Silvano Fedi is without doubt the most popular and best loved Resistance figure in the eyes of the people of Pistoia.(1) Today there are schools, sports centres, exhibition centres, swimming pools and, in the heart of the city, the Corso Silvano Fedi, all called after him and looking down from Montechiaro hill where he and Giuseppe Giulietti both met their ends is the monument dedicated to Fedi by Umberto Bovi and created in 1979 with donations raised by a public subscription sponsored by a committee set up by the Bonelle ANPI (National Partisans of Italy Association).
One of the features of the sculpture, the metal of which has been defaced by inane and offensive incisions, is a quote from the cover of Leo Tolstoy’s Cruel Pleasures reminding us of Silvano’s life experiences; following a difficult time unusual for a young student of his day, it refers to a mankind freed from need in a world without borders; he nurtured a deep-seated and consistent opposition to fascist rule.
Thus, on 12 October 1935, aged 19, he was arrested with Fabio Fondi, Giovanni La Loggia and Carlo Giovannelli, referred to the Special Tribunal and sentenced to a year in prison.
When this was commuted after a time, Fedi returned to Pistoia and once more threw himself enthusiastically into the fight against fascism, confident in his anarchist or, as he preferred to describe it, “libertarian communist” ideal. Remember that in Pistoia anarchists boasted of a traditional presence dating back to when Giuseppe Manzini, father of the outstanding authoress Gianna Manzini, had started publishing L’Ilota in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, the only ones to take the fascists on on their own terms were the small local chapter of the Arditi del Popolo, made up chiefly of anarchists and inspired - as Alberto Ciampi has recently reminded us in a priceless article - by Virgilio Gozzoli. (2)
During the 1930s and 1940s, in the course of its conspiratorial activities, the older generation of anarchists in Pistoia (Egisto Gori, Archimede Peruzzi, Tito Eschini and so on) came into contact with the group of young students that was gradually building up around Fedi (people like La Loggia, Giovannelli, Filiberto Fedi, Raffaello Baldi, the Bagellini brothers and so on) and who were later joined by a few workers and technicians from the San Giorgio Works (people such as Tiziano Palandri, Oscar Nesti, Giulio Ambrogi, etc.) plus the Il Bottegone group (Sergio Baldelli, Francesco Toni etc.).
The presence of high school students, injecting fresh enthusiasm and vigour into the multi-hued social fabric underpinning Pistoian anarchism ensured that the movement, in part through the launching of the FCL (Libertarian Communist Federation), spread and was able to compete with the Communist Party which was emerging as the most substantial underground antifascist force. Right after 25 July 1943, Fedi who had been one of the prime movers behind a popular demonstration in the streets of Pistoia was arrested by Marshal Badoglio’s police, only to be released shortly thereafter in the face of the people’s anger.
After the Armistice, and following some political and organisational squabbling with anarchists from the “old guard”, especially Tito Eschini, Silvano launched his own partisan unit, the Squadre Franche Libertarie (Libertarian Irregulars) in October 1943; initially made up of about fifty men and with ties to the Action Party, this unit claimed complete independence from the CLN (National Liberation Committee) and was for the most part made up of anarchist militants or men of libertarian mind. He chose not to take to the hills but to operate indiscriminately between the city and the surrounding countryside where chances of getting fresh supplies of arms and munitions were better and the unit ranged between the Pistoia district and the Quarrata area and the Montalbano hills as well as in Fuececchio and Lamporecchio and it showed itself particularly adept at mounting spectacular raids capitalising upon the element of surprise. In fact, he displayed great daring and recklessness in one operation that was reminiscent of a practical joke: using only six men (Danilo Betti, Brunello Biagini, Marcello Capacchi, Santino Pratesi and Giulio Vannucchi), between 17 and 20 October 1943 it mounted three consecutive raids on the well-armed fascist headquarters in the Santa Barbara Fortress, making off with a large amounts of weapons, munitions and food supplies, part of which was removed to the mountains. After that, Silvano would always set aside part of whatever his raids on fascist strongholds in the city and surrounding areas brought in (raids often carried off without bloodshed) to bolster other Pistoian partisan units, ranging from the “Pippa” (led by Manrico Ducceschi) to the Communist Party and Action Party units.
Apropos of these raids of Silvano’s we recently had the good fortune to record a lengthy chat with Artese Benesperi. Benesperi, born on 19 August 1915, made Fedi’s acquaintance in November 1943, through Tiziano Palandri and some other friends from Bonelle and from then on Artese was at Silvano’s side in the armed struggle during every one of the crucial and spectacular operations in his extraordinarily intrepid fight against the fascists and the Nazis. “Silvano” - Artese assured us - “had a great head on his shoulders and he proved this on many occasions, as in the incident in which I was wounded, when that German officer was killed in Valdibrana and when Silvano handled things in such a way as to ensure that nobody was shot for it.”
Artese was referring to what happened on the night of 29 March 1944 when he, Silvano, Tiziano Capecchi and another comrade ventured out to recover some weapons and victuals and stumble across a German officer out courting, leading to an exchange of gunshots. The object after that was to avert reprisals by the Germans who already had plans to shoot ten people and, after ensuring that Artese received medical treatment, Silvano sprang into action to pre-empt this, making his way the following evening to Serravalle, to the villa where the celebrated playwright Giovacchino Forzano was living and successfully persuading him to use his friendship with Mussolini to avert the massacre.
Artese remembered how Silvano later decided to approach the Pistoian Licio Gelli (more widely reported in the Italian press recently in relation to the P2 scandal), a 25 year old lieutenant serving as liaison between the Pistoian fascists and the German command; Gelli had offered his services to the resistance some time earlier. Gelli, who by then was seriously compromised in the eyes of Pistoia’s antifascists and facing the prospect of the inexorable Allied advance through Italy, was keen to earn himself some “partisan” brownie points with the local CLN so as to save his own skin, as later he did: Fedi on the other hand was on the look-out for a front man who might allow him to carry out further spectacular and daring operations in the very near future.
Actually, during this time, Silvano and his men successfully pulled off an attack (attack No 4!) on the Fortress before disarming police at the Salò Republic’s police headquarters in the Piazza S. Leone and finally raiding the Ville Sbertoli prison.(3) On this last raid Licio Gelli was directly involved; together with partisans Enzo Capecchi, Giovanni Pinna, Iacopo Innocenti, disguised as fascists, they had the doors opened for them by pretending that they were bringing in Silvano and Artese who appeared as if they were handcuffed. The partisans then promptly produced their guns and disarmed the guards and released 54 prisoners, including two Jews; the remainder were almost all political detainees.
As the record shows and as everybody appreciates, Silvano’s flirtation with Gelli was plainly a circumstantial one, but it is worth noting that, initially, it had created quite a bit of puzzlement in some resistance circles in Pistoia, misgivings being dispelled only after “Pippo” spoke up to confirm that he trusted Silvano implicitly.(4) However, something went sour in relations between Fedi and some of his dearest comrades (including Panconesi, Giovannelli, Nerozzi and Brunetti and, above all, Tiziano Palandri, who left Silvano and headed up into the hills to join the “Pippo” unit, of which he went on to become effective second-in-command). Here, however, Artese stresses everything that he said at the time to the historian Renato Risaliti and as is borne out by a similar revelation made to Risaliti by Palandri himself, to the effect that the differences of opinion between the pair essentially arose from the fact that “in keeping with his beliefs” Silvano had indicated his intention of carrying on the armed struggle in pursuit of a new world…” on behalf of the people’s freedom … even after the Anglo-Americans arrived.”(5)
Fedi’s far-fetched dream of revolution which would probably have stayed precisely that (a dream), viewed with some detachment by Artese today. (“Silvano had great ideals which would probably have been very hard to achieve, and great organisational ability too, but great things require great means: the Americans won the war because they had the capacity to build themselves a ship a day, whereas we, with our few pistols and the odd machine-gun, could not have achieved a lot.”) was abruptly interrupted on 29 July 1944. In the early afternoon on a country lane near Croce di Vinacciano, as Silvano was waiting with some of his friends for a few thieves who had been misusing the name of the “Fedi” unit to return to the unit stolen goods for restoration to their rightful owners (as laid down a couple of days earlier by a Pistoia CLN court sitting in Ponte alla Pergola), he walked into an ambush set for him by the Germans and in the ensuing fire-fight he and Giulietti lost their lives. Also wounded was Marcello Capecchi who, like virtually all of the other partisans with Fedi, managed to survive, except for Brunello Biagini who was captured and shot on 1 August. The presence there of a large contingent of soldiers, deployed in hidden ambush positions, in that place and at that hour, is even today something not quite easily explained away for those who reckon that Silvano had been betrayed. Artese is one such person, but as to the identity of the supposed informers, he is not forthcoming. The following day ” … there was a swoop on Colina de Pontelungo; those arrested were hauled away to the one-time GIL premises in the Piazza S. Francesco for questioning.”(6) Among these were Artese and Enzo Capecchi who pulled off a spectacular escape.(7) Between them they assumed command of the “Fedi” unit up until the liberation of Pistoia, the unit entering the city after occupying, one after the other, Vinci, Lamporecchio and Casalguidi after hard fighting with the Germans and sustaining several losses.(8)
1 C.O. Gori, “Arrivano I partigiani, Pistoia e libera” in Microstoria, No 35 (May-June 2004)
2 A. Ciampi “Virgilio Gozzoli, vita requite di un anarchico pistoiese” in Microstoria No 37 (September-October 2004)
3 S. Bardelli-E. Capecchi-E. Panconesi Silvano Fedi. Ideali e coraggio (Pistoia, Nuove experience 1984) pp. 45-68
4 G. Petracchi Al tempo che Berta filava. Alleati e patrioti sulla linea gotica (1943-1945) (Milan, Marcia 1996) pp. 89-91
5 R. Risaliti Antifascismo e Resistenza nel Pistoiese (Pistoia, Tellini 1976) pp. 213-214
6 Marco Francini (editor) La Guerra che ho vissuto. I sentieri della memoria (Pistoia, Unicoop Firenze-Sezione Soci Pistoia, 1997) p. 364
7 R. Corsini “Le tappe della vita di Silvano Fedi” in Bollettino Archivio G. Pinelli, No 5 (July 1995)
8 Besides the materials cited above, for Silvano Fedi, see R. Bardelli-M. Francini Pistoia e Resistenza (Pistoia, Tellini 1980) pp. 59-62; I. Rossi La ripresa del Movimiento Anarchico e la propaganda orale dal 1943 al 1950 (Pistoia, RL, 1981) pp. 26-30, 133-143: P. Bianconi Gli anarchici italiani nella lotta contro il fascismo (Pistoia, Archivio Famiglia Berneri, 1988), pp. 83-97; A Rivista Anarchica, No 20 (1973) and La scuola nel regime fascista: il caso del Liceo classico a Pistoia (Pistoia, Amministrazione comunale, 1977) pp. 51, 55
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.