MALATESTA by Guy A. Aldred (from ‘Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism’, ‘The Word’ Library — No. 7, 1940. Strickland Press, George Street, Glasgow

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Nov 192015

“London. July 1896. At the Congress of the Second International Errico Malatesta and Michele Angiolillo met and became firm and lasting friends…” Flavio Costantini, 1969. From ‘The Art of Anarchy‘, Cienfuegos Press, Haverstock Hill, London, 1975.

“Enrico Malatesta, born in Capua, on December 4th, 1853, went to Naples to study pharmacology, and immediately came under the influence of Bakunin, in 1871. His interest for me consists in the fact that he was a direct link between Bakunin and the anti-parliamentary propaganda that I commenced in London in 1906. The story of my association with Malatesta was told in the Herald of Revolt for June 1912, and need not be repeated here. I remember Malatesta listening to one of my meetings at the corner of Garnault Place, Clerkenwell, before I became an Anti-Parliamentarian. As I was going away with my platform, he stopped not and said: “You are a strange person to be English because you are destined to become an Anarchist.” Although I was never personally very intimate with Malatesta, he made a point after that of attending a large number of the meetings that I held in Clerkenwell. When he did speak he stuck to this theory that I was destined to continue the development of Anarchist thought in Britain. Because of this contact at the very beginning of my anti-parliamentary activity, and because of his own association with Bakunin in his own youth but a few years before Bakunin died, I regard him as a natural link between the activity of the great contemporary of Marx and the movement that I have endeavoured to develop in Great Britain, very largely in face of the opposition of the alleged friends of Malatesta and the alleged disciples of Bakunin.
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Preventive Counter-revolution by Luigi Fabbri. Translated by Paul Sharkey. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Oct 212015

FabbriCounterRevPREVENTIVE COUNTER-REVOLUTION by Luigi Fabbri.   eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)  Also available from Kobo    Check out other Christiebooks titles HERE 

Fabbri published this in 1922 at the peak of the brutal fascist squadristi targeting of the revolutionary agricultural and industrial workers in Italy. ‘Preventive Counter-revolution’ is one of his most incisive and inspirational essays. The post-war elections had given an exaggerated and disproportionate view of the strength of the Italian left; with trams flying the red flag through the major cities, the striking workforce seemed poised to bring the system grinding to a halt. It was the time to act, before the reaction could orchestrate any countervailing measures. As Fabbri pointed out: “But the revolution did not come, only popular rallies, lots of rallies, demonstrations, and countless choreographed marches and parades … The euphoria lasted too long, almost two years; and the others, those who felt, everyday, they were threatened with being toppled from their thrones and stripped of their privileges began to wake up to the situation and appreciate their strength and the weakness of their enemies.” They funded and armed the fascist blackshirts — the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, “Voluntary Militia for National Security”)— to mount a counter-revolution to pre-empt the revolution, a preventive counter-revolution which fastened upon society, even though the revolution never happened. This was Fabbri’s interpretation of the fascist phenomenon, called into existence as the armed wing of the landlords and capitalists, the subsequent evolution of which defies explanation unless we recognise a chastening series of errors, shortcomings, ingenuousness and weakness on the part of the left…

REVOLUTION AND EVERYDAY STRUGGLE by Errico Malatesta (Translated by Paul Sharkey). eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)

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Aug 292015

MalatestacoverREVOLUTION AND EVERYDAY STRUGGLE by Errico Malatesta (appx 266 pp) Translated by Paul Sharkey eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)  Also available from Kobo  and Kindle (READ INSIDECheck out all Christiebooks titles HERE

Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) is, undoubtedly, one of the ” giants ” of the 19th century revolutionary movement— an agitator, man of action and a thought-provoking writer. Malatesta was active in the international anarchist movement both as activist and propagandist for nearly sixty years. As a glance through the archives of the anarchist press of the time will show, he was one of the movement’s most respected members, as well as one of its most controversial. He was active in many parts of the world, as well as the editor of a number of Italian anarchist journals, including the daily Umanita Nova. Half his life was spent in exile and the respect he was accorded by governments is insanely evidenced by the fact that he spent more than ten years in prison, mainly awaiting trial. Juries, by contrast, showed a different respect by almost always acquitting him, recognising that the only galantuomo, that the only honest man, was the one facing them in the prisoners’ cage!

Yet if there is merit in his ideas, it is through his experience in the day-to-day struggle and his identification with the working people as one of them. Malatesta had no illusions about the ” historic role of the masses”; he shared and understood their lives and reactions. But because he also understood how their oppressors “reasoned”, and how the “in-betweeners ” preached what they were too privileged, socially and materially, to practise, he expected more from the organised workers. Nevertheless he directed his propaganda to all men of good-will.

The texts in this anthology — from Gino Cerrito’s 1982 selection, Rivoluzione e lotta quotidiana — have never before been published in English, including in Vernon Richards’ ‘Malatesta. His Life and Ideas’ or, indeed, in David Turcato’s more recent anthology ‘The Complete Works of Malatesta’.


Malatesta (1970 Peter Lilienthal and Heathcote Williams) from Stuart Christie on Vimeo.




WE WERE THE REBELS, WE WERE THE MARAUDERS. Fragments of an Outlaw Autobiography by Belgrado Pedrini (Translated by Paul Sharkey). eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Apr 232014

BelgradoCoverWe were the Rebels, We were the Marauders. Fragments of an Outlaw Autobiography. Translated by Paul Sharkey. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)  Also available from Kobo    Check out other Christiebooks titles HERE 

This is the story of Belgrado Pedrini, a self-educated 18-year-old who, in the early 1930s, threw himself into the revolutionary struggle at the height of Italian fascism’s hold on the state. It is about an anarchist who took up arms against fascism long before 1943, the year of the Anglo-American landings in Sicily, of Mussolini’s brief fall from power and of the official beginnings of the Resistance. Well before the end of the truce between brown and red fascism; the red fascism that prompted the Italian Communist Party, the fiefdom of Togliatti, to urge its militants to infiltrate the vital mass structures set up by the fascists so that they might some day use them for their own purposes.

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With That Outsider’s Face – The journey of Maria Occhipinti (Con quella faccia di straniera – Il viaggio di Maria Occhipinti) a documentary review by Pippo Gurrieri (Sicilia Libertaria)

 Anarchism in Italy  Comments Off on With That Outsider’s Face – The journey of Maria Occhipinti (Con quella faccia di straniera – Il viaggio di Maria Occhipinti) a documentary review by Pippo Gurrieri (Sicilia Libertaria)
Aug 222013

Maria Occhipinti (1921-1996)

25 March 2013 saw the Italian premiere of Luca Scivoletto’s documentary Con quella faccia di straniera – Il viaggio di Maria Occhipinti (With That Outsider’s Face – The journey of Maria Occhipinti). This film — the third documentary devoted to the life of Maria Occhipinti (1921-1996)— is built around interviews with three women closely connected to Maria: her sister Rosina, her daughter Marilena and her grand-daughter Lorenza. The film opens – it could scarcely have done otherwise – with the widespread Non si parte/ ‘Don’t go!’ anti-war movement of January 1944-December 1945. It was a revolt that, in Sicily’s Ragusa province, took on the features of an open uprising, of which Maria was the protagonist. The revolt, then internment and prison, these are the starting points point of this film, with great care being taken with the details, and the teasing out of the personalities of the interviewees: the upheaval it caused in their lives and the trail it left  — especially so in the case of Maria’s sister and daughter — by the volcanic, tortured life of this 20th century rebel.

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Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of An Anarchist’ (1983 – Alan Horrox and Gavin Richards)

 Anarchism in Italy, Anarchist drama, Drama, Italy, Theatre  Comments Off on Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of An Anarchist’ (1983 – Alan Horrox and Gavin Richards)
Nov 292012

Alan Horrox’s highly acclaimed (and unrepeated) 1983 C4/Thames TV production of Gavin Richards’s  adaptation of Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of An Anarchist’ (translated by Gillian Hanna) with Gavin Richards as ‘Maniac’; Jim Bywater as ‘Inspector Pissani’; Clive Russell as ‘Superintendent’; Gavin Muir as ‘Constable’; John Surman as ‘Inspector Bertozzo’ and Susan Denaker as ‘Maria Feletti’

Anarchist Films (enter ‘Accidental Death’ into the search box).

Pinelli case

History as tragedy — and farce!. A review of Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’

 Anarchism in Italy, Reviews, Theatre  Comments Off on History as tragedy — and farce!. A review of Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’
Nov 202012

Hastings Online Times, 19 November 2012

The ‘Maniac’ (second left) has guilty policemen singing to his tune. (Photo: Peter Mould)

History’, as Marx said, ‘repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce’. Fortunately for us, this time round the farce was written by Dario Fo! Guest reviewer (for Hastings Online Times) Stuart Christie attended the opening night of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist at Hastings’ Stables Theatre.

The action begins, we are told, shortly after an actual series of coordinated bomb outrages in Milan and Rome on 12 December 1969, explosions that killed 16 and injured over 120 random victims in what became known as the Strategy of Tension. The subsequent police investigation into the ‘bombings’ (the latest in an ongoing series of alleged ‘anarchist-leftist’ attacks which began the previous year) was led by Chief Inspector Luigi Calabresi and his boss Chief Superintendent Antonio Allegra of Milan’s Special Branch (Questura). On the night of the explosion — and the following day — over 100 anarchists were arrested, 27 of whom were taken to San Vittorio prison, the rest being held for interrogation in Milan police headquarters in the Via Fatebenefratelli.

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GINO LUCETTI and his attempt to assassinate Benito Mussolini (Il Duce) 11 September 1926 by Riccardo Lucetti ISBN 978-1-873976-56-2 (Kindle eBook)

Prologue by Marco Rossi. Translated by Paul Sharkey. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Prologue by Marco Rossi. Translated by Paul Sharkey. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

Jul 102012


Gino Lucetti by Riccardo Lucetti (Kindle eBook). Cover illustration by Flavio Costantini

Gino Lucetti (August 31, 1900 – September 17, 1943)

GINO LUCETTI and his attempt to assassinate Benito Mussolini (Il Duce) 11 September 1926 by Riccardo Lucetti. ISBN 978-1-873976-56-2 (Prologue by Marco Rossi. Translated by Paul Sharkey.

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Carrara-born Gino Lucetti was an Italian anarchist who, on September 11 1926, unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini by throwing a bomb at his car in Rome’s Porta Pia Square. Arrested and tried in June 1927 Lucetti was sentenced to 30-years imprisonment, as was his fellow anti-fascist Vincenzo Baldazzi. Lucetti escaped in 1943, having spent 16 years in jail but, unfortunately, he was killed soon after during a German bombardment of Ischia.

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THE END OF ANARCHISM? by Luigi Galleani eBook £1.50/€2.00 (see eBookshelf)

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Jun 282012

The End of Anarchism? (cover illustration by Flavio Costantini)

The End of Anarchism? by Luigi Galleani ISBN 978-1-873976-57-9 (£4.62/ EUR 5,74/$7.20) Translated from the Italian by ‘Max Sartin‘ and Robert D’Attilio. Cover illustration by Flavio Costantini.

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The career of Luigi Galleani involves a paradox. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, he was the leading Italian anarchist in the United States, one of the greatest anarchist orators of his time, in a class with Emma Goldman and Johann Most, editor of the foremost Italian-American anarchist periodical, La Cronaca Sovversiva (The Subversive Chronicle), which ran for fifteen years before its supression by the American government, and inspirer of a movement that included Sacco and Vanzetti among its adherents.

Yet Galleani has fallen into oblivion. He is virtually unknown in the United States, outside of a small circle of scholars and of personal associates and disciples, whose ranks are rapidly dwindling. No biography in English has been devoted to him, nor is he mentioned in the general histories of anarchism by George Woodcock and James Joll or in the comprehensive history of American anarchism by William Reichert. His writings, moreover, had remained untranslated until the appearance of the work under review, which, distilling the essence of his radical beliefs, his credo of revolutionary anarchism, fills a conspicuous gap in the literature of anarchism available to English readers and restores a major figure in the movement to his proper historical place.

Luigi Galleani (1861-1931) by Bartolo Provo

Galleani was born on August 12, 1861, in the Piedmont town of Vercelli, not far from the city of Turin. The son of middle-class parents, he was drawn to anarchism in his late teens and, studying law at the University of Turin, became an outspoken militant whose hatred of capitalism and government would burn with undiminished intensity for the rest of his life. Galleani, however, refused to practice law, which he had come to regard with contempt, transferring his talents and energies to radical propaganda. Under threat of prosecution, he took refuge in France, from which he was expelled for taking part in a May Day demonstration. Moving to Switzerland, he visited the exiled French anarchist and geographer Elisée Reclus, whom he assisted in the preparation of his Nouvelle Géographie universelle, compiling statistics on Central America. He also assisted students at the University of Geneva in arranging a celebration in honor of the Haymarket Martyrs, who had been hanged in Chicago in 1887, for which he was expelled as a dangerous agitator. Returning to Italy, Galleani continued his agitation, which got him into trouble with the police. Arrested on charges of conspiracy, he spent more than five years in prison and exile before escaping from the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily, in 1900.

Galleani, now in his fortieth year, began an odyssey that landed him in North America. Aided by Elisée Reclus and other comrades, he first made his way to Egypt, where he lived for the better part of a year among a colony of Italian expatriates. Threatened with extradition, he moved on to London, from which he soon embarked for the United States, arriving in October 1901, barely a month after the assassination of President McKinley. Settling in Paterson, New Jersey, a stronghold of the immigrant anarchist movement, Galleani assumed the editorship of La Questione Sociale (The Social Question), then the leading Italian anarchist periodical in America. Scarcely had he installed himself in this position when a strike erupted among the Paterson silk workers, and Galleani, braving the anti-radical hysteria which followed the shooting of McKinley, threw all his energies into their cause. In eloquent and fiery speeches he called on the workers to launch a general strike and thereby free themselves from capitalist oppression. Paul Ghio, a visitor from France, was present at one such oration. “1 have never heard an orator more powerful than Luigi Galleani,” he afterwards wrote. “He has a marvelous facility with words, accompanied by the faculty—rare among popular tribunes — of precision and clarity of ideas. His voice is full of warmth, his glance alive and penetrating, his gestures of exceptional vigor and flawless distinction.”

Luigi Galleani (police mugshots)

The strike occurred in June 1902. Clashes took place between the workers and the police, shots were fired, and Galleani was wounded in the face. Indicted for inciting to riot, he managed to escape to Canada. A short time after, having recovered from his wounds, he secretly recrossed the border and took refuge in Barre, Vermont, living under an assumed name among his anarchist comrades who regarded him with intense devotion. It was in Barre, on June 6,1903, that Galleani launched La Cronaca Sovversiva, the mouthpiece for his incendiary doctrines and one of the most important and ably edited periodicals in the history of the anarchist movement, its influence, reaching far beyond the confines of the United States, could be felt wherever Italian radicals congregated, from Europe and North Africa to South America and Australia. In 1906, however, during a polemical exchange with G.M. Seratti, the socialist editor of Il Proletario in New York, the latter revealed Galleani’s whereabouts (a charge also levelled at the English writer H.G. Wells), and Galleani was taken into custody. Extradited to New Jersey, he was tried in Paterson in April 1907 for his role in the 1902 strike. The trial, however, ended in a hung jury (seven for conviction, five for acquittal), and Galleani was set free.

Cronaca Sovversiva (1903-1918)

Galleani returned to Barre and resumed his propaganda activities. Now in his late forties, he had reached the summit of his intellectual powers. Over the next forty years his fiery oratory and brilliant pen carried him to a position of undisputed leadership within the Italian-American anarchist movement. An eloquent speaker, Galleani had a resonant, tilting voice with a tremolo that kept his audience spellbound. He spoke easily, powerfully, spontaneously, and his bearing was of a kind that made his followers, Sacco and Vanzetti among them, revere him as a kind of patriarch of the movement, to which he won more converts than any other single individual. Galleani was also a prolific writer, pouring forth hundreds of articles, essays, and pamphlets that reached tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of readers on several continents. Yet he never produced a full-length book: the volumes appearing over his signature, such as Faccia a Faccia col Nemico, Aneliti e Singulti, and Figure e Figuri, are collections of shorter pieces previously published in La Cronaca Sovversiva. In this respect he resembles Johann Most, Errico Malatesta, and Benjamin Tucker (author of Instead of a Book: By a Man Too Busy to Write One), rather than, say, William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, or Peter Kropotkin.

La Fin dell’Anarchismo (1925) — Tamiment Library

The End of Anarchism?, Galleani’s most fully realized work, itself began as a series of articles. In June 1907, shortly after Galleani ’s acquittal at Paterson, the Turin daily La Stampa published an interview with Francesco Saverio Merlino, himself a former anarchist of distinction, under the title “The End of Anarchism.” Merlino, like Galleani, had been trained in the law, had lived in the United States, and had founded an important Italian-American journal, Grido degli Oppressi (The Cry of the Oppressed), which appeared in New York from 1892 to 1894. Unlike Galleani, however, Merlino had abandoned anarchism in 1897, joining the socialist movement. Merlino, in his interview with La Stampa, pronounced anarchism an obsolete doctrine, torn by internal disputes, bereft of first-rate theorists, and doomed to early extinction. Galleani was incensed. “The end of anarchism?” he asked in La Cronaca Sovversiva, adding a question mark to the title of Merlino’s interview. Just the opposite was the case. In an age of growing political and economic centralization, anarchism was more relevant than ever. Far from being moribund, “it lives, it develops, it goes forward”.

Saverio Merlino

Such was Galleani’s reply to Merlino, elaborated in a series of articles into Cronaca Sovversiva from August 17,1907, to January 25, 1918. Combining the spirit of Stirnerite insurgency with Kropotkin’s principle of mutual aid, Galleani put forward a vigorous defense of communist anarchism against socialism and reform, preaching the virtues of spontaneity and variety, of autonomy and independence, of self-determination and direct action, in a world of increasing standardization and conformity. A revolutionary zealot, he would brook no compromise with the elimination of both capitalism and government. Nothing less than a clean sweep of the bourgeois order, with its inequality and injustice, its subjugation and degradation of the workers, would satisfy his thirst for the millennium.

Galleani produced ten articles in response to Merlino. He intended to write still more, but day-to-day work for the movement — editing La Cronaca Sovversiva, organizing meetings, issuing pamphlets, embarking on coast-to-coast lecture tours — prevented him from doing so. In 1912 he moved La Cronaca Sovversiva from Barre to Lynn, Massachusetts, where he had won a dedicated following.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, he opposed it, in contrast to Kropotkin, with all the strength and eloquence at his command, denouncing it in La Cronaca Sovversiva with an oft-repeated slogan, “Contro la guerra, contro la pace, per la rivoluzione sociale!” (Against the war, against the peace, for the social revolution!) With America’s entry into the conflict in April 1917, Galleani became the object of persecution. His paper was shut down and he himself was arrested on charges of obstructing the war effort. On J une 24,1919, he was deported to his native Italy, leaving behind his wife and four children.

In Turin, Galleani resumed publication of La Cronaca Sovversiva. As in America, however, it was suppressed by the authorities. On Mussolini’s accession to power in 1922, Galleani was arrested, tried, and convicted on charges of sedition, and sentenced to fourteen months in prison, where his health began to deteriorate. After his release, he returned to his old polemic against Merlino, completing it in a series of articles in L’Adunata dei Refrattari (The Call of the Rebels), the journal of his disciples in America, who issued it in 1925 as a booklet. Malatesta, whose conception of anarchism diverged sharply from that of Galleani, hailed the work as a “clear, serene, eloquent” recital of the communist-anarchist creed. In its present English edition, it takes its place beside Malatesta’s own Talk About Anarchist Communism, Alexander Berkman’s What Is Communist Anarchism?, and Nicolas Walter’s About Anarchism as a classic exposition of the subjects.

‘Max Sartin’ Raffaele Schiavina (1894-1987)

It is a pleasant task, in this age of shoddy production, to review a work of such notable aesthetic quality. Apart from its handsome cover by Flavio Costantini, the celebrated Italian anarchist artist, it is attractively designed and printed, and the frontispiece contains a drawing of Galleani, based on a well-known photograph, by Bartolo Provo. The translation by Max Sartin, longtime editor of L’Adunata dei Refrattari and associate of Galleani, and Robert D’Attilio, an authority on Italian-American anarchism, is both readable and accurate. There are a number of typographical and factual errors, especially in the notes, but these, while regrettable, do not detract from the overall value of the book.

The publication of the L’Adunata edition of this work in 1925 did not endear Galleani to the Mussolini government. Arrested in November 1926, Galleani was locked up in the same cell in which he had spent three months in 1892 and found it “as dirty and ugly” as before. Soon afterwards, he was banished to the island of Lipari, off the Sicilian coast, from which he was later removed to Messina, and condemned to serve six months in prison, for the crime of insulting Mussolini. In February 1930. Galleani, in failing health, was allowed to return to the mainland. Retiring to the mountain village of Caprigliola, he remained under the surveillance of the police, who seldom left his door and followed him even on his solitary walks in the surrounding countryside. Returning from his daily walk, on November 4,1931, Galleani collapsed and died. His anarchism, to the end, had burned with an undiminished flame. Ever hopeful for the future, despite a life of bitter experience, he had remained faithful to the ideal that had inspired his life, convinced that liberty would ultimately triumph over tyranny and oppression.

Paul Avrich (1983)

Feb 122012

Emidio Recchioni (1864-1934) Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, London (© Hey, mippy)

Emidio Recchioni (1864-1934), a republican railway worker, born in Ravenna, who converted to the anarchist Idea in the early 1890s under the influence of Ancona-based Cesare Agostinelli, publisher of the anarchist newspaper Sempre Avanti.

Arrested in 1894 in the repression that followed the assassination attempt on hated Prime Minister Francesco Crispi by the anarchist Paolo Lega, Recchioni was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Released in 1897 he, Errico Malatesta and other comrades launched another Ancona-based newspaper ‘L’Agitazione’ which led to his rearrest and deportation to the prison island of Ustica (one of Italy’s many island prison colonies) in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Escaping in 1898, he fled to London where he opened a popular delicatessen in Soho’s Old Compton Street, specialising in Italian wine, pasta and smoked hams. He also traded in Carrara marble, Carrara being a centre of Italian anarchist activism, and supported financially — and wrote for under his pen name ‘Nemo’ — the Italian anarchist press, especially La Protesta and the Galleanist paper L’Adunata dei Refrattari.

‘King Bomba’ (the guys in the Trilby’s and macs look suspiciously like Special Branch)

Named ‘King Bomba‘ — an ironic reference to the tyrant King Ferdinand II of the two Sicilies (1810-1859) — Recchioni’s shop was frequented by British writers, intellectuals and political and literary exiles of the day and, later, following Mussolini’s accession to power, Italian anti-fascists. As a political activist and sociometric star of the radical and literary Soho milieu, Recchioni acquired a wide and influential friendship circle of British socialists and liberals, among them the man who in 1924 was to become the first British Labour prime minister, James Ramsey MacDonald.

‘L’Adunata Dei Refrattari’

Recchioni’s influence, his wealth and his key role as a facilitator and funder of the Italian anarchist and anti-fascist movement (including the clandestine ‘Arditi del Popolo’ movement) made him a high-priority target for Mussolini’s secret police, the OVRA (Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell’Antifascismo — “Organisation for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism”, a body formed in 1927); it also earned him the obsessive hostility of Lieutenant Colonel John F.C. Carter, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, a mercifully incompetent right-wing, anti-labour union fantasist and former MI5 officer who, in 1928, had been appointed head of the MP Special Branch. (It was around this time, according to a contemporary eye-witness, the late R. Stuart Montague — an old, rather  posh unattached Marxist who used to hang around Speakers Corner in  the sixties and had taken part in unemployed demonstrations in the  thirties — that only half a mile or so away members of the British Fascisti were using the firing range at Great Marlborough Street police station for small-arms  training and practice.) Carter’s information on Recchioni originated almost entirely from OVRA and pro-fascist, right-wing, private industrial intelligence agencies, the so-called ‘Casuals’. (In 1921 Mussolini’s Fascio had opened an office close to King Bomba’s premises in nearby Noel Street, the object of which being to monitor and intimidate London’s large Italian community, an office that later became OVRA’s unofficial base in the British capital.)

Lt. Colonel John F.C. Carter (Metropolitan Police Special Branch)

Arturo Bocchini, 1931 (head of Mussolini’s OVRA)

In 1929 OVRA agents, working with Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers, began circulating stories in British and Italian political and newspaper circles that Recchioni was organising and funding plots to assassinate Mussolini. Colonel Carter gave credence to these stories by providing Rome with Special Branch surveillance reports and photographs of Recchioni meeting other Italian anti-fascist émigrés. He also informed his OVRA colleagues that he was limited in his abilities to act against Recchioni as the latter had ‘a personal friendship with Prime Minister MacDonald’. Home Office files show that Carter successfully opposed Recchioni’s application for British citizenship under the previous Conservative government, but was overruled when MacDonald came to Downing Street. The subsequent Police Commissioner, Lord Trenchard, wrote in a top secret note that: ‘Recchioni was naturalised in spite of a bad report from the Superintendent of the Special Branch who described him as an “ intriguer of the first order”’. Carter eventually withdrew his opposition to Recchioni’s naturalisation following a ‘full and frank discussion‘ with Sir John Pedder, the Principal Assistant Secretary at the Home Office.

It is hardly surprising that Ramsay MacDonald gave little credence to the conspiratorial and anti-trade union obsessions of the Special Branch and MI5, the competing security service. He was fully aware that it was they who, in all probability, were the facilitators of the so-called ‘Zinoviev letter’ (the White Russian forgery published in the Daily Mail) that led to the downfall of his first and short-lived Labour government in 1924.

In 1931 Recchioni travelled to Brussels on his new British passport, followed closely by a Special Branch officer called J. O’Reilly, whose report, which was due to remain closed until 2035, is heavily redacted — but it does reveal that instead of the trip leading to Recchioni’s arrest, the then Home Secretary and Police Commissioner, Lord Trenchard, chose to obstruct the course of justice rather than allow sensitive information come to light. What that information was remains unknown to this day.

Angello Sbardellotto (1907-1932)

The purpose of his trip, according to Special Branch officer O’Reilly, was for Recchioni to meet with members of the Brussels-based International Anarchist Defence Committee (CIDA), and a 28-year-old Italian anarchist coalminer by the name of Angelo Sbardellotto*. Sbardellotto was arrested in June the following year with two handgrenades, a pistol and a forged Swiss passport. His mission, according to his confession  — extracted by OVRA officers under torture — had been to assassinate Mussolini. Recchioni, he claimed, had provided him with the money, weapons and plan for the attempt. The Italian secret police sent Sbardellotto’s signed confession to London with a list of the dates on which they were alleged to have met, and a request for Recchioni’s extradition.

Emidio Recchioni (1920-21) with son Vero (left) and daughter Vera
© Archivio Famiglia Berneri – Aurelio Chessa

The Home Office ordered a search of the register of cross-Channel passengers at Dover and Folkestone to establish Recchioni’s movements and to see if they corresponded with the dates allegedly provided by Sbardelotto in his confession. According to the Special Branch, perhaps unsurprisingly, they matched perfectly. In a fearless leap of the imagination they went on to affirm that ‘from a record of journeys it seems likely that he (Recchioni) is in fact the person who supplied the bombs.’

Matters were further complicated when a Daily Telegraph article — quoting Italian sources — identified Recchioni as one of those involved in the alleged, and unsuccessful, assassination plot. Recchioni immediately sued the Daily Telegraph for damages to his reputation, as a ‘virtuous man’. Shortly before the action — against the Daily Telegraph’s owner, Lord Camrose — was due to be heard in the King’s Bench Division, the newspaper’s lawyers asked Colonel Carter for help. Lord Trenchard, the new police commissioner, then wrote to Herbert Samuel MP, the Liberal Home Secretary in MacDonald’s National Government: ‘The DT have applied to Colonel Carter to know if he can help them, but we have told him that the only possible reply is that he has no evidence that he can give.

This was patently untrue. There was much Carter could have said, but had he gone into the witness box he would have had to explain, under oath, why — against his strongest advice and on the basis of what he knew and where that information originated from — OVRA informers and agents provocateurs — which included intelligence on an alleged attempt by Recchioni to purchase an aeroplane in Britain for an unspecified mission in Italy — the Italian anarchist’s naturalisation process had been  ‘fast-tracked’ upon MacDonald’s arrival in Downing Street.

‘Only a handful of earth and ashes, but impregnated with the spirit of a man who lived, suffered, and deserved well of mankind. He knew no fatherland but the world, no family but the human race, no religion but love. No tomb can prison his soul. From such rare spirits must spring the roots of a society worthy of memory in which life will be worth living.’ 31 March 1934. © hey, mippy

In a secret note, sent ‘by hand as I thought you ought to see it first’ Trenchard remarked to Samuel: ‘It is unfortunate that Recchioni may get damages out of the DT , but I do not see how it can be helped’. Samuel approved this decision, Carter never appeared at the hearing and the Telegraph lost the court case. Recchioni, who spent, apparently, a mere £35 in paying Sbardellotto’s costs to kill Mussolini — received £1,177 in damages. He died two years later while undergoing medical treatment in Paris.

* Angelo Pellegrino Sbardellotto, Italian anarchist and coalminer, was shot in the back at dawn on 17  June 1932, at Fort Bretta in Rome, by a fascist militia firing squad, after refusing to see a priest.