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Recent articles by Leonardo Bettini
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Early anarchist periodicals in Egypt (by Leonardo Bettini, translation)
north africa | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis Thursday January 08, 2015 15:24 by Leonardo Bettini
English translation of the overview of early Italian-language anarchist periodicals in Egypt, from Leonardo Bettini, "Bibliografia dell'anarchismo, volume 2, tomo 2: periodici e numeri unici anarchici in lingua italiana pubblicati all'estero (1872-1971)" (CP editrice, Firenze, 1976), translation by Nestor McNab. Via Lucien van der Walt.
No copies found. This was the official newspaper of the Alexandria branch of the International, founded in April 1876 by I.U. Parrini from Livorno and a group of Italian Internationalists who had fled to Egypt to avoid the repression that followed the Bakuninist uprisings. After the third issue, on the orders of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Khedivate of Egypt – but clearly on the request of the Italian consular authorities – the newspaper was banned and Ottolenghi’s print works , where the paper was printed, closed indefinitely. Shortly thereafter, however, the editors announced their intention to continue publication notwithstanding, “changing the name from ‘Il Lavoratore’ to ‘Operaio’; this was published on the 1st and 14th of every month”. See the letter by I. U. P[arrini]. from Alexandria dated 20 Mar. 1877 in “Il Risveglio” (Siena), a. V, No. 13 (1 Apr. 1877), in the column Nostre corrispondenze.
Later reminiscences by Parrini provide us with several more short but interesting particulars which, although they do not document this Internationalist newspaper’s programmatic content, at least provide some clarifications about its exterior life, so to speak. See “Un Vecchio” [I. U. Parrini], L’Anarchismo in Egitto, in “La Protesta Umana” (San Francisco, CA), a. II, No. 36 (21 Nov. 1903): “…In that same year (1876; recte: 1877) L’Orso [i.e. I. U. Parrini], Giuseppe Messina and Giacomo Costa, from Imola, published the newspaper ‘Il Lavoratore’, which was banned by the authorities after three issues; later, having acquired some movable type, they issued ‘Il Proletario’, printed on one side only. The original side of these two papers, lay in the fact that none of the three editors could really write: so from the linguistic and grammatical point of view, these publications left much to be desired, however good the content was”.
No copies found. Unknown to Nettlau, this Alexandrian newssheet was mentioned several times by I. U. Parrini. See also E. Zoccoli, L’Anarchia, Milan , p. 316, No. 1.
Initially announced with the name “L’Operaio” (see in the 1 Apr. 1877 issue of the Siena newspaper “Il Risveglio”, letter from I. U. P[arrini]. from Alexandria dated 20 Mar. 1877), the newssheet came out in place of the other Alexandrian International paper, “Il Lavoratore”, which had been banned after three issues by the Egyptian authorities. For further details, see the previous entry on “Il Lavoratore”.
Bilingual weekly, founded and edited by Pietro Vasai and the Lebanese Joseph Rosenthal for the Italian and French sections respectively. This editorial initiative, however, met with no success and the paper, which was also met with hostility on the part of Cairo’s individualist anarchists, had to cease publication after a brief existence. See R. D’Angiò, 4 anni in Egitto, in “Il Libertario” (La Spezia), a. III, No. 99, 22 Jun. 1905.
The following articles appear in the Italian section of the second issue (the only one known): the second part of a text in instalments on Communism and Anarchy; an extract from L. Tolstoy (Ricchi e Poveri); and insert containing a polemic against the anarchist newspapers “L’Agitazione” (Rome) and “Les Temps Nouveaux” (Paris) regarding the concept of organization (Risposta a una Risposta); apart from the editorial Lotta e reazione (Struggle and reaction) there are also some general considerations on the theme of the strike, whose function is held by the anonymous author to be quite pointless, either where the abstention from work is understood as being an instrument for revolutionary struggle, or, more simply, as a means for achieving temporary economic benefits for workers. Indeed, he says “We do not share the idea of the partial strike, as indeed we have no faith in the general strike… With a partial strike, even if the worker is victorious economically speaking he does not achieve any improvement. If he does achieve fairer pay, life is simply made more expensive for him; in order to compensate for what is has been forced to concede on the one hand, Capital simply wins it back by extracting a greater price for the product. Only the general strike would be in any way able to place the masses in a position to conquer their rights. But we do not understand that this can be done by merely suspending work, with a general strike where arms are crossed, peacefully, and not in any way resistant” (Dello sciopero).
The column Cose locali (Local matters) was dedicated to local news and, more particularly, to work problems pertaining to local Alexandria companies.
This was, in effect, the expression of the doctrinaire and exclusivist individualism of Icilio Parrini, undoubtedly one of the most peculiar and emblematic figures of Italo-Egyptian anarchism.
A believer in ideological purism who accepted no backtracking or compromise, the intention of the Livornese anarchist in setting up “Il Domani” was to stem the tide of the ideas, held to be unorthodox, that Roberto D’Angiò and Pietro Vasai were helping to spread in Cairo at the time through their newspaper “L’Operaio” (see). In the circular which announced the imminent publication of his new newspaper, he writes: “It is our intention above all to delimit clearly the difference that exists between socialism (with whatever adjective one chooses) and anarchism (without adjectives of any sort). ‘Il Domani’ will be anarchist and nothing but anarchist; it will seek to persuade everyone that we must live as freely as possible, starting from now, and that in this society there are only two opinions: conservatives and anarchists; the reaction that dominates and the revolution that is born; the supporters of the State and its deniers; those who want to reform and mess about in order to go on experimenting and we who want to demolish because we have experimented quite enough in this artificially constructed society”.
The polemic objective, however, was exhausted in the pages of the newspaper, in a rhetorical and intellectualistic exaltation of the unconditioned, absolute liberty of the individual: that liberty – it was written – that is certainly not achievable by allowing oneself to become trapped by organizational rules with leaders and statutes, but only by seeking to “give new life to an atom that is a world: to the individual”. Every movement or aspiration that is solicited from without must be rejected as being contrary to the anarchist idea, which is “wholly the matter of human will and conscience”. This is, in effect, the true essence of Anarchy: everything else is utopia, a “sentimental phenomenon”, a bourgeois degeneration. It therefore becomes indispensable, faced with certain authoritarian regressions within the movement, to return “to the true sources of our life; to the anarchism of yore which gave blood to entire generations who were disheartened by impotent agitation and made the old world tremble ... And I say this return is easy. Because if we only reflect for a moment and seek out which of these tendencies have been and are contrary to, almost outside of, the anarchist conception, we can put ourselves back on the straight and narrow and put aside any spurious infiltrations” (Rinovellamento, a. I, No. 1, 4 Apr.).
The remaining articles do not differ from this to any great extent, either in their form or in their content. However, we should point out the publication (in an “Appendix”, beginning in issue No. 1) of M. Bakunin’s Lettere sul patriottismo (Letters on patriotism) in Italian translation made by “Victor” on the basis of the text contained in the Paris edition (1895) of the Œvres. (The writings known under the name Lettres sur le patriotisme were, as is known, published by Bakunin in “Il Progrès” (Le Locle) between 1 Mar. and 2 Oct. 1869). Also to be noted, a piece entitled Facitori di anarchici (Anarchist doers) (No. 1, 4 Apr.), which despite a strong polemic style, is of particular interest in wishing to reconstruct the history of Italo-Egyptian anarchism (to that end, see also the obituaries of Carlo Bertolucci and Augusto Bicchielli, which appeared in No. 6, 20 Jul.); and the presence among the journal’s contributors of Leda Rafanelli, who wrote under the pseudonym of E. Bazaroff.
Bibl. – E. Zoccoli, L’Anarchia, Milan , p. 315-16; R. D’Angiò, 4 anni in Egitto, in “Il Libertario” (La Spezia), a. III, No. 121 and 122 of 7 and 14 Dec. 1905. (See also the previous and following issues). Lastly, the text of the “circular-announcement” is published in “La Protesta Umana” (San Francisco, CA), a. II, No. 5 () Apr. 1903), p. 5.
Typographical notes: The masthead contains an illustration (signed: S. Armando), showing a young nude holding in his right hand a banner on which is written “Fiat lux”, while his left hand is extended and seems to be making the sun, which has just appeared on the horizon, rise to light up the waters of the Nile. In the background there are pyramids and palm groves.
The appearance of this newssheet was met with satisfaction among Italian anarchist circles, who interpreted it as a sign of renewed activity in the Italo-Egyptian movement. More particularly, “Il Libertario” (La Spezia) underligned, when announcing the first issue (in No. 289, 1 Apr. 1909, in the column Libri, Riviste e Giornali), the importance of the initiative, noting how “for some time now – that is, since the magazine “Lux!”, edited in Alexandria by Roberto D’Angiò, ceased publication – libertarian propaganda in Egypt has been on the wane”.
In fact, throughout 1909 and indeed the following year, anarchist activity had been decidedly intense, to the point of provoking a certain apprehension among the local consular authorities, who followed developments with particular attention. This little propaganda sheet, “L’Idea”, also seems to have had a somewhat less ephemeral life than one would suppose on the basis of its to issues only – which are, at any rate, the only ones whose existence I have been able to trace – which came out, amid great uncertainty in the spring of 1909. On 1 August of that year, during a Convention held in Alexandria at the premises of the Atheist Club – with a delegation of eight comrades from Cairo, including Pietro Vasai – it was “recognized that there was a need for the publication of a propaganda newspaper” and decided to adopt the periodical “L’Idea” as the official paper of Egypt’s anarchists. It seems that the task of publishing the newspaper was on that occasion entrusted to an editorial body made up in part of comrades from Cairo (Pietro Vasai, Camillo Brigido, Giovanni Brunello and Umberto Bambini) and in part from Alexandria (Francesco Cini, Francesco Donato, Costantino Ungaretti and Giuseppe Rosenthal, a Lebanese Jew who had already edited in 1901 the Alexandrian newssheet “La Tribuna Libera”). See the resolutions of the Alexandria Convention published in a flyer on 15 August 1909 under the title Perché siamo anarchici. Che cosa vogliamo (Why we are anarchists. What we want). See also reports Nos. 1045, 1075, 1295 and 1574 dated respectively 3 and 10 August, 11 October and 22 December 1909, of the Royal Diplomatic Agent to Cairo, to the Minister of the Interior, in ACSR, Ministero degli Interni. Direzione generale di P. S. Ufficio riservato (1879-1912), b. 16 B, fasc. 50, sottofasc. 13.
I have unfortunately been unable to ascertain anything regarding the possible appearance of this anarchist newspaper following the resolutions of the Alexandria Convention, and the two issues indicated above thus remain the only ones whose existence is certain. The first (no copy available) came out on 18 March on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the Paris Commune, to which it was entirely dedicated with the following articles: 18 Marzo 1871-1909 (continues in No. 2); Perché cadde la Comune; La religione e la Comune; Concepitmento di lotta rilevato dalla Comune; etc. (for information on the contents, see “Cronaca Sovversiva” (Barre, VT), 24 Apr. 1909, in the column Tra libri, riviste e giornali). The following issue came out on the occasion of May Day and contained – apart from the feature Il Primo Maggio – various propaganda texts, including: S’io fosse mamma (an anti-militarist text); Il libero amore (signed: “Germinal”); and a protest (Libertà di stampa) on the latest measures on press freedom adopted by the Egyptian authorities.
The events around this colossal frame-up with which the Spanish authorities sought to justify the arrest and execution of Francisco Ferrer y Guardia – thinker and secular educator who had become too uncomfortable a figure in the eyes of the clericalist, regressive regime – are only too well known to warrant even a short account. Suffice it for us to recall the universal indignation and justified apprehensions that the news of Ferrer’s arrest and arraignment before a Court Martial aroused in all circles, not only anarchist or of the radical left, but also of the cultural world, and also to underline the worldwide scale of the protests which immediately took place to demand his release and denounce to democratic public opinion the clearly inquisitorial procedure adopted by the Spanish authorities.
It was in such a climate, in fact, that the publication of this single issue took place; while on the one hand it confirmed yet again the extent of the international protests, it also attests to the existence, on the eve of the second decade of the century, of lively libertarian activity and the presence of anarchists in Alexandria’s political life. During the pro-Ferrer agitation, the editorial group of this single issue would carry out intense propaganda work, amongst other things promoting the creation of a “Defence Committee” – probably run in cooperation with exponents of that secular, radical cultural area on which the activity of the local “Popular University” was based – and organizing demonstrations and protest rallies.
Notice is given in the paper of a “pro-Ferrer meeting” called for the 4 October “in the Conference Hall willingly and courteously offered by the Università popolare libera”, with a manifesto entitled Cittadini d’Alessandria! (Citizens of Alexandria!) published on the first page. The appeal is addressed “to honest people of every party” that, faced with the unanimous sense of outrage, they may not be “perplexed or impassable, or silent”, and confirm by means of massive participation at the rally, their solidarity “with the good people of other countries, near and far”.
Other texts illustrate the reactionary machinations which led to the totally arbitrary incrimination of Ferrer (see I Moti della Catalogna) and the emphasis is placed on the tragic political situation which the Spanish people are subject to (see Contro l’Inquisizione and Povera Spagna!). Lastly, page 4 contains the text of an appeal for Ferrer’s release made by the “International League for the Rational Education of Children” in Rome (whose signatories include the names of the anthropologist G. Sergi, Guido Podrecca and Luigi Fabbri).
In November 1912, Pietro Vasai circulated a notice regarding a plan to publish a “newssheet for free anarchist critique” to be called “L’Indice” (The Index) with the intention – he said – “of acting as a facilitator of free debate” and with the hope of achieving “the most effective results for propaganda, that is to say: a balance of ideas and the coordination of tactics amongst the various combative elements”. See “Cronaca Sovversiva” (Lynn, MA), a. X, No. 48 (30 Nov. 1912): Nuova pubblicazione.
The initiative was not immediately followed up as it did not receive the agreement and support he had hoped for. However, on 18 March 1913, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Paris Commune, the little group from Cairo that was promoting the initiative nonetheless distributed an issue of the planned publication under the name of “Libera Tribuna”, “by way of demonstrating our good intentions”, the editors wrote, and to include “material we have received from a few willing souls towards whom we feel the greatest of consideration” (Il nostro scopo).
The paper contains two pieces on the Libyan war (P. Schicchi, La gazzarra Tripolina; “Zeffiro D’Aprile”, La guerra e gli anarchici, the latter, though not openly interventionist, of at least questionable outline); an Appello ai liberi pensatori made by Luigi Molinari for cooperation by free thinkers in the planned creation of a Modern School in Milan; and the first part of another piece by P. Schicchi (I beccamorti togati) on the “administration of justice” in Italy.
It is likely that the paper ceased publication after this issue. Immediately afterwards, however, publication began of another periodical, this time on a more solid basis, edited by P. Vasai (see the following entry, “L’Unione”), which almost certainly must be considered the natural continuation of this editorial initiative.
No copies found. It is mentioned in communications by the Egyptian correspondent to the La Spezia newspaper, “Il Libertario”. See for example in the 14 May 1914 issue (a. XII, No. 552) a letter signed “Leandrote” (dated: Cairo, 3 may 1914) where in reference to demonstrations by Cairo anarchists for May Day, the unknown reporter also mentions “L’Unione”, specifying that “a special edition was published” for the occasion and distributed free of charge.
It is likely that the publication of this periodical gave life at last to the old proposal for a paper called “L’Indice” – “a newssheet for free anarchist critique” – that Pietro Vasai had put forward back in November 1912, which until now had only seen the light with the publication of a single issue of the paper under another name in March 1913 (see the previous entry, “Libera Tribuna”).
I do not know the exact chronological details of this publication, which ceased however in October 1914, “due to the current state of affairs” – as was stated in “Il Libertario”, cit., 29 Oct. 1914 – with the outbreak of the World War. Shortly thereafter, on 27 November, Pietro Vasai – and with him Giovanni Macri, administrator of the newspaper – had to appear in court as a result of an incriminating article (29 July 1900) which had appeared in “L’Unione”, a. II, No. 55 of 26 Jul. 1914, which the authorities had interpreted as being an apology of regicide. However, the Italian Consular Tribunal in Cairo acquitted both the accused. See “Il Libertario”, cit., a. XII, No. 581 of Dec. 1914 (letter from Cairo dated 29 Nov. 1914). See also two ministerial notes dated 1 Oct. 1914 and 26 Jan. 1915 added to the political file on P. Vasai, in ACSR, Ministero dell’Interno. Direzione Generale di P. S.; Casellario Politico Centrale, b. 5327.