier? And then again, why a journalist and not, say, a general or some expert? A journalist writes but getting someone out of jail also involves fighting. Some mix-up, surely. That story does not stand up. At the time Errico Malatesta who was also called into question by the Communist press responded with a piece in Il Risveglio in Geneva, giving Croce a right drubbing. Then there's the story of the queen's having set up the assassination. Well, that sort of yarn means that one knows nothing about the anarchists, their extraordinary independence and utter refusal to obey and deep-seated aversion to the institution of the monarchy. Moreover, the former queen of Naples could not have had any dynastic interest at stake as she had no offspring and her husband had died in 1894. So it strikes me as self-evident that an anarchist would not have had any interest in backing one dynasty over another, or whether the throne was occupied by one house or another, since he is opposed to monarchy itself. 29 July 2000 marked the first centenary of the killing of the king by Bresci. What was the significance of that deed in our country's history? Above all it brought a far-reaching political and social about-turn. True, the death of one Pope leads to the election of a successor and in fact Umberto's son suc- ceeded to the throne but the fact that he was picking up a crown stained with his father's blood was a great lesson to him. He abandoned his father's repressive and reactionary policies and Italy became a slightly  if I may be so bold - more democratic country thanks to those three revolver shots from Bresci. Not only that but this violent assault upon the institution on monarchy helped - as Passanante and others also did - to bring about the republic in 1946. A republic that forgot about its predecessors who had given their very lives to bring it about.

Bresci's tyrannicide is associated with the anarchists. However…

However, tyrannicide was not introduced to the social struggle by anarchists. In the history of humankind and of man's struggle for freedom, it goes back to the days of ancient Greece and such brave men have always been heroes in the culture of their times. Even the Church preached and justified killing a king! Not travelling too far back in time, when Garibaldi arrived in Naples in 1860, one of his first moves was a decree awarding a 30 ducat per month pension to the mother of Agesilao Milano and a gift of 2,000 ducats to his sisters. Agesilao Milano was a Calabrian soldier of Albanian extraction who had attempted the life of the king of Naples in 1856 and who had been feted by the Piedmontese monarchists. Italy really is a schizophrenic country: how come one king-killer is 'good' and another 'evil'? There is no sense to such distinctions. Bresci stated plainly that he wished only to strike at the king, identifying the king as the embodiment of responsibility for poverty, hunger, emigration and the cannon-fire of Bava Beccaris.

And what is your next project?

More 'assassinations': I'm returning to an old project on the anarchist attempts on Mussolini's life and I'll be starting with the one in Bologna, credited to Anteo Zamboni, the 15-year old cravenly lynched by the blackshirts and whose parents were sentenced to 30 year terms of imprisonment. Then I'll look into Angelo Sbardelotto's attempt. Already I have collected a lot of evidence and it's merely a matter of sitting down to write. I hope it may be ready for publication next year.

Interview conducted by FP in A Rivista Anarchica No 266, October 2000

Giuseppe Galzerano's book is Gaetano Bresci. La vita, l'attentato, il processo, la condanna e la morte del regicida anarchico. Obtainable from Galzerano at 84040 Casalvelino Scalo, SA. Italy

From: A Rivista Anarchica No 266, October 2000. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.