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Gaetano Bresci

An Italian-American anarchist who assassinated Umberto I, King of Italy. Found dead in prison, "suicided" by the guards. Born in Tuscany in 1869, killed May 22, 1901.

Gaetano BresciGaetano Bresci emigrated from Italy to the US, & was working & living in the large Italian-American anarchist community in Paterson, New Jersey, when demonstrations over high bread prices led to demonstrations all over Italy.

In Milan, General Bava Beccaris fired cannons on a peaceful demonstration, leaving hundreds dead. "Order restored," the King of Italy, Umberto I had the gall to decorate the butcher Beccaris, & consequently, Gaetano Bresci determined to kill the king. Bresci went to Italy & in Monza, where the King was visiting, put three bullets into him on July 29, 1900.

Bresci, illustration by Flavio Costantini
Illustration by Flavio Costantini

"…that man who had the courage to kill a king... well, that Gaetano Bresci, who had even come from America, that fantastic country beyond the ocean, seemed, in my child's imagination not a monster, but a great hero!"

— E. Arrigoni, Freedom: My Dream

Bresci was defended by the anarchist lawyer, Francesco Saverio Merlino, & sentenced in Milan, August 29, 1900, to hard labor at Santo Stefano Prison at Ventotene Island (where numerous other anarchists had also been sent over the years).

Note: "Cause et Effetti," 1898-1900, a single issue, was published in September, 1900. The cruel repression of the starving people in 1898 & Umberto's death by Bresci's hand are the "cause" & the "effect" alluded to. This is the first of a small series of Italian papers of one or a small number of issues, published in London by Malatesta's group & containing articles by him.

"One day, while in a café with Max & Victor, I read in the afternoon papers about the killing of King Humbert by an anarchist. The name of of the Attentäter was Gaetano Bresci.

I remembered the name as that of an active comrade of the anarchist group in Paterson, New Jersey. Strange that he should have committed such an act, I thought; he had impressed me so differently from most of the other Italians I knew. He was not at all of an excitable temperament & not easily aroused. What could have induced him to take the life of the King of Italy, I wondered. Victor ascribed the protracted hunger riots in Milan, in 1898, as the probable cause of Bresci's deed. Many worker's lives had been lost on that ocassion through the attack of the soldiery upon the starving & unarmed people. They had marched toward the palace surrounded by a strong military force under command of General Bava Beccaris.

The people ignored the order to disperse, whereupon the General gave the signal that resulted in a massacre of the demonstrators. King Humbert complimented Beccaris upon his "brave defense of the royal house," decorating him for his murderous work...

I knew what torture would be his lot in prison & I recalled the fearful treatment of Luccheni, a similar victim of the ruthless social struggle.

We remained for some time in the cafe, discussing the incredible waste of human life involved in the terrible war of the classes in every country. I confided to my friends the doubts that had been assailing me since Sasha's act, though I fully realized the inevitability of such deeds resulting from existing conditions."

Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Chapter 22

"I kept a previous engagement in Paterson, New Jersey... I was glad of the opportunity to find out more about Bresci & his life. What I learned from his closest comrades convinced me once more how difficult it is to gain a real insight into the human heart & how likely we all are to judge men by superficial indications.

Gaetano Bresci was one of the founders of La Questione Sociale, the Italian anarchist paper published in Paterson. He was a skillful weaver, considered by his employers a sober, hard-working man, but his pay averaged only fifteen dollars a week. He had a wife & child to support; yet he managed to donate weekly contributions to the paper. He had even saved a hundred & fifty dollars, which he lent to the group at a critical period of La Questione Sociale. His free evenings & Sundays he used to spend in helping with the office work & in propaganda. He was beloved & respected for his devotion by all the members of his group.

Then one day Bresci had unexpectedly asked that his loan to the paper be returned. He was informed that it was impossible; the paper had no funds & had, in fact, a deficit. But Bresci insisted & even refused to offer any explanation for his demand. Finally the group succeeded in securing enough money to pay back the debt to Bresci. But the Italian comrades bitterly resented Bresci's behavior, branding him as a miser, who loved money above his ideal. Most of his friends even ostracized him.

A few weeks later came the news that Gaetano Bresci had killed King Humbert. His act brought home to the Paterson group the realization of how cruelly they had wronged the man. He had insisted on the return of his money in order to secure the fare to Italy! No doubt the consciousness of the injustice done Bresci rested heavier on the Italian comrades than his resentment against them. To make amends, in a sense, the Paterson group charged itself with the support of their martyred comrade's child, a beautiful little girl."

Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Chapter 23


From a travel brochure: Ventotene Island (also variously known as Prison Island & Utopia Island) Prison inmates included men like Luigi Settembrini, who spent ten years there, the anarchist Mariani, who threw a bomb in Milan's Teatro Diana, Gaetano Bresci, Ventotene Island who assassinated Umberto I & who was thrown into the sea after "committing suicide," & the ubiquitous Pertini. The prison was closed down in 1965 & since then has enjoyed the peace & quiet of a deserted place. The cells are now inhabited by nesting swallows & nightingales, the parapets are a mass of blossoming gilly flowers & along the walls innocuous grass snakes chase fat lizards.


Autore: Sconosciuto                                    Anno  1900

Viva, viva il nostro Bresci, stato quello che lo ha ucciso e noi gridiamo sul suo viso:
viva, viva la libertà!

Sulla punta di quello stile
c 'eran scritte tre paroline:
vogliamo morto Umberto primo
e vogliamo la libertà...


Il 21 luglio 1900 Umberto con un seguito modesto raggiunge la residenza estiva di Monza.

Da anni usa trascorrere l'estate nella cittadina lombarda, al margine della ridente Brianza, dove gli è facile incontrare l'amante, Eugenia Attendolo Bolognini Litta Visconti Arese. Umberto può uscire discretamente da una porticina del parco, contrassegnata da due fanali e raggiungere la casa della donna. Dopo la morte, Vittorio farà murare la piccola porta per cancellare ogni traccia di quel passaggio.

Il 29 luglio è domenica. Il re, dopo cena, esce con il tenente generale Emilio Ronzio Vaglia, ministro della Real Casa, e il maggior generale Felice Avogadro di Quinto, aiutante di campo, per recarsi ad assistere alla premiazione degli atleti della società ginnastica Forti e liberi.

Dopo la premiazione, salito in carrozza, una berlina a due cavalli, ritto sulla vettura nell'atto di salutare un ufficiale riconosciuto tra la piccola folla che fa ala, viene colpito dai tre dei quattro proiettili di revolver sparati dall'uomo che sarà identificato per Gaetano Bresci. I primi tre colpi (Bresci sosterrà di aver sparato solo tre volte) colgono Umberto in parti vitali, il quarto - se è esploso - è deviato da un pugno che il maresciallo dei carabinieri Giuseppe Braggi da al braccio di chi ha sparato.

L'uomo viene subito fermato ed è certo che non oppone resistenza. Non pochi dei presenti gli sono addosso ed è appena possibile sottrarlo al linciaggio: è coperto di sangue, gli abiti a brandelli e un occhio che quasi gli esce dall'orbita per un colpo di bottiglia.

La reazione è comprensibile. Gioca l'emotività per l'azione contraria all'ordine morale. In più, sebbene gli ultimi anni del secolo siano caratterizzati dalla protesta del ceto contadino e del nuovo proletariato, gran parte del popolo tutto sommato è ancora portata verso l'iconografia d'effetto che la monarchia rappresenta. Assassination attempt; source anarcotico.net/

Umberto è già stato fatto segno a due attentati: il primo, a Napoli, il 17 novembre 1878, quando, giunto in carrozza con Margherita e il presidente del consiglio Benedetto Cairoli in località Carriera Grande, nel quartiere di Porta Capuana, viene colpito da un colpo di pugnale infertogli da Giovanni Passanante, un disoccupato originario di Salvia, in Basilicata (2); il secondo, il 22 aprile del '97, quando un altro disoccupato, Pietro Acciarito da Artena, vibra una coltellata al re che sta recandosi in carrozza con Emilio Ponzio Vaglia ad assistere al derby alle Capannelle (3).

Mentre nella calda sera estiva la carrozza - Umberto ha già perduto conoscenza - si avvia a tutta andatura verso la villa, l'attentatore è portato in caserma. Non fa dichiarazioni. Solo dice il proprio nome. Chi è, dunque, Gaetano Bresci?

http://www.anarcotico.net/...29luglio1900.html


  • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbresci.htm

  • BERTI, Giampietro has published Francesco Saverio Merlino: Dall'anarchismo socialista al socialismo liberale (1856-1930) in the Collana della Fondazione di studi storici Filippo Turati (FrancoAngeli, 1993).

  • Diaspora or International Proletariat? Italian Labor Migration & the Making of Multi-ethnic States, 1815-1939 by Donna Gabaccia & Fraser Ottanelli, Paper delivered at the 18th International Congress of the International Commission of Historical Sciences, Montreal, Canada, August/September 1995
    Bresci grave stone

  • Luigi Galleani wrote his book The End of Anarchism? in response to Merlino, after the latter had given up as an anarchist, having announced, in an interview, "anarchism an obsolete doctrine, torn by internal disputes, bereft of first-rate theorists, & doomed to early extinction."



page created May 2001; updated July 2003; December 2005; June 2009

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