A short biography of Italian anarchist Bernardo Melacci
Bernardo Melacci was born at Foiano dell Chiana in the Val di Chiana in Italy on 19th January 1893, the first of four children. His family professed socialist ideas and after elementary school Bernardo helped his father as a mechanic in a country workshop. At the age of 17, together with other villagers he emigrated to Genoa and worked as a mechanic at the Ansaldo factory.
In Genoa he became radicalised and took part in various agitations in the factory. Conscripted into the Navy with the coming of the First World War, he spent most of the time in Libyan ports. During a sea voyage he met the influential anarchist Errico Malatesta and began to develop his own anarchist ideas. As early as 1914 he had read the paper Il Libertario in Foiano.
With the end of the war he returned to Foiano and founded the Pietro Gori anarchist group there, which was named after a prominent anarchist. The group numbered ten and was very active in distributing propaganda, in particular the paper Umanita Nova. Among other prominent members of the group were Sante Scapecchi (Ficocco), Carlo Scapecchi, Luigi Giaccherini (Baiocco), Guido Marcelli (Buco), Vittorio Ugolini (Dazio), Lanciotto Gailli, Piero Siena and Giulio Bigozzi. Many of them had got to know each other whilst in the Navy.
The group organised a successful demonstration and open air meeting on May Day 1920 in conjunction with the Socialists, with Melacci as the anarchist speaker. Before this the group had organised a theatrical event and set up a fund for Austrian war orphans. The following year it organised a theatrical event for political prisoners. A supporter of organisational anarchism, the group maintained contact with other anarchist groups in the area.
It took an important role in resistance to the Fascist squads that were beginning to carry out raids in the area. It also supported the local peasant leagues. In one incident in Renzino in on April 12th 1921, Fascist squads, toting rifles and wearing helmets, turned up at Renzino where they destroyed the office of the Socialists, the league farm, a consumer cooperative and the Chamber of Labour. They made another raid the following Sunday, April 17thbut were ambushed two kilometres from Foiano by a crowd armed with rifles, pistols, axes, and pitchforks. Two fascists were killed and others seriously injured.
Vicious reprisals followed with barns and farmhouses being burnt down. Four local activists were murdered, including the young anarchist cobbler of Arezzo, Gino Gherardi.
Following this Bernardo Melacci was arrested at Genoa in June 1921. A gang of forty Fascists attempted to kill him whilst under arrest, but ended up stabbing another prisoner by mistake. He was put on trial with 34 others and accused of taking part in the ambush. In addition Melacci was accused of stealing Fascist revolvers and wallets and destroying three telegraph poles to stop phone calls, as well as illegally possessing and carrying firearms. Bernardo recounted the harassment that his mother and sister had received when the Fascists raided the family home in an earlier raid.
In a court where the public gallery was full of angry shouting Fascists, sentences of a total of 300 years were handed out, Bernardo receiving the maximum sentence of thirty years.
He served his sentence at Arezzo, then at Pesaro, Imperia, Portolongone, Parma and Pianosa. Released from prison after an amesty in 1935 only to be re-arrested three days later and confined for a further three years, being moved to the prison islands of Tremiti in 1937. Here he carried out intensive anarchist propaganda among the many young people confined there. After a revolt against the imposition of the Fascist salute Bernardo with 100 others, including the anarchist militants Stefano Vatteroni and Alfonso Failla, he was accused of being the ringleader of the revolt. He was sentenced to a further five years in prison. This proved too much for him and the confinement and ill-treatment caused his mental collapse. In 1938 he was admitted to a mental hospital. He died in the prison at Nocera Inferiore on 7th December 1943. During his prison years there had been several attempts on his life and the circumstances of his death remain mysterious.
When his body was brought back to be buried in Foiano, there was a mass display of respect for him from the villagers.
During his long confinement he wrote many poems and letters. A collection of his poems was published in 2005. A plaque to his memory was placed on the family home in Foiano in recent years.