Class Struggle in the Italian Countryside (XXI)
Some yellowed pages from half a century ago "Il Mattino" of June 30, 1901.
News to which time gives a strange flavour; the division of the extreme left 29 socialists, 29 republicans, two or three sections of radicals: 18 with Marcora, 13 with Sacchi and 9 various. - The battleship Àndrea Doria washed up on the sand in Gallipoli during manoeuvres. - Italian-French enthusiasm during a university trip to Montpellier. - Minister Giusso dismissed from his position as a civil servant at the Railways the Tedesco deputy who criticised the Public Works Budget.
Here, a new one full of life and precision that we think it would be useful to reproduce
"We are being cabled from Rome, 30/06. - The "Avanti", in a letter from Rovigo, reconstructs the very painful scene that took place on the Albersan bridge, near Berra, between the strikers from the drained lands and the troops commanded by Lieutenant Di Benedetto. Here is a summary of these:
The drained extends to the right of the Po. There are usually farmers from Romagna and the Polesine working there; there are 22,000 hectares as far as the eye can see; a vast expanse of bread taunting the misery of the hungry. They belong to the Bank of Turin.
In solidarity, the workers of the Polesine had united with those of Ferrara, the two provinces of Rovigo and Ferrara are separated by the Po, but they are now united by a common faith and pact.
Three kilometres from Berra is the Albersan Bridge, on the White Canal, which marks the boundary of the drained land. That's where the massacre took place. The place is a junction the road from Berra to Serravalle crosses the route from the Po to the White Channel.
Albersan Bridge is occupied at its left entrance by an infantry section (2nd Company, 40th) commanded by Lieutenant Lionello Di Benedetto, a Neapolitan. Another section is placed on the right dike of the canal.
The column of strikers coming from the Berra road, turns right to enter the bridge. It stops at twenty paces. The lieutenant rings three times.
The farmers wave their white handkerchiefs as a sign of peace and Calisto Desvó, with his hat in his hand, moves towards the lieutenant.
"I ask for the floor!"
But Lieutenant Di Benedetto fired three shots at close range at Desvó's head, who fell dead.
Before, behind the platoon, was the owner Baruffa, who cried out: - Here are the murderers! Fire!
But there is no need for the boss's order; and Di Benedetto orders the fire, while another lieutenant, who was on the opposite bank of the river and a vice-brigadier of the Carabinieri, begs him to withdraw his weapons.
Six times the officer commands the fire.
The peasants fled but some were shot in the back. Cesira Nicchio, among others, falls dead; there are four dying and among those who disperse, fifty are wounded.
Here are the names of the dead Calisto Desvó was 38 years old, two children, he was president of the Villanova Marchesana League. He had seven wounds to his chest and head.
Cesira Nicchio, mother of two children; she was 24 years old. Bullets had ripped off the top of her skull. Ferruccio Fusetti, 32 years old, from Berra. Livieri Sante, 30 years old, from Villanova. Nanetti Augusto, 21 years old, from Berra. Gardellini Albino, 31 years old, from Berra.
There are about 50 wounded. They are injured in the hind parts, a clear sign that they were in the process of retreating.
Ferruccio Fusetti, his lung pierced from his back to his chest, staggered and shouted Courage, companions! Long live socialism!
Lieutenant Di Benedetto claims to have acted in good conscience when he ordered the shooting.
On that tragic morning, he looked like a tired person, harassed by a strenuous sleep.
It is said that two days before the massacre he was exclaiming:
"For these people, what you need is lead!"
The correspondent claims that Desvó's body, which fell beyond the bridge, was dragged by the soldiers to the middle of the bridge by order of the lieutenant. The latter would have wanted to demonstrate that Desvó had violated the cordon.
The command of the entire security service was entrusted to Captain De Blasi.
After the massacre, there were still provocations. While the road was full of excited people, the proprietor Baruffa shouted at Nicchio and Marini as they rode by on their bicycles:
There haven't been enough deaths; we still need bullets for the leaders!"
"We are being cabled from Venice, 29 in the evening - the "Adriatico" got details from Berra about the massacre that took place there:
It seems that Lieutenant Di Benedetto lowered with his sword the barrels of the soldiers' guns that were firing in the air.
At present, the lieutenant is unarmed and under surveillance in a room in Berzano. Tomorrow, the troop will be relieved.
A vice-brigadier told the lieutenant:
"Do not command fire."
The angry lieutenant replied:
"Withdraw, or I'll fire on you."
Similarly, the second lieutenant advised against the fire and his soldiers fired into the air.
The dead Desvó was head of the Villanova League; loved by his village, he advised calm.
Right now, we're burying the bodies."
The 1898 of Pelloux and Bava-Beccaris passed as did the 1900 of Gaetano Bresci. Mussolini's 1922 is still to come.
The elections at the beginning of the century gave victory to the left. Democracy triumphs and we are in the Zanardelli-Giolitti ministry.
Violent echo in the House. Bissolati and Ferri rise up, Giolitti, dry and colourless, explains himself without giving any traction. Ponza di San Martino, Minister of War, reacted, insulted the extreme left, then withdrew, and the officials left the gallery. Duel between Ponza and Bissolati or Ferri? Bissolati cried out
"It is a terrible lesson that flows from these facts for the proletarian classes, namely that some conquests can only be obtained through blood! (Very loud chatter)".
This Bissolati who was then excluded in 1912 for monarchism and possibilism, patriot and volunteer in 1915, social-pacifist and class collaborationist until his death!
While the form of Giolitti's statements is neglected, their content is remarkable. In the Ferrara region, due to the drainage works, latifundium prevails and agricultural workers' wages are insufficient. However, the local landlords conceded increases, which were refused by the only major Ferrara Drainage Land Company, formed with Turinese financial capital, which sought to bring in workers from Piedmont for competitive purposes. The Government recognises the legal right of the Company to do so, although it has approached it to ask it to abandon its plan, since the Piedmontese workers cost it more than the local workers would cost by granting the increases.
Nevertheless, since the demonstrators were trying to storm the Company's property, the Government had to safeguard freedom of work and order by rightfully using weapons.
During the past fifty years, the bourgeois parties and the parties that claim to be proletarian have purported to devote long studies to the social problems of the land, but it should not be believed that the way of dealing with this problem has advanced when it has been raised for decades with a bright clarity in terms of class struggle between capitalist entrepreneurs and wage workers. We do not find, in the management and ownership of the latifundium of Ferrara, the legendary feudal lords, the medieval-looking barons that are mentioned in all the chatter about the social backwardness of agriculture in Italy.
The grandiose work of draining the land was carried out by pouring considerable corporate capital into the region, underwritten by shareholders, including the Swiss, and the most intransigent of employers was the Turin Institute, which systematically organised strikebreakers.
The years passed and the forces of the democratic capitalist state continued unabated to disperse the insurrections of agricultural workers in the North and the South with lead; and it will continue to be repeated that this would not happen if the Italian regime, in addition to being a perfect political democracy, achieved accomplished capitalist development in the economic field.
It is precisely in Turin that a school deviated from the proletarian parties will paint a whole picture on the antithesis between a backward agrarian Italy and a modern Italy of bourgeois entrepreneurs and industrialists, and, when fascism was born, it will start to cry over the end of Giolittian democracy, machine-gunning peasants and workers, describing it as the political expression of the social forces of agrarian Italy as opposed to those of the industrial bourgeoisie.
This trend will develop to the general front of national collaboration, not only with the parties of the modern bourgeoisie, but also with the agrarians themselves and with the clerical currents, in the period following the defeat of the fascists in the war.
It is developing today, despite the appearances of disagreement in domestic politics, more and more clearly in the defeatism and disarmament of all the impulses towards class struggle that are constantly emerging from the Italian countryside. Even recently, the peasants of the Po Valley, landless peasants and labourers, fought and moved directly, by class instinct, towards the carabinieri's barracks, while for the umpteenth time they were diverted from the socialist, anti-bourgeois and anti-state battle, by the cowardly and stupid demand for a redistribution of land ownership, within the conformist framework of the national economy and constitutional legality.
All the towns, large and small, in Italy are filled with plaques that recall the names of the unfortunate people dragged to the slaughterhouse in all the equally criminal battles of Isonzo or Don and fallen by launching their ultimate imprecation against the bloody and powerless militarist regime in the bourgeois country.
Does anyone remember, after fifty years, the names of those who were massacred in Berra and who will be followed by the endless list of those who fell in the periodic carnage that number in the hundreds, especially before the fascist period?
Calisto Desvó, whose name in the civil status does not matter, is the type of these thousands of league chiefs whose only reward is the half-litre in front of which they explained Marxist theses in the village inn in the evenings with a theoretical rigour which, if not perfect, was certainly a thousand cubits higher than that of the current Soviet academies.
The ingenuous man who reported in Avanti! at that time was probably a lowly student from the nearby town who was paid, in addition to the third class ticket, only for the daily six-cent pack of cigarettes. But he knew how to gather the cry of the worker who, by fighting perhaps for fifty cents of salary increase, wanted, by falling, to shout the victory of socialism.
Today, leaders and hierarchists cynically mock the supreme conquests; they nevertheless also send the proletarians to massacre, but only to achieve the objectives corresponding to their vile partisan services.
The press editors of the left-wing parties today pride themselves on being more disenchanted, resourceful and casual than those gummy bourgeois people you meet at the corner of sidewalks.
If the red Po Valley, this "gentle plain which from Vercelli to Marcabó bowed", is not yet the heart of a proletarian republic, the cause lies with the forces of capitalist imperialism, and among them above all with those forces in the guise of socialist and communist parties, since the movement that defends national, military and popular interests and institutions, i.e. anti-classist, dared to call itself socialist and communist.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 32, 1949.
Translation by Libri Incogniti