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Who is Who in Italian History

Carlo Cafiero
1846 - 1892
Carlo Cafiero

Carlo Cafiero was born September 1, 1846 in Barletta, Italy. He was the son of a wealthy family of Southern Italian bourgeoisie i.e. nobility. Carlo was considered the ‘black sheep’ of the family. 

He became a revolutionary early in his life and eventually supported and joined the international and later became the leader of the Italian anarchist movement. Cafiero studied in Naples, where he graduated with a law degree.

Following his graduation he traveled to Florence where he joined the diplomatic core. Beginning 1870s he traveled to Paris, and later to London, where he spent some time. While in London,  left his diplomatic career, renounced wealth and family, and joined the revolution and socialist movement.

While in London, Cafiero was introduced to Marx and Engels. He joined their “Internazionale” movement, an Association of Working Men.

He was tasked to recruit citizens in Italy to join into Marx’ ideology. However, Italy had become strongly influenced by Bakunin’s anarchism and Mazzini’s republican movements. During an assembly in Naples, where he was revitalizing the old section of the Internazionale, he was arrested and imprisoned for a short time.

In 1872 he met Bakunin in Locarno (Switzerland), where he spent a month discussing Bakunin’s ideas and objections to Marx and Engels’ ideology. After a year of hard work in recruiting Italians for Marx and Engels, Cafiero joined Bakunin’s anarchist movement.

Cafiero sold his inheritance (mostly land) to finance the establishment of an international center for the revolution on a farm in Switzerland that he purchased. Bakunin would live on that property that became known under the name ‘La Baronata’ and later also served as a shelter for revolutionaries on the run from their governments.  In 1875 Cafiero joined the editorial staff of the first socialist daily paper, ‘La Plebe’, in Milan.

In April 1877, Cafiero, Malatesta, Ceccarelli, the Russian Stepniak together with 30 other comrades began an insurrection in the province of Benevento. They conquered the villages of Letino and Gallo. During their departure from Gallo, government troops arrested Cafiero and his comrades. He remained in prison until his trial almost 1 year later, were he was acquitted of all charges in August 1878.

Cafiero wrote some of his most important works during his time in prison: ‘The Compendium of The Capital’, published later by ‘La Plebe Editions’ in Milan. The work was appreciated and praised even by Marx who found it superior to other similar works.

Cafiero moved to Marseilles in 1878 where he worked as a cook. In October he and Malatesta were arrested and deported from France. He found refuge in Switzerland, where he met Kropotkin.

In 1881 Cafiero returned to London, where he remained until March 1882 when he returned to Italy. Cafiero wanted to take part in the upcoming electoral campaign. On April 5, he was arrested without being charged. After one month of incarceration he became very depressed and attempted suicide by cutting his vein. After significant local protest, Cafiero was released and was given the choice of being deported either to Barletta, his birth town, or exiled to Switzerland.

In February 1883 with Cafiero’s mental capacities deteriorating he left for Florence. He was later found in a grotto. After thorough evaluation he was committed to a mental institution in Florence and was transferred in 1891 to a mental institution in Nocera Inferiore, where he died in 1892.

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