Alfonso Failla (1906-1986)
Born in Syracuse, Sicily in 1906, Alfonso Failla was drawn to anarchism from a very early age, throwing himself into the life of the movement and into social struggles in his home city and throughout eastern Sicily. These were the years of the rising tide of fascism which in Syracuse took the shape of marauding bands of armed fascist goons, mostly from outside the district. Failla, not quite 20, spearheaded a number of operations against the violence of these goons; on more than one occasion he was obliged to go on the run. Along with older and younger comrades, Failla set up an underground antifascist propaganda network heavily reliant upon bicycle couriers between Syracuse and a number of towns in eastern Sicily.
Arrested in 1930, Alfonso was sent into banishment, there to remain continually - with a very short interruption spent in Syracuse under strict police surveillance - up until 1943. He had occasion to ‘tour’ a number of islands used for the purpose (Ponza, Tremiti, Ventotene, etc) and was involved in all of the most significant battles which, in spite of the tough living conditions of the internees, illuminated those years; such as the campaign against the obligation placed upon all internees to deliver the Roman (fascist) salute. This led to the arrest of a hundred internees (of varying political outlooks), who were brought to Naples for ‘trial’ and received terms of imprisonment - on completion of which they were sent back to their internment locations.
Very few antifascists served such a lengthy period of internment as Alfonso: over those 13 years (he was 24 at the start, 37 by the end) Failla had occasion to know virtually every one of the thousands of people ‘processed’ through the internment system, including what were to become the future ruling class of the post-fascist era. In the heated arguments and savage debates typical of the internees (particularly as a result of the studied sectarianism of the then Stalinist Communists), inflamed even further by events in Spain, Failla became a rallying point for the sizeable (and substantial) anarchist community in confinement (where only the Communists outnumbered them).
When, after 25 July 1943, the political detainees were freed from the island of Ventotene (where most of them were held), only the anarchists were excluded for nearly two months from the release scheme. From Ventotene they were then transferred and held in the Renicci d’Anghiari concentration camp (in Arezzo), from where they mounted a mass escape, thanks - yet again - to the initiative of a few, including Failla.
That was in September of ‘43. Failla then threw himself headlong into the resistance against the Nazi-fascists, operating primarily in Lombardy (in concert with the ‘Bruzzi-Malatesta’ libertarian brigades), in Liguria and in Tuscany ( along with the ‘Lucetti’ anarchist battalion and other units - the most substantial specifically anarchist presence in the resistance). As a man of action, Failla was to the fore in countless episodes (including the liberation in the Modena district of dozens of people marked down for dispatch to the camps in Germany).
Following the Liberation, and although spending several periods in Sicily, (in Syracuse he launched the anarchist newspaper La Diana libertaria) and where he was involved in popular struggles, strikes, meetings, conferences, debates, etc., he moved to settle first in Rome and then in Carrara where he found work with the Cooperativo del Partigiano.
A leading light of the reorganisation of the anarchist movement, it was he who replied at the foundation congress of the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI) to the greetings sent to the congress participants by the Socialist Party secretary, Sandro Pertini, a fellow-veteran of so many struggles in his confinement days. Failla reminded Pertini - surely the most prestigious of the socialist antifascists - of the battles they had fought together and of the battles they might yet fight together. But he made sure to emphasise that the institutional and parliamentary road that the socialists had embarked upon could not meet the interests of the exploited and indeed would drive an ever widening wedge between the Socialist Party and the anarchist movement.
Firmly persuaded of the need for a specifically anarchist organisation, Failla was extremely clear on this point (which was, as ever, one of the most hotly debated issues among anarchists) and was perfectly in line with the thinking and practice of Errico Malatesta. Thus he threw himself whole-heartedly into stimulating activities, co-ordination, the spreading of ideas and the distribution of the press, arguing the need to inject meaning into the specific organisation and taking issue with the anti- and ultra-organisationist tendencies. In his practical day to day organisational work on behalf of the FAI, he was at all times very careful to seize upon positive contributions from other tendencies and especially any articulated by individual militants, regardless of initials or personal frictions.
In the late 1940s he was editor of the weekly Umanita Nova and for a long time was the editor-in-chief, in which capacity he was brought to court a number of times. The heavy sentencing he had endured in the fascist era - in the case of many party political figures, these had provided a good springboard into positions of power - were not recognised as creditable in the case of the anarchist Failla and indeed, some years ago, provided the pretext for his not being held blameless and refusing to grant him bail in a libel case (Umanita Nova had referred to ‘Milan police being like Franco’s police’ following yet another police killing). A powerful orator, he gave hundreds of meetings and lectures.
From: (adapted) from A Rivista Anarchica No 135, March 1986. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.