The Diana Theatre Bombing

On 23 March 1921 a group of Milanese anarchists, believing on the basis of misinformation deliberately passed to them, that they could get at the Milan Police Chief, Gasti, planted a powerful bomb outside the city’s Diana Theatre. The explosion claimed 21 lives and left over 150 people injured but the intended target was unharmed. The bombers had long been exasperated by the unfair detention of the editors of the daily Umanitá Nova (Borghi, Malatesta and Quaglino) and wanted to draw attention to the state of health of the three prisoners. In fact, despite Malatesta’s advanced age, the trio had begun an all-out hunger strike by way of protest at the spurious grounds for postponement of their trial. Naturally, far from generating a campaign in solidarity with the ageing anarchist and his fellow prisoners, the bloody bombing resulted in further indictments and further scathing attacks upon the entire anarchist movement.

Not one of the bombers’ intended aims was achieved: the bourgeoisie was not cowed, but rather became even more determined in its fight against the “red rabble”; the fascists seized the chance to carry out further more savage actions such as the destruction of the offices of Umanitá Nova and the socialist Avanti! Malatesta and his colleagues remained behind bars, burdened even further by what had been done in their names; hundreds of completely innocent people were killed or maimed; Gasti plumbed even lower depths and grew more powerful; the anarchist movement was isolated and came in for savage repression; anarchism’s ideals of solidarity and emancipation were obscured, yet again, by the bloody nature of an atrocity carried out in its name. And a group of brave and selfless comrades frittered away their energy and their lives in the prison system. Of the actual bombers, Giuseppe Mariani and Giuseppe Boldrini were sentenced to life terms whilst the prosecution sought a 30 year sentence for Ettore Aggugini. Lots of other anarchists unconnected with the bombing received sentences of between 5 and 18 years apiece.

Of all those involved in the “Diana incident” the only one who wrote about it was Giuseppe Mariani. In 1953 in fact he published his first book Memoirs of an Ex-Terrorist, followed, the very next year, by In the World of Prisons, two autobiographical texts in which the writer relates, in dry, spare language, the background to the bombing and the lengthy period of imprisonment that followed it. These are lean texts, bereft of the slick literary or philosophical posturing we might expect from someone compelled, for reasons beyond his control, to engage in isolated, self-serving reflection someone who might well, in solitude of prison, have dodged his own responsibilities. Instead, it is striking how in a book laden with the tragedy that had destroyed his life, there is not a word about himself, not one word of self-justification. Moreover Giuseppe (Peppino) Mariani, whom I was fortunate enough to meet in Imola in the early 1970s while he and his wife Susi were guests in the home of Cesare Fuochi, uttered not a word of justification of his actions, even though the mere utterance of it might have lessened his huge burden of guilt. Obviously the 27 years he served in prison, 27 years spent in study and reflection, had wrought tremendous changes in the man and his anarchism, undiluted since his younger day, had ripened into a rejection of any form of gratuitous violence.

Mariani was pardoned in 1948, after lobbying by his one-time fellow prisoner and future president of the Italian republic, Sandro Pertini. Moving to Sestri Levante, Mariani opened a bookshop that enabled him to eke out a poor but very dignified existence up until his death in 1974.

From: A Rivista Anarchica, No 279, March 2002. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.