Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

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The case of Francesco Ghezzi

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On June 24, 1929, the Secretariat of the International Working Men’s Association sent a registered letter to the Soviet of Peoples Commissars, asking the reason for the arrest of the Italian Anarchist Francesco Ghezzi and urging his release. Up to now no answer has been received. We hereby call public attention to his case and at the same time repeat our demand for his liberation.

Francesco Ghezzi was prosecuted by the Italian courts on the charge of alleged participation in the Mailand explosions, in 1920. He was sentenced-in his absence-to 20 years servitude. In 1921 Ghezzi was arrested in Germany, and Italy demanded his extradition. The German Ministry of Justice refused to extradite him, on the ground that the prisoner was a political refugee and the charges against him of a political nature. Ghezzi was freed by the Berlin authorities, but was ordered to leave the country within three days.

As the Soviet Government had repeatedly declared that it would give refuge to all proletarians persecuted in capitalist countries, Ghezzi decided to go to Russia. There, he felt, he would be safe from persecution. The Russian embassy in Berlin issued to him official documents of a Russian citizen.

In Russia Ghezzi lived and worked as one of the proletariat. But he remained true to his Anarchist convictions and that proved his undoing, because in Soviet Russia there is no liberty of thought and free expression of opinion is not tolerated. Like numerous other Anarchists and revolutionists before him, Ghezzi was arrested by the G. P. U. and condemned administratively (without hearing or trial) to three years prison in Suzdal.

The imprisonment of Francesco Ghezzi is more than an ordinary outrage against the freedom of speech and thought; it is a direct demonstration that the Russian Government has betrayed its solemn promise to give asylum to the proletarian victims of political persecution in bourgeois countries.

We hereby again voice our demand that the Bolshevik authorities make known the reasons for the arrest of Ghezzi, and that he be liberated at once.

At the same time we call attention to the fact that the belief of revolutionary workers who are hounded in capitalist countries that they will find refuge in Russia, has been fundamentally shaken by the fate of Ghezzi.

On this occasion we also repeat our oft-made demand that the Soviet Government cease its persecution of the revolutionary elements and free the thousands of politicals imprisoned and exiled in Russia.

The International Workingmen’s Association

This letter of the I. W. M. A. was forwarded to Russia signed by internationally known names, among them ERNST TOLLER, HEINRICH MANN, KATE KOLLWITZ, Professor OPPENHEIM, OSCAR MARIA GRAF, G. FYSOLD, ALEXANDER GRANACH, and others.

(Ibid). [“Bulletin, of the Relief Fund,” November-December 1929]

From: The guillotine at work, p593-4.


Written by gulaganarchists

7, June 2014 at 2:34 pm

Francesco Ghezzi, from antifascism to Stalin’s gulags

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Zero in Condotta publishers has just released a book by Carlo Ghezzi (one-time secretary of Milan’s Camera del Lavoro), entitled Francesco Ghezzi. Un anarchico nella nebbia. Dalla Milano del teatro Diana al lager in Siberia /Francesco Ghezzi. An anarchist ‘mid the fog. From the Milan of the Diana Theatre to the camps in Siberia (126 pp, cost 10 euro). The author reconstructs the life of Francesco, a relative of his, a fine figure of an anarchist who, after living in Exile in Switzerland and Germany to escape the repression unleashed in the wake of the Diana Theatre bomb outrage, settled in the Soviet Union, only to be jailed in the aftermath of the Stalinist purges in the Vorkuta camp in Siberia, where he perished.

Below we reprint Massimo Ortalli’s introduction to the book.

Some have thought to see the end of the Soviet Union, the break-up of communist rule and the establishment of brand new balances in the world as a sort of End of History. The definitive, irreversible conclusion to a process that had grown out of assumptions about progress, social emancipation, freedom from need and from poverty, a process which then took off at a monstrous tangent in the opposite direction in a dramatic contrast between the goals it had set itself and actual concrete outcomes. All but signifying that the great scheme for releasing man from exploitation and material and moral conditioning had now become unfeasible and its definitive defeat marked by the lowering of the red flag over the domes of the Kremlin.

But we cannot actually talk about any End of History. The project to achieve freedom and solidarity, which fuelled the great aspirations of socialist and libertarian thought, cannot be reduced to manifestations that have seen reproduction of the violence of the authorities deployed against the person over the course of the so-called “short” twentieth century. Any more than the hope in a better world and articulation of the ideal means of bringing it about should remain confined once and for all within the strait-jacket of freedom-murdering, totalitarian ventures.

There are others paths that could be taken and despite efforts today to forget them and stamp them out they wait there to be followed again.

The protagonist of this book is testimony to that.

Francesco Ghezzi was a Milanese workman, an anarchist, a subversive who fled Italy to escape fascist “justice” and who wound up, after a long pilgrimage through a number of European countries, in the Soviet Union, confident that he would find a better life there and do his bit, due to the generosity of his ideals, for the great social emancipation process that had won the hearts of proletarians everywhere. His was a story shared with other revolutionaries and other rebels hungering for justice who, albeit coming to it from a range of different experiences, finished up, hearts filled with hope, in the “socialist paradise” and in the land of actually existing socialism. We know that things did not actually work out for them because notwithstanding the undeniable improvements in the living conditions of the wretched Russian proletariat, a very heavy burden of oppression and social control fastened upon the new communist society, eventually draining the great experiment of all meaning through a paranoid fear of any form of dissent, if not, indeed, criticism itself.

Francesco Ghezzi was one of many victims of that monstrous degeneration, but as a victim he was unbroken and never gave up; he was an exemplary victim. Indeed, though conscious of the dangers he was defying through his rebellious behaviour, he never ceased asserting his ideals or proclaiming his solidarity with Stalinism’s victims. For which he was, first, marginalised, vilified and harassed, before being dispatched to die in a gulag under the “handling arrangements” that the Bolshevik regime applied as a way of neutralising dissenters. And as we now, that included even those not disposed to supinely accept the bureaucratic, authoritarian deformation that systematically denied the precepts upon which proletarian revolution had been built.

Carlo Ghezzi, a leading light of the labour movement in Milan, is related to Francesco Ghezzi. He is a relative who has not forgotten and means to bring back into the light a historical memory that exemplifies the contradictions and tragedies of the 20th century. After some admirable digging effort, he has reconstructed the many vicissitudes that marked the life of his forebear, from his early anarchist grounding in the factories of Milan to active opposition to the war, from participation in the campaign for the release of Errico Malatesta and Armando Borghi in 1921 to the Diana Theatre tragedy, from the enforced option of exile to the decision to make for the Soviet Union to begin a new life, from whole-hearted efforts to adapt to the new socialist reality to incessant, courageous criticism of the disfunctionality and contradictions making life wretched for the Russian people, up until Ghezzi’s tragic disappearance into a Siberian gulag where the regime finally managed to still his voice. When tackling a biography, the historian is very often faced by the risk of becoming “complicit” with the subject of his investigation, clouding his own objective, cool judgment. But in this instance the author’s affection gives an edge to his narration of tragic, emotive events, nor does he try to hide this behind the ascetic pursuit of historical research. This is the affection of one who shares the protagonist’s essential idealism, but also, primarily, cherishes his deceased relative, whom he had never known and who had gone far away to his death, but of the closeness of whom he is keenly aware. And the sense of that rediscovered, affectionate intimacy is drawn out particularly by the painstaking, and in many regards, seductive reconstruction of family events, covering the times between when their common forefathers left tiny Cusano sul Seveso to move into the big city. In Milan a whole proletarian generation – Francesco’s generation – was involved in the historical process that was to make an urban proletariat of these peasant masses and reshaped an area given over mostly to artisan trades and still tightly connected to the agricultural economy into one given over to a modern industrial city in step with the new times and the far-reaching social changes imposed by the revolution in methods of production.

Francesco Ghezzi was part and parcel of these changes, indeed a paradigmatic face for them, his life story representing a sector-turned-class and actively involved in the incipient social movement (so rich in prospects) into which he poured all of his strength and all of his determination, alongside his like-minded workmates An example of selflessness such as only situations of extreme change are capable of producing. Carlo Ghezzi’s reconstruction is particularly attentive and helps bring alive the total, all-encompassing commitment by Francesco, a commitment that led him (together with his inseparable comrades Ugo Fedeli and Pietro Bruzzi) to some often extreme and dangerous options such as inevitably laying himself open to the attentions of the courts as well as to the rather more heavy-handed attentions of an incipient fascism. The attempt to implicate him unfairly in the horrific Diana Theatre massacre, the reason for his lengthy wanderings around Europe up until he settled in the Soviet Union, was ultimately and actually just a deliberate strategy deployed by political and court authorities, designed to smooth the way for goon-gang violence by neutralising those like Francesco and his comrades who might have been able, otherwise, to make fascism’s advent in power less easy. It is to the credit of Carlo’s protracted and dogged research, as he sought to underline emphatically that his distant relative had had nothing to do with the tragedy at the Diana Theatre, that he also highlights the lack of substance of a sort of “dark legend” which has for years dogged the leading lights of a not insignificant segment of the Milan anarchist movement during the early decades of the 20th century. Thus, in his rewriting of Francesco’s movements – Francesco the innocent victim – he has made a fresh contribution to a more objective and honest reading of those events of long ago.

Massimo Ortalli

From: A Rivista Anarchica, no. 384. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.

Written by gulaganarchists

27, November 2013 at 7:30 pm

“an anarchist in the fog” New book on Francesco Ghezzi from Zero in Condotta

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Carlo Ghezzi
Dalla Milano del teatro Diana al lager in Siberia [Francesco Ghezzi, an anarchist in the fog. From the Diana theatre to a camp in Siberia]
pp. 124 EUR 10,00
ISBN 978-88-95950-34-1

Information is available on the Zero in Condotta website:

A Rivista Anarchica have reprinted the intro: (scroll down, it’s the second article)

Written by gulaganarchists

14, November 2013 at 10:54 am

Free Francsco Ghezzi From Bolshevist Inferno

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Who is Francesco Ghezzi? An entire volume would be necessary in order to outline the exceptional story of the life of this revolutionary idealist; nevertheless it is important that lovers of liberty become acquainted with at least the most essential points of his stormy life.

Ghezzi was born 38 years ago in the city of Milan, Italy, in a poor, religious family. He suffered from childhood on all the bitter experiences of poverty. As he grew older he became generous audacious, and developed a bright, open mind, framed in an outspoken and honest character, thus building in his heart the noble sentiments of protest and revolt against slavery and exploitation. At an early age he began to feel the urge to dedicate his life to the cause of freedom and to the rights of the downtrodden, having felt that liberty and justice will be denied as long as government and authority remained in power. This unfaltering belief led him to become an Anarchist, an opponent of all forms of oppression of man by man.

In addition to his ability to think clearly Ghezzi has for 20 years been a man of action, a revolutionist of the classic type. In Italy, he took part in every revolutionary mass movement, always among the first in the face of danger. Many times he was persecuted and imprisoned, but the tortures and suffering helped to strengthen his anarchist faith. At the outbreak of the world-war he opposed this war definitely and concretely – he flatly refused to bear arms. He crossed the border to Switzerland, where he reinvigorated his Anarchist and anti-war activities, for which he was imprisoned for 15 months.

As the war ended he returned to Italy only to agitate and to work for the advent of the social revolution. The revolutionary effervescence of the times resulted in actual deeds against the exploiting powers and again Ghezzi was exiled from Italy, having been marked as one of the most dangerous enemies of rising fascism. He went to Russia, hoping to find there a true motherland, but he became disillusioned upon finding a new dominating class (in place of the czaristic rule) born of the Bolshevist party, which was aiming to destroy all the fruits of the revolution and to inaugurate a new tyranny and repression against the masses.

Forced out of Russia he landed in Berlin, where, upon request of the fascist government, he was arrested by the Social-democratic government with orders of deportation, which meant sure death at the hands of the black shirts, but following an international protest and agitation he obtained his release and returned to Russia. Since this time (the winter of 1922-23) Ghezzi lived the life of a worker and peasant in a state of submission as was imposed by Bolshevist rule. He never altered his stand as an Anarchist, nor could he remain silent in the face of all the Bolshevist injustice. For this unflinching attitude the O. G. P. U.(Political Secret Service) tried to get rid of this clear-sighted opponent and in 1929 Francesco Ghezzi, without any evidence or specific charges, was arrested and sentenced to three years of imprisonment.

Ghezzi Is Dying of Tuberculosis

The years of jail and the various persecutions undermined Ghezzi’s health, and the 18 months of slow agony in the Bolshevic dungeons (the political prison regime in Bolshevist Russia far surpasses the Czarist prisons in cruelty and despotism) are dooming Ghezzi to his death. This crime of torturing to death a true friend of the people, only because of his opposition to a new form of tyrannical government shall be an indellible stain upon the pseudo-friends of the proletariat. True Friends of Freedom, arise in protest and save Ghezzi from his present plight! Don’t hesitate! Let your voice re-echo in Moscow till it stirs Stalin & Co.

Ghezzi Has Never Been Tried

In a capitalist land, when an Anarchist or a Bolshevist or any malcontent is arrested, he is indicted on a specific charge, even if framed up, and accordingly he is tried and sentenced if found guilty or released by a tribunal, with the prerogative of obtaining defense counsel. No charges of any nature have ever been made public against Francesco Ghezzi, he was not given a chance to obtain a defense counsel, neither was he given a regular trial. Yet Ghezzi has been sentenced to three Years of imprisonment!

By whom and how has this sentence been imposed? Was it by orders of the O. G. P. U.?

Suppose in a city of a capitalist country the police arrested a citizen merely because he opposed the existing government and sentenced him to many years of imprisonment without first arraigning him before a duly functioning judge, forbidding him to see his friends or relatives, denying him a lawyer, refusing to state the charges. Would such a procedure be considered different than vile inquisition? No Public Prosecutor anywhere would dare attempt to commit such barbarism.

Under Bolshevist despotism the institution of justice, when applied to political prisoners, is monopolized by dangerous fanatics, little czars, upon whose mercy depends the life and liberty of political opponents. This is done exactly as in fascist Italy.

A New Sacco and Vanzetti Case?

In that Ghezzi case it isn’t American plutocracy that is trying to drink the blood from the veins of a labor friend, but the pseudo-Communist government of Moscow, the citadel of old and new czars, where the Ghezzis of the past were no worse off than those of the present.

This time Stalin takes the place of Fuller, and Moscow beats even Massachusetts! The Communists are the willing heirs of the Romanoffs, for their persecutions against the honest opponents of their absolutism is far worse and even more dangerous than that of the former czars.

Workers of the World! Free men! Francesco Ghezzi is a victim of the O. G. P. U. Capitalism must be fought and abolished, but no new form of slavery under the guise of Bolshevism shall be allowed to go on unchallenged and unopposed.

Bolshevist – Fascists

It is not a mere nickname with which we brand their regime. This is no time for frivolity. We denounce vigorously their shameful deeds and opprobrious tendencies which run parallel with the fascist regime, which subject workers to slavery and repression; where freedom of thought and the right to criticism are stifled; where political opponents are denied the right to work, deprived of the means of subsistence, and are thrown into jails and tortured to submission and even death. This is fascism in Bolshevist Russia!

To the sincere Communists, to the true revolutionary Communists we say: Friends, your so-called leaders are destroying the Russian Revolution; they are playing on your good faith and are basely deceiving you. They are exploiting the Revolution for their own glory; they are sacrificing the welfare of the Russian people; they are planting hatred and contempt not only against reaction, but against thousands who fought and bled for the Revolution.

Don’t let any “Communist” or Commissary lead you to misinterpreting this humane appeal. This is no recruiting propaganda for Anarchism. It is an alarm that should arouse every exponent of freedom and justice, in behalf of the greatest Revolution in history. Communist friends, beware! Your turn may be next! Stop this political crime before it is too late! Demand from the Russian government officials the IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF FRANCESCO GHEZZI and of all the remaining political prisoners.

See that freedom is given back to all true and sincere revolutionists, regardless of party or shade of thought. Solidarity and tolerance are necessary in order to build a united front in the common fight against all forms of oppression, slavery and tyranny. Join in this crusade and help remove the stains that are blotting the Revolution. Help stop this inquisition, with all its horrors and tortures.

Francesco Ghezzi Must Be Released at Once!

Not only is Ghezzi’s freedom demanded by his Anarchist friends and the various revolutionary movements the world over, but also by some of the most renowned men and women in the fields of science, literature, philosophy and political science, such as: ROMAIN ROLAND, Mme. AUTANT-LARA, of the Comedie Francaise; PANAIT ISTRATI; FRANS MASEREEL; GIORGES DURAMEL; MARCEL MARTINET; HAN RYNER; CHARLES VILDRAC; Mme. ANDRE VIOLLIS; LEON WERTH and

The Anarchist Prisoners Defense and Aid Committee of America

[b. 1893, so 1930 or 1931? “Free in 1931 thanks to an international campaign on his behalf orchestrated by Romain Rolland.”]

[This article presumably comes from 1930 or 1931, when he was imprisoned in Suzdal. The campaign worked: “thanks to the urgent lobbying, Ghezzi was freed after he had been dispatched to exile in Kazakhstan in 1931.” He was rearrested in November 1937 and died 3 August 1942 in the Vorkuta camp. For more details see Francesco Ghezzi: Italian Anarchist in Vorkuta by Barbara Ielasi and Mikhail Tsovma in KSL Bulletin 55.]

source: KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 63-64, October 2010 [Double issue]

Written by gulaganarchists

1, November 2010 at 9:13 pm