Remembering Spain: Italian anarchist volunteers in the Spanish civil war - Umberto Marzocchi

Umberto Marzocchi speaking, wearing a hat, jacket and tie
Umberto Marzocchi

Marzocchi supplied arms to Spanish anarchists at the start of the Spanish Revolution and fought on the Aragon front from October 1936 until 1937. This is his account , covering the counter-revolution of May 1937 in Barcelona and the Communists’ murder of Camillo Berneri, published in this expanded second edition with a timeline of Marzocchi’s life from "Umanita Nova".

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on August 21, 2014

Umberto Marzocchi

He was born in Florence on 10 October 1900. A shipyard
worker in La Spezia, he became an anarchist at a very early age and by
1917 was secretary of the metalworkers’ union affiliated to the USI
(Italian Syndicalist Union), thanks to his youth which precluded his
being mobilised for front-line service as a reprisal. During the “Red
Biennium” he took part in the struggles alongside the renowned La Spezia
anarchist, Pasquale Binazzi, the director of Il Libertario
newspaper. In 1920 he was part of a gang of anarchists that attacked the
La Spezia arsenal, overpowering the security guards and carrying off
two machine guns and several rifles, in the, alas disappointed, hope of
triggering a revolutionary uprising in the city. In 1921, visiting Rome
to reach an agreement with Argo Secondari, he took over as organiser of
the Arditi del Popolo (People’s Commandos) in the region; this
organisation was to give good account of itself during the “Sarzana
incidents”. Moving to Savona, he organised the meeting between Malatesta
and the pro-Bolshevik Russian anarchist Sandomirsky who arrived in
Rapallo in the wake of the Chicherin delegation as its Press Officer. By
1922, wanted by the fascists, he left the country, playing an active
part in the activities of the anarchist exiles in France and Belgium.

In 1936 he was in Spain with the Italian Column
and there took part in the battle of Almudevar. After Camillo Berneri
was murdered, he returned to France where he handled aid to Spanish
refugees. After the Nazi occupation, he joined the Maquis in the
Pyrenees, part of a mixed unit made up of anarchists, socialists and
French and Spanish communists (Group 31, Area 5). In 1945 after the
Liberation he returned to Italy where he became one of the most active
publicists, speakers and lecturers of the newly formed Italian Anarchist
Federation (FAI), which at that time was an umbrella for the whole of
the Italian anarchist movement. In 1971 he was appointed secretary of
the International of Anarchist Federations’ Liaison Committee, a post he
filled for 12 years. In 1977, by then almost eighty, he was arrested in
Spain during an international anarchist gathering. He died in Savona on
4 June 1986.

What follows is taken from a long video-taped
interview that Paolo Gobetti from the Turin-based National Film Archive
of the Resistance made with Ugo during the ‘70s.

Introduction

It was then (after he had successfully escaped the
fascist goons in Savona who were after him – editor’s note) that I
decided to clear out, to leave the country. After a number of adventures
I arrived in Paris. I had no identity papers and I obtained a set,
becoming Buonaventura Della Manica and under that name I opened a
bookshop in Lille in northern France. I worked hard but I was regarded
as a bourgeois, although I carried on with my activities. But,
obviously, not so openly as before, although I had my uses, Lille being
on the border with Belgium. I used to cross the border nearly every
week, so the customs officials knew me. As a result they were not so
vigilant and I was able to smuggle across Bonomini, just as I did
Durruti, and Ascaso. Then came Ernesto Bonomini’s attentat. He killed
the secretary of the fascists abroad, Nicola Bonservizi. Bonomini got an
eight year jail sentence. When he got out he turned to the Political
Victims’ Support Committee for help and they sent him to me. I managed
to secure a military passbook for him and on the strength of that
document, Bonomini, who could not venture outside of the Paris area, was
able to stay in my house. I had him there for over two years before
they discovered him, arresting him and arresting me as well. In 1933, my
residence permit was cancelled completely. So I was left without any
identity and in 1935 I assumed a new identity, as Gaston Bouillon, a Frenchman.

(That year) we held a get-together near Paris, in
the suburbs. This get-together set out the tasks that each of us had to
perform in the event of a social upheaval. Berneri, Rivoluzio Giglioli
and other comrades and I worked on matters of this sort. So that when
the rebel generals attempted their coup d’état in 1936 in Spain, we
already had our plans drawn up and we had our committee. We met in Paris
and then we decided that Berneri should leave right away for Barcelona,
along with Renato Castagnoli and Rivoluzio Giglioli. I stayed behind in
Lille. Why Lille? Because Lille borders Belgium. And Belgium has the
most modern arms factories. Through a comrade, a businessman, I managed
to get from some factories some arms that cost me more to smuggle across
the border than they did to buy. I managed to make two deliveries
through Spanish comrades who came to make the pick-up themselves, but
after the second one, the police showed up and arrested me, not over the
arms but for breaching the expulsion order. I was sentenced to a month
in prison. As soon as I was freed, I was off to Spain.

I caught a train from Perpignan and crossed the
border at Port Bou, arriving in Barcelona on schedule. Stepping out of
the station, I saw red and black taxis. All vehicles displayed black and
red banners. I went to a hotel, booked a room, grabbed some sleep and
then it was off to a restaurant for a bite to eat. Nothing had changed
except that there were no bosses around and that the union was running things.

Italian Anarchist Volunteers in Spain

July 1936

By the evening of 19 July radio broadcasts were
announcing that an army revolt had erupted all across Spain and that
Barcelona had risen to counter-attack and frustrate it.

By 20 July the press carried lengthy but as yet
confused reports from which it appeared that in various parts of Spain
the populace was resisting the rebel generals who had mutinied against
the Republic. In every one of those reports the role of the anarchists
of the FAI and the unions of the CNT was so played up as to lead one
(and especially those of us who were anxious for further news) to
believe that these were the only ones encouraging and urging the people
to stand up to the rebels.

On 21 and 22 July, the reports noted the capture
of the Atarazanas barracks by the people, the surrender of General Goded
and other officers commanding the Barcelona garrison, the heroic death
of Francisco Ascaso – well known in France for having organised a plot
against the life of King Alfonso XIII in Paris in 1927, a plot thwarted
by French police when they arrested Ascaso himself and Durruti – the
capture of the Montaña barracks in Madrid, the seizure of the factories,
the burning of churches, the spontaneous direct organisation of the
city’s essential services by the people. The coup attempt had drawn a
reply in the form of popular insurrection: this was revolution!

Among the anarchists in Paris and elsewhere in
France all was excitement, coming and going, enthusiasm. Even some of
the leading battlers of Italian antifascism, like Angeloni, Rosselli and
others were sitting up and asking questions.

We had our first direct news from French comrades
in Toulouse and from comrade Pasotti in Perpignan: throughout the war he
was to be a splendid go-between keeping us in touch with Spain. We
discovered that the Spanish comrades were fighting with makeshift
weapons and that death was cutting swathes through the ranks of the
people and among the anarchists who were the most daring.

The rebel generals, who made use of the garrisons
under their command, had the bourgeoisie and the clergy on their side:
from the outset the would-be coup had taken on an anti-Republican and
fascist character. Every bourgeois house, every club premises or
premises of known capitalist bodies, every church – and there were lots
of these in Barcelona and throughout Spain – was converted into a
fascist redoubt, from where machine-gun and rifle fire mowed down the
populace in their hundreds.

Yet the response from the people and the
anarchists was improvised, spontaneous and powerful enough to mop up
those allied forces in the city within a few days and to drive them out,
with the anarchists formed into centurias of the ‘Catalan Militias’
free corps in hot pursuit, as far as Lerida and Sietamo, where there was
fierce fighting, and to the very gates of Huesca and Zaragoza. Inside
these last two cities the cowardice of the republican governors who
negotiated with the rebels instead of urging the people against them as
had been done in Barcelona, led to the slaughter of anarchists and
revolutionaries and allowed the Francoists to ensconce themselves and
fortify their positions.

In Paris we devoured all these reports. We decided
that Berneri should set off with another comrade, whilst we would stay
behind to see to the urgent business of arranging the arms, medicines
and other materials essential to the Spanish fighters.

Berneri wrote back. In Perpignan he had found
himself surrounded by lots of other comrades who were flooding in from
all over France. They had been drawn towards Spain by an irresistible
magnet. The presence there of anarchism, the architect and driving force
behind the revolutionary thrust, the feeling of solidarity, the
realisation that the involvement of the whole population in the social
conflict might well trigger the decisive revolutionary backlash, so long
yearned for, against international fascism – at that time the last word
in tyranny and an ongoing threat of world war – moved all anarchists
without distinction. Michele Centrone, Girotti, Bifolchi, Perrone,
Bonomini, Fantozzi and Berneri arrived at the border along with many
another. Organisationists and anti-organisationists, pure anarchists
without adjectives and anarchists who had always campaigned inside the
unions all turned up, drawn together by a serious intent that smoothed
over differences of tendency and healed disagreements. Dauntless,
impatient and in solidarity with one another and with the Spanish
comrades, every one of them searched for ways to deploy his own talents
and gifts of spirit and intellect, without need of leaders, guides,
orders or plans, revelling in a common inheritance of splendid good
sense, courage, resolute determination, ready, if need be, to offer up
his own life so as to afford anarchism, which was being put to the test
in Spain, the chance to become a bright beacon of concrete experiences
in a dumbfounded world that was looking on, partly cursing it and partly
in admiration.

During the last fortnight in July our activity was
intense. We had established contact between Rivoluzio Giglioli in
Paris, myself who was living underground in Lille (having been the
subject of a deportation order) near the Belgian border, and Mantovani
in Brussels on the Belgian side. The French comrade Trucheaux from
Toulouse was our liaison with the Spanish comrades. With the help of
Hoche Meurant, a French anarchist living in Wattrelos on the
Franco-Belgian border, we managed to make a few purchases of rifles from
various arms factories in Belgium and ship them out to our Spanish comrades.

In Barcelona, meanwhile, Berneri along with
Bifolchi, Rosselli, Angeloni, Calosso and a few others came to an
agreement with the FAI and CNT comrades, through the good offices of
Diego Abad de Santillan on the formation of an Italian Column made up of
volunteer antifascist fighters: this was to be attached to the
Francisco Ascaso formation of the ‘Catalan Antifascist Militias’
operating on the front in Aragon.

Camillo Berneri had been one of the speakers at
the huge, solemn anarchist rally of more than one hundred thousand
people in the arena of the bullring, bringing the greetings and
effective solidarity of Italian anarchism to the revolutionary struggle
being waged by Spanish anarchism. Comrades who had already been living
in Spain – Fosco Falaschi, Virgilio Ghozzoli, Nicola Turcinovich and
others- joined the new arrivals whose numbers were growing by the day.

August 1936

And so the column was set up. The group that had
formed around Berneri, tireless in its efforts, its requests and its
organising activity, managed to procure weapons, munitions, clothing and
mules. In the Pedralbes barracks (renamed the Mikhail Bakunin
barracks), in the redoubt which Pio Turroni and Giusti from Bologna were
to occupy and through which we all passed to be issued with our
equipment prior to setting off for the front, the preparations of the
first International Column made up of anarchists and revolutionary
antifascists who had voluntarily arrived to take on fascism on Iberian
soil, were completed.

On the evening of 19 August the Column set off for
the front. Along the route from the barracks to the railway station it
marched through the streets of Barcelona flanked by a cheering populace.
It looked the part with its rifles, machine-guns, mules, field kitchen
and first aid teams with the doctor Ricciulli and the car with Umberto
Calosso at the steering wheel.

At the station, men and equipment were loaded
aboard the troop train. All that night the delighted crowds hovered
around these men, offering them wine, cigarettes and food whenever they
pulled into the stations along the route, in Manresa, Terrasa, Tarragona
and Lerida where they arrived the next day at daybreak.

Angeloni was in command of the Column and he was
regarded as the most expert and technically competent, because he
displayed extraordinary organisational talents and there was also the
matter of his cheerful manner and the absence of all swagger. Everybody
had absorbed a little anarchism and they all tried to avoid positions of
command by staying invisible and backward in the ranks.

On 21 August the Column arrived in Vicien, a
little country village which was to be our headquarters and there
Domingo Ascaso (Francisco’s brother, a pugnacious, zealous, level-headed
anarchist militant killed during the May 1937 events in Barcelona) paid
it a visit as the then commissar of war. It was he who suggested to the
Column that it occupy the Galocha plateau, hill 521 – a vast outcrop
rising from the plain, watered by the Isuela and stretching flat and
regular into the Huesca-Sariñena-Tardienta triangle, extremely important
strategically in that it overlooked the front and flanked
Zaragoza-Huesca-Jaca highway. Angeloni had the bright idea of nicknaming
it Monte Pelado (Bald Mountain).

On 25 August the active service element of the
Column: the riflemen with Bifolchi and machine-gunners with Angeloni
(the rest of the men making up the clerical, kitchen and first aid
sections had stayed behind in Castillo San Juan, renamed Castillo
Michele Angeliolillo) bivouacked on Monte Pelado and quickly set about
digging trenches, from where they could kill without being killed and
counter-attack only if there were indications of enemy confusion.

At 4.00 am, on 28 August the fascists launched a
frontal assault with increasing intensity against Monte Pelado. The
first freedom fighter to collapse when a rifle bullet smashed his
forehead was the old and well known anarchist militant, Michele
Centrone, Well into his sixties, a small, thin southerner, Michele had
been one of the first to set out from Paris, where he had been living in
exile for years, to rush to lend a hand in the fight for a people’s
survival and the freedom of the world. Intransigent but not sectarian,
he showed by example the admirable integrity of a life spent in the
service of ideals that radiated from his every act, his every expression
regardless of place or circumstance. He was one of those modest,
obscure militants who make ideas strong with the doggedness, rectitude
and sturdiness of their thinking, their unchanging display of feelings,
and their constant presence in every action where lives are risked and
death scorned.

The frontal onslaught was repulsed but it was
followed by savage flanking attacks. On the right flank a bullet
mortally wounded Fosco Falaschi who died a few hours later. His was
another life devoted since boyhood to the anarchist ideal and now gone
forever. Fosco Falaschi was a well known figure in world anarchism. A
self-educated worker, he had turned himself by dint of sacrifices and
dogged application to his studies, into a tremendously learned figure
and that made him one of the finest columnists in La Protesta Umana
to which he contributed regularly. We in Italy know little about this
writer whose contributions went mainly to the Spanish language press.
Articles of his had appeared in L’Adunata dei Refrattari sharing
with the Italian anarchist immigrants in the United States the demands
of anarchist activity and protest campaigns. With the deaths of Michele
Centrone and Fosco Falaschi, Italian anarchism had suffered its first
rude losses and paid its first bloody levy to international solidarity.

On the left flank, Giuseppe Zuddas, a little Sardinian from Monserrato in the province of Cagliari and a member of the Giustizia e Liberta
group met his death; and whilst intrepidly crossing some open ground to
hurl grenades at the fascist armoured car that was preparing to resist
and open fire, so did Mario Angeloni. It was in pursuit of the fascists
who had been put to flight that Attilio Papperotto and Andrea Colliva,
raising their heads above the parapet, met their deaths recklessly.
Among the wounded was Mario Girotti, our dear comrade from Bologna,
Cavani from Modena, as well as Matteuzzi and others who made it to the
hospitals in the rear.

Michele Centrone, Fosco Falaschi, Giuseppe Zuddas,
Attilio Papperotto and Andrea Colliva were buried in the little
cemetery in Vicien and their graves were soon joined by those of
Vincenzo Perrone and Bruno Gualandi who perished in the fighting in
September and October. Mario Angeloni died in hospital far from the
front lines, in Barbastro I believe it was, and his body was transported
to Barcelona where it received a moving demonstration of condolences,
which the Spanish comrades also extended to include the others who had
also died a hero’s death in that encounter – which went down in history
as the most important battle on the Aragon front.

September 1936

Throughout the month of September the activities
of the Italian anarchists on the Huesca front and in respect of the
French connection remained intense.

The securing of Monte Pelado made a whole series
of operations against Huerrio, Casa Blanca and Huesca cemetery feasible.
In the fighting that attended those operations – the object was to
throw a cordon around Huesca and the vulnerable Zaragoza-Huesca-Jaca
road – two splendid young Italians of great promise for Italian
anarchism perished: Vincenzo Perrone who was, I believe, born in Salerno
and Bruno Gualandi from Bologna. In a daring armoured car sortie the
Piedmontese Guiseppe Barberis met a tragic end, whilst in the most
exposed positions on the entire front, during September and October,
Amedeo Giannotti, Romeo Pontoni and Cosmo Pirozzo met their ends. Among
the wounded were comrades Guiseppe Raffalli from Montignoso, Giovannardi
from Parma and others whose names I cannot call to mind.

It was thanks to these comrades’ heroic sacrifice
that the positions were held and strengthened. The trench works
stretching from Huesca cemetery to the firing line on the right flank of
the city right up to trenches manned by Swiss machine-gunners and
beyond them by POUM units, were solid. The more exposed entrenchments on
the left flank, which took in the Castillo Malatesta observation post –
from where comrades Dino Paini and Attilio Scarsi were to keep a
patient and depressing watch for months on end – extended as far as Casa
Blanca, opening onto the lines of resistance at Cimilla, Huerrio and,
further back, Castillo Figueras and Tardienta, the Communists’ command
post required constant vigilance and, given the lack of automatic
weapons it was only the anarchists’ fighting spirit and daring that made
it effective.

Meanwhile in Paris the anarchists Cieri, Giglioli
and a few others were having to contend with the communists who were
dismissive of the anarchists’ efforts in Spain and playing down the
significance of the battle of Monte Pelado – which drew praise from the
world press and inspired antifascists to make for Spain (lots came from
America, among them Libero Battistelli as well as many anarchists) –
dismissing it as an inconsequential skirmish, whilst Jesus Hernandez,
the Communist Minister of education in the government of 4 September
1936 delivered a speech hostile to anarchists and anarchism, a speech
widely reprinted in the Communist press around the world.

Tension was thus high when Italian communists and
socialists summoned representatives of all antifascist currents,
including the anarchists, to a meeting in Paris to consider and decide
upon possible collective intervention in Spain by armed units under the
control of the parties and the aegis of the Popular Front. The
communists intended to set up an International Brigade to fight under
the colours of the republican government in Madrid and in their own
particular interest, with a rigidly hierarchical command structure and
even then dancing to the tune of a Moscow-prescribed foreign policy that
was as yet vague but in the process of being fleshed out within the
Communist Party.

It proved impossible for agreement to be achieved. Cianca and Venturi, on behalf of the Giustizia e Liberta
grouping, rejected the suggestion; Antonio Cieri and Rivoluzio
Giglioli, on the anarchists’ behalf, vehemently objected to it, arguing
that the meeting had heard the Catalan revolution and its dead being
insulted and that the intention was to humiliate the anarchists. They
stormed out, slamming the door behind them.

October 1936

Unlike Carlo Rosselli and Mario Angeloni, Randolfo
Pacciardi had not thrown in his lot with the expedition to Spain. He
was in Metz, perhaps waiting for someone to arrive to invite him to join
in with the venture. That person turned up in the form of Romano
Cocchi, who was at that time a real bigwig among the Italian communists
abroad, and Cocchi managed to talk Pacciardi into assuming command of
the planned unit that would later be known as the Garibaldi Battalion.

Pacciardi had no problems with abiding by the
policy of a republican government, but for the communists, having a
republican in command of a fighting unit made up mainly of communists
signified their absolute obedience to the prescriptions of the Comintern
which had changed its line, switching from a wait-and-see attitude to
events in Spain to a policy of direct intervention, under cover of the
formula of Popular Front, devised for the defence of the Spanish
Republic and its government.

Thus communists and socialists converged on
Albacete where the first battalions of the International Brigades were
organised, but it was only around 28 October that the Garibaldi
Battalion was formed, by which time the Italian anarchists and their
friends had already suffered dozens of fatalities and wounded, and
Spanish anarchism had been horribly decimated in combat due to their
having unselfishly and courageously taken the lead in the fighting.

The International Brigades were the first deployed
on the Madrid front towards the end of November, three months after the
battle of Monte Pelado, and we would do well to take note of this fact
so that comrades may enlighten the ignorant and refute the nonsense of
those who, seeking to slander the anarchists, would like to brag about
their having been the first to rally to the defence of the Spanish people.

But it was not only in the action on the front
that the Italian anarchists took part. They were also employed in more
delicate tasks and were especially entrusted with special missions
requiring particular temperament, talent, courage and a sense of
responsibility. In all such important and delicate tasks the Italian
anarchists distinguished themselves and on occasion the success of a
military operation, an arms deal, or the organisation of a branch of
production, etc., was dependent upon them. The moving spirit behind all
this joint activity with the Spanish comrades was Camillo Berneri; he
was everywhere, tireless, courageous, thoughtful, living through and for
the revolution. To those of us who knew him already, he revealed a new
side, being transfigured and moving nonchalantly and dynamically through
those unstable, complicated surroundings, listening, probing and
answering everybody precisely, clear about what he knew, having long
mulled over every problem as if it were and old acquaintance of his,
when others were encountering it for the very first time.

Camillo Berneri was a born revolutionary who
matched a practicality seeking to make optimum use of the movement’s
strengths and intelligence with the patience of a teacher drawing
friendship and agreement from those all about him, and with the delicate
sensibilities of a consistent, fair-minded anarchist of deep
convictions; a rock of granite unscathed by the passage of muddy waters.

For us, Berneri was anarchism incarnate. We could
see in him the poetry of a Pietro Gori, the intransigence of a Luigi
Galleani, the perspicacity and action of an Errico Malatesta. This
philosopher was an anthology of forty years of militant anarchism and he
offered it all the Spanish revolution with such simplicity and
clear-sightedness that everyone, anarchists and non-anarchists alike,
could not but be dumbfounded. He was the safe guide and ever blooming
flowers of our activities on the front and in the rear alike. He would
be a priceless mentor to us today. We do not mourn for ourselves but for
his untimely demise.

November 1936

From France, from America and elsewhere, fresh
recruits arrived. Rivoluzio Giglioli and Antonio Cieri joined our ranks.
Giglioli, precise, cultivated, used to work on building sites, did not
stay with us in the Column but made direct contact with the Spanish
command and successfully put together a company of sappers, made up
almost entirely of Spaniards and vital in that rough terrain. Just as
soon as the had been trained in fortification work, Giglioli and his
magnificent men used to follow in the wake of the fighting, and as soon
as the fighting men had taken a position, they quickly rendered it
virtually impregnable.

Cieri did join our column. Daring, dauntless,
lively, he was soon in charge of a company of ‘grenadiers’ whose
function resembled those of the commandos in army units.

Madrid was under threat from the fascist noose.
Durruti had set off with a few thousand anarchists and did much to put
steel into the resistance of the population of Madrid. Everybody was
flat out in pursuit of the same goal; Madrid had to be freed from the
coils of death; the fascists must not pass. We too wanted to do our bit
for the martyred city.

The Aragon front extended over a distance of 140
kilometres. Our plan was to shorten and take the pressure off that front
by means of an operation that would enable us to focus all our strength
upon the liberation of Zaragoza. Once our forces had mustered around
Zaragoza and recaptured the city, we intended to press on with the
attack against Navarre and link up with the militias in Bilbao and
Santander fighting on the Northern front. Having committed his best
troops against Madrid, the enemy had left Aragon to weakened and second
rate units. Our offensive, if mounted quickly and with the element of
surprise, would have forced the fascists to dispatch reinforcements to
Aragon and withdraw troops from other fronts or from the main army
besieging Madrid.

On 18 November we captured someone coming from
Almudevar. Under questioning he stated that the troops concentrated in
the town did not number more than 3000.

In addition to being Ascaso’s birthplace and thus
something of a symbol for our Column which bore the Ascaso name,
Almudevar was an important strategic point, a centre of road and rail
connections of the first importance. Its capture would have allowed us
to break the fascists’ connections between Zaragoza and Huesca, both of
which were besieged by militias. The push involved a rapid flurry of
battles in Huesca, Zaragoza and Jaca, with Almudevar as the umbilical
cord and it would have stamped out any focus of resistance and freed
that front completely. We had a hard time getting a decision out of the
Spanish command who only gave in to the insistence of Domingo Ascaso,
abetted by Bifolchi and Rosselli. But they wanted the operation to be
confined to Almudevar alone.

The attack on Almudevar was planned as follows:
Bifolchi was to attack along the right flank of the town with support
from one battery, which then moved around all over the place thus
deserving its nickname of the ‘ghost battery’: Rosselli who had been
entrusted with the overall command, along with Canzi, Cieri and
Battistelli (who was in charge of a second battery) were to press
forward through the centre: Cristobal Garcia, a Spanish anarchist, was
to push forward along the left flank via Granja del Cuervo towards
Tardienta, from where we expected reinforcements in the shape of a
thousand men from the ‘Karl Marx’ Division, as promised by the communist
Del Barrio.

The men on the right flank made a lightning
assault and soon reached the outlying houses of Almudevar, whilst the
forces in the centre, moving up in a wave formation in support of
progress made on the flanks, snatched six kilometres of territory lying
beyond Monte FAI and Monte Capri. We awaited the signal that would let
us know that Santa Citeria, a fort overlooking Tardienta and in
possession of the fascists, had been taken, before moving up along the
left flank, but that signal never came and Del Barrio’s men never
arrived. We later learned that the communists had misled us with their
promise of a thousand men, who they had decided not to send, since such
reinforcement would have assured success and boosted the anarchists’
prestige, when they really wanted to see them discredited.

Batistelli’s battery, having loosed off a few
shells at the start of the attack, then fell silent for a while, having
run out of shells and explosive charges. The fighting dragged on for
three hours which were spent vainly waiting for reinforcements that
never came, and during this time the fascists had time to muster in
Almudevar substantial reinforcements of their own brought in from Huesca
and Zaragoza. The fascists’ superiority was due primarily to the fact
that they outgunned us, and to our being obliged to fight on two flanks
only, with our left flank wide open to the danger of a sudden
outflanking manoeuvre. We had no choice but to fall back and the
operation, which had cost us only two wounded in the attack phase, cost
us thirty dead and lots of wounded in the retreat phase.

The dead included our anarchist comrades Natale
Cozzucoli, Luigi Crisai, Vittorio Golinelli, Guiseppe Livolsi, Filippo
Pagani, Corrado Silvestrini and the French anarchist Andre Couderay.
Among the many wounded was comrade Vincenzo Mazzone from Messina.

Guiseppe Bifolchi had proved that he was possessed
of undeniable technical expertise, sangfroid and splendid courage.
Antonio Cieri, who had rashly risked his neck a lot in the fighting with
sorties alongside his ‘grenadiers’ in the direction of Alcala de
Gubierre, found himself surrounded by Moorish troops but managed to
extricate himself and make his way back to our lines.

The positions captured on Monte FAI and Monte
Capri proved excellent as they brought the highway within range of our
machine-guns. But the hostility of the communists who had not shrunk
from treachery, and the short-sightedness of the Catalan military
command, anger at the aborting of the operation merely because of
inadequate armaments, disgusted everybody.

December 1936

The nerve-fraying days of positional warfare now
began. Our sector of the front looked like it had been completely
abandoned. Whilst courage is required in battle, we revolutionaries,
raring to go, needed even greater psychological courage to endure trench
life without moan or complaint, through the mud and the ice of
mid-winter, in temperatures sometimes twenty degrees below zero, in
dugouts awash with rainwater. By night we did sentry duty numbed by the
cold and snatched some rest on straw bedding in foxholes in Casa Blanca,
in graves in Huesca cemetery and beneath tattered canvas. A dog’s life!

We endured it with patient stoicism because,
realising where our duty lay, we knew that for the first time anarchism
had a chance to demonstrate its constructive potential and we felt in
one sense as if we were the forward sentries of the social advances
being made through the Spanish revolution.

The aftermath of the failure to take Almudevar
made deep inroads into our morale and into the very life of our Column.
We found ourselves consigned to idleness, isolation, sacrifices. Those
comrades who still had huge reserves of enthusiasm and the younger ones
chafed at the prospect of protracted inactivity along the front. Cieri,
the Perissino brothers, Tommaso Serra, Vindice Rabitti, Gigi Evangelisti
and lots of others burned with a sacred thirst for action and, more
than anything else, cursed the higher ups.

I remember one very heated meeting held in the
Castillo Malatesta in the presence of Berneri. It went on for nearly 24
hours and in the course of it a lot of things were made clear, light was
shed on where a lot of the blame lay, and the situation was weighed up
in a dispassionate and practical way. Among the comrades assembled
there, there were some who had been in the trenches since August, living
amid rats, hardships and lice, careless of the sores afflicting their
bodies (often the products of dysentery, blood poisoning and other
commonplace trench ailments). They had fought in every one of the
battles along that front and had absolutely no intention of kicking
their heels and rotting in the trenches.

The Giustizia e Liberta personnel had
virtually all gone back to Barcelona or to France. The column had turned
into an anarchist unit for the most part. A decision had to be made
regarding the command of the Column vis a vis the Catalan government and
the army command.

We all had the highest regard for men like Rosselli and Battistelli and the assertion made by Aldo Garosci in his book The Life of Rosselli
which depicts me as hostile to Carlo Rosselli falls short of the truth.
I was a friend of Carlo and we had been close since Paris. Our views
were not the same and we started from different bases to arrive at what
were often different conclusions, but the actual achievements of the
Spanish anarchists drew him closer to the precepts of Proudhon and
Bakunin for whom he had a great affection, and strengthened the bonds of
our friendship. We had no reason to feel hostile towards him and the
reasons that induced us to request him to give up the command were of a
very different sort.

Rosselli was a politician and as such had too many irons in the fire at the same time: there was his newspaper in Paris, his Giustizia e Liberta
movement, his dealings with foreign personalities for the purpose of
ensuring shipments of equipment, technicians, arms – he had become a
plenipotentiary of the Catalan government in certain matters – plus the
military command off the Column. At the front things worked out
practically like this: he was the nominal commander, whilst Giuseppe
Bifolchi our comrade took effective command of the Column. The abortive
attack on Almudevar had exposed this deplorable shortcoming.

We agreed at the meeting in question that the
Column could not go on waging war against the fascists with a commander
accredited to the high command and the Catalan government but
continually absent from the theatre of operations, and another commander
who in effect did have the duty to see the Column’s requirements and
deployment of its equipment and manpower for manoeuvres, and who was
hampered in his every move because he was not formally recognised by the
Catalan government and military command. The dilemma was this: either
Rosselli stayed with the Column and thus gave up his political activity,
or he passed the command over to Bifolchi.

Delegated by the assembly for this purpose along
with other comrades, I tackled Rosselli who was then convalescing in the
Swiss ambulance on the front from phlebitis that was causing him agony
and keeping him bedridden, to pass on the decision we had reached.
Rosselli readily understood the arguments we put forward and, in
agreement with Battistelli who stuck with us to the very end, he
submitted his resignation and expressed himself satisfied that we were
replacing him with a man of the worth and competence of Giuseppe
Bifolchi whom he honestly considered a friend.

We had to refer to the CNT-FAI Regional Committee
and take steps to have Bifolchi confirmed as commander of the Column in
replacement of Rosselli. Not taking time out to rest, we set off for
Castillo Angiolillo at three in the morning. Berneri, Bifolchi, Russo
(who was a captain with a POUM unit who had asked us to do him the
favour of driving him to Barcelona) and I in Rosselli’s car, driven by
Equo Giglioli, brother of Rivoluzio Giglioli (he was killed on the front
on 20 May 1937). On account of acute conjunctivitis contracted during
the push against Almudevar, my eye was giving me pain and after we
passed through Lerida I was sitting quietly while the others dozed after
the conversation died down. Giglioli was driving and said nothing and
inevitably, worn out, he skidded off the Lerida to Tarragona highway and
we found ourselves coming to rest in the car which had shot between two
trees along the side of the road, on the right hand side of a newly
planted field. This came as a rude shock and the first one to appreciate
our position was Berneri, whose head had burst through the canvas roof
and framework leaving him with head and face slightly scratched.
Bifolchi had a swollen eye and Russo was complaining about his right
arm: the worst injured was Giglioli who had sustained a long, deep gash
to the ridge of his eyebrows, whilst I was unscathed. We climbed out of
the car, got Giglioli to hospital in Tarragona and then journeyed on to
Barcelona by train.

There we were assured that an offensive on the
Aragon front was being prepared. We left full of hope and let our
comrades know that we would be very shortly in action ourselves.

The night of 31 December found men of every
nationality and persuasion together as brothers at a supper laid on by
Spanish anarchists and federalists in the ‘mess’ at Castillo Angiolillo
and we made speeches in praise of victory and international solidarity.

Meanwhile the Spanish newspapers reported that our
comrades Gino Bibbi, Giovanni Fontana and Umberto Tommasini had been
arrested in Valencia on charges of having sold arms for the Aragon front.

January, February, March 1937

The three Italian anarchists arrested in Valencia
had been arrested, not by the State police acting on the orders of the
central government but rather by a special party police who, with very
definite collusion, handed them over to ‘Police Headquarters’ as
counter-revolutionaries, and as such they spent a number of weeks in
prison. Objections from anarchists turned into a widespread protest
campaign by the press, the unions and military units that their arrest
was robbing them of precious help, without which a number of military
operations would of necessity have to be postponed and re-evaluated. The
Defence Minister, Prieto, had to intervene in person to secure their release.

Our comrades had been carrying the usual papers
plus special safe conducts issued by the Defence Ministry and Prieto
himself, to assist them in mounting delicate sabotage operations against
the fascist enemy, plus spectacular missions that only an engineer and
aviator like Bibbi and experts like Fontana and Tommasini could have
performed in the port. But the Bolsheviks had got wind of this and such
was the influence they wielded over officials and institutions that the
government and its ministers were powerless against them and the
comrades’ documents, whose authenticity was incontrovertible, were
called into question or downright invalidated.

Once freed, our comrades had to give the slip to a
manhunt mounted and organised by the Bolsheviks. This episode, together
with a lot of others, provides a small taste of the tyrannical nature
of certain methods and how mighty an influence the Communist Party had
come to wield in the most sensitive areas of government and war policy
with its interference.

The situation on the Aragon front remained one of ‘no change’.

Among us there was a contingent of Swiss fighters,
machine-gunners and medics, who deserve mention and praise. The medics
ran the field hospital expertly and unselfishly (we used to refer to it
as the Swiss ambulance) from its location midway between the Castillo
Angiolillo and Huesca cemetery, on the national highway. It was overseen
by a professor, a very talented and, in his own country, rather
celebrated surgeon. Extremely likeable, modest and mild mannered, he
regarded science as a calling and had rushed out to Spain to do his
humane duty. He was surrounded by conscientious physicians who made no
secret of their sympathies with Russia and the Bolshevik party.

Our beloved professor had a special fondness for
us Italian anarchists and he soon revealed the way his mind had begun to
work by enthusiastically announcing that he was an anarchist, which we
made sure to celebrate in the austere privacy of his quarters. It was on
that occasion that he overcame his fear and told us about the petty
intrigues of his colleagues, their repeated attempts to recruit him and
the meanness and petty hatreds they had come to direct at him once they
realised that he was prompted by quite different feelings.

I came across him after the May events, wandering
the streets of Barcelona, of no use to himself or anybody else, at a
time when there was a dire need for surgeons and doctors in the
hospitals. He wanted to go back to Switzerland but a court in his home
town had sentenced him to a six month term of imprisonment for having
left the country irregularly at a time when Switzerland was not issuing
passports to doctors it suspected might wind up in Spain. The Negrin
government had ostracised this scientist, who had carried out operations
regarded as nothing short of miraculous, simply because his colleagues
at the Swiss Ambulance had made him suspect in the eyes of the Spanish
Communist Party.

The watchword was ‘hang on’ and for three months
we held on to the Huesca front amid unprecedented hardship, impatience
and fretfulness on the part of men who had come there to fight, ready to
accept even death provided it might help the thing that had spurred
them into action. The comrades found it hard to tolerate that daily
repetition of the same old chorus, the tiresome work with pick and
shovel expended on building up and knocking down again, the presence in
the besieged city of Huesca of an enemy that we just knew was vulnerable
and within range had we but had the wherewithal to mount an offensive.
That sense of abandonment and isolation that gripped the throat, frayed
the nerves and soured the mind, turning men from rational beings into
crotchety, overbearing ones with no sense of fair play. The suffering we
endured over those three long months on our stretch of front cannot be
appreciated by anyone who did not experience it. There were comrades
there who plotted virtual suicide missions: others who mounted coups de
main of addle-minded rashness, driven by the need to ‘stretch one’s
legs’. Three months in the depths of winter, in the foothills of the
Pyrenees, at the mercy of the elements: three months with no action,
defensive or offensive, were truly unbearable.

The younger ones chafed at the bit. Among those
most determined to break the monotony were Cieri, the Perissino
brothers, Gigi Evangelisti, Bernardini and others of tried and tested daring.

In Barcelona, comrade Attilio Bulzamini died.

April 1937

Into the rising tide of resentment and malaise
fell the command’s response to our insistent and repeated requests for
action. But there was talk of a group of volunteers from the Column
taking part in an operation on the slopes facing our positions as the
prelude to a push against long held and solidly entrenched enemy positions.

The operation appeared to offer little assurance
of success and back-up, leaving Bifolchi sceptical whilst the more
hot-headed reckoned that the objective might well be attainable given
sufficient daring and speed: essentially, both views were correct.

I was to have taken part in the sortie, but I was
taken into hospital in Barbastro with an untimely deterioration in the
condition of my right eye, a bad dose of conjunctivitis contracted in
the action at Almudevar, on the very eve of the departure of the
expeditionary group for Apies aboard two lorries, under the command of
Antonio Cieri and Aldo Perissino.

Tommaso Serra, a splendid Sardinian comrade who
was all faith and kindness, who came to look me up in hospital in
Barbastro a few days after the action, brought me up to date with the
fate of that intrepid expedition with its countless attendant acts of daring.

The action started on the night of 7-8 April.
After a lot of mishaps and setbacks, by dawn on 8 April our people had
reached the woodland at Apies and had hidden behind the trees and
shrubbery there from the eyes of the enemy who were posted on the hills
opposite. The position was scarcely the best and as any moment they
might be spotted and encircled, or lose contact with the other units,
the nearest of which was the P. Kropotkin battalion made up of anarchist
youth, which was later to be decimated by fascist aircraft.

The Spanish command spoke up. Bernadini, a comrade
from Trieste who had a marvellous command of Spanish, translated. The
position opposite had to be taken and the machine-guns blazing away from
a farmstead known as the Casa Becha located on the brow of the hill had
to be taken out. Our people insisted that they should wait until
nightfall, when, under cover of the darkness they could have taken the
position with a surprise flanking attack and that crossing the 500
metres of open ground between the woods and the hill was certain
suicide. But there was no listening to reason: the command gave the
orders and they had to advance.

And so our people did advance, with the automatic
rifles in front and riflemen along the flanks. They were met by an
initial burst of enemy gunfire that seriously wounded Gigi Evangelisti
(Gigi the Handsome as we used to call him) as he emerged from cover.
Another brave young comrade, Luigi Trapasso (Orsetto or Little Bear)
died in the attempt.

Casa Becha was taken, and the operation passed off
successfully with a few dead and a lot of courage: it was an action
worthy of commandos and revolutionaries.

Some comrades had dropped from the roof into the
farmhouse which was still occupied by a few fascists, and it was in the
course of this that Aldo Perissino was wounded in the leg. Unable to
stanch the bleeding, the wounded Perissino was evacuated to the first
aid post in Apies. That was the last we ever saw of him. We searched for
him, his brother Corrado and I – some days after calm was restored – to
no avail, traipsing from hospital to hospital along the route to
Barcelona and back again. The only plausible explanation for his
disappearance was that the wounded man and his stretcher bearers had
been caught in a bomb explosion and been killed.

Aldo Perissino was the third-born of three
brothers and one sister, all of them anarchists. Offspring of a very
talented and exquisitely sensitive painter, they switched from a
comfortable existence in their unforgettable Venice home to a life of
toil and privation in Paris, where they had been forced to flee due to
harassment by fascists who especially targeted the second-born and most
pugnacious of the four, Mario.

Tall, sturdy and highly intelligent, Aldo had been
passionate and thoughtful by nature. He had embraced our ideas with
enthusiasm and conviction: he was one of the best hopes of our movement.
He had conducted himself heroically in the operation, with superior
judgement and generosity: he was able to exhort, comfort, reason and
make decisions. He was a man of action, a born revolutionary.

That night while inspecting the captured position
to ensure that all was as it should be, Antonio Cieri was struck in the
temple by a rifle bullet fired from an adjacent enemy-held hill and was
killed instantly. A native of Vasto, Cieri had embraced anarchism at a
very early age. By nature exuberant, daring and resolute, he had taken
part in the defence of Parma against Italo Balbo’s fascist hordes
alongside the arditi del popolo (people’s commandos) and together
with Guido Picelli made an effective contribution to the resistance
offered from the fortress that the old Parma across the river had
become, resistance that compelled the fascists to beat a retreat as
happened in Sarzana in July 1921. The people of Parma still remember
that fair-haired youth who flitted from group to group offering
encouragement, and those adults whom I had occasion to meet in Parma
after the Liberation still spoke of him with emotion and affection as if
he was a fellow townsman of theirs.

In Cieri and Perissino we lost two priceless
assets to our movement and our idea alike, as well as to the
revolutionary struggle in Spain. They belonged to that breed of militant
who had seen it all: struggle, misery, imprisonment, exile, and yet
they remained more firmly wedded to anarchism than ever, making their
own contributions to the cause whose very existence was increasingly in
jeopardy, beset as it was by dangers and snares, we militants sensible
to the ever growing burden they have to bear with every one of our
number whose body is returned to mother earth.

It proved impossible to hold the positions
captured in this operation. The fascist counter-offensive was murderous
in the extreme. Spectacular numbers of tanks and aircraft fell upon men
bereft of motorised transport, who put up heroic but atrociously
inadequate resistance. The loyalist troops had to beat the retreat and
Casa Becha also was abandoned.

Our Italian and Spanish comrades fought like
demons, making astute use of the tiniest crease in the terrain,
dispersing guerrilla-like to deny the enemy an overly visible target,
desperately but with a magnificent spirit of solidarity heightened by
danger and death. Other Italian anarchists perished in this tremendous
combat: Angiolino Brignani, Vittorio Ortore, Raffaele Morote, Giuseppe
Pesel, Carlo Poli, Raffaele Serra: among the wounded were Bernardini
from Trento and others whose names I cannot recall. After a short stay
in Barbastro hospital, the survivors, exhausted, lacerated and in pain,
grieving for the loss of so many colleagues, set off on the journey back
to Barcelona, where, on 25 April, by arrangement with the Spanish
command they were joined by the remainder of the Column which had stayed
behind on the Vicien front, together with Bifolchi, Canzi and Battistelli.

Our comrades had seven consecutive months of
front-line service under their belt: a complete summer and winter. No
further demands could be made of a man’s physical resources: many of us
had lost several kilos in weight, to the great annoyance of our cook at
Castillo Malatesta, Marcello Bianconi, a jovial two hundred kilos plus.

But, for the sake of the truth, it has to be
emphasised that it was not so much the failures at Almudevar and Apies
that determined the Column’s return to Barcelona, as the damned
inactivity of the Huesca front, contrived by the central government and
the Bolsheviks, whose sole preoccupation was with trying to undermine
the anarchists’ prestige by doing each and every thing they could, no
matter how low, to place obstacles in their way, plus the campaign in
favour of militarisation of the militias and their absorption into the
regular army, which was being stepped up and issuing threats against
those who failed to comply.

We had travelled to Spain with very clear aims in
mind, and although we were antifascists we intended to remain
antifascist revolutionaries and anarchists. No trickery and no bullying
could have forced us into being the soldiers of a government, much less a
government that had let itself be taken over by, on the one side,
middle ranking bourgeois like the civil servants, professionals,
businessmen and smallholders won over to the Communist Party by its
formula of a broader Popular Front, and on the other by the Bolsheviks
who brought shameless pressures to bear on the government, using Russian
arms shipments as leverage.

In Barcelona, the comrades were billeted as best
they could manage: some at the Spartacus barracks, some with the
Malatesta group, Squadrini, back from a long stint on the Aragon front
despite his years and ailments with the family of Girotti (wounded on
the Huesca front), some in the Calle Muntaner, some with comrades like
Gialluca and dear Maria who gave of their best in Barcelona’s
collectivised industries from the earliest days of the struggle right up
to the exodus at the end of it. Berneri and Barbieri, Mastrodicasa and
Fantozzi, Fosca Corsinovi and Tosca Tantini occupied a first floor
apartment at No 2, Plaza del Angel, at the intersection with the Via Layetana.

As can be seen, the comrades were scattered all
over the place and the only liaison point was the USI (Italian
Syndicalist Union) branch that occupied two small rooms in the CNT’s
premises: Celso Persici, Domenico Ludovici from Il Risveglio of Geneva, Virgilio Ghozzoli who edited Guerra di Classe
along with Camillo Berneri looked after these rooms and they all saw to
propaganda and liaison with the international anarchist movement.

We had a long and stormy meeting at the Malatesta
group and a variety of schemes and plans were ventilated by the
comrades. Some would gladly have seen the anarchists enlist with the
Garibaldi battalion commanded by Pacciardi, which was preparing an
operation on the Huesca front (this later turned out to be the battle of
Cimilla, mentioned by Fausto Nitti in The Major is a Red which
probes the battalion), even if for that operation only – Battistelli,
Canzi, Mariotti and a few others had already transferred to it: others
argued, first, that the intention was to disgrace the anarchists by
mounting an operation on that front at the very moment when the Column
had been obliged to return to Barcelona by the pigheadedness of the
Spanish command in refusing to accede to our demand for action on the
front, and, secondly, that if the command withheld permission for the
Column to be reorganised as a politically independent free corps in a
position to operate with complete freedom of movement, engage in coups
de main and marginal operations that would simultaneously have enabled
it to retain its combat and revolutionary vocations, then the best thing
was for each of us to reclaim his personal freedom, and make ourselves
useful in some anarchist collective or wherever he judged best.

On 3 May Camillo Berneri made a radio broadcast in
commemoration of Antonio Gramsci, paying tribute to him in a speech in a
moving spirit of brotherhood as an antifascist who had perished in the
hands of the enemy, a cultivated man and a political adversary.

That was the position and the climate prevailing in Barcelona when the incidents in Barcelona burst unexpectedly upon us.

May 1937

The attitude of the Communists had come up for
consideration at the meting of Italian anarchists in the Malatesta
group’s hall. A decision had been made that we would keep in as close a
contact with one another as we could, and, in the event of direct threat
to our persons, would muster at the Italian Section of the CNT Defence
Committee and at the Spartacus barracks. But it was hard to put this
decision into practice, given the speed at which things moved, for they
caught every anarchist in Barcelona unawares, Domingo Ascaso included,
though he was usually so well informed: he was treacherously murdered in
Gracias, smack dab in the middle of Barcelona, whilst getting out of
his car.

In the early hours of the afternoon of 3 May, two
lorry loads of Civil Guards drew up outside the premises of the
Telephone Exchange in the Plaza de Cataluña. Simultaneously, substantial
numbers of Guards on foot and armed groups from the PSUC (Unified
Socialist Party of Catalonia – communists) took over the buildings
adjacent to the Exchange and all the strategic points in the city.

Since 19 July 1936 the Exchange had been converted
from a privately owned company to a collectivised industry run by the
CNT, with support from grassroots members of the UGT. The government had
decreed a state take-over of the economy, at the instigation of the
communists who hoped to take the government over politically once the
Catalan economy had been wrested from the control of the unions. For
some time the government and the communists alike had been seeking to
introduce state capitalism, or, at least a restoration of private
capitalism: this, they reckoned, would win them the sympathy and perhaps
the support of capitalist governments in Britain and France, luring
them out of their ‘non-intervention’. They had vented their spleen on
the libertarian collectives, targeted the anarchists with their physical
hatred and declared open war on the FAI and the CNT.

The storming of the Telephone Exchange was the
first essay at a communist coup d’etat, to be followed up by steps in
the process of political and tactical take-over that would leave the
Spanish Communist Party master of the situation and Russian Bolshevik
agents the arbiters of Spanish foreign policy. We thought that that was
the plan laid down by Stalin, and facts later confirmed that, just as we
were preparing to resist it.

The attempt to seize the Telephone Exchange
building was repulsed by the workforce there. With the extraordinary
speed of an emancipated and naturally revolutionary people, the populace
retaliated. It was instantly able to identify the culprits and asked
for the dismissal and arraignment before a people’s court of Rodriguez
Salas, the commissar-general of Public Order, off Aiguade, the Minister
of Health, Joan Comorera, the commissar in charge of Supply
(provisions)… all three of them known communists of the PSUC, of which
Comorera was in fact the general secretary.

Everywhere the workers threw up barricades. Our
comrades stayed where they were when events overtook them and were
unable to move around at all. Most of them were concentrated along with a
few weapons in the Spartacus barracks and at the Defence Committee
offices, where Bifolchi was. Zambonini, the brave comrade who was to be
shot in Italy by the Germans, was at the Foodworkers’ Union along with a
lot of others – he sustained serious facial injuries there. Angelo
Buschi was at the Metalworkers’ Union, some others were at the Textile
Workers’ Union in the Plaza de Cataluña, whilst I was at the Defence
Committee in the Plaza de España along with Corrado Perissino, Emanuele
Granata and Verde (an Argentinian).

The toll in those days of horror which lasted from
3 to 7 May was 500 dead, and upwards of 1400 wounded, almost all of
them members of the anarchist movement and the CNT-affiliated unions.

Camillo Berneri was murdered on the night of 5-6
May and his body was recovered by the Red Cross from the land between
the right hand side of the Plaza del Angel (where he had been living)
and the Plaza de la Generalidad, parallel to the Calle Roland. Francesco
Barbieri, arrested by the very same killers dressed as police
personnel, was found dead in the Rambla de las Flores. We – Canzi, Fosca
Corsinovi, Vincenzo Mazzone and I – identified both bodies on the
morning of 6 May at the Clinical Hospital.

The murder of our comrades bore all the hallmarks
of political assassination and it was not hard to identify the political
movement to which the perpetrators belonged, since they were the same
people who had murdered Domingo Ascaso, Jean Ferrand (the grandson of
Francisco Ferrer), the POUM secretary Andreu Nin, the Austrian
revolutionary Kurt Landau, Marc Rhein (the son of Raphael Rhein
Abramovich of the Executive Commission of the Second International) and
Hans Beimler, the one-time German communist deputy.

Other Italians had been murdered for belonging to
the Italian Column and other FAI and CNT combat units: Adriano Ferrari,
Lorenzo Perretti and Pietro Marcon, who were buried in the same cemetery
and alongside Camillo Berneri and Francesco Barbieri.

On 20 May Rivoluzio Giglioli died at Carascal No
2, at the position known as Torraza. Whilst his company of Sappers was
fortifying the position, he broke cover and was hit in the lower stomach
by a bullet that ripped through his intestines. Rushed to hospital in
Barcelona, he died under care there, content to die for the cause for
which he had given his all, from his childhood in Modena through to his
time of exile. Giglioli’s death in 1937 brought to a close the long list
of Italian anarchists who perished in idealistic affirmation of
international solidarity and for the liberation of the Spanish people.

Lots of anarchists stayed in Spain right to the
end of the hostilities, the defeat and the massive exodus from the
country. Lots of Italian anarchists too were jailed, thrown in prison
without ever being given a reason for their detention: many of those who
enlisted with the Spanish anarchist formations suffered that fate: lots
stayed with the agricultural or industrial collectives right up to
their dismantling by violence.

The Italian anarchists’ contribution to the
Spanish revolutionary experiment was wholehearted, unselfish and
sincere: a veritable poem of generosity, fraternal solidarity, audacity,
consistency of ideals and sublime resolution, which had its sequel in
the liberation struggle in Italy.

Umberto Marzocchi

Epilogue: the death of Berneri

On 1 May (1937) I was not in Barcelona but in
Albero Bajo where the 26th Division had its command headquarters.
(Returning to Barcelona) I went to Sans to the Defence Committee run by
Giovanni Verde, an Italian comrade who had lived in Argentina. I was his
guest and quickly rushed to the phone, making calls here and there, but
no one could give me any news of Berneri, until I had a call from Canzi
after a couple of days. He told me: “I’ve been told that Berneri had
been killed and that the corpse can be found at the morgue at the
Policlinico hospital”. So we arranged to meet up and we went to the
hospital, Canzi, Fosca Corsinovi (Barbieri’s partner), Vincenzo Mazzone
from Messina and myself. At the Policlinico there were at least 400
bodies. We started to sort through the drawers… and I heard Corsinovi
faint. She had recognised Camillo’s socks, because she had done his darning.

Then came the funeral. Berneri’s funeral
procession followed an itinerary set by the Generalidad. Now this was a
funeral for five, not for two, because Berneri and Barbieri had been
joined by Ferrari and by someone else whose name escapes me just at the
moment (it was De Pedretti- editor’s note) who had been killed because
they were wearing black and red neckerchiefs with ‘FAI’ written on them.
We wanted our own itinerary and not the one set by the government and
above all we wanted to march, especially past the Hotel Colon, which was
the Russians’ headquarters in the Plaza de Cataluña; and we did. At the
head of the procession there were a hundred flags, all the unions, all
the groups, followed by five tanks and behind the tanks a hundred
anarchists from the MIR, the Revolutionary Investigation Movement,
complete with their Mausers, and then the crowds. I marched in front
with the Italian flag [the Italian anarchists’ flag, that is – editor’s
note] and when we drew parallel with the Hotel Colon I waved the flag
and all the other hundred flags waved, with their flagpoles pointed
towards the hotel. This was a provocative act and our belief was, well,
that they would respond to the challenge. But no, not a thing. They
stood to attention and saluted.

UMBERTO MARZOCCHI – Notes on his life

1900 – Umberto Marzocchi born in Florence on 10 October: his parents are from Livorno.

1917 – As a labourer working for Vickers-Terni at
the naval dockyard in La Spezia he attends night classes at the Arts and
Crafts School. With a number of anarchists excused front line service
he refloats the Metalworkers’ Union affiliated to the USI and serves as
its secretary. Along with a number of very young people he was active in
all of the agitation and strikes at the end of the war (in November 1918).

1919 – The anarchist movement in La Spezia is
resurrected (ithere are 30 groups scattered along the bay from Cinque
Terre to Arcola). The newspaper Il Libertario is resurrected and
run by Pasquale Binazzi on his return from internment in Lipari. On 16
June there is rioting in La Speia against the cost of living: the police
open fire, killing 2 workers and wounding 25. Marzocchi serves on the
campaign committee. He is arrested and jailed in Sarzana but acquitted
in court and freed after 54 days in custody. The court in Chiavari
sentences him to six months in jail for “incitement to class hatred” for
a speech he made to an anti-government protest rally, after some early
fascists threw a bomb at a workers’ procession in Milan killing one and
wounding a number of others.

1920 – There is an attempt at revolution in the
garrison town of La Spezia. On 3 June there is a raid on the Val di
Locchi arsenal; a number of sailors are involved and there is a mutiny
on board the destroyer Duilio, in which Marzocchi is involved.
Tried in his absence on 21 February 1921, he is acquitted. He plays an
active part in the factory seizures in La Spezia on 2 September.

1921 – After the fascists on the evening of 23 March smash the presses on which the daily Umanità Nova is produced in Milan, Il Libertario
becomes a weekly and Marzocchi joins the editorial team. But his
position becomes untenable: having escaped repeated provocations and
threats from the fascists, he flees to Savona. There he plays an active
part in the local anarchist group. He represents the Savona anarchists
on the Antifascist “Labour Alliance” Committee that backs the
antifascist general strike declared across the country on 3 August. on 8
August, fascists from all over Liguria and Piedmont descend on Savona
to punish the city for its antifascism. The town hall, where Marzocchi
is working, is seized and fascists from La Spezia hunt him down, meaning
to make him pay dearly for having organised the ‘Arditi del Popolo’ and
his participation alongside these arditi in the events in Sarzana on 21
July, in connection with which he was charged but acquitted in court.
With the help of colleagues, he manages to get away and flees to France
where he spends the next 23 years, enduring expulsion orders and
imprisonment, living under assumed names and up to his neck in all the
anarchist and antifascist struggles.

1936 – Along with Camillo Berneri, he serves in
the Francisco Ascaso Italian Column, part of the CNT-FAI militias on the
Aragon front in Spain.

1939 – After the defeat of the Republic in March,
he returns to France, fighting against the Nazi invasion and contacting
the French Resistance (FFI) in Toulouse. He works in the lead and zinc
mines in Sentin in the Ariege department, 2000 metres above sea level.
He spends two years there organising smuggling lines across the border.

1942 – He moves to St Girons and in 1944, his
mission in the city complete, he rejoins his partisan unit, the Bidon
5-Spanish Unit of the FFI, made up of anarchists and socialists. On 20
August 1944 his unit takes part in the liberation of St Girons, Rimont,
Pamier and the Le Vernet concentration camp – where German POWs replace
the freed antifascist inmates.

1944 – That October he carries a message of
support to the Iberian Anarchist Federation Congress [There was a
national plenum of regionals of the MLE in France held in Toulouse 5-13
October 1944 (maybe the FAI held a sub-meeting at the same time)] and
sets off with G. Leval and Mirande on a lecture tour on behalf of the
SIA (International Antifascist Solidarity).

1945 – Re-enters Italy (by irregular means, the
National Liberation Committee government having refused to withdraw the
immigration notice recording Marzocchi as an “anarchist to be arrested
on sight”) and resumes his propaganda work, writing for Il Libertario, Umanità Nova and Volontá and
touring Italy wherever called upon to give talks and hold rallies on
behalf of the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI), for which he handles
mostly international relations, in which position he is conformed by
every FAI congress. In accordance with the recommendations of the
Carrara Congress (15-19 September) he joins the Trade Union Defence
Groups and up until 1955 – serves as secretary of the Savona Provincial
Local Government Employees’ Union.

1958 – Attends the International Anarchist congress in London as the delegate from the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI).

1968 – FAI delegate at the
foundation congress of the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA)
held in Carrara from 31 August to 5 September. He debated against Daniel Cohn-Bendit at the congress

1969 – In the wake of the State massacres [The
bombings in Milan and Rome carried out by fascists linked to the Italian
security service as part of the ‘Strategy of Tension’], he is subjected
to searches by the police, like lots of anarchist comrades.

1971 – The IFA congress in
Paris entrusts the Liaison Commission of that International to the
Italian FAI. Marzocchi serves as its secretary, a post he holds up until 1983.

1977 – He is among the sponsors of the refloating
of the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI) and the Italian League for
Unilateral Disarmament alongside Carlo Cassola and other anti-militarists.

1977 – He is arrested in Spain along with other
comrades at an international anarchist gathering to reloat the Spanish
FAI. After a few days he was freed and expelled from that country.

1982 – Addresses a rally in Livorno at the end of
the National Anti-Militarist Demonstration. The last public rally he
attends is one in Pisa to mark the unveiling of a monument to Franco
Serantini. [Anarchist militant killed in May 1972 by police defending a
fascist demonstration. He was severely beaten and denied medical
treatment which would have saved his life.] He also takes part in a TV
debate on the “War in Spain.”

1983 – At the Ancona Convention marking the 50th anniversary of Errico Malatesta’s death he reads a paper on “The lesson of Malatesta”.

From Umanità Nova (Livorno) 15 June 1986.

Other credentials of his:

One of the founders – with Malatesta and Luigi Fabbri – of the UAI (Italian Anarchist Union) in 1920.

Savona provincial president of the ANPIA (National
Association of Italian Antifascist Victims of Political Persecution),
provincial president of the ANPI (National Partisans Association of
Italy), national vice-president of the AICVAS ( Association of Italian
Antifascist Volunteer Fighters in Spain).

Note on the Text

The chronological account of the Italian Anarchists in the militias comes from Memorie Antologica in Ricordo di Camillo Berneri (Pistoia 1986) pp 54-80. The biographical note, introduction and the epilogue are taken from an article in Bollettino Archivio G. Pinelli No. 10 (December 1997) pp12-15. The notes on Marzocchi’s life are taken from Umanità Nova. All translation by Paul Sharkey for the Kate Sharpley Library

This is the full text of the second edition published by the Kate Sharpley Library http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/xgxf5b. The KSL collective are always happy to get donations from people who want to support the work they do.

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Comments

Auld-bod

9 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auld-bod on February 23, 2015

This may not be the best place to post this - however there is a mention of Italian anarchists helping a republican to escape into France in 1939.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/witness/all

Look for podcast: 'Fleeing the Spanish Civil War'. Mon, 26 Jan 2015, 9 minutes.

Kate Sharpley

8 years 12 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on March 6, 2015

Auld-bod, thanks for that. Of course, the anarchists brought a lot of people in the other direction, later on...