In Cold Blood: Revolution in Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone tells the story of Pietro Spina, a formerly exiled Italian revolutionary attempting to recruit and organize the peasants of his native region of Abruzzi into an effective anti-fascist resistance movement. The novel’s most interesting passages usually take place in the form of discussions between the protagonist and various acquaintances from his conspiratorial past

In one of my favorite passages, Pietro meets with Annina, the former girlfriend of a comrade-turned informant. “Conspiratorial life is hard,” Pietro tells her, “we have to be pitiless” (179). When she tells him that she renounced revolutionary struggle long ago, an indignant Pietro asks her, “how can you resign yourself to ordinary life?” (179).

Contemporary critics would likely read these passages as another pebble added to the mountain of proof regarding revolutionary folly in the twentieth century. Today, public intellectuals call less for revolution or radicalism than for measured demands, for adherence to the requirements of “reality” (a condition more often described by others than experienced first-hand), while reminding anxiety-riddled readers of the blood-soaked “revolutionary” regimes of the past century.

To understand the bridge between true revolutionary thought an action, one must also understand the cold-bloodedness that allows militants like Pietro to look upon such nonsensical abstractions “ordinary life” with disdain. First, one must ask what constitutes an ordinary life. Who can aspire to such a dull goal and actually achieve it? Even if one could realize such an uninspiring aim, could he or she truly gain satisfaction from it? “Ordinary” denotes something commonplace, without distinctive features, something well ensconced within the spirit of its time, thus contrived, conformist, and without great merit. Worse, one can always expect the search for an “ordinary life” or an “ordinary person” to end in disappointment, for each existence depends less on individual actions than on external factors, rendering this quest equally onerous and unimaginative. Hence, the rejection of the moderate or conservative’s celebration of the “ordinary life” has nothing to do with romanticism, but instead suggests devotion to a liberating realism, refusing the constraints placed on existence by comfortable illusions.

Still, let us imagine that one could in fact live an “ordinary life”, and that such a life included all that a reasonable individual might enjoy or desire. Could a militant belonging to a radical cause justifiably look upon it with disdain? I contend that he can only do so. In fact, the proper revolutionary should hate what intellectuals vaguely refer to as “humanity”, that mass of slightly above-average mammals that would stop inflicting indignities on one another if only they did not possess such an inflexible “nature”.

A true revolutionary cannot accept arguments that blur the future and forget the advances of the past in order to privilege a present convenient for some and unpleasant for most. He or she respects individuals and their achievements; they act not in accordance with laws but in agreement with the dictates of their own conscience. One can only describe such an attitude as “pitiless”.  It gives no quarter to clichés like the “common people” or to their legions of self-appointed representatives. A revolutionary like Pietro only understands and responds to empirical evidence of wrongs committed by those in power, and prefers judgments based in philosophical inquiry over easily manipulated representations of popular opinion. Most importantly, the revolutionary life allows no divergence from the individual’s basic moral principals, contrary to what a party leader or fellow militant might claim. As Pietro argues throughout the novel, each revolution belongs to the individual as much as it seeks to improve conditions for the collective. Only in this way can he retain his instinctual socialism, a deeply anti-authoritarian impulse that allows him to maintain empathy for individuals without losing sight of his cause.


Bread and Wine and Italy’s Past

Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine, is an honest work about the totalitarian regime’s in Italy. It follows the character of Pietro Spina, a communist party leader who has returned from hiding to revolutionize the peasant population. In the pages, Silone writes a fascinating story about several different populations in both North and South Italy and how the are reacting to the Fascist regime and living their lives.

A major theme of the Fascist movement is the rebirth of Italy’s greatness. Mussolini desired to bring Italy back to it’s glory days of the Roman empire. The Fascist Manifesto by Mussolini himself states that expansion and war are the most fundamental and important ways to progress. Silone does a great job of portraying this in Bread and Wine. On page 195 in Zabaglione’s speech, he addressed the people: “descendants of eternal Rome…..who carried civilization to the Mediterranean and to Africa.” Here, it is understood the fascism glorifies the past as a means to the future. The people are perhaps mobilized with the promise of greatness. There also seems to be strong themes of nationalism, especially in regards to their imperialist claims.

Why did the Fascists want to return back to the greatness of ancient Rome, instead of forging their own path to greatness?


Bread and Wine

Pietro Spina going incognito as a priest named San Paolo is most likely directly reflective of how Ignazio Silone felt as an anti-fascist socialist living in fascist Italy in the 1930s. In order to further his revolutionary socialist agenda, Spina sneaks back into Italy after fifteen years of being in exile, and refuses to return abroad, despite the access of ideological freedom which accompanies him there. An atheist himself, Spina becomes frustrated with the strong catholic sentiments and superstitious thinking which are the roots of the though processes of the peasants which he is trying to influence. During his journey, San Paolo falls madly in love with a girl named Christiana. “Dan Paolo took no notice of what Bianchina was saying because he was enchanted by Christina. A girl like this at Pietrasecca? He could not believe his eyes”. (80) This puts Don Paolo in a pickle, being that he is supposed to be a spiritual leader and Christina is most likely refraining herself from allowing to have feelings for him, although they may be present.


A part of the book which I found interesting was when Don Paolo goes to visit his friend Uliva, who’s morale is so low, and is so apathetic, he carelessly spits on the floor of his house as he wastes away. Uliva, a former cell mate and Don Paolo discuss their current thoughts about politics and life. Uliva is more interested in condescendingly criticizing Don Paolo’s optimism about the revolution than anything else, claiming his hopes are out of blind naivety. “I’ve seen you engaged in a kind of chivalrous contest with lie or, if you prefer it, with the creator…it requires a naivete that I lack. (172) I think it shows a lot about Don Paolo’s drive to stay optimistic about what he believes in as a communist trying to help the revolutionary cause, especially when he sees his former friend who used to share the same thoughts in such a state of disrepair.

How did the citizens of Italy view fascism in the 1930’s? Was the majority behind Mussolini? If the publics thoughts on him shifted dramatically, when did it and what was the event or events that caused it?