Did "Red" revolutionaries exist in 18th-Century Italy?

In The Earth Will Shake, the first volume of Robert Anton Wilson’s Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, beginning set in Naples in 1765, the villains are a group of violently revolutionary peasants and workers (and nobody else, apparently) called the Rossi (“Reds”). They seem to be a kind of Communists without benefit of Marxist doctrines (developed in the following century); their main tactic is assassination of the rich. But did they really exist? I can find no Wikipedia entry, and I’ve never heard of such a thing outside this book.

They sound like they’re based on the Carbonari, but they happened later on. My guess is that Wilson made them up for the book.

The Italian Revolution of 1848 pitted leftist Italian nationalists against right-wing Austrians, but I gather it was more of an ideological divide than an economic one.

And prominent amongst the former group were Garibaldi’s Redshirts. However, this was almost a century too late to be relevant to the OP’s question, and Garibaldi’s use of red uniforms does not appear to have been rooted in any sort of Italian leftist tradition. Wikipedia implies* that it arose simply because he once got his hands on a job lot of red shirts for cheap.

*It does not quite explicitly say so.

It is interesting to note that among Garibaldi’s leading enemies, during the Risorgimento, were the Bourbons.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that both types of biscuit appear to have been introduced by the same company. Obviously it is all part of the conspiracy!

It would be quite the stretch, but they could have read Rousseau’s Social Contract published three years earlier, and had really run with the phrase “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” And just coincidentally adopted red as their color.

Pirate and bandits ran pretty egalitarian outfits. But they still required leaders, who got the job by sticking a knife in their predecessor, more often than by open elections. If I were to dream up a proto-Communist movement pre American and French Revolutions, I’d have its members be inspired by the Levellers of the English Civil War.

According to Wikipedia:

I once read that Communists chose red as their color because it was the color of the standards of the proletarian units of the ancient Roman army – is there nothing to that at all?

What eighteenth-century Naples did have was a strong folk memory of Masaniello and the revolt of 1647.

Admittedly, the idea of Masaniello as some sort of proto-revolutionary mostly came later, after the French Revolution, when it was bound up with his nineteenth-century reinvention as a hero of opera and historical novels. But before that he had been remembered throughout Europe as the archetypal rabble-rouser. And he famously wore a red hat!

But if the novelist is aware of any of this, wouldn’t he just name-check him?

In the same book Wilson has the Carbonari (that is, references to them – they don’t appear on-scene AFAICR) existing in the mid-18th-Century.

There was no “Italy” in the 18th century.:slight_smile:

I see the smiley, but in case anyone takes this seriously, of course there was (map from 1793). The region was referred to as Italy even if it wasn’t united as a single country.

And if the Rossi existed, almost certainly they would not have been active in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies alone. (Though mainly there, I suppose – the further south in Italy you went the worse the poverty was – then and now.)

There was no “Italy” in the commonly understood sense of the word. There were various individual kingdoms until 1861. That’s when it united into the short-lived Kingdom of Italy before it eventually became a republic.

There was no “Italy” in the commonly understood sense of the word. There were various individual kingdoms until 1861. That’s when it united into the short-lived Kingdom of Italy before it eventually became a republic.

What is now “The United States” existed prior to !783, but no one referred to its as such prior to that time.

There are two commonly understood senses of the word: a nation-state located largely on the Italian peninsula, and the peninsula itself. The name “the United States” did not exist prior to 1783. The name Italy did.

This shows a rather deep ignorance of history. Italy was “commonly understood” as a geographical term, not just for the peninsula but for most of the area covered by the present nation, long before it became unified. Italia as the name of the region goes back at least to the Roman Empire. Here’s another map from 1700, and another from 1765.

But people referred to Italy as Italy/Italia/Italie etc for thousands of years before it became a nation. The geographical area covered by the United States may have existed before 1783, but “The United States” did not.

Yup. Italy was an established geographical and cultural entity long before it was politically united into a single state. If there was no Italy before 1861, then there was no Ireland before 1922, and all those people in the nineteenth century who thought they were Irish were mistaken. Plus, of course, the Irish famine cannot have happened.

Proto-communist movements in Europe have quite a long history. The English Levellers and the Diggers, including the famous thinker Freeborn John, had a lot of fairly radical ideas about how to reduce or eliminate inequality in England in and around the time of the Protectorate. During the Münster Rebellion, radical Anabaptists sought some pretty radical redistribution of property, going so far as to seize all money, jewelry, and other valuables to be held in common*. You don’t need Marx to be a Communist.
*In the best tradition of communists everywhere, that meant that the leaders got hold of all the wealth to the exclusion of the common people, even if it was theoretically held in common. And in the best traditions of radical religious movements everywhere, they imposed polygamy on everyone in town, giving young teenagers away in “arranged” marriages to people with political power. A fascinating little episode in history.

Or, sometimes, “the Italies.”