The Buenos Aires Tragedy: The Last Fight of Severino Di Giovanni and Paulo Scarfó [A Review]

This is a translation of a special commemorative edition of L’Adunata dei Refrattari published in march 1931 together with a letter from América Scarfó dating from two years later, all ably done by Paul Sharkey.

If you’ve read Oswaldo Bayer’s Anarchism and Violence published by Elephant editions in 1986 (and also a translation by Paul Sharkey) then you’ll be familiar with the bare bones of the life and times of Severino di Giovanni — even if it is a tale told from a liberal perspective. This pamphlet is different — it is taken from an explicitly anarchist publication.

The contents, given its brevity, give the reader a glimpse of Sverino’s background in Italy, his move to Argentina and his involvement with the anarchist movement. The political background is also covered. Although primarily remembered for his direct action (i.e. armed struggle) against the forces of repression, Severino di Giovanni was also involved in the publication of his own periodical, Culmine and even managed to issue two volumes of Reclus’s Social Writings, all this whilst on the run from the police as a suspect in various attacks on governmental institutions

During the post-world war period Argentina underwent considerable political upheaval culminating in the coup d’etat of September 1930. Prior to this date a certain amount of open political work could be undertaken. Subsequent to it the revolutionary press (that which hadn’t been closed down, banned, etc) could only survive in the margins - producing irregular editions, often financed in somewhat unorthodox ways. And all the time in full knowledge that the forces of the state could be closing in on them at any time.

Yet for nearly three years Severino and his colleagues kept up their struggle, resisting where others preferred to lie low and wait for better times. Ultimately the state did catch up with him and his colleagues, killing two in a gun battle and arresting the severely injured Severino and nearby Paolo Scarfó and subjecting them to torture before their show trial. The verdict was never in any doubt and neither defendant was under illusions about a “fair” trial. The day after their guilty verdicts each was taken out and shot by firing squad.

The pamphlet, understandably, concentrates on the trial, mainly as this was the most recent event and there was also an understandable reluctance to admit to whatever actions the group around Severino had undertaken (that is assuming that anyone knew for sure).

The pamphlet is neatly produced and reasonably priced. I suspect that most readers will end up asking themselves the same question - in those circumstances what would I have done - taken up the armed struggle against overwhelming odds or stayed quiet in the hope one could resume propaganda and open activity at a later date? And then they’ll pray that such questions don’t have to be answered for real.


Richard Alexander