Luigi Assandri died on 22 November 2008 and his body was cremated at Turin’s monumental cemetery after he was escorted on his final journey by a range of red-and-black flags borne by comrades of all ages. In his nineties (he was born in 1915) he had been living in a care home for several years and in recent years had been suffering from dementia.
From a peasant family background in L’Acquese, he was drawn to anarchism after the Second World War, after – he claimed – having first heard the names of Bakunin and Kropotkin and of their ideas from a Russian soldier who had thrown in his lot with Luigi’s partisan band (proof that even under Stalin’s jackboot libertarian ideas had never quite died out). After the Liberation, Luigi had joined the police, only to resign after a short while. As he himself used to say: “Even a cop can turn into an anarchist, but no anarchist can ever turn cop.”
He found work in Turin at the FIAT rail works, a plant where there had been a sizeable number of anarchists during fascist rule and Resistance. He joined the movement becoming a very busy propagandist for it. A staunch supporter of anarcho-syndicalism and plans to refloat the USI, he was a die-hard opponent of the CGIL labour federation and in the factory he ran into the Stalinists’ ascendancy (he used to talk about the time he had had to scarper from the plant after gunshots were fired at him from behind in one of the workshops) and ran up against those anarchists within the movement who favoured entryism into a union that was now under the communist thumb, and he engaged in arguments over years.
He joined the ‘Bakunin’ group headed by Ilario Margarita and in 1961 was a participant in the Rosignano Solvay congress as the delegate from Turin. The ‘Bakunin’ group was very active in its support for Cuban anarchists persecuted by the Castro regime. Later, after Ilario Margarita espoused a rabidly anti-communist but also superficially “pro-western” stance, Luigi and he parted company. 1968 ushered in a new stage in his life as lots of youngsters flirted with anarchist ideas and Luigi became a significant reference point in Turin. Unlike some other older comrades, whose glorious past was tainted by disappointments and the political isolation to which they had been consigned, Luigi liked the company of the young and got involved in their ventures, chatting with them day and night and showering them with newspapers, pamphlets and books, bringing them home for a bite to eat whereupon his partner Adele would fuss over them and, if they were short of money, treat them to a few cigarettes. No theorist and no intellectual, Luigi was merely a plain, self-educated working man with a profound appreciation for anarchism’s ideas and history, but he managed to teach in the deepest sense of the term, communicating his values and determinedly arguing on their behalf. I remember one occasion in the wake of the killing of Giuseppe Pinelli when I and a small team of young people, having applied to the police for leave to leaflet and display some posters outside the Porta Nuova railway station, discovered that a rally was due to be held at the same time in a small square nearby by the neofascists from the Ordine Nuovo movement. We got together to discuss whether the leafleting should go ahead. Luigi was there and he put it bluntly: “If we don’t keep our appointment today, we might as well hide ourselves away and never venture out of doors again.” Struck by these words, we went ahead with our demonstration which passed off without incident. Not that Luigi was a man of action but he would have braved death just to put forward his ideas. Although he was in touch with all of Turin’s anarchists, he was, all his life long, something of an outsider (a lone wolf), throwing himself into his own one-man, hand-cranked publishing activity. He would spend his leisure hours and sacrifice his rest time bent over the copier churning out the thousands of pamphlets he used to hand out in person on the streets of Turin. Everybody in the city knew and respected him. He never let a chance go by to spread his anarchist beliefs, not just in print but also by means of the spoken word: if he happened to bump into somebody who was up for a chat, even though they might be enemies or rivals (fascists and communists), he would launch into long, lively discussions of anarchy, the iniquities of capitalism, dictatorships of right or left, the Church and militarism. Along with Adele he there at every venture, demonstration, meeting, congress or symposium where there were anarchists to be found and always with his cargo of propaganda materials.
Adele’s death in the 1990s put paid to that phase of his life as an activist, although he stayed an anarchist right to the end. He donated his library to the Anarkiviu ‘Tommaso Serra’ in Sardinia and stopped distributing his pamphlets and reverted exclusively to his boyhood passion for dancing, right up until his inevitable physical decline.
From: Umanitá Nova, Year 88, No 39, 7 Dec. 2008. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.