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(en) the Arditi del Popolo Organise! -AF Britain/Ireland

From Al <klasbatalemo@yahoo.ie>
Date Wed, 30 Oct 2002 15:28:16 -0500 (EST)


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By the end of World War I, the working class in Italy
were in a state of revolutionary ferment. Not yet
ready for the conquest of power themselves, workers
and peasants by 1918 had won a variety of concessions
from the state: an improvement of wages, the 8 hour
day, and a recognition of collective contracts. 

By 1919, however, a new radicalism had descended upon
the labour movement. In that year alone, there were
1,663 strikes across the peninsular, while in August
the newly-formed shop stewards? movement in Turin (the
forerunner of the workers? councils) underlined the
growth of a new vibrant militancy that drew its
strength from the autonomous capacity of workers to
organise themselves along libertarian lines and which
had "the potential objective of preparing men,
organizations and ideas, in a continuous
pre-revolutionary control operation, so that they are
ready to replace employer authority in the enterprise
and impose a new discipline on social life"(1).
 In the countryside the peasantry opened up a second
front against the state by occupying the land that had
been promised them before the war. The Visochi  decree
of September 1919 merely validated the cooperatives
that had already been set up while the ?red leagues?
assisted the formation of strong unions of day
labourers.

However, 1919 also marked the initial signs of capital
defending itself against the growing onslaught. A
meeting of industrialists and landowners at Genoa in
April sealed the first stages of the  ?holy alliance?
against the rise of labour power.  From this meeting
were drawn up plans for the formation, in the
following year, of both the General Federation of
Industry and the General Federation of Agriculture,
which together worked out a precise strategy for the
dismantling of the labour unions and the nascent
councils. Alone, however, the industrialists and
landowners could not undertake the struggle against
the labour movement. The workers themselves had to be
cowed into submission, had to have their spirit of
revolt broken on the very streets they walked and the
fields they sowed. For this, capital turned to the
armed thuggery of fascism, and its biggest thug of
all: Benito Mussolini.   

Formation of the Fascist squads

Immediately following the end of the war, there was a
veritable flowering of anti-labour leagues:
Mussolini?s Combat Fasci, the Anti-Bolshevik League,
Fasci for Social Education, Umus, Italy Redeemed
etc?At the same time, members of the Arditi, the war
volunteer corps, on being demobilised, organised
themselves into an elite force of 20,000 shock troops
and were immediately put to use by the anti-labour
movement. This movement was mostly comprised of the
middle or lower middle class. Ex-officers and NCOs,
white collar workers, students and the self-employed
all allied themselves to the fascist cause in the
towns, while in the countryside the sons of tenant
farmers, small land owners and estate managers were
willing recruits in the war against the perceived red
menace. The police and the army both actively
encouraged the fascists, urging ex-officers to join
and train the squads, lending them vehicles and
weapons, even allowing criminals to enrol in them with
the promise of benefits and immunity. Arms permits,
refused to workers and peasants, were freely handed
over to the fascist squadrons, while munitions from
the state arsenals gave the Blackshirts an immense
military advantage over their enemies. Ultimately, by
November 1921, the various hit squads were welded
together into a military organisation known as the
Principi with a hierarchy of sections, cohorts,
legions and a special uniform.

The Arditi del Popolo

To compensate for the shortcomings of the Socialist
Party (PSI -Partito Socialista Italiana) and the main
trade union, the CGL (see below), militants of various
tendencies, anarcho-syndicalists, left socialists,
communists and republicans formed, in June 1921, a
people?s militia, the Arditi del Popolo (AdP), to take
the fight to the fascists. While politically diverse,
the AdP was a predominantly working class
organisation. Workers were enlisted from the
factories, the farms, the railways, the shipyards, the
building sites, the ports and from public transport.
Some sections of the middle class also got involved in
the form of students, office workers, and other
professional types. 

Structurally, the AdP was run along military lines
into battalions, companies and squads. Squads were
comprised of 10 members and a group leader.  4 squads
made up a company with a company commander, and 3
companies made up a battalion with its own battalion
commander. Cycle squads were used to maintain links
between the general command and the workforce at
large. In spite of its structure, the AdP remained
elastic enough to form a rapid reaction force in
response to fascist threats. AdP behaviour was
dictated by whatever political group held sway in a
particular locale although most sections were allowed
virtual autonomy over their actions. 

These sections were quickly set up in all parts of the
country, either as new creations, or as part of
already existing groups like the Communist Party of
Italy (PCdI -Partito Comunista d'Italia), the
paramilitary Arditi Rossi in Trieste, the Children of
No-one (Figli di Nessuno) in Genova and Vercelli.or
the Proletarian League (Lega Proletaria -linked to the
PSI).  Overall, at least 144 sections had been set up
by the end of the summer 1921 with a total of about
20,000 members. The largest sections were the 12 Lazio
sections with about 3,300 members, followed by
Tuscany, 18 sections, with a total of 3,000 members. 

The AdP very quickly built up its own cultural
identity with individual sections proudly flaunting
their own logos, and images of war. While the AdP as a
whole was easily recognisable by a skull surrounded by
a laurel wreath with a dagger in its teeth, and the
motto ?A Noi- To Us, the Directorates logo was a
dagger surrounded by an oak and laurel wreath. The
Civetavecchia meanwhile didn?t leave much to the
imagination when choosing their banner -an axe
smashing the fasces symbol!  Although they did not
have, nor want, their own uniform, the average AdP
member preferred to dress in black sweaters, dark-grey
trousers, with a red flower in their buttonholes.
Their songs were as direct and confrontational as they
themselves were:

"Rintuzziamo la violenza/ del fascismo mercenario./
Tutti 
in armi!sul calvario/ dell'umana redenzion./ Questa
eterna 
giovinezza/ si rinnova nella fede/ per un popolo che
chiede/ uguaglianza e
libertà."

"We curb the violence/of the mercenary fascists/
Everyone 
armed on the cavalry/of human redemption/ This eternal
youth/is 
renewed in the faith/ for the people who demand
equality and freedom."


The Fascist Offensive 

The Italian anarchist, Errico Malatesta, commenting on
the massive factory occupations in northern Italy in
September 1920 which involved 600,000 workers,
predicted ?if we do not carry on to the end, we will
pay with tears of blood for the fears we now instil in
the bourgeoisie?.. His words were to be prophetic as
both the PSI and CGL, instead of expanding the
struggle from the factories into the community,
collaborated with the state to return the workers to
their jobs. It was from this moment onwards that the
state moved on the offensive, and Mussolini?s
?revolutionary action? squads were supplied with
enough arms to take to the streets. 

Until the formation of the AdP, the fascists had
things mostly their own way. Starting off with an
attack on the town hall in Bologna, the fascist squads
swept through the countryside like a scythe,
undertaking ?punitive expeditions? against the ?red?
villages. Following their success there, they began
attacking the cities. Labour unions, the offices of
cooperatives and leftist papers were destroyed in
Trieste, Modena, and Florence within the first few
months of 1921. As Rossi writes, they had  ?an immense
advantage over the labour movement in its facilities
for transportation and concentration?The fascists are
generally without ties?they can live anywhere?The
workers, on the contrary, are bound to their
homes?This system gives the enemy every advantage:
that of the offensive over the defensive, and that of
mobile warfare over a war of position (2).? 

However by March 1921 there were growing signs of
working class defence structures being put in place.
In Livorno, when a working class district (Borgo dei
Cappucini) came under attack by the fascists, the
whole neighbourhood mobilised against them, routing
them from the town. In April, when the fascists
launched an assault on one of the union centres
(Camero del Lavoro), the workers held strike action on
the 14th, and surrounded the fascist squad, only for
the army to rush to the fascists? defence. By July,
the working class had created their own armed militia
-the Arditi del Popolo. 

Arditi del Popolo In Action

The AdP first saw action in Piombino on July 19th,
when they attacked a fascist meeting place and rounded
up the fascists inside.  When the Royal Guard tried to
intervene, they, too, were forced to surrender. The
AdP held the streets for a few days before the sheer
size of police numbers forced them to withdraw. In
Sarzana, they went to the aid of the local population
that had managed to capture on the fascists? most
important leaders, Renato Ticci. When a squad of 500
fascists attempted to rescue Ticci, the AdP were there
to force the fascists into the countryside. 20
fascists (probably more) were killed and their
squadron leader commented:

?The squad, so long accustomed to defeating an enemy
who nearly always ran away, or offered feeble
resistance, could not, and did not know how to defend
themselves?.

Sell Out 

However, just as the AdP was building up the momentum
on the streets, they were betrayed by the PSI who were
more interested in signing a pact of non-aggression
with the fascists -this at a time when the fascists
were at their most vulnerable. Socialist militants
were forced by their leadership to withdraw from the
AdP, while the CGL union ordered its members to leave
the organisation. One union leader, Matteotti,
confirmed the sell out in the union paper Battaglia
Sindicale:

?Stay at home: do not respond to provocations. Even
silence, even cowardice, are sometimes heroic.?

The communists went one step further by forming their
own pure ?class conscious? squadrons thus decimating
the movement further. According to Gramsci, ?the
tactic?corresponded to the need to prevent the party
membership being controlled by a leadership that was
not the party leadership.? Quite soon, only 50
sections of 6000 members remained, supported both by
the Unione Sindicale Italiana (USI) and the Unione
Anarchica Italiana (UAI). A number of these sections
went into action again in September in Piombino when
the fascists, who had burned down the offices of the
PSI (the same organisation that had sold them out a
month before), were intercepted by an anarchist patrol
and forced to flee. Piombino was soon to become the
nerve centre of the defence against fascism, defending
itself against a further fascist onslaught in April
1922, before finally succumbing after 1 ½ days of
fierce fighting when the fascists, aided by the Royal
Guard, were able to capture the offices of the USI.

In July 1922, the reformist general strike to defend
?civil liberties and the constitution? marked the
final disaster for the labour movement, as the work
stoppages were not, and could not be, accompanied by
aggressive direct action. The fascists simply insured
public services with scabs and made themselves masters
of the streets. With the strike?s collapse, the
fascists mustered their forces to deal with the last
remaining outposts of resistance, one of which,
Livorno, succumbed to a force of 2000 squadristi.  

Conclusion

So what lessons can we today learn from the arditi del
popolo? First of all, we need to learn the benefits of
organisation. Like the AdP, we need to form local
anti-fascist groups, operating autonomously in their
own areas, but gelled together in a national network.
These groups should not refrain from applying militant
direct action tactics against the likes of the BNP
-the only language the fascists understand. We need to
avoid the path of reformism, advocated by the
recruiting agents of the e.g. SWP, but destroy, once
and for all, the nationalist myth that scapegoats our
ethnic communities, and which has allowed the likes of
British home secretary, David Blunkett, and Irish
Minister of Justice, John O?Donaghue, to hoodwink
large sections of the working class into the belief
the root of their socio-economic woes lies elsewhere.
To do this, we need to tie the fascists? agenda to
that of the state which supports it, and get across
the message that fascism will only ever be destroyed
once the state itself is smashed.  Only a society run
along the principles of anarcho-communism can ever
hope to achieve this.

1 Williams L.  Proletarian Order 1975
2 Rossi, A.  The Birth of Fascism 1938

Thanks to Nestor McNab, for his help with translation
of parts of this article.

******************************************************

>From the pages of Organise!#59, thrice yearly magazine
of the Anarchist Federation, now available in PDF
format at:

http://www.afireland.cjb.net
contact@afireland.cjb.net

http://www.afed.org.uk
http://flag.blackened.net/af/alba


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