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Reviewed by:
  • Apostles and Agitators: Italy’s Marxist Revolutionary Tradition
  • Renate Holub
Richard Drake. Apostles and Agitators: Italy’s Marxist Revolutionary Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. 273 pp.

Many publications in recent decades have focused on the traditions and institutions of modernity in Europe and North America, but few of these have taken account of Italy's experiences of modernity. A book that focuses on an important strand of modernity's complex trajectory in Italy, in this case on the Marxist revolutionary tradition, is therefore bound to enrich a relatively neglected chapter of modern European history. The task Richard Drake sets for himself is clear: Through a historical examination of the writings and careers of major Italian Marxist thinkers and activists, he seeks to retrace the development of Italy's Marxist revolutionary tradition. In the eight chapters of the book, Drake combines biographical data with an analysis of the revolutionary theories of political activists such as Karl Marx, Carlo Cafiero, Antonio Labriola, Arturo Labriola, Benito Mussolini, Amadeo Bordiga, Antonio Gramsci, and Palmiro Togliatti. The last three are linked to the development of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), whereas Mussolini embodies Italian fascism, both philosophically and institutionally. Carlo Cafiero represents the link with the theory of anarchism in late nineteenth-century Italy, and the two Labriolas were standard-bearers of Italian socialism before the advent of Communism. What links these various figures with Marx is not so much Marx's economic analysis and theory of capitalism but a particular aspect of his political theory, namely, the need for a "dictatorship of the proletariat," a principle that inspired the political theories of the revolutionary activists discussed in the book. [End Page 174] By placing Mussolini into the ranks of leading Italian Marxist activists, Drake reminds the reader that Mussolini's promotion of fascist violence must be viewed in relation to socialist and Marxist principles of violence.

The preface and coda of the book indicate that what matters most to Drake theoretically is the relationship between left-wing violence, as it emerged from the violent practices of the Red Brigades, and a left-wing tradition that upheld revolution. Such a relationship can be seen in Italy. But to ensure historical accuracy, we must emphasize that we are not dealing with "Italian Marxism" or Italy's left-wing tradition tout court. Instead, Drake is considering ideas and concepts of violence that the Red Brigades elaborated by adapting Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and by drawing on anarchist critiques of the state. The subtitle of Drake's book seems to acknowledge that a number of revolutionary traditions exist in Italy, as do a number of Marxist traditions. But because Drake seeks to discuss only one of them, he does not refer to the many other revolutionary traditions in Italy, among them the Neapolitan revolution of the 1790s that was inspired by Gaetano Filangieri, a leading Enlightenment constitutional philosopher and activist whose famous work on the Science of Legislation was highly esteemed by none other than that quintessential American revolutionary activist Thomas Jefferson. If Drake had referred to the diverse Marxist traditions in Italy, he could have highlighted the profound lack of appeal of Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," which is roughly synonymous in this volume with a "Marxist principle of violence."

By the third decade of the twentieth century, Marx's political theory had already been questioned and rejected by leading Marxist intellectuals everywhere—both despite and because of the advent of the Soviet regime. The complexity of the financial, industrial, technological, and geopolitical expansion of capitalism required new conceptual instruments to reassess the institutional implementation of freedom, justice, and equality. The assertion of the need for greater rights predates Marx's philosophy, as Italian legal theorists remember when they refer to Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella. Part of the significance of Drake's valuable book is that it reminds us that Marxism, in whatever form—institutional, intellectual, or ethical—remains a phenomenon of modernity. As such, it is inseparable from its interaction with the organizational forces that govern the economies, polities, and financial systems of industrial capitalism on a national and international level. Only...