The death of Francesco Ghezzi

Towards the end of ’41, a friend tipped me off that an Italian recuperating in the camp hospital and in dire circumstances had asked to see me. This was the Milanese anarchist Francesco Ghezzi. He was unrecognizable, hardly more than a skeleton. In a very weak voice, that I could just about hear, he mumbled a few things to me. He had been tortured but had not signed any confession. He sensed that he was nearing death and wanted to say a final farewell and, through me to pass on one last profession of faith to the anarchist comrades left behind in Italy. The next day, I had him supplied with a sliver of soap. I called back to the hospital several days later only to be told that Ghezzi had died. I copied the details of his death from the hospital register, scribbling them on to a scrap of paper that I then held on to for several years. Poor Ghezzi’s bones now lie beneath the frozen tundra in Vorkuta.

Those words are the close to the chapter “In the strict regime camp” of the book Il redivivo tiburtino. 24 anni di deportazione in URSS (Edizioni La Pietra, Milan, 1977) pp 166, 3,000 lire. The author is the communist Dante Corneli. Born in Tivoli in 1900, once the Communist Party of Italy was launched he quickly became secretary of its local branch and then secretary of the Camera del Lavoro. In ’22 he was assaulted by the fascists, a scuffle ensued and one of the assailants was killed. Corneli fled from Tivoli and found refuge in Moscow where he carried on with his political activities by joining, among other things, the Bolshevik Communist Party. He worked in a factory, becoming first trade union delegate and later a deputy on the Rostov soviet. But that was not enough to spare him from Stalin’s fury. Come the first purges, in ’35, vague sympathies expressed some ten years earlier with the Trotskyists provided the pretext on which he was arrested. He served 24 years inside, between prison, the camps, Siberia. In 1960 he regained his freedom and was rehabilitated. Then after ’70 he moved back to Tivoli where, at his own expense he published the autobiographical memoirs later issued in book format. 

His evidence is therefore especially interesting, precisely because of Corneli’s communist ideology which spares him the sorts of calumnies directed at anarchists when they argued the same points. 

[…] Palmiro Togliatti cautioned his party comrades against dangerous deferment to the ‘bourgeois’ theses of the anarchists who wanted proof of the survival and possible guilt of Ghezzi. Merely querying the version put out by Moscow, Togliatti wrote at the time [the 1930s], was making oneself the tool of enemies of the revolution and of the proletariat. This book from Corneli, perspicacious and essential reading is further proof that the real revolutionaries in Bolshevik Russia were in the Gulag archipelago and certainly not in the Kremlin. Then as now. 

Sidebar to a longer article ‘Destinazione Siberia’ From A Rivista Anarchica (Milan) No 84, June-July 1980