Luce Fabbri: from Malatesta to the internet

The death of Luce Fabbri in Montevideo on 19 August 2000 at the age of 92, has robbed us of one of the most outstanding figures in world anarchism, a militant and intellectual of enormous stature who won the respect and love many within and without the libertarian movement, thanks to her moral and political perspicacity and the clarity and depth of her thinking. her political writings (although Luce has left us her historical works and literary criticism and indeed poetry as well), strewn across a number of books and pamphlets and above all scattered through the pages of many newspapers and magazines which are frequently hard to locate, represent a valuable bequest that deserves to be read and reflected upon, even now as well as in the future, by anyone who retains any belief in the values of freedom and human dignity. Her theoretical output, at all times lucid and stimulating, is essentially characterised by her ongoing and indefatigable efforts to probe the very essence of anarchism and update it in the light of the changes to the contemporary world. Her life was lived mostly outside of Italy which she left in her twenties, an exile fleeing fascism with her family and in Uruguay which welcomed her and became her second homeland. The impact of her writings and political activities also made itself felt, though, elsewhere in Europe and the Americas too.

She was born in Rome on 25 July 1908, the first child and daughter of the renowned anarchist militant and theoretician Luigi Fabbri and of Bianca Sbriccoli. The family, o which Luce was to remain forever tied by the bonds of enduring and deep affection, was very soon completed with the arrival of her brother Vero, in Bologna in 1910, Luigi Fabbri having in the interval found work there as a trade union secretary and later as an elementary schoolteacher. Luce grew up in a free and culturally stimulating environment and with her brother had a special insight into their father’s intense political and cultural activity, he being a leading figure in the Italian anarchist movement in the first decade of the 20th century, rubbing shoulders with the many friends and comrades who called to the house, whether these were from Bologna or just happened to be passing through (among them she always had especially fond memories of Errico Malatesta who seemed to her something like a grandfather figure). It was during those years that her friendship - interrupted only by his death - with the Bologna teacher Aldo Venturini (in those days a youthful collaboration with Luigi Fabbri), the future expert and publicist of the works of Francesco Saverio Merlino. The education she received from her father who was always respectful of other people’s personalities, was founded upon calm and reasoned debate and freedom of individual conscience. The ideal and moral values passed on, values of solidarity and humanitarianism, revolved around love of freedom and fairness in social relationships. Having grown up in this setting, Luce very soon came to share her father’s values and ideas and matured naturally into an anarchist herself. At a very early age she published her first article in the review Pensiero e Volontà (1924-26), run by her father and Errico Malatesta. She signed it with the nom de plume of Epicari. Thereafter she refrained for a long time from repeating the experience, out of the typical reticence of the teenager.

In the autumn of 1926, after fascism had finally ensconced itself in power. Luigi Fabbri left the country by clandestine means, crossing the border into Switzerland before moving on to France where his wife, Bianca, would join him the following year. The decision to flee, one that he found especially hard and painful, was prompted essentially by his having lost his teaching post for his refusal to pledge loyalty to the new regime, as well as by the impossibility of his carrying out any free political activity in the country. So, painfully, out of necessity, the family was split up. At the age of 16, Vero, in order not to be a burden upon his relatives, moved to Rome where he joined with a friend in opening up a woodworking studio, becoming a skilled cabinet-maker but eking out a living in outstandingly poor circumstances, especially during the early years.

Separation from his son, whom he would never see again, was a nagging pain for Luigi Fabbri. Vero - closely watched and repeatedly arrested by the fascist authorities - was to be forced into serving on the Russian front during the second world war and upon his return was in serious danger of being sent to Germany. He then went on to participate in the resistance in Rome and during the war went on to join the Italian Communist Party. Pursuing his own course he was to rediscover anarchism after the war ended. In 1946 he moved to Montevideo where he became active in the FAU (Uruguayan Anarchist Federation) and later in the anarchist group launched by his sister. He died in 1991.

Luce stayed behind in Bologna on her own in order to complete her university education, boarding with a family friend, the socialist Enrico Bassi. Towards the end of 1928 she finally graduated from the Faculty of Letters at Bologna University with a thesis on Elisee Reclus that was never published (a few excerpts were published in Spanish later in the daily newspapers Imparcial in Montevideo and La Capital in Rosario). Two months after graduating, Luce slipped across the Swiss border with the aid of the railwayman Giuseppe Peretti from Ticino who supplied her with a phony passport and passed her off as his own wife. By early January 1929 Luce had rejoined her parents in Paris and the family was partly reunited.

In Paris, home to one of the largest communities of antifascist exiles, Luigi Fabbri launched and ran the fortnightly La Lotta Umana (1927-29), the platform for groups that subscribed to the programme and methods of the UAI (Italian Anarchist Union), but the entire editorial panel (also comprising of Ugo Fedeli, Camillo Berneri and Torquato Gobbi) was expelled from France. On 20 March 1929 Fabbri was seized by the police and forced to cross clandestinely into Belgium by threats that the French gendarmes might place him under arrest. In April he was reunited with his wife and daughter in Brussels and the following month the family left Antwerp for Uruguay, at that time the only country ready to welcome immigrants bearing no passports. The hope was that they might at last find a welcome where they did not have to live under constant threat of deportation orders.

Their first few months in Montevideo were hard times due to money problems and the difficulty of settling despite acute nostalgia for their homeland. From the very outset Fabbri could count upon solidarity from and noted the warmth from many Italian and other anarchist and antifascist comrades living in Uruguay or in the adjacent Argentine Republic. Among the comrades who welcomed them on their arrival in Montevideo were the anarchists of Italian extraction Antonio Destro and Domenico Aratari (aka Adario Moscallegra) . For the first month the latter welcomed them into his own home on the city outskirts, surrounded by fields, until they were able to move into more centrally located rented accommodation.

Luce already had a smattering of literary, antiquated medieval Spanish which she had picked up during her university days in Bologna. In order to help out the family, she taught Italian and Greek privately and served on the annual examining board for Italian, which was on the curriculum of the higher secondary schools in Uruguay.

The Fabbris were regulars at the Circolo Napolitano, the one Italian club in Montevideo that had not and would not go over to fascism.

Anarchism, one the dominant force in the Latin American labour movement in the last quarter of the 19th century, was still apparently quite strong in the Southern Cone countries by the 1930s. The movement was largely anarcho-syndicalist n outlook and was especially represented by two mighty anarchist-controlled trade union organisations, the FORA (in Argentina) and the FORU (in Uruguay). Luigi Fabbri worked with those elements with which he felt the greatest affinity, especially with the group around the FORA organ La Protesta, although he made no bones about his own thoughts on the view of labour organisation then prevalent among the South American anarcho-syndicalists. He disagreed a lot more strongly with the actions and ideas of the “expropriator” anarchists like Severino Di Giovanni whose tragic career was coming to its conclusion in Argentina at this time. After Di Giovanni’s assassination of La Protesta director López Arango who had accused him of being in the pay of the police, Fabbri penned an article seething with indignation. This brought him threats and some personal risks.

During that first summer in the new country (the winter months in the northern hemisphere, remember) in order to recover her health which had suffered during the trip out, Luce spent some time holidaying in the mountains around Cordoba in Argentina, as a guest of Diego Abad de Santillán and his family. This was the beginning of a friendship with Santillán (who had for years been corresponding with Luigi Fabbri, with whom he cooperated on a number of publishing ventures) that was to last throughout Luce’s lifetime.

That summer there was a Latin American Teachers’ Congress in Montevideo. This presented Fabbri and his daughter with their chance to make the acquaintances of interesting people from several countries and above all to establish sound relations with the Argentinian intellectuals (Galician-born) Concepción Fernández and José M. Lunazzi.

Another important friendship was that with Simon Radowitzky, the anarchist of Russian extraction who in his teenage years had thrown the bomb that killed Falcón, the butcher of the Argentinian anarchists and who had been sentenced to life in the ghastly convict settlement in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego for it. In 1930, pardoned after twenty years of relentless suffering, Radowitzky was obliged to quit Argentina and moved to Uruguay to a warm welcome from the local comrades.

In the meantime, Luigi Fabbri had launched a significant new publishing venture in the review Studi Sociali, the first edition of which appeared on 16 March 1930. The editorial team included Torquato Gobbi and Ugo Fedeli and Luce wrote a few articles, signed with the nom de plume of Lucia Ferrari. The first eight editions were published in Buenos Aires, relying upon the La Protesta set-up.

The comparative freedom enjoyed in the two republics on the River Plate was short-lived. On 6 September 1930, General Uriburu’s coup d’état in Argentina unleashed a savage crackdown on the anarchists. The FORA stood idly by during the coup, persuaded that this was internal strife between the bourgeoisie and would not have any particular implications for the labour movement. Santillán, by now La Protesta‘s new director, had been far-sighted enough to see the coming disaster and had called for a general strike to bring the country to a standstill and thwart the coup, but he went unheeded. With tragic consequences. Within a few days the entire FORA and La Protesta organisation had been smashed. Many militants were killed or tortured and deported to Ushuaia. Those who managed to escape fled to Montevideo to add to the exile community there. Among these runaways, in addition to Santillán and Lunazzi, was Ermacora Cressatti, an anarchist bricklayer originally from Friuli in Italy. Luce very soon fell in love with him and he became her husband in 1933. A few years later the couple was blessed by the birth of a daughter, Luisa). With the backing of La Protesta gone, Studi Sociali had to shift for itself, amid increasingly financial straits. These were the years of the “Great Depression” triggered by the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. Its impact was also felt in Latin America. Even subscriptions to the review from Italian individuals and anarchist groups in the USA became scarcer.

To worries about the review were added worries about supporting his family and Luigi Fabbri very soon (on grounds relating to his antifascism) lost his post as a teacher at the Scuola Italiana in Montevideo and began to sell books, but his income was meagre and uncertain. Furthermore, from January 1932 on, he had to contend with serious health problems that made his final years a torment and eventually led to his untimely death. And then Malatesta’s death in July 1932 came as a serious blow to him. Luce became the family’s main breadwinner especially after she won a public competition that afforded her access to a career teaching in the higher secondary schools, as a history teacher at a Liceo.

11 March 1933 witnessed the opening in Montevideo of an International Anti-Militarist Congress organised by a proletarian committee which the Communist Party was behind. It was in response to the Chaco War (which had erupted between Paraguay and Bolivia in 1932). Luigi Fabbri and Luce Fabbri (who had a mandate from an Argentinian anarchist group) took part alongside other Latin American anarchists. Before the congress ended the 45 anarchists present walked out of the hall in protest, because of the refusal to allow debate on the ready-drafted final document. Along with the anarchists many delegates recruited by the Communists from among their “fellow travellers” also walked out. In the days that followed the incident led to the departure from the Communist organisations of many sympathisers and a boosting of the libertarian groups.

On 31 March 1933, virtually as Luce was beginning her new job at a Liceo, Gabriel Terra’s coup was mounted in Argentina. It put paid to the climate of political tolerance in the land and installed an authoritarian regime, albeit one less savage than its Argentinian dictatorship and Italian fascist contemporaries. Some anarchists of Italian extraction, Ugo Fedeli for one, were deported to Italy and handed over the fascist authorities. Luigi Fabbri was now confronted again by the nightmare of possible deportation, but this never happened, maybe because his political activity was restricted almost wholly to propaganda and to resisting the Mussolini regime and involved no meddling in the internal affairs of his host countries.

In September 1933 Luce travelled to Argentina, to Rosario and Santa Fe,to deliver a series of lectures on fascism at the Institute for Further Studies. Those lectures were later published as Camisas Negras [Black Shirts] (Buenos Aires, Nervio, 1935). In 1932 I canti dell’attesa [Songs of Waiting], a poetry anthology redolent of nostalgia for the old country and scorn for fascism and its handiwork, had been published in Montevideo by the publishing house Bertani.

On 22 June 1935, following an operation, Luigi Fabbri died. Luce, herself gravely ill, was unable to be at his deathbed or to attend the funeral. The loss of her adored father was one of the deepest wounds of her life. She tried to respond by carrying on her father’s work, especially publication of Studi Sociali, issue no. 40 of which had recently appeared. In her biography of her father, written many years later, Luce set out the reasoning behind her decision:

The review did not perish. After a lengthy illness (pneumonia) and during a very long period of convalescence - I had six months off work as a teacher - I prepared the first issue of the new series, not without a lot of doubts and much swapping of letters with comrades. I do not believe in the hereafter and getting the review out was my only way of keeping in touch with him, the part of him that death could not take from us: his thought. There was enough of an agreement between us because I was able to pull it off without sacrificing anything of my independence, a value that he had taught me to defend jealously. But I was very much afraid. There was no thought of taking his place but I did want to maintain a certain quality and I was afraid lest I might not be up to the mark. But it seemed to me that I had to take that chance. However, I realised that, absorbed as I was after my recovery with teaching and the movement locally, to which was added very soon solidarity work in favour of libertarian Spain and finally motherhood, I could not match my father’s work-rate as far as the review was concerned. It came out whenever I was able to bring it out right up until the end of the second world war; in 1946, with the resurgence of our papers in Italy, it lost its main raison d’être and was wound up.” (See Luigi Fabbri, Storia d’un uomo libero, p. 215)

The first edition of this second series of Studi Sociali was almost entirely devoted to the review’s founder and came out on 20 November 1935 with articles by Torquato Gobbi, Virgilio Bottero, Emilio Frugoni, Domingo Rodriguez, Gaston Leval and a few pieces by Fabbri himself. Luce’s own article was entitled “The educator” and it examined her father in terms of the conduct of his private family life, especially with his children. Even after that Luce fought shy of writing about her father as a public figure, out of fear of not being wholly objective in her judgments.

Between 1936 and 1939 Luce - who was in contact especially with Santillán who had gone back to Spain in 1931 and was one of the top CNT leaders in Catalonia - committed herself wholeheartedly to supporting the Spanish anarchists who were fighting on two fronts, against fascism and for revolution, through the establishment and defence of libertarian collectives harried by the Stalinists and bourgeois republican forces. Be it noted that some of her writings of this period and afterwards, being marked by a degree of understanding of the motives of those Spanish anarchist exponents who, over the course of the civil war, had consented to joining the Madrid government and the home rule government in Catalonia, provoked disagreement and criticism from segments of the international libertarian movement. Luce herself was to stipulate on several occasions that whilst this was a matter of understanding those comrades’ human and political plight (they were convinced that they were embracing the lesser of two evils in an objectively difficult situation fraught with dangers, in which they were acutely aware of the burden of their own responsibility) rather than acceptance of a ministerialism to which she did not herself subscribe. In 1937, under the nom de plume of Luz d. Alba. she published 19 de julio. Antologia de la revolución española, in the hope of alerting public opinion in Latin America about what was really going on in Spain. The following year, the pamphlet Gli anarchici e la rivoluzione spagnola [The Anarchists and the Spanish Revolution] was published in Lugano by Carlo Frigerio. It included Luce’s article “The Government Problem” and an interesting commentary upon that problem by Santillán. Luce also helped out regularly with anarchist publicity, especially in Uruguay and Argentina.

The Spanish revolution which had initially inspired such high hopes eventually came to a tragic end, followed shortly afterwards by the outbreak of the second world war. During the war, Luce put together Rivoluzione Libertaria in Italian (a newspaper meant for smuggling back into Italy; 5 issues appeared) and shortly after that the Italian page of Socialismo y Libertad, an interesting experiment in trilingual journalism published in Montevideo, with contributions from socialists, anarchists and republicans united in common cause against fascism.

Early in 1946, with the war over, Luce made a trip to Brazil and was the guest in Rio de Janeiro of the Italian anarchists Nello Garavini and Emma Neri, antifascist exiles, and their daughter Giordana. On the way back from a trip to property owned by the Garvinis in the Mangaratiba area in the Amazonian jungle, Luce and Nello were stricken with malaria and it was feared they might die. In March Luce returned to Montevideo where her husband and young daughter awaited her. By now she was out of danger and convalescing but still weakened by the disease. A few months later the book was closed on the third series of Studi Sociali which had changed its format during the war and appeared at longer intervals.

In the ensuing years the review was to be replaced by a series of pamphlets, some of them written by Luce, such as [in Italian] Freedom in Revolutionary Crises (1947), Anti-communism, Anti-imperialism and Peace (1949), and The Road (1952). Another two pamphlets in the series, although by other writers, appeared with introductions by Luce: there was Max Nettlau’s Saverio Merlino (1948), Errico Malatesta’s Organisation and Luigi Fabbri’s Freedom to Experiment (1950). At the same time she was writing quite regularly for the review Volontà, which at that time was run from Naples by Giovanna Berneri and Cesare Zaccaria. Edizioni RL, connected with the review, were to publish [in Italian] Under the Totalitarian Threat. Democracy, Liberalism, Socialism, Anarchism (1955), one of her most telling writings, and Problems of Today (1958).

Published in Spanish were Totalitarianism between the Two Wars (Buenos Aires 1948) and Freedom between History and Utopia (Rosario 1962). In the latter, Luce - as part of an overall consideration of freedom, socialism, revolution and dictatorship - critically considers, from a libertarian viewpoint, the authoritarian successes of the recent Cuban revolution. It should be stressed that in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America, the Cuban revolution, especially at the start, aroused enthusiasm and hopes in large segments of public opinion and was to have a divisive impact upon the anarchist movement, tilting one fraction of militants and sympathisers (especially the younger ones) in the direction of Castroism and armed struggle. Some decades on, this was, to some extent, a replay of the situation created in many countries in the wake of the October revolution when enthusiasm for events in Russia had tilted much of the working masses and militants from the anarchist movement towards the incipient communist parties. Differing assessments of the Cuban revolution sparked heated arguments and disputes within the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU) and in the end, Luce, finding herself in a minority on this crucial matter, had to quit the organisation with a few other comrades and launch an autonomous group of her own. The split was never repaired even though the passage of time proved her right, exposing the Castroite and Guevarist mythology and the tragic mirage of guerrilla warfare in Latin America.

From the 1960s on, there was a slow-down in the output of political writings, whilst her essays on historical or literary topics grew more numerous. In 1949 Luce was awarded the chair of Italian Literature at the University of Montevideo (and held it until 1991 when she finally retired). In 1951 she was also appointed lecturer in the History of Italian Civilisation (as well as Italian Literature) at the Artigas Teacher Training Institute. Much of her time and her best efforts were expended on teaching and on investigating related matters. In 1966 she published the study Influence of Italian Literature on River Plate Culture (1810-1853), followed the next year by a second volume covering the years 1853 to 1915. A few years later came Leopardi’s Poetry (1971), preceded and succeeded by essays on Foscolo, Machiavelli and Dante. Her prolific writings on Dante were to culminate at the end of her academic career in the volume Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, published by the University of Montevideo in 1994.

Between 1971 and 1985, Uruguay, like other South American nations, tasted a life of coup d’états and military dictatorships, with lengthy and bloody repression of leftwing movements. Maybe on account of her great age and academic standing, Luce suffered no particular harassment, even though she had to forswear public political activity and had well-grounded worries about her daughter whose sympathies lay with radical political groups, and for her two young grandchildren (her mother Bianca and husband Ermacora being already dead). In order to avert their being seized during house searches, she gave her precious archives (which includes her father’s letters) to the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam which supervised the removal of these original documents to its premises in Holland.

After the end of the military dictatorship, which bequeathed the country a heavy toll of disappeared and torture victims and dead, the conditions for political activity other than of the clandestine variety arose. Luce resumed her activity with the most like-minded anarchist comrades. In 1986 the Grupo de Estudio y Acción Libertaria (Libertarian Study and Action Group), to which she belonged launched a newspaper that was originally called Geal (from the group’s initials) but, from issue No 3 on, was renamed Opción Libertaria. I addition she wrote for numerous other papers in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America and became a dependable point of reference for these. In Montevideo the comrades from the Comunidad del Sur (founded in 1955 and still active) were particularly close to her. In 1983 some local comrades saw to the publication in Buenos Aires of El anarquismo: mas allá de la democracia [Anarchism: Beyond Democracy], a pamphlet offering a Spanish translation of some of Luce’s contributions to A Rivista Anarchica which are particularly useful in affording an insight into her thought.

In 1993 Luce made her last trip to Europe, to take part in the International Anarchist Exposition in Barcelona. The paper that she read at the symposium A Utopia for the 21st Century (translated and published in A Rivista Anarchica, No 205) may be taken as her spiritual testament. Capitalising upon a trip to Barcelona, she also spent a few weeks in Italy and that was the last time that she was to see her native land (having visited in 1954, 1981 and 1987).

In her later years Luce set about writing what was perhaps her most necessary book, that biography of her father which was published by the Biblioteca Franco Serantini of Pisa in 1996 as Luigi Fabbri. Storia d’un uomo libero [ Luigi Fabbri. A Free Man’s Story]. To some extent and no matter what she intended, this was also autobiographical, at least with regard to the first stage of her own life which had been spent in close contact with her father.

In 1998, when she turned 90 (her birthday being celebrated quite prominently in Uruguay where she was a public figure) two volumes of her writings appeared: Una strada concreta verso l’utopia. Itinerario anarchico di fine millennio [Concrete Steps towards Utopia. A Fin de Siècle Anarchist Itinerary] published by Samizdat in Pescara and La Libertad entre la historia y la Utopia. Tres ensayos y otros textos del Siglo XX [ Freedom between History and Utopia. Three Essays and other 20th Century Texts] published in Barcelona-Dreux by Edición A. Fontanillas Borras and S. Torres Planilla.

Her mind, well-used to reasoning, worked right up unto the last. For some time she had been working on an essay on the phenomenon of auto-didacticism in the labour movement, but we do not know how far she got with her research and putting the results of it into writing. Even as we received the sad news of her death, we also received No 33 of Opción Libertaria which, as ever, contained a few pieces from her, probably the last she wrote during her long and productive life.

We have lost Luce and for any of us who knew her personally and loved her this is a grave and irreplaceable loss, albeit one that was to some extent to be expected. given the respectable innings that she had had. To paraphrase what she herself wrote with regard to her father’s death, there is a certain solace in the knowledge that there remains something that no one can ever take from us, her thought.

From: A Rivista Anarchica, No 266. October 2000. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.