It is difficult to find anarchist works in English that are at the same time “individualist” and explicitly revolutionary, that emphasize the centrality of the aim of individual self-determination to a revolution that will “communalize material wealth” as it will “individualize spiritual wealth”. For this and other reasons I chose to translate Toward the Creative Nothing by Renzo Novatore and publish several of his shorter pieces. Written shortly after World War I, as a revolution was occurring in Russia and uprisings were happening in Germany and Italy, this poetic text responds to the upheaval of its time with a call for a revolution that could truly move the human race beyond the spiritual impoverishment, the equality in baseness that democracy and socialism offered. Bourgeois society seemed to have reached its dusk, and Novatore saw the hope for a new dawn only in such a revolution — one that went beyond the mere economic demands of the socialists and communists — a revolution moved by great ideas and great passions that would break with the low values of bourgeois democratic civilization.
Novatore recognized that the war had simply reinforced the lowest and most cowardly of bourgeois values. The “proletarian frogs” just let themselves be led to the slaughter — killing each other for the cause of those who exploited them — because, in spite of their exploitation, they continued to share the values of their masters, the “bourgeois toads” — the values of the belly, the democratic values of equality in baseness, the rule of survival over life.
In our time when the “great dusk” of bourgeois democratic society that is heralded in this text seems to have become an eternal dusk making the entire world a dull grey nightmare of survival, Novatore’s call to a destructive revolution based on great passions and ideas, on the dreams and desires of a mighty and strong-willed “I” seems more necessary than ever if we are to move beyond this pathetic swamp of mediocrity. Of course, no revolution can go very far without the insurrection of the exploited against their condition. But this is precisely the point: when the proletarians rise up against their proletarianization, this means taking their revolt beyond the demand for full bellies to the active appropriation of full lives.
Novatore recognized that one could not struggle against this order alone — that revolution was necessary, not just individual revolt. If he mocked the proletarians of his time , it is because they did not lift themselves above the bourgeois hordes with great dreams and great will. So, as Novatore could have predicted, the “great proletarian revolution” in Russia came to embrace the worst of bourgeois values and created a monstrous machine of exploitation. Starting from the bourgeois values of the belly that place productivity above all else, that anti-individual egalitarianism of survival above all, how could it do otherwise?
Now more than ever we need an anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, anti-state revolutionary movement which aims at the total liberation of every individual from all that prevents her from living his life in terms of her most beautiful dreams — dreams freed from the limits of the market. Such a movement must, of course, find ways to intervene in the real struggles of all the exploited, to move class conflict toward a real rupture with the social order and its survivalist values. These are matters we must wrestle now analyzing our present situation to find the openings for our insurrectional project. Novatore’s text is a light of poetry and passion — one light among many — which may help us to pierce through the gloom of the capitalist technological dusk that surrounds us — a ray of singularity breaking through the dinginess of the present mediocrity with its call for the revolution of the mightiest dreams.
Renzo Novatore is the pen-name of Abele Rizieri Ferrari who was born in Arcola, Italy (a village of La Spezia) on May 12, 1890 to a poor peasant family. Unwilling to adapt to scholastic discipline, he only attended a few months of the first grade of grammar school and then left school forever. Though his father forced him to work on the farm, his strong will and thirst for knowledge led him to become a self-taught poet and philosopher. Exploring these matters outside the limits imposed by the educational system, as a youth lie read Stirner, Nietzsche, Wilde, Ibsen, Baudelaire, Schopenauer and many others with a critical mind.
From 1908 on, he considered himself an anarchist. In 1910, he was charged with the burning of a local church and spent three months in prison. A year later, he went on the lam for several months because the police wanted him for theft and robbery. On September 30, 1911, the police arrested him for vandalism. In 1914, he began to write for anarchist papers. He was drafted during the first World War. He deserted his regiment on April 26, 1918 and was sentenced to death by a military tribunal for desertion and high treason on October 31. He left his village and went on the lam, propagating the armed uprising against the state.
On June 30, 1919, a farmer sold him to the police after an uprising in La Spezia. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but was released in a general amnesty a few months later. He rejoined the anarchist movement and took part in various insurrectionary endeavors. In 1920, the police arrested him again for an armed assault on an arms depository at the naval barracks in Val di Fornola. Several months later, he was free, and participated in another insurrectionary endeavor that failed because of a snitch.
In the summer of 1922, three trucks full of fascists stopped in front of his home, where he lived with his wife and two sons. The fascists surrounded the house, but Novatore used grenades against them and was able to escape. He went underground one more time.
On November 29, 1922, Novatore and his comrade, Sante Pollastro, went into a tavern in Teglia. Three carabinieri (Italian military police) followed them inside. When the two anarchists tried to leave, the carabinieri began shooting. The warrant officer killed Novatore, but was then killed by Pollastro. One carabiniere ran away, and the last begged Pollastro for mercy. The anarchist escaped without shooting him.
Renzo Novatore wrote for many anarchist papers (Cronaca Libertaria, Il Libertario, Iconoclastal, Gli Scamiciati, Nichilismo, Pagine Libere) where he debated with other anarchists (among them Camillo Berneri). He published a magazine, Vertice, that has unfortunately been lost. In 1924, an individualist anarchist group published two pamphlets of his writings: Al Disopra dell’Arco and Verso il Nulla Creatore.
About 70 years since its first publication, Toward the Creative Nothing seems to really maintain its destructive force intact. This characteristic of unchanging timeliness, in spite of every upsetting social occurrence and beyond the literary form, is common to a great many of the writings of individualist anarchists, that is to say, of those who did not base their lives on a social and economic program that was to be realized — the validity of which could only be determined by History — but on the individual, on being a real human being in flesh and bone. (This very probably explains the recent revival of enthusiasm for the work of Stirner.)
But the enhanced value of the individual cannot and must not decay into the constitution of a new school, a new ideology which in a time of uncertainty like the one that we are going through could attract all those — and they are many — who go in search of a point of unshakeable support. One cannot substitute the Individual for the Party merely because it is considered exempt from every critique in relation to social reality. In conclusion the greatest risk is that of enclosing oneself in the classic ivory tower, as many individualist anarchists in the past had, in fact, done.
Many, but not all. Here then is the reprint of the work by Renzo Novatore that allows us to rediscover his figure under several aspects that are exceptional in the individualist anarchist, since it not only gets rid of possible speculations about individualism, but is, at the same time, a call to struggle with a timeliness that is at times amazing.
Among those who declare themselves to be individualist anarchists, Renzo Novatore undoubtedly occupies a place of remark, being one of the greatest examples of that which in past epochs was called “heroic and iconoclastic anarchism”. Man of thought and action, in the course of his life, Novatore had a way most of the time of showing his own uniqueness.
During the First World War, when interventionism picked up not a few followers among the anarchists, particularly within the ranks of the individualists, Novatore lined himself up resolutely against the war , deserting with arms in hand and being condemned to death for it by the tribunal in La Spezia. Unlike the great portion of other individualists who amused themselves with academic meditations on the “I”. Novatore live as an outlaw committing attentats and expropriations and actively participating in numerous insurrectional endeavors until he was killed in a gun battle with carabinieri in 1922.
Anti-dogmatic, he entered into polemics with both the muscle-bound anarchist organizers of the UAI (Union of Italian Anarchists) — he had a most violent argument with Camillo Berneri — and with the spokespeople of a certain type of anarchist individualism (like Carlo Molaschi) often and willingly. For Novatore — a reader of Stirner, but not for that a disciple of stirnerism — the affirmation of the individual, the continuous tension toward freedom, led inevitably to the struggle against the existent, to the violent battle against authority and against every type of “wait — and see” attitude.
Written around 1921, Toward the Creative Nothing, which visibly feels the effects of Nietzsche’s influence on the author, attacks christianity, socialism, democracy, fascism one after the other, showing the material and spiritual destitution in them. All that which has led to the decadence of the individual, that which subjected it under various pretexts to “social phantoms” is assailed with iconoclastic fury. With this critique of that which belittles the uniqueness of the individual — which is still valid now — Novatore demolishes all the widespread commonplaces on the worth of individuals. At times with a smile on his lips and at other times with rage, Novatore refutes anyone who imagines him closed in the cloister of philosophical speculation; he drives back the accusations of those who believe him to be a blind negator, one deprived of projectuality; he shows the absurdity of those who believe him to be opposed to the revolution and favorable only to individual revolt. All of this without ever missing an opportunity to affirm the uniqueness of the individual, the greatness of the dream. The force of desire, the beauty of anarchy. In other words, here is what today has come to be considered out-of-date, but which perhaps is more simply out of fashion.
Certainly, a lot of time has passed since the writing of this text. But the triumph of democracy, the survival of stalinism, the rebirth of fascism, the deluge of technology, the universalization of commodities, the validation carried out by the mass media, the reduction of language, the contempt for utopia; this is what conspires to drown the individual in a sea of mediocrity, to tame its uniqueness, to placate every instinct of revolt within it, to render it incapable of love as well as hatred, impotent in its quiet life — all this is frighteningly current. Here this is because it renders that which can serve to desecrate and combat this situation equally current.
One thing is certain, only one who prefers the stormy sea to stagnant water will surely know how to appreciate the iconoclastic work of Renzo Novatore.
Void Mirror invites you to read the pamphlet of Renzo Novatore here: