Legendary 19th century Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe GaribaldiBy Tom Behan:

The legacy of Giuseppe Garibaldi – the 19th century’s Che Guevara

The Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, the ‘Che Guevara of the 19th century’, was born 200 years ago. …

If you visit Italy, you will notice that, wherever you’re staying, the main street or square will almost invariably be named after Giuseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi is the national hero who led the movement to unite Italy in the mid-19th century.

Italy only became a unified state between 1859 and 1871. Before that it was a patchwork of different states.

“We Italians adore Garibaldi – from the cradle we are taught to admire him,” Antonio Gramsci [see also here; and here and here], the great Italian Marxist, wrote.

“If one were to ask Italian youngsters who they would most like to be, the overwhelming majority would certainly opt for the blond hero.”

But it is not just the left that would like to claim Garibaldi as one of their own. The Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and other leaders of the Italian right have been fascinated by Garibaldi’s military exploits and admired him for his patriotism.

Garibaldi’s exploits made him an international hero during his lifetime. An account from April 1864 describes one of his visits to London:

“The working men of London had organised a procession for the purpose of meeting and welcoming the liberator of Italy.

“But this procession, though numbering 50,000 intelligent artisans, was completely swallowed up in the mighty ovation by the whole metropolitan people, and served merely as a foretaste to Garibaldi of the extraordinary testimony which was about to be given of the estimation in which his principles and services in the cause of liberty were held by the English people.”

Garibaldi was in London primarily to raise funds to finance an expedition to free Venice, which was still under Austrian rule. He mixed in government circles, and spent many evenings chattering with the middle classes.

But in a contradiction that sums up his life, Garibaldi had also been invited to London by the city’s trades council.

The reaction he provoked among workers and trade unions began to worry the government. It eventually ordered him out of the country – and Queen Victoria made clear she regarded this as good riddance.

But why did people make such a fuss about Garibaldi, and why is his memory so contested? He was born 200 years ago in the city of Nice, then an Italian-French area, the son of a fisherman.

Like many people in continental Europe at the time, Garibaldi experienced brutal domination by a foreign power. However the local opponents of this rule were often not much better.

They were typically aristocrats and business leaders, totally uninterested in democracy or in improving the lives of working people.


As a young man Garibaldi gravitated towards a secret movement known as La Giovine Italia, “Young Italy”. It was led by Giuseppe Mazzini. He believed in revolutionary action to unite Italy as a republic, rather than as a monarchy.

However it is always difficult to build a mass movement under a dictatorship, and Garibaldi’s first experience of armed insurrection, in Genoa in 1834, was a dismal failure.

The following year Garibaldi moved to South America where he spent the next 13 years taking part in a variety of national liberation movements.

Word of his exploits started to feed back to Italy and he acquired a reputation as the “hero of two worlds”.

The letters Antonio Gramsci wrote before his imprisonment in the 1920s are a fascinating record of turbulent times, says John Foster: here.

4 thoughts on “Legendary 19th century Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi

  1. New enquiry into G8 violence nixed
    Two govt parties vote with opposition against probe

    (ANSA) – Rome, October 30 [2007]- A bid to obtain a fresh parliamentary enquiry into alleged violence by Italian police at a 2001 G8 summit foundered on Monday when two government parties joined the opposition in voting against it.

    The vote in the House constitutional affairs committee sank leftists’ hopes of getting a new enquiry under way into the events at the Genoa summit, which took place when centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi was premier. A parliamentary investigation carried out while Berlusconi was in power cleared the police and was branded a whitewash by leftwing parties then in the opposition.

    The new enquiry – which the centre left promised in its 2006 election platform – was to have focused on a police raid which took place on July 21, 2001, when 150 police in riot gear burst into a school where anti-globalisation protestors were quartered.

    Police arrested 93 protesters including British, French, German and other non-Italian nationals. Sixty of the protestors had to be taken to hospital after the raid and three people were left comatose, including a freelance British journalist, Marc Covell.

    A trial into the Diaz school case, in which 29 police officers are defendants, began in April 2005 and is still going on.

    In June this year a top policeman changed his earlier testimony and said he had witnessed police brutality during the raid on the Diaz school. He called the scene when he arrived there “carnage”.

    Centre-right MPs welcomed the vote against a new enquiry saying an attempt by “ultraleftists” to put the police on trial had been thwarted.

    The SAP police union said the vote had “done Italy a great service”.

    The Italy of Values party, one of the two centrist parties which voted with the opposition, said it had done so because the enquiry envisaged would have been “one-sided”, ignoring violence committed by protestors.

    Oliviero Diliberto, whose Italian Communists’ Party had pushed hard for the new enquiry, said it was shocking that allies did not want to “find the truth about something that ended one life and bloodied the streets of Genoa”.

    More than 300,000 demonstrators converged on Genoa for the G8 summit.

    During two days of subsequent mayhem, one protestor was shot dead while attacking a Carabinieri policeman, shops and businesses were ransacked and hundreds of people injured in clashes between police and demonstrators.

    According to protesters inside the Diaz school, they were brutally attacked by the police for no reason.

    The police instead maintain that the protesters were harbouring dangerous weapons and resisting arrest and that they were forced to defend themselves.

    All charges against the demonstrators were subsequently dropped while the police stand accused of planting evidence against them including two molotov cocktails and falsely accusing them of violence.

    In a separate strand of the trial, judges are soon to reach their verdict on 25 protestors accused of causing mayhem and destroying property during the Genoa summit.

    Last week, a lawyer acting for the state asked for a total of 2.5 million euros in damages for the stain on the national image and urged the court to hand down prison sentences totalling 225 years.


  2. The relevance of Gramsci’s theory for today

    By Peter Latham
    January 3, 2010 — I first read Gramsci in English over 40 years ago.
    Moreover, my thesis on Theories of the Labour Movement–a Marxist
    critique of non-Marxist theories of industrial relations–used Gramsci’s
    concept of the “organic” working class intellectual to explain twentieth
    century rank and file movements in the British building industry.This
    paper is based on the Gramsci section in my forthcoming book on The
    State and Local Government.

    * Read more http://links.org.au/node/1456


  3. Pingback: Italy, Spain and the European Union | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Donald Trump’s bookshop-attacking British fascist fans | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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