A short biography of Italian anarchist rail worker, anti-fascist militant and Spanish Civil War fighter Antonio Cieri.
Born in Vasto near Chieti in the Abruzzi in 1898, Antonio Cieri served as an officer in the Italian Army during World War I and was decorated.
After the war he became active in the anarchist movement in Ancona. He got a job as a technical designer for the Italian railways.
When Italy started an imperialist intervention in Albania, and was preparing to send troops from the port of Ancona, there was mass resistance within the working class, with strikes and occupations of barracks. Antonio was heavily involved in this resistance.
As a punishment, the rail administration moved him to Parma in 1921. This suited him fine as he came in contact with the large group of anarchists there, and also with the group around the militant socialist Guido Picelli.
He became a leading light in the anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo in the working class neighbourhood of Borgo Naviglio. During five days in August 1922 he participated in the successful defence of the working class neighbourhoods of Oltretorrente, Borgo Naviglio and Borgo Saffi from heavily armed fascist squads commanded by Italo Balbo, numbering 20,000.
With Picelli he was one of the principal organisers of the resistance. Barricades were thrown up and the whole working class population came out. The fascists were resisted with firearms, rocks, and knives.
An amusing incident from these days of high drama: as Antonio and his comrades were raising a barricade, they saw a priest come cycling up fast. After a sarcastic exchange between Antonio and the priest, the latter led him into the church. Antonio had not set foot in such a place since childhood. Grabbing one end of a bench, the priest commanded Antonio to help him carry it outside to reinforce the barricade.
All the benches were removed from the church, but the priest stopped the confessional box being added to the barricade. Soon, he said, you will be killing fascists and breaking the fifth commandment and would need to be confessed!
The heroic defence of the working class neighbourhoods has been immortalised in the historical novel Oltretorrente by Pino Cacucci.
Sacked from the railways in 1923 and forced into exile, he finally arrived in Paris together with his wife in 1925 where he continued his anarchist activity. He founded the anarchist paper Umanita Nova with Camillo Berneri and others and for a long time was its editor.
He was also one of the organisers of the Sartrouville Congress, which led to the re-organising of the Italian anarchist movement in exile.
In 1936 he moved to Spain and enlisted in a military column. He was one of the founders of the Italian Column which became attached to the Ascaso Column and was one of its commanders alongside fellow Abruzzese Giuseppe Bifolchi from December 1936 until April 1937.
He led a squad of bombers in the assault on 7th April when he was shot dead in combat on the Huesca front. There were strong suspicions that he had been shot in the back by a Stalinist and this allegation was made in Guerra di Classe, Berneri’s paper.
His two children, Ubaldo and Renee, were adopted and brought up by Giovanna Caleffi, the companion of Camillo Berneri.
On 22 October 2006 a plaque in his memory was put up in the neighbourhood which he had helped defend against the fascists in Parma.