Carlo Pisacane: Propaganda by the Deed

Carlo Pisacane

Carlo Pisacane (1818-1857) was an Italian revolutionary and libertarian socialist, killed leading a revolutionary expedition against the Kingdom of Naples. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Pisacane’s On Revolution and his “Political Testament. There was one minor error in the translation of the excerpts from his “Political Testament.” The name of Agesilao Milano was mistakenly translated as the city of Milan. Below, I have set forth a corrected translation, which makes it clear that Pisacane was not referring to “the use of the bayonet in Milan,” but to the use of the bayonet by Milano, an Italian soldier who tried to kill King Ferdinand of Naples by bayonetting him in 1856. After Italian unification, Milano was considered something of a national hero. Special thanks to Davide Turcato, who also wrote the introduction to Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology, for providing the correct translation. Pisacane’s writings were rediscovered by Italian anarchists in the mid-1870s. In his 1880 article on “Action,” Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 44, Carlo Cafiero quoted Piscane’s comments below that “ideas spring from deeds, not the other way around,” arguing that “just as the deed gave rise to the revolutionary idea, so it is the deed again which must put it into practice.” This doctrine came to be known as “propaganda by the deed.”

Political Testament (1857)

My political principles are sufficiently well known; I believe in socialism, but a socialism different from the French systems, which are all pretty much based on the monarchist, despotic idea which prevails in that nation… The socialism of which I speak can be summed up in these two words: freedom and association…

I am convinced that railroads, electrical telegraphs, machinery, industrial advances, in short, everything that expands and smooths the way for trade, is destined inevitably to impoverish the masses…  All of these means increase output, but accumulate it in a small number of hands, from which it follows that much trumpeted progress ends up being nothing but decadence. If such supposed advances are to be regarded as a step forward, it will be in the sense that the poor man’s wretchedness is increased until inevitably he is provoked into a terrible revolution, which, by altering the social order, will place in the service of all that which currently profits only some…

Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around; the people will not be free until it is educated but it will be well educated once free. The only thing for a citizen to do to be of service to his country is to patiently wait for the day when he can cooperate in a material revolution; as I see it, conspiracies, plots and attempted uprisings are the succession of deeds whereby Italy proceeds towards her goal of unity. The flash of Milano’s bayonet was a more effective propaganda than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world.

There are some who say:  the revolution must be made by the country. This there is no denying. But the country is made up of individuals and if we were quietly to wait for the day of revolution to come instead of plotting to bring it about, revolution would never break out. On the other hand, if everybody were to say: the revolution must be made by the country and I, being an infinitesimal part of the country, have my infinitesimal portion of duty to do and were to do it, the revolution would be carried out immediately and would be invincible because of its scale.

Carlo Pisacane

Propaganda by the Deed

Published on April 22, 2012 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  

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