March to Athens
Day 96-XXII, Naples
Naples, February 11
Over here, if people invite you to something, they don’t do so out of politeness. They do so because they mean it. That’s the reason why I am always happy to accept.
Yesterday, after a mini assembly on ACTA, we were invited by an old communist for tea and a shower. Me and comrade Getafe, veteran of the March on Brussels, came along. Before we went, our host took us on a small tour of Naples. Over the grand Piazza del Plebiscito, past the royal palace and the famous theater of San Carlo, through the fin-de-siècle galleria Umberto back to Piazza del Gesù. In the meantime, as any proud Neapolitan would do, he tells us a bit about the story of Naples.
I have been wanting to dig into Naples’ revolutionary past. So when we are in the car, I ask him about the story of Masaniello. It was just the kind of thing for a communist to tell.
Masaniello was a fishmonger. He lived in the seventeenth century, when the kingdom of Naples was subject to the empire of Spain. At the time, Spain was continuously at war, mostly with the rebellious Dutch, and to finance those wars they levied taxes. Not on the nobles obviously, but on the common people.
One day, after yet another tax on fruit had been imposed, the people of Naples rose up, and humble Masaniello and his wife led the rebellion. The viceroy had to flee inside the castle. Masaniello became the de facto ruler of ‘Royal Republic of Naples’.
It didn’t take long. The viceroy, shrewd as he was, invited Masaniello to court and started to grant him riches and honours, and lots of promises. Taxes would be revoked, and Masaniello would be recognised as leader of the Neapolitan people, and treated as such.
Now, some say that this change in fortune was too much for him to handle, others say that he was poisoned. Fact is that Masaniello started to behave very strangely after that. He went nuts. And all the while the viceroy plotted with some of Masaniello’s followers to have him killed.
We are driving over the grand boulevard near the port quarter to the right. “Over there in one of the churches Masaniello spoke to the crowd from the pulpit one day. He said he would renounce to all the honours and riches that were bestowed on him. He said he would return humble and poor like he had been before. So he stripped, right there in church, to his bare ass.”
For most people it was the final proof that Masaniello had gone mad. Not long afterwards he was murdered, and his body thrown into a gutter. The assassins were rewarded by the viceroy and Spanish rule was restored.
As a first thing after the restoration, the price of bread was raised and taxes reinstated. At that point the people realised that they had been fooled. So they took Masaniello out of the sewer, they gave him a solemn funeral, and they remembered the last thing that he had said on the pulpit.
‘You cannot make revolution once. You have to keep making revolution every single day. The day you stop making revolution, you will be crushed.’