Giuseppe Pinelli, Anarchist

Giuseppe Pinelli, Anarchist

His Life

Giuseppe Pinelli was born in Milan’s working-class Porta Ticinese district in 1928. After completing elementary school, he was “forced” to go looking for work, first as a messenger boy and then as a warehouseman. His innate thirst for learning prompted him to fill in the gaps in his self-education by reading hundreds upon hundreds of books.

In 1944-45 he took part in the antifascist resistance as a runner for the Bruzzi-Malatesta Brigades. Once the war ended, ‘Pino’ remained committed and active and played an enthusiastic part in helping to boost the anarchist movement in Milan.

In 1954 he successfully passed a competition for a job with the railways as a labourer. The following year he married Licia Rognini whom he had met while on an Esperanto course.

In 1963 he joined the young anarchists from the Gioventú Libertaria (Libertarian Youth) and two years later was among the founders of the ‘Sacco and Vanzetti’ Circle. In 1968, the members were forced by an eviction notice to shut down that circle, but on 1 May Pinelli was among the founders of a brand-new circle at 31 Piazzale Lugano, within metres of the Ponte della Ghisolfi. 

The new circle hosted a series of lectures and meetings of the earliest united grassroots committees, the legendary CUB, which reflected the first wave of direct action trade unionism outside of the official trade union organizations. ‘Pino’ was among the promoters of the (re)construction of the local chapter of the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI), the revolutionary syndicalist and libertarian-inspired organization. Following the nonsensical arrests of anarchists in the wake of bombs going off in Milan on 25 April 1969 at the central railway station and trade fair (those arrested were to be acquitted in June 1971), Pinelli threw himself into collecting food parcels, clothing and books for forwarding to the arrested comrades. Under the auspices of the newly launched Anarchist Black Cross, he busied himself setting up a solidarity and counter-information network that might be of assistance in other similar situations.

On 12 December 1969, in the wake of the Piazza Fontana massacre, Pinelli was invited to accompany the police to headquarters and indeed rode there ahead of them on his motorbike. Three days later, his body was thrown from the window of a fourth floor room used by the political branch. It marked the end of his life and the opening of a tragic farce that is still being played out today.

State Murder

Pinelli had been arrested within hours of the 12 December 1969 massacre in the Piazza Fontana. He was interrogated for three days and on the evening of the third day was found dead in the courtyard at police headquarters, after falling from the window of the interrogation room on the fourth floor. The official version speaks of suicide; investigators tried to peddle the story that Pinelli took his own life because of his part in the outrage. Not true. Any more than the story of the last few hours of his interrogation.

1968 and 1969 were years marked by worker and student rebellions that seemed to augur great changes. Between January and December 1969, there were 145 attacks mounted, almost all of them fascist in provenance.

On 25 April 1969 at 4.37 p.m., a bomb went off at the National Agricultural Bank in the Piazza Fontana in Milan, it claimed 16 lives and injured a further 88 people. At the same time, other bombs exploded in Rome. Finally, in Milan’s Commercial Bank a briefcase containing a bomb was discovered; it was hurriedly detonated, destroying evidence that might have been priceless to investigators. Immediately, indicative of a pre-ordained plan, the inquiries which had no clues to go on, set off in pursuit of anarchist culprits. By 7.30 p.m. (3 hours after the Piazza Fontana outrage) Inspector Luigi Calabresi was arresting anarchists outside the club on the Via Scaldasole.

On the night of 12 December 1969 around 84 people (nearly all of them anarchists, Giuseppe Pinelli being one of them) had been illegally arrested. On Monday 15 December the anarchist Pietro Valpreda was arrested and charged with the massacre. After serving more than three years in prison, he was to be found innocent and completely acquitted. The press embarked upon a campaign of libel and denigration, swallowing the theories coming from police headquarters.

Giuseppe Pinelli perished after three days of unrelenting questioning when he fell from the fourth floor of police headquarters on 15 December 1969. While strolling around the yard at police headquarters, Aldo Palumbo, the correspondent from L’Unità, heard a thud followed by two more thuds as a body fell from above, striking the first cornice on the wall, bouncing on to the one below and finally crashing to the ground, half on the paving stones of the courtyard and half on the soft earth of a flower-bed. 

Up in the interrogation room were Inspector Luigi Calabresi, sergeants Panessa, Mucili, Mainardi, Caracutta and carabiniere Lieutenant Lograno: all of them were promoted on the grounds of “merit”. Within 20 minutes, the police chief Marcello Guida, who back in 1942 had been a henchman of Benito Mussolini and governor of the political internment camp on Ventotene, had declared that Pinelli had taken his own life and that the suicide was tantamount to an admission of guilt because “his alibi had fallen through”.

Over the first few months, three competing versions of how that suicide had come about were on offer. The anarchists immediately accused the police of being murderers and fascists and the state of having been behind the bomb outrages. A campaign of counter-information got under way, with meetings, parades and books, tantamount to putting the State on trial.

It was discovered that at two seconds to midnight (that is, 2 minutes 2 seconds prior to Pinelli’s fall), an ambulance had been called. The interrogation room measured 3.56 by 4.40 metres and held a number of wardrobes and desks and that, plus the presence of six bodies, made Pinelli’s having darted for the window an impossibility. The odd thing is that the window was open (this was in December and at night). Pinelli struck the cornices on the way down. Meaning that there was no ‘leap’ involved. He fell without making a sound and without raising his hands to shield his head, as if he was already lifeless.

We charge the police with responsibility for the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, who had been arrested twice in breach of the fascist code’s own regulations. We accuse the chief of police and the police commanders in Milan of having announced to the press that Pinelli’s suicide was tantamount to proof of his guilt, and of deliberately concealing his alibi whilst declaring that it “had fallen through.”  The investigators themselves have admitted that they kept no written minutes of Pinelli’s interrogation, so any potential record emerging later can be regarded as false. We accuse the Italian police of having deliberately prevented the investigation from proceeding under the supervision of a magistrate and with the participation of defence lawyers. We accuse the magistrates and police of having repeatedly breached the secrecy of the inquiry by peddling rumours and making accusations tending to defame an entirely innocent man in the eyes of public opinion; a man who was innocent but, in their eyes, guilty of being an anarchist.

We accuse the Italian State of criminal conspiracy targeting the anarchist Pietro Valpreda who for months was subjected to a ferocious moral and physical lynching, whilst what evidence investigators thought they had against him fell apart, item by item. 

Such, in sum, is the anarchist accusation against the State and its machinery, whose intrinsically criminal and violent and nature stands exposed.

Memories of Pinelli

The figure of Pinelli has come to symbolize opposition to the established order in general and police powers in particular. 

Down through the years various songs have been written about Pinelli – songs such as The Ballad of Pinelli, written by (young Mantua anarchists) G. Barozzi, E. Lazzarini and U. Zavanella) on the evening of his funeral and subsequently reworked, amplified and set to music by Joe Fallisi in 1969. Every year, various demonstrations are held in Milan to ensure that Pinelli and the Piazza Fontana outrage are not forgotten: a plaque has been erected in the Piazza reading “To Giusepe Pinelli, anarchist railwayman killed though innocent on the premises of Milan police headquarters: 16/12/1969

The Pinelli incident also inspired a play by Dario Fo, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (in actual fact the reference is almost explicitly to Andrea Salsedo). Enrico Baj’s painting, entitled The Pinelli Funeral which was due to go on display in Milan on the very day that Calabresi was murdered, was also inspired by these events.

The Pinelli case has been dealt with at length by Camillo Cederna, a renowned journalist, who published his evidence in a book entitled Pinelli. A Window on the Outrage, published in 1971 and republished in 2004. Here is an extract from it (from a letter from Giuseppe Gozzini, the first Catholic conscientious objector and friend of Pinelli’s): “He had followed the developments in my case in Catholic (and mainly Florentine) circles and was almost enthralled by the type of testimony. He was familiar (and not from hearsay) with movements and groups which, prompted by their non-violence, were keen to discuss with me the chances of non-violence’s becoming an instrument for political action and conscientious objection a lifestyle, an ongoing social commitment. I used to speak to him about a society based on institutionalized selfishness, established disorder, class struggle and he would steer me back beyond the formulas to the root of the problem, being unwavering in his belief in man and the need to construct a new man, working from the bottom up. Later we met up on lots of occasions and the mainstays of our friendship were Fr Primo Mazzolari and Fr Lorenzo Milani, two misfit priests who have made their mark and not just on the church.” “He lived off his labours, as poor as the birds of the air, staunch in his affections, hungry for friendship and he used to stun his friends with his inexhaustible humanity. I have never been one for labels. The one hung on Pinelli – individualist anarchist – is bland, not to say indecent. Actually he fought at all times against the individualism of tame consciences; he, the atheist, used to help Christians to believe (and so many of my Catholic friends can bear witness to this); he, the working man, taught intellectuals how to think, free at last of stifling schemas. He appreciated the social roots of injustice, but had no faith in radical changes and the sort of ‘revolutions’ that leave men they way they were before. Patient, candid, above board in his everyday commitment, he was a far cry from the fashionable extremisms and ideologies that fill the head but leave the heart empty. For that reason too, I got on well with him.”

Sicilia Libertaria (Ragusa) December 2008

Image, Baj’s painting from 

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.