On December 6, 2023, Alfredo Maria Bonanno passed away after more than half a century of anarchist activity. In his memory, we present the following short video, Let’s Be Done with Waiting, dramatizing the final section of one of his best-known works, Armed Joy.
We hope that this will help to introduce Bonanno’s work to a new generation of anarchists. When some of us read Armed Joy in the 1990s, it opened new vistas before us, proposing the refusal of work and the pursuit of joyous revolt as revolutionary measures in the struggle against all forms of domination and despair. Some of the material that later appeared in Days of War, Nights of Love emerged in the process of our efforts to extrapolate what those proposals could mean in our own lives.
Below, we offer a short overview of Bonanno’s life and works.
On January 26-27, the Ex-Worker Podcast will be hosting a film festival in Tijuana, Mexico at the first International Gathering of Anarchist and Anti-Authoritarian Practices against Borders at which to present this film and others like it. Feel free to submit your work.
Alfredo Bonanno was born on March 4, 1937 and passed away on December 6, 2023. He was 86 years old.
Bonanno began his academic career by studying economics; in the mid-1950s, he began to study existentialist philosophy. In Turin, he contributed to the Corriere di Sicilia, an Italian periodical originally founded by the revolutionary Republican Giuseppe Garibaldi. Bonanno later gathered these essays in the collection Essays on Existentialism. He obtained his degree in philosophy with a thesis on the work of Max Stirner.
In the 1960s, he read Hegel and became more actively involved in the anarchist movement. According to one obituary, he worked for almost eleven years for the Banco di Sicilia and then for another seven as a manager at a pharmaceutical company, in the ophthalmology sector.
Later, he described how the political upheavals of the late 1960s drove him to shift course:
A great explosion of vitality and beauty occurred starting from the May 1968 uprising in France. In fact, even a person like me, who worked as an industrial manager in those years, was so shocked by that extraordinary event that I was quickly forced to abandon my job and see reality differently… At the time, I was over thirty years old and therefore I felt with greater difficulty the wind of diversity that was blowing everywhere.
He didn’t dwell on this decision in his later writing, but it must have informed his arguments that the rejection of work is an essential aspect of revolt.
In December 1969, police commissioner Luigi Calabresi and two other police officers were involved in the murder of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli during an interrogation. Bonanno had met Pinelli. He attended Pinelli’s funeral and later wrote poignantly about the experience:
If such an event happens, if you are there too, along with many others like you, who you know are living through the same traumatic experience, and you see them, big men with calloused hands, kids trying to be cool, mature women who remember the war years, their murdered sons, young people who see the love that they conceal like a sign of the purity of the world almost dirtied by so much arrogance, and you see them, all with tears in their eyes, impotent but with tensed muscles, if such an event happens with you in it, it is no longer just any event, a fact like so many others (millions of people die, killed barbarously, and are taken hurriedly to the cemetery), but that event has a different charge, it carries with it a tension that will not leave you be, it wakes you up in the night in a sweat and, sitting on the bed, you ask yourself what you are doing in bed, and if perhaps it is not you who is dead and turning in the grave, while it is precisely Pinelli who is alive.
In May 1972, police commissioner Luigi Calabresi was shot and killed outside his home.
In October 1972, the Italian police arrested Bonanno and charged him with subversive action on account of articles published in the journal Sinistra Libertaria. He was convicted and incarcerated in Catania prison.
Beginning in 1975, he edited the publication Anarchismo.
In 1977, he was arrested again, this time for writing Armed Joy, which presented a framework for understanding the refusal of work, the repudiation of calcified organizational structures, and the participation in insurrectionary rebellion as interrelated measures following from the rejection of the logic of capitalism.
The search for joy is therefore an act of will, a firm refusal of the fixed conditions of capital and its values. The first of these refusals is that of work as a value. The search for joy can only come about through the search for play.
The joy of the revolutionary act is contagious. It spreads like a spot of oil. Play becomes meaningful when it acts on reality.
Hurry to play. Hurry to arm yourself.
-Alfredo Bonanno, Armed Joy
In 1978, he faced charges for reprinting The Religious Menace, written by Johann Most in 1880, and at the same time drew the wrath of noted existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre for provocatively publishing a work by the nineteenth-century anarchist Joseph Déjacques under Sartre’s name. On November 30, 1979, Bonanno was finally sentenced to 18 months in prison for authoring Armed Joy.
In March 1980, prosecutors used the testimony of an informant to accuse Bonnano of participating in Azione Rivoluzionaria, an underground armed group active during the pitched social struggles in Italy during the late 1970s. The authorities used this opportunity to carry out a crackdown on Anarchismo and some of Bonanno’s other associates, including Jean Weir and others involved with the British publishing project Bratach Dubh. They were released a few months later and cleared of charges in April 1981.
In the early 1980s, Bonanno and his comrades participated in the struggle against a military base that was to house nuclear weapons in Comiso, Sicily. The decentralized and autonomous organizational structure of this movement served as a reference point for Bonanno’s advocacy of informal organization and what he called “autonomous base nuclei.”
In 1988, during the anti-militarist congress in the town of Forli, Bonnano and his comrades were expelled from the congress by adherents of the anarcho-syndicalist tendency within the Italian Anarchist Federation—a conflict that precipitated further such conflicts.
As soon as the inmates learned of my degree in philosophy, they immediately asked me if I could give them some lessons. It can be said that there was no prison, among the dozens where I served my many sentences, where I did not receive this request. Even though I also have a degree in economics, no one has ever asked me to give economics lessons.
On June 19, 1997, the police carried out raids on anarchist social centers and homes all around Italy, arresting Bonanno and many other anarchists. This was part of a government effort to fabricate an invented clandestine anarchist group, the “Insurrectional Anarchist Revolutionary Organization,” as a means of repression.
Undaunted, in July 1999, Bonanno testified as a witness for anarchist Nikos Maziotis, who was accused of placing a bomb at the ministry of industry and development in Greece. In 2001, anarchists participated in fierce unrest in Genoa in defiance of police efforts to protect the G8 summit.
The attempt to fabricate a conspiracy in which to implicate Bonanno and many other anarchists culminated in the Marini trial, which was later recognized as a farcical miscarriage of judicial procedure. Initially, however, Bonanno was sentenced to six years in prison on the grounds that he was the “ideological leader” of the invented organization.
Three months after the end of the Marini trial, the Italian authorities tried again, with operation “Cervantes,” carrying out dozens of raids and searches in houses and squats around the country. Once again, the arrestees were charged with “subversive organization with terrorist intentions,” this time accused of participating in the Federazione Anarchica Informale, an anonymous group that had claimed responsibility for a series of attacks.
In May 2005, the police carried out well over a hundred raids on houses and squats, arresting 22 people on a variety of charges including “constitution and participation in a subversive organization with terrorist intentions.” Throughout these tumultuous times, Bonanno continued to advocate for informal organization and for attacking the infrastructure of capitalism and the state.
In October 2009, at the age of 72, he was arrested on charges of participating in a bank robbery in Greece that almost netted 46,900 euros.
In December 2013, Bonanno spoke at the Jornadas Informales Anárquicas in Mexico City and in Argentina. He attempted to enter Chile, but was rejected on account of his police record.
As often occurs, Bonanno’s proposals possessed nuances and depths that were not always reflected in the ways that his adherents interpreted them. Although we published a critique of the ways that people in the United States mixed his ideas together with those of The Invisible Committee and other groups, his writings are worth reading on their own merits.
For example, while Bonanno came to be associated with a doctrinaire rejection of formal organization in favor of informal, affinity-based structures, he wrote eloquently in 1998 about his own experience of meaningful collectivity:
The essential thing, that exceptionally important strength that comes out of many people who feel the same emotional sensations, prompted by very similar feelings (none identical, for heaven’s sake, I know well), they feel attracted to each other to constitute a homogeneous whole that does not need written or spoken agreements or contracts to constitute itself. Suddenly, this collective force emerges and is there, tangible, I can touch it, I can hear its voice, I can let myself be taken by its suggestions, direct my gaze where it tells me to look, see with its eyes made of a thousand pupils what my poor shortsighted eyes cannot see, remember what my poor mind alone cannot remember.
Although dozens of his essays are available in English, a tremendous amount of his work—including monographs on early Christianity and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra—has yet to be translated. You can order a collection of some of his better-known works in English from Detritus books.
His last wish was for his ashes to be scattered in the Ionian Sea of his Sicilian birthplace, Catania.
It is not our intention to write an obituary, that dreadful word that reminds us of the inescapable mission that our dead often silently leave to us and which we have always failed to accomplish… We don’t want to remember, we want to live.
[…] This is our way to secure a memory, our way of respecting a will that sought to escape the limits that enclose humanity and its all-too-human vicissitudes of fortune, a revolutionary will that sought to transform the world.
-Alfredo Bonanno, Love and Death