Italian Communists Inside Stalin’s Gulags

Translated from Prometeo 15, June 2007

1936, 1937, 1938 ... it was during the course of these three years that the Stalinist regime wiped out the entire Bolshevik old guard as well as every form of class opposition by means of its notorious show trials. In fact, the obscure work of the “troika”, or rather the three member commissions charged with prosecuting, judging and condemning the accused, had begun well before and would continue long after. This historical course had already opened a decade earlier with the ejection of Trotsky from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and his subsequent banishment. They were the years Victor Serge memorably defined as “The Midnight in the Century”.

Italian communist émigrés to Russia were caught up in all these trials. Their history has often been conveniently underreported or misreported, in line with the opposing though convergent interests of Italian Stalinism and the anti-communist bloc. It’s worth remembering that it is only since the 1990s that the Russian archives have been accessible. Since then, a whole series of publications have seen the light of day, most of them in the so-called academic world. Obviously, we are aware that historical “truth” – whether or not the historian is writing in good or bad faith – is always partial, but at the same time we believe we should pay tribute to those comrades who, during “outbreaks of collective madness”, would often pay with their lives for their communist militancy.

Those of us who are today struggling for the same cause must try to understand, with hindsight and therefore more clearly, the historical process which the comrades who became victims of persecution experienced directly and which probably made them unable to grasp the essence of the matter.

First of all the numbers: even if the sources give different and contradictory figures. Some estimates are only for those who emigrated to the USSR illegally and under false names. It is estimated that there were about four thousand Italians resident in the USSR in the Thirties, including the three thousand-strong community of Italian origin in the Crimea, dating back to the 18th century (which was not strictly politicised but was strongly affected by the repression). Of these, around one hundred suffered some form of repression in the Stalinist period according to the PCI after de-Stalinisation. However it would be better to reckon a thousand, as estimated by recent historical research. From 1922 to 1928 there were six hundred Italian political expatriates, at least according to the data of the Fascist authorities. Almost all of them went via France or Switzerland, where they could wait for the “chance” to go to the USSR. As a rule they were comrades who had had a run in – often armed – with the military police, the fascist squads, and with the Special Tribunals. They had all been militants since 1921, with revolutionary fortitude and honour, as they used to say in the language of the time. About two hundred and fifty were shot in the notorious Lubianka and Butovo prisons or else were to die from starvation and malnutrition in the various gulags where they served their sentences.

Very few of the survivors have ever explained what happened to them.

According to the Encyclopaedia of the Resistance and Anti-Fascism, edited by La Pietra, from 1926 to 1943 the Special Tribunals condemned 42 people to death (31 were carried out), only four of which applied to Italians, the rest being directed against Yugoslav partisans. In general you came out alive from Fascist prisons. An exception to this was Gramsci. On the other hand, many of the eleven hundred imprisoned German communists were liquidated in the gulags while in 1939 five hundred of them were “donated” to the German SS as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

On arrival every immigrant had to fill in a questionnaire – the anetka – specifying their own background, ideas and political affiliation. This was then kept in the archives of the International and regularly updated according to the reports of the numerous spies, informers, etc.

Thus the Italians were very soon asked if they knew Bordiga, if they had had any association with him, if so, what kind of relationship, and what did they think of his removal from the Party leadership. Bear in mind that the celebrated exchange between Bordiga and Stalin at the Enlarged Executive of the International took place on 15th February 1926.(1) From then on every Italian was suspected of Bordigism.

During the interrogation the accused was asked to account for things said or done even ten or fifteen years earlier. The objective was to make them give in, capitulate, force an act of submission towards the Party – which was presented as an organism that could NEVER be wrong – and hopefully to induce them to join the ranks of the spies, infiltrators or provocateurs (well paid though) and get others drawn into the trials. (Naming other “counter-revolutionaries” was one of the things most appreciated by the investigators and would put an end to the ordeal.) KRTB: this was the acronym on the sentence ticket of a good many of them. It meant Counter-Revolutionary Trotskyist-Bordigist and carried with it the most severe punishments, the hardest work and the smallest food rations. (In the gulags the political detainees were placed under the authority of common criminals, who were delegated by the camp Administrations to run the daily life of the camps.) An obvious corollary is that many more communists were to die in Stalin’s prison camps than in the Fascist prisons. If there were only this to go on, for a revolutionary today to still speak of anti-fascism is tantamount to disarming oneself in front of the class.

The historical context in which these events occurred should also be taken into account.

The first Five Year Plan (1928-33) with its collectivisations had revealed itself to be a disaster. Millions of peasants were flooding into the cities where there were already enormous problems with food supplies. They lived miserably on the streets, surviving by begging and various other expedients. So many were they that, in order to try and stem the flow, “internal passports” were introduced for travelling from one locality to another in the country. Meanwhile in the factories work rates were constantly being increased while wages remained inadequate – then the udarniki appeared, that is to say the “assault workers” who finished up being well-paid on the basis of the production quotas they had reached – but in general life was very hard. Just imagine: two months’ wages were not enough to buy a hat, an indispensable item to survive the very long and very hard Russian winters. Housing was another problem. For the party functionaries there were the hotels – suitably kept under surveillance – but for the workers the maximum they were entitled to was cohabitation with other families. If that had been tolerable in the name of war communism, after fifteen or twenty years of the Revolution it was less so, especially as freedom was becoming more restricted for some whilst others were finding career opportunities opening up for themselves, in the Party or the State industries.

The celebrated writer, Victor Serge, was one of the first to be arrested in 1928, together with many other members of the Opposition. He then spent three years in Siberia before being expelled from the USSR in the Spring of 1936. In 1927 the Old Bolshevik, Adolf Joffe, then commissar for foreign affairs, committed suicide in protest against Stalinist methods and policies.

Workers’ discontent along with the agricultural and food supply crisis provoked tensions inside the Bolshevik Party and it seems a plan was being hatched to remove Stalin from the post of Party Secretary. Then, in Petrograd, Kirov – president of the city soviet – was assassinated on 1st December 1934. This was the signal to Stalin – in effect gave him the mandate – to launch an all-out anti-Trotskyist campaign which would sweep through the Party ranks, both inside and out. In a few days around forty thousand people were arrested in Petrograd alone. All those who had been expelled in 1927/28 for being Oppositionists and who had then been re-admitted a few months later with a simple word of warning were now re-arrested. (Stalin had ably adopted for himself the Opposition slogans on collectivisation-industrialisation, thus hoodwinking many activists, including Zinoviev). This was the beginning of the liquidation of any kind of rank and file opposition, as up until then, Stalinist repression had mainly fallen on the ruling elites.

One of the first Italians to run up against Soviet "justice" was Virgilio Verdaro (1885- 1960). Imprisoned for defeatism in the First World War, he was close to the positions of Bordiga’s Il Soviet, and by 1918 he was already co-ordinator in Tuscany for what would become the Abstentionist Communist Fraction (1920) which thanks to him had a sizeable following. Thus, on 15 January 1921 he was amongst the founding members of the PCd’I at the San Marco theatre in Livorno and became a member of the first Central Committee.

In 1924 the Party transferred him to the USSR where he stayed in the notorious Hotel Lux. He was distrusted for being a militant of the Left and since he was critical of the policies of the Party and the International – this was the period of Bolshevisation which was forced on the PCd’I by Zinoviev, of the Como Conference (1924), of the Congress of Lyon (1926), the Committee of Intesa(2) – from 1927 he was put under surveillance by the GPU (the Leninist ex-Cheka, or rather the committee against sabotage and counterrevolution, later the NKVD, later still the KGB). Sensing his own imminent arrest, in 1931 he quickly fled the USSR with the aid of money collected by the Italian comrades.

It was impossible for his wife and companion, Emilia Mariottini, to follow him because she was pregnant. She was sacked from her job and thrown out of her lodgings when she refused to become a police spy and accuse her husband. Later she lost her son and lived in extreme poverty until 1945 when she also managed to leave the country.

Meanwhile Verdaro settled in Belgium where he was re-united with comrades of the Fraction, often writing for its organ – Prometeo – under the pseudonym of Gatto Mammone. From these columns he would often denounce the policies of Stalinism. On the outbreak of war he moved to his native Switzerland where he lost contact with the other comrades, so much so that he joined the Ticinese Socialist Party.

He returned to Italy and died in Florence without ever coming back to revolutionary communist positions, in all likelihood proving once again, as they say, “it is difficult to grow old with Marxism...”.

Luigi Calligaris (1894-1937): proudly and openly affiliated to the Left until his expulsion, he sought refuge in the USSR in 1933 after five years of Fascist imprisonment. Initially, he presided over the Moscow Circle of Emigrés where as a rule the political debates inside the émigré community took place. As such, these were kept under close surveillance by the GPU which had many spies and infiltrators inside the group.

After giving up courses at the Leninist University he was removed from this position for his open and obstinate “Bordigism”. However, he still participated in the meetings where he formed a group “of the Left” together with Alfredo Bonciani, Ezio Biondini, Rodolfo Bernetich, Giovanni Bellusich, Arnaldo Silva, Giuseppe Sensi and the anarchists Otello Gaggi and Gino Martelli.

Along with the first four, in December 1934 he managed to get a letter to Brussels and Prometeo – organ of our fraction – with which they were in contact, despite the political censorship. It spoke out against the political situation inside Russia, including the Communist Party.

Thanks to the spies in Brussels, he was arrested not long after the appearance of the article in Prometeo, interrogated and tortured in order to extract the desired confession, condemned to three years in the gulag, later increased while he was serving it. Apparently he died of malnutrition in 1937.

Merini, freed after ten years in the gulag but destroyed in spirit and still under surveillance, would ask a PCI delegation which was in Moscow at the time for a Congress (in the person of G. Pajetta) to get him repatriated. The next day he was re-arrested by the NKVD and condemned to another ten years in the gulag, ending up being killed by a common criminal in circumstances that were never clarified. Bellusich and Bernetich were probably already shot by 1937. Gaggi and Martelli (who had been condemned in Italy to twenty and thirty years in prison respectively) perished inside the gulag. Bonciani was stabbed to death in the room where he lived by two Italian criminals (accommodated for the occasion at the House of the Revolution – a place of convalescence for Old Bolsheviks – at the expense of the PCd’I!) Arrested by the Soviet “justice”, they were condemned to a good ... three months, and it’s not even certain that they served the whole of this. The Stalinist prosecutors also maintained that he had been liquidated for his espionage activity which had already been noted while he was in Italy.

Silva had been imprisoned during the famous trial of Italian communists in 1923 and was renowned in the Italian milieu for managing to escape from the Regina Coeli prison by passing himself off as a lawyer who was visiting the detainees and afterwards poking fun at the prison governor in an open letter in the Party press. In Russia from 1923, he became a colonel in the Red Army. He was shot in 1937 or 1938.

This group also enjoyed the sympathy and indirect support of Francesco Misiano, someone who was well-known in his role as president of the International Workers Aid and who would die from illness in the middle of 1936 a few weeks before – it now seems certain – he was to be arrested by the GPU; and Guido Picelli, commanding officer of the Arditi in the celebrated battle of Oltretorrente in Parma (3), killed in a Spanish trench by a blow ... to the neck (like many others, he had asked to go to Spain as a volunteer to escape from likely arrest in the USSR from where, don’t forget, it was impossible to emigrate. Once in Spain he made contact with the POUM.) Thus, from the Spring of 1935 a series of articles denouncing the disappearance of these comrades appeared in Prometeo under the signature of Gatto Mammone. (“The Calligaris Case”, “Where Is Calligaris”, “Calligaris, Ourselves and Centrism”, “We Denounce the Disappearance of Calligaris”). This was the first denunciation of the crimes of Stalinism in history.

The comrades of the Fraction then decided to write an open letter to the CC of the Bolshevik Party; a letter which received no reply. Again, in the first half of 1938, our comrades of the Fraction published a list of about twenty missing comrades in Prometeo and denounced their detention, or worse, their physical liquidation.

A young worker from Turin, Emilio Guarnaschelli, who emigrated to the USSR in 1932 was caught up in this affair. There is no evidence that he had any links with the Left but even he became involved in the trial of the “Calligaris group” and was sentenced to three years in Siberia, later doubled in preference to being expelled from the country, and labelled an “an enemy of the Soviet people and of socialism”. He was to die in Siberia.

His story is instructive because the Stalinists maintained for decades that he had been a spy in the service of the Italian embassy. Recent documents demonstrate that this was a complete lie. (On the contrary, the Ambassador received precise instructions from the Ministry to abandon enquiring about his well-being from the Soviet authorities, in the same way as with the vast majority of the Italian internees.) Like many others, including Calligaris, Guarnaschelli – whose passport had been taken away by the Soviet authorities and who was left abandoned by the Italian Party – asked the Italian embassy for new documents so that he could be legally repatriated: that was enough to be classed as a spy. His story has only become known because his companion, Nella Masutti – who was herself interned for a time – had the correspondence with his family and herself published after the war as part of an initiative by Trotskyists outside Italy. In Italy itself it is only since the Seventies that the official line has been treated with scepticism.

Even the concluding sentence of one of his last letters that is quoted with malignant joy by all our anti-communists and those who accept the PCI’s falsehoods (“Comrades we are mistaken ... there is no socialism in the USSR”) is that of a young communist worker, albeit politically naïve, who states that in the USSR there is no trace of socialism, that life is worse there than in Italy, but is certainly not written by someone who has ceased to believe in the possibility of socialism. It is a sign of how much his family were influenced by Stalinist propaganda that at first they did not believe what he wrote about his experiences and on the reality of the Soviet Union.

Dante Corneli (1900-1990): even if he was not completely with the Left it is important to draw comrades’ attention to him. The communist militant who served more years than anybody – twenty-four years spent between the gulag and enforced exile – yet he managed to survive and devoted himself above all to publicising what had happened to his comrades. In 1919, during the nationwide strike in solidarity with the Hungarian Council Republic, György Lukács who was in exile at the time, had stayed with him and then twenty years later he met him again whilst in detention in the USSR. In 1922 he fled from Tivoli after killing a fascist during the armed clashes that were taking place and found refuge in the USSR at the beginning of November that same year. He was in time to join the celebrations for the Vth anniversary of the Revolution and marvelled at the fact that there were no platforms for the authorities and that every simple militant could shake hands and chat, as he did, with top level Bolsheviks such as Trotsky and Bukharin (with whom he remained very close until his death). As a worker and member of the Opposition he was expelled from the Bolshevik Party in 1927 only to rejoin two years later with Stalin’s Left turn that we mentioned earlier.

After that he went less and less often to the Émigré Circles, distrusting the leadership cult and atmosphere of suspicion which hung over them. In 1936 he was arrested. His experience of the "justice" system is Kafkaesque. (For example, the verdict against him was first passed on the same day that Italy declared war on the USSR, and so the terms of the sentence were delayed as in addition to the Trotskyist charge against him he was now also convicted of being a fascist spy in the service of Mussolini!) In 1970 he was able to return to Italy thanks to Umberto Terracini, a childhood friend who took up his case. From then on, for the next twenty years, he wrote many texts telling the story of the communists in the USSR, of the victims – of whom he compiled an alphabetical list of around three thousand names – and the persecutors. No publisher brought out any of these, not even in the atmosphere of the New Left in the Seventies, so he was forced to print them at his own expense. According to his sister’s account later in life, it also appears – although this is not certain – that some of the manuscripts were taken from his house by unknown agents of the ... CIA, who were probably PCI functionaries. Only in 1978 and then only by La Pietra – a publisher in the orbit of the PCI – was Corneli’s Diary of a Resurrected Tiburtino (4) brought out and even this was cut in places to fit the PCI’s prevailing political line at the time. Only in 2000 would such texts be reprinted by the Liberal Foundation publishing house, that hotbed of dangerous revolutionaries (!) such as Romiti, Tronchetti-Provera, Della Valle, Galli della Loggia, Panebianco and other similar people... The many public meetings he called in order to denounce his, and not only his, experience received scant attention. In 1978 he was invited by the television journalist Enzo Biagi to debate with Roasio and in 1982 was interviewed for La Repubblica by M. Mafai.

He died effectively isolated and in great economic difficulty.

Twenty years earlier the same sort of thing had happened to someone else from the province of Rome, Antonio Scariolo. When Stalin died he returned to Italy – to Genzano, in the province of Rome – after many years in the gulag and “dared” to speak of his experiences to “comrades” in the PCI. The upshot of this was that he was first regarded as mad and then sacked from the “red” collective where he worked as a farm labourer, which meant he also lost the accommodation that went with the job.

Corneli is also significant for the eye witness account he gives of Vorkuta. While most detainees were resigned to their fate and concentrated on surviving the shortages, the violence and daily duress that the terrible life in the camps imposed, yet others thought they had become victims by mistake and continued to have blind faith in the Party and the Little Father, to whom hundreds of supplications for reviews of cases were directed daily. Corneli, however, draws a vivid and admirable picture of how the self-proclaimed Trotskyist detainees who were strong in their convictions and never tamed – many of them had already been detained for about a decade – represented a world apart. By various struggle tactics, such as work abstentions, hunger strikes, passive resistance, the governors in many camps had allowed them to live together in the same barracks, to form homogeneous work columns (where comrades could help each other if one of them did not reach their individual production quota – which they had to do in order to receive enough rations to survive the Siberian climate), and thus to stay out of contact with the common criminals: the real bosses in the camps.

Moreover, Corneli again recalls, these same people,

...after 10, 12 or even 14 hours labour in the Siberian cold of at least 30 degrees below freezing, they still found the will and time for endless nocturnal discussions on capitalism, the party, the class, collectivisation, primary accumulation, Nazi-fascism, democracy, etc.

A number of them, almost always Old Bolsheviks, had clandestine copies of books on Stalin’s index of banned publications, the contents of which they would explain to the younger comrades. Furthermore, they had found the most ingenious means to develop a tight correspondence network with detainees in other camps. One of the most famous of these was the “flying newspaper”, comprising a single article produced collectively which the next comrades to be transferred from one camp to another would carry with them (hiding them behind buttonholes or inside their heavy fur hats) in order to develop the debate on the most talked-about subjects.

When this system was discovered by the authorities they started to memorise what they had to pass on to the comrades in the gulag that was to be their next destination... However, come 1937 all this finished. Life in the camps became palpably worse for everyone and – Corneli remembers – in Vorkuta alone the nocturnal executions of Trotskyists continued over many consecutive nights. The survivors lost their “privileges” and were dispersed throughout the immense concentration camp universe.

Vincenzo Baccalà: ex-Secretary of the Roman federation of the PCd’I, was arrested and shot in 1937 and remembered by his wife and companion Pia Piccioni, whose Silent Companion: A Widow in Stalin’s Gulags was one of the very first publications to appear after the war and was publicised in Battaglia Comunista.

Incidentally, her account also confirms the validity of the Left’s position just after the murder of Matteotti.(5) Baccalà was in prison in Rome at the time but was unexpectedly released whereupon the prison governor pensively asked “What are you going to do now?”. While the centrist leadership of the PCd’I embroiled the party in the suicidal and weakening tactic of parliamentary anti-fascism and support for the damaged democracy, the Left maintained it could and should take the issue to the working class and appeal to the proletariat to check the fascist violence, given that this was the last chance to do so. The tactic they adopted was that of the so-called “flying meetings” [comizi volanti], or rather of meetings held spontaneously outside the factory gates or in the popular districts to assess how far the workers were disposed to struggle. The responses, even though partial, were positive and encouraging; there was a desire to resist amongst the workers and there could and should have been a call for the proletariat to struggle.

Since nothing of the kind happened and there was no clear-cut call either to the party militants or the proletariat as a whole, the state apparatus was able to regalvanise and reorganise itself and the opportunity evaporated. And – as Vincenzo Baccalà records – a few days later he was quietly re-arrested in his own house so that he had to finish his own sentence, after which he departed for Russia.

Edmondo Peluso (1882-1942): defined by the same bourgeois sources as the John Reed or the Che Guevara of the PCd’I.

Defined himself as a citizen of the world, having been born in Naples, gone to primary school in Spain, secondary school in America and university in Germany and Switzerland. He worked as a journalist, labourer, fireman and a thousand other things ranging from South America to the Philippines and Japan.

He was a friend of Daniel De Leon (leader of the American Socialist Party), knew Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Karl Radek and even Laura Marx and Paul Lafargue in Paris. He was at Zimmerwald in 1915, where he held a centrist position along with all the Italian Socialist Party, and was familiar with Lenin and the Bolshevik delegation. The year after, at Kienthal, he broke with Party discipline and abstained from voting for the Centrist resolution which came out of this Congress, being more and more convinced of the theses of the Left (Bolshevik and the Bremen and Hamburg group), later only regretting that he had only given his full support after October.

In 1918-19 he took part in the Spartacist movement in Berlin. In 1920 he was a member of the Abstentionist Fraction and then part of the Italian delegation to the 4th Congress of the International in 1922. He collaborated in the editing of pamphlets for the International, something Lenin had explicitly asked him to do, having described him a year earlier as

one of the Italian party’s most brilliant writers who can and must write three or four times more than he does at present in all the languages that he knows.

He even took part in the Cantonese insurrection in China in 1927 which was bloodily repressed and which he was fortunate to survive.

He was arrested for avoiding military service and for defeatism (he had never been in the army in Italy) and was beaten up by Fascists many times from 1921 onwards.

He finally emigrated for the USSR in 1926. From then on he kept a low profile, joining the Bolshevik Party where, however, he doesn’t seem to have been drawn in amongst the suspects or the spies. It also appears that he hardly ever went to the Émigrés Circle meetings.

He was arrested in 1938, interrogated and tortured to extract the confession which he never gave: which is why he wasn’t shot until four years later. (In general those condemned to death were executed a few weeks after their sentence.) Moreover it is remarkable, considering that everybody, from Bukharin to Zinoviev, had confessed to everything.

He could not escape the gulag, for the simple reason that there was nowhere to go. For example, the gulag of Karaganda, in central Asia, alone extended over an area as large as the Netherlands today. The uninhabited Republic of Komi in Siberia, a single immense gulag which is as unknown to most people today as it was then, is 30% bigger than Italy. Gulags such as Karaganda or Vorkuta appear to have accommodated up to three hundred thousand detainees each. If it’s certainly not Marxist practice to take for gold everything asserted by the historiographies, it is, however, entirely part of Marxist method to consider the abnormalities they describe without resorting to idealist categories such as intrinsic human evil, madness, etc, etc. In class terms it is a matter of a gigantic process of original accumulation of capital in an immense country (laying aside “racial, religious, geographical factors”, etc.) which, under the weight of foreign competition and the impact of the 1929 crisis, had to concentrate into a few years what other countries had taken decades or centuries to bring about. It was a gigantic extortion of absolute surplus value. The concentration camp system was based on metal extraction for heavy industry, clearing forests and the opening up of virgin land in immense uninhabited territories and the creation of a roadway infrastructure – even today in central Siberia there exists the so-called “Skeleton Highway”, or rather the 2,000km of roads which cross through the region under which the frozen bones of hundreds of thousands of corpses are interred. When, for example, technicians were needed to open up a new mine or an oil well another Trotkyist-fascist “plot” and various other acts of sabotage were conveniently discovered with the “culprits” being precisely the professionals who were needed and thus they were despatched to work for nothing.

Meanwhile, the internees themselves realised that a week’s work by a hundred people could have been done in a day or two with a tractor. One Italian ex-deportee, a Stalinist to the core, observed:

I was only sorry to have gone to the Kolyma mines escorted by the police and in handcuffs as if I was an enemy of the people – if they had asked me, appealing to my spirit of internationalism, I would certainly have gone voluntarily.

Anonymous, from Italiani nei Lager di Stalin

Finally, two words on the persecutors before the next generations can and do definitively throw them, as they deserve, into the dustbin of history. Aside from the already-mentioned Ercoli (Togliatti), there was a whole strata of leaders, the various Dozzas, Griecos, Bertis, Germanettos, Pastores and Roasios (the latter was initially close to the Left and therefore was that much more zealous with his later persecutions) who were even active in Spain where they carried out their dirty duties, assassinating opponents from the Left and contributing to the suffocating of the most genuine aspirations of the Spanish proletariat.

Damiano Signorini

(1) An account of this exchange, which occurred in a closed session of the ECCI, is available in English, along with our translation of Bordiga’s critical speech at the 5th session on the 23rd February 1926. See “The Last Stand of the Communist Left in the Third International: Bordiga at the 6th Enlarged Executive Meeting of the Communist International”, in Internationalist Communist No.14.

(2) The Committee of Intesa was formed before the Lyon Congress to articulate the concerns of the “Left” – who at the time still comprised a majority of the membership of the Communist Party of Italy – as the party leadership, now headed by Gramsci, fell more and more in line with directives for “bolshevisation” from Moscow. See our pamphlet Platform of the Committee of Intesa 1925: The start of the Italian Left’s fight against Salinism as Fascism increases its grip.

(3) Oltretorrente was a working class district in Parma which, in the summer of 1922, was at the centre of a general strike against the Fascist takeover of the city led by Italo Balbo, a prominent henchman of Mussolini. By 2 August, 3,000 armed squadristi found themselves up against a ring of workers’ barricades. After four days of fighting the fascists withdrew, having been defeated by the armed resistance of 500 communist militants of the SAC (Squadre d’Azione Comunista, keenly insisted on by Bordiga and led by Fortichiari) together with the Arditi del Popolo (an armed body, comprising a miscellaneous collection of anarchists, republicans and socialists. Most of them were former soldiers of WWI.) Parma was taken afterwards only thanks to the deployment of the regular army and carabinieri.

(4) Someone from Tivoli, a town in the province Rome.

(5) Giacomo Matteotti was a parliamentary deputy and member of the PSU (Unified Socialist Party), whose members had basically stood on the fence between the PSI and the PCd’I when the Socialist Party split over whether or not to form a communist party and join the Communist International. His ill-disguised murder by fascist thugs in 1924 provoked a wave of working class disgust and a political crisis for Mussolini’s regime to which Gramsci and the rest of the PCd’I leadership supinely responded by joining the “Aventine Secession” – nothing more than a boycott of parliament by the non-Fascist parliamentary deputies – an opportunity lost since the signs are that the working class would have taken up a call for strikes and political protests if the Communist Party leadership had been prepared to take on the responsibility. For more on the reasons for Matteotti’s murder – he was about to blow the gaff on Mussolini’s personal corruption – and its link to oil, see “Matteotti Murdered by Fascists: Behind it All ... Oil”, translated from Battaglia Comunista in Revolutionary Perspectives 33.

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