Antonio Scalorbi and the anarchist movement in post-war Bologna

 In these few pages I should like to reconstruct from memory the activities of my late husband Antonio Scalorbi, activities in which I was almost always an enthusiastic participant.

Antonio Scalorbi was born in Bologna on 11 February 1922. He discovered the anarchist movement in 1945, having previously made the acquaintance of a dyed-in-the-wool Communist who took him along to his branch meeting; as a matter of fact, the ideological differences between them soon came to the surface and Antonio promptly broke with the CP in Bologna. He frequented the Ronzani bar in the Via Lame, the anarchists’ first rendezvous in the immediate postwar years, together with a workmate from the SABIEM (Bolognese Electro-Mechanical Industries Limited), an anarchist by the name of Leonildo Tarozzi. He soon fell in with the new group and it was not long before he held positions of responsibility in the movement. He bought himself an old Sarolea motor-cycle that was virtually clapped out but he got plenty of use out of it: Scalorbi used it for trips around the city and beyond.

He was appointed a member of the FAI (Italian Anarchist Federation) Corresponding Commission: he was in charge of a bank account into which FAI funds were placed, as well as subsequent donations from comrades in the USA. The go-between was Pio Turroni who was a frequent visitor to our home, as were lots of other comrades, from Bologna and further afield.. Thus, into Scalorbi’s came a stream of comrades and friends who would call in on him either at home or at the rendezvous to talk or, very often, to dine together (this being a practice that Antonio kept up thereafter).

From the Ronzani bar the anarchists moved to proper premises in the Via Fondazza: at first they were a temporary meeting-place rented by a comrade. There they embarked upon a new and busy life of evening sessions which drew more and more people (nothing remains today of the Ronzani bar, a celebrated old establishment in Bologna; a big hotel has been erected on the site and I get a lump in my throat whenever I happen to pass it by).

Relying on memory alone I can recall Versari, a shoemaker from the Via S. Stefano; Vertice Persici, a young man who returned from France and was the son of a bricklayer comrade who had quit the country during the fascist era; Tugnoli, who worked at SABIEM; Lippi, a splendid figure of a carpenter-philosopher, a dyed-in-the-wool anarchist and loyal comrade who never wantede to own anything, lived on a pittance and later was stricken with TB and ended up in the sanatorium in Villa Mazzacorati, quite near where we lived. Carlo Doglio was a visitor along with Pier Carlo Masini, our first two intellectual callers. Masini had earlier corresponded with Scalorbi. The first time he turned up at our front door was a winter’s night (this was in 1946) and it was snowing outside and he was frozen stiff. I immediately lit the economical wood-stove to heat the place but he was eager to talk to Tonino (Antonio), so he climbed into my warn spot in bed and from there they chatted all through the night. What they talked about I cannot say because I was dozing by the stove.

Looking back to 1945, Gianfranco Matteuzzi, an anarchist partisan sought political asylum in our home, as did other comrades. He had been convicted (in his absence) because, up in the mountains, he and other partisans had stopped some motorcades (just as they earlier done with the Germans) loaded with flour and other foodstuffs, seized the lot and distributed free of charge to the poor wretches who had nothing to live on; just like some sort of Robin Hood. Sentenced to a two year prison term, he fled to France; returning on the basis of an amnesty, he served two “holiday” months in Budrio prison with four other partisans and, to be honest, they were well looked after with the best of pasta and wine. He then found work with the metal-working form Curtisa, was active in the FIOM (Metalworkers’) trade union (with the minority faction) - as did Gaetano Gervasio and he made a considerable contribution to securing certain gains such as the productivity awards, free meals and - in spite of opposition from the company - free drinks.

Returning to the visitors to our home, I can remember, along with Leonildo Tarozzi, Mario Girotti; both had been volunteers in Spain, both had been wounded and both worked at the SABIEM plant; these were friends more than comrades, so much so that Girotti was taken on at SABIEM thanks to Scalorbi’s assistance.

Another visitor (1947-48) was Pino Tagliazucchi: he showed up one evening with a lovely girl by the name of Renée; this was a significant encounter for Pino, his first, I believe, with an anarchist who was rather well-known throughout Italy. They ate with us. For the occasion I had (as our daughter Neva, two and a half, soon pointed out) borrowed some cutlery and plates from neighbours.

Then it was the turn of Antonio Carbonaro from Fermo, a student at Bologna University. Every evening he came to us just for the company; he slept nearby at a generous comrade’s place. Around this time I made the acquaintance of Giovanna Gervasio, Gaetano’s daughter (she was known in the anarchist movement as Gervasina or Giovannina, to avoid confusion with Giovanna Berneri). She and Antonio Carbonaro became so close that later on they married.

But to return to unexpected visitors, one morning a man dressed in black and wearing a short-sleeved jacket arrived at our place; I took pity on him, ushered him inside and he settled down in the kitchen; he spoke with a southern accent. I knew nothing about him except that he had just been to visit relations. He had lunch with me at noon and sat in silence the rest of the day until Antonio came home from work. Whereupon I discovered that he had come from Spain carrying some messages between the Spanish anarchist movement and the Italian one and that he was to return to Spain at considerable risk. Tonino helped him out; I never heard of him again.

One morning, however, a couple arrived from Ancona; the woman spent ten days with us, sleeping in the hall (our flat comprised of a sitting room, kitchen, hall and bathroom). The man went off to the S. Orsola Hospital for an operation; on his discharge they returned to Ancona. No money changed hands during all of this because in those days there was a spontaneous solidarity between comrades, something that we will never see again these days.

On Sundays during the summer (and Scalorbi was always the driving force here) many comrades would go out to Reno di Casalecchio, some by bicycle, some by tram and others travelling together in a van. We used to meet up on the river bank to eat and discuss the week’s news. I can remember Bruno Landuzzi who worked on the railways (and who took over the place on the Corresponding Commission when Scalorbi left Bologna), with his wife Giuliana, a midwife; Claudio Micca, the wit and joker, another railway worker; Matteuzzi, whom I mentioned earlier, forever in hot water with the government; and lots of others, all of them poor but happy because their youth and idealism afforded them peace of mind and strength.

One holiday a whole of bunch of us was invited to the home of someone who claimed to be interested in the anarchist movement. Off we went to the Via Castiglione; we were ushered into an elegant study, its walls lined with old books, wooden shelves and glass cases; splendidly upholstered chairs. he comrades found something odd about this guy: he asked too many questions; on leaving, the most disgruntled of them wrinkled their noses; they did not like this guy. Later on in fact we had it for certain that that he had been a spy for the OVRA (Mussolini’s secret police) and was probably changing his coat or had already changed his master. We never set eyes on him again, but likewise there was no harm done.

I have only one bad memory from those days, one that still niggles with me. A young anarchist had been sentenced to death - by the infamous garrotte - by the Franco government; I suggested that we all go straight to the consulate in the Via Collegio di Spagna to protest; I was even prepared to go by myself.. In a lengthy debate between comrades my suggestion was turned down: it would do no good and they would execute him regardless. Not at all. I was right. These days my suggestion would be accepted and a fine demonstration mounted. That rejection still niggles me and it makes me angry just thinking about it.

Every so often the comrades in the Via Fondazza would receive a visit from Cesare Zaccaria. Tonino used to say that he was a breath of fresh air, a young man au fait with lots of things, whose talks pleased everybody. He was living in Naples with Giovanna Berneri; he was an engineer from a wealthy background and had a sumptuous villa in Piani di Sorrento that he made over for use as a summer house for the children of Italian comrades in dire economic straits (to state it elegantly). I went there myself with my daughter Neva in August 1951. I found Giovanna Gervasio and two young comrades running the place with panache and efficiency in difficult circumstances, because the kids were lovable but hard to control. Aside from the odd contribution from the movement, the whole thing was financed by Zaccaria and by Adriano Olivetti. Cesare was a frequent visitor to us, as was Giovanna Berneri; she was efficient and dynamic and rustle up good, quick food for large numbers (20-25). One day Adriano also arrived with his second wife Maria Grazia; I went down to the gate, walked them up the alley and ushered them into the big hall and told them: “Make yourselves at home, your daughter and yourself.”


Right after the war Antonio Scalorbi was of a mind to emigrate to Australia, some comrades out there having invited him to do so. But I am our daughter refused to go with him, as I did not want to leave my relatives, especially my brothers and sisters behind and I was afraid of having to get to grips with a new world so far away. Yet the desire to leave Bologna and seek a change of surroundings and to see a little of the world lingered in him and it was only in 1952 that he had his chance, so to speak.

For as long as I had known him - I was seventeen when we met during the war - Tonino had been hopping from job to job; this was easy enough for him to do because he was a good skilled worker - a toolmaker - and had the gift of the gab so he came over well and he was a sociable sort. He was very active in the union (with the most pugnacious minority in the CGIL) and was soon appointed to the shop stewards’ commission at SABIEM where certain policies on personal health and working conditions often had him at loggerheads with the Communists; he had pressed, not for more money, but for better hygiene; for improved productivity and fewer controls, more freedom, etc.

However he was a thorn in the side of the unions and the bosses; and they had their chance to dump this anarchist Scalorbi when, during the mid-day break, he dipped parts of his bike in the firm’s nickel-plating baths (as many another had done and were doing). This perk to which the firm had turned a blind eye where others were concerned, was not for him: he was called to explain himself and owned up but began to feel ill at ease with the climate there; he was the sole scapegoat and neither the shop stewards’ commission nor the union would back him, so he handed in his resignation or was forced to do so.

His holiday was short-lived: he turned to Carlo Doglio, who was working for Olivetti, passed the “test” and was quickly taken on. And so, in the summer of 1952 we moved to Borgofranco d’Ivrea. Carlo helped him settle into life the town and the plant. Those were the golden age for Adriano [Olivetti] whose firm was forward-looking and continually expanding.

The Community (Comunità) movement launched by Adriano intended to better the economic and social conditions of the whole Canavese district. For its employees Olivetti set up social services that were quite unprecedented anywhere else in Italy at the time; there was a creche, free meals, workers’ housing, libraries [Ugo Fedeli, who once voted for Community, worked in the one opposite the entrance to the plant), lectures, company schools, birth control advice (after a third child, if I am not mistaken, the company stopped making any additional contribution to the family income), pre- and post-maternity services, health visitor services in the home (which is where Carlo Doglio’s wife Diana Cenni worked) and other facilities.

Within a couple of years a colony of anarchists and friends had grown up in Ivrea: there were the Doglios, the Fedelis, the Carbonaro-Gervasios, the Insolras and the Tagliazucchis. Such was the enthusiasm of this new colony that one day Giovanna Gervasio suggested to the group that they form one big family and all share one house and maybe approach Olivetti for the funding to build one. That suggestion went down like a lead balloon at the time because these were all frightfully individualistic anarchists.

Yet the group still had good intentions; it would get together in the evenings after work in Doglio’s office and, from time to time, at the Scalorbis’ place. Its lengthy and heated discussions were also open to some socialists such as Franco Morganti, Marina and Angelo Dina and others. I particularly remember Angelo, an engineer, who had an exceptional brain, highly educated, an active and determined trade unionist. Those were the days when there was ruthless repression in the FIAT plants with isolation units and sackings for socialists and communists. The position at Olivetti was completely different from that in FIAT. However, all, or nearly all who took part in our discussions were agreed that Adriano Olivetti, with his enlightened policies was helping to blunt the class consciousness of the workers. And this did not go down too well with Scalorbi who was a trade unionist, as were many others in the group. One evening Tonino came home, overwrought and stunned at some news and eager to fill me in: Ariano’s brother, who had just arrived from America, had addressed all the workforce and told them: “Olivetti is earning too much money: take some, take some!” and then left again for the USA. In this respect too, Olivetti was a firm apart, a non-pareil. As part of its policy of social promotion, in 1956 Olivetti picked out a group of workers, all of whom had had only elementary schooling, to attend improvement courses. The following year, the best two of these, Antonio Scalorbi and Giorgio Grassi, were given the opportunity to take their high school certificate for the purpose of going on to university. Which is how Scalorbi the worker became Scalorbi the student; they pledged him a grant, his final wage as a workman and covered his entire period of study with a grant of 500,000 lire a year.

The teachers who prepared the two workers - they were all Olivetti staff - were persons of high intellectual and moral calibre. Prominent among them in Scalorbi’s education was Ferdinando Prat, a shy and seemingly gruff man, a marxist and Trotskyist, profoundly antifascist, who had been interned during the war in a Nazi concentration camp. Graduating to the Galileo Ferraris institute in Turin, Scalorbi moved on to the Boccone in Milan and Grass to the Poitecnico in Turin where he completed his studies. Scalorbi, on the other hand, dropped out after two years and rejoined Olivetti in Milan where he worked in the electronics department; in the days before computers this was one of Roberto Olivetti’s ventures. Keeping to that field, he moved on to Syntax (the Olivetti group company) and became one of its directors. However he was a director - as Virgilio Galassi, who saw him often, recalls - who preferred technically and socially valid solutions over the quest for easy money or profits; that was part of the Olivetti tradition; as Scalorbi had always been a working man and trade unionist and a member of the shop stewards’ commission.

My husband passed away in 1974 aged just 52. He never wanted us to buy an apartment because he used to say that “a home shouldn’t be private property but rather a social resource to which everyone has a right”. Weighed down by his studies in Ivrea he had chosen himself a suitable epitaph: “Here lies Antonio Scalorbi. He lived, attended lectures and died.”

From: Bollettino Archivio G. Pinelli, No 16, December 2000, pp. 32-38.. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.