A brief history of the Centro Studi Libertari/ Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli by Luigi Balsamini [Review]

A brief history of the Centro Studi Libertari/ Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli by Luigi Balsamini [Review]

The Centro Studi Libertari/ Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli is an anarchist project in Milan. Their story is not only ‘local history’ but throws light on anarchist activities and connections from the seventies onwards. Who was Pinelli? Giuseppe Pinelli was a Milanese anarchist who was murdered by the police becoming, in Paolo Finzi’s words, ‘the seventeenth victim of the Piazza Fontana bombing’.[1]

What do they mean by ‘Libertarian Studies’? In this context ‘libertarian’ can be a synonym for anarchist, or refer to a wider range of movements (feminism, ecology etc.) but explicitly ‘never to the Anglo-American rightwing tradition’.[2]

The Bolletino Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli [3] has published a lot of valuable material on the history of anarchism (many of the articles on the KSL website or in our bulletin have been translated from there – and not only on the anarchist movement in Italy, or Italian anarchists outside Italy; but also Germany, or the Yiddish-language anarchist movement). They set their plan out for it in 1995:

We will obviously talk about History with a capital H, its well-known protagonists and sensational events, but also about less-known individual stories, people and episodes that few know about which, however, have made up the connecting tissue of History. This is, therefore, a retracing of our distant past with a few digressions into the present, that at the same time manages to go beyond traditional cultural barriers in order to investigate the manifold faces of contemporary anarchism with the help of the rich interrelation between all the libertarian movements which have sprung up everywhere in the last fifty years.’[4]

Connecting tissue’ is a great phrase, and ‘connections’ is a key word. Reading this pamphlet reminded me of Stuart Christie’s connections with the comrades from Milan – see his tribute to Amedeo Bertolo.[5] These connections also sent me off thinking about ‘Where do anarchist libraries come from?’ For the Milanese comrades, one important figure was Pio Turroni.

Turroni, born in 1906, emigrated first to Belgium and then to France, in order to escape fascist repression, and there participated in antifascist activities organized by exiles. In 1936 he fought in Spain with the Italian division of the Ascaso column; he then escaped to Marseille where he was arrested just as the second world war broke out, subsequently escaped and sought refuge in Mexico. He returned to Italy in 1943 and actively participated in the revival of the anarchist movement: he was legally responsible for the periodical “Volontà” from its first issue in 1946, established in the early 1950s L’Antistato publishing group in Romagna, and was among the promoters of Anarchist Initiative Groups (GIA). From the time of “Materialismo e libertà”, he had established connections with the young Milanese libertarians and, subsequently, supported and followed the activities of the Centro Studi Libertari with great interest, acting as an intermediary for the acquisition of many important donations. As recalled by Amedeo Bertolo:

He presents himself with his laborer’s beret, his mason’s face, and his ‘old-fashioned’ anarchist wisdom. He is initially a bit wary of these enterprising anarchist youngsters, but soon afterwards demonstrates a great openness toward us”.

Even before his death in 1982, Turroni had gifted the Centre his library of around a thousand books relating to anarchism and other political doctrines that he had collected during the postwar years. Later his private archive was added, consisting of ten portfolios containing more than one hundred dossiers, recently catalogued by Lorenzo Pezzica [… These archives contain] the dense network of epistolary exchanges with exponents of the Italian and international anarchist movement, particularly with the Italo-American militants connected with the periodical “L’Adunata dei Refrattari”. Another integral part of the archive are the documents compiled by GIA, the editorial staff of “Volontà”, “L’Antistato” editorial group, writings by Raffaele Schiavina, letters by Luigi Fabbri to Gigi Damiani, and from Sébastien Faure to Armando Borghi. All of this material was personally gathered and kept by Turroni, thus probably avoiding dispersion.’[6]

We are given a glimpse of the challenge of maintaining any library that’s not hermetically sealed: ‘there is the fellow with money problems who pinches the rare antique in order to sell it on to the highest bidder, the bibliophile who nicks the rare item to gloat over in his personal library, the student who literally cuts out the photo or newspaper article he needs for his dissertation (in an era in which reproductions of text and images are readily available), only then to throw the cutting in the bin when the job is done… basically the typologies are infinite but the result is the same: something is lost to the community for petty personal gain.’[7]

One other connection (not mentioned in the pamphlet) is that the Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli has sent duplicates to other libraries, one of which is discussed at length in Andrew Hoyt’s ‘Hidden Histories and Material Culture: The Provenance of an Anarchist Pamphlet’.[8]

Much of Balsamini’s pamphlet covers publishing projects (A Rivista Anarchica, Volontà, Edizioni Antistato, Elèuthera) and other activities outside the library walls, including the Venice gathering of 1984: ‘Thus the Venice Gathering represented an important point of reference for anarchic and libertarian culture, a new-found maturity which enabled it to disengage from the burden of belle époque anarchism and helped the movement to interpret modern society in its own way. The shift was so important that many militants, following this wave of enthusiasm, even saw a line of rupture between “pre-” and “post-” Venice anarchism, the first dying and limited, while the second was headed toward a radical renewal’.[9]

I’m not personally sure about that either/or option – but see what you think. You can read the pamphlet online at https://centrostudilibertari.it/en/csl-history (hard copies are available).


1, ‘Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pinelli (1928-1969): the 17th victim of the Piazza Fontana bombing’ https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/f7m14m The Centro Studi Libertari have just posted the English translation of Lucio Lanza’s book Secrets and bombs: Piazza Fontana, 1969 at http://omeka.bida.im/s/pinelli/item/6428
2, p.5
3, https://centrostudilibertari.it/en/solo_bollettini
4, p.44 quoting Bolletino dell’Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli n.1.
5,  https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/rv170j
6,  p.19-21
7,  p.49-50, from Bolletino dell’Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli 1997, no.4
8, https://zapruderworld.org/journal/past-volumes/volume-1/hidden-histories-and-material-culture-the-provenance-of-an-anarchist-pamphlet/ (the pamphlet itself is at http://www.anarchyarchives.org/bright/nettlau/ara000012.pdf )
9, p.32