Carlo Cafiero

Carlo Cafiero (1 September 1846 – 17 July 1892) was an Italian anarchist, champion of Mikhail Bakunin during the second half of the 19th century and one of the main proponents of anarcho-communism and insurrectionary anarchism during the First International.[1]

Carlo Cafiero
Carlo Cafiero.jpg
Born(1846-09-01)1 September 1846
Died17 July 1892(1892-07-17) (aged 45)
  • Anarchist revolutionary
  • Political activist
  • Radical essayist

Philosophy career
Collectivist anarchism (early)
Marxism (early)


Early yearsEdit

Carlo Cafiero was born in Barletta, in the Apulia region of southern Italy, then part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, into a rich, land-owning family. His father was member of the Carboneria in 1821, one of his brothers and a brother-in-law were deputies, while Carlo Cafiero was always considered the 'black sheep' of the family.

In 1864, he moved to Naples, where he got a degree in law. He then went to Florence to embark on a diplomatic career. Here, he first came into contact with atheist ideas through the rationalist movement. At the beginning of 1870, he was in Paris as guest of the painter Giuseppe De Nittis, a fellow townsman who described him as a "beautiful young man, fascinating to women". He then went to London, where he matured, renouncing his diplomatic career, wealth and family to join socialism and the revolution. It seems that hearing the enthralling rally of a shoemaker caused Cafiero to become conscious of the pitiful conditions of the working class. In London, Cafiero made contact with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Cafiero joined the International Workingmen's Association and was charged with winning Italy over to Marx's ideology in a country where workers were under the strong influence of the republicanism of Giuseppe Mazzini or in some places the anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin. He re-formed the old branch of the International in Naples, with the help of the young Errico Malatesta. During an assembly in Naples, he was imprisoned for the first time.

Conversion to anarchismEdit

Cafiero spent over a year in Italy as a representative of Marx and Engels to hinder the influence of anarchism. However, thanks to the contact he had had with Giuseppe Fanelli, he sided with Bakunin and his Italian followers. In early 1872 came the first issue of the newspaper La Campana and Cafiero wrote for and donated for its publication. In the same year, he met Bakunin in Locarno spending a month with him, discussing Bakunin's ideas and objections to what Bakunin perceived as Marx and Engels' authoritarianism, winning Cafiero in the end to his cause. In the summer of 1873, with the help of Cafiero, an old project was realised, namely to create an international center for the revolution in Italy and the world. Selling all his inherited lands, Cafiero bought a farm in Switzerland where Bakunin could live. This center was called La Baronata and it would also be a safe shelter for revolutionaries persecuted by their respective governments. In 1875, Cafiero went to Milan and joined the editorial staff of the first socialist daily paper, called La Plebe and edited by Enrico Bignami. At Giuseppe Fanelli's funeral in 1877, Cafiero stated: "My friends, let us hurry on the Revolution as quickly as we can, since, as you see, our enemies are letting us die like this – in prison or in exile, or crazed with sorrow." In a 1880 report to the Congress of the Jura Federation of the Anti-authoritarian International, titled "Anarchism and Communism", Cafiero argued:

The common wealth being scattered right across the planet, while belonging to the whole of humanity, those who happen to be within reach of that wealth and in a position to make use of it will utilise it in common. . . . As part of humanity, they will exercise here, in fact and directly, their rights over a portion of mankind's wealth. But should an inhabitant of Peking visit this country, he would enjoy the same rights as the rest, in common with the others, he would enjoy all the wealth of the country, just as he would have in Peking.[2]

In April 1877, Cafiero, Errico Malatesta, Pietro Ceccarelli, the Russian Sergey Stepnyak-Kravchinskyt and 30 other comrades began an insurrection in the province of Benevento. They took the village of Letino without a struggle and were greeted with great enthusiasm. Arms and expropriated goods were distributed amongst the people, tax money was returned and official documents destroyed. In dialect, Cafiero explained the ideas of anarchism, freedom, justice and the new society without the state, masters, servants, soldiers and owners. His proclamations even convinced the parish priest, who explained to his parishioners that the Internationalists were "the true apostles sent by the Lord". The following day, the village of Gallo was taken in a similar fashion. However, as they were leaving Gallo, the Internationalists were surprised and surrounded by government troops and all were arrested. Held in prison for over a year before being brought to trial, all the accused were eventually acquitted in August 1878.

During his imprisonment, his contacts with the International never ceased and Cafiero wrote his best-known work, titled A Compendium of Das Kapital and published in 1879 by the publishers of La Plebe in Milan. The work was appreciated and praised by Karl Marx, the author of the original book, who found it superior to other similar works. The book was written in order to bring the theory of Das Kapital to students, educated workmen and small proprietors. In 1878, Cafiero, unable to return to Italy because of Giovanni Passannante's attempt to bring a strong repression against republicans and internationalists, was living in Marseilles, working as a cook and docker. In October, he was arrested along with Malatesta, then released and deported from France. He went to Switzerland, where he met Peter Kropotkin. With the collaboration of Élisée Reclus, he promoted the publication of the Bakunin's essay God and the State. Andrea Costa, who had deserted the anarchist camp by passing over to legalitarian, parliamentary socialism, disappointed Cafiero, who described him as "an apostate, a renegade of the revolutionary faith and the people". After being arrested and soon released in 1881, Cafiero went to London, where he remained for a long time. There, he was the victim of a strange illness which was accompanied by feelings of persecution. He saw spies everywhere and was frightened by the telephone which had just appeared in the world. In March 1882, he returned to Italy, expressing a will to take part in the imminent electoral campaign. On April 5, he was arrested without any charge. On May 2, while imprisoned, he fell victim to a strong mental crisis and attempted to kill himself. The scandal of a crazed man, imprisoned without reason, exploded and Cafiero was released. He was given a choice of living in Barletta, his home town, or exile to Switzerland.

Exile in SwitzerlandEdit

Emaciated and feverish, Cafiero chose exile in Chiasso, where he again attempted suicide. Emilio Bellerio took Cafiero to his house in Locarno and Malatesta wrote about him that "though his mind is ill, his heart is still healthy". In February 1883, Cafiero left for Florence, where he was met by a friend. He immediately headed for Fiesole and took rooms in an inn, but he then immediately fled into the woods, where he was later found half-naked. After being aided by a doctor and the police, he was transferred to the San Bonifacio psychiatric hospital in Florence. Olimpia Kutusoff, Cafiero's wife, returned from Russia in September 1883 to look after him at the Imola psychiatric hospital, where he had been transferred. Olimpia left him after one and a half years because Cafiero was violent with her during his moments of crisis. Cafiero expressed the will to return to Barletta, where he arrived in the second half of 1889, but his brothers turned him away. After living some time in a hotel, he was taken in by his brother Pietrantonio. Cafiero's mental conditions improved, but when returning home one day, he saw a group of peasants eating a piece of black, hard bread which revived his revolutionary spirit and entered his house screaming against his family. In 1891, following another crisis, Cafiero was confined in the psychiatric hospital in Nocera Inferiore, where he died on Sunday 17 July 1892 of tuberculosis at the age of 45. In a letter to Serafino Mazzotti about Cafiero, Malatesta wrote:

Carlo was first of all great for his inner nature, for the affect treasure, for the ingenuousness of his faith. These memories must not be lost, even today that there is the need to elevate the moral level of anarchists, who must react against the egoism and brutality that invade us, to return to unselfishness, to the sacrificial spirit, to the sentiment of love, of which Carlo was such a splendid example.


  • Carlo Cafiero. Revolution. Black Cat Press. ISBN 978-1-926878-11-9
  • Il Capitale di Carlo Marx, brevemente compendiato da Carlo Cafiero, Biblioteca Socialista, n. 5, Bignami e c. editori, Milan 1879. Online version (in Italian)
  • "Anarchia e Comunismo", Le Révolté, Geneva, 13 and 27 November 1880. An English translation is in Daniel Guérin, No Gods No Masters, Book 1, AK Press 1998.
  • Carlo Cafiero, La rivoluzione per la rivoluzione. Raccolta di scritti a cura e con introduzione di Gianni Bosio, Milan 1968 (some texts are in French). This book was republished with all texts in Italian, as Carlo Cafiero, Rivoluzione per la rivoluzione. Raccolta di scritti a cura e con introduzione di Gianni Bosio, Rome 1970.
  • Gian Carlo Maffei (ed.), Dossier Cafiero, Bergamo 1974.


  1. ^ Pernicone, Nunzio (2009). Italian Anarchism 1864–1892. AK Press. pp. 111–113. "Anarchist communism as a coherent, modern economic-political philosophy was first formulated in the Italian section of the First International by Carlo Cafiero, Emilio Covelli, Errico Malatesta, Andrea Costa and other ex-Mazzinian Republicans."
  2. ^ Guérin, Daniel. No Gods, No Masters. Book 1. p. 250.

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