A life in light and shade ; Ezio Taddei: witness in the Carlo Tresca murder

On Saturday 16 March 2013 a symposium was held in Livorno, Italy, on Ezio Taddei, on the occasion of the publication of his novel L’uomo che cammina (The Walking Man), based on the life of a persecuted antifascist fighter. Among the speakers at the symposium, Franco Bertolucci from the Biblioteca Franco Serantini delivered a talk on “The libertarian muse” and David Bidussa spoke on “The dismal life of the exile”.

Ezio Taddei is a complex character, with lots of light and shade about him, albeit that the “shaded” areas may not be the same for anarchists as they are for academics. Taddei became news again last year when his alleged collaboration with the government was hinted at, first in a book by Luigi Canfora and then in a piece in the Corriere dellla Sera by Paolo Mieli.

In the late 1930s Taddei emigrated to the United States, where he met Carlo Tresca and contributed to the anarchist paper Il Martello, run by Tresca, which was how he came to play a significant part in counter-information efforts following the murder of Carlo Tresca on 11 January 1943.

That incident was central to my own contribution to the symposium, as set out below.

Ezio Taddei reached the United States in 1939. On arrival in New York, he broke with L’Adunata dei Refattari, with which he had been working since 1937, and moved closer to Il Martello, Carlo Tresca’s paper.

Those were violent years within the Italian community: with support from the Italian consulate, the mafia and the police, fascists were hell bent on eliminating the most combative antifascists; within the antifascist camp, waters were muddied by strife between the various currents of thought and by the communists’ drive for hegemony.

One prominent figure was Generoso Pope, publisher of Il Progresso Italo-Americano, historically the mouthpiece of the Italian community in the USA and of the government. With fascists now governing Italy, Il Progresso championed the fascists. Generoso Pope had mafia connections through Vincenzo Garofalo, a gangster with the Vito Genovese family and was also a major vote-catcher for F Delano Roosevelt’s Democratic Party in New York. Carlo Tresca was Pope’s chief antagonist: he repeatedly exposed his mafia ties and connections to the fascist government, but he did not stop at denunciation; he was to the fore in the street-fighting that barred the way for fascists to gain control of the Italian immigrant community.

According to Ed Reid, who devoted a chapter of his book on the Mafia to the Tresca murder, the Mussolini government had made up its mind that Tresca must die as early as 1931.

In the wake of Italy’s declaration of war on the USA (11 December 1941), a US secret service agency, the OWI (Office of War Information) encouraged the formation of the Italian-America Council (known as the CIAV). At which point, ex-fascists out to ingratiate themselves with the administration tried to join the CIAV.

Given his courage and consistency, Carlo Tresca was the main obstacle to such entry and to any agreement between the US government and the ex-fascists and the mafia.

This was the backdrop against which Tresca’s murder was hatched. He was gunned down on the street like a dog by a hired gun, as Paolo Casciola recalls in a lengthy article published in the August 2004 edition (No 48) of Quaderni Pietro Tresso. Whilst the police and prosecutor’s office seemed mystified, the vast majority of antifascist factions hinted that the Stalinists and Vittorio Vidali had had some hand in it.

At which point Ezio Taddei, initially at a public talk published in the pamphlet Il Caso Tresca and later in a series of articles pointed the finger at the Italian-American mafia. “Of all Tresca’s enemies, Generoso Pope was certainly the most powerful and the most dangerous. Tresca was worried by the ties between Pope and the New York mafia. Tresca was well aware of these and on more than one occasion had confided in his closest friends that he feared some move against him by Pope. He was not unaware of Pope’s links to Frank Garofalo, a leading figure in the New York underworld (…) In Tresca’s eyes, Pope was a ‘gangster’ and a ‘racketeer’ who was on the best of terms with New York mafia bosses like Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese” (Ezio Taddei The Tresca Case, New York 1943).

Carlo Tresca was a native of Sulmona, Italy, born there in 1879: harassed in Italy because of his activities within the socialist party, he moved to the United States where some family members were already based and with help from funds raised by the socialists of Philadelphia. There he joined the Federazione Socialista and took over the running of its mouthpiece Il Proletario. After a few years, his activities brought him closer to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), he stepped down as publisher of Il Proletario and from the Federazione Socialista. Those were years of frantic activity, with Tresca scurrying about wherever the class war at its hottest, as a result of which he was harassed by the Italian authorities and their US counterparts.

In 1917, he quit the IWW and bought Il Martello which he was to turn into a standard reference for US and international anarchism. In the wake of the First World War, Tresca, alongside his trade union struggles, threw himself into the campaign on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, into uncompromising battle against fascism and also denounced the crimes of the Bolshevik regime and Stalinism.

Taddei’s theories about Tresca’s murder were to be taken up again in the 1950s, first by a CBS television show Death of an Editor, directed by Walter Cronkite, in which the case was made that Mussolini had ordered the mafia to kill Tresca; then, the following year, in Ed Reid’s book (cited above) came the theory of a contract killing for which Vito Genovese had allegedly been paid $500,000. More recently, Lucky Luciano is supposed to have stated repeatedly that Vito Genovese and the fascists were responsible. In 2001, Mauro Canalli published an article “The whole truth about the Tresca Case” in Fondazione Liberal, No 4, in which he argues that ” some documents recently release (…) under the easing of access to the records of the OSS”, have made it possible to “add a few more telling details to that version of the crime which points the finger at the fascists and the mafia”. The matter remains somewhat murky and leftist historiography connects it to Tresca’s stance against the Stalinists, the theory being that Vittorio Vidali and the Stalinists were behind it.

If Taddei’s theory is correct, the time-table of war around the time of the Tresca murder takes on a sinister significance. In November 1942, Allied troops landed in North Africa, the Tresca murder came on 11 January 1943, and on 10 July 1943 came the invasion of Sicily by Allied troops with help from Vito Genovese’s mafiosi. It may be worth pointing out that Carmine Galante, whom Taddei and Reid accuse of being the trigger man in the Tresca killing, a man with ties to the Vito Genovese family, was to serve as the trusted interpreter for Colonel Charles Poletti at the time when the latter was head of the AMG, the Allied Military Government of occupied Italy.

In which case, just as Camillo Berneri was murdered because he was thought to be a threat to any alliance between the USSR and the western powers, so Carlo Tresca was murdered because he was against the alliance between the US government, ex-fascists and the mafia for the purpose of controlling Italy. Besides murder, those in authority also resort to slander to denigrate irksome witnesses to their crimes; which is Taddei’s fate nearly sixty years after the killing.

How the figure of Carlo Tresca and the anarchist movement’s nuanced dealings with the Allied occupation troops are to be interpreted is a matter deserving of further collective exploration some seventy years on from our comrade’s death. An exploration that might well be of some use as we reflect upon one of the reasons for the decline in the anarchist movement following the Second World War.

From: Umanità Nova, No 12, Year 93, March 2013. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.