Andrea Salsedo of Pantelleria

Recently, the searchlight has been trained once more on the human story of Andrea Salsedo, the anarchist propagandist known as Pantelleria’s very own “Pino Pinelli”, in that he was thrown from a window by the American police on 3 May 1920 during the anti-anarchist witch-hunt that was unleashed by President Wilson and which was to culminate in the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti in the electric chair. There are reports of a movie in the making, and a forthcoming biography (by Giuseppe Galzerano), doctoral theses and commemorative articles to follow. However, I think it might be useful to offer some details of the obscurest period in Salsedo’s life, his initiation as an anarchist.

Descended from a noble Pantellerian family which had featured prominently in political and administrative life in Sicily from the mid-1700s onwards, Andrea Salsedo was just over fifteen years old (he was born on 21 September 1881) when he came into contact with the political internees banished to the island under the Crispi laws of 1894. He therefore had the rare privilege of observing at close quarters a phenomenon that was in its beginnings and the creation of a community, initially physical and later virtual, that was to determine the face of Italian-language anarchism up until the period after World War Two. The community of Italian anarchists, born in the banishment sites, bolstered by enforced emigration from the country and flanked by a movement that had reconstituted itself during the first twenty years of the 20th century, was later to be plunged back into banishment and exile under fascist rule. Domicilio coatto (enforced residence/banishment), which affected the overwhelming majority of active anarchists at the end of the 19th century, made it possible for militants drawn from different locations around Italy to make one another’s acquaintances, share the same material and theoretical challenges, arrive at an initial unification of their schools of thought and, above all, achieve an anarchist sociability, a shared identity and subscription to the same utopias and experiments.

Luigi Galleani and the poet Virgilio Mazzoni – to both of whom we owe the launch of the “free school”, a “communist” educational experiment launched in Tremiti, the very first colony of anarchist internees before it was relocated to Pantelleria and the Valcimursi district where, in late 1896, they made it an outstanding popular success – were part of that original community. That self-managing school offered, for a small fee, lessons not just in political culture, but a wider cultural grounding, sociology, the sciences served up in anti-clerical sauce, and lessons in English and French. As a result it attracted several youths from Pantelleria, poor as well as more comfortable rebels like Andrea Salsedo, plus coatti (internees) hungry for knowledge. Some of the latter (Ottavio Nannoli being one) were soon to convert to anarchism.

Initially, though, Andrea Salsedo joined the newly founded socialist chapter on Pantelleria. In October 1897 it morphed into the Committee Against Domicilio Coatto, driven by Vincenzo Lo Pinto Valenza, Giovanbattista Farina Almanza, Giuseppe Siracusa, Salvatore Pinna, Giuseppe Pavia and G B Salsedo (these latter two being Andrea Salsedo’s cousin and brother, respectively). It was as a socialist, in all likelihood, that he earned his spurs as a journalist writing under the pen name Licinio or Vilpizo in Palermo’s La Battaglia and, from January 1898 onwards, in the Marsala-based Il Diritto alla Vita. In May 1900, the Pantelleria socialist chapter led by Vincenzo Lo Pinto Valenza and teacher Giuseppe D’Ancona, organised a mass demonstration against the town council. The following month, L’Agitazione in Rome carried correspondence from Pantelleria wherein a number of youngsters from there reported that they had embraced anarchism. That initial little group, which included both Salsedos, Achille Longhi, Bernardo Rallo, Nunzio Valenza and Salvatore Farina, was joined by a second in 1908 led by Giacomo Belvisi, the Neapolitan Vincenzo Palmarella (who had published an anti-militarist declaration in the Messina-based Il Risveglio in 1908 and who was still living on the island in 1920), Giuseppe Costantino de’ Catalani, Giuseppe D’Angelo, Augusto Sanguinelli, Giuseppe Casano, Giuseppe Pincola and, above all, by Serafino Pallocca from Rome.

Salsedo, who sometimes used the pen name Loris, became the first group’s correspondent (writing in L’Agitazione in October 1900; in L’Avvenire Sociale in June 1900, August, September and October 1901, October 1902, April 1903 – when he published a report making it clear that he himself was not a coatto – and in Il Grido della Folla in November 1903). On 11 November 1900 Andrea faced his first trial, although nothing came of it, for correspondence that had been published in Messina’s L’Avvenire Sociale. In the 4 September 1901 edition (No 36) of that paper, this declaration of his was printed: “Dearest comrades, Having lived from my earliest youth among people who never managed to utter a cry of protest, surrounded by hucksters and opportunists, I was afraid of the anarchists because they had been portrayed to me as bloodthirsty criminals. The phoney education of modern society had taken root in me. But when, due to the emergency laws, many anarchists arrived here as deportees, I had occasion to become acquainted with them and have dealings with them. I asked myself, how come these murderers and criminals can be so kindly, so honest, so altruistic? And then I was seized by an overpowering need to take an unprejudiced reading of the great book of life and I wondered at how these people, wrenched away from the affections of their loved ones, could be so ill-used and dispatched into exile. I pondered that … and became an anarchist. Now, as such, I will always be ready to sacrifice everything for the cause of anarchy, defying the paternal blandishments of every government. Pantelleria, 27 August 1901 – Yours and for Anarchy, Andrea Salsedo.”

As a contributor to the newspaper La Falange in Marsala-Mazara, he was prosecuted for the article “Church, State, Atheism, Anarchy” in its edition No 3 of 3-16 January 1904, as was the paper’s editor-in-chief Vito Pipitone. Under questioning on 4 February 1904, as the trial record held at the State Archives in Trapani – (Criminal Trials, b.906) indicates: “In that article I was demonstrating that the root of the church, or rather of various religions, and of the state lacks legitimacy, leading on to the consequence that atheism is the product of thought which has had the opportunity to debate and thus embraces materialism, and that an anarchist ought to be an atheist.”

Returned for trial, the accused were to be defended free of change and with great oratory by the Marsala anarchist lawyer Giovan Vito Grignani, who ensured that they were acquitted on 28 November 1904.

In the meantime, however, Salsedo had slipped away to Tunis, the first stop on a long trip that was to bring him to the United States and to a fresh turning point in his life.

From: Sicilia Libertaria, October 2016. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.