Archives for posts with tag: Amedeo Bertolo

Licia Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Licia Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Giuseppe Pinelli’s death marked the first deep fracture in a bewildered Italian public opinion. The mountain of charges levelled at Pietro Valpreda and the other anarchists from the Circolo 22 Marzo remained. But Pinelli’s ‘fall’ from the fourth floor at police headquarters  — someone well known and well-respected in leftwing circles in Milan —left many bewildered. The contradictory evidence from the police, the false statements from police chief Marcello Guida and the unlawful detention had not gone unnoticed.

Marcello Giuda (Milan's Police Commissioner)

And when, on 27 December 1969, Licia Pinelli, Giuseppe’s’ widow and mother filed a complaint and sued Guida, some newspapers began back-pedalling over Pinelli’s guilt and suicide. ‘The suit concerns ongoing and aggravated defamation. The complaint relates to breaches of professional confidentiality’.

Police chief Guida allegedly committed both offences immediately after the railwayman’s suicide by issuing statements to the press ‘that he ought not to have done’ and venturing ‘assessments, interpretations and opinions’ which the two Pinelli women regarded as defamatory of the person of their deceased relative” wrote Giampaolo Pansa in La Stampa on 28 December. He went on to say: “The three young criminal lawyers assisting the two women in this matter — Domenico Contestabile, Marcello Gentili and Renato Palmieri — have spoken. The charges brought by the lawyers are based on three points. Namely, that immediately after Pinelli’s death the police chief stated ‘in further press conferences’ that all of the railwayman’s alibis had collapsed.

Marcelo Gentili, a solicitor acting for Licia Pinelli and Pinelli's mother

According to the three lawyers, this involved ‘grave and unfounded’ claims that Guida allegedly repeated several times […] The police chief’s second ‘offence’ — that he was quick to draw a connection between the charges against Pinelli and ‘the alleged suicide’ by telling everyone that Pinelli had killed himself because he was compromised by the police officers’ questioning […] The third ‘charge’ against Guida (and the most serious one in the view of the three lawyers) was that he had named Pinelli as guilty of ‘dynamite attacks’.

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

In short, many people wondered, if Pinelli were innocent, why did he kill himself? Why did three thousand people walk behind the anarchist’ s coffin on 20 December in spite of the atmosphere of police intimidation? These were questions that ate away at the official ‘truths’ of the police and magistrates. Who had lied about a fellow born in Milan in 1928 in the working class district of Porta Ticinese?

Funeral procession of Giuseppe Pinelli, 20 December 1969

Pinelli's funeral, 20 December 1969

Giuseppe Pinelli

Stockily built, of medium height, black whiskers and goatee, Pinelli left school after elementary level, working first as a waiter and later as a warehouseman. But leaving school early, however, did not mean that he had given up on books: he read them by the hundreds. He was a passionate self-educator. In 1944 he had been a runner for the resistance in Milan, the Brigata Franco where he became involved with a group of anarchist partisans. That meeting left its mark on his life, and his anarchist activism can be traced back to those years.

In 1954 he won a competition and joined the railways as a labourer. The following year, he married and was to father two daughters, Silvia and Claudia.

In 1963 some young people set up the Gioventú libertario (Libertarian Youth) group, which brought a breath of fresh air to the political atmosphere of Milan. Even though he was 35 and the others were little more than 20, Pinelli got on well with them. He became a natural point of contact between newcomers to anarchism and the older militants who had survived fascism.

Then things took a turn for the better. In 1965 he helped found the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti in the Viale Murillo. Milan’s anarchists hadn’t had their own premises for ten years, but in 1969, the youngsters found premises in the Piazzale Lugano and called it the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa, only a few metres away from the bridge of the same name overlooking countless gardens.

The winds of May in France were blowing through Europe at the time. Pinelli lived through the frenzy of those days: students were challenging the authorities and the workers were showing signs of running out of patience with the traditional unions. This atmosphere presented Pinelli with a tremendous opportunity to revive the USI (Unione Sindacale Italiana), the libertarian trade union which, under Armando Borghi’s guidance in the 1920s, included among its membership a young Giuseppe De Vittorio, who was to win fame as the secretary of the CGIL.

The first of the united rank and file committees (CUBs), trade union structures that were independent of the three big trade union centrals, the CGIL, the CISL and the UIL, were coming into being. The most pugnacious of these CUBs was the one at ATM, the Milan tram company. It was led by a fifty-year old who had been active in the anarchist movement in the immediate post-war years.

Ponte Della Ghisolfa (anarchist meeting place. Milan)

There was considerable affinity between the tram worker and Pinelli the railway worker. The CUBs found the Ponte della Ghisolfa premises the most appropriate place to meet (until the bombs of 12 December and the hysterical anti-anarchist campaign prompted the CUB members to look for other premises). Pinelli was forever on the lookout for chances for confrontation, reaching out to those who had lost patience with the official unions. Another circle opened in the Via Scaldasole, a favourite meeting place for students galvanised by the events of May ’68 in Paris. The situation was excitable to say the least, but unlike the ‘chaotic’ structures the newspapers wrote about later, the Milan anarchists (and they were not alone) had well-defined small groups of militants who knew one another well.

In Milan the Gioventù Libertaria (Libertarian Youth) changed its name to Bandiera Nera (Black Flag). This group included, in addition to Pinelli, another worker — Cesare Vurchio, born in Canosa di Puglia in 1931. Pinelli worked closely with Vurchio. They were of a similar age and both had families to support. The rest of the members were youngsters, some of them still students.

One of these youths, Amedeo Bertolo, although only 28 years old, already had some experience inasmuch as he had been involved in a spectacular action in 1962 — the abduction of Franco’s vice-consul in Milan, Isu Elias.  It had been the first political kidnapping since the war.

What was the reason for the abduction? Early in September 1962 Jorge Conill Valls, a young Spanish anarchist, had been sentenced to death for anti-Francoist activities by a court martial in Barcelona. Speed was of the essence.

Bertolo — who had met Cunill in person a month earlier, during a ‘mission’ organised by the clandestine Spanish Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL – Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation) — quickly set the abduction in motion on 29 September, together with a half a dozen anarchists and ‘restless’ socialists.

The kidnapping dominated the front pages of the international press for days and triggered a campaign of anti-Francoist solidarity that brought considerable pressure to bear on the Franco regime at several levels — from street demonstrations to the ‘humanitarian’ intervention by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). Conill’s death sentence was commuted after three days to one of thirty years imprisonment and Isu Elias was immediately released.

His kidnappers were quickly identified and jailed. The last of these, Bertolo, who had fled to France, spontaneously and quixotically surrendered himself at the courthouse just as the trial in Varese opened. The trial itself was covered by much of the Italian press as an indictment of the Spanish fascist government rather than of the actions of the young Italian anti-Francoists.

Three of the accused following the verdict in the Isu Elia kidnapping trial

On 21 November all the accused were found guilty but received nominal sentences. For Bertolo (who, in April 1969, was to be among the founders of the Croce nera anarchica, dissolved after Valpreda’s release in 1973) the sentence was six months imprisonment for the kidnapping and 20 days for unlawfully bearing arms. In their judgement, the judges, presided over by Judge Eugenio Zumin, recognised that the accused had ‘acted on motives of particular moral and social import’ and all were found blameless and released on parole.


Luciano Lanza (author)

“THEY’VE THROWN Pinelli from a window at police headquarters. Let’s demonstrate in the Via Fatebenefratelli and have ourselves arrested. They’ll have to push us all out of a window to silence us”, Amedeo Bertolo told Luciano Lanza (the author) in pained but excited tones over the phone. That was shortly after 7.00 a.m. on 16 December. The grapevine was set in motion. Everybody was alerted. I was stunned, but I threw on some clothes and was out of the house within minutes.

Amedeo Bertolo

I lived in the Porta Venezia area so I cut through the public gardens into the Piazza Cavour and made my way on foot towards police headquarters in the Via Fatebenefratelli. There were no anarchists to be seen yet.

I waited. The minutes dragged by. Nobody.

Then I realised that a few people, almost certainly plain-clothes police officers, were staring at me. I tried to appear unfazed, although it was not easy. I waited.

After nearly an hour, although it seemed like hours, I saw Enrico Maltini from the Ponte della Ghisolfa group arrive. We waited for the others so we could all go inside together and surrender ourselves to the police. Our intention being to make a political issue out of it, but nobody else had shown up.

We were beginning to feel uneasy. The police had all but surrounded us. “Let’s make a phone call”, Maltini suggested. He rang Bertolo, whose wife, Antonella, answered and all but shrieked at us: “They arrested him on the stairs”. That immediately sparked a round of phone calls to the others.

The outcome was always the same. They had all been arrested. At this point Maltini and I realised we were virtually the only Ponte della Ghisolfa members still at large. We conferred briefly about what to do. Maltini, who was also a member of the Croce nera anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross), suggested: “Let’s see Boneschi.”

When we arrived at Boneschi’s chambers, one of the lawyers acting for the anarchists, we found him at his desk. His were modern chambers, with white upholstered furniture — but Boneschi’s face was whiter still. Eyes circled in black were the only signs of life. He saw us and could not help but make a gesture of bewilderment: “But how on earth are you still at large? Clear off out of here … they’re rounding everybody up here.”

But the lawyer was mistaken and by the early hours of that afternoon nearly all the detainees had been released. While he was being held at the local police station in San Siro, Amedeo Bertolo heard one police officer call out cheerfully: “A dog has died. One dog less to worry about”. It was a reference to Pinelli. Not that the other detainees received any better treatment — their alibis were checked out and there were threats and bullying. But in the end all were released.

And so another flurry of phone calls called the anarchists to meet at Conca del Naviglio, near the Circolo in the Via Scaldasole.

The first act was to issue a press statement. Bertolo sat on a bench and scribbled a short text that closed with a message of defiance: “For every anarchist that falls, ten will take his place. No pasarán!” (the slogan used by Spanish antifascists during the civil war against the mutinous generals.)

At that point another anarchist arrived: “The students are holding a rally at the State University to decide on their response to Pinelli’s death.”  One of those present undertook to deliver the press statement to the ANSA agency (it was ignored by every newspaper) while the others decided to move on to the State University. But when they arrived there was a surprise waiting for them: the students had already assembled for a meeting — to discuss study plans, not repression or Pinelli’s death. One of the student leaders, Andrea Banfi, told the dumbfounded anarchists that the gathering was about to break up and that they could address it, if they wished.

Nearly an hour later, I took the floor. I read out our statement and stressed the gravity of the situation. Moves were afoot to trigger a backlash that would damage the most radical trade union movement and the revolutionary left. Suddenly, Banfi, Salvatore Toscano and Popi Saracino, three student leaders, intervened. Later they claimed to have been the first to waken up to the “fascist danger”.

The following day, 17 December, the anarchists from the Ponte della Ghisolfa held a press conference on their own premises. A few reporters showed up, including Enzo Passanisi from the Corriere della Sera and Pier Maria Paoletti from Il Giorno. The anarchists defended themselves by launching an attack: “Pinelli was killed, Valpreda is innocent and the massacre is the State’s doing.”

Who 'Suicided' Pinelli?

It was at this press conference the phrase “state massacre” was coined, a slogan that was to become a watchword of demonstrations and counter-information efforts and would provide the title for a famous book about the Piazza Fontana events. Next day the Corriere della Sera carried the banner headline: ‘Ranting press conference at the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa. No recriminations between the anarchists.’

Passanisi’s article exemplified the way the Italian press dealt with the Piazza Fontana massacre in the immediate wake of Pinelli’s death. He wrote: “Terrifying police machination designed to rescue the system, is the watchword. Anarchists are being blamed in order to cover for the fascists. Valpreda? Never did anyone any harm, aside from a few youthful peccadilloes like armed robbery and laughable thievery.”

“Pinelli? Given that he had no reason to kill himself, it could only have been the police, directly or indirectly, materially or psychologically. A diabolical machination in fact which the youngsters from the Piazzale Lugano counter with their own truth, argued with a Fidel-like conviction from which they are not in the least disposed to back off. “

“Were the massacre and the contemporaneous attentats errors or not? A grand strategy, a grand international strategy and, obviously, a fascist one.”  “The youngsters from the Circle, reeling from the shock of the past few days, do not realise that they have overstepped the mark somewhat in this counter-accusation gambit.” “Between the attacks on 25 April, in August and last Friday, there is a connection: a logical continuity the underside of which is a government and police conspiracy targeting the anarchists. The dead of the Piazza Fontana are to be chalked up to the ‘sixth sense’ of the police that jails innocents and leaves the guilty parties operating, undisturbed, ‘beyond the law’. Guilty parties for whom the Ministry of the Interior covers up but into whom inquiries should be mounted.” Passanisi closed with the sarcastic comment: “But left us sleep easy in our beds. These young anarchists mean to rescue Italy from fascism.”