Enrico Ferri 1897

The Political Quarter-of-an-hour in Italy

Source: Justice, 6 November 1897;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Proofread: by Andy Carloff 2010.

The riots which have recently stained the streets of Rome with blood on the occasion of the biennial revision, i.e., the periodical raising of the tax on moveable wealth (commerce, industry, liberal professions, &c.), have the same symptomatic character as had the riots provoked by an identical cause, which in France in the eighteenth century were the preliminary lightnings of the great revolutionary storm.

On the misery in Italy there are very often current abroad exaggerated ideas; because it is forgotten that from the economical, and therefore political and social, point of view, there exist two Italies. From the Alps to Florence there is industrial and agricultural Italy par excellence, with a growing activity and wealth. This Italy fully possesses political and social consciousness. The Conservatives and the Socialists there are organised into two quite distinct parties, especially in Piedmont, the cradle of the dynasty.

Between Florence and Rome Central Italy is in an intermediate stage of small industry and agricultural metayage[1], but has a tendency to approach the condition of Northern Italy.

Beyond Rome there is scarcely any industry and agriculture there is still primitive, except in a few cases, at Naples, in Pouille, in Eastern Sicily. It is there where the proletariat is the least conscious, and the bourgeoisie the least developed, because there feudalism prevails still, availing itself of the franchise of administration of the communes for enormous and chronic abuses.

The Triple Alliance and militarism, including Africanism, have, or have had, if I may better say so, their most noisy partisans in Southern Italy, where the popular intelligence only commences to awake under the effort of the Socialist propaganda. The dynasty and the monarchist spirit have their roots there also, less deep than appears to be the case, but still more widespread than in Central and Northern Italy.

Crispianism, which is, as well as Panamism, the symbol of a po1itical fin de classe, has still sympathisers in Parma among the feudalist hobereaux[2], who always give direction to Italian politics, whether the Government be in the hands of Crispi, impulsive and violent, or in those of the Marquis Rudini, artful and diplomatic.

This policy may be illustrated by some figures.

To the 1,600 million francs of income of the annual budget, landed property, with a production of about seven milliards, contributes but 270 millions, because the land tax has scarcely varied for the last 25 years, while there is an increase of all others. The tax on the “mobilier” fortunes produces 210 millions, whilst the lotto (lottery), the tax on ignorance, gives 60! One part of these 1,600 millions goes to the service of interests of the national debt – that is 700 millions. That is to say that the big landlords, the manufacturers, and the big traders are taking back in the form of coupons a good part of their taxes.

The King receives 15 millions in gold annually; Africa swallows up – when all is going well – 20 millions; 210 are spent for the bureaucracy and perception of taxes, 80 for pensions, and 350 for military budgets. There remain about 230, which must be sufficient for all public services, instruction and justice, agriculture and public works!

From 1870 till 1896 the military budgets absorbed 7 milliards of francs for the so-called “national defence” against the enemies from without whom I do not see; at least it is not against “the enemies from inside,” the obsession of which alone can explain the blindness of a policy which is balancing between economical anaemia (especially of the southern provinces) and the plethora of police.

The Socialist Party came in as expressing the feeling of a profound discontent, and clearly conscious of the class war. So that, in spite of the exceptional laws of Crispi, in spite of the daily abuses of the police, who go so far as to assassinate the prisoners in their dungeons (Frezzi at Rome, Forno at Genoa); in spite of the laws of forced domicile – a kind of confinement in the interior of the small isles “by administrative way,” just as in Russia, which Rudini proposes, and which is already approved by the Senate as a measure which must serve against the Socialists in case of the exceptional law failing its purpose; in spite of the subjection of the magistracy to the Government; in spite of the arbitrary suppression of the liberty of meeting, association, of the Press; in spite of the very restricted suffrage (Crispi, in 1894, under pretext of a revision of the lists, had struck off one-third of the three million electors); in spite of all, the Socialist Party, constituted in 1892 has had elected in 1897 sixteen deputies, instead of four in 1893, and polled a hundred and seventeen thousand votes instead of twenty thousand. It conquered several communes, as, for instance, Imola, San Remo, Guastala, &c.

On the other side, the small bourgeoisie, under our impulse, has been re-animated with the Republican spirit, which is, however, not at all collectivist. In March, 1897, there were seventeen Republican deputies elected, who unfortunately remained very badly organised within, and especially without, the Parliament.

The other forty deputies of the Extreme Left, who follow, more or less faithfully, Cavalotti, commenced by supporting the Ministry of Rudini; but, it appears, they feel already remorse. At any rate, they are neither flesh nor fish; and, in spite of the personal valour of their leader, it is their destiny to flounder about in emptiness.

The other representatives, 430 in number, are divided at first into three groups. The Conservative Absolutists, who extol the alliance with the Clericals, and the reconciliation of the Quirinal with the Vatican, which is very much desired above, but is always deferred, especially because of the temporal power of the Pope and the seven hundred millions of ecclesiastical goods swallowed up by the Voltarian Italy of 1866-80.

Of the Liberals of the Left, some follow M. Linardelli (Lombardy), others M. Gilliotti (Piedmont).

There remain the sheeplike crowd of the Centre – about 200 deputies – who follow Rudini as well as they followed Crispi. They have no great fear for the Republic, because in Italy the Republic has even chances to be made by the Conservatives of the northern provinces, who find the militarist policy too dear. But this flowing crowd has a profound horror of Socialism.

The defeats in Africa have had as an immediate consequence the fall of Crispi, but they could not change this political stagnation, which leads Italy to anaemia, and yet with a policy of neutrality Italy could become a most prosperous country.

But it is a fatal law of history that blindness which by force of excess pushes the expiring régimes to their doom.

What will be the issue of this bad quarter-of-an-hour?

In next December, at the resumption of the parliamentary debates, it is certain there will be changes in the Ministry, a total replacing of the Cabinet, or, more probably, an elimination of certain of its too revolutionary members, in place of whom they will substitute some Liberal elements in the shape of deputies of the Lanardelli group.

But all this is very far from representing any change in the inertia of Italian politics.

The change, I don’t see it so near at hand.

From one side the Republican Party is neither powerful enough nor energetic enough to achieve the political evolution of the bourgeoisie. It demands incessantly the help of the Socialist party, which would give it willingly because we openly declare ourselves anti-monarchists, if it would not be preferable for us to develop our own forces instead of binding our destiny to that of a party, I will not say paralytic, but certainly too indolent physically and of a too individualist conception.

However, everywhere in Southern Italy the proletariat is still too unconscious, and if it is susceptible of accesses of riots (thus the fasci of Sicily in 1893-4), yet it is not ripe for a social upheaval, methodical and organised.

The solution will not come from Italy. All being internationalised, the solution of the social problem cannot be but international. All that we must do, we propagators of Socialism, is to awaken and to maintain the consciousness of the Italian proletarians in unison with the international proletariat, and to prepare ourselves to realise this social revolution in unity, and simultaneously with our elder brethren of France and Germany, England and America, Belgium and Denmark, when the sap of the Socialist change will, under the fatal pressure of the economical evolution, saturate the civilised branches of that eternal tree which bears the name of humanity.

1. Leasing farms on condition that the farmer shall give to the owner a settled portion of the produce.

2. Country squire.