Berneri, Marie Louise, 1918-1949

Marie Louise Berneri
Marie Louise Berneri

Marie Louise Berneri was a leading member of the Freedom Group during the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, and until her early death.

Submitted by Ed on September 20, 2004

Marie Louise Berneri
Born 1 March 1918, Arezzo, Italy, died 13 April 1949, London.

British anarchism in the 1930s was far from being an active or even lively movement, despite the appearance of the Freedom Bulletin and Freedom (New Series). This changed only in the second half of the decade after, as Albert Meltzer once quite rightly pointed out, `Vernon Richards. .. started Spain and the World on his own, and with only very meagre support in the following years, made it the focal point for the revival of Freedom Press and the propagandist activity well known to... readers of Freedom'. Of that meagre support the most important contribution came from Marie Louise Berneri.

Maria Luisa Berneri was born on 1 March 1918 in Arezzo near Florence, the elder daughter of Camillo and Giovanna Berneri. Her father, originally a socialist, became an anarchist in the early 1920s, and was soon one of the best-known (and at times most controversial) intellectuals in the Italian anarchist movement. He was a teacher who after Mussolini's seizure of power in 1922. refused to accept the demands laid upon the teaching profession by the Fascists, and in 1926 he went into exile in France. In Paris his - and his family's - home soon became a centre of anti-Fascist activities, and his two daughters grew up in a highly politicised environment.

Adopting the French version of her name, Marie Louise obtained her baccalauréat and in the mid-1930s started to study psychology at the Sorbonne. She soon became involved in the anarchist movement and participated in the production of the short-lived paper Revision (with Luis Mercier Vega, alias S Parane, alias Ridel). At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War her father went to Spain and, after a short period of active fighting on the Aragon front, eventually took up residence in Barcelona in order to edit the Italian language paper Guerra di Classe, perhaps the most clear-sighted revolutionary anarchist paper to come out of the Spanish Revolution. Marie Louise went twice to Barcelona, the second time after her father's assassination by Communists in May 1937; subsequently she came to England, where she joined her companion Vernon Richards and spent the rest of her life. (They married to give her the protection of British nationality.) Her sister Giliane remained in France where she studied psychology and in the years after the War also became active in the anarchist movement. Their mother Giovanna, who during the 1920s and 1930s had become more and more involved in anti-Fascist activities and eventually the anarchist movement, was during the War arrested in France, interned for a while in the South of France, and then eventually handed over to the Italian authorities; she was imprisoned in Italy till the end of the War, and then after the Liberation became one of the most prominent and active anarchists in Italy.

From 1936 until her death twelve years later, every activity undertaken by Freedom Press was infused by Marie Louise Berneri's personality. Already in Paris she had been closely involved (with her father and Tom Keell) in the preparatory discussions and collecting of funds for Spain and the World, which Vernon Richards started in December 1936. After coming to England in 1937 she took an active part in the production of the paper-; and between February and June 1939 she took part in the attempt to provide some formal link for the anarchist movement by the production of Revolt!, the successor of Spain and the World (with Vernon Richards, Albert Meltzer, Tom Brown, Mr and Mrs Leach, and Sturgess). She also was one of the small group which started War Commentary in November 1939. Already knowing Italian, French and Spanish, she quickly mastered English and became one of the main editorial writers, specialising in international affairs. She was an effective public speaker, paper-seller, and meeting organiser. But above all she was the emotional and intellectual centre of the group.

At the end of the Spanish Civil War she was active in organising relief for Spanish orphans and refugees. Her wide contacts in and knowledge of the international movement gave her great authority among anarchists, but her libertarian principles and personal modesty prevented her from misusing it. In April 1945 she was one of the four editors of War Commentary who were tried for incitement to disaffection, but she was acquitted on a legal technicality (a wife cannot conspire with her husband), and when her three comrades were imprisoned she took the main responsibility for continuing the paper into the postwar period. She maintained her interest in psychology, and she was one of the first people in Britain who discussed the work of Wilhelm Reich, in an article `Sexuality and Freedom' in George Woodcock's Now 5 (August 1945).

At the end of 1948 she gave birth to a still-born child, and on 13 April 1949 she herself unexpectedly died from a virus infection. She was a highly intelligent and deeply committed revolutionary anarchist; she was also a remarkably beautiful woman and a widely loved personality. Her sudden death at the age of only 31 was a tragedy not only for her friends and comrades but for the whole anarchist movement.

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Apart from her many contributions to the Freedom Press periodicals, she added an interesting postscript to Vote - What For? (1942), a new version of Malatesta's anti-election pamphlet of 1890, and she wrote a substantial part of the Freedom pamphlet The Russian Myth (1941), partly reproduced in her Workers in Stalin's Russia (1944), a detailed and influential booklet describing the real situation in the Soviet Union. After her death the Marie Louise Berneri Memorial Committee produced Neither East Nor West (1952), an anthology of her editorial articles from 1939 to 1948. Another posthumous publication was journey Through Utopia (1950), a survey of utopian ideas which was originally published by Routledge and is still available from the Freedom Press (and which, with Vernon Richards' Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, is the most widely translated publication of Freedom Press after the War).

Much valuable material about her appeared in Freedom and other anarchist periodicals after her death, and the Marie Louise Berneri Memorial Committee produced Marie Louise Berneri, 1918-1949: A Tribute (1949). An article about her by Philip Sansom was published (in a mutilated form) in Zero 1 (June 1977), and a recollection by George Woodcock in Open Road 6 (Spring 1978). NW&HB

From "Freedom / 100 Years" by Freedom Press



13 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by Robby on November 13, 2010

There is an HTML version of
Marie Louise Berneri 1918-1949: A Tribute
Published by the Marie Louise Berneri Memorial Committee
London, 1949
available in the Stan Iverson Memorial Library at