The Great War provides a unique vantage point for addressing questions of national identity and patriotism, for several reasons: it was a time of dramatic dilemmas that forced many to choose between different allegiances that had coexisted in times of peace; national independence, with special reference to smaller countries such ... (Show more)
The Great War provides a unique vantage point for addressing questions of national identity and patriotism, for several reasons: it was a time of dramatic dilemmas that forced many to choose between different allegiances that had coexisted in times of peace; national independence, with special reference to smaller countries such as Belgium, was the pièce de résistance of the interventionist propaganda on the side of the Triple Alliance; accordingly, a wealth of arguments about the national question were offered by the press of all parties in all countries. This is all the more the case for anarchists, who were among the few to oppose the war and had a hard time justifying their persisting antimilitarism amidst the raging storm.
I will use this vantage point to investigate the Italian anarchists’ views on questions of national identity and patriotism. I will focus mainly on the Italian anarchist press in the United States, for three reasons: in the three years between the outbreak of the war and the United States’ intervention, that was one of the few countries where anarchists could voice their antimilitarism without being heavily censored; relatedly, and following a consolidated pattern of transnational activism, during those three years the Italian anarchist press flourished in the United States at the same time that it was silenced in Italy; finally, since the United States were the country of largest Italian immigration, the battle of ideas around intervention and patriotism was not fought remotely with the gaze turned to a distant homeland, but was directly fought on the ground in the Italian communities, especially around the issue of the reservists’ call.
I will mainly focus on the anarchists’ view of the concept of homeland (patria) and its derivatives, such as patriotism. In the year 1915 alone, the two main weekly papers, Cronaca Sovversiva and L’Era Nuova, published thirty articles that contained one of those terms in the title, and many more that dealt with those topics. I will seek to clarify where the concept of homeland stands in the cluster of allegiances that mattered to anarchists, from mankind at one end to family at the other. In discussing these concepts, I will try to spell out the different normative implications of competing versions of “homeland.” I will pay particular attention to the female universe, which was a contested ground between the patriotic propaganda, with its model of the “spartan mother,” and the antimilitarist one, for which allegiance to an abstract homeland could not trump family affections.
Two themes featured prominently in the Italian anarchist press. The first is that love of one’s country was a natural and unproblematic feeling, if it was meant as love for the place where one was born and raised, where one had the closest ties, and whose language one spoke. What anarchists rejected was the concept of nation as a super-individual and indivisible whole that claimed exclusive allegiance. The second theme was that, for the poor and especially for those who were forced to emigrate, the rhetoric of the motherland was hollow. For them, Italy was a step-motherland that had not even been able to feed them and therefore had no right to claim their allegiance, let alone their life. (Show less)