Introduction: Paolo Finzi: Tenacity and Passion

Introduction: Paolo Finzi: Tenacity and Passion

Paolo Ludovico Finzi (Milan, 28 November 1951 – Forli, 20 July 2020)

In his younger day we knew him as Kasko (with a capital K). Back then we all had some sort of a nickname that we used with one another because we were a “gang” or, if you prefer, an affinity group. He was Kasko because he always wore a safety helmet at a time when the Easy Rider discourse shied away from such precautions. But unconventionality never impressed him that much. For a number of years, he remained Kasko, throughout the period between the late 60s and the end of the 70s. A time of hardnosed activism, day after day, and of activism as a way of life.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Paolo began his political career in 1968, at the Carducci high-school in Milan to be exact, where he earned his spurs as a “student leader” (as the jargon of the time had it). But that very same year he grew close to the Ponte della Ghisolfa (Anarchist) Circle – the ‘Anarchist’ in brackets was part of the original format – as is evident from a rare snapshot showing him in the front rows on the evening of the opening of the new premises at 31 Piazzale Lugano. The attraction persisted through that fateful year of 1969, which saw him joining the Bandiera Nera (Black Flag) group shortly after the Piazza Fontana bomb outrage and the death of Pino Pinelli (he virtually, as he put it himself, stepped into the vacancy left by Pinelli’s tragic and absolutely non-accidental death).[1]

The eighteen year-old Paolo’s choice of an activist lifestyle at a time of extraordinary social upheaval survived well beyond the “roaring” decade and through the historical ebbs and flows that were an accompaniment to his life and the life of the review up until 2020. 2020 being the year they both ended. Obviously, activist practice has changed over time but this “total” commitment survived and left an indelible mark on his life as well as on those of virtually all the members of the affinity group who shared those telling years and incidents, one at a time. It was a group that not only spearheaded the Bandiera Nera but also the GAF (Federated Anarchist Groups) which, during those same years, alongside and in support of its active politics, launched a number of cultural and publishing ventures, beginning with the monthly review A rivista anarchica

The first issue of A appeared in February 1971. In follow-up interviews Paolo explained how this anarchist magazine, which was very innovative for its time, came about. Some things were obvious but at the same time it was a group undertaking born out of a powerful activism that was directed at the whole of society, something rather hard to imagine for those who did not live through those years. Not that everything was splendid and forward-looking. Indeed, there were some aspects – even in “revolutionary” circles – that were absolutely unbearable and not just as a prospect or later but in immediate terms. The new review quickly proved to be a superb tool not just for exposing the criminal conspiracies of the powerful but also for stigmatizing the authoritarian tendencies that were doing their damnedest to snuff out the libertarian spirit of ’68. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the times was reaching irrepressibly for innovation and creativity. And it was precisely this keynote that prompted the new review – the very first to use the circled A as an anarchist symbol – to draw attention not just to the apparently infinite variety of movements, ideas and experiments typical of the times, but also to the new codes of communication that were asserting themselves. In this, A was consciously – but without acrimony, but albeit with a touch of youthful presumption – breaking away from a brand of anarchist publishing that by them seemed obsolete in terms of its form, tone and priorities. The intention instead was to drag anarchism into an era that was asking brand new questions and there was much that needed saying and doing, dismantling and rebuilding, especially because the glorious tradition to which A was proudly heir no longer looked up to supplying suitable answers. Initially the review was based on the premises of the “Ponte” (as the Circle had come to be referred to), but as early as 1972 it relocated to No 27, Via Rovetta, into a spartan three-room on the top floor of what had been a villa. That was to be its permanent address for the next forty-eight years. At the time, the Turro district was still a working-class area. Come lunch-time, the streets were filled with blue overalls heading for the cheap eateries (first and second course with side and a quart of wine for 600 lire) scattered between the factories. There was one just on the corner, the Trattoria della Torre, run by Gigi and Eugenia and it quickly became significant in the history of A.  Those very plain rooms, reminiscent of a Bavarian tavern, actually became a sort of sub-office of the editorial team, so much so that a lot of the photos capturing the editorial teams and visiting guests were taken right there, in Gigi’s and Eugenia’s eatery, which many an evening stayed open just for us (and in a Milan that was still strongly popular and antifascist, they often tipped us off when anybody from the Political Bureau at Police Headquarters was roaming the area to collect information about us and our activities).

Initially, A was thought of as a newspaper where there would be room primarily for the concrete activities – for “struggles”, to use the jargon of the day – that anarchists and libertarians were engaged in in society. As a result, the format was tailored to this outlook and took on the appearance of a “campaigning paper”. But heavily illustrated and carefully composed. The attention paid to graphics and illustrations, regarded as a means of communication rather than as merely aesthetic, was in fact one of the typical features of A and survived throughout its publishing life. A number of readjustments were made, not so much to the format (which switched from broadsheet to tabloid in 1974) as the composition of the pages and the iconography. All of these were skills – and this includes the trade of the journalist or correspondent – that were learned on the job. It goes without saying, therefore, that especially at the outset there were mishaps and stylistic shortcomings and the odd blunder … before the skill was mastered. Thanks in part to the odd bit of good advice from professional printers like Ferro Piludu and the Rome-based Gruppo Artigiano Ricerche Visive (Artisan Visual Research Group) or gifted photographers such as Roberto Gimmi and Gianfranco Aresi who handled most of the review’s covers and, over the decades, built up its rich fund of iconography, from which many of the photos it used were drawn.

Over time, there were also telling changes in the editorial team. Initially there was an editorial line-up that was very like-minded and quite sizable and this was true of the early years of the review. Then, again from within the orbit of the GAF, there came other editorial/cultural ventures – such as Edizioni Antistato, the international review Interrogations, the in-depth review Volontà, or the Centro Studi Libertari/Archivio G. Pinelli – whereupon the initial collective gradually shifted to new ventures, whilst keeping up close connections to the “mother-ship”. It was no accident that the Editrice A cooperative was launched in 1977, encompassing all the publishing ventures already up and running, and, later on, those launched subsequently, such as the Eleuthera publishing imprint (1986) and the quarterly Libertaria magazine (1999).

But whilst the founding group hived off to fresh pastures, other editorial teams were formed on the Via Rovetta premises. And the photos taken over decades bear witness to this ongoing ebb and flow of male and female comrades who dedicated a portion, sometimes a substantial portion, of their lives to A. Lots of them, actually too many to list here. With one particular exception: Fausta Bizzozzero, who was present and correct for the launch issue and was editor in chief of A for many a long year (1976 to 2017); even during the “hot” years when the risk of imprisonment was high – it was she more often than anyone else who acted as the legal representative of an anarchist review that certainly refused to back down … Suffice to say that the review never ever referred to any “sudden illness” but also proclaimed loudly and clearly that Giuseppe Pinelli had been murdered at Milan Police Headquarters. 

Over time, though, as Paolo explained, the de facto collectives are whittled away and age and gradually pass away. Yet for half a century the review managed to appear come what may precisely because there was a stable, sound, trustworthy figure like Paolo (or rather, Paolo plus Aurora, who were virtually a double-act). Whilst there is no question but that A is the product of a colossal collective effort that has involved thousands of people, it is equally the case that only the determination and tenacity of those two people have made sure that its story lasted fifty years.

And it was during this phase that Kasko swapped nicknames and became the “Bertoni of Editrice A”.  He himself spoke of his admiration for that tough, Italo-Swiss anarchist publisher [Luigi Bertoni] who, for forty-seven years, brought out a bilingual title (Il Risveglio/Le Réveil) and this during a period marked by two world wars and the advent of totalitarianism. Such dogged, imperturbable publishing drive fascinated him and, half seriously and half in jest, he set himself the target of emulating it. This is what earned him a fresh nick-name coined affectionately and with a smidgen of irony by his federation comrades, with who A worked closely down through the decades.

The continual turn-over in terms of editors and contributors – who, remember, exercised the militant option of always working for the review free of charge, just as Paolo and Aurora did – has inevitably ensured that A was increasingly becoming an expression of Paolo and of his particular view of anarchism. Not that the various editorial line-ups that have followed one after the other – sometimes for lengthy periods, sometimes only briefly – did not leave their marks also. Quite the opposite: leafing through the pages of A it is obvious how, over time, priorities and approaches have altered, closely mirroring the sensibilities and explicit priorities of whoever was working with the review at the time. And this capacity for diversification – in tune with the constant flow of history – explains the richness of the review. But there is no question but that increasingly, Paolo was turning into the centre of gravity, assuming the risk, of which he was only too well aware, of turning it into his own personal title.

Yet that never happened because the underlying notion of the review was as a forum, an open space accessible to those who shared a libertarian sensibility and had something to say. Paolo’s management was actually “ecumenical”, affording a voice to all anarchist and libertarian currents, even the ones most far removed from his own outlook. With, perhaps, the odd exception, in the case of those stances that grated most against his own acute (sometimes overly acute!) non-violent sensibilities. But as a rule, Paolo, gifted with a formidably eclectic and curious mind, made room inside the review for the widest range of experiences and for all sorts of folk; intellectuals alongside unlettered, documented anarchists and rebels without labels, comrades of long standing who were sometimes disillusioned and brash youngsters still convinced not only of the possibility but also of the inevitability of changing the world right here and now. As the review, born out of a break with traditional structures gradually turned into an “institution” itself over the decades, the stance adopted by Paolo – with one foot inside and one outside the anarchist movement – never wavered. This allowed him to keep tabs, not just on everything that was going on within anarchist circles, but also on everything libertarian (in the broadest sense of the term) happening in society. And it was precisely this even-keeled stance and that wide-ranging focus that have probably contributed to the longevity of A. Nevertheless, there is no question but that Paolo Finzi was always a “movement man”: that was his intellectual and emotional home.

The physical setting in which he spent much of his life was the premises at 27 Via Rovetta, those three rooms mind-bogglingly swamped in paper and ideas. And that is where we remember him: Paolo sitting in front of the computer, looking at you askance whenever he was hearing anything unexpected. Paolo with ink-stained lips on account of his filthy habit of sucking furiously on biros and pens. Paolo with his unfailing (or so it seemed to us) jocularity. Sometimes he was there on his own, partly because he would show up before daylight and on official holidays. Sometimes, though, he was in the company of an unstoppable flood of comrades and friends, acquaintances and collaborators, and folk who were brazenly not to his liking but whom he always welcomed anyway. As a matter of principle, he gave them all a hearing. And there is no other way of running an open review. Our relationship with Paolo, which, in terms of the older members of our collective began with the launch of A and had been continual since, had always bee intense right up until his final days, in activities we had carried out together on behalf of the “Pinelli: una storia”, research project. Besides, our Study Centre was launched in September 1976 by the very same group that had launched the review five years before, so Paolo was a founding member of our association. It was no accident that in 1987 the Centro Studi/Archivio, together with Eleuthera editions and the review Volonta (already part of Editrice A) moved from premises (these having become inadequate) at 255 Viale Monza to the premises at 27 Via Rovetta.  We occupied the basement and A the upper floor of the same building: this was the origin of the “libertarian Arcore”[2] to which Paolo refers jokingly in the pages below. This relocation prompts us to mention his extreme generosity, which was not confined to review-related matters because the premises there had been acquired by Paolo in order to house, free of charge, growing kindred ventures. The place was to be our home for twenty-eight years. He was not on to favour a lot of talk about his generosity so we shall make do with this quick mention. And allow ourselves to add merely that it was extraordinary and hard to put a price on. 

In his latter months, Paolo had changed. Suffering was etched on his face and his eyes had lost the irreverent, amused glint that had been a feature of his. The future – his own, A’s and the world’s – scared him. Moreover, he was ageing and his health was uncertain and over-commitment of his available resources seemed to explain so much, if not everything. His illness went deeper and maybe, despite his silence, we should have caught on to it. And yet we respect his extreme option. All we can do now is to pass on the memory of a history that deserves to be told and we do so wording it in a way that he himself would have done. Beginning with the words he wrote a month before he took his own life, in a farewell letter that his daughter Alba retrieved from a waste-paper basket: “An inquiring mind, I have spent pretty much a whole life-time making anarchist propaganda and creating male and female anarchists, and then I go an eliminate one … and not one of the worst of them.”

Collective of the Centro studi libertari / Archivio G. Pinelli

1, For more on Pinelli, see Finzi’s article Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pinelli (1928-1969): the 17th victim of the Piazza Fontana bombing at
2, “Arcore libertaria” is a joking reference to the main residence of Silvio Berlusconi, the town of Arcore, epicentre of his media empire. So the building in Via Rovetta would be an epicentre for the anarchist media.

Con tenacia e con passione’, introduction to Paolo Finzi: the (Imperfect) Practice of Anarchy (from the series Quaderni del Centro Studi Libertari)


Translated by: Paul Sharkey.