AnarresTakver's Initiatives. P.O. Box 1078, Brunswick M.D.C, Victoria, 3056, Australia

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The Proletarian migrants: Fascism and Italian Anarchists in Australia

Gianfranco Cresciani was part-time tutor in Italian history at the University of Sydney, now employed in the NSW Department of The Arts. First published in The Australian Quarterly (March, 1979) Reproduced with the author's permission.

Divider: anarchist regional flag colours

Any historical analysis of the political activities carried out by migrant groups in a foreign country must take into consideration several factors which influence and determine the conduct of such activities. Size of the migrant community, distance from the homeland, communication and interaction with political organisations in their country of origin as well as in their host country, state of the political situation at home, degree of political control exercised by the diplomatic representatives, social origin, economic status and political .education are among the most important of these factors.

Once they are correctly assessed, an analysis of the importance of Italian anti-Fascism in Australia, in comparison with the broad anti-Fascist movement in Europe, the United States and Argentina, clearly shows that this importance was only local, and that even locally, anti-Fascism was a minority movement amongst Italians in Australia. Furthermore, within this anti-Fascist movement, the numerical strength of Italian anarchists was very small indeed, the majority of migrants opposed to the Regime being members of the Communist Party of Italy or of the Socialist Party. Yet, what made Italian anarchists historically significant, was their political influence which, during the twenties, ranged well beyond their number and made of them the unchallenged leaders of the anti-Fascist movement as well as a serious threat to Italian Fascists in this country.

This article aims to illustrate their activities, to explain their motivations, ideas and hopes, and to assess their historical significance. The history of Italian Anarchism is a story of personalities, of people, of poor and barely illiterate people at that. There were no intellectuals among them, no Malatesta or Berneri or Gori. Most of them were young peasants from the Veneto region of Italy, mainly from the provinces of Vicenza, Treviso and Belluno, who had served with the Italian Army during the years 1919-21, posted in the Emilia, where they witnessed the rise of Fascism1. This experience was of great importance to their political formation because their anarchism, usually learnt at home, was from then on irretrievably mixed with an almost pathological anti-Fascism. After military service, some became actively involved in political agitation, propaganda and in the organisation of peasant strikes; for their anti-Fascism as well as for their anarchism, they were persecuted and compelled to emigrate. Approximately fifty arrived in Australia during the period 1922-24 and were noted soon by the Australian authorities and by the Italian Consuls for their subversive ideas. In particular two people, who would become the leaders of Italian anarchists and who, with their initiative, courage and determination would contribute in a decisive way to the success of the movement in Australia: Francesco Giuseppe Carmagnola and Isidoro Bertazzon.

Carmagnola and Bertazzon

Francesco Carmagnola was horn on 25 May 1900 from a poor peasant family at San Vito di Leguzzano, in the province of Vicenza, and received his anarchist education at an early age. Predictably enough, while serving his conscript duty with the Army, his political sympathies were revealed and he was punished by being transferred to a company formed exclusively by elements politically suspect2. Then, his service over, he became very active politically. Again the State was watching, and the Prefect of Vicenza solemnly reported to his superiors that Carmagnola had 'carried out effective subversive propaganda and was a leader of strikes and agitations. He gave lectures, although he had completed only the primary school, and ... on 23 February 1922, for his political ideas and for his very bad political record, was compelled to emigrate to Australia ...'3 Francesco Carmagnola arrived in Sydney on 13 May 1922, with the vessel San Rossore, and went immediately to work in the sugar canefields of Ingham, North Queensland4.

Isidoro Bertazzon was born on 12 May 1891 at Pieve di Soligo, in the province of Treviso, and his social background was similar to that of Carmagnola. By trade a terrazzo labourer, he had also learnt his anarchism while young. Again the local Prefect, in appropriate performance of his duties as Guardian of law and order, repeated that Bertazzon had 'attended only the primary school, but has a quick and alert intellect . . . He never held lectures or speeches, nor collaborated to newspapers. He has no criminal record. While residing in the fatherland he professed anarchist beliefs fanatically and committed himself assiduously to propaganda, without noticeable results, because he was not known to the masses'5. Having emigrated to the United States, during World War 1 Bertazzon refused to return to Italy to serve with the Army and was formally posted a deserter. In May 1918 he and other anarchist members of a Circolo Studi Sociali were arrested by the Police in Seattle (Wash.) upon information received from the Italian Military Censorship which had intercepted a letter containing twelve dollars, sent by Bertazzon to the anarchist newspaper Il Libertario of La Spezia for the purpose of financing an anarchist revolt in Italy. Bertazzon was able to escape from arrest and went underground. The whole affair caused a certain excitement in the American Press and the Italian authorities in the United States became extremely worried that other migrants would follow Bertazzon's example. In fact, the Italian Consul-General of New York credulously reported that 'Bertazzon's letter revealed ... the existence of a real, infectious hotbed of anarchy and defeatism in those countries'6. In 1920 Bertazzon went to Canada and from there returned to Italy early in 1921, where he remained until August 1922, when he migrated to Australia7.

Anarchism in Australia

Little is known of anarchist activities between 1922 and 1926, the period when the majority of newly arrived migrants were preoccupied with the problem of finding employment. The few acts of opposition to Fascism were carried out at this time by individuals, on their own initiative, outside the framework of political organisations. Only the international debate on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and the intense emotions that such case roused in many people, determined the rise of anarchist organisations throughout Australia. At the end of 1926 Giovanni Terribile Antico, a communist from Piovene (Vicenza), formed in Sydney the Lega Antifascista, which could count on the support of three hundred members, many of whom were anarchist8. Soon after, a Sezione Antifascista, with one hundred and thirty members, was founded in Lithgow9, while a Lega Antifascista became active in Broken Hill10, a Club Fratellanza in Perth11, a Comitato Antifascista dell'Herbert River in Ingham12. Sydney's Lega Antifascista was by far the most active, under the leadership of Antico and Carmagnola, who at that time had moved from Griffith to Sydney. In July 1927 Carmagnola printed the first Italian anti-Fascist newspaper in Australia, Il Risveglio. His ambition was to print one issue every month, drawing its articles from local sources and also from his anarchist friends in France, Switzerland and the United States.

Il Risveglio did not leave any doubt in the minds of its readers about the Editors' intention. In the second issue dated August 1927, Bertazzon clearly stated that 'to arrive at the new order it is neccessary to devote all our physical and intellectual forces in order that the proletariat be well prepared to surmount every obstacle which may be in our path, in order to triumphantly reach our goat, that is Anarchy!'13. The third issue, printed after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, had spread across its front page the heading 'Long live Anarchy. By the anarchists they will be avenged!'14. This was too much for the Italian Consul-General, who wrote to Prime Minister Bruce asking for the immediate suppression of this newspaper, which Grossardi considered 'to be most dangerous, and likely to inflame the minds of the Italians and cause a lot of trouble as it is openly inciting class warfare, bolshevism, anarchy, violence and political murders'15. His fears were shared by the Commonwealth Government, which had already taken legal action against Carmagnola on the technicality that he had not applied to the Prime Minister for permission to publish a newspaper in a foreign language. On 23 August 1927 Canberra prohibited further publication of Il Risveglio16.

Undaunted by this setback, the anarchists of the Lega Antifascista replaced the suppressed newspaper with leaflets also containing anti-Fascist and anarchist articles. Again, Consul-General Grossardi complained to Prime Minister Bruce and named Carmagnola as the person responsible for their distribution, but this time no action was taken by the Commonwealth17. At the end of 1927 Carmagnola moved to Melbourne, where in December he and other anarchists opened in Spring Street a club, which was called the Matteotti Club. Immediately, the club became very popular among anti-Fascist Italians, while it irritated some Fascists, one of whom, Vittorio Tabacchi, was caught throwing bricks through its windows18. The Matteotti Club operated as a centre for the distribution of anarchist propaganda and as a meeting place for Italian migrants. In the two small rooms, people could meet, play cards, eat and read anarchist literature, received mainly from France, Switzerland, the United States and Argentina. On Saturdays, a considerable number of anti-Fascists came into Melbourne from the countryside, to collect the groceries, purchased for them by the Club Secretary, Carmagnola, to take part in the Club's dancing nights, where the orchestra consisted of a single accordion, and also to pick up anti-Fascist propaganda material. This combination of political and social appeal was reinforced by Carmagnola's characteristically generous offering of himself as an interpreter19.

Soon the premises in Spring Street became too small for the number of people who frequented the Matteotti Club, and Carmagnola was compelled to look for a new place. On 1 December 1928 the Matteotti Club reopened officially in the much larger premises at Victoria Street, Melbourne. The new Club, conveniently situated near the Trades Hall, included several rooms, a large hall, capable of holding one thousand people, and a spacious courtyard, where the members could play bocce (Italian bowls). On two walls of the building the name Matteotti Club was painted in large characters and, defiantly, a red flag fluttered from its pole20.

One month after the move to Victoria Street, Carmagnola, again without having previously obtained formal permission to publish, began printing a newspaper, La Riscossa, similar in format and content to the anarchist publication from Geneva Il Risveglio Anarchico. An application had been lodged in May 1928 by the Committee of the Australian Anti-Fascist League, a body formed by ten members of the Matteotti Club, but the authorities rejected it on grounds that one of them was known to be a Communist21. On 21 November 1930 permission to publish was finally granted, after much toing and froing by the Scullin Government22.

The inauguration of the Matteotti Club and the appearance of La Riscossa caused, in the words of the Director of the Investigation Branch, 'rabid, adverse criticism by the Italian consular authorities'23, but the Fascist diplomats did not take long to realise that they could not hope to persuade Australian State and Federal authorities to carry out repressive measures against the anti-Fascists, especially while Labor was in power. In fact, the Consul in Melbourne quite realistically informed Rome that 'the attitude of these Governments can be summed up in their wish, openly expressed several times, that European political struggles be not transplanted here. Unless the foreigners are in breach of the laws of the land, local authorities do nothing to hinder nor to help political movements'24. The opposition from the Consulates had the effect of spurring the members of the Matteotti Club, especially the anarchist minority, to further action. Indeed, the anarchists, although their strength consisted only of a core of a dozen people, tough, ready to fight and to risk everything, and some dozen sympathisers eager to follow, exerted an undisputed political influence over anti-Fascist activities.

The leadership of the Matteotti Club and the editorship of La Riscossa were both firmly in the hands of sworn anarchists, that is, of the President of the Club, G. Lesana, of its Secretary, Carmagnola, and of the Editors Bertazzon and Valentino Ciotti. The newspaper's political line had been worked out by Carmagnola and Bertazzon, who believed that it was of vital importance to gain support from Australian organisations sympathetic to the anti-Fascist cause. In fact, upon their representation, from the outset the Trade Union movement gave the Matteotti Club the material as well as political backing it needed in its critical formative months. The Secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall, and later Labor MHR, Don Cameron, and the President of the ALP and of the ACTU, W. J. Duggan, often attended anti-Fascist rallies at the Matteotti Club, where Carmagnola spoke about anarchy. Some anarcho-individualists objected to this alliance with a political party, yet endorsed grudgingly this pragmatic policy. Carmagnola, occasionally, took moral refuge from the rigours of such pragmatism by denouncing Labor as a Party of 'socialisti da caffelatte'25.

Besides, after the banning of Il Risveglio, a measure justified by the authorities as taken because the newspaper was being printed at the printery of the Australian Communist Party at Annandale, official contacts with the Australian Communists, whom Carmagnola regarded as 'Red Fascists', 26 were avoided and the words Communism and Soviet Union were ignored as much as possible in anarchist publications. Notwithstanding, given that anti-Fascism alone could unite the disparate factions of the migrant Left, and given the success of the Matteotti Club as the preferred venue for anti-Fascists, the anarchists were able to secure for themselves a position of ideological supremacy and a monopoly over political agitation.

Possibly influential too was the courageous anarchist tactic to incite local Fascists to use violence against them. This philosophy had been fore-shadowed two Years before in Il Risveglio, where it had been stated that for the anti-Fascists living abroad there was 'only one way to fight, that is by letting our physical strength be experienced by the official and unofficial representatives of the Fascist Government abroad who are at the mercy of our blows. We can hinder, make difficult, if not prevent, the life of the diplomats of Fascism, and for every crime which is committed in Italy against one of ours, we can take revenge on one of them abroad'. 27


These words were soon turned into action. Anarchists took to visiting clubs, restaurants and boarding houses known to be frequented by Fascists, and provoked the latter to fight. The anarchists were armed with knives, truncheons and even pistols. Uncorroborated evidence indicates that during the 1928 Victorian timber strike they were considering the use of explosives, in support of the strikers. Yet, the most common form of violence during these years was the practice of assaulting members of Fascist organisations and of ripping from their coats the Fascist Party badge, that the anarchists publicly and contemptuously named the nit. 28 Even Fascist Consuls were not exempt from this treatment. Count Gabrio di San Marzano, Italian Consul at Brisbane, while attending a reception given in his honour at Ingham had his badge stripped from his official dress and, adding insult to injury, the triumphant anarchists also encouraged the band to play the Internationale. 29 This same Consul was repeatedly beaten and spat upon during his visits at Ingham, Babinda and Cairns, and was eventually and humiliatingly driven to accept police protection when he went to Innisfail. 30

This philosophy of direct action, incessantly preached and practised by Italian anarchists, starkly differentiated them from the other Italian political groups who, like the Communists, devoted themselves to organisation or who, like the more respectable Socialists of the Concentrazione Antifascista dell'Oceania, concentrated their effort on commemorations of past victories and defeats. Indeed, it was this recourse to action which made the anarchists so popular and attracted to them such a large following. As Carmagnola said in 1930, 'we must remember our martyrs not only with speeches and flowers, but with guns, not like slaves, but like men. We must not celebrate, but avenge. A people that does not fight violence by means of violence, that bends its knees and cowardly tolerates the impositions of infamous mercenaries, is unworthy of such a name'. 31

The anarchists of the Matteotti Club were very suspicious, and with good reason, of anybody who could be an agent provocateur, a police informer or a Fascist spy. The pages of La Riscossa are full of diffide, of warnings to anti- Fascists not to trust individuals, nor to frequent hotels, nor to buy from shops, nor to read newspapers, nor to confide in priests nor doctors, whom La Riscossa accused, often rightly, of being supporters of the Fascist cause. 32 Also, the newspaper condemned those anti-Fascists who had become lukewarm in their faith, as well as those people who pretended to be anti-Fascist for their own shady reasons. 33 From January 1929 until November 1932, when it ceased publishing, La Riscossa remained the mouthpiece of Italian anarchism in Australia. The newspaper received a great deal of anarchist literature from all over the world, and contacts were kept with prominent anarchists overseas. The library of the Matteotti Club was well endowed with anarchist books and magazines. 34 The anarchist organ reprinted frequently articles from other anarchist and Socialist newspapers, among whom were L'Avanti (Paris), La Lotta Umana (Paris), La Liberta (Paris), L'Avvenire del Lavoratore (Zurich), Il Risveglio Anarchico (Geneva), La Difesa (Sao Paulo, Brasil), L'Adunata dei Refrattari (New York), Lotta Anarchica (Paris), Giustizia e Liberta (Paris), Il Becco Giallo (Paris), La Riscossa Antifascista (Paris). Essays from famous anarchists, including those of Errico Malatesta, Mario Mariani, Pietro Gori, Max Nettlau and Luigi Galieani were also printed in La Riscossa. Three thousand copies of the newspaper, which after September 1930 came out fortnightly, were distributed in Australia as well as to overseas subscribers in South Africa, 35 the United States, Uruguay36 and France. Also, its readers were asked to cut articles from its pages and to mail them to their relatives in Italy, for propaganda purposes. 37 The distribution of La Riscossa took place even in places controlled by the Fascist authorities. In 1931 Carmagnola was able to distribute the newspaper among passengers and sailors of the Italian ships berthing at Melbourne. This daring feat compelled the Fascist Consul to step up surveillance on board of the vessels in order to stop further intrusions by the anarchists. 38

Another act of defiance towards Fascism promoted by La Riscossa consisted in urging Italian migrants not to send to their families in Italy more money than necessary, nor to deposit their savings in Italian banks, unless they wanted to help the Fascist economy. 39 In addition to these initiatives, the newspaper and the Club often organised dancing nights and rallies where money was collected for political prisoners in Italy and for their families. This money was channelled to them through the Comitato Anarchico Pro Vittime Politiche d'Italia in Paris. 40 Also, May Day parades and commemorations of Matteotti and of Sacco and Vanzetti were important events in the life of the Club. On May Day, the members of the Matteotti Club marched through the streets of Melbourne in their red shirts, behind their posters with the slogan 'Down with Mussolini, assassin of the Italian people'. Worth remembering is May Day 1931, when Carmagnola addressed seven thousand workers by the banks of the Yarra and incited the crowd to cry with him 'Death to Mussolini!'. 41

Carmagnola, Bertazzon and other anarchists were also corresponding with and sending money to prominent anarchists overseas. Their name appears in the address book (copied by the Fascist Secret Service) of Camillo Berneri, the anarchist who would be murdered by the Communists in Barcelona in May 1937. 42 After 1925 Bertazzon and Carmagnola sent large sums of money to Errico Malatesta, via the Geneva anarchists. 43 Therefore, it is not surprising that the Australian and, to a greater extent, the Italian authorities, saw with growing concern the increase in influence of the anarchists of the Matteotti Club and feared the eventuality of a dramatic act of violence against a Fascist of high standing, an act which could win over by admiration and terror the large number of Italians who had not taken sides yet. In October 1930 the Police raided twice the Matteotti Club but merely confiscated a pistol, a knife and Propaganda material, 44 while the Italian Secret Police and the Consular authorities also kept a close check on the activities of the main anarchists. 45 Consul-General Grossardi, fighting back in the Fascist style, condoned, and probably, encouraged the use of physical violence in turn against the anarchists. In a letter to the Ministry of the Interior, he informed his superiors that some Fascists in Melbourne were trying to catch Bertazzon, in order 'to give him a sound beating. Up to now Bertazzon has been able to escape their surveillance, but it is only a matter of time and patience, and he will not be able to escape much longer the well earned punishment'. 46 Also Francesco Carmagnola for many years had been considered a 'most dangerous' element and was being kept under constant surveillance by the Melbourne Consulate, while the homes of his parents and his friends at San Vito di Leguzzano were searched by the Italian Police who were looking for further incriminating evidence. 47 Instructions to keep the closest watch upon Carmagnola and Bertazzon were sent to the Italian Consuls in Australia personally by the Chief of Police, Bocchini, 48 and both anarchists were registered in the Rubrica di Frontiera as dangerous people to arrest in case they attempted to return to Italy. 49

Yet, the anarchist menace during these years consisted more in their eagerness to commit acts of physical violence against people and property than in their ability to become a political threat to Fascism. This, in effect, was the major and damning limitation of the anarchist movement, due mainly to five factors: the political isolation of the anarchists, their inability as well as unwillingness to set up anything which would resemble a political party or a pressure group, their utopian ideology, the effect of the Depression upon the movement, and the split which occurred within the anarchist ranks in 1930.

Political goals

As already mentioned, apart from loose links with the Trades Hall and the Australian Labour movement, the anarchists were politically isolated, and even with the Matteotti Club they were a minority group. Moreover, there were no Australian anarchists whom to rely upon, with the exception of the lonely figure of J. W. Fleming who, with his monologues and his black flag at the Yarra Bank, only contributed to emphasise the total alienation of the Australian public for the doctrine of anarchism. Also, the anarchists in Australia were, with almost no exception, anarcho-individualists, to whom the setting up of an organisation, of a structure, was anathema. Without an organisation, courageous but violent acts were possible, but always present was the danger of a retreat into sterile bickering. In any case, their political program was hopelessly out of context with reality. A good example of the utopian character of their political goals is this passage from Carmagnola's May Day 1930 speech, in which the anarchist leader stated that 'our goal must be a society based on justice, equality and freedom. In order to reach it, it is indispensable to abolish private property, source of all social evils, and to destroy the State, which always protects privilege ... We must be always ready to give even our life for a new world without laws, without masters, without rich or poor, for a society where everyone is assured of bread and freedom'. 50

There is no indication at all on what would replace the destroyed bourgeois, capitalist order. Even their analysis of the political situation in Italy was completely mistaken. They were firmly convinced that Italy was on the threshold of an anarchist revolution, that Fascism was in its final crisis, that only a few anarchist bombs were needed to rouse hope and courage in the anti-Fascist masses, oppressed by Fascist terror.

L'Avanguardia Libertaria The fourth restrictive factor was the devastating effect that the Depression had upon the activities of the anarchists and upon the anti-Fascist movement in general. Hit by unemployment, many Italians were compelled to leave Melbourne in search for work. Staggering under the weight of this social and economic crisis, the Matteotti Club was further afflicted by a personal squabble between Carmagnola and Bertazzon. In June 1930 the latter accused the Secretary of the Matteotti Club of having embezzled the Club's funds, an accusation which he was unable to prove. 51 Reconciliation being impossible, on 17 August 1930 Bertazzon and three of his supporters were expelled from the Club. 52 Three months earlier, Bertazzon had begun printing a newspaper, L'Avanguardia Libertaria, in opposition to Carmagnola's La Riscossa. He also opened his own club, the Club Internazionale, which lasted for seven months only. 53 The newspaper did a little better, wasting its fire in continuing the petty personal battle with Carmagnola, until both papers were suppressed by the Commonwealth authorities in November 1932. 54 In effect, the split between Carmagnola and Bertazzon put an end to the supremacy of the anarchists within the anti-Fascist movement, and Bertazzon was quite correct in remarking that 'anti-Fascism in Australia has been shattered, though so impressive and numerous'. 55 After the banning of L'Avanguardia Libertaria Bertazzon retired from active politics,55 and in 1935 moved to Beelbangera, near Griffith, NSW, where he purchased an orange farm57 and worked until his tragic death in October 1941, when he and his wife were killed by a train at a railway crossing near Griffith. 58 In October 1931 Carmagnola went to Ingham, Queensland, and continued to print La Riscossa from there, while the Matteotti Club declined slowly in influence and membership, until it was officially closed on 15 December 1933. 59

Carmagnola's arrival in North Queensland, followed by some of his staunchest friends, sparked a new series of incidents which involved the strongly anti-Fascist Italian population of several coastal townships. Already in 1930 an anarchist group, led by Luigi and Costante Danesi, had been at the forefront of the struggle against the'Gentlemen's Agreement' signed in June of that year by the Australian Workers' Union, the Australian Sugar Producers' Association and the Queensland Cane Growers' Council, providing that at least 75% of the men engaged as cane cutters would be British and Australian subjects. This measure effectively discriminated against non-British migrants, who were deprived of their employment by their own Trade Union. 60 The Danesi brothers were able to attract a large following, even among people who undoubtedly were Fascist, not only because they appealed to the patriotism of Italians in a moment of danger, but were also able to have this racist agreement rescinded. The Italian Secret Service considered the Danesi brothers very dangerous, in particular Luigi, who was described by Consul-General Ferrante as 'cunning, sly, conceals his feelings, sometimes pretends to be the champion of Italianita in order to instil at the proper time, with impurity, his anti-Fascist poison'. 61 This accusation of opportunism was not justified, because the Danesi brothers and the anarchists in general expressed constantly their interest and concern for the social and economic problems of the Italian migrants, and often championed their cause. For instance, when in 1930 the Fascist Government irresponsibly allowed the vessels Orford and Otranto to sail for Australia with a cargo of migrants, after the Commonwealth had imposed restrictions on immigration, Carmagnola wrote a long letter to the Acting Prime Minister, J. E. Fenton, pleading, albeit unsuccessfully, that the migrants be allowed to land in Australia. 62

Some time after Carmagnola's arrival in Ingham, a serious incident occurred when, on 26 December 1931, he and two other anti-Fascists assaulted the Italian Vice-Consul of Townsville, Mario Melano, beat him and ripped from his coat his Fascist Party badge. 63 The trial of Carmagnola and of one of the two offenders, M. Tardiani, took place in the presence of a large crowd of Italians at the Supreme Court of Townsviile on 11 and 12 February 1932. This was not the first political trial against an Italian anti-Fascist. Two years before a Communist, Filippo Bossone, had been sentenced to two years imprisonment for having spoken at the Brisbane Domain on 30 April 1930, inciting the unemployed to raise the red flag and to 'send to hell even kings and rulers' in their struggle to achieve freedom. 64 Yet, it was the first political trial in Australia where the dictatorial nature of Italian Fascism was discussed and where an Italian anarchist had the chance to put forward his views. Carmagnola took advantage of the proceedings to launch, to the astonishment of a hostile Crown Prosecutor and Judge, a scathing attack against Italian Fascism. Some incredible statements, worthy of being reported at length, were made during the Crown Prosecutor's cross-examination of Carmagnola.

In his summing up, Acting Justice P. B. MacGregor, after having ironically expressed his personal relief that 'we do not always have atheists, and people who have been anarchists but are not now, and people who are not communists, in the box, putting forward their cranky beliefs', 66 recommended that the accused he convicted. To his great surprise, Carmagnola and Tardiani were found not guilty by the Jury composed mainly of sympathetic waterside workers. After their release, they were heartily congratulated by the crowd of excited Italians outside the Court. 67

The incident enhanced the popularity of the anarchists in North Queensland, and of Carmagnola in particular, who by now was the object of constant concern to the local Police. A report filed in March 1932 by the Director of the Investigation Branch describes him as 'a source of trouble and agitation wherever he goes'. 68 The Attorney General's Department even looked into the possibility of withdrawing his Certificate of Naturalisation. This idea had been suggested by the Fascists and by some ernployers' organisations, who wanted him deported to Italy, but there was insufficient evidence to justify the institution of proceedings against him. 69 As a result of the trial, anarchist-provoked incidents continued to occur in North Queensland. One of the most significant ones took place in October 1934, when the Italian cruiser Armando Diaz made a goodwill tour of Australian ports. Incidentally, in command of the ship was Angelo Iachino who, during World War II, would become one of the most famous admirals in the Royal Italian Navy. On board was also Junio Valerio Borghese, then midshipman, who would achieve notoriety for his daring submarine raids against the British Navy and for his role as Commander of the ill-fated Tenth Mas Legion in 1944-45, as well as for his involvement in the abortive neo-Fascist coup d'etat in December 1970. During the Armando Diaz stay in Cairns, the anarchists, in association with other anti-Fascist groups, printed leaflets inciting the sailors to desert. The leaflets were distributed to the sailors on shore. One of them, A. Casaburi, was won over by this propaganda and with the assistance of the anarchists went underground until the warship left Cairns without him. 70

Thus, from 1932 to 1935 Carmagnola and his anarchists operated in the canefields of North Queensland, harassing the Fascists and organising strikes aiming at improving the migrants' working conditions. During the cane cutters' strike which took place in Ingham in 1934, Carmagnola led the strikers around the district in motor lorries, turning over cane trucks and lorries which were carting cane to the mills. At Bemerside, near Halifax, the strikers clashed with the police, who had to draw their batons and 'use them freely' to disperse the crowd. 71 Following these incidents, the police entertained great fears for the 1935 cane cutting season. Commonwealth Police were on the alert from the beginning of the year; in February their informers reported that 'nothing authentic can be gleaned in Brisbane as to any impending trouble for this cane season with Carmagnola's forces, though it seems very probable that trouble will occur'. 72 In the meantime Carmagnola was moving from place to place, organising his followers, which a Police Inspector estimated to be 200 strong. 73 On 4 August a large strike broke out at the mills of Mourilyan, Goondi, Johnstone, Tully and Hambledon. Four hundred and twenty Italian cane cutters at Mourilyan, two hundred and eighteen at Hambledon as well as hundreds more at the other mills demanded that the cane be burnt before being cut, in order to avoid Weil's disease, an infection fatal to some cane cutters who had to work with the green cane. The Italian farmers, disregarding medical opinion which supported the strikers' case, obstinately refused to give in, unwilling to lose in the fires part of their production. This was the first time when Italians in Australia walked out of a job in large numbers and by their determination and class solidarity compelled the landowners to ask for governmental intervention and for police protection. Yet, at the end of September the strikers won their case in Court and the cane began being burnt. 74

This was a great victory for the Italian anarchist leaders, but now the situation in North Queensland was becoming difficult for them. Carmagnola in particular, popular with the local poor but notorious to the rich, had difficulty in finding employment. At the end of 1935 he decided to return to Sydney, where he was disappointed to find that the anarchists, so active in the late' twenties, had now disappeared: some were growing vegetables on the outskirts of Sydney and the rest had gone interstate. 75 In January 1938 Carmagnola returned to Melbourne and a few days after his arrival was reported smuggling anarchist propaganda literature aboard the Italian vessel Remo. 76 The Fascist authorities intensified their surveillance and on 15 February 1938 the sailors of the Italian cruiser Raimondo Montecuccoli assaulted an anti-Fascist, whom they believed to be Carmagnola, suspected of having distributed leaflets aboard the cruiser. 77 Two days later, a large demonstration of protest against this aggression took place at Port Melbourne. According to police estimates, between ten and twelve thousand people were present. Carmagnola, who was one of the speakers, addressed the crowd briefly and an effigy of Mussolini was burnt. 78

By 1938 the influence of the anarchists within the Italian anti-Fascist movement had been supplanted by that of the Communists, who were running with dedication an efficient organisation. 79 When the anti-Fascist Casa d'Italia was opened in Melbourne on 12 June 1938, Carmagnola was labelled by the Fascist authorities as one of its leaders, but in effect his role and that of the few anarchist members of the Casa d'Italia was insignificant. 80 Owing to the dispersion and the disappearance of its members, or because of their withdrawal from politics, Anarchism became again an act of personal dissent, carried out in isolation from any political movement but nonetheless requiring from its followers courage and self-sacrifice. Undoubtedly Francesco Carmagnola had these qualities. He was the only anti-Fascist who, shortly after Italy's entry into World War II, at a time when Italians were most unpopular, had the boldness to speak up in their defence. On 27 July 1940 he was arrested at the Sydney Domain because he was distributing leaflets and was carrying around a large cardboard poster with the inscription 'All Italians are not Fascist' and with caricatures of Mussolini and photographs of several anti-Fascists. 81

Carmagnola's gallant gesture was of no avail: his anarchist friends, his comrades in the twenty year long struggle against Fascism, were interned by the Australian Government in camps together with their Fascist foes. This absurd and callous policy subjected the interned anarchists to undue suffering and often to physical violence by the hand of the Fascists, who on 16 November 1942 even murdered Francesco Fantin, an anarchist friend of Carmagnola, at the South Australian internment camp of Loveday. 82 Nevertheless, the task of carrying on the fight against Fascism had now been taken up by other organisations such as the Italia Libera Movement, in which the anarchists were not represented.

If an assessment of the achievements and failures of Italian anarchism is to be made, it is important to remember the historical conditions under which the movement operated in Australia. Absence of intellectual leaders, financial stringencies, communication problems, high mobility of its members for economic reasons, internal divisions, opposition from other anti-Fascist Italians, hostility from the Commonwealth authorities and indifference of non-politicised Italians, as well as absence of precise political goals, were the most obvious factors which restricted the anarchists' field of action.

To their credit they could claim of having been the main upholders, especially in the late 'twenties, of the principles of popular participation in government and of opposition to the Fascist dictatorship when other anti-Fascist forces, like the Socialists, had either collapsed or, like the Communists, were not yet organised, Also, the few dozen of anarchists made the Fascist Consuls and their supporters aware that Australia was not Italy, that Italians in this country could not he forced into political submission by strong arm tactics, because the most politically motivated ones could even rebel and oppose Fascist violence with equal violence. Besides, by their activities the anarchists engaged a considerable number of Fascist informers, OVRA agents, observers, consular officials and diplomats, thus burdening the Fascist bureaucratic machine with needless work. Furthermore, their often violent and objectionable means served the purpose of attracting the attention of - unfortunately not enough -Australians to the issue of Fascism, and of making them realise that it was unrealistic as well as dangerous to pretend that Italian migrants ought to solve their squabbles in Rome and not in Melbourne.

On the other hand, the single major historical mistake that can be imputed to them is their sectarian tendency to disunion, which culminated in the 1930 Carmagnola-Bertazzon split. The waste of political and economic resources which resulted from it determined the decline of the anarchists. Yet, if one examines the emergence of other anti-Fascist movements in Australia during World War II, such as the Italia Libera Movement, one does not fail to notice that these movements could not have come into being without the historical and moral heritage left to them by the anarchists.

The political decline of Anarchism in the 'thirties was considered by many of its followers as a mere temporary setback in the long march towards the form of society that they dreamed of accomplishing. During those dark years of Fascist triumphs they believed stubbornly in the defiant words which end Malatesta's pamphlet Anarchy and which, in the final analysis, prove to be historically relevant when applied to the anti-Fascist activities of Italian anarchists in Australia:

Divider: anarchist regional flag colours

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Divider: anarchist regional flag colours


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