June 16, 1770|
Palma Campania, Italy
|Died||November 19, 1799
|Vincenzo Russo was a leading Neapolitan Jacobin and key figure in the Neapolitan Republic.|
Vincenzo Russo (1770 - 1799) was an Italian patriot, who was a leading supporter of the short-lived Parthenopean Republic. Captured by the Sanfedista forces, he was soon executed along with many other rebels of the Bourbon rule of Ferdinand IV of Naples.
He obtained degrees in medicine from Nola and in law from Naples universities. Agreeing with the Jacobin principles of Robespierre, he joined two secret societies - the Club Rivoluzionario and the Società Patrottica - where he advocated the use of revolutionary, armed struggle against the Bourbon state in favor of the weakest in society. He was exiled for holding such “proto-communist” ideas.
Inspired by the French Revolution, Russo fled to Milan, then Switzerland, and then to Rome where he supported the French-supported Roman Republic of 1798-9. During this period he took an active part in the cultural life of the republic, helping organise heated discussions in the democratic clubs and writing for the newly founded press.
He was among those who pressed the French into declaring Campania a republic. In the newly proclaimed Neapolitan Republic (also known as the Parthenopean Republic) he contributed to the “Monitore Napolitano”, the journal edited by Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel, and went down to speak among the people.
However, the republic was short-lived: Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo soon counter-attacked with his army of Sanfedisti, fighting on the side of the Bourbon king (aided in this mainly by the British), and supported by an uprising of the royalist rabble, the Naples Lazzaroni. With weapons in hand, Russo was taken prisoner on 13 June 1799. He became a martyr to the cause of Italian Jacobinism at the age of 29 when he was hanged in Piazza del Mercato, Naples, on 19 November 1799. He was buried, according to one source, on the seashore near the Ponte della Maddalena, Naples, for refusing to utter the required words just prior to execution. A later source gives his last resting place as the Church of San Matteo al Lavinaio, Naples.
In his most important work, “Pensieri politici”, published in Rome in 1798, Russo puts forward a socio-political theory of a peasant state, founded on justice and barbarism, where the degree of egalitarianism was to exceed even that of Louis Saint-Just. An individual's freedom from want would be based on the tenancy of a piece of land belonging to the community, and not on hereditary property.
Russo establishes a legitimate property limit at just the amount needed to satisfy a person's basic needs; such a limit would be “calculated” from a combination of the needs of each individual and the amount required to secure his or her economic freedom and equality to other members of the community. So, for Russo, economic equality is the essential precondition for genuine political equality. But such equality would only be possible in small communities, such as the Ancient Greek polis, as had been suggested by Plato and Jean Jacques Rousseau. For both these thinkers, the city should be limited in size in order to guarantee the effective participation of all citizens in the political process. A public system of general education would be necessary in order for everyone to take part in the running of the community in an informed way.
Given the close link between landed property and political awareness in Russo's ideal state, it could be likened to a “republic of peasant-philosophers”. He therefore rejects industrial development and commerce on the basis that they would create, respectively, unhealthy living conditions for workers, and a craving for ever more wealth to the detriment of an honest and simple life. Sections 23-5 of his “Pensieri politici” contain the fundamentals of his thought on the questions of commerce, agriculture and the city.
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- Benedetto Croce (1897). Studii storici sulla rivoluzione napoletana del 1799 (in Italian). Ermano Loescher, Rome. pp. 103=137.
- Pagden, p.147