The Revolutionary Power of the Deed

Carlo Pisacane, 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.

As Robert Graham notes, Pisacane’s ideas would later be taken up as “propaganda by the deed,” especially by other Italians in the 1870s, as illustrated by Carlo Cafiero’s words in his 1880 piece “Action:” “just as the deed gave rise to the revolutionary idea, so it is the deed again which must put it into practice,” and he continues with a question, “But what kind of action shall we take? Should we go or send others on our be­ half to Parliament, or even to municipal councils? No, a thousand times No!” and finally outlines the actions he considered appropriate, “Our action must be permanent rebellion, by word, by writing, by dagger, by gun, by dynamite, sometimes even by ballot when it is a case of voting for an ineligible candidate like Blanqui or Trinquet. We are consistent, and we shall use every weapon which can be used for rebellion. Everything is right for us which is not legal.”

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