Addenda on Francesco Ghezzi

In a recently published study,[1] a young Russian anarchist – Mikhail Platonov – has disclosed hitherto unpublished details about Francesco Ghezzi. Essentially, they rely upon a reading of the “papers relating to his trial during 1936-1939”, recently published in Russian and including the transcript of the interrogation of the Italian anarcho-syndicalist. Here we offer a few extracts.

A ‘dyed-in-the-wool anarchist’

“A dyed in the wool anarchist, with ideas clearly defined since 1909.” This is how Ghezzi described himself to the agents of the GPU who were in charge of drawing up the indictment against him in 1937. Questioned by them about his anarchist activities prior to his arrival in the USSR, he replied:

“We organized labour strikes in Milan on economic grounds, but once the police started shooting at demonstrators, those strikes took on a political character. Not that all such movements were crowned by success. Every defeat was followed by massive arrests. In order to escape the crackdown, I fled to Paris in 1914, before returning to Milan in 1915 at the time of the mass return of political refugees. At the time, the anarchist organization had espoused an anti-militarist platform and, together with the Milan anarchists, I campaigned for a mass commitment to opposition to the imperialist war. In 1916, fleeing police harassment, I moved abroad again, this time to Switzerland where I had a hand in the organizing of an uprising in Zurich. In 1918, I was arrested by the Swiss police and after an eight month investigation I was accused of having had a hand in the preparations for the Zurich uprising, in cahoots with the communist faction within the Social Democratic Party. Following a public campaign, I was released and the very next day was expelled from Switzerland for having protested against a demonstration that was patriotic in character. In 1919, I left Switzerland for Paris, leaving there in 1920, after a general amnesty was ordered. At which point I returned to Milan.”

The Yalta Commune

Ghezzi’s time with the libertarian farming community in Yalta (Crimea) between 1923 and 1926 [2] was of great interest to the GPU inquisitors who accused him of having hosted Leon Trotsky’s daughter – not that he denied it, but he portrayed it as “a visit of a private sort, unrelated to Trotskyism” – as well as corresponding with “anarchist anti-soviet personnel” abroad, which he acknowledged as follows:

“Certainly. On returning to the USSR I had not given up my anarchist ideas. I declare that I have always been and still am an anarchist. While I was in Yalta, I wrote numerous letters to my comrades abroad, condemning the stance of the Communist Party vis a vis the NEP. I wrote to my anarchist comrades abroad that in Russia private commerce and exploitation were permitted, but that anarchist activities were prosecuted. In one of those letters, I wrote that the Bolsheviks had imprisoned the anarchist Nicolas Lazarevitch and that I had lodged an objection with the GPU.”

On his return to Mosow in 1926, Ghezzi kept up his connections with libertarians abroad.[3] The Kropotkin Museum  provided him with one last place to pursue anarchist activity. He took part in the debate around the Arshinov Platform, which he was against. On the tenth anniversary, he managed to smuggle a manuscript of the anarchist Alexander Borovoi out of the USSR for publication abroad.

First arrest

Arrested along with a group of twelve comrades described by the authorities as “non-disarmed anarchists” and accused of “engaging in counter-revolutionary activities, contrary to Party policy and the soviet authorities”, Ghezzi was sentenced on 31 May 1929 to three years in a labour camp and solitary confinement. He was sent to Suzdal, 250 kms north-east of Moscow.

As a result of an international solidarity campaign, Ghezzi was freed in January 1931, but not allowed to leave the USSR. He was banished to Kazakhstan before being allowed to return to Moscow where he was rehired by the same factory.

An interval of ‘freedom’

A note drafted in 1937 by the GPU on foot of information gathered from political and trade union leaders in the factory where Ghezzi was working stipulated:

“Bereft of political education. Anarcho-syndicalist convictions. During his time working with us he has participated in workers meetings, without ever taking sides which, given his political background, may be understood as indicative of disagreement with Party and soviet government activity.” 

In 1936-1937, Ghezzi kept abreast of developments in Spain as best he could. At the time of his second arrest, the GPU found copies of two letters that he had sent to Party officials, volunteering to fight in Spain. During his interrogation, he professed himself “offended by the soviet authorities who have denied me the opportunity to go to Spain to take part in the revolutionary movement there.”

Second arrest

On 5 November 1937, he was arrested again. The charge sheet – stipulating that “as a dyed-in-the-wool anarcho-syndicalist” [Ghezzi] has engaged in counter-revolutionary activity in his place of work” and hinting that he “supports German Nazism”, relied upon testimony collected from among his workmates. One of them reported a conversation had with the Italian worker as they left the factory and it stated:

“Ghezzi has made statement after statement defaming comrade Stalin. He spoke to me of a book published in France, a biography.[4] He told me that in it can be found the whole truth about Stalin, that the revolution was not of his making, but was made by those whom he represses. In that book, it states that, on his death-bed, Lenin had asked that Stalin be prevented from becoming leader. I reported these counter-revolutionary claims to the trade union leaders who in turn passed them on to the [factory] Party leader.”

The findings stated:

“The witnesses questioned (eight people) have stated that Ghezzi (…) has engaged within the factory in active counter-revolutionary activity, made anarchist propaganda and peddled false information on the situation of workers in the USSR, whilst simultaneously defaming Party leaders and the soviet authorities. During the trial of the Trotskyist clique, he made propaganda in favour of the enemies of the people.”

In response to these charges Ghezzi stated:

“I have been and still am an anarchist. Nobody can make me change my beliefs. In 1929 I said that labour in the USSR is underpaid, that positions of leadership are held by bureaucrats who help ensure deterioration in the workers’ lot. At the time, I made plain my disagreement with Party policy which was too slow in rebuilding the economy and was behind the existence of an army of unemployed … I confirm that I have spoken lots of anti-soviet utterances and have even declared myself opposed to the Party’s trade union policy. In 1937, I said that there is no real democracy inside the soviet trade unions because all political currents have been repressed in Russia.”

In contrast to the stance espoused by most of those accused at the time – somewhere between looking for compromise and self-criticism – Ghezzi affirmed his status as an oppositionist. Questioned three times during the investigation leading up to his trial, at no point did he query the testimony put to him. He merely denied having felt sympathy with the Trotskyist Left Opposition, but admitted having been scathing in his criticism of the Stalinist trials of “enemies of the people”.

This land where the dead are shot

Sentenced to eight years’ penal servitude, Ghezzi left the Lubyanka and found himself in a labour camp in the Arctic Circle before being transferred a fortnight later to Vorkuta.

His trail died out in 1943 when, on special orders from the NKVD, he was sentence on 13 January to be shot “for having indulged in anti-soviet talk”, suggesting that imprisonment had not curtailed his anarchist beliefs.
That sentence, though, would not be carried out, as Francesco Ghezzi had died in Vorkuta on 3 August 1942, as the certificate from the camp authorities attests. The unfathomable arcana of bureaucracy …

Afterword

In July 1955, his partner Olga Gaake wrote to Nikita Khrushchev asking him to reopen the Ghezzi file and set his rehabilitation in motion. An investigation was opened. One of the prosecution witnesses from 1937 was questioned and conceded that he had caved inti insistent pressure brought to bear by the investigators and he withdrew his accusations.

On 21 May 1956, the Moscow court stated that “the evidence against him is inadequate” for the “self-confessed anarchist” Ghezzi to be convicted and it queried the NKVD’s finding, but declared that it was not competent to proceed with his rehabilitation. [5]

And there the Ghezzi affair finally rests.

Freddy GOMEZ

1, An Italian translation of this, undertaken by Roberto Ambrosoli, appeared in N 4 (October-December 2006) of the Milan review Libertaria. The addenda here rely upon that translation. 

2, Ghezzi shared his time there with Italian anarchists Otello Gaggi (arrested in 1935), Tito Scarselli (died prior to 1937), Oscar Scarselli and Nazareno Scarioli and a French libertarian by the name of Robert Guiheneuf. 

3, These included Diego Abad de Santillán (Spain), Errico Arrigoni and Moraviglia (United States), Luigi Fabbri (Uruguay) and the exiled anarchists Mark Mratchny, Efim Yartchuk and Piotr Arshinov. 

4, The reference is to Boris Souvarine’s book, Stalin

5, See L. A. Dolzhanskaya’s essay “I was and I always shall be – an anarchist…” (based on material from the case file of Francesco Ghezzi) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/41nsz5. The 1956 appeal resulted in the conviction being set aside as ‘not proven’ given that ‘In 1956 the standard formula “in the absence of the commission of a crime” could not be applied to a “confirmed” anarchist like Ghezzi.’ [KSL note]

From: À contretemps No 26, April 2007 http://acontretemps.org/spip.php?article150

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.