The agricultural community of Cittadella at Stagno Lombardo, province of Cremona, Lombardy in Italy, existed from November 1887 until November 1890. It was founded by the Pisan anarchist, Giovanni Rossi and Giuseppe Mori as a cooperative agricultural association; Associazione Agricola Cooperativa di Cittadella. The community was at the 120 hectare farm owned by Mori, a philanthropist follower of Mazzini. Mori rented out the farm as leasehold to the cooperative. The project came to an end due to the conservative attitudes of the former farmworkers who were unwilling to fully organize the farm on anarcho-communist lines as originally proposed by Rossi.
Rossi, Mori and members of Citadella, 1890.
Process of foundation
After reading Giovanni Rossi’s publication, Un Comune socialista (“A socialist commune”, first published in 1878), which was a fictional account about a utopian community and which suggested the foundation of socialist experimental communities, Giuseppe Mori, a landowner and follower of Mazzini contacted Rossi in 1886. Together, they decided to attempt to start a project on Mori’s property, Cittadella, at Stagno Lombardo. They wanted to try to repeat the example of the Irish Owenite community of Ralahine, and to lease the property to a cooperative association made up of the agricultural workers at the Cittadella farm.
Rossi spent a year working out the details of the leasehold and the statute of the cooperative. Mori was to lease all of the land, animals, farm machinery and tools to the association. There was to be a communal kitchen and a communal store of consumer goods and foodstuff for the members, financed from the income of the cooperative. It was to be an egalitarian, anarcho-communist community. These initial ideas were not discussed with the agricultural workers who were to become the members of the cooperative because the two founders believed that the local bourgeoisie would oppose the foundation of a communist experiment in their midst and would attempt to exploit the latent conservativism of the peasants to undermine the project.
As, finally, an assembly of the workers was organised and the general proposals for starting an agricultural cooperative were put to them, there was a contented acceptance of the idea. The land workers were happy at the idea of becoming leaseholders of the farm rather than remaining paid workers, and some of them suggested that the project could become an example for other farmworkers in the area to follow.
Changes to the concept
When Rossi and Mori presented the workers with the proposed statute of the cooperative association, which had a predominantly egalitarian and communist character, they decided to modify it to being primarily collectivist in form with few changes to how they lived and worked. They decided on having three wage categories which were based on the responsibilities and quantity of work, rather than having a system based on needs and abilities. A technical commission of three people was to decide daily on the work to be done and to manage the coop. They also decided that each family should have a house, a garden and a poultry pen. In addition, they decided on the “privatisation” of parts of the agricultural work and the products of their labour. The major part of the farm work was to be communal, in the interest of the cooperative association, but half of the net profit was to be distributed to the members while the other half was to be reinvested in the coop.
The agricultural cooperative association of Cittadella (Associazione Agricola Cooperativa di Cittadella in Comune di Stagno Lombardo, Cremona) was officially founded at the constituent assembly on the 11th of November 1887. (Rossi noted later that this was the same day as the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs; Spies, Parsons, Fischer and Engel). 31 men were listed as being present, and they approved the statute which they themselves had modified. Decisions were to be made by a simple majority (50% of members plus 1). Men and women over the age of 17 could become cooperative members. The statute regulated the administration of the cooperative, the rights of its members, the cooperative capital, the agricultural work, the communal store, education, “moral relationships”, and details of how members could leave, or be excluded and how the cooperative could be wound up.
The cooperative was intially made up of twenty families, each having one of the houses. There were a number of farm buildings and also a kindergarten included with the 120 ha. Property.As the land was in the Po valley it was possible to irrigate it with water taken from a small reservoir nearby. The main products of the collective work were cereals (wheat and oats), maize, and wine. There were pastures for the communal cattle, and there was sericulture – the production of silk-worms. The collectivist form of work and production worked well and the cooperative took part in the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1889, where it was awarded a silver medal.
The cooperative members, although successful at working as a collective and using tried and tested agricultural techniques, were suspicious of innovations. Rossi, a trained agronomist and vetinary doctor, proposed to introduce a number of new products and new methods, such as fodder-beet for the livestock, chemical fertilisers, sulphate treatment for the vines, and new machinery and livestock breeds. Despite initial opposition by the conservatively inclined farm workers, a number of Rossi’s proposals were put into practice as experiments. Many of the experiments then proved successful. However, Rossi found it hard work to persuade the cooperative members of the benefits of these changes.
Mori and Rossi hoped that a change in the economic framework would produce a change in the political consciousness of the coop members, but they generally remained conservative in their outlook and social behaviour. When two families decided to leave Cittadella, Rossi and Mori invited a group of socialist comrades to come and join the cooperative in the hope that their example of solidarity and class consciousness would transfer to other members. The new group of 16 people was made up of two families and some individuals. They lived communally within the cooperative, deciding together on expenditure, and with communal housework done on a rota (by the women!).
The attempt to spread a new consciousness was not a success. Some of the cooperative members who had been previously farm workers for many years at Cittadella were afraid that this was the start of an attempt to replace them with socialists from outside. A struggle ensued in the cooperative between the community of socialists and some of the families. A number of the families had previously had benefits through being related to the former farm-foreman, and although they had accepted the new collective forms of work within the cooperative, they could not accept a more radical egalitarian experiment within their midst.
The end of the experiment
Disappointed by this situation, Rossi decided to leave the community and go to Latin America, where he was later to found the community of La Cecilia in Brazil. Mori was also disillusioned by the slow progress, and irritated by the internal strife within the cooperative. He therefore decided to terminate the lease on the property to the agricultural cooperative association. The cooperative asked Mori to review this decision, which he did, postponing the termination for a year. Rossi left Cittadella at the end of 1889. The cooperative was wound up on the 11th of November, 1890. The experiment had lasted exactly three years.
- Giovanni Rossi, ”Utopie und Experiment”, in Karin Kramer Verlag, Berlin, 1979. ISBN 3-87956-057-9 .
Translation of Italian texts into German by Alfred Sanftleben, Zurich, first published in 1897.