Pietro Gori

"This was in the early dawn of socialism, or rather, the first years when there began to be talk of socialism in my country. One day a young law student arrived in the Ardenza to make propaganda on behalf of the new ideas and he spoke with colourful eloquence and persuasive reasoning. Crowds showed up for his speeches, drawn by his soft, soothing words, fired by his oratory, even if they could scarcely fully grasp the underlying ideas or had only the vaguest grasp of them. I was seduced by Pietro Gori's propaganda." (Amedeo Boschi).

But who was this effective and fascinating propagandist of anarchist thinking?

Revolutionary anarchism and legalitarian socialism

Born in Messina on 14 August 1865, (his father, a one-time conspirator during the Risorgimento, was in charge of the local artillery barracks) Pietro Gori completed his schooling in Livorno and Pisa, where he graduated in law in 1889. From then on the young student joined the anarchist movement, becoming an active propagandist for it in the provinces of Livorno and Pisa, on the island of Elba and in the Maremma region of Tuscany. In 1887, Gori published his first pamphlet Rebel Thoughts, which resulted in his being tried and acquitted by the Pisa Assize Court.

In the lead-up to May Day 1890, anarchists, constitutional socialists and republicans in Livorno decided jointly to organise the city's first ever general strike. The initiative was a resounding success and the strike lasted into the ensuing days. Pietro Gori, who had joined with other anarchists to throw his support firmly behind the strike, was arrested along with 27 comrades and charged with incitement to class hatred and incitement to strike. Sentenced to a year in prison, he was acquitted by the Pisa Appeal Court, but not before he had served much of the sentence. Upon his release, he was forced by persistent police harassment to move to Milan, there to be welcomed by Filippo Turati into his law practice, thereby smoothing his entry into the law.

In January 1891, Gori took part, in the Swiss city of Capolago, in the foundation congress of the Revolutionary Anarchist Socialist Party (PSAR). This was an attempt to float a libertarian organisation that recognised group autonomy, was to achieve coordination on the basis of regional federations liaising through a number of corresponding commissions. Along with Amilcare Cipriani, Malatesta and Francesco Saverio Merlino, Gori was one of the chief backers and propagandists of this party. Returning to Milan, he joined with a number of workers, artists and students to launch L'Amico del Popolo, a newspaper that published 27 issues, all 27 of which were impounded by the authorities!

This was one indication of the repression that battened upon the new-born PSAR, a repression that culminated after the May Day demonstrations of 1891, when, yet again, the anarchists were very much to the fore.

Again in 1891, Gori clashed with the socialist faction led by Filippo Turati. On this occasion, Gori expressed his opposition to constitutional and parliamentary systems, availing among other things of arguments drawn from Marx's Communist Manifesto. The clash with Turati was re-enacted during the Genoa Congress (1892) when the definitive falling-out between anarchists and socialists came to pass.

Exile

Alongside his political activities, Gori was also involved in literary and professional endeavours. He published three volumes of poetry, Prisons and Battles, and had his socially critical plays Without Homeland and Thy Neighbour staged successfully, whilst, between 1892 and 1894, he acted a defence counsel for, among others, Paolo Schicchi, C. di Sciullo, Luigi Galleani and Sante Caserio, in addition to fighting many criminal cases.

When Sante Caserio assassinated the French president Sadi Carnot (24 May 1894), the conservative press accused Gori of having been implicated in the killing. The campaign against Gori was part and parcel of a swingeing anti-anarchist crackdown sponsored by the Italian prime minister Crispi. Gori was obliged to flee to Lugano in Switzerland where he resumed his law practice. There too, however, he attracted unwelcome attention from the Italian police who even orchestrated an attempt on his life; two persons unknown fired two revolver shots at him, but missed their target. Following pressure from the Italian government on the Swiss authorities, Gori was arrested along with 15 comrades and expelled from Switzerland. It was on this occasion that he penned his famous verses "Farewell to Lugano".

Travelling through Germany and Belgium, Gori fled to London where he met Kropotkin, Louise Michel, Charles Malato and Sebastien Faure, as well as other noted anarchists who had been forced into reluctant exile. During this time he joined with Malatesta to get involved in the struggles of the workers' movement in London. Then he moved on to Holland, but, realising that he could not be of service to the anarchist movement in a country whose language he could not speak, he decided to sail to the English city of Hull; there he found a job as a plain seaman on board the SS. 'Neuland'. After a few months on the northern seas, he landed in New York to resume his political activities. In a little under a year he had held something like 400 lectures and meetings in Italian, French and English, with visits also to Canada. At the end of this wearisome propaganda tour, Gori was sent as the American trade unions' delegate to the international socialist labour congress in London (27 July - 1 August 1896) at which anarchists and socialists clashed again. Collapsing under the strain of over-work, he recovered in hospital. After a short stay he decided to return to Italy (autumn 1896) where his sentence of enforced residence was commuted to a requirement that he remain first on the island of Elba, and later in Rosgnano Matittimo.

The anarchist movement's second wind

His health restored, Gori settled in Milan again, reopening his practice and resuming his political activities. He started to contribute to L'Agitazione, a paper published by Malatesta out of Ancona. These were telling months for the anarchist movement: besides the drive to reorganise following years of harsh repression, there was an attempt to re-establish links with workers' organisations. Gori put the case for the latter in the pages of Malatesta's L'Agitazione, denying that the anarchist movement had never shown any real interest in workers' associations and citing the activities of the 1890-1892 period.

Meanwhile the storm was approaching. At the unveiling in Milan of a monument to the "5 Days", Gori was recognised by the crowd and compelled to address them. What he said would be the basis of charges against him some months later. Early in 1898, he was defending the protagonists of the Carrara uprising and then joined Malatesta's defence team during the Ancona trial. When rioting erupted following the escalating price of bread (in the spring of 1898), disturbances that turned into out and out popular uprisings in some areas (cries of "long live the social revolution!" became pretty much the keynote of the disturbances), Pietro Gori was forced to go into exile once more.

Activity in South America

His flight was quite an adventure. Disguised as a British diplomat, Gori travelled on the same train as the Duke of Genoa and after countless incidents eventually reached the French frontier; there he donned the disguise first of a prince and then of a pauper in order to make it eventually as far as Marseilles and take ship for Argentina. In Buenos Aires he launched Modern Criminology a highly-rated review which attracted contributions from South American and European jurists and scientists. Again in Argentina, Gori was among the promoters of the anarcho-syndicalist FORA (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation). Not that his political and propaganda activities prevented him from joining with the painter Tomasi to make a long and dangerous exploration beyond Tierra del Fuego.

In Argentina, Gori published (among other things) the pamphlet Our Utopia, one of his most important essays. Jettisoning his rather positivistic belief in the inevitability of the Revolution, Gori argued that the need was for day to day struggle in order to build anarchist communism which naturally meant a struggle well outside parliamentary institutions. As he saw it, the State was not merely institutionalised violence but a definite brake upon the development of society. Still attentive to relations with the labour movement, Gori saw the organisation of the struggle as a prefiguring of the society to come and he was especially interested in the examples of the French chambers of labour and Bourses du travail.

Latter years

In 1902, availing of an amnesty, Gori returned to Italy. One of the first things he did was to launch, with Luigi Fabbri, the review Il Pensiero. The years 1902-1906 saw Gori at his most mature, politically. His writings from that time show him recognising the importance of the will and class organisation, whilst the proletariat was singled out as the essential factor in the revolution. Gori was involved in heated debates about trade unions with reformists as well as with revolutionary syndicalists.

Gori's line was that the union had to steer clear of the socialists' parliamentary campaigns as well as of the anti-parliamenary struggles of the Sorelians and anarchists, on the basis that politics could not help but bring division into the ranks of the workers' organisations. The relevance today of this insight requires no explanation.

In 1906, a breakdown of his health forced him to withdraw to the island of Elba where he carried on supporting the workers' struggles, so much so that in 1908 he was one of the leading lights behind the strike by the miners of Capoliveri and one of the brains behind the building of the Chamber of Labour in Piombino, Elba and Maremma; it went on to affiliate to the USI.

His final years saw him gradually broken down by serious illness. He died on 8 January 1911 in Portoferraio. The train bearing his remains back to Rosignano Marittimi for burial was forced to halt at all of the stations along the way where tens of thousands of workers paid their final tribute to a man who is still a by-word in those districts as a model, disinterested revolutionary of the utmost integrity.

From: Umanita Nova of 17 February 1985. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.