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Anarchism and Violence — Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina 1923-1931 by Osvaldo Bayer

Anarchism and Violence — Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina 1923-1931 by Osvaldo Bayer

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Published by alienanthropologist
An attempt by Osvaldo Bayer to reconstruct the activities of the Italian anarchist Severino Di
Giovanni in Argentina in the 1920’s.
An attempt by Osvaldo Bayer to reconstruct the activities of the Italian anarchist Severino Di
Giovanni in Argentina in the 1920’s.

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Published by: alienanthropologist on Apr 26, 2013
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05/14/2014

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11/13/11 9:55 PMAnarchism and Violence — Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina 1923-1931 by Osvaldo BayerPage 1 of 116http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Osvaldo_Bayer__Anarchism_and_Violence___Severino_Di_Giovanni_in_Argentina_1923-1931.html
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Title:
Anarchism and Violence — Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina 1923-1931
Author(s):
Osvaldo Bayer
Topics:
Argentina Severino Di Giovanni violence
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Osvaldo Bayer 
Anarchism and Violence — SeverinoDi Giovanni in Argentina 1923-1931
Introduction
The book we are presenting here is an interesting attempt by OsvaldoBayer to reconstruct the activities of the Italian anarchist Severino DiGiovanni in Argentina in the 1920’s. It also bears all the consequences of such a difficult task undertaken with the thorough but limited tools of the journalist.The figure of Di Giovanni has always highlighted a profound division withinthe anarchist movement, which goes far beyond the boundaries of thespecific events in his lifetime. From well before the period of his activity,right up to the present day, there have always been comrades who includethe methods of direct action, armed struggle and expropriation in thestruggle against exploitation. On the other hand there have always beenthose who are against these methods, in favour of propaganda andlibertarian educationism alone. The latter is the position that was held bythe anarchists involved in the anarchist daily La Protesta in Di Giovanni’stime. Today there are still many who hold this position and who would nodoubt have preferred us to have left Di Giovanni and what he represents inrelative obscurity.As it stands, this book contains certain defects whichneed to be pointed out and which we shall examine further on. Bayer’swork, however, is an honest and objective attempt far removed from thestereotypes so dear to the bourgeois press. Contemporary accounts of hisactivities filled columns and columns about Di Giovanni, painting him as abomb-thrower, bandit and assassin.
 
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Not only the yellow press, but also areas from which one would expectbetter have insisted on seeing Di Giovanni both detached from the brutaland homicidal reality in which he lived and carried on his struggle, anddetached from the anarchist movement of which he was a part.For example the author to the preface of the Spanish edition of this book,Jose Luis Moreno, states, “Di Giovanni wanted from violence what thebourgeoisie wanted from law: an instrument to obtain a final aim which,naturally in both cases, were different and antagonistic. Di Giovannibelieved he could fight the bourgeoisie with their own weapons”. Andfurther on, “...he used his arsenal of war like a basic instrument, relegatingideological problems to second place. For him, as for many anarchists, thatis what ‘direct action’ meant”. And again, “In reality he was a romantic.Paradoxical as it might seem, and quoting Bayer, we would say he was aromantic of violence. Love and Violence are real ends: and for him therewere no others”.It might be difficult at first glance to draw a distinction between theproletarian violence of defence and the oppressive and terroristic violenceof the State. But this distinction can and must be made. In attackinginstitutions arms in hand, Di Giovanni was not using the same weapons asthe bourgeoisie, but the quite different ones of liberation and popularvindication. And wherever did the author of the preface read that DiGiovanni put ideological problems in second place? Perhaps he could havedone better in Di Giovanni’s place, hunted and followed by the police like awild animal, but still bringing out numerous anarchist publications,including a fortnightly paper Culmine, and an edition of Reclus’ work? Andfinally, why define him a romantic? When we well know that todaybourgeois historiography links this term to the decadent aspects of romantic poetics, those out of touch with or turning away from reality? Touse this term today can only confuse the reader. There existed for DiGiovanni far more than Love and Violence: the struggle against fascism,the trade union struggle, the struggle for a new society — the struggle foranarchy. All were undertaken in full awareness of the need to usedangerous means, means which were justified only by the open wardeclared by those in power.To return to the book. As We have said, it is an objective reconstruction farfrom the sensationalism of Di Giovanni’s time. The development of DiGiovanni’s activity has been followed attentively, through consultingcontemporary newspapers, documents and testimonies. From the events atthe Colon Theatre to the final moment in the face of the firing squad, weencounter Di Giovanni through a mixture of distance and sympathy. Nothaving had access to the sources used, we can only accept the conclusionsreached by the historian, and consider his work to be positive. It is otheraspects of the book that give us cause for concern, particularly thefrequent recourse to value judgements all linked to a “romantic andidealist” vision of Di Giovanni’s revolutionary activity.It is not our intention to deprive the reader of the pleasure of reading therich narrative which Bayer supplies, so we will not attempt to go over DiGiovanni’s activity here. We do however feel it is necessary to attempt toindicate the lack of foundation to Bayer’s theoretical conclusions.For example, he writes, “As a self-taught man, Di Giovanni believed intheory implicitly. And in his tragic naivete he believed that theory was
 
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made to be applied. If Bakunin or Kropotkin stated that, for the revolutionand the achievement of freedom, all means are legitimate, Di Giovanniwould use these means.” (page 44)It is in such passages that we realize that Bayer, although a conscientiousresearcher, has either not read, or has not understood anything of anarchist thought. Whereever did he find the statement that “Bakunin andKropotkin say that all means are justifiable?” Where did he read that to useanarchist theory acritically is typical of the selftaught? Where did he learnthat anarchist theory is theory made only to remain on paper? Di Giovanniwas a coherent man. It is not true that any means were good in hisopinion. He always chose means in relation to the terroristic violence of thestructures of power, and he stayed on this road to the end. To ask oneself,as our author does, the psychology of his relationship to anarchist theorydoes not make sense. Face to Face with the Enemy, Galleani’s famousvolume, and also the title of a section of Di Giovanni’s paper Culmine,clearly shows the true substance of the relationship between theory andpraxis. Di Giovanni knew that the attack against oppression had to usecertain means, but he also knew that the other means — anarchistpropaganda and publications — were of great value because they serve toprepare the field for active revolutionary intervention. But for thisexchange between theory and praxis to come about, the first had to bedeveloped in a certain direction, not become an ‘obstacle in the path of direct action as in the case of the La Protesta editors.Another interestinginterpretation of Di Giovanni that Bayer makes is to identify him withNietzschean individualism. This is an interesting problem. Bayer mentionsthe German philosopher’s presence in Di Giovanni’s thinking more thanonce. In fact his influence cannot be denied. Bayer tells us, “Noticable in DiGiovanni was the pronounced influence of Nietzsche (in searching throughhis library in Burzaco, police were to discover printed posters displayed onthe walls and bearing quotations from the author of Thus SpokeZarathustra).” (page 123), and in a letter of October 22 1928, Di Giovannihimself writes, “Oh, how many are the problems that crop up along thepathway of my young life, beset by thousands of winds of evil. Even so, theangel in my head has told me so very many times that only in evil is therelife. And I live my life to the full. The sense of my existence has been lostin that ...in that evil? Evil makes me love the purist of angels. Do I perhapsdo evil? But is that my guide? In evil lies the highest affirmation of life. Andby being evil, am I mistaken? Oh, problem from the unknown, why do youdefy solution?” From this Bayer concludes, “That tenderness turned toruthlessness later when action was called for. Apparently he was a whollyimpulsive man who surrendered fully to his emotions and behaved as if intoxicated by the whole gamut of colours, struggles, contradictions,beauties, generosities and betrayals that life has to offer, which is to saythat he is a true Nietzschean.”(page 64)Reading Nietzsche certainly makes an impact on many, and probably did soon Di Giovanni. But to go on from this to define the man and his actions asNietzschean seems too great a step. Even the presence of some phrasesfrom Nietzsche’s works in our comrade’s library seems too modest anelement to justify the claim that he was a dedicated follower of thephilosopher’s doctrines. This is a very serious problem and one whichaffects all the actions of an anarchism that insists on direct action and,while not denying the importance and value of propaganda and education,accentuates the importance of the attack against oppression.

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