Cesare Zaccaria (19 August 1897-October 1961)

[Anarchist propagandist also known by his nom de plume as David Levi, was born on 19 August 1897 in the Borzoli quarter in Genoa, Italy. From boyhood he was a friend of Camillo Berneri. In 1916 he was involved in anti-militarist propaganda against the First World War. In 1926 he moved to Naples where he found a job as a naval engineer with a shipping line. In 1939 an article by him but signed by “an Italian” offered a profile of life in Italy under fascist rule; it was published in Studi Sociali in Montevideo. A close family friend of the Berneris, he became the partner of Camillo’s widow, Giovanna Caleffi from February 1943 onwards (Camillo having been murdered by the communists in May 1937 in Barcelona). In Naples, along with Pio Turroni, Giovanna Caleffi and Arrmido Abbate, in late 1943 he helped launch the Alleanza dei Gruppi Libertari (Alliance of Libertarian Groups) as a platform for the refloating of the anarchist movement in southern Italy. In 1948 he took part in the national anarchist congress held in Canosa. He was editor of the clandestine newspaper La Rivoluzione Libertaria and of the review Volontá. Together with Caleffi he brought out La societá senza stato (1947), a translation from the French of Voline’s The Unknown Revolution. In May 1950 he and Caleffi stood trial for birth control propaganda offences following publication of the birth control pamphlet Il Controllo delle nascite the previous year but both were acquitted. The court found “no basis for prosecution” and recognised “their socio-political beliefs which they seem to hold fervently and the seriousness of the research on which the text was founded, the measured tone in which the delicate issues were dealt with and the intent behind the publication in a single volume of articles previously published in the unmistakably social and political review, Volontá.” In 1951 he helped Caleffi set up the “Maria Luisa Berneri Colony” (In memory of Maria Luisa/ Marie Louise Berneri who died in 1949) on a tract of land owned by the Berneri family in Piano di Sorrento. At the end of the summer of 1957 he parted from Caleffi and the anarchist movement, reverting to the political liberalism from whence he had come, something that drew much criticism from libertarian circles. He died in October 1961 in Naples. Part of his correspondence is on deposit with the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.]

Pier Carlo Masini on Zaccaria

The leading historian of Italian anarchism (and himself a former activist in the movement), Pier Carlo Masini offered this analysis of Cesare Zaccaria’s impact on the movement;

La Rivoluzione Libertaria was launched once the South had been liberated, by Giovanna Berneri and Cesare Zaccaria, with the assistance and advice of Pio Turroni who at the time was working to refloat the Italian anarchist movement in the liberated South. This was between the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, that is, prior to the liberation of Rome. At which point I really must say something about Cesare Zaccaria, a person largely forgotten by anarchists, but who, it seems to me, was of pivotal importance in the rebirth of the movement.

Cesare Zaccaria was a naval expert and an authority in his field, nationally and internationally. For that very reason he had been able to work all through the fascist period, frequently travelling abroad. Even under fascism’s twenty year reign he carried on working for the movement (as did Giovanna Berneri) with great persistence and courage. Zaccaria came from a poor family and had been active in the anarchist movement following the First World War, so much so that writings of his, writings of an individualist tendency, crop up in L’Inconoclasta in Pistoia, he having been a contributor, as was Camillo Berneri. Cesare Zaccaria and Camillo Berneri had got to know each other in Florence at that time. Zaccaria was a somewhat self-possessed, cold, aloof and very Anglo-Saxon type and his educational background was also of the Anglo-Saxon variety, he having had the chance to acquire it during his many working trips abroad. He brought to the Italian anarchist movement something that the movement was missing at that point, especially the Italian movement. One need only look at a few examples and the quotations in his essays from people such as Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Freud; he brought to it a cultural grasp that was different from the Latin-humanist variety and was more cosmopolitan in outlook. This contribution of his was entirely positive and I would venture to say that, as far as the review Volontá went, Cesare Zaccaria’s contribution outweighed that of Giovanna Berneri. And let us not forget that Giovanna had been Camillo’s wife but had never been active in the movement, not even during her time in exile, although she may have engaged in the odd activity or two. She looked after the collection of testimonials about Camillo that was published in France shortly after his death as Pensieri e battaglie.

Her engagement started with the launch of La Rivoluzione Libertaria and Volontá which is not to say that she did not oppose fascism and indeed there is a fat file on her commitment in the State Archives in Rome. The collaboration between Cesare Zaccaria and Giovanna Berneri lasted right up until they parted company: and as he drifted apart from her Zaccaria also drifted away from anarchism.

There are a few things I would like to say about Zaccaria’s ideas. Cesare came from a liberal background. He had been close to [Benedetto] Croce, so much so that there is a pamphlet of his published in 1943, prior to his meeting up with Giovanna again (they knew each other from 20 years earlier when Giovanna was Camillo’s wife) entitled, I seem to recall, Thoughts On A Liberal Reconstruction and it is written by a liberal and definitely not an anarchist. At that point he had utterly rejected the anarchism of his youth. The meeting with Giovanna must have had some sort of an impact on his reversion to anarchist ideas, which was in any event a queer turn of events. Actually he decked out in anarchist garb what were his liberal notions, albeit that his was a very forward-looking individualistic liberalism, one that, in my view, had small connection with the anarchism of the movement, even its individualist strain. And then we have the matter of the revolution.

All anarchists, ranging from organisers through to individualists looked to a revolutionary approach. They all regarded the anarchist revolution as an unquestionable given. The organiser anarchists saw it as a strategic political operation, whereas the individualists saw it as the big moment, the magical moment when the old order was overthrown and free rein given to individual inclinations. But revolution as a fact still held water for both these currents. But Zaccaria had absolutely no belief in revolution. What he had in mind was an anarchism that was largely dependent on anti-authoritarian practices and behaviours; we could lift quotations by the hundreds from his writings to support this contention of mine.

In addition to that there were other stances chary of institutions, opposed to massification and to public meddling in the economy. Positions that did not conflict with liberal thinking. Although they represented an extreme and radical extrapolation from liberal thinking. Not Italian liberalism, of course, but the British and American varieties.

As I see it where Zaccaria has to come in for criticism is his failure to spell out his beliefs openly in some scheme, some programme, pitting them against the ideas of traditional anarchism which were the very antithesis of his own views.

Zaccaria played the part of ‘diplomat’ when it came to ideas, embracing the traditional anarchist movement along with its revolutionary working class myths, (the anarchism associated with places like Carrara or Piombino) whilst reserving the right to reshape and slowly reposition the anarchist movement on his own thinking, in which he was, for a time, successful. Given his ability to mediate between all of the competing currents at every anarchist congress. Once debate in gatherings reached stalemate, Zaccaria used to draft some motion that would also express the thinking of the dissenters and would therefore succeed in getting it passed. All of the motions from the Carrara congress, the Bologna congress and the Canosa congress had been drafted by Cesare Zaccaria.

From: Volonta No 3, 1986, pp. 45-48. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.