Pietro di Paola, The Knights Errant of Anarchy: London and the Italian anarchist Diaspora (1880-1917)
Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013; 244pp; ISBN 978-1846319693
Anarchists disapprove of the state and they hate its police forces. Historians of anarchism, however, love the materials which have been collected by exactly these police officers. The richer their archives, the better it is! Pietro di Paola must be very grateful to the Italian state, its surveillance authorities and their informants, for the huge amount of material they have amassed in their archives. Without them this book would not have been half as informative. So thanks to the state and thanks to the custodians of the archives, who have left these materials intact.
However, it is well known that archives of the secret police are tricky sources. Therefore, much depends on the craftsmanship of the historian and how they are used. Pietro Di Paola is well aware of the dangers which these archives contain and he succeeds in weaving what reliable information they contain in his picture of the Italian anarchist colony in London.
He is not myopic and places this colony in the context of the much longer history of Italian political exile in London, starting with the exiles of the Risorgimento of the 1820s. After 1837 Mazzini became the leading figure among the Italian exiles and he remained so until his condemnation of the Commune and controversy with Bakunin. That was the moment when younger activists like Errico Malatesta broke with Mazzini's republicanism and a distinct anarchist presence among the Italian exiles became noticeable. This pre-history of the Italian anarchist colony is not only very informative, but also a necessary broadening of our view of anarchists in exile. In his conclusion to the book, the author argues the importance of comparatively and 'translocally' investigating other colonies of Italian anarchists in exile. But a comparison with earlier Italian colonies in London could be very productive as well, as could comparisons with non-Italian colonies of exiles.
From then on Di Paola gives in three chapters a chronologically ordered picture of the history of the London-based Italian anarchists up to the First World War. The chronological ordering is such that it becomes difficult to get a consistent general view, because it interrupts the coherence of certain processes. Nevertheless, we get a lively idea of the debates between the organisationalists and...