Revolutionary Italy in need of her men: What Has Become of the Great Anarchist, Ghezzi?

Stalin’s government recognized Badoglio before going on to recognize the Bonomi government. Normal diplomatic relations obtain between the USSR and liberated Italy. The latter’s representatives are democrats, socialists and communists. Of them all we have the same question to ask, so that they can pass it on to Moscow: What has become of Francesco Ghezzi, the Italian anarchist who sought refuge in Russia? Is he alive and forgotten in some Russian prison or has he been murdered by the GPU?

For the benefit of those who may have forgotten Ghezzi, whose name was widely cited in labour circles in Europe and America let us attempt a brief reminder. Ghezzi started out as a serious activist with Italian anarchism  at the age of seventeen. He had previously had to break free of the religious upbringing he had received from his parents. In Milan, his native city, he was appointed administrator of Il Giornale Anarchico in 1912. Alongside Armando Borghi, secretary of the Italian Syndicalist Union, he mounted vigorous opposition to Italy’s entry into the war. In April 1916, he was one of the organizers behind the huge anti-war demonstration held in Milan. He was arrested and, being called to the colours a little after that, he crossed the border and found refuge in Switzerland. Not that his struggle ended there. There were plenty of young Italian deserters and rebels around him. His activities filled the peaceable Swiss bourgeoisie with fear. One day, the [Swiss] Confederation’s police, under pressure from Rome, mounted the so-called “bombs trial”. Ghezzi was arrested as were several other comrades. They spent sixteen months in prison. Throughout the trial proceedings, their stance was courageous and unbending. They were acquitted. But the Swiss dungeons had let their mark on Ghezzi’s health. Having contracted TB, he had to return to Italy.

There, in spite of the condition of his health, he carried on with his active struggle. With other anarchists he launched the newspaper El Individualista. He helped organize the sabotage of arms shipments meant for Russia, where the revolution had just broken out. He was vigorous in his defence of the Ancona rioters. He took part in the fight against an incipient fascism and in the unforgettable wave of factory seizures. Then came the Diana Theatre drama. The imprisoned Errico Malatesta had embarked upon a hunger strike in protest. In retaliation, a bomb exploded at the Diana, the target being Milan’s police thug, Gasti. Ghezzi was accused, harassed and cornered. He managed t escape from Italy. But was in serious jeopardy in the bourgeois countries. He eventually found refuge in revolutionary Russia. As a representative of the Italian Syndicalist Union, he attended the Congress of the Red International. And threw his enthusiastic support behind the Russian revolution. It was not long, though, before he was taking a stand against the dictatorship exercised by the CP, the crackdown launched on Makhno and his anarchist comrades and the brutal suppression of Kronstadt. He quit Russia and fled to social democratic Germany. It was not long before he was detained by Severing’s Prussian police. The Italian government insisted that he be extradited. Those in power in Berlin were ready to cave in on this, just as they had with regard to Mateu and Nicolau who had executed Dato in Spain. The protests unleashed within Germany and around the world forced them to back down. A workers’ demonstration marched right up to the very walls of Moabit where Ghezzi was on a hunger strike. He was released, but ordered to quit German soil. Whereupon he fled back into Russia.

Once back in the USSR, the anarchist, as a man of integrity, refused to live on any hand-outs, nor would he accept any bureaucratic post and he found employment as a factory worker. He was unemployed for a time, living in wretched condition but he refused to give in. He was determined to remain completely independent. In May 1929, the GPU arrested him. It was forced to explain itself to lots of foreign protesters, including Ernest Toller, Heinrich Mann, Roman Rolland, Georges Duhamel, Jean-Richard Bloch, Luc Durtain, Panaït Istrati, Professor Langevin, Charles Vildrac, Abdres Viollis, Leon Werth … To counter the GPU’s claim that Ghezzi was a “fascist agent”, those intellectuals signed up to the following declaration: “We insist that he be freed immediately and allowed to move abroad, should he so desire. We have no doubt but that he will go on being what he always has been: comrade to all who fight on behalf of the liberation of the working class and the achievement of a proletarian society.” In spite of everything, he was not set free. “They sentenced him to three years of ‘political isolation’, meaning that he was to be held absolutely incommunicado. After completing that three-year sentence, Ghezzi was banished. But the campaign on his behalf caried on: He was eventually allowed to return to the factory. Although physically broken, Ghezzi wanted to earn his own living. In 1939, when Stalin reached his agreement with Hitler, Ghezzi vanished. Nothing more has been heard of him. Was he murdered, just like thousands of Russian oppositionists? Or does he languish still in some GPU dungeon? The world neds to know. The Italian organizations must demand a plain answer from the Stalinist “minister” Togliatti-Ercoli. We do, at any rate. And we expect to find support for that demand from the whole of the liberal and labour press in the Americas. 

J.G.[Most likely Julián Gorkín]

From: Mundo, No 9, 19 July 1944, p. 23 

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.