Giovanni Rossi

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Giovanni Rossi

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Giovanni Rossi (January 11, 1856 – 9 January 1943) was a Italian anarchist who founded the two cooperative communities of Cittadella (Italy) and La Cecilia (Brazil). By profession he was an agronomist and a veterinary doctor. He was the author of the book, “Un comune socialista”, which he published under the pseudonym of Cardias.

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Giovanni Rossi


Youth and influences

Born in Pisa, Giovanni Rossi was influenced at an early age by the historical founders of anarchism such as Proudhon, Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, and he was fascinated by utopian socialist and communitarian ideas such as those found in More’s “Utopia”, Campanella’s “City of the Sun”, and in the works of Charles Fourier, Etienne Cabet and Robert Owen. His anarchist ideas were positivist, and he conceived politics as being a scientific discipline. He studied agriculture and vetinary medicine at the University of Perugia, gaining his doctorate in 1874, and later worked in both of these professions.

Political activities

In 1873, he became a member of the Pisan section of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA). In 1878, his first book, “Un comune socialista” was published under the pseudonym of Cardias, promoting his theory of how anarchist communities could be organised. His friendship with the insurrectionist anarchist, Andrea Costa, and his political activities brought him to the notice of the political police. Rossi was arrested in November 1878 for presumed anti-statist attacks, and he was held in jail for five months until April 1879, when the case was dropped. At the same time as his political work, he continued his activities as an agronomist and vetinary doctor, working in Montescudaio (Tuscany) and published a number of books. In 1882 he moved to Gavardo (Brescia) where he worked for some time as a vetinary doctor.
With the hope of being able to put his ideas about cooperative communities to the test by starting such a project, he began to contact prominent members of the Italian libertarian left asking them for advice and support. However, he did not get any substantial help. In Brescia, in 1886, Rossi began publishing, with Andrea Costa, his newspaper “Lo Sperimentale” (The Experiment), advocating of the creation of cooperative colonies. In the same year, he was contacted by Giuseppe Mori, a follower of Mazzini, who wanted to found a community on his farm at Stagno Lombardo, near Cremona.


Rossi’s first attempt at starting a community was on Mori’s 120 hectare farm of Cittadella, Stagno Lombardo. From November 1887, the land, machines and livestock were leased to an agricultural cooperative made up of the peasants who had previously been paid workers there. Rossi was elected secretary of the cooperative. At the agricultural level, it was successful enough to win a silver medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889. However, Rossi was not satisfied with the experiment. Although a far reaching collectivisation under self-management had taken place, the social relationships in the daily life of the cooperative members remained much as before. The peasants were reluctant to take the steps Rossi thought to necessary to achieve anarcho-communism. Rossi left the community at the end of 1889. The Cittadella cooperative was wound up in November, 1890.


Rossi, Mori and members of Citadella, 1890.

La Cecilia

Having left Cittadella, Rossi decided to make a further attempt at starting an experimental community. On February 20, 1890, Rossi left Italy from Genoa with a group of 5 other anarchists. They sailed to Palmeiras, Paranà, in Brazil, where they established the anarchist “Cecilia Colony”. In less than a year, its population, primarily male, had about 250 members. This experiment in anarchist communism and free love lasted for about five years, running up against not only material problems, but especially emotional and sexual difficulties (due particularly to the small number of women). In addition, there was hostility from the local community of Polish catholic immigrants and their priest, and from the local administration. Disease also took its toll as there were problems with sanitation and with getting healthy food. The Cecilia Colony began a libertarian school, though Rossi admitted in 1890 that the school
for the children was open irregularly. “Instruction, music, theatre, dances, have still not been possible. The productive job has absorbed to us entirely “.

Later work

Rossi left the community before it dissolved in 1894, but he remained in Brazil, in Taquary, then Rio dos Cedros, as director of an agricultural research station. He started a number of agricultural cooperatives. In 1895, he published the book, “Il Paranà nel XX secolo. Utopia di Giovanni Rossi (Cardias)”, the first part of which was a detailed description of the experiment, the second part of which was a utopian novel about community. He continued to be politically active, and was watched by the Brazilian police who were in contact with the Italian authorities
In 1907, Rossi returned to Italy, researching agricultural problems, was employed as a veterinarian and teacher, continuing to favour libertarian cooperative colonies and was an advocate for the emancipation of women.
By the 1920s and the start of the fascist period, he had more or less given up political activism, publicly only attending the funerals of his old comrades.
With the onset of WWII he retired, living a withdrawn life, and died in his home town of Pisa in January 1943, at the age of 87.


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