During the tormented events which marked the existence of Associazione Internazionale dei Lavoratori (Workers’ International Association) in Italy (1871-1880), some of the main figures of the association managed to find the time within their intense activism to reflect (and discuss) on the origins of the Italian socialist movement. This is the case of Carlo Cafiero (1846-1892) and Osvaldo Gnocchi-Viani (1837-1917), who were representatives of the anarchist and the "evolutionist" section, respectively, in the association. Between 1875 and the beginning of 1876, they gave birth to an intense controversy on the issue, as Cafiero criticised the arguments made by Gnocchi-Viani in Le tre Internazionali (The Three Internationals) through a set of anonymous articles which were published in «La Plebe» by Bignami. Most of these articles are still unattributed by specialised historiography. This paper delves into the biographies and positions of both authors not only to show the historical reasons which paved the way to such ideological polarisation but, above all, to illustrate the relevance of such debate on the following internal dynamics of the Italian socialist movement and its historiography.
Keywords: Prima Internazionale, Carlo Cafiero, Osvaldo Gnocchi-Viani, La Plebe.