Under this cross fire of the Stalinists and the Blackshirts the red flag of revolution carried on flying, thanks to the extreme sacrifice of the internationalists of whom we remember first those who died at the hands of the Axis. But the two most significant deaths were not at the hands of the Nazis but the “centrists”, the new social democrats, as the Stalinists were labelled in those days.
Seventy Five Years Ago (1945-2020)
In January 1943 workers in the Waj Assauto in Asti Piedmont, one of the most industrial regions in Italy, suddenly went on strike and held a three hour demonstration in front of the Fascist union offices. On 10 March they blockaded the factory. The day before the workers at the Ferriera Ercoli factory also struck followed by the engineering works of Cendola and Tribulzio, la Miana, le Vetrerie plus the workers from the Saffa works. Two groups of 9 and 12 workers were arraigned before a military tribunal.
This was only the beginning of a wave of strikes that were to engulf Northern Italy even though that area remained under Nazi occupation after July 1943, when Nazis rescued Mussolini so he could head the puppet Republic of Saló. It was followed by others. On 5 March 1943 the workers at workshop 19 of the Fiat-Mirafiori factory in Turin downed tools in the first of a series of lightning strikes. These gradually spread to other factories like Microtecnica, Fiat Grandi Motori and Fiat Lingotto, Savigliano, Riv Westinghouse and others in the city. In the days following, despite the arrests of hundreds of workers, almost all the works in the Piedmontese capital were halted by strikes which had by now widened across the province.
The signs of the revival of class struggle were thus already evident at the start of 1943 after two decades of ferocious bourgeois reaction and the uncontested domination of fascism and they carried on for months.
The decision of Onorato Damen, Bruno Maffi, Luciano Stefanini and others to found the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) had already been taken in principle in 1942 despite the scattered forces of the internationalists and the not inconsiderable dangers of creating a clandestine Party in Fascist Italy. At this time there was little contact with the Italian Fraction abroad (this came mainly through Stefanini) and even less with potential internationalists in what would become by the middle of 1943 the Allied occupied area from Rome southwards. The strikes in the North “made flesh” of the decision to found the new Party as the comrades built up a network of contacts amongst all those who had rejected the Comintern’s degeneration in the 1920s and saw both sides in the war (the Axis and the Allies) as equally imperialist. As a result the PCInt was a target for both of the belligerents.
Under this cross fire of the Stalinists and the Blackshirts the red flag of revolution carried on flying, thanks to the extreme sacrifice of the internationalists of whom we remember first those who died at the hands of the Axis. Giuseppe Biscuola was shot in Genoa by Fascists in February 1945; Spartaco Ferradini was also shot in Genoa by Fascists on 25 April 1945; Angelo Grotta from Ponte Lambro, a worker in the Montecatini works, was shot by the Fascists; Cappellini, Bergomi e Porta, workers of the Breda and Falk works, were deported by the Nazis to Germany where they died; Quinto Perona, a Turin worker, died in Mauthausen 7 July 1945; Mantovani, also a Turin worker deported by the Nazis to Germany, died in a concentration camp. This does not exhaust the list but the two most significant deaths were not at the hands of the Nazis but the “centrists”, the new social democrats, as the Stalinists were labelled in those days.
Fausto Atti (1900-45)
Fausto Atti came from Emilia Romagna and had joined the Communist Party of Italy as a young man at Livorno in 1921. The Fascist regime put out a warrant for his arrest along with four other communists from Modena and Bologna for putting out leaflets against the regime in the 1929 election in which voters were invited to vote yes or no for Fascist candidates. He went on the run and escaped to Paris where he joined the Fraction of the Communist Left which had been founded there the year before.
He was soon expelled from France and moved to Brussels where he was arrested by the Nazis after their invasion in May 1940. He was first deported to Germany, then back to Italy to serve his sentence on the island of Ventotene. He was freed with the fall of Mussolini in July 1943 and immediately joined the newly formed PCInt. In its name he carried out propaganda work amongst the partisans of the Appenine (Tuscan-Emilian) region to get them to break with the parties of the Council of National Liberation (CLN) – which included every bourgeois faction from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) to the Christian Democrats. He tried to set up independent squads of workers’ defence against not only the CLN but also the forced conscription by the Fascist regime of the Republic of Saló. His aim was to prevent workers falling into the bourgeois trap of “the struggle against foreigners” to fight for one or other side in the imperialist war.
On 27 March 1945 in Trebbo di Reno (Bologna) Fausto Atti, was killed by an armed band of the Stalinist PCI who broke into the house as he lay ill in bed. Like Acquaviva a few months later and so many other anonymous unidentified comrades, Fausto was killed on the orders of Togliatti who, faithful to his master in the Kremlin, expressly demanded from the CLN a blank cheque to physically liquidate Onorato Damen and the other principal activists of the PCInt who were an obstacle to their task of dragging the working class behind the Italian tricolour.
Mario Acquaviva (1900-1945)
Born 1900 at Acquapendente into a family of Neapolitan origins he entered the Communist Youth Federation at the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy at Livorno in 1921. He soon showed himself a capable leader and is described in the PCInt pamphlet Un comunista di meno (Just a Communist) as having a “fiery, strong-willed and passionate temperament” modified only by a “lucid and precise intelligence”. Using these qualities he tried to regroup as many of the youth in the Asti (Piedmont) area around the Party at a time when the Fascists were taking over and it was difficult to do so. As a result, by his early 20s he was recognised as the leader of the Party Federation in Asti which became known for its militant activity and organisation in reaching out to both workers and peasants.
He was arrested in 1926 and given eight years in galera (gaol) which he passed in various places (Avellino, Finalborgo, Saluzzo among them). Acquaviva faced up to these years with “an unbelievable firmness of mind” and afterwards considered this period the most significant in his political maturation as it became clear where the “centrists”, under the leadership first of Gramsci and then Togliatti, were taking the Party in their subservience to Moscow. He remained loyal to the principles on which the Party was founded in 1921 and this made him identify with its internationalist opposition.
He would only be released as a result of the general amnesty to celebrate ten years of Fascist rule. His experience of both Fascism and the “centrism” which would become Stalinism only made him more determined to regroup around him some of those who rejected the poisonous ideology of popular frontism. He patiently and carefully spread his ideas and gathered round him a small nucleus of well-prepared comrades. His calm perspective was to prepare for the time when their isolation would be broken and a new organisation would be founded.
It was thus no surprise that he joined the newly-formed PCInt in January 1943. So prepared was he for that moment that he was soon a member of its Central Committee and named Regional Secretary for Piedmont. He was thus not only responsible for the Asti Federation and its Casale section but the work of the Party throughout Piedmont and even throughout Upper Italy. He was once again arrested under the Mussolini’s Republic of Saló as a known local opponent of the regime but on release he went into hiding from October 1944 until April 1945. This did not prevent him from carrying on propaganda for the Party and travelling constantly between Turin, Asti, Casale, Milan and Piombino carrying with him his energy in struggle and his ideological clarity.
He fell just as he was about to garner the fruits of his years of intelligent and tenacious work as he was drawing more and more workers into the camp of the internationalists. The Stalinists could not compete with him (and they saw him as the “competition”) on an open and honest field of battle and they knew it. After failing to either recruit him or frighten him off (as the contemporary article from Battaglia Comunista below says) they decided to ambush him. He was a revolutionary in all his being and for these reason an obstacle to the Stalinists class collaborationist plans for the future of Italian capitalism with their Christian Democrat allies in the CLN. It is no wonder that the article of the time compared his murder with that of Liebknecht (and Luxemburg) by the German Social Democrats in 1919.
Centrism has Killed Mario Acquaviva, Just as German Social Democracy Killed Karl Liebknecht, the Champion of Class Struggle Against War and For the Proletarian Revolution
From Battaglia Comunista 28 July 1945
On the 14 July a brief telegram from Turin informed us that Mario Acquaviva had been seriously wounded at Casale. The same day the Turin edition of Avanti! [the Socialist Party newspaper – ed] carried this:
"Serious news suddenly began to circulate yesterday of another brutal crime committed by an unknown assailant in Casale, news which has brought grief to all its citizens: the accountant Mario Acquaviva was assassinated by six shots from a revolver. Though not a militant in our ranks he had shared with us the torment and persecution in the 22 years of Fascist domination and had been condemned by a Special Tribunal to eight years in prison which he served in full because he refused to sign an application for pardon. He belonged to those dissident communists who remained faithful to the principles of the Congress of Livorno but he was esteemed by all in the Asti area, no matter which party they supported, for his moral and political probity." (Casale, 13 July)
These are the facts. Mario Acquaviva was going back into the Tazzetti Chemical Products Company (which he managed) a little after 6:00pm when a young man on a bicycle approached and shot him six times at point blank range. Three hit him in the stomach and the assailant rapidly vanished shouting “He is a Fascist!, He is a Fascist!”. The wounded man was immediately recognised and rushed to the station and from there to the hospital. Here the doctors found out how serious the situation was: the vital organs had been hit and only a thin thread of hope remained, which was the exceptional resistance of his fibre.
Unfortunately in the course of the evening this hope disappeared. He remained conscious and admirably serene until the end. He would see his wife who rushed from Asti, and some friends, for the last time and repeated to those present “this is what the centrists are capable of” whilst saying to his comrades “work on – now is the time!”. He replied to a doctor who told him to have courage, “it takes courage to live not to die!”. He begged his wife to send us a package of documents and calmly closed his eyes.
The news quickly got around Casale as well as Asti (where Mario Acquaviva lived for many years) and created an enormous impression. The comrade was known to everyone as a fearless combatant without a stain on his reputation who had suffered Fascist persecution without ever submitting to them and who without hesitation at all time proudly maintained his ideas. Workers knew him as someone who had given his youth to defending their cause and his political enemies could not hide their admiration for the unbending nature of this fighter.
The police investigation in Casale Monferrato found nothing since both at Casale and Asti they had long been in the orbit of the PCI. The assassin (who was aided by one other unknown person) disappeared without trace, but it was known, as we have already documented in the 6 July edition of our paper, that Mario Acquaviva had been prevented from speaking in the Valenza area and “threatened with serious reprisals if he continued his activity”. A short while after he was sounded out about rejoining the centrist party as he was one of the most honest and capable elements (you can see, for the PCI you are either a fascist scoundrel or one of the pure, as it suits them!). Having energetically refused to play their game, two leaders of the PCI section of Casale Monferrato, Scammuzi e Navazzotti reminded him that their Party had secret tribunals and there was no right of appeal against their sentences. Mario Acquaviva replied smiling, and with a shrug of his shoulders, that “that would be a good way to say that you had killed a fascist”. It was well-known in Asti that a year earlier the Asti PCI branch had given out a leaflet in the factories and in the working class environment in which they had publicly denounced the internationalist activity carried out by Acquaviva and at the same time accused him of being a spy in the pay of nazi-fascism, not forgetting to add at the end of this repugnant libel the usual death threat. Nor should it be forgotten that the same accusations, the same lies the same threats had been periodically hurled at our Party, and against its best people. The responsibility was clear, and to investigate the methods of struggle of an entire party went well beyond the specific responsibility of the prosecutor.
However, with the enquiry dispersed and a sort of conspiracy of silence in the papers about the “democratic coalition”, one of the darkest, and at the same time clearest, crimes of the anti-working reaction was perpetrated. The bourgeois and pseudo-working class press, which poured rivers of tears over the episodes of violence unleashed by the masses in their riots against fascists who were mollycoddled and protected from “justice”, relegated to the inside pages (or, outside Piedmont, passed over in silence) the assassination of one of the most combative communists who one socialist speaker commemorated as “the shining knight of honesty”. And in the meeting of the CLN of Asti where people were allowed to speak in Acquaviva’s commemoration with high words of praise, the lawyer Platone, one of the leaders of that Asti Federation of the PCI, went back to the insulting libel (as the widow of Acquaviva pointed out in a passionate protest) which we underlined above. This same Platone who in an article published in April 1945 in Togliatti’s review Rinascita lumped under the general name of Trotskyist all the communists who were not loyal to the politics of centrism claiming that these dissident movements “more related to the underworld than to politics and on which the old and new Trotskyists, holders of tabarins and illegal gambling dens, black market speculators and heroes of nightly brigandage” were a “police problem”. And in the space of a few days the affair, in homage to the Holy Alliance of the anti-fascist parties, would be shelved.
Meanwhile at the time of Acquaviva’s funeral the workers of Asti stopped work for ten minutes, doing it for the man who the leaders of the Asti Federation of the PCI and its national leaders held up as a “fascist spy”, “an agent provocateur”, and “an emissary of the Gestapo”. They knew he was a real communist above all else!