This article examines how the Italian Communist Party and the Italian revolutionary Left connected internationalism to anti-fascism in the main internationalist campaigns that marked the high point of internationalist mobilizations between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, and considers to what extent this tradition is still relevant today. In particular, this article focuses on the movements of solidarity with the Vietnamese and Palestinian national liberation struggles and against the Greek and Chilean dictatorships. At various moments in time and depending on the particular campaign, multiple leftist actors bridged the gaps between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism in a variety of ways by relying on their peculiar relationships with the anti-fascist tradition. Furthermore, the actions of international and foreign individuals and organizations, the activities of anti-fascist veterans and neofascists, and the specific context of Italian and international political conjunctures influenced the nature of such “bridging” and the resonance between these frames of anti-fascism and anti-imperialism.
The legendary commander Giap . . . wanted to honor the Italian Resistance with words of grateful admiration when we entrusted him with the trumpet banners dedicated by the General Command of the Garibaldi Brigades to “the heroic fighters of Vietnam.”—Pompeo Colajanni
Thank you for coming to this event to honor a great partisan . . . and sorry . . . I call him a partisan because he was a partisan like me.—Leandro Agresti
In April 1965, the former partisan commander Pompeo Colajanni met the Defense Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Võ Nguyên Giáp.1 This encounter aimed to symbolically unite the Italian resistance, which fought against the Nazis and Italian fascists between 1943 and 1945, with the Vietnamese communist resistance against the US invasion and the South Vietnam state. Fifty-four years later, Leandro Agresti, the last surviving partisan who participated in the liberation of Florence, mourned another Florentine fighter, thirty-three-year-old Lorenzo Orsetti, a volunteer in the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Agresti defined Orsetti’s armed volunteering and death in the war against the Salafi jihadi group Daesh as a form of resistance that he deemed to be essentially similar to the one in which the Italian partisans were involved in the 1940s.2
These two distant events show a lasting interconnection between the Italian tradition of anti-fascism and leftist internationalism and its survival across borders and political traditions. This article studies such interlinkage by focusing on the high point of Italian internationalist mobilizations between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. In particular, it examines how the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Italian revolutionary Left—born from or strengthened by the 1968 student and workers’ movements—connected internationalism to anti-fascism in the main international solidarity movements that marked the Italian “Long 1968,” and considers to what extent this tradition is still relevant today. This article further argues that this interconnection is rooted in additional, specific close relationships between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism. At various moments in time, and depending on the internationalist campaign, multiple leftist actors bridged the gaps between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism by relying on their particular relationships with the anti-fascist tradition. Furthermore, the actions of international and foreign individuals and organizations, including anti-fascist veterans and neofascists, as well as the context of the Italian and international political conjunctures, influenced the nature of such “bridging” and the resonance between these frames (“more or less established ideological constructs [which] are used strategically to frame a particular topic”) of anti-fascism and anti-imperialism.3
The first section explores the origins of the “Long 1968” interlinkage between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism by focusing on developments in the early stages of the Cold War and the shift that occurred in this relationship from the mid-1950s. The following section examines the rise of leftist internationalism between the 1960s and the 1970s, and its interconnections with different traditions of communist anti-fascism. The third and final section discusses the contemporary legacies of this political culture and the findings of this research.
Most of the scholarship on the tradition of Italian anti-fascism after 1945 neglects the internationalist campaigns and mostly considers the anti-fascist framing of anti-imperialist and national liberation struggles as a rhetorical device.4 The only relevant exception is Guido Panvini’s seminal work Ordine nero, guerriglia rossa, which considers the international background of the fight between anti-fascists and neofascists and how they felt on the verge of a global conflict. However, Panvini does not provide a systematic exploration of this international element.5 As far as the literature on the Italian revolutionary Left is concerned, there is no systematic study of their internationalist endeavors.6 A large body of literature exists focusing on the foreign policy of Italian communists.7 However, it devotes little attention to the role of anti-fascism after 1954.8
Studies of internationalist movements in Italy often discuss anti-fascism, but all focus on single campaigns in a limited time frame.9 The few contributions concerning the role of foreign students in Italian mobilizations demonstrate a similar trend.10 Few studies focus on the relations between the revolutionary and reformist Italian Left, and no scholarship by professional historians focuses on anti-fascist veterans’ associations.11 By contrast, internationally focused scholarship stresses combinations of anti-imperialism and anti-fascism as sources of inspiration for European “1968ers” and for the birth of a new revolutionary Left.12 Furthermore, memories of the Second World War feature prominently in histories of European Third Worldism and its legacies.13 However, as Kim Christiaens has argued, this scholarship emphasizes the role of the new Left in Third Worldism, often overlooking the relevant contribution of communist parties to internationalist movements.14
Leftist internationalism, at a very general level, is a heterogenous body of theories and practices sharing the belief that a worldwide struggle of the subaltern classes against capitalism and imperialism is the key to achieving universal emancipation and world peace.15 Any anti-capitalist and/or anti-imperialist struggle, according to this ideology, strengthens the global struggle and therefore should be supported. These features represent merely the lowest common denominator of a panoply of conceptualizations characterized by deep differences concerning the role that nations and states are supposed to have in such internationalism.16 For example, Perry Anderson defines any internationalism (including the leftist ones) as sharing the goal of transcending the nation-state, aspiring “towards a wider community, of which nations continue to form the principal units,” whereas Mark Mazower defines the aim of leftist internationalism as a “post political mingling of people.”17 The former is a supranational model; the latter, a postnational one. Furthermore, states played a major role in twentieth-century leftist internationalism: communist internationalism—especially from 1924—equated the interests of the subalterns with the state interests of the Soviet Union.18 During the global sixties, the radicalism of states such as Maoist China and Cuba fostered the return of revolutionary internationalism.19
Leftist internationalism, as a heterogenous body of thought, required the construction of a common identity across national borders that expressed itself in a number of campaigns of internationalist solidarity. This process required the use of common frames that, particularly from the 1920s onward, coincided with anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. Italian leftist actors often used these frames by following a “political logic—provocation, mobilization, demonization—not a historically or intellectually sophisticated one.”20 As a result, this article privileges leaflets and daily newspapers and does not systematically examine the parallel intellectual debate that flourished in leftist magazines and journals. This is because these periodicals avoided the popular anti-fascist and anti-imperialist tropes and deployed analytical rather than analogical approaches. For instance, the PCI’s theoretical magazines, when addressing the Vietnam War, examined peaceful coexistence and US strategy rather than comparing Italian and Vietnamese resistance as was common practice in Communist dailies.21
This article draws on the influential description of anti-imperialism found in Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), whereby imperialism is in turn defined as a world capitalist system.22 The Bolshevik leader’s diagnostic framework provided both a powerful ideological tool for non-European anticolonial activists and a common language for internationalists all around the world. Similarly, this article adheres to the school of thought that anti-fascism constitutes “an ambivalent and multifaceted paradigm that was employed for different ends and purposes.”23 Italian leftist internationalist actors relied on two distinct communist historical conceptions of the political tradition of anti-fascism.24 The first historical conception (1922–33) frames fascism as another face of bourgeois dictatorship, and anti-fascist struggle as based on the struggle of all the working class; in other words, anti-fascism is conceptualized as a united front from below. The second conception (1934–35 and 1941–45) defines fascism as the emanation “of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”25 This understanding implies a defense of democracy against fascism and alliances with democratic parties to fight fascism; therefore, anti-fascism is here conceptualized as a popular front from above. Italian leftist internationalists practiced solidarity with foreign struggles through an anti-fascism that was in turn both a popular front from above and a united front from below, and that conceived of fascism in accordance with one or both of these frames.
This study is inspired by the transnational turn in anti-fascism studies, as it interprets the shifts in Italian political cultures as resulting from the interplay between multiple cultural flows (national, transnational, global) and the agency of national and transnational actors.26 In light of this method, Italy is considered as one node in a web of connections and cultural transfers relating both to present struggles and the traveling memories of the past.27 Moreover, this article considers local domestication of foreign struggle by refusing the logics of the “projection screen” and by stressing foreign actors’ agency.28 It uses daily newspapers and police files as sources to track international solidarity practices, as well as using the printed sources of the PCI and other revolutionary Left groups to explore their discourse(s) on internationalism.
The Origins of the “Long 1968” Interlinkage between Anti-fascism and Anti-imperialism (1947–63)
The “Long 1968” interlinkage between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism stems from the early Cold War conflict and the specific ways in which it reverberated in the Italian context. The fracturing of the leftist world in 1956 allowed the emergence of multiple ways of interlinking internationalism and anti-fascism.
The fundamental interconnections between Italian anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, as Neelam Srivastava argued, dated back to the PCI Theses of Lyons (1926) and the Italian fascist aggression of the Abyssinian War.29 Notwithstanding these antecedents, which also included the Italian volunteer forces in the Spanish Civil War International Brigades between 1936 and 1939, the global, national, and transnational early Cold War developments deeply influenced the Italian postwar anti-fascist/anti-imperialist interlinkage.
Significantly, the breakage in the early Cold War of global anti-fascist unity fostered a narrative of anti-fascism as unfinished business on the global level. The ideological conflict between the USSR and the United States entailed that each player defined the other as similar in nature to Nazi Germany.30 As far as internationalism is concerned, the “two camps doctrine” of 1947 was influential. This Soviet doctrine divided the world between “anti-Fascist forces” (the USSR and its allies) and an imperialist camp championed by the US that supported “reactionary and anti-democratic pro-fascist regimes and movements.”31
This global split echoed in Italy. Anti-fascist unity dissolved when the PCI and the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) were excluded from the Italian government in 1947. This put an end to a period of anti-fascist cooperation that had started with partisan war. At this time, in a context marked by national liberation struggle, civil and class war, the leftists joined a unitarian National Liberation Committee (CLN).32 In 1944, with the so-called Salerno turn (la svolta di Salerno), the PCI secretary Palmiro Togliatti accepted entering the government led by the former fascist Marshal Pietro Badoglio, temporarily renouncing an anti-monarchist prejudice. After 1944, the communists—and the socialists, more erratically—participated in the CLN and unitarian governments until 1947.33
The exclusion of the leftists from the government transformed anti-fascism into a culture of opposition since, until the early 1960s, there was no national official “memory” of partisan resistance to fascism.34 This exclusion and deliberate forgetting fostered a leftist reading of Italian history as a narrative of “betrayed resistance” that the Italian revolutionary Left reconceptualized and transformed in the 1960s. According to the PCI and PSI reading, the 1947 removal of the leftists from government was a “coup” supported by the same forces that promoted fascism in 1922. In accordance with this interpretation, the above-mentioned forces founded the postwar state on “monopoly profit and speculation.”35
These global and national narratives of fascism as unfinished business overlapped with other transnational flows such as those coming from France, where the start of the Indochina War led to a widespread use of comparisons between Nazism and French colonial politics.36 As a result, the Italian pro-Soviet internationalist front between PCI and PSI started to define anti-Americanism as the logical consequence of the anti-Nazi-Fascist resistance. These narrations characterized the protests against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.37 Afterward, the campaign against the Korean War (1950–53) established a set of parallels between Nazi-Fascists and the US Army, on the one hand, and Italian partisans and North Korean popular troops, on the other.38 Leftist internationalists represented all subsequent national liberation wars and anti-dictatorial struggles, from Algeria to Spain, in a similar fashion. In particular, the leftist internationalists compared any anti-dictatorial struggle to the anti-fascist struggle, since any dictatorial regime was, in their eyes, analogous with fascism. Consequently, any national liberation struggle was held to be equally analogous with the Italian one, since any foreign occupation was compared with the Nazi occupation of Italy and its war crimes. Extending the analogical thinking, Italian leftists viewed any “puppet state” (such as the South Vietnam state) through the prism of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana installed by the Nazi occupation in northern Italy in 1943.39
As a result of these analogies, Italian leftists used to stage international solidarity and pro-Soviet peace mobilizations on Italian sites of memory linked to the experiences of war and resistance. One notable example was the village of Marzabotto, where Nazis and fascists killed 770 civilians as part of the larger slaughter of Monte Sole, which claimed 1,676 lives in 1944.40 At Marzabotto in 1951, a rally issued an appeal against “the imperialists attempting to rearm Germany and Japan . . . a tinderbox for the war against the free countries of socialism and peace.”41 The Cold War antagonisms had already divided Italian veterans’ organizations by this time. The leftist anti-fascist Italian veterans cohered in the National Association of Italy’s Partisans (ANPI) born in 1944 and were at the forefront of the pro-Soviet peace mobilizations, which were directed by the organization known by the evocative name of Partisans of Peace.42 On the other side of the divide, Italian neofascists organized in a party called Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), established in 1946, and were split between a pro-Atlantic and a nonaligned position.43 At this stage, in the late 1940s, the veterans of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana were not yet the perfect embodiment of the identification between fascism and imperialism.
The decade between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s formed a caesura. The changes included considerable growth in the Italian internationalist leftist groups and activity and several significant shifts concerning the public discourse on anti-fascism. These factors, together with the irruption of decolonization, modified the way internationalism was interlinked with anti-fascism. First, pro-Soviet internationalism broke up following the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the 1962 formalization of the Sino-Soviet split. The PSI turned to neutralism in the Cold War in 1956, contributing to the radical internationalist splinter of the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP) in 1964.44 Secondly, the Sino-Soviet split fostered the creation of pro-Chinese Marxist-Leninist parties such as the Communist Party of Italy (Marxist-Leninist) in 1966.45 Finally, this conjuncture originated a multiform new Left that lived at the periphery or outside the official political parties and often revolved around innovative theoretical magazines such as Quaderni Rossi or Quaderni Piacentini.46
At this time, anti-fascism become politically and socially relevant once more, as a phenomenon both in mass movements and in official discourse. Indeed, the significant mobilization of July 1960 in response to Ferdinando Tambroni’s Christian Democratic (DC) government’s reliance on neofascist votes implied the rebirth of grassroots anti-fascism. The combination of two main factors provoked this wave of violent and widespread anti-fascist mass mobilizations. On the one hand, this first instance in postwar Italy of neofascists playing a significant role in the formation of a government fostered general public indignation. On the other hand, the MSI’s specific provocation of hosting its congress in the strongly anti-fascist city of Genova also contributed to generating a widespread sense of anger. As a result, urban guerrilla warfare irrupted in the city itself, and repression of the anti-fascists prompted a chain of mobilizations throughout Italy. The police severely repressed these protests with a final death toll of eleven casualties.47
The anti-Tambroni movement shed light on the emergence of new forms of political activism by workers and young people, which, according to Guido Crainz, turned the crisis of “centrism”—the phase marked by the coalition between the DC and other minor parties—into an irreversible trend.48 Indeed, the failure of the Tambroni experiment brought about the center-left coalition between PSI and the Christian Democratic Party. The center-left, as this form of government was called, carried out only a part of its ambitious reformist program, including the nationalization of the electrical industry and the institution of a compulsory system of schooling until the age of fourteen. The coalition did not implement the most daring part of its program, which included the introduction of economic planning and the rationalization of the construction sector. This was mostly due to the interference of invisible and visible centers of power that ranged from the General Confederation of Italian Industry to the obscure environment that plotted for a coup (known as Piano Solo, 1964) in which the operative forces would be the carabinieri, a portion of the security forces.49
As for anti-fascism, the coalition between Christian Democrats and socialists led to the celebration of an official memory of anti-fascist resistance.50 This, according to Andrea Rapini, caused a polarization of the discourse around resistance between a focus on its celebration and a focus on its betrayal.51 Indeed, the emergent revolutionary Left, primarily the Marxist-Leninist factions and some other socialist groupings, revived and rewrote the myth of betrayed resistance. According to their reading, the real betrayers were the leaders of the PCI, since the aforementioned svolta di Salerno entailed a renouncement of revolution and the abandonment of the partisans’ aspirations for a socialist Italy. At the same time, a significant section of the new Left started to challenge the alleged revolutionary character of the Italian resistance. These groups claimed that this anti-fascist tradition, with its acceptance of a united front from above, was one of compromise rather than rebellion.52
These developments were interlinked with the irruption of anticolonial struggles that were simultaneously supported by anti-fascist environments, read through anti-fascist paradigms, and marked by the emergence of a multidirectional memory that combined contemporary phenomena with the memory of the world war.53 This framing was shared also by Catholic former partisans such as Enrico Mattei, the president of the Italian National Hydrocarbon Authority (ENI).54 This convergence between the Left and the Catholic world would grow stronger during the anti–Vietnam War campaign and undoubtedly contributed some degree of shared ideological foundation to the “Historic Compromise.”55
Notwithstanding the proliferation of leftist internationalist factions, the PCI maintained its political, organizational, and discursive hegemony in leftist mobilizations until 1967. In 1958, the party drove the creation of the Comitato Anticoloniale Italiano, comprising a considerable number of leading leftist anti-fascist personalities and partisans, which subsequently promoted many anticolonial campaigns.56 The most relevant anticolonial battle was the one in solidarity with the Algerian War of Independence against the French state. One of its key figures was Giovanni Pirelli. He was a socialist former partisan and intellectual with a rich background of involvement in many important cultural initiatives concerning the preservation of Italian anti-fascist memory and internationalist solidarity.57 Pirelli’s participation in internationalist initiatives included collaboration with a small clandestine web to support the Algerian revolution—in the form of French deserters and Algerian fighters—across Milan, Genoa, Turin, and Rome.58
The PCI cultivated the interlinkage between anticolonialism and anti-fascism by comparing their mythologies. For example, in 1963 some communist demonstrators dressed the commemorative plaque honoring the anti-fascist martyr Giacomo Matteotti with a laurel crown on which was written “yesterday Matteotti, today Lumumba.”59 The strength of this analogy provoked a rearticulating of temporalities: an article in the communist children’s magazine Il pioniere claimed that the Algerian nineteenth-century anticolonial Emir Abdelkader was a precursor of European anti-fascist resistance.60 Across Italy, leftist students organized several events supporting the Algerian people.61 Moreover, Italian neofascists, after an initial fascination with Algerian nationalism, chose to support the French colonizers.62 This created a perfect identification between fascism and colonialism and became the occasion for physical fights between anti-fascist and neofascist students driven by internationalist ideals.63
The High Point of Italian Leftist Internationalism (1964 to 1976): Vietnam and Greece
Leftist internationalism reached its climax during the years between the mid-1960s and late 1970s. These internationalist mobilizations were more pluralistic in essence than those of the preceding decade. This was due to the strengthening, verging on a rebirth, of a revolutionary Left around 1968. Indeed, this new revolutionary Left archipelago comprised historical and recent Marxist heretic groups, such as Trotskyists and Maoists. The participation of the new generation that was recruited during the 1968 and 1969 student and workers’ movements, as well as the groups that were born after these mobilizations, such as Lotta Continua (LC) and Potere Operaio, strengthened the revolutionary front.64 The high point of internationalism coincided with the pro-Vietnamese and the pro-Greek campaigns.
PCI and revolutionary Left anti-fascist and anti-imperialist discourses and practices shared some common traits but fundamentally differed in essence. They had in common the daily, often physical confrontation with neofascists, as well as shared support for the same anti-dictatorial and national liberation struggles. Nonetheless, they deeply differed in their relationships with the anti-fascist tradition, as well as in their conceptualizations of anti-fascist unity against contemporary fascist threats. Furthermore, they had conflicting views on the prospects for world revolution and therefore profoundly disagreed about which strategy to pursue on a global scale.
During this period, the PCI retained its support for the restoration of antifascist unity and reworked its positioning on internationalism. Specifically, the PCI invoked the renewal of CLN unity, primarily against the threat of an authoritarian turn in Italy, and brought forward the proposal of a coalition government between the DC and the PCI, which eventually became known as the “Historic Compromise” and was theorized in 1973.65 This political strategy promoted cooperation between the two parties during the 1970s. However, in 1978 the leftist guerrilla organization Red Brigades (BR) kidnapped and murdered Aldo Moro, president of the DC. This event severely undermined the Historic Compromise, and Italian communists eventually abandoned it in 1980. At the same time, PCI internationalism was marked by the endorsement of the Soviet doctrine of peaceful coexistence and was further characterized by an intense activism in internationalist solidarity with non-European people.66 This overlapped with an ideological emphasis on democratic socialism that appealed to allies in Europe—under the aegis of Eurocommunism—and resulted in an attempt to limit the party’s dependence on the USSR.67
The multiform revolutionary Left maintained a complex relation with the anti-fascist tradition. A prominent faction of the revolutionary groups—for example, the Marxist-Leninists and the Milan-based Movimento Studentesco—supported the narrative of a red resistance betrayed by the reformists. On the other hand, the workerist (operaisti) groups such as Potere Operaio refused the 1940s anti-fascist tradition, since it entailed unity between capitalist and working-class reformism.68 As for the possibility of a fascist coup taking place in Italy, a part of the revolutionary archipelago argued that the return of fascism was still a viable option for the Italian bourgeoisie, whereas other groups disregarded it as an obsolete weapon. Rather, groups such as Potere Operaio asserted that reformism was the principal tool of control chosen by Italian capitalists.69 In terms of internationalism, the revolutionary Left was united in supporting groups that challenged peaceful coexistence and engaged in armed struggle against capitalist and imperialist powers.
Both the revolutionary and the reformist Left supported the pro-Vietnamese campaign, which was arguably the most popular campaign in the period. The mass appeal of these mobilizations was grounded both in global phenomena, such as the widespread dissatisfaction with the postwar order, and in national elements. Among these national elements, one of the most significant was the dominant age of collective action. The latter was driven by the massive societal transformation that Italian people experienced between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s. Nonetheless, the capillary PCI organizational network was also crucial for the success of this internationalist movement.
The Italian mobilizations started shortly after the landing of US troops in South Vietnam and turned quickly into a campaign with rallies, vigils, and demonstrations throughout the country.70 From 1967 onward, the emergent revolutionary Left started to challenge the PCI leadership in the campaign, often provoking clashes in an attempt to reach embassies and consulates.71 The 1968 student movement participated in mobilizations and heatedly discussed the Vietnam War in teach-ins.72 Finally, after 1968, the anti–Vietnam War campaign became a permanent site of mobilization, with many ups and downs. This rebirth and the strengthening of the revolutionary Left implied a significant growth of events, and often but not always the multiplication of separate events and committees.
The anti–Vietnam War campaign demonstrated a strong anti-fascist/anti-imperialist commitment by PCI, which was reinforced by the actions of Vietnamese representatives, anti-fascist veterans, and neofascists. At the same time, the campaign displayed a weaker use of the anti-fascist trope by the revolutionary Left. The PCI’s use of the European cultural memory of the Second World War was mirrored by the contemporary experience of the Russell Tribunal, which was led by Jean-Paul Sartre and by the same Vietnamese communists. The guerrilla diplomacy of the latter began in 1962 with a visit to “several WW2 sites, including former Nazi death camps” in order to denounce the threat of a new Vietnamese holocaust.73 They used anti-fascism as cultural code more able to facilitate communication on the international plan rather than the domestic one, since the memory of the Second World War in Indochina “produced no resistance heroes, no collaborators with the Japanese and no outright villains.”74 Nonetheless, the Vietnamese communists explicitly acknowledged the Vietnamese-Italian resistance comparison: a Vietnamese representative in Milan claimed that the Italian anti-fascist resistance had taught how no organized war machine is capable of stopping people who are fighting for freedom.75
On the one hand, the PCI anti-fascist framing of Vietnamese solidarity was inspired by the urgent need to vernacularize and to legitimize an unfamiliar struggle.76 On the other hand, it was inspired by the temporal overlap of the start of the Vietnam campaign and the twentieth anniversary of Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation and the fall of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana. The PCI attacked both Nazism and the United States on the same grounds and in the same terms—labeling them as “aggressive imperialisms”—and simultaneously drew positive comparisons between Vietnamese and Italian resistance movements.77 The linkage through analogy of the Nazi occupiers and the American imperialist forces in Vietnam was achieved through a comparison of war crimes, such as the use of gases in Auschwitz and Dachau, and the use of chemical weapons by the United States in Vietnam. Conversely, Vietnamese and Italian resistances were positively paralleled through the active work of living, breathing human symbols of Italian resistance and their encounters with their Vietnamese counterparts.78 For example, Alcide Cervi, the father of the Cervi brothers—seven anti-fascist martyrs executed in 1943—was interviewed in 1965 about Vietnam, and declared that there were “many Cervi brothers all over the world.”79 Similarly, the PCI delegation that left Italy for Vietnam in April 1965 aimed to consecrate the identification between the Italian and the Vietnamese resistance. Beyond the medals brought by Colajanni to Giáp, the delegation brought as a gift the flag of the 144 Garibaldi Brigade “Antonio Gramsci.” This was then donated to the soldiers of the Tenth Vietnamese Anti-Aircraft Brigade, which was personally chosen by Ho Chi Minh.80 This comparison was confirmed by the MSI official newspaper that claimed the Viet Cong were cowards similar to the Italian partisans, as they would shoot their opponents in the back.81 Indeed, during these years the MSI started to conjugate fascist doctrine as “Atlantic anticommunism,” recalling and strengthening the old Cold War discourse that already conflated fascism and US imperialism.82 Clear confirmation of this is found in the fact that, in October 1968, two young neofascists burnt a paper puppet holding a sign that read “Vietcong bandit = communist partisan.” This language recalled the “bandit” label used by Nazis against Italian partisans during the Second World War.83
In contrast, the Italian revolutionary Left compared US aggression and Nazism but tended to avoid drawing any parallel comparison between the Vietnamese and Italian resistance.84 This was likely because the latter was conceptualized as a defeated resistance in essence, either because it was “betrayed” in its socialist aspirations or because it was insufficiently revolutionary due to its cross-class character. Conversely, revolutionary groups such as Avanguardia Operaia considered the Vietnamese struggle as the principal front of the global war against imperialism whose victory would pave the way to global revolution.85 The Italian resistance, even if now being rediscovered in its true red character, still paled in comparison with such a watershed in human history.
The anti-dictatorial solidarity campaign with the Greek people entailed a similar but different combination of anti-fascist and anti-imperialist framings. This campaign was deeply internalized by Italian society, and the dialectic within the Greek community held enormous significance for the Italian Left. Moreover, the PCI and the revolutionary Left somehow both managed to frame the campaign in different ways while also proving capable of acting together, especially against the Greek neofascists. Nonetheless, it was a minor campaign and had much less myth-making power when compared to the contemporaneous Vietnam and Chile solidarity campaigns. Finally, the Greek leftists themselves framed their anti-dictatorial struggle in anti-fascist terms, since Greek anti-fascist and anti-Nazi resistance had been rediscovered in Greece in the late 1950s.86
The revelation of an attempted coup in Italy in 1964 (Piano Solo) and the simultaneous peak of the anti–Vietnam War mobilization heavily influenced the Italian response to the Greek military coup of 1967. These two elements shaped the conceptualization of the Hellenic dictatorship as an immediate threat to Italian democracy. In addition, the Italian leftist labeling of the coup as a vicenda greco-americana (a Greek-American story) functioned to rhetorically position it as a fascist regime.87 This rhetoric, deployed by both the PCI and Italian revolutionary organizations, invoked the idea that the fascist regime was backed by imperialism. The internationalist mobilizations in solidarity with Greece increased between 1967 and 1970, then declined from the early 1970s onward. Yet even at its two peaks, as marked by the coup itself and by the student occupation of the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973, the Greek issue was subordinated to other international priorities such as the Vietnam War and the Chilean coup of 1973.
From April 1967 onward, the Italian communists, together with many antifascist forces including the PSI, instigated an anti-fascist revival that drew upon a great number of anti-fascist veterans.88 The former partisan Ferruccio Parri led the interparty Solidarity Committee with Greece, and former partisans also played a vital role in assisting Greek students.89 In March 1969, Paolo Castagnino, a partisan in the Greek and Italian resistances, saved the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, a potent symbol of opposition to the Colonels, from a bomb threat at a venue in Genoa where she was expected to speak in a public meeting.90 The fascist “strategy of tension” which “tried to use bombs and other acts of violence to undermine democracy and the left” led both the PCI and a part of the revolutionary Left in Italy to include the Greek question in their “black intrigues narrative.”91 This narrative envisioned Italian and Greek neofascists, the Greek junta, and the Italian secret service all cooperating to pave the way for an authoritarian turn in Italy.92 However, the PCI and the revolutionary Left differed in terms of a solution: the PCI called for a united front from above, whereas the revolutionary Left claimed that the front needed to be organized from below, as—so they argued—every boss is a colonel and bourgeois democracy did not differ significantly from dictatorship.93
As for the Greek campaign, foreign agency and neofascism both had important roles. The Greek coup and its resistance exerted even greater influence on the political and social tensions in Italian society, as Greeks made up the majority of foreign students in Italian universities, accounting for 1,953 out of 5,563 foreign students in 1966–67 and 11,963 out of 20,803 between 1973 and 1974.94 These students were themselves divided between support for and opposition to the dictatorship. The Greek far right presence in Italy was linked to a center of control and intimidation through which the dictatorship installed in Greece in 1967 attempted to silence anti-fascist students. The Greek far righters in Italy were naturally supported by Italian neofascists, who welcomed the Greek coup as a “healthy and essential” last resort.95 The Greek junta acted against anti-fascist Greek students in Italy through threats of revoking the postponement of military service, canceling passports, or blocking checks sent to students by their parents. This climate of threat and tension reached its height with the self-immolation of Kostas Georgakis, a Greek student who had been recalled for the draft as a retaliation for an anonymous interview in which he had denounced two of the Colonels’ agents.96
The thin line between the Colonels’ agents and Greek far right actors combined with the escalation of violence carried out by Italian neofascists in “the most serious offensive ever attempted in Republican Italy.”97 This articulated both the encapsulation of the Greek question inside Italian militant anti-fascism and the extension of Italian anti-fascism on a global scale, confirming its close link with internationalist movements. This resulted in a minor civil war on Italian soil produced by the clash between right- and left-wing Greeks, each backed by their Italian counterparts. This clash in turn contributed to the “militarization of political struggle” that fueled more political violence during the 1970s in Italy.98 The violence peaked after 1970 when a deliberate strategy shared by Greek and Italian leftist organizations, reaching across the cleavages between the reformist and revolutionary Left, forced most of the Colonels’ followers living in northern and central Italy to relocate.99 In response, these pro-junta neofascists settled in cities in which the Greek anti-fascists were few and disorganized, such as Messina and Perugia.
The High Point of Italian Leftist Internationalism (1964 to 1976): Palestine and Chile
The final anti-fascist campaigns that this article considers are the Palestine and Chile solidarity campaigns. Both outlived the chronology covered by this article, but their offshoot movements in the 1980s and beyond differed from what occurred in the 1970s, within a particular context marked by widespread internationalist mobilizations and the dialectic between the PCI and the revolutionary Left.
The Italian-Palestine solidarity campaign, during the period of 1967 to 1976, never spurred on mass mobilizations comparable to those of the anti–Vietnam War or Chilean campaigns. Moreover, among all the solidarity campaigns here considered, this was the hardest to frame in terms of the anti-fascist/anti-imperialist model employed in other instances. Nevertheless, the PCI constantly contributed to material solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and the Palestinian guerrilla was highly relevant to the imaginary of the revolutionary Left.100 According to Arturo Marzano and Guri Schwarz, the Palestinian cause was not popular during this period. It became popular only after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and even more so following the Sabra and Shatila massacre by Christian Lebanese militias between September 16 and 18, 1982.101
The global leftist Palestine solidarity movement was born in 1967, when the nationalist and Marxist Palestinian groups—through the act of engaging in guerrilla warfare—joined the Third Worldist front in the wake of the Six-Day War.102 The PCI, in line with the Soviet Union, chose to support the Palestinians, in spite of bitter divisions within Italian left-wing movements caused by symbolic links between anti-fascism and Israel.103 The former Italian partisans were very much troubled by this choice, and until 1976, the ANPI opted for a neutral position in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the outbreak of the Six-Day War, the ANPI issued an official statement that explicitly stated the impossibility of adopting an anti-fascist frame in relation to Israel-Palestine. Their position stated that this conflict was comparable neither to the Vietnam War nor to the internal oppression under fascist regimes such as Portugal and Spain.104 Italian partisans began to support the Palestinian cause only after the siege of the Tel al-Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon in 1976. At this moment, the ANPI magazine presented an empathetic connection between the Italian anti-fascist resistance and the Palestinians on the basis that both were groups who had fought for the freedom to have their own country.105 Despite this, the ANPI reached the point of comparing the Israeli state to Nazis only after the massacre of Sabra and Shatila.106
The mobilization of the European memory of the Second World War was a decisive legitimizing tool for Palestinians, who deployed this strategy from October 1968 onward. This was the moment when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) composed a series of letters to the United Nations, drawing explicit parallels between its struggle against Israel and the Second World War European resistance movements.107 Similarly, Palestinian students in Italy compared Zionist Jews to Nazis on the basis that Zionists justified the extermination of Palestinian Arabs as a price due for the crimes perpetrated by the Western world against European diasporic Jewry.108 Whereas the PCI press was more cautious in evoking the memory of the Second World War anti-fascist resistance movements when framing the Palestinian cause, the revolutionary Left was much more prone to using such discursive strategies. For example, Lotta Continua (LC) claimed that Israel was a fascist state that used Nazi instruments of oppression and extermination, specifically concentration camps, gas, and torture.109 As a partial strengthening of this complex object for anti-fascist framing, the MSI took a pro-Israeli stance, in contrast to other, smaller far-right extra-parliamentary groups.110 In 1967, the Roman provincial secretary of the MSI offered the protection of neofascist activists to the Jewish community against potential communist attacks.111 In this context, one of the sons of Benito Mussolini praised the Israeli military performance during the Six-Day War as a perfect example of the blitzkrieg practiced by Nazi generals Heinz Guderian and Gerd von Rundstedt.112
Finally, as far as the Palestinian students in Italy were concerned, their relationships with fascism and anti-fascism were more complex and controversial. In particular, recent scholarship relying on oral sources claims for the Palestinian organization the “tacit approval of the Italian extreme-right’s solidarity.”113 However, contemporary police documents seem to provide an alternative, although complementary, account. Just as the Palestinian Fatah drew a parallel between Palestinian guerrillas and the European resistance movements of the Second World War, Arab students in Italy compared Zionism with Hitler’s race-infused theory of lebensraum.114 More importantly, in Perugia, one of the Italian cities with a significant organized Palestinian presence, the Palestinians were involved in the practice of militant anti-fascism and in multinational political feuds encompassing Italians, Greeks, and Arabs.115
In contrast with Palestinian solidarity, with its inherent contradictions, complexities, and asymmetries, Italian solidarity with Chile was much more deeply embedded in Italy’s own internal questions, and therefore triggered what might be described as a mirror game between the representation of foreign struggles, forms of solidarity, and domestic political strategies. Here, we will focus on the first phase of the Chilean solidarity campaign, where the centrality of the struggle over the meaning of anti-fascism was paramount. It should be noted that this analysis does not take into account the Chilean exiles, who started to reach Italy only after 1974.
The Chilean political system was perceived as fundamentally similar to the Italian one, comprising a dominant Christian Democratic (DC) party, a left-wing party excluded from power for a significant period of time, and reactionary forces ready to prevent the possibility of any such return.116 As a result, internationalist campaigns against Augusto Pinochet’s regime became simultaneously and analogously campaigns about Italy and the best ways to fight the internal threat of fascism. The PCI and LC, one of the revolutionary Left’s largest organizations, propagated two divergent understandings of internationalism and anti-fascism, both claiming to be the intellectually and politically correct conclusion to be drawn from the Chilean lesson. The PCI claimed that the Pinochet coup illustrated the necessity of unifying all popular forces and realizing a united front from above capable of crushing any authoritarian attempts at gaining power, backed by foreign imperialist interests. This was the theory adopted by the Historic Compromise between the PCI and the DC that, in the 1970s, reconstituted the lost anti-fascist unity that had broken up in 1947.117 PCI internationalism consequently supported the unity of all the components of Chilean opposition, successfully welcoming Chilean exiles to Italy, while internalizing the Chilean question as an Italian question.118 The revolutionary Left proposed another interpretation. Their assertion was that the only way to prevent fascism and defeat imperialism was to arm the masses, and the only way to overthrow Pinochet was through armed struggle. As a result, LC started the campaign for armi al MIR (weapons to MIR), in support of Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), an armed Chilean Guevarist organization. LC’s argumentation presented a novel understanding as to how to prevent a fascist coup, according to which moderate governmental forces (Unidad Popular/PCI) represented the best terrain in which to accumulate armed forces for the proletariat and the vanguard (LC/MIR).119 As a result, the anti-fascist internationalist motto in this struggle became “weapons to the MIR”; by contrast, the slogan for Italy was “the PCI for government.”
The anti-fascist frame of the pro-Chilean campaign was essential. A mass demonstration took place in Turin on November 21, 1973. Attendance estimates varied from the conservative police figure of 60,000 to the organizers’ own tally of 150,000.120 One of the day’s official speakers was the socialist anti-fascist veteran and future president of the Italian republic Sandro Pertini, who claimed to intervene as an “old antifascist militant and friend of freedom.”121 The LC campaign was strong, raising more than eighty million lire in two months (approximately £5,471,945 in today’s money) and received a testimonial from the famous anti-fascist personality Franco Antonicelli.122 Conversely, MSI neofascists regarded Pinochet as a positive model, just as they had viewed the Greek coup in 1967.123 The primary neofascist criticism was directed at the Italian Christian Democratic party for discussing its historical compromise with PCI. The neofascists argued that the communists were determined to follow the path laid out by Salvador Allende: whereas once they had wanted revolution in order to take power, now the communists wanted to take power in order to bring about the revolution.124
In the second half of the 1970s, the PCI—in the context of the Historic Compromise—turned its revindication of the restoration of anti-fascist unity into a rhetorical and campaigning platform for the active defense of the Italian state against the segment of the Italian revolutionary Left promoting and engaging in armed struggle.125 Whereas the armed fringes of the revolutionary Left were defeated by the early 1980s, internationalism was profoundly transformed. This was, on the one hand, the result of the painful soul-searching fostered by the Vietnamese boat people fleeing socialist-liberated Vietnam from 1975 onward, and by the outbreak of the Vietnamese-Cambodian War in 1978. On the other hand, the so-called Years of Lead in Italy engendered a national debate characterized by a widespread refusal of violence.126 This debate intersected with the moderate and pragmatic Italian peace movements of 1981–83, which proved to be the last mass mobilization before a long decline in collective action in Italy.127 New internationalist activism was thenceforth defined by a prevailing discourse of peace, by a reference to anti-fascist ideals rather than anti-fascist armed struggle, and by the primacy of concrete solidarity over demonstrations and violent activism such as the case of the work brigade in Nicaragua.128 Nevertheless, the last two decades have also been marked by a palpable resurgence of Italian anti-fascist discourse and its interconnection with international solidarity, as epitomized by contemporary international support for volunteering in northern Syria. A younger generation has rediscovered Italian anti-fascist identities and traditions in response to the constant attacks on the values and legacy of partisan resistance led by Silvio Berlusconi’s governments (1994–95, 2001–5, 2005–6, and 2008–11).129 Furthermore, the Palestine solidarity mobilizations that followed the Second Intifada (2000–2005) relaunched a set of comparisons between national liberation struggles and Second World War resistance.130
More recently, the global resurgence of the far right and the existence of a transnational hub in northern Syria to oppose what its fighters conceive of as fascism, specifically in the form of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkish government and the Salafi organization Daesh, has sparked a rediscovery, through its engagements and affinities with Italian political movements, of the interconnections between anti-fascism and internationalism. The contemporary legacy of this lengthy story of interlinkages suggests the long-lasting impact of the early Cold War communist discourses. Indeed, the anti-fascist and anti-imperialist frames adopted by the internationalist fighters in Syria are composed of elements similar to those employed during the internationalist campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, Kurdish actors mobilize the memory of global and Italian anti-fascism to frame their own armed struggle. One Kurdish representative has recently compared the YPG alliance with the United States against Daesh with the “tactical” anti-fascist unity between the United States and the USSR during the Second World War.131 In Italy, the Kurdistan Information Office actively promoted celebration of the anniversary of the Italian liberation from fascism and Nazism on April 25, implicitly connecting that past fight with their own.132 Finally, Italian anti-fascist veterans—such as Leandro Agresti—have publicly consecrated the Kurdish resistance as a continuation of the resistance movement they engaged in during the years of Italian and European fascism.
Nonetheless, this article, while detailing a history of similarities, also aims to offer a history of difference. Demonstrably, the interlinkage between anti-fascism and internationalism varied, depending on each campaign and according to different leftist political actors within the same campaign. It could be argued that the PCI’s Vietnam solidarity campaign resembles a sort of “pure model” of the bridging between these frames, exhibiting some key features: the Italian communist use of the memory of fascism and anti-fascism to frame their struggles was reciprocated by Vietnamese actors who used such tropes to communicate on the international scale; Italian leftist anti-fascist veterans almost unanimously supported the campaign; and Italian neofascists strengthened the interlinkage, since they cheered on US military action against communist “subversion.” In contrast, the PCI’s Palestine solidarity campaign represents a weaker embodiment of this anti-fascist/anti-imperialist interconnection, in large part because it divided the anti-fascist world and lacked the official support of key anti-fascist veterans’ organizations until the late 1970s. Finally, the communist pro-Greek and pro-Chilean campaigns were marked by distinctive overarching dimensions, as they were both framed as campaigns that were primarily about Italy and the danger of a domestic fascist coup backed by imperialism. The proximity, at least in affective terms, of the threat, was made all the more striking by the connections between the Italian neofascists, their Greek peers, and the Colonels’ regime, on the one hand, and the perceived similarities between the Italian and Chilean political situations, on the other hand.
Most pertinently, this article has shown how the highly heterogenous revolutionary Left differed from the PCI in articulating and deploying the interlinkage between the anti-fascist tradition and the internationalist campaigns. These differences were grounded in profoundly different relations with the history of partisan resistance, considered variously as a betrayed promise to turn Italy into a social progressive state (in the eyes of the PCI), a betrayed revolutionary epic (according to the Marxist-Leninist groups), or a cross-class waste of revolutionary energies (in the opinion of Potere Operaio). As a result, most of the revolutionary groups avoided comparing the victorious Vietnamese resistance to their own national memory of defeat. LC proposed, during the Chilean campaign, an anti-fascist united front that included the PCI as well as the revolutionary Left but excluded the DC, constituting a distinct moment of rupture with the CLN anti-fascist unity rhetorically evoked by the Historic Compromise. Finally, the revolutionary Left groups were much more prone to using the anti-fascist discourse as a frame for the Arab-Israeli conflict, perhaps because of their relative indifference to the breakup of the broader anti-fascist unity vis-à-vis leftist support for the Palestinians.
An early draft of this essay was presented at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History (University of St Andrews).
I am grateful for the helpful comments made by all the participants and especially by Drs. Clémentine Anne, Adam Dunn, Konrad M. Lawson, Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, and Konstantin Wertelecki.
Montessoro, “Il mito del Vietnam”; Taviani, “L’anti-americanismo nella sinistra italiana al tempo del Vietnam”; Soave, La democrazia allo specchio; Marzano, “Il mito della Palestina”; Santoni, Il PCI e i giorni del Cile; Quirico and Lomellini, “Italy: The ‘Chilean Lesson.’”
Historian Akira Iriye describes “socialist internationalism” as “promoted by those who believed that world peace must be built upon the solidarity of workers everywhere” (Cultural Internationalism and World Order, 3). See also Galissot, “Internationalisme”; Bracke, Which Socialism?, 17; Dogliani, “Fate of Socialist Internationalism.”
On the People’s Republic of China, see Lovell, Maoism: A Global History.
“Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed” (Lenin, Imperialism).
De Bernardi, Fascismo e anti-fascismo, chap. 6, “Fascismo e anti-fascismo nella memoria pubblica repubblicana.”
Pons, Berlinguer e la fine del comunismo, chap. 1, “Il tempo della distensione e l’invenzione dell’eurocomunismo.”
Ventrone, Vogliamo tutto, chap. 3, “Dalle riviste ai movimenti.”
From Questore Allitto to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Milan, January 18, 1972, Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1971–75, folder 73, file 11020/115, Milano e provincia manifestazioni pro-Vietnam.
From Prefect of Bologna to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Bologna, March 7, 1969, in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1967–70, folder 49, file 11010/107; L’Unità, “Con lo sciopero anti-fascista Genova risponde all’attentato.”
Foot, Archipelago, chap. 3, “Blood and Reform: Institutional Change and Violence in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Giannuli, La strategia della tensione, chap. 14, “La svolta stragista.”
For instance: From Prefetto De Vito to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Florence, March 26, 1973, in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1971–75, folder 425, file 15121, Studenti greci in Italia.
Segreteria Nazionale dell’ANPI, Roma, June 9, 1967, in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1967–70, folder 82, file 11080/93, Partigiani affari generali.
Unione Generale degli Studenti Palestinesi in Italia, 15 maggio 1948–15 maggio 1967 19 anni di vergogna, in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1967–70, folder 327, file 15583/41, Studenti palestinesi in Italia.
From the Padova Chief of Police to the Italian Ministry of the Interior (Padova: 23-04-1968) in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1967–70, folder 327.
Telegrams from the Prefect of Perugia to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Perugia June 22, 23, 24, and 25, 1971, in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1971–75, folder 32; file 110158, Perugia ordine pubblico e incidenti.
Pons, Berlinguer e la fine del comunismo, chap. 1, “Il tempo della distensione e l’invenzione dell’eurocomunismo.”
From Torino Chief of Police to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Turin, November 18, 1973) in Central Archive of the State (Rome), Interior Ministry, Cabinet, 1971–75, folder 72, file 11021, Cile avvenimenti vari; Lotta continua, “La manifestazione di oggi a Torino.”
De Bernardi, Fascismo e anti-fascismo, chap. 7, “Oltre il novecento.”