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13 May 1890 – Pietro Gori, anarchist & poet, is arrested for “inciting” the crowd during May Day demonstrations in Livorno, Italy.
“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).
Pietro Gorni was born in Messina on 14 August 1865. He is known for his political activities, and as author of some of the most famous anarchist songs of the late 19th century, including Addio a Lugano (“Farewell to Lugano”), Stornelli d’esilio (“Exile Songs”), Ballata per Sante Caserio (“Ballad for Sante Geronimo Caserio”), Il canto dei lavatori del mare (Song of the workers of the sea) and Il canto dei lavatori della terra (Song of the workers of the land) as well as Amore Ribelle (Rebel Love) – a love song to Revolution!
A rough translation of Ballata per Sante Caserio
(Caserio was the assassin of French President Sadi Carnot)
Workers, these words are for you
Of this sorrowful song of mine
Which celebrates a bold and strong young man
Who for love of you challenged death
It shined in your pupils Caserio
The spark of the human peak
And to the working and crying people
You dedicated all your love and hope
You were in the prime of life
And you saw nothing but the endless night,
The night of pain and hunger
That towers over the immense and putrid human crowd
And you rose in painful act
To avenge a stranger’s suffering
And you struggled, you so good and mild
To shake those tired and disheartened souls
The powerful shuddered at this proud act
And new treacherous plans were hatched in their minds
But the people to whom you gave yourself entirely
Did not understand you, and yet you didn’t yield.
And your twenty-odd years one feral morning
You offered to the world from the guillotine
While your compassionate soul to the cowardly world
Cried out: “Viva l’Anarchia!”
Sleep Caserio in the cold soil
Where you’ll hear the rumble of the final war.
As a young student he 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 but acquitted.
In the lead-up to May Day 1890, anarchists, 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, had joined with other anarchists to throw his support firmly behind the strike, and as a result was arrested along with 27 others and charged with incitement to class hatred and incitement to strike. Sentenced to a year in prison, he was eventually acquitted, but not before he had served much of the sentence. Upon his release, he was forced by persistent police harassment to move to Milan, where he joined with a number of workers, artists and students to launch L’Amico del Popolo, a newspaper that published 27 issues, all of which were impounded by the authorities. Alongside his political activities, Gori also published a number of poems during this time including Alla Conquista dell’Avvenire (To the Conquest of the Future) and his three volumes of poetry, Prisons and Battles, and his plays Without Homeland and Thy Neighbour.
After an anti-anarchist crackdown after Sante Caserio assassinated the French president on 24 June 1894, Gori fled to Lugano in Switzerland. While there the Italian police orchestrated an attack on his life when two unknown assailants shot at him bt missed. Eventually he was arrested by the Swiss authorities and expelled. It was on this occasion that he penned his famous verses Farewell to Lugano.
Farewell beautiful Lugano
my sweet land,
driven away guiltlessly
the anarchists are leaving,
and they set off singing
with hope in their heart.
It is for you exploited
for you workers
that we are handcuffed
just like criminals.
Yet our ideal
is but an ideal of love.
friends who remain
the social truths
do spread like strong people.
This is the revenge
that we ask of you.
And you who drive us away
with an infamous lie,
you bourgeois republic
will be ashamed one day.
Today we accuse you
in the face of the future.
we will go from land to land
and declaring war,
peace among the oppressed
war to the oppressors.
Helvetia, your government
makes itself someone else’s slave,
a brave people’s
traditions it offends
and insults the legend
of your William Tell.
Farewell dear comrades
friends of Lugano
farewell white snowy
are dragged to the North.
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, in a country whose language he could not speak, he felt he could offer only limited help to the Dutch anarchists so he he found a job as a plain seaman, and after a few months at sea, 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.
Following a period of illness he returned to Italy where, when recovered, He started to contribute to L’Agitazione, a paper published by Malatesta. Following social unrest in 1898 Gori was again forced into exile, this time to Argentina. Here he 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 outside parliamentary institutions. As he saw it, the State was not merely institutionalised violence but a definite brake upon the development of society.
In 1902, following an amnesty, Gori returned to Italy, and launched, with Luigi Fabbri, 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. He expressed the view that unions had to steer clear of the socialists’ parliamentary campaigns on the basis that politics could not help but bring division into the ranks of the workers’ organisations.
His final years saw him battle with 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.