Mazzini, Giuseppe

(1805–1872)
   One of the most influential political theorists of the 19th century, Giuseppe Mazzini was born in Genoa, where he studied law and philosophy and developed the advanced republican and democratic ideas that he propounded for the rest of his life. He became a member of the carboneria in 1827. In November 1830, he was betrayed by an informer and served four months in jail. Prison was followed by exile to Marseilles where, in 1831, he founded a new clandestine movement, Giovine Italia. In a sense, Giovine Italia can be seen as a prototype for the revolutionary parties of the 20th century. Mazzini demanded great commitment and personal virtue from the movement’s members, insisted that the point of political theorizing was to provide not sterile discussions but a guide for action, and underlined the need for a dictatorship of the revolutionary elite in the immediate aftermath of a revolution. In concrete terms,Giovine Italia (which gave birth to similar movements in Poland, Germany, and Switzerland) achieved little. An abortive uprising in Piedmont-Sardinia in 1834 was its only serious attempt to upset the absolutist order, and the movement had disintegrated by 1837.
   Mazzini was the first Italian revolutionary to pay attention to the needs of the urban working class. Strongly influenced by English Chartism (he lived at length in England), Mazzini argued in strikingly similar terms to Marx that the Industrial Revolution was producing a two-class system in which the worker, “denied land, capital and credit,” was a slave at the mercy of the property-owning class. Unlike Marx, however, Mazzini thought that this divide could be filled by a democratic government instituting concrete social reforms to improve wages and conditions and reduce the working day. He was, in short, an early social democratic reformist. No democratic revolution was possible in Italy while the Austrians continued to hold much of the country. Accordingly, in 1848, Mazzini argued in favor of national unity against the common enemy and temporarily made his peace with the monarchy of Piedmont-Sardinia. In March 1849, Mazzini rushed to Rome, anticipating a revolutionary upheaval directed against the papacy. He was immediately made a parliamentary deputy and became one of the triumvirate of leaders in charge of the city’s defenses against the advancing French forces. Mazzini drew up the republican Constitution that was symbolically promulgated on the day that Rome was forced to surrender. Expelled from Rome, he was forced, once more, into exile, in Switzerland and England.
   In the 1850s, Mazzini lost influence over the nationalist movement. In 1853, he started a new revolutionary movement called the Partito d’Azione/Action Party, but its one attempt to promote simultaneous insurrections in Genoa and Naplesin 1857 ended in disaster. An expeditionary force led by the anarcho-socialist Carlo Pisacane was slaughtered by angry peasants near Salerno; Mazzini had to flee from Genoa with the police on his trail. As a consequence, frustrated former Mazzinians such as Giuseppe Garibaldi joined the Italian Nationalist Society with its motto “For Italy and Victor Emmanuel.” Mazzinians were responsible for the uprising in Palermoin 1860 that led to the expedition of Garibaldi’s “Thousand.” The policies enacted by Garibaldi’s dictatorship in Sicily were also Mazzinian in inspiration and were enforced by one of his most loyal followers, Francesco Crispi. Mazzini himself, however, played only a relatively minor role in the unification of 1860. In September 1860, he went to Naples, intent on launching the idea of a national Constituent Assembly that would freely decide whether or not to accept annexation by Piedmont-Sardinia, but nothing came of this plan. In the last decade of his life, Mazzini was deserted by Francesco Crispi and others among his few remaining supporters, who became royalists and leaders of the constitutional left. He was sharply criticized by Italy’s nascent workers’ movements. In 1870, he was arrested while attempting to promote an uprising in Rome. Released after the liberation of the capital, he lived the last few months of his life in Pisa under the pseudonym Dr. Brown.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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