Anarchists in the Gulag (and prison and exile)

Bolshevik repression of anarchists after 1917

Posts Tagged ‘Italian anarchists

Otello Gaggi [report]

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OTELLO GAGGI, an Anarchist, has lived for 13 years in Russia, having gone in exile from Italy. Has been in prison since January 4, 1935. Has still to undergo 30 years of imprisonment in Italy for revolutionary activities. He was sentenced without any trial whatsoever, to deportation for three years to Yarensk. Afterwards his wife was also sentenced, but not to Yarensk. Yarensk, situated 140 miles from the nearest railway, is buried under snow for 6 months of the year!

(Press Service International Anti-Militarist Commission; reprinted by “Man!” Nos. 7-8, July-August, 1935, San Francisco, Cal.)

From: The Guillotine at work p621.



Written by gulaganarchists

7, June 2014 at 3:50 pm

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

“I was and I always shall be – an anarchist…” (based on material from the case file of Francesco Ghezzi) by L. A. Dolzhanskaya

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ghezziwithBookFrancesco Ghezzi was neither a thinker nor an ideologue. He was a worker who was an anarchist at age 16 and considered himself an anarchist for the rest of his life. In the 1920’s he was famous, and not just among anarchists and revolutionaries. On two occasions global campaigns were mounted in his defense: in 1923, when he was imprisoned in Germany and the Italian government demanded his extradition in order to put him on trial; and in 1929, when was convicted in the USSR (as a Soviet citizen) in the case of a group of anarchists associated with the Kropotkin Museum.

In one of the letters from 1929 written in defense of Ghezzi (among the signatories was Romain Rolland), it was said about him: “This is a young Italian who enjoys the respect of everyone who knows him, who from earliest youth struggled for the emancipation of the proletariat and for implementation of the ideas of communism. <…> There can be no questioning the devotion of this blameless activist to the proletarian cause”.

“Enjoying the respect of all who know him”, “devoted”, “blameless” – it’s impossible not to agree with this high praise after acquainting oneself with his case file of 1937 (when he was arrested for the second time in the USSR). A “case file” is not the place where a person tends to be presented in the best light. But even in the pages of Ghezzi’s file, he produces an impression of remarkable integrity, honesty (even a certain naïveté), and faithfulness to the ideas of anarchism. During his interrogation he frequently declared that from the age of 16 he “was a real anarchist with a developed worldview”, and that an anarchist “he was and would remain, and no one could change his convictions”. Italians repressed in the USSR in the 1930’s (including those who arrived through MOPR [International Red Aid]), were convicted under Article 58, Section 6, i.e. for espionage. Ghezzi, unlike other foreigners, was accused of “being a recalcitrant anarchist who carried on counterrevolutionary agitation directed against the politics of the CPSU(b) and the Soviet government, i. e. in crimes covered by Article 58, Sections 10 and 11”.

We shall try to trace the life of this man, show what kind of problems he faced, how he coped with them, and also how his worldview was formed (of course, we must do so within the framework of a single case file).

Francesco Ghezzi was born in Milan on October 4, 1893, into a working class family. He began working at age seven, and took part in the revolutionary movement from age 15. At age 16 he joined the anarchists and to the investigator’s question about his party affiliation (interrogation of January 4, 1938) he answered that he considered himself “a real anarchist with a consistent worldview from 1909” (in a questionnaire in the section on party membership he wrote: n/a). At the same interrogation he recounted his activism and his views, while his testimony was recorded by the investigator.

“In Milan we organized strikes based on the workers’ economic demands. But when the police opened fire on our demonstrations, the economic demands were transformed into political ones. The strikes we organized were not always successful, and after every defeat there were mass arrests. Trying to avoid repression, I emigrated to France, to Paris, in 1914, but the following year when there was a mass exodus of Italian political emigrants back to Italy, I returned to Milan. The Milanese anarchist organization in that period adopted an anti-war platform and I worked with the Milanese anarchists to push for an uprising of the workers against the imperialist war.

“In 1916, trying to escape from the police, I emigrated again, but this time to Switzerland where I took part in preparing an insurrection in Zurich. In 1918 I was arrested by the Swiss police and was held for eight months, accused of having contrived, along with the communist fraction of the social-democratic party, to launch an insurrection. Thanks to the pressure of public opinion, I was released. But within a day I was arrested again –for a protest action against the patriotic demonstration – and this time I was deported from the country. In 1919 I made my way to Paris. In 1920, as a result of a general amnesty, I was able to return to Milan”.

In Milan in 1920 the anarcho-syndicalists together with the left fraction of the Socialist Party (the “Maximalists”) organized a general strike of workers. The organizers were faced with the problem of not allowing strikebreakers to work. The solution of this problem was to create armed squads which carried out sabotage operations in enterprises and on the railroads. One of the organizers of the armed squads was Ghezzi. During the strike an explosion was arranged in a Milan theatre, resulting in a large number of victims. After this massive repression was instituted, and the strike was suppressed. Ghezzi went underground, but hiding in Milan was dangerous, and the anarcho-syndicalist organization sent him to Moscow in June, 1921, with a mandate as a delegate to the Congress of Trade Unions (Profintern). At this congress an anarcho-syndicalist fraction was formed, and Ghezzi was one of its founders. Representatives of this fraction put forward a number of demands, the most important of which were the following:

  1. trade unions must be autonomous workers’ organizations, independent of any political party;
  2. trade unions must lead the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie, replacing its power not with a dictatorship of the proletariat, but with a free federation of unions.

Furthermore, it was stipulated that anarchism be legally tolerated in the USSR.

Ghezzi spent about three months in Moscow and then went to Berlin, where he took part in the congress of the anarcho-syndicalist International which took place in December, 1922. At this congress, Ghezzi made a report about the state of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Italy. His presence in Germany was illegal, and soon after the congress he was arrested. The German authorities intended to hand him over to the Italian police to serve his sentence for belonging to an armed squad (according to his wife, Olga Gaake, Ghezzi had been sentenced in absentia to the death penalty by the Mussolini government), but communist newspapers of all countries, especially Humanité and Die Rote Fahn, although aware of his anarchist-communist views, warmly defended him. Ghezzi’s lawyer, Frenkel, was able to obtain proof that his client was a subject of the USSR. Thanks to this proof, Ghezzi was released from custody (he spent 9 months in jail), and in 1923, with a Soviet passport received through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [Narkomindel] of the USSR, he arrived in the Soviet Union. Thus was concluded his most active period of revolutionary work, which involved not only anti-war protests and economic struggle, but also the creation of armed detachments.

Ghezzi became a citizen of the USSR at the age of 30. Upon arriving in the USSR, from 1923 to 1926, he lived in Yalta and worked in an agricultural commune, the members of which were mainly Italian anarchists who had emigrated to the Soviet Union.

Ghezzi’s interrogator said to him: “We know that while you were at the commune you exchanged anti-Soviet letters with anarchists abroad. Can you confirm this?”

Ghezzi replied: “Yes, I can confirm this. When I arrived in the USSR I did not renounce my anarchist ideas. I declare that I was and I always shall be an anarchist. During my stay in Yalta I wrote letters to comrades abroad in which I condemned the politics of the Communist Party in relation to NEP. I wrote to foreign anarchists that in the USSR private trade and exploitation was permitted, and along with this there was repression of the anarchists. In one of my letters I wrote that the Bolsheviks had imprisoned the anarchist Lazarevich, and because of that I had written a protest to the OGPU.”

Ghezzi considered himself empowered to write such a protest because he behaved in Soviet Russia like a free person who enjoyed the right to his own opinion. This perception of Ghezzi is expressed in one of the letters written in his defense: “… the USSR saved Ghezzi by accepting him as one of its own citizens. He settled in Russia in a situation where no one ordered him to renounce his personal convictions… it’s difficult to understand why he was forbidden to expression his opinions on the tactics and programs leading to the victory of the [proletarian] cause.” At that time, Ghezzi probably also did not understand “why he was forbidden”.

While he was at the commune he received a visit from Trotsky’s daughter, which was also part of the charge against him in 1937, but, according to his statement, “this visit was personal and had no connection with Trotskyism”.

In 1926 Ghezzi moved to Moscow. He did not break off contacts with anarchists abroad and carried on a wide-ranging correspondence on an international scale: he exchanged letters with Jacques Lenal (France), [Diego] Santillán  (Spain),  Errico Arrigoni (USA), Moravilla (editor of an anarchist newspaper in the USA), Luigi Fabbri (editor of an anarchist journal in Uruguay), etc. and received subscriptions to newspapers published abroad (including, of course, anarchist ones). At the same time he was active in Moscow anarchist groups and acted as a liaison between them and foreign anarchists. Thus, he forwarded the manuscript of A. A. Borovoi’s Ten Years of October abroad, and facilitated its return to the Soviet Union in the form of printed books.

In January 1928 a terrific scandal broke out at the Kropotkin Museum – leading, in fact, to the demise of anarchism as a legal political, ideological and philosophical current in the USSR. The scandal was provoked by differences between A. A. Solonovich and A. A. Borovoi, mainly over the use of the auditorium. The Kropotkin Museum had its own library/reading room which attracted students and other young people and was suitable for holding public lectures and soirées. But the repercussions from this scandal were undoubtedly the result of other forces at work.

In any case, Borovoi tried to create “a group of anarchists within the walls of the Kropotkin Museum which, in contrast to the mystical section, could expound and defend the concept of anarchism cleansed of alien influences”. Taking advantage of an occasion when the majority of the Scientific Section was absent, he added a group of anarchist-realists to its composition – 11 people in total. But at the very first session of the Executive Committee where these new members had to be confirmed, one of them (N. I. Rogdaev) was objected to both by Kropotkin’s widow (she referred to his past opinions about Kropotkin) and by Solonovich (he referred to Rogadaev’s opinion about Karelin). Next the anarcho-mystics who were members of the Executive Committee and had been absent when the new members had been voted in, demanded that the vote be annulled as illegal. In response Borovoi quit the Committee, and filed a protest on behalf of himself and the excluded anarchists (11 including Ghezzi). In the fall of 1928 a copy of this protest was sent to Delo Truda which carried on a vicious campaign over the following year aimed at exposing the anarcho-mystics led by A. A. Solonovich. These attacks were couched in terms which at the time could be considered snitching. In their own letters and declarations, the “rejects” did not disdain from disclosing that “of course we didn’t think of ourselves as scholars and had no intention of carrying on scientific work; we wanted only to oppose the distortion of anarchism”.

The anarchists who left the Kropotkin Museum after the split formed a group in the spring of 1928. They made contact with P. Arshinov, who was editing the journal Delo Truda at the time in Paris. It was Ghezzi who carried on the correspondence with Arshinov. The latter sent his own organizational “Platform” which was studied by the group; the main activity of the group, in fact, was the study of this “Platform”. Andreyev spoke against forming a disciplined party and proposed organizing strictly underground small groups which, for purposes of conspiracy and possible misfortune must not be aware of one another. Furthermore, he spoke in favour of recognizing the possibility of exes and terrorist acts. Since the other members of the group didn’t agree with Andreyev, he broke with the group. Ghezzi left along with Andreyev. Later, in 1938, Ghezzi told his investigator that the disagreement was over “questions of discipline and some of the positions of the Platform”. But we don’t know what lies behind these words, and how he in fact related at the time to the notion of accepting exes and terrorism.

Simultaneous with the organization of the group was the formation of a new alternative Black Cross, as a counterbalance to the existing Black Cross headed by Solonovich, which “it was decided to boycott and to launch an appeal to attempt to persuade all anarchists to observe this boycott”. The goal of this alternative Black Cross was to render assistance to anarchists in prison or exile. (At that time Solonovich’s Black Cross spent the funds collected on the Museum and on supporting needy anarchists.) The money was collected from anarchists both in Russia and abroad; the money coming from abroad went through Ghezzi. Since the new Black Cross, like the old one, was illegal – operating outside the framework of the law – the distribution was carried out through the Red Cross which treated the money from the Black Cross as if it had been received from private individuals. Ghezzi took care of the collection of funds and their transmission to the Political Red Cross.

The anarchist R. M. Chembaryova, arrested in June 1929, told her interrogator: “After leaving the group, Ghezzi worked in the Black Cross, collecting money and materials received from abroad. He generally did not refuse to do any kind of work for the group which he was suited for, but stated that he wouldn’t be a member any more and wouldn’t sign any of the group’s declarations”.

The scandal at the Kropotkin Museum came to a sad but predictable end: in May, 1929, the twelve people who resigned from the Museum in 1928 were arrested; in June, 1929, five more were arrested, and by the beginning of 1931 all the prominent and active anarchists of whatever stripe had ended up in concentration camps, political isolators, or exile. The editorial board of the journal Delo truda was compelled to relocate from Paris to Chicago without Arshinov, who, to the consternation of his supporters, turned out to be an agent of OGPU. (The role of the OGPU in instigating the scandal at the Kropotkin Museum has not yet been finally determined.) [Translator’s note: The opinion that Arshinov was an agent of the OGPU is shared by a number of post-Soviet historians, but there has been no proof forthcoming from the archives. The proof is purely circumstantial. Delo Truda, while Arshinov was on the editorial board, took a consistently critical stance toward the USSR. Of course the Soviet secret services were capable of provocations of Byzantine complexity, just like the Okrana (and in some cases, with the same agents).]

Ghezzi was among the twelve arrested and charged, like the rest of his comrades, with “being a militant anarchist who carried on counterrevolutionary agitation directed against the policies of the VKP(b) and the Soviet government”. By a resolution of a Special Board of the OGPU dated May 31, 1929, Ghezzi was sentenced to three years in a Correctional Labour Camp and transferred to the Suzdal Political Isolator.

A public campaign in defense of Ghezzi was organized abroad. Petitions on his behalf were addressed to the ambassador of the USSR in Paris, Dobralevsky, by a Committee for Refugee Rights, an anarchist group from Liège, the lawyer Gustave Joly, and many others, including Romain Rolland (his letter of protest was signed by 16 other individuals). Rolland also wrote to Gorky, asking him to lobby for Ghezzi’s release and that he be allowed to leave the Soviet Union and either join his friends and wife in Paris or settle in another country of his own choice. Gorky did not consider the matter important and did not share Rolland’s enthusiasm for “the well known anarchist and revolutionary Ghezzi”. The policies applied by the Soviet authorities in dealing with the anarchists seemed quite reasonable to Gorky, and his differences with Rolland on this matter almost led to a severing of relations between them. But Gorky nevertheless queried not only Yagoda, but also Stalin, about the matter. A letter from P. P. Kryuchkov, dated March 5, 1930, informed Gorky that Yagoda’s response was that “it was absolutely impossible to release Ghezzi”.

The end result of this campaign was that Ghezzi was released from prison, but was not allowed to go abroad. His release took place in two stages: first, by a resolution of a Special Board of the OGPU (January 3, 1931), he was released from the Suzdal isolator and sent to serve the remainder of his sentence in exile in Kazakhstan; two and a half months later, by another resolution of a Special Board (March 18, 1931), he was granted early release from exile and allowed to reside anywhere in the USSR.

Ghezzi returned to Moscow and was able to get his old job back working as a quality control inspector at the State Factory for Test Instruments (GZIP). He didn’t alter his convictions, and in the bill of indictment of January 11, 1939, it was said about this period that: “After serving his sentence, Ghezzi, remaining true to the ideals of anarchism, … established connections with Italian anarchists; at the same he stayed in contact with anarchists in the USSR, and made his apartment available to anarchists who had escaped from exile. … Furthermore, in 1933 Ghezzi was in contact with the Trotskyist Gurevich and when the latter was arrested he tried to launch a campaign for his release through the Red Cross”.

In a description of Ghezzi prepared by the plant where he worked after his arrest (signed by the plant director, the secretary of the Party Committee, and the chair of the trade union executive) and intended for the investigatory organs, was written: “He took part in social life; he worked with the engineers. Politically literate. By conviction, an anarcho-syndicalist. Working in the plant, he attended meetings of workers, however he refrained from speaking on political issues which, given his political awareness, can only be explained by his lack of agreement with the ongoing policies of the Communist Party and Soviet government”.

On November 5, 1937, Ghezzi was arrested on the charge that “being a convinced anarcho-syndicalist, he carried on extreme counterrevolutionary agitation at his place of work”. His arrest and conviction were based on intelligence reports and eye-witness testimony. In Ghezzi’s dossier there are transcripts of evidence given by eight witnesses, all of whom worked with him at the GZIP. Typical is the testimony of non-party metalworker with a grade school education with whom Ghezzi (“an active revolutionary, widely known in advanced workers’ circles in a number of West European countries”, “one of the organizers of the anarchist international”) travelled together on his way home from work and talked to on the way. According to this witness:

“Ghezzi spread vile slanders about the leader of the workers Comrade Stalin. He told me that in France a biography of Stalin was recently published. “In this book,” he said, “you will find the whole truth about Stalin, namely that it was not he who made the revolution, rather those whom he condemns today. In this book it is written that when Lenin was dying, he said not to allow Stalin in the leadership”. I spoke to my union steward about this counterrevolutionary attitude, and he passed the information on to the Party organizer”.

As we see, Ghezzi may have kept quiet at meetings, but he was anxious to share his personal views and talk about the books he was reading (more about them below) with the people around him.

In the bill of indictment it says: “The eight witnesses questioned about the matter indicated that Ghezzi <…> carried on active counterrevolutionary agitation among the workers of the factory, propagandizing anarchism, and spreading calumny about the situation of workers in the USSR. At the same time he slandered the leadership of the Communist Party and the Soviet government. During the time when the trial of the counterrevolutionary Trotskyist Terrorist Centre was taking place, he agitated in defense of the enemies of the people”.

In a protest directed to the Presidium of the Moscow City Court in 1956, the testimony of the witnesses (the basis for the charges) is described as follows: [Ghezzi] spoke about the devastating material situation of the workers; he expressed his incomprehension of Soviet democracy in connection with the fact that there exists only one party; he voiced doubts about whether those who were being arrested by the NKVD were really counterrevolutionaries”. And further: “When the witness K. was re-interrogated in 1956, he changed his testimony significantly <…>, explaining this as being the result of threats by the investigating organs”.

The investigation of Ghezzi was completed during the month after his arrest, and then more than a year passed without any action, although Ghezzi had agreed with the accusations presented to him as his very first interrogation.

“I declare that I was and remain an anarchist, and that no one will change my convictions.

“In 1929 <…> I said that labour in the USSR is miserably underpaid, and that the bureaucratism of the officials in charge makes the situation of the workers even worse. I then openly disagreed with the policies of the Party with respect to the pace of reconstructing the national economy, which led to an army of unemployed in the USSR.

“<…> I admit and confirm that I was guilty of a number of anti-soviet opinions, such as not agreeing with the policies of the Party in relation to the trade unions in 1937. I said that there is no genuine democracy in Soviet trade unions, since in the USSR any kind of political tendency is persecuted”.

On January 24, 1939, the Moscow Public Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter stamped “secret” to the 1st Special Section of the NKVD administration of Moscow Oblast (UNKVD MO): “I am conveying File #4899, dealing with charges against F. Yu. Ghezzi, to the Criminal Panel of the Moscow State Court for final disposition. Kindly inform the Chief of the UNKVD MO and the Public Prosecutor of the City of Moscow of the reasons why the case against F. Yu. Ghezzi remained inactive from December 23, 1937 to January 5, 1939, i.e. for a whole year.”

On April 3, 1939, by a resolution of a Special Board of the NKVD, Ghezzi was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in a Corrective Labour Camp. Two weeks later he was sent in a transport to the Kotlas Station on the Gorkovskaya Railroad, where he came under the authority of the Chief of Administration of the Vorkuta Camp (Vorkutlag) of the NKVD. Ghezzi served his sentence in this camp.

On January 13, 1943, by a resolution of a Special Board of the NKVD, Ghezzi was sentenced to be shot for anti-Soviet actions – for not only had he remained true to his personal convictions, he never altered his behaviour. But the death sentence was not carried out, because Ghezzi was already dead: his death certificate is dated August 3, 1942….

In 1956 Ghezzi’s case was reviewed as a result of a petition by his wife, O. N. Gaake, who had sent a letter to Khrushchev in July, 1955. By a resolution of the Presidium of the Moscow Municipal Court dated May 21, 1956, “the resolution of the Special Board of the NKVD of the USSR of April 3, 1939, was set aside, and the case against him (Ghezzi) was dismissed for failure to prove the charge”. (In 1956 the standard formula “in the absence of the commission of a crime” could not be applied to a “confirmed” anarchist like Ghezzi.)

Francisco Ghezzi began his revolutionary career as the member of an anarchist organization, and he acted according to the precepts of that organization. Later, in the Soviet Union, faced with Soviet reality, losing his friends and ideological allies, he was forced to make decisions on his own. He found in himself the strength to live under new and uncertain conditions without rejecting his youthful ideals and without giving in to fear and submitting. To us it seems that he derived this strength from books which to a significant degree took the place of lively discourse with thoughtful people. The case file of this amazingly stalwart man starts off in an unusual way: not with an order for his arrest, but with a list of books confiscated during his arrest, and a memorandum about their destruction (the books were burned by the NKVD 10 months after their confiscation). A copy of this memorandum is produced below:


September 15 1938: I, Sergeant of State Security P., acting as agent of the 4th Department of the UGB UNKVD MO [State Security Administration of the Moscow Branch of the NKVD], in the presence of Agent B., burned the following literature confiscated during the arrest of Ghezzi:

  1. Leaflet: “The question of the anarchist program” – 1 piece.
  2. Various letters, in both Russian and foreign languages.
  3. Bakunin. “The Knouto-anarchist [sic] Empire” – 1 piece.
  4. Bakunin. “The State and Anarchism” – 1 piece.
  5. Bakunin. “Federalism, Socialism and Anarchy” – 1 piece.
  6. Bakunin. “The Policy of the International” – 1 piece.
  7. Kropotkin. “Mutual Aid: a Factor of Evolution” – 1 piece.
  8. Kropotkin. “Modern Science and Anarchy” – 1 piece.
  9. Kropotkin. “Memoirs of a Revolutionary” – 1 piece.
  10. Sebastien Faure. “The Universal Pain” – 1 piece.
  11. Borovoy. “Personality and Society in the Anarchist Worldview” – 1 piece.
  12. Korn. “Revolutionary Syndicalism and Anarchism” – 1 piece.
  13. Tucker. “Instead of a Book with Proudhonian quotations” [sic] – 1 piece.
  14. Ch. Fourier. “Collected Works” – 1 piece.
  15. A. Tun. “History of the Revolutionary Movement in Russia” – 1 piece.
  16. Jean Grave. “The Future Society” – 1 piece.
  17. M. Stirner. “The Ego and Its Own” – 1 piece.
  18. E. Malatesta. “Short Course on Anarchism” – 1 piece.
  19. Novomirsky. “From the Program of the Anarcho-syndicalists” – 1 piece.
  20. Elzbacher. “Anarchism” – 1 piece.
  21. Polonsky. “Bakunin” – 1 piece.
  22. James Guillaume. “The International” – 1 piece.
  23. “Shulgin’s Notes” – 1 piece.
  24. Shlyapnikov. “1917” – 1 piece.
  25. Karl Radek. “Portraits and pamphlets” – 1 piece.
  26. Élisée Reclus. “Revolution, evolution and the ideals of anarchism” – 1 piece.
  27. Gordin brothers. “Down with anarchism” [sic]
  28. Brochure: “Free life”.
  29. B. Chlenov. “The Moscow Okrana” – 1 piece.
  30. Kruchenykh, “The Death of Yesinin” – 1 piece.
  31. Foreign books – 10 pieces.
  32. 2 notebooks with addresses.

This is the complete list of items.

The letter in support of Ghezzi we have previously cited ends with the sentence: “He will doubtless always remain the same: a champion of all those who fight for the liberation of the working class”. This rather old-fashioned and pompous-sounding phrase (from the 1929 letter signed by Roman Rolland) nevertheless corresponds to the life lived by the “confirmed anarchist” Francesco Ghezzi.

Translated by: Malcolm Archibald.


Picture from

Written by gulaganarchists

6, February 2013 at 9:49 am

Exiled Russian anarchist portraits in Amsterdam

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The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam has a set of portraits of exiled Russian anarchists from the Fléchine (Senya Fleshin) collection. (And an exiled Italian anarchist, Ghezzi.)

Details of the Fléchine collection are here:

Details of the collection of portraits are here:

These photos are housed at the International Institute of Social History, and they’d like a copy of any print publications they appear in (for their library). The initial identification work was done by the Kate Sharpley Library.

Can you put names of any other faces?

Written by gulaganarchists

2, July 2011 at 8:20 pm

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