Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Statement and its Effects on the Working Classes in Italy
Engels’ Record of his Report at the General Council Meeting of November 7, 1871
The Eastern Post, No. 163, November 11, 1871
The news from Italy was of a peculiar interest, letters were received from a number of Italian cities, amongst whom were Turin, Milan, Ravenna, and Girgenti. These confirmed in every respect the immense strides with which the Association was advancing in Italy. The working-classes, in the towns at least, were rapidly abandoning Mazzini, whose denunciations of the International had no effect whatever upon the masses. But Mazzini’s denunciations had produced one good effect; they had caused Garibaldi, not only to pronounce himself entirely in favour of our Association, but also, on this very question, to come to an open rupture with Mazzini. In a long letter addressed to M. Petroni, a Sardinian lawyer, who has been since elected president of the Italian Working Men’s Congress, 23 now sitting at Rome, Garibaldi expresses his indignation that the Mazzinians should venture to speak of him as of an old fool, who always had done what ever the men surrounding him, his satellites and flatterers, had persuaded him to do. Who were these satellites, he asks? Were they the men of his staff that came with him from South America in 1848, those he found at Rome in ‘49, or those of his staff of ‘59 and ‘60, or those who fought with him recently against the Prussians? If so, he maintains they were men whose names will for ever live in the memory of grateful Italy. But let them re-enter these satellites and flatterers.
“I repeat it, you have not even the merit of originality, when you dig up again my satellites and flatterers have always led that grey-headed baby from Nice by the nose. And while you, Petroni, were suffering for eighteen years in the prisons of the Inquisition, the people of your sect (the Mazzinians) were the very men accused by the Royalists, of being my satellites and followers. Read all the dynastic trash published especially since 1860, and there you will find Garibaldi might be good for something if he had not the misfortune of being led by Mazzini, and to be surrounded by the Mazzinians. This is all false, and you may ask those that have known me more closely and more intimately, whether they ever found a man more obstinate than myself when I had made up my mind to do something which I had recognised to be right. Ask Mazzini himself, whether he has found me to be easily persuaded whenever he attempted to draw me over to some of his impracticable realities. Ask Mazzini whether the origin of our disagreement is not this, that, in 1848, 1 told him he was doing wrong in holding back in the city, under one pretext or another, the youth of Milan, while our army was fighting the enemy on the Mincio. And Mazzini is a man who never forgives if any one touches his infallibility.”
Garibaldi then states that Mazzini, in 1860, did everything in his power to frustrate and to render abortive the general’s expedition to Sicily, which ended in the unification of Italy; that when Mazzini heard of Garibaldi’s success, he insisted upon the latter proclaiming the Republic in Italy, a thing absurd and utterly foolish under the circumstances, and he finally reproaches “the great exile, whom everybody knew to be in Italy,” with his meanness in bespattering the fallen of Paris, the only men who in this time of tyranny, of lies, of cowardice and degradation have waved high, even while dying, the sacred banner of rights and justice. He continues,
“You cry anathema upon Paris, because Paris destroyed the Vendôme Column and the house of Thiers. Have you ever seen a whole village destroyed by the flames for having given shelter to a volunteer, or a franc-tireur? And that not only in France, the same in Lombardy, in Venetia. As to the palaces set fire to in Paris by petroleum, let them ask the priests who, from their intimate acquaintance with the hell-fire about which they preach, ought to be good judges, what difference there is between petroleum fire and those fires which the Austrians lit in order to burn down the villages in Lombardy and Venetia, when those countries were still under the yoke of the men who shot Ugo Bassi, Ciceruacchio and his two sons, and thousands of Italians who committed the sacrilege of demanding a free Rome and a free Italy.
“When the light of day shall once have dispersed the darkness which covers Paris, I hope that you, my friend, will be more indulgent for the acts caused by the desperate situation of a people which, certainly, was badly led, as it generally happens to nations, who allow themselves to be allured by the phraseology of the doctrinaires, but who, in substance, fought heroically for their rights. The detractors of Pads may say what they like, they will never succeed in proving that a few miscreants and foreigners — as they said of us in Rome in 1849 — have resisted for three months against a grand army, backed as it was by the most potent armies of Prussia.
“And the International? What need is there to attack an Association almost without knowing it? Is that Association not an emanation of the abnormal state of society all over the world? A society where the many have to slave for bare subsistence, and where the few, by lies and by force, appropriate the greater portion of the produce of the many, without having earned it by the sweat of their brow, must not such a society excite the discontent, and the vengeance of the suffering masses.
“I wish that the International should not fare as did the people of Paris — that is to allow itself to he circumvented by the concoctors of doctrines which would drive it to exaggerations, and finally to ridicule; but that it should well study, before trusting them, the character of the men who are to lead it on the path of moral and material improvement.”
He returns for a moment to Mazzini,
“Mazzini and I, we are both old; but no one speaks of reconciliation between him and me. Infallible people die, but they do not bend. Reconciliation with Mazzini? there is only one possible way for it — to obey him; and of that 1 do not feel myself capable.”
And finally the old soldier proves by referring to his past, that he has always been a true International, that he has fought for liberty everywhere and anywhere, first in South America, then offering his services to the Pope (aye, even to the Pope, when he played the liberal), then under Victor Emmanuel, lastly in France, under Trochu and Jules Favre — and he concludes,
“I and the youth of Italy are ready to serve Italy, also side by side with you, the Mazzinians, if it should be necessary.”
This crowning letter of Garibaldi’s, coming as it does after a number of others, in which he has plainly expressed his sympathies for the International, but abstained from speaking plainly as to Mazzini, has had an immense effect in Italy, and will induce many recruits to rally round our banner.
It was also announced that a full report of the working men’s Congress at Rome would be laid before the next meeting of the Council.