Quirino Perfetto (1888-1950)

Quirino Perfetto was a railway mechanic born in Torino di Sangro (Chieti) on 25 August 1888. He trained at the ‘Saverio Altamura’ Industrial Technical Institute in Foggia. He won a competition for a mechanic’s position and, right after the Great War, was posted to Sulmona. By 1920 he was secretary of the local branch of the Italian Railways Union. He orchestrated and led the big strike mounted by that union from 20 to 29 January. He was a contributor to Umanitá Nova, in the columns of which he raised the subject of the killing of workers in Abruzzo province. He organised and led the 1 May strike and the 18 May strike in 1920. The latter strike was in response to the extraordinary sentence passed on the station-master of Pratola Peligna, Vincenzo Scapaticci, the only railway worker in the whole of Italy to suffer reprisals for his part in the January strike. Upwards of 600 railwaymen struck successfully and the campaign, orchestrated by Perfetto and the anarchists, dragged on until 28 July at which point Scapaticci the station-master was fully acquitted.

Perfetto was the promoter behind the “secret” meeting of Sulmona’s anarchist mechanics on 9 September 1920, at which potential soviet-style options for applying self-managerial practices in that sector were outlined. He organised and led the campaign of solidarity with the workers from the Bussi works who occupied and took over their electro-chemical plant and deal with whom there was a carriage laden with machine-gun ammunition with four machine-guns ready to pull out from Sulmona railway station by 14 September 1920. Orchestrated by Perfetto and the anarchists, the transport workers on duty there disconnected the carriage and blocked the train - locomotive 1882 - bringing all traffic on the Sulmona-Castellamare line to a complete standstill. When the carabinieri stepped in and arrested Perfetto, a spontaneous and solid strike erupted among all the travelling staff and the entire workforce of the engine depot. Rioting and clashes with the forces of law and order followed and the latter were forced by the workers into withdrawing and releasing the rail worker’s secretary “unconditionally”. Not until that night was Locomotive 1882 able to leave and then it was escorted as far as Pescara by a number of mechanics to ensure that there was no stop-off in Bussi.

On 27 September 1920 Perfetto led a campaign by casual railway employees determined to sort out work conditions and other broad demands. On 14 October 1920 he was one of the organisers of a strike in support of Russia and calling for the release of political prisoners. Angelo Sbrana, the anarchist leader of the Italian Rail Union, addressed a rally in Sulmona. On 18 October Perfetto and Scapaticci organised a 24-hour strike that brought the Chieti-Avezzano and Aquila-Isernia lines to a standstill; this was in response to the beating suffered by the anarchist mechanic Antonio Diolaiti at the hands of a gang of fascists from Torre dei Passeri, with carabinieri connivance.

During 1920, Perfetto was also the driving force and leader of the region’s anarchist movement. He was among the main sponsors of the regional anarchist convention held on the Sulmona Camera del Lavoro’s Via Morrone premises starting on 20 May 1920: at that convention consideration was given to the establishment of the Abruzzo Anarchist-Communist Federation affiliated to the UCAI (Italian Anarcho-Communist Union). Sulmona was picked as the base for its secretariat and Perfetto was made secretary and the organisation’s propagandist. At around the same time the ‘I Liberi’ group in Sulmona, affiliated to the Abruzzo Anarchist Federation was formally launched, with Perfetto as leader. Then came anti-militarist campaigns promoted in Sulmona by the young socialists. Along with Tullio Lazzarini, Perfetto helped mobilise the town of Ortona for the 7 June protests at the killing of workers. He took part, as the Abruzzo Anarchist Federation delegate, in the Italian Anarchist Union’s second Congress in Castellammare Adriatico on 15 August that year, during which he was confirmed in the post of secretary. He organised the anarchist propaganda conference held in Sulmona’s Camera del Lavoro from 5 September: three reports were delivered to it: ‘The anarchists, who they are and what they want’ and ‘On behalf of political victims and against the reaction’, by Guglielmo Boldrini, and ‘In support of a United Front’ by Perfetto himself.

After Malatesta, Borghi and other comrades were arrested, the crackdown spread to the movement’s most prominent organisers as well. Perfetto had a high profile on account of the direct action taken on 14 September to boycott the military and show solidarity with the workers in Bussi. That November his home was searched and the carabinieri found Abruzzo Anarchist Federation correspondence. In 1921 he helped set up the Arditi Ferrovieri (Railway Commandos) group. He organised and addressed the rally held in Sulmona on 16 October 1921 at the Vittoria Theatre calling for the release of Sacco and Vanzetti. He summoned, organised and was an active participant in the third Congress that the Abruzzo Anarchist Federation held on the premises of the Sulmona Republican Club on 23 October 1921. Towards the end of that year he was in Raiano for the official opening of Abruzzo’s very first Casa del Popolo (People’s House), the realisation of Umberto Postiglione’s dream. As representative of the ‘I Liberi’ group he took part in the third Italian Anarchist Union congress in Ancona, 1-4 November 1921. He organised a meeting of railway workers in protest against the government’s failure to implement the agreements reached in the wake of the January strike and to re-launch the campaign to free Sacco and Vanzetti. He organised and addressed a second civic campaign on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti on 15 January 1922. He helped mobilise the Abruzzo Anarchist Federation on behalf of Leo Flores, an Arditi del popolo activist who had been arrested in Avezzano. From April onwards he was in charge of the Alleanza del Lavoro (Labour Alliance) branch in Sulmona. He was among the organisers of the 1 May and 1 August 1922 strikes which were attributed to the Labour Alliance. And he was sacked for his role in the August strike.

In 1923 he was arrested in L’Aquila along with other subversives. On his release he moved away to Foggia. He worked for a firm involved in installing heating systems in the city’s houses. But was later let go for political reasons. In 1926 police headquarters ordered that his room be searched and in the course of the search numerous anarchist propaganda pamphlets and a signed photograph of Errico Malatesta were seized. He was given a caution. He found work as a travelling salesman, electrician, mechanic and, finally, as a message boy for the pharmacy of a certain Nemichella who was also on record as an anarchist. He was arrested and stopped repeatedly by the carabinieri. He was reported by an OVRA (fascist secret police) spy for having stated in a barber shop at around the time of Italo Balbo’s death (June 1940): “There goes the first of the hares!”

In 1941 he was jailed in Zungoli (Avenza). Accused of being the organiser of an underground antifascist group, he was then transferred to Mirabella Eclano (Avenza) where he remained right up until the liberation of southern Italy. He then returned to Foggia only to find that the city had been bombed and thousands killed. He was reunited with his family which had been relocated to Francavilla a Mare, as some of the people that the Germans had relocated first to Chieti, an “open city” and then to Ascoli Piceno. He managed to evade the attention of the Nazis and escaped, returning to Foggia. Once the Liberation was over, he was rehired as depot chief at the railway station there. He quickly re-established contacts with the movement’s structures, setting up the ‘Michel Angiolillo’ group based in the Via Corridori. As the Puglia Anarchist Federation’s delegate, he took part in the FAI (Italian Anarchist Federation) convention in Florence on 17-18 March 1946. He helped set up the Capitanata Federation of Anarchist Groups, affiliated to the FAI.

By September 1946, he was editing Anarchia, a one-off publication wholly devoted to the convention held in Florence. Together with the Angiolillo group and Capitanata Anarchist Federation, Perfetto’s activities concentrated on building up the anarchist movement in the region, anarchists’ concerted participation in the refloating of the workers’ movement and reorganising union activity and supporting Michele Angiolillo’s sisters (by then well up in years and living in profound poverty). In a personal capacity he also organised spoken word propaganda in the Avellino region and, jumping right into the middle of the debate under way about the movement’s press, did his bit to clarify relations between the FAI and the nationwide organisation of the libertarian communists. In the columns of the Turin fortnightly Era Nuova, Perfetto also looked after not only a series of analytical and propaganda articles, but also had something to say about his thoughts on anarchism’s philosophical foundations themselves. In 1949 the editors of that Turin fortnightly paper put him in charge of the “A wee bit of anarchist history” column and he drafted and compiled articles on the anarchist movement’s history in Italy from Bakunin through to Gaetano Bresci’s regicide. In the context of the national organisation, as the Capitanata Anarchist Federation’s delegate he was actively involved in the II FAI congress held in Bologna from 16 to 20 May 1947, in the FAI conventions in Rimini on 3 August 1947 and in Canosa di Puglia from 22 to 24 February 1948.

His physical health went into a sharp decline in the space of a few months in 1950. He convalesced in the hospital in Nocera Inferiore. It was thought that he had TB but it proved to be a tumour on the lung. The editors of Era Nuova paid him due homage: “Our beloved and active comrade Perfetto Quirino passed away in Nocera Inferiore on 14 November. He dedicated his entire life to the spreading of the anarchist ideal. His integrity, kindness and sheer faith were greatly prized by all. Any who knew him, even as rivals, could not help but revere and admire him. His comrades have lost one of the finest and will be sorely affected by the loss of a man who embodied the unrelenting struggle for anarchy.”

From: From Umanitá Nova website . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.