a proletarian revolt



Os "Ciompi” in the reading of Antonio Gramsci, Simone Weill and George Renard

The call Riot of the Ciompi[I] was a proletarian revolt that took place between June and August 1378[ii]. The name Ciompi it was derogatory. Possibly a corruption of the expression “fellows, let's drink”, typical of the time of the Duke of Athens' rule in the city[iii].

Rescuing that revolt is not an exercise so far from a present marked by an immense informal proletariat[iv], permanently available for work[v]. The Ciompi they represented a new working relationship that was still a minority and that later expanded.

The three authors reviewed here were more or less contemporary and dealt with the transition from the revolt of the Ciompi. George Renard (1841-1930) published his History of work in Florence (2 volumes, Paris, Editions d'Art et de Littérature, 1913-1914) shortly before the First World War. It covers the case of Ciompi. Simone Weil (1909-1943) narrated the fourteenth-century proletarian revolt in an article in Critique Sociale n. 11 in March 1934. Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) did not know Simone Weil, but possibly read some work by Renard. He devoted a paragraph of his Prison Notebooks to him on the occasion of his death on October 17, 1930. In addition, he established a comparison between antiquity and medieval revolts, citing the case of the Ciompi. All three had reference to Machiavelli.

George Renard was not a Marxist. He was a socialist in the French Blanquist tradition. Gramsci wrote a short obituary for him in his Prison Notebooks:

“Georges Renard. He died in October 1930. He was professor of labor history at the Collège de France. He participated in the Commune and directed these collections: Le Socialisme à l'œuvre, Historia Universelle du Travail, Bibliothèque Sociale des Métiers. Theoretical book: Le Régime Socialiste in which he defends the tradition of French socialism against Marx. He must have written a book entitled Les Cités Imaginaires, on utopian literature (but perhaps it was just the subject of his university course for the year 30-31, which did not take place due to his death); but certainly many tips in his books. It will be helpful to compile a complete bibliography of Renard, identifying works that are of scientific and historical importance”.

Renard, however, knew Marx's work very well and seems to be inspired by it to describe the Ciompi revolt, as we will see below.

Historical Analysis

Renard began by demonstrating the complexity of medieval guilds. The corporation is a “voluntary association of persons who exercise the same trade and who undertake, by oath, to defend their common interests”[vi]. Its constitution is republican, with an assembly power and the executive represented by four consuls with a term of six months.

There were those of a single profession, those that were federations of crafts, the largest, medium, minor, etc. They were a contradiction in motion that combined membership equality and hierarchy. Only simple guilds had the basic hierarchy of apprentice, companion, and master. But in Florence apprenticeship lasted six to seven years and then you jumped directly to master. On the path of the apprentice there were only the membership fees and the payment of the entrance fee.[vii].

In Florence there were 21 fixed craft guilds called “the arts”. They were generally very complex with private magistrates and armed companies of mercenaries. Among the largest (for example, judges, doctors, money changers, large merchants, etc.) and the smallest (wine merchants, bakers, etc.) there were medium-sized ones (butchers, shoemakers, etc.).

A Art of Calimala it is a corporation, but not of individuals but of partnerships and commercial companies; a capitalist trust, a typical Italian employers' union (which Engels considered the "first capitalist nation"[viii]). Each of his units had a boss and "an army of perpetual subordinates"[ix], the subjected.

Renard identifies that urban power in Florence, long after the defeat of the Ghibellines, slowly transitioned to the Art of Calimala which maintained public services and security. Interestingly, it survived into the XNUMXth century, but only as a charitable congregation.

The major arts represented the popolo grasso (the powerful) and began to consider themselves Guelphs[X]: anti-feudal, anti-imperial and defenders of self by the commune[xi].

As she represented bankers and big-time long-distance trade, she developed numerous accounting techniques, bills of exchange, and ways around the ban on usury. One of them was the discount for those who paid in advance. The forward price was not presented as bearing interest, but as the fair price. But in it was surreptitiously calculated the interest.

In the chapter in which Renard deals with the Ciompi revolt, he departs from Machiavelli, considering, however, that he writes in the 1848th century to please the Medici and, therefore, increases the role of Salvestro di Medici. Then he states: “As always happens, as happened in France in XNUMX, there was a political revolution that became social, to the great astonishment of those who set it in motion; It was a regime change initiated by the petty bourgeoisie but carried out by the proletariat.”[xii]. Then Renard quotes Machiavelli: once unleashed, "they do not stop as one would want a popular uprising".

This was the dilemma of the new government based on a citizens' militia that emerged from the ciompi revolution. It was headed by Michele Lando, a member of the minor arts, but had to live with popular pressure.

Renard says that the petty bourgeois acted like sorcerer's apprentices, who by means of magic formulas unleash geniuses they cannot control (the allusion is surely to the Communist Manifesto)[xiii]: “The petty bourgeoisie only wanted to share power with the high bourgeoisie, which monopolized it for its own benefit. But the impulse went beyond his wishes. He raised for a few days the workers, normally held in the lowest grade, above society. The movement, after reaching the apogee (...) continues in the opposite direction. Those who occupied it for a moment are precipitated from above. After them, the petty bourgeoisie, which had encouraged but not supported them, feared and distrusted their vanguard. The reaction manages to restore power to those who had it before the earthquake; i.e. the rich bourgeoisie. Such is the ascending and descending curve that the movement of Ciompi described”[xiv].

The short victory of the Ciompi and their short-lived rule are seen by Renard as the culmination of all proletarian revolts in the Middle Ages. Let us remember that the XNUMXth century was marked by the plague, the demographic decline, the jacqueries (peasant revolts) and the Avis Revolution in Portugal.

Renard emphasizes that there were intellectuals among the Ciompi (the notaries) who were able to write their point of view. In addition, the attempts of the modern proletariat allowed a new interpretation of the rebellion, which allows us to say that there was not only a change of people, but of classes in power.[xv].

However, even in revolutions there is no absolute break with the past. So, the Ciompi they wanted to join the ranks of the existing order and agreed to form a corporation. As Simone Weil would later write, Renard maintained that the movement was not bloodthirsty, except for the execution of a certain Nuto, hated by the poor and who was discovered and grabbed by the crowd.

Among the measures taken by the new government, a new popular armed force was decreed; and the bags containing the names of eligible citizens were burned and replaced by others where rich and poor appeared alike: “But in this time of revolution these explosions of joy and hope were as brief as a beautiful spring day. A new government established by a coup d'état always encounters numerous difficulties after victory; and, if it is a popular government, the greatest and most common is the financial one.”[xvi].

There is no way to see here a narrative whose model is the story of the Paris Commune. Renard cites outsiders who threatened the city, unforeseen expenses to pay crossbowmen[xvii], workers without pay, bad harvest… The popolo grasso he used the force of inertia, flight, abstention. He went to the countryside and left workers unemployed. The government ordered Arte della Lana to open the workshops, but the bosses kept the lockout.

Among the Ciompi there were those who wanted to carry the revolution to the extreme and take over all offices. Perhaps it was heretical Franciscans who proclaimed community of goods. The most radical of Ciompi referred to themselves as the “holy populace of God”[xviii]. Lando is not called a social democrat, as we will see in Simone Weil's text, but he is considered by Renard as a “traitor and renegade”. The extreme left of Ciompi instituted a parallel power to pressure the legal government and counterbalance the pressure exerted by the Guelph party, but "as an accusation of aspiring to dictatorship is always effective against the leaders of a popular movement", the nobles and bourgeois spread fake news that the Ciompi they entered into relations with a petty tyrant from abroad. They even invented the Ciompi they wanted to trade masters for apprentices and rob people's homes.

Os Ciompi they lacked political education, but their measures revealed a “practical spirit, a very precise idea of ​​the necessary and possible reforms in financial and economic matters”. Renard was perhaps evoking Marx when he said of the Paris Commune that the financial measures of the proletariat were "remarkable for their sagacity and moderation".[xx]. Leaders' mistakes Ciompi contributed to the defeat and they were deceived by the able bourgeois politicians accustomed to power. Even so, the defeat is explained much more by objective questions.

Os Ciompi they were a social minority in the city and even in the proletariat. They were an economic vanguard but only knew how to propose a chimerical return to small industry. In the corporative system, the distance between masters and apprentices was smaller, but in the factory where the Ciompi the distance was abysmal. They lacked rights, formal relationships, housing and protective regulations. At the dawn of capitalism, they were the ultimate example of the system Marx called factory despotism. In a situation of irreconcilable economic interests, it was unfeasible to establish the corporate system there.

For Renard, only the extreme left understood this and sought to establish a modus vivendi outside corporations. But it was few in number, too pressured by events to have time to propose a new regime, and it was surrounded by a society in which hierarchical traditions were very strong. Anyway, the Ciompi they fell because they sought solutions to the problems of nascent capitalism in the social protection institutions of another economic regime that was about to end.

After 1378 the bourgeoisie reinforced the police and torture. Politics evolved towards oligarchy and economics towards plutocracy. Secret organizations still flourished in the underground of politics, the flag of the angel with the radiant sword and the motto “Long live the twenty-four arts”.

At various points in the narration, both Marx's readings and the memory of the Communard that Renard had been. During the Paris Commune of 1871, he was part of a brief proletarian government that, without much administrative experience, issued orders of great practical wisdom. Renard was Secretary of the Ministry of War and later went into exile in Switzerland.

The Structure of the Revolt

In 1928 Simone Weil was studying at the Sorbonne. At the Collège de France, George Renard taught Labor History. She also presents in her analysis of the revolt a class structure in which serfs, nobles and clergy are marginal in history. Florence has a complex system with the aforementioned 21 arts. Political power resides in the higher arts of bankers, great merchants, draperies, etc. Within the major arts there are minor members (those who work with wool and silk, for example). In the fourteenth century, the art of wool is a small state with taxes, emissions, warehouses, price lists, maximum production limits, etc.[xx].

In his account there are three structural movements: one within the proletariat, in which its internal contradictions are demonstrated; another is that of the struggle between classes; a third, properly political, in which the revolution can assume an ascending character, as in 1917, or descending, as in 1848.

Let us follow his own narrative, summarized here according to the emphasis on the aspects that matter to us: among them the necessary and militant anachronism that seeks in the past the elements of the struggle of the present. Let's leave aside how much academic research may have changed the meaning of class struggle in the fourteenth century. Like Gramsci, the author does not directly consult the sources, she only cites the organization of management of 1239 and the Florentine Stories by Machiavelli.

Internal Movement

There is a projection of the Leninist concept of labor aristocracy in the fourteenth century. By describing the division of labor in the wool corporation (washing, cleaning, beating, carding, cording) and the supervision of foremen, she defines three poles within the class: the wool proletarians (nothing more, nothing less than the Ciompi) who worked at the factory; the spinners and weavers who worked in their own homes; and the dyers who were highly specialized.

The XNUMXth century factory already had a modern look, lacking only the machinery. The dyers were workers, but they were not directly subject to a boss, like the workers in the workshops, because the capital advanced to create the dye shops was high and they were maintained directly by the Arte della Lana, that is, by the capital gathered from the contribution obligatory of the capitalists of the branch.

The Dyers were minor members of the Arte della Lana and had political rights. Subordinated by the larger members and subjected to their judgment by corporate law, they were the first to support the struggle of the petty bourgeoisie.

Class struggle

When Salvestro di Medici, who was one of the petty bourgeois leaders, became magistrate of justice in 1378 and proposed measures against the Guelph party (which represented the interests of the nobles and the big bourgeoisie), the superior arts sent their armed companies to overthrow the magistrate. However, the workers defended it, burning rich houses and freeing debt prisoners. Like George Renard, Simone Weil is based on Machiavelli. She adds at the end of her article his description of the rebellion of the Ciompi and almost suggests it as a forerunner of historical materialism. Machiavelli comments in his Florentine Stories that popular sedition should not be encouraged with the pretense of controlling it afterwards. That is: it recovers the same idea cited by Renard.

What happens is exactly the “lack of control”: the workers remain in the streets and the minor arts support them. There Weil points out the spontaneous elements that will appear in future proletarian rebellions: the death penalty for looters, a movement that is not bloodthirsty (she also records that only a hated policeman named Nuto is executed) and a list of demands, above all the creation of three new arts, one of them for the Ciompi, which are unskilled workers, as we have seen. Simone Weil even adds an objective element: the great plague in Florence decimated the working class, raised wages, but also taxes for the benefit of A.rte della Lana.

Faced with the new government of Michele Lando, the big bourgeoisie reacts with Lockout. The workers retire to Santa Maria Novella and organize, in the author's words, a Soviet. The duality of powers appears.

The Revolution Betrayed

Simone Weill was a non-party Communist who debated with Trotsky at her parents' home in Paris in December 1933.[xxx]. In his account, the “February revolution” of the petty bourgeois was successful, but the “October” of the Ciompi no. In August 1378, the Florentine proletarians were unable to overthrow “their Kerensky”: “Michele Lando does what any good social democratic leader would have done in his place: he turns against his former workmates. The proletarians, having against them the government, the big bourgeoisie, the minor arts and, no doubt, also the two new non-proletarian arts, are defeated after a bloody battle and ferociously exterminated at the beginning of September.[xxiii]

The twenty-fourth art and armed force which had been organized in August are dissolved; the workers, unarmed; troops are hired in the field, “as in Paris after June 1848”[xxiii]. Simone Weil also follows Marx's reading, when he states that the proletarian party of 1848 (Blanqui and his comrades) is "betrayed and abandoned by the petty bourgeois democratic party"[xxv].

With the defeat of the proletariat and its twenty-fourth art, obviously the revolution is reversed and in the following months, first artisans, small traders, dyers and minor arts lose their prerogatives; then, Scali, leader of the middle class, is executed and, finally, Michele Lando is exiled; the twenty-third and twenty-second arts are abolished; the re-established Guelph party.

Simone Weil ends peremptorily: “the power of entrepreneurs was now absolute”. Turning now to the Spring of the Peoples, now to the Russian Revolution, Simone Weill is among the Marx of the 18 Brumaire and the articles in which Trotsky analyzes the defeat of the German proletariat and the rise of Nazism.

Theory and History

Gramsci cites the Ciompi in two passages in which he establishes a comparison between the ancient and the medieval State. In antiquity it was a “federation of classes” and the subordinate classes had their own institutions; “thus the phenomenon of dual government in periods of crisis” assumed extreme importance. The only class excluded from the classical world was the slaves.

We see how Gramsci, like the other two authors, deals with historical themes with the communist language of his time.

He identifies Roman slaves with medieval proletarians who had the same objective conditions of exclusion from civil life. However, his situation was different: Spartacus could not participate in government with patricians or with the plebs.[xxiv]. While in the Middle Ages an alliance between proletarians and the people was possible and even support for the dictatorship of a prince.

“Gramscianly” we could think far beyond the experience of the Duke of Athens[xxv]. maybe the Ciompi In their insurrection they did not have a prince to represent them, that is, a party.

However, for George Renard and Simone Weil what matters in the proletarian experience is its autonomy. That is why they constantly invoke Marx's analyzes of the Spring of the Peoples or the Paris Commune. If they had read Gramsci, we could say that they accentuate the Sorelian spirit of division. But as Marx read, his “party” is the vanguard of the street symbolized by Blanqui and his comrades..

*Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Gramsci and the Revolution (Avenue).


[I]   A first version of this article was published in Bulletin 5, no. 2, from IGS Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, July 30, 2020.

[ii]  The uncertainties and turmoil may have continued until 1382, but the ciompi they were already defeated.

[iii]  He was an adventurer who inherited his father's title, but his family never really had control of that city. In 1342, after a civil war, the Florentines ceded power to a foreign Podestà (Florence's highest civil office). They found the pretended duke, but he seems to have believed in his role and distributed weapons to the proletariat to counterbalance the power of the high bourgeoisie over him. In a short time he displeased the interests of the Bourgeoisie and was expelled as a tyrant.

[iv]  A map of informality and its meaning in Brazilian historiography in: Secco, L. “The sense of informality”. Round Earth, 27 / 4 / 2020, in https://aterraeredonda.com.br/o-sentido-da-informalidade/ Accessed on August 10, 2020.

[v]  As Ludmila Costhek Abilio demonstrated, uberization is not a reflection of the universe of the digital economy, as “its bases have been in formation for decades in the world of work, but today they materialize in this field”. Abilio, Ludmila Costhek. “Uberization of work: real subsumption of viração”. Boitempo Blog, 22/7/2017, in https://blogdaboitempo.com.br/2017/02/22/uberizacao-do-trabalho-subsuncao-real-da-viracao/ Consultation on July 26, 2020.

[vi]  Renard, J. History of Work in Florence. Trans. Guillermo Cabanellas. Buenos Aires: Editorial Heliasta SRL, 1980, p. 82.

[vii]  ID ibid., p. 73.

[viii] Marx, KH and Engels, F. communist manifesto. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2017, p. 75

[ix]  Renard, op. cit., p. 84

[X]   Since the previous century there had been civil wars between the Guelphs, supporters of the Republic's autonomy and followers of the Pope (seen as guarantor of this autonomy) and the Ghibellines, followers of the Empire.

[xi]  ID ibid., p.93.

[xii]  ID Ibid., p.196.

[xiii] The phrase is: “the magician who can no longer control the infernal powers he unleashed with his spells”. Marx, KH and Engels, F. communist manifesto, cit., p. 85.

[xiv] Renard, op. cit., p.193.

[xv]   ID ibid. p.202.

[xvi] ID ibid. p.203.

[xvii] Soldiers who carried crossbows, a type of bow and arrow triggered by a trigger.

[xviii] ID ibid. p.205.

[xx] Marx, KH The Civil War in France. Translation by Rubens Enderle. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011, p. 64

[xx]   Weil, Simone. The working condition and other studies on oppression. Selection by Ecléa Bosi. Translation by Therezinha Langlada. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1979, p.209..

[xxx] However, the book “Revolução Betrayed” is later. Trotsky, L. The revolution brought. Russian translation by Victor Serge. Paris: B. Grasset. 1936.

[xxiii] Simone Weill knew the example of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and the betrayal of Ebert and Noske.

[xxiii]  Weill, op. cit., p. 213.

[xxv]   Marx, KH 18 Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte. Paris: Editions Sociales Internationales, 1928, p. 49.

[xxiv] Gramsci, Antonio. Quaderni del Jail. Torino: Riunitti, 1977. See Notebook 3 and 25.

[xxv]   See above (note III).

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