A Life in the Service of Class Struggle

“Una vita al servizio della lotta di classe” - From “Gramsci: tra marxismo e idealismo” - Edizioni Prometeo, 1988

Onorato Damen was born in Monte S. Pietroangeli (Ascoli Piceno), December 4, 1893. Always a revolutionary militant he lived in the first person as victim and protagonist for more than half a century of class struggle, not ceasing, not even for a day, in his tasks as a revolutionary militant.

Starting politically in the school of revolutionary socialism as a youth fighting in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) the first struggles against the revisionist direction and the tactical opportunism of the variety of Turati, Treves and Modigliani. A little more than twenty years old at the start of the First World War was enlisted (drafted?) with the rank of Sargent. At the end of the hostilities he was demoted to the rank of private and subsequently condemned to two years of military prison by a military tribunal for "endangering public institutions". The vague juridical formula of the sentence did not admit to the work of revolutionary defeatism in that crisis. In fact condemnation and arrest were motivated by "incitement to desertion" and for denouncing the "imperialistic character of the war". Set free in 1919 he returned to his position in the party collaborating on the socialist periodical of Fermo "La Lotta" (the Struggle).

In the two "red years" (biennio rosso) of 1920-21, the richest period of political and social tensions, Onorato Damen, as exponent of the Left, worked first in Bologna with the Local Trade Union Council and then with the Casa del Popolo ("House of the People") of Granarolo in capacity as secretary of the Community Legal Committee.

In this period he participated in the guise of the intransigent interpretation of the Bordigist Left, in all that ideological organizational struggle that, from the Congress of Bologna to the Convention of Imola and from Imola to Livorno, was carried out at the birth of the Communist Party of Italy. In the months immediately preceding the split of Livorno he worked as secretary of the Trade Union Council in Pistoia and as the chief editor of the periodical "L'avvenire". He remained in Pistoia up to his arrest in the months of the electoral campaign of 1921 for the action from Poggio to Caiano.

Already in February of 1921 he was denounced by the judiciary for certain violence of language used during a rally in the Piazza Garibaldi, in Pistoia. On the basis of his frenetic activity and, above the events [I fatti di sangue] at Empoli, he became on eof the principal targets of the nascent fascist reaction in Tuscany, where he had been organizing during those months. On May 10 while returning from a rally [Meeting?] held on behalf of the candidate of the Communist Party of Italy in the elections in the village of Corbezzi, in the area of Pistoia, he was detained by the fascists who took him to their offices in the city. Here they tried to beat him [armi in pugno] into renouncing his "bolshevik" ideas. Failing in their first objective, the head of the Nesi squadron contacted the fascist federation of Florence which ordered that he be transferred to the administrative center of Tuscany. First sent to Florence at the Piazza Ottaviani, where at the headquarters of the Fascist Federation we was sent to Dumini with the proposal:

You should disappear for the entire period of the electoral campaign or hide yourself in a villa in Fiesole or remain in Florence under continual surveillance.

Rejecting these proposals in precedence of the renunciation, he was held in Dumini above all for the general strike over a protest that erupted in violence in Pistoia on his release. Renewing contacts with the party and overcoming the reserve of the comrades, he decided to return to Pistoia where he remained in order to continue the task of agitation. On the return trip, made by car under the escort of a certain number of armed comrades, he encountered a squadron of fascists on the road from Pioppo to Caiano. This encounter resulted in the death of a fascist and the wounding of two others. Comrade Damen was sentenced to three years confinement in the Murate in Florence.

Given what took place en route from Poggio to Caiano and the subsequent incarceration, the leadership of the party decided to send him to France as a part of their "political bureau" to represent the party and to preside over the organization of groups of exiled comrades, coordinating their political activity as the director of the weekly "L'humanitè" in the Italian language. Later upon his clandestine (as always) reentry in the country in 1924, the party presented him as candidate in the elections and in spite of the rabid opposition of the fascists was elected as a deputy on the city council of Florence. Meanwhile within the party, the rupture between the direction of the party imposed by Moscow and the left continued to delineate itself more clearly. Bordiga , who thrived on the unconditional support of the entire base of the party, initiated his "Aventine" cession (named from a famous plebeian revolt in ancient Rome 4th century BCE), that is to say attended the meeting of the central committee but without intervening in the debate thus not obstructing the change in political direction that was embodied the Gramsci and Togliatti. Damen was not a devotee of the personality of Bordiga nor of the degenerative orientation imposed by the new direction party. It was as if the comrades of the Federation of Florence had chose this as a pretext for the removal of the party leadership. It was with this object in mind that it was decided to have a meeting of the Florentine Federation in which it was given to Togliatti to participate as a member of the central committee of the party, the object: the "position" of Damen. The police disrupted this so-called meeting "of the army" when it should have been given a service of armed guards in order to permit for better security for participants. Instead, it ended in a general flight following a false alarm. The importance of this episode was not in the debate but in the constraint of the debate. Although it was to discuss the "case" of Damen, the comrade in question was not even invited, even if according to police documents it had been organized for him. Emanating from the center of the party were all efforts to eliminate any form of opposition from elements of the left, without actually issuing a formal denunciation, attributing to the comrades that benefited from parliamentary immunity, initiative and responsibility, that they were allowed to be persecuted by the police obviously without the party informing those concerned.

In 1925, when the struggle between the left and the center having assumed tones of conflict, drained their vitality on questions which the "workers" government substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat, renouncing class autonomy with the theorization of the United Front and the "bolshevization" of the party. Damen, along with Luigi Repossi and Bruno Fortichiari, the formation of the committee of Intesa with the aim of defending the work of the left and the political basis on which the party of Livorno was founded.

In November of 1926 he was confined in Ustica, in December of the same year he was arrested and sent again to the Murate in Florence for participating in the action of Florentine communists in plotting against the state.

Condemned by a special tribunal to 12 years of seclusion of which 7 were to be spent in the prison in Saluzzo, Pallanza, Civita Vecchia (where he led a prison revolt) in Pianosa. Released under amnesty at the end of 1933 he was sent to Milan under watch for 5 years, while the head of the prison in Pianosa communicated to the Casellaria Centrale that "the punishment he has suffered has had no moral effect" and described him as an "unshakeable communist".

He was again arrested at the end of 1935 for the action in Spain, under suspicion for spreading communist propaganda.

As the same, as police sources testified, he...

did not participate in the propaganda turn in the orbit of the clandestine reorganization of the PCI (originally the PCd'I) because Damen, remaining faithful to his bordigist orientation, diffused propaganda of the international opposition against the politics of the Comintern and against Stalinism in Spain.

Arrested again at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was confined for the entire period of the war. He was finally released by the Badoglio government at the end of the war.

Even in those difficult years, under the vigilance of the fascist police, Onorato Damen gave a determined contribution to the birth of the Internationalist Communist Party, the only class response to the monstrous slaughter of the Second World War.