Looking for Decio Anzani

Albert Meltzer was scathing about the supposed ‘anti-fascism’ of the British ruling class shown in the second world war: ‘it was not an anti-fascist war merely because that was the enemy’s ideology (something impossible it seems for people to grasp).’[1] He reviewed the story of the ‘Dunera Boys’[2] and recorded his memories of ‘Joe the Tailor’ who ‘spoke at the same London stomping grounds – Finsbury Park speakers corner, Clerkenwell Green, and so on – regularly from the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian War, denouncing fascism. He always began, “I’m an Italian, an anti-fascist, just Joe the Tailor” […] He was notorious to the fascisti after speaking on a joint platform with Ethiopians, at a meeting organised by Sylvia Pankhurst.’[3]

Albert always provides ways in to the world of unsung and unknown anarchists. At this distance in time, it might be possible to identify ‘Joe the Tailor’; but it would hardly be easy. Examining the story of London’s Italian anarchist antifascists of the thirties leads on to the story of the Arandora Star and Decio Anzani.

Our comrades at Past Tense reviewed Alfio Bernabei’s 2023 exhibition about British suffragette and communist Sylvia Pankhurst and her life partner, Italian anarchist Silvio Corio, antifascists who denounced Mussolini’s regime and infamous war on Ethiopia.[4] The exhibition contained a brief biography of Decio Anzani, secretary of the London branch of the Italian League For The Rights Of Man. Anzani was arrested as an ‘enemy alien’ (because he was a ‘subversive’) and killed when the Arandora Star was torpedoed (2 July 1940). Pankurst described Anzani as ‘one of the most known anti-Fascists in this country and a tower of strength to the refugees who had come here from Mussolini’s terror.’[5]

In this issue we reprint a 1946 tribute to Anzani and a short account of his life by Alfio Bernabei. Esuli ed emigrati italiani nel Regno Unito (1920-1940) by Bernabei is devoted to Anzani and the London antifascist exiles. There are other connections to follow up. We have posted on our site Mat Kavanagh’s tribute to John Humphrey who printed ‘Fascism : What it has done to the Italian people [1933]’ for the Italian League For The Rights Of Man, London branch.[6] Anzani appears in Nick Heath’s biographies of John Humphrey and Emidio Recchioni on Libcom.org – where you can also read his biography of Silvio Corio. Finally, we have posted Vernon Richards’ tribute to Vittorio Taborelli from 1966 on our website.[7]  We should remember the lives of past anarchists.


1, The Italian Connection Black Flag 177 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/41ntmk 
2, Lest we forget or never knew (TV Review) [The Dunera Boys] Black Flag 144 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/rr50kq 
3, Letter and reply re: ‘Joe the Tailor’ Black Flag 179 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/g79fjf
4, https://web.archive.org/web/20230502102445/https://twitter.com/_pasttense_/status/1630309748796014597  
5, quoted by Hannen Swaffer, Daily Herald, 20 July 1940
6, see https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/9kd6rb 
7, https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/tht9b9