Title: Italy After 1918
Date: 1943, September, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review #81, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review
Source: Scanned from Anarcho-Syndicalist Review #81, Winter, 2021, page 12
Notes: Originally published in War Commentary: For Anarchism, September 1943. Notes added by Anarcho-Syndicalist Review editor.

I. The revolutionary period 1919–1921

The Italian people played an unenthusiastic part during the last war. They had been strongly impregnated with socialist and anarchist ideas and they saw in the war, not a struggle for democracy, but another imperialist conflict. The left-wing parties did not betray their internationalist ideals as openly as they did in other countries, A section of the Socialist party opposed the war throughout while the great majority gave it only lukewarm support. The anarchist movement refused to take part in the imperialist bloodbath and consistently opposed the war.

The ruling class, in order to obtain some support from the Italian people, had to bribe them with promises; they assured the workers that they would get better conditions after the war and that they would give the land to the peasants. But when peace came they showed no willingness to keep their promises. The country found itself extremely weakened. It had lost one million men in the war, and those who came back found no work to do. Meanwhile the cost of life had gone up tremendously. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, had done well out of the war and was more sure of itself and arrogant than ever; in particular the agrarians (the landed bourgeoisie) were resolved to do their utmost to prevent the peasants from gaining any concessions. In 1919 the whole country was seething with discontent. The workers and peasants, tired of waiting for the improvements promised them, began to take matters in their own hands. The bourgeois and nationalist elements were frustrated by the Allies’ denial of any share of the war booty to Italy. Just as in Germany the Versailles treaty was the stepping stone for the Nazis, in Italy it formed a basis for fascism.

Strikes, looting of shops, occupation of the land began in a sporadic and unorganized way. The general elections which took place on the 16th of November 1919 gave the Socialists 2,846,593 votes while the bourgeois parties received three and a half million votes. The new liberal government showed itself incompetent both to resolve the internal economic problem and to gain Italy territorial aggrandisement round the diplomatic tables. It was, however, resolved in one thing and that was to crush any workers’ revolt. It created a royal guard which mercilessly crushed all demonstrations and strikes.

But in spite of the government’s repression, the movement of strikes intensified itself. It was merely due to the economic situation and to the disproportionate increase in the cost of life. But already in April 1920 the General Strike of Turin showed that the workers wanted more than economic gains and that they aimed at controlling the industries which belonged to the people by right, because they had built them with their toil and because they were working them. The Turin workers set up factory councils and declared their intention to control the factories themselves. All over Italy strikes of sympathy took place and the railway workers refused to move the troops which the government wanted to send to suppress the revolt. The strike lasted ten days and was finally crushed by overwhelming forces of repression through its having been unable to obtain sufficient support from the rest of the Italian workers. Already we see in the Turin strike the wavering and uncertain attitude which the Socialist Party and the trade unions (General Confederation of Labor) were to play all through these years of revolt. Whenever the working-class showed the desire to overthrow capitalist oppression, they used all their power to prevent them from doing so. While the anarchists and syndicalists appealed to the Italian people to support the “Burin workers by striking and by all other means at their disposal, the socialists refused to support them by calling a general strike. The socialist organ Avanti, in its Milan edition, even expressed regret that the strike should have taken place.

Workers’ strikes and expropriation of the land by the workers, particularly in the South of the peninsula, continued. Unable to maintain order the Nitti government fell and was replaced by a new liberal government with Giolitti, an old sly politician at its head, and with the socialist Labriola as minister of labor. The people showed their opposition to the government by increased demonstrations. The most important took place at Ancona, a port on the Adriatic coast, where popular riots took place and a regiment destined to Albania refused to embark. In solidarity with the mutiny a general strike took place in the surrounding provinces and ended only when the government promised to abandon the protectorate of Albania.

On the 28th of August the occupation of the factories by the metal workers all over Italy began. The direct cause was the refusal of the industrialists to put into practice a collective contract of work which had been forced on them by the strikes of August-September 1919, and to raise wages in proportion to the cost of living. Afraid that the police would come to the help of the bourgeoisie and occupy the factories, the workers took possession of them themselves. In vain did the government, through its labor minister Labriola, attempt a reconciliation. The workers refused all compromise.

The workers showed that the aim of the strikes was not merely to obtain an increase in wages. In many parts they armed themselves to defend the factories they had seized, they formed workers’ councils to assure the proper running of industry, and the Federation of Cooperatives paid the wages. The moment seemed ripe to deal a final blow to the capitalist class and establish workers’ control all over Italy. The enthusiasm and militancy of the masses was at its height. After a year of local strikes and conflicts the people had in an united effort manifested their resolution to get rid of the old regime. But both the socialists and communist leadership were afraid of revolution. The most extraordinary pretexts were put forward. Italy had no coal, no iron, nor enough wheat to suffice to itself, a revolution would be bound to fail. Even Lenin thought that the revolution would be premature and told Angelica Balabanoff, the old socialist militant, that Italy could not make a revolution because she lacked coal and raw materials!

The Socialist Party and the reformist trade unions instead of following the masses and helping them to strike down the capitalist system lost themselves in futile controversies and only offered the workers empty resolutions. On the 4th and 5th of September the General Confederation of Labor and the Socialist Party (who were affiliated in the same way as they are in this country) met and decided to intensify the struggle, but then did nothing. A week later they met again and adopted the solution advocated by the trade union secretary: to get out of the factories and attack the bourgeoisie in its central organ: the state.

This fine piece of socialist sophistry had the most terrible consequences for the Italian working class. It marked the beginning of a reign of reaction which led straight to fascism.

On the 15th September 1920, delegates from the workers and industrialists met, under the presidency of the prime minister, Giolitti, at Turin. He proposed the formation of a commission of six members representing the Confederation of Industry and six members representing the General Confederation of Labor, which would establish a sort of control on the industry. No compromise was reached at first because of the intransigent attitude of the capitalists. But when the negotiations were resumed in Rome a compromise was arrived at. This scheme was a clever move on the part of the astute premier. The factories were evacuated, the workers lost all their power and the projected law was forgotten in some pigeonhole. But while the Italian workers felt betrayed, weakened and hopeless, the bourgeoisie prepared itself to prevent a similar experience from occurring again. the occupation of the factories which could have marked the downfall of the ruling class was on the contrary the signal for the capitalists to rally their forces. They began to look for a man who would give them a strong government capable to crush any attempt of revolt on the part of the workers.

The fascists understood that the moment to act had come. On the 21st of November 1920 they launched their first attack against working-class organizations. From Bologna the fascist offensive spread to the Po valley. In the meantime the government reorganized the police, and the royal guard was recruited amongst the youth and well trained. The forces of reaction came closer together; capitalists, royalists, clericals, army men joined hands.

The Socialist Party did not or would not see the fascist danger. It merely concerned itself with internal discussions, being attacked and split by the activities of the Communists who were still in the party at the time. It was then the most important and strongly organized party in Italy. It counted almost a quarter of a million members and the General Confederation of Labor counted 2 millions. It had 156 members in Parliament and 2,162 communes [i.e., municipalities] were administered by socialists.

The Communist Party was formed after the Congress of Leghorn on the 15th through 20th January 1921 when the Socialist Party refused to accept the 21 conditions imposed by Moscow. Its main aim was not to fight reaction but to attack the socialists who, like Serrati, had refused to become the servile tools of the Kremlin. The C.P. was formed of many dishonest elements who had accepted the disreputable role of breaking up long established parties and slandering old working-class leaders in order to obtain the favors and money which Moscow bestowed upon its faithful servants. The Communists had plenty of reasons to criticize reformist socialist leaders like Serrati but they did not choose to carry on the controversy on theoretical or tactical grounds. With their now Well-known methods, they tried to discredit them, by attempting to blacken their private lives, they used slander and blackmail, provocateurs and spies. this only weakened and demoralized the working class so that the growth of Communists in Italy was an important factor in the rise of fascism. The Russian revolution had inspired the Italian workers. At the example of their Russian comrades they had formed workers’ councils, they had declared a general strike to protest against intervention in Russia. But Lenin and the Communist International destroyed the inspiration the Russian revolution had given the Italian workers. Seeing that they could not control the Italian working-class movements the Communist International set about disorganizing and smashing them. When Lenin died Errico Malatesta wrote in the anarchist daily Umanità Nova: “Lenin is dead, long live Liberty!” He was expressing the judgment of history.

The anarchist movement had always had a strong influence on the Italian masses. Its federalist character appealed to a country which had been only recently united and where the central government was weak and unpopular. Its recognition of the important role which the peasants should play in a revolution won it the support of the countryside. The influence which Bakunin exerted was felt long after his death. The Italian section of the International always refused to accept Marx’s dictatorship. The socialist movement which was formed by the former anarchist Andrea Costa was for a long time influenced by the anti-parliamentarianism of the anarchists and was, under their influence, much more ready to take part in direct action than its German or British counterparts.

The anarchists had also a strong influence amongst the Bourses du Travail which grouped all the trades locally and often remained independent of the trade Union Confederation (TUC). In 1912 anarchist-syndicalists formed their own union. [1] It was very active in 1914 during the June revolt which was called the Red Week. At Ancona on the 7th of June in a conflict with the police three workers had been killed. Ancona, a republican and anarchist town where Malatesta, then in Italy, exerted a strong influence, immediately declared a General Strike. From there it spread all over Italy, revolts took place at Ancona, in Romagna, Florence and Naples, the army fraternized with the people, town halls were occupied by revolutionaries. The syndicalists led the revolt but the General Confederation of Labor gave the order to its members to resume work.

Of the activity of the [Italian] Syndicalist Union, Armando Borghi [2] who was its secretary from 1919 writes (in a letter):

“During 4 years from 1919 to 1922 our action was one of a vanguard not only of theory but of action. We often tried and we sometimes succeeded in putting the leaders of the [General] Confederation of Labor in front of accomplished facts, of serious revolutionary movements. But we did not succeed in breaking the tutelage in which the reformist leaders held the masses.”

And he adds:

“I still think that a revolution in Italy at that time was necessary like a natural birth and that the abortion which resulted was a catastrophe. France, Spain, etc. would have altered their course and the whole of Europe would have seen things very different from Mussolini.”

The Syndicalist Union was at the head of all the strikes and movements of revolt, as also was the Anarchist Union. They did not carry on in a sectarian way. When the working-class was struggling for the defence of its own interests it joined socialists and trade-unionists in the fight, trying to carry it as far as it was possible.

While the members of the Socialist Party left it, discouraged by its reformist attitude, the membership of the Syndicalist Union grew rapidly and reached more than half a million.

At the beginning of 1921 the cleavage between the working-class and the bourgeoisie had reached its climax. On one side stood the working-class organizations counting millions of members bound to reformist leaders and a revolutionary syndicalist-anarchist minority unable to draw behind itself the masses. On the other side the liberal and Catholic parties resolved to defend by all means at their disposal the interests of the capitalist class. Mussolini became their tool; with a handful of fascists, the protection of the police and the complicity of the government he was able in a few years to disband the working-class organizations and conquer power.

II. The Rise of Fascism in Italy

The Italian workers could during the occupation of the factories in August-September 1920 have seized the opportunity to deal a final blow to the bourgeoisie. They failed to do so and from that moment they fought a retreating battle against the ruling class and the rapidly growing fascist danger. The government began to imprison working class militants while fascist hooligans could act with complete impunity. Mussolini began an organized struggle against working-class organizations, their offices were burned, their centers destroyed, their members murdered.

The measure of the government’s arbitrary power was given when Giolitti, then prime minister, ordered Armando Borghi, the anarchist secretary of the Syndicalist Union, and Errico Malatesta, the old anarchist militant, to be arrested. The workers had been too demoralized by the defeat which followed the occupation of the factories to put up any serious opposition. The situation was different in February 1920; then the government had tried to arrest Malatesta at Tombola, a little town near Leghorn. Immediately all the major towns of Tuscany declared a general strike and the railwaymen decided to stop the trains in the whole of central Italy. Before they could do so Malatesta was released.

Anarchists and syndicalists all over Italy organized demonstrations and strikes in order to obtain the liberation of their comrades but they received no solidarity from the socialist organizations. The organ of the Socialist Party, Avanti!, published in large type the following appeal: “We beg our working comrades most earnestly to pay no attention to any appeals for action until such appeals shall have been duly passed by the Party’s central organs and by the economic organisations competent to deal with them.” All the party leaders did in order to show their solidarity towards Malatesta and Borghi was to decide that a one hour strike in protest should be called!

Thanks to the complicity of the Socialist reformist organizations the government was able to keep Malatesta and Borghi in prison for nine months. When they were released the reactionary movement had gained such tremendous ground that the working class was unable to react.

On the 15th of May 1921 the government decided to dissolve Parliament and to call new elections. Elections in such a period of unrest spelt civil war and the government was well aware of it. It used them in order to precipitate the crushing of the left-wing movements. All over Italy acts of violence took place; the Fascists took this opportunity to intensify their attacks. The Socialist Party retained however the same number of votes as it had received at the previous elections, while Mussolini, together with 30 Nationalist and Fascist deputies, entered parliament. The Avanti declared that fascist reaction had been buried under an avalanche of red votes but in reality the initiative already belonged to the bourgeoisie.

The Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labor refused to take action against the fascists and the Socialist parliamentary group adopted policy of wait and see. They refused to join the government, but they equally refused to act against it. While their leaders sat tight in their comfortable armchairs the workers were faced by unemployment, rising prices, government repression and fascist provocations.

On the 6th of July 1921, an attempt was made to unify the working-class forces and to meet the fascists with more than words. A pact of Proletarian Alliance was signed in Rome by working-class organizations and a workers’ militia the Arditi rossi was formed. [3] The Socialists only gave it lukewarm support; they declared in their paper Avanti! that it was no use trying to use force against the overwhelming forces of the government.

Socialist-Fascist Pact

Unwilling to use force, the Socialist Parry preferred to resort to intrigue and compromise. On the 3rd of August 1921, in the office of the President of Parliament the Socialist leaders signed a peace treaty with the fascists. They promised to cooperate to prevent any acts of violence and reprisals and to respect each other’s right to propaganda and organization. Socialist and Fascist leaders shook hands across the bodies of the peasants and workers assassinated by Mussolini’s henchmen.

This pact was a clever move on the part of Mussolini to gain time and to increase and organize his forces. For a few months Fascist violence decreased but this did not last long. While Socialist leaders severely reminded the rank and file to respect the pact, Mussolini renewed his attacks. At the Socialist Congress of Rome in January 1922 the peasants’ and workers’ delegates from the regions invaded by the Fascists brought hundreds of proofs of the fact that the Fascist Party had not respected the pact. They talked of their burned buildings, of the cooperatives destroyed, of their murdered comrades, and they asked for action, but the Socialist leadership remained unmoved and declared its unshakable faith in parliamentary tactics.

Last Attempt To Resist

Another attempt was made to coordinate the working-class forces. A Workers’ Alliance between the General Confederation of Labor, the Syndicalist Union and Railway Union was formed. Its aim was “to oppose the alliance of workers’ forces to the coalition of the reaction.” This alliance might have been able to stop the rise of fascism but it came too late, when the working class was demoralized, weakened and divided.

The Workers’ Alliance made, however, a last attempt to oppose Fascism. On the 31st of July 1922, it declared a general strike. The strike was successful and complete but the streets belonged to the Fascists. After three days of strike they started to attack; they were defeated in the revolutionary towns of Parma and Forli but they were victorious in Milan and the strike finished with a defeat of the proletariat.

The fascist onslaught continued. From the Po valley the attack spread to Tuscany and to the Puglia. The Socialists went on advocating a return to legal means, to fair competition between parties. The climax of naiveté was reached when the socialist deputy Filippo Turati called on the king to bring him the wish of the proletariat for liberty and to remind him that his duty was to defend the constitution to which he had taken the oath. The king’s answer was a few days afterwards to call Mussolini to power!

The March On Rome

Mussolini, once having helped to defeat the workers, set himself to conquer power. He had to win the support of the big capitalists and royalty, who, once the revolutionary danger passed, might have wished to thank him and dismiss him. By a series of intrigues and by declaring himself prepared to accept and defend the king (whom he had always attacked) Mussolini managed to get the support of the capitalists, who gave him 20 millions to prepare the March on Rome, and of the royal family. Sure of his ground, Mussolini declared from Naples on the 24th of October 1922: “If they do not give us power we shall take it by marching on Rome.”

The government by that time had resigned but on learning of Mussolini’s declaration of war it published a decree putting the country in a state of siege. All civil authority had to be surrendered to the army which took steps to prevent any armed putsch on the part of the Fascists. Mussolini had only limited forces at his disposal and if the army had opposed him he would have been lost. But the king came to his rescue. He refused to sign the decree putting the country under state of siege. Instead he called Mussolini to Rome to form a new government. Mussolini “marched on Rome” comfortably installed in a sleeping car.

By the 30th of October he had formed his government. In Rome his troops marched before the king and the royal family; all over Italy his followers celebrated with new violence. Parliament did not put up any opposition; it had been taken by surprise and once again it decided to wait for events.

Mussolini immediately took measures in favour of the bourgeoisie. All legislation favorable to the workers was repealed. Meanwhile Fascist terrorism increased.

On the 18th of December 1922, 12 workers were massacred in Turin. The organizer of the engineering workers, Pietro Ferrero, an anarchist, was killed. [4] Everywhere socialists, anarchists, syndicalists were murdered under the very eyes of the police who never took any steps against the Fascists.

From the March on Rome to Matteotti’s murder in June 1924, Mussolini consolidated his forces. He managed to confuse and fool Parliament with clever speeches which kept everybody guessing as to what his intentions were. Meanwhile his bands carried on a merciless struggle against the last working-class bastions. The election which took place in April 1924 only gave the Fascists another excuse for violence. In Parma, the Socialist candidate Piccinini was assassinated.

Matteotti’s Murder

On the 10th of June 1924, Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist deputy, was kidnapped in full daylight in Rome. This murder could have been just another anonymous fascist crime if a man had not taken the number of the car where Matteotti had disappeared and reported to the police. Matteotti’s body was not found until after three months of searches but the inquest led the police to the government’s doorstep. Mussolini in order to clear himself accused all his collaborators; one after the other: Rossi, Finzi, General de Bono and Dumini. They defended themselves by accusing him. No doubt could be left as to Mussolini’s having ordered the murder. Public opinion was aroused. Fascist methods were well known and Matteotti’s name was just one more in a long list of fascist crimes but this was a unique case, where the police had by accident found the murderers and where Mussolini’s hand was clearly shown. It might have been possible to start a movement at that time which would have overthrown Mussolini’s government. Workers’ organizations proposed to declare a general strike but the socialist parliamentary group thought such action unwise. Instead it issued a declaration condemning the murder.

Again in January 1925 Mussolini’s government seemed on the point of collapse. Rossi, who was implicated in Matteotti’s murder, Wrote a memorandum on the methods used by Mussolini to crush his political opponents. After such revelations two cabinet ministers felt compelled to resign. Instead of allowing a governmental crisis to take place and a new cabinet to be formed the king hastened to accept two fascist ministers whom Mussolini proposed to replace the others. In October 1925, Mussolini published his version of the murder, the kidnapping was merely a joke, the murder, an accident.

The popular reaction to Matteotti’s murder which put Mussolini’s position in peril made him realize how quickly he had to act to prevent public opinion from expressing itself. All through 1925, particularly after Zaniboni’s attempt on Mussolini’s life, measures were taken to suppress the right of association and the liberty of the press.

The only expressions revolt took from now on [were in] the form of individual actions against Mussolini and his acolytes and of underground propaganda. In both fields the anarchists showed courage and initiative. Out of seven attempts against Mussolini’s life, four were carried out by anarchists.

Lessons to be Drawn

The events which led to Mussolini’s conquest of power clearly show that reformist and legal methods are of no avail in the fight against reaction and Fascism. The ruling class is only prepared to adhere to legality, to respect their own rules of the game, as long as it suits them. When their situation is in danger they use violence, corruption and assassination. The Socialist Party in Italy made the mistake of thinking that the capitalists and the Fascist leaders would be prepared to accept fair competition between parties, that they would respect peace treaties, that they would be moved by appeals to decency and honesty. All through those seven years of conflict they played into the hands of the ruling class. They continued to rely on election results when the Fascists had brutally declared that if they were not given power they would conquer it, revolver in hand. While Socialists scrupulously respected a government sold to the capitalist class, the Fascists did not hesitate to assassinate the Socialist candidates whom they could not silence, as for example during the April 1924 elections when the Socialist candidate Picinini was killed by the Fascists. They kept relying on the number of seats they had in parliament as the surest guarantee against Fascism, when it was obvious that Mussolini relied more on political intrigues and armed force than on democratic methods. After the 15th of May 1921 elections the Nationalists and Fascists had 30 deputies while the Socialists had 138 members and the Communists 15, but this did not correspond to the real balance of forces. The Fascists had the government, the police and in some cases the army on their side; they could upset any majority the Socialists had in Parliament. If the Italian workers had relied more on their class weapons, strikes and insurrection, rather than on the voting paper, they would not have been defeated; If, when they occupied the factories, they had taken control of the industries rather than relying on the government to give them control, then the rise of Fascism would have been impossible.

The anarchists advocated all through the strikes an expansion of the movement and Malatesta’s speech to Milan factory workers after they had returned to work shows that he fully grasped the tragic consequences this compromise with the bourgeoisie would have for the Italian workers. This is how he described the pact between the General Confederation of Labor and the Employers Association:

“You who are celebrating as a great victory the signature in Rome of this agreement are deceiving yourselves. In reality the victory belongs to Giolitti, to the Government, and to the bourgeoisie, who find themselves saved from the precipice over which they had been hanging...

“To speak of victory while the Rome agreement puts you back once more under the exploitation of the bourgeoisie, is a lie. If you give up possession of the factories, do so with the conviction that you have lost a great battle, and with the firm intention of resuming the struggle at the first opportunity and pursuing it to the end. You will then drive the employers from the factories and you will not allow them to re-enter until they come in as workmen on an equality with yourselves, content to live by working for themselves and others. Nothing is lost provided you do not delude yourselves with the fallacy that you have gained a victory. The famous decree as to the control of the factories is to dupe you, for it will tend to the creation of a new class of employees [i.e., officials or bureaucrats], who, though sprung from your bosom, will not defend your interests but the new situation created for them and it will tend also to harmonise your interests with those of the bourgeoisie—the interests of the wolf with those of the lamb.

“Do not believe those of your leaders who mock you by putting off the revolution from day to day. The Revolution! You yourselves have to make it whenever the opportunity presents itself, without waiting for orders that never come, or, if they do come, only instruct you to give up the fight. Have confidence in yourselves, have faith in your future, and you will conquer.”

The Socialists displayed the same lack of revolutionary realism when the working class came to be attacked by the Fascist hooligans. They relied upon the police which would never defend them nor prosecute the attackers. An attempt in the right direction was made when a kind of workers’ defence corps was formed but it never reached the power and efficiency of, say, the Irish Citizen Army. [5] No serious efforts were made to defend workers’ organizations, buildings or Left-wing newspaper presses. When the Avanti building was burnt in Milan by the Fascists, no attempt was made to defend it in spite of the fact that such an attack had to be expected at any moment. It is almost incredible to think that an organization with two million members should have its property destroyed without any defense being put up. The Fascists were a very small minority; their strength lay in the fact that they knew the police would not molest them. If the workers had resisted in an organized way they would have been able to crush the Fascist revolt in the bud.

The organization of workers defense would have been equally useful when strikes took place. The workers were able to stage general strikes which covered the whole country and lasted several days. But they left the streets to the Fascists, who, while they could not break the strike, were able to burn union buildings and attack and murder Socialist and anarchist militants. Unlike them, the Dublin workers understood that danger and that is why they formed their own defenses during the 1913 Transport Workers’ strike.

The lack of workers’ defenses was partly due to the lack of unity amongst the Italian workers. While the bourgeoisie presented a united front against the working class the workers’ parties lost themselves in endless squabbles.

The Italian anarchist movement understood the danger of disunity and always advocated joint action against government repression and Fascism. At the Congress of the Anarchist Union held at Bologna, July 1 to 4, 1920, a union of rank-and-file members belonging to all parties was advocated. Freedom, September 1929, gives the following report of the discussion which took place and of the resolution which was adopted.

“A discussion took place on the problem of the united front of the Italian proletariat, which is divided on the industrial field into the reformist [General] Confederation [of Labour], the [Italian] Syndicalist Union, and the very class-conscious Catholic Trade Unions. Politically, the workers belong either to the Socialist Party with its different wings, from the reformists to the Communist Parliamentarians, or to the extremely revolutionary Republicans and the Anarchists. The Catholic People’s Party is also very strong. Besides these there exist innumerable autonomous groups of all tendencies. Dissensions have hitherto stood in the way of united action. Malatesta has repeatedly pointed out the great need for united action among all parties. In several localities there is today already a common united front, whilst in others the attainment of this object is difficult and even impossible. The following resolution was passed:—the Congress authorises and advises the formation of small local Groups of Action, outside the parties and existing organisations in the different localities, consisting of all those elements which will declare themselves ready to go into action at the first decided opportunity, and to fight with all their means against the existing institutions.’”

When one studies the history of Hitler’s rise to power one is struck by the fact that the German workers learnt nothing from the experiences of the Italian proletariat. How long are workers all over the world going to commit the same mistakes, making the sacrifices of their comrades useless and bringing terrible sufferings upon themselves? [6]

[1] A reference to the Italian Syndicalist Union (Unione Sindacale Italiana) which was formed in Modena by unions and trades councils previously affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor (Berneri uses the better-known expression Bourses du Travail associated with pre-war French revolutionary syndicalism rather than the Italian Camere del Lavoro). As Berneri notes, it swiftly grew during the Biennio Rosso but calls by it and the Italian Anarchist Union for a united front were rejected during this period and in the rise of fascism. It continues to organize workers to this day and remains a member of the International Workers’ Association. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)

[2] Armando Borghi (1882–1968) was an Italian anarchist who joined the movement at the age of 16. A long-standing union militant, he was elected secretary of the Italian Syndicalist Union and edited its newspaper Guerra di Classe. He visited revolutionary Russia in 1920 and played a key role in syndicalist opposition to Bolshevism both in Italy and internationally. Returning to Italy, he fought against the rise of fascism before being forced into exile in 1923. He returned to Italy after the Second World War and rejoined the anarchist movement. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)

[3] Also known as the Arditi del Popolo, this was a militant anti-fascist group founded at the end of June 1921 to resist the rise of fascism and the violence of its Blackshirt paramilitaries (squadristi). It grouped revolutionary syndicalists, socialists, communists, anarchists and republicans, as well as some former military officers. While individual members joined and supported it, the Arditi del Popolo was not supported by either the Italian Socialist Party or the Communist Party of Italy. In contrast, both the Italian Anarchist Union and Italian Syndicalist Union supported the organization. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)

[4] Pietro Ferrero (1892–1922) was an anarchist active in the General Confederation of Labor. He was elected secretary of the Turin section of the Federation of Metal Workers Employees in 1919 and played an important role in the strikes and factory occupations during September 1920. On 18 December 1922, he was killed by fascist gangs as part of their three-day terror campaign in Turin which saw 22 labor militants murdered. After being tortured, he was tied to a truck and dragged, presumably still alive, at full speed through the Corso Vittorio Emanuele before his unrecognizable corpse was dumped at the foot of the statue of King Vittorio Emanuele II. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)

[5] The Irish Citizen Army was a small group of armed trade union volunteers from the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) formed by James Larkin, James Connolly and Jack White. It arose as a result of the Dublin lockout of August 1913 to January 1914 when Irish employers tried to break the syndicalist influenced ITGWU. The Dublin Metropolitan Police regularly attacked strikers and their meetings (two were beaten to death and around 500 injured at a rally on 31 August). This state violence prompted Larkin to call for a workers’ militia to be formed to protect themselves against the police. The Irish Citizen Army was formed on 23 November 1913 and for the duration of the lock-out was armed with hurling sticks and bats to protect workers’ demonstrations from the police. On 24 April 1916, 220 of its members took part in the Easter Rising against British rule of Ireland. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)

[6] For more details of the role of libertarians in the Biennio Rosso (“Two Red Years”) and the resistance to fascism, see section A.5.5 (“Anarchists in the Italian Factory Occupations”) in volume 1 of An Anarchist FAQ (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2008). (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review Editor)