Camomillo by Penelope Nin


At this time, a lot of anarchists from all over Italy are flooding into Rome.

A month ago, by the order of a public prosecutor who was looking for easy glory, about thirty enemies of authority were taken into custody and locked up in Rebibbia, a prison in the outlying suburbs. To protest against the arrogance and vengeful spirit of the judges who have decided to take away their freedom, one of them has begun a hunger and thirst strike to the death.

But last Saturday, these anarchists were not alone in breathing the air of the eternal city. Others joined them there, guests this time of the international bookshop, Il Manifesto, where they went to chatter — together with communists, marxists and historians — about Camillo Berneri, “an anarchist between Gramsci and Gobetti”, as the title of the conference said. It was promoted by the daily newspaper of via Tomacelli [2] by the libertarian studies center of Milan and by the Historical Review of Anarchism of Pisa, in collaboration with the Roman bookshop Anomolia.

It’s a good thing that there are anarchists willing to cleanse the good name of anarchy, washing away the awful reputation that a few hotheads would like to attach to it. In printing the news of the arrests a month ago, Il Manifesto had already attentively made note of how the investigators “a bit too easily” granted “a single ideological-political motivation to actions that seem like those of a band of common criminals.” But a fine convention organized all together was the thing needed to dissipate the last doubts, to finally bring back a bit of serenity.

In response to this proposal, it was immediately said that a better subject could not have been chosen. What anarchist more than Camomillo Berneri could have brought anarchists and personages such as Valentino Parlato, Goffredo Fofi (who is publishing an anthology of Berneri’s writings), and Enzo Santarelli onto a common terrain? Figures of this sort certainly could not remain insensitive to the fascination exercised by the leading exponent of anarchist revisionism and by his unsettling definitions of Anarchy — “the society in which technical authority, stripped of every function of political domination, comes to form a hierarchy conceived and realized as a system of distribution of work” — and of freedom — “the power of obeying reason”.

“Anarchist sui generis[3]” — so he loved to describe himself — Berneri fought like a lion to bring anarchism out from the mists of utopia at blows with reality. “Better the present evil than something worse” was the battle cry that accompanied him throughout his life and to which he always remained faithful. This sense of measure led him to salute the Bolshevik regime in 1918, despise abstentionism[4] which he dismissed as “cretinism”, collaborate with liberals like Gobetti, and make sympathetic gestures toward a part of the Catholic world with which he shared the idea of woman as wife, procreator and ideal housekeeper. And the deep sense of duty — which Camomillo identified with God is what made him write words full of cautious common sense about the necessity of money and the inevitability of prison, with the consciousness that it is always necessary to reach a “compromise between the Idea and the fact, between tomorrow and today.”

Berneri was killed in Barcelona during the days of May 1937, in the heat of the Spanish revolution. His martyrdom earned him canonization by a part of the venerable anarchist Church. The fact that his murderers were precisely the communists who Parlato, Fofi and their comrades praised so highly up until recently is a particular that is utterly insignificant.

The fact remains only Camomillo Berneri — the anarchist who used to candidly maintain that “a minimum of authority is indispensable” — could have become the line of union between stalinists and anarchists, the unbelievers who — like Gobetti and Gramsci — do nothing but feed dogma with their heresy.

But, okay, let’s say it: as far as it goes, these judges are perfectly right. There are anarchists and “anarchists”. Some are bad and are rightly in prison. But others — among them, it is worthwhile to recall, a few of the proposers of this convention, Claudio Venza, Gianni Carrozza, Giampietro Berti — are good. So good that they can enjoy the esteem of all the respectable people of this world.

A toast therefore to Camomillo. And to hell with the “anarchists” in prison.