Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 4

Paolo Casciola

Blasco’s People

We present here brief biographical sketches of some of Pietro Tresso’s Italian co-thinkers who are mentioned in the previous article.

Mario Bavassano

MARIO BAVASSANO (also known under the pseudonyms of Mario Ferrero, Nelluno, Giacomi, Rey) was born in Alessandria on 29 August 1895. During the First World War he was captured and deported to Germany. Back in Italy, he worked as a ‘saddler’ (a worker who made leather seats for cars) at the Fiat factory in Turin. A member of the Turin Federation of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) from 1919 on, he collaborated with Gramsci’s L’Ordine Nuovo. He was elected to the Fiat factory council, and actively participated in the factory occupations in September 1920. After joining the Partito Communista d’Italia (PCd’I) on its inception, he was elected as a Communist member of the municipal council in Moncalieri in October 1921. Owing to this, in the December of that year he moved from Turin to Moncalieri, where he led the local Chamber of Labour and the local branch of the Lega Proletaria dei Mutilati e degli Invalidi di Guerra (Proletarian League of the War Wounded and Disabled). In September 1922 he took part in an ambush of a group of Fascists, and later avoided arrest by clandestinely emigrating to France, where he was a member of the Paris Central Committee of the Italian Anti-Fascist Federation. In December 1923 he left for the Soviet Union. In Petrograd he attended the Internatsionalnaia Shkola (Comintern School) together with a whole group of Italian Young Communists. On request from Umberto Terracini, and with Trotsky’s agreement, starting from the spring of 1924 until the summer of 1925, together with other Italian militants, he attended the courses of the Voienny Politichesky Institut Tolmachev (Tolmachev Political-Military Institute), led by the Old Bolshevik Mikhail Nikolaevich Pokrovsky. There he became an officer-interpreter in the Red Army, and specialised in making double-bottomed suitcases for underground work. In October 1925, following the dropping of the legal proceedings against him due to an amnesty, he returned to Italy and worked in the PCd’I’s underground apparatus. In the December of that year he was arrested in Rome, where he represented the party ‘Centre’ in the PCd’I’s Federation of Latium as a regional secretary. Forcibly moved to Turin and released, he disappeared after a few days. Until the middle of 1926, together with his companion Gaetana Teresa Recchia, he lived in Viareggio, where he acted as the PCd’I’s regional secretary for Tuscany. Later on he was made secretary for the Venice region, and moved to Padua, where he stayed from mid-1926 until March 1927. Having been reported to the Fascist Tribunale Speciale (Special Court), he was put on trial in November 1926, and sentenced in absentia to five years imprisonment. In the spring of 1927, together with Recchia, he clandestinely emigrated to Switzerland and subsequently to France, where he was a leader of the Italian section of International Red Aid. Expelled from the PCd’I’s apparatus in April 1930, and from the party itself in the July of that year, due to his opposition to the Stalinist ‘Third-Period’ turn, he was amongst the founders of the Nuova Opposizione Italiana (NOI). In October 1933, together with Recchia, he quit the NOI and the French Ligue Communiste in order to take part in the founding of the Union Communiste. In 1935-36 he came close to the ‘Giustizia e Libertà’ movement, and in the summer of 1936 he joined the Maximalist PSI. Later on, he was elected to the main leading body of that party. After the merging of the reformist PSI and the Maximalist PSI into the Federazione di Francia del PSI in January 1944, he was a member of the Executive Committee of Paris branch of the PSI’s French federation. After 15 July 1945 he was a member of the latter’s Leading Committee. He died on 14 July 1964 in Vincennes (Val-de-Marne). See also Louis Bonnel, Giacomi, in Jean Maitron and Claude Pennetier (eds.), Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, Volume 29, Les Éditions Ouvrières, Paris 1987, pp. 332–3.

Giovanni Boero

GIOVANNI BOERO was born on 15 September 1878 in Villanova d’Asti (Asti), and, as a very young boy, he worked in Turin and in Marseilles in France, where in 1899 he contributed to the ‘intransigent’ Socialist paper for the Italian émigrés L’Emigrato. Back in Turin, he was one of the main spokesmen of the ‘intransigent’ wing of the Turin PSI – within which he was a member of the far left tendency, the so-called ‘rigid’ tendency – and participated in agitation against the First World War. In 1918 he became the secretary of the Turin branch of the PSI and at the party’s Fifteenth National Congress, which was held in Rome on 1-5 September of that year, he sharply criticised the reformist wing, and proposed that the PSI leave the Second International. At the beginning of 1919 he oriented toward abstentionism, and he later voted for the motion moved by Bordiga’s tendency at the Sixteenth National Congress of the PSI (Bologna, 5–8 October 1919). But Boero differentiated himself from Bordiga’s tendency insofar as he supported the movement of factory councils in Turin and contributed to the paper of the group around Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo. In October 1920, after the defeat of the wave of factory occupations, he and his abstentionist comrades in Turin called for an immediate departure from the PSI – a proposal which was rejected by Bordiga. At the Leghorn Congress of the PSI in January 1921, Boero sided with the Communist minority, and was amongst the founding members of the PCd’I. Four months later he ran in the general political elections, but was not elected as a PCd’I MP. In April 1923 he left for France, where he opposed the Stalinist ‘turn’ of 1929–30, and took part in the formation of the NOI, of which he was one of the leaders. After his experience in the Union Communiste together with Bavassano and Recchia, he came closer to the Italian Trotskyist organisation in 1936, and two years later he joined the Maximalist PSI. During the Second World War he fought as well as he could against the German occupation in Ivry, and he was on the barricades at the moment of the liberation of Paris in August 1944. In the 1940s he sent articles to the organ of the Italian Partito Operaio Comunista (POC), which it published even after its own expulsion from the Fourth International. In a book review Leonetti gave us some information about Boero’s death. According to Leonetti, ‘disheartened and disillusioned, he committed suicide with gas on 16 May 1958, at the age of 79, in his home ... at Ivry-sur-Seine, out of protest – as he wrote – against Stalinism and De Gaullism, two forms of dictatorship having one and the same matrix, that is, counterrevolution. In his testament, he also asked to be buried wrapped up with a red banner.’ (A. Leonetti in Belfagor, Volume 32, no. 1, 31 January 1977, p. 110)

Pia Carena

PIA CARENA was born on 14 September 1893 in Turin. As a very young girl she was influenced by her brother Attilio, who was a friend of Gramsci, and oriented herself toward Socialist ideas. From late 1917 onwards she worked at the Turin editorial office of the Socialist papers Avanti! and Il Grido del Popolo, and in May 1919 she passed to Gramsci’s L’Ordine Nuovo. She became Gramsci’s companion, and was a member of the PCd’I from its foundation in January 1921. Under the blows of Fascist violence, she was amongst those who ensured the issuing of the underground L’Ordine Nuovo in 1922, and in the following year she moved to Trieste to work for the Communist daily Il Lavoratore, which was outlawed in August. Pia then worked for the PCd’I’s new paper l’Unità , which was launched in February 1924 in Milan, and in the period following her painful personal break with Gramsci in June 1924, she became the companion of Alfonso Leonetti. Being members of the PCd’I’s apparatus, they both went into the underground after the passing of the Fascist special legislation in November 1926, and were part of the PCd’I ‘Centre’ in Quarto, near Genoa. They later emigrated to Switzerland and France, where they opposed the Stalinists’ Third Period policy in 1929–30, and were amongst the founders of the NOI. It was Pia who technically produced the NOI’s mimeographed bulletin in 1931–33. She left Paris together with Leonetti after the entry of the Nazi troops, and again in the summer of 1942, when they both settled in Le Puy (Haute-Loire), where they participated in the French Resistance movement until 1945. Unlike Leonetti, however, Pia did not join the French Communist Party (PCF), nor did she follow him when he entered the ranks of Togliatti’s party in February 1962. After the end of the Second World War she worked for the Emigration Bureau of the Italian Embassy in Paris, and subsequently agreed to collaborate with the activity of the French branch of the Unione delle Donne Italiane (UDI) – the women’s organisation of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) – and to become the managing editor of the UDI’s paper, Noi Donne. She went back to Italy together with Leonetti in November 1960, and she lived in Rome until her death on 9 October 1968. Whilst in Rome, Pia wrote a book on the rôle of the Italians in the French Resistance (Gli italiani del maquis, Cino del Duca, Milan 1966), where she devoted only a four-line footnote to Tresso, stating that ‘although it is sure that Tresso reached the FTPF [Franc-Tireurs et Partisans Français, also known as FTP] maquis of Meygal, at the present state of the research we have nothing but hypotheses on his death in April 1944’ (p. 95). One year after her death a book of reminiscences on her life was published which includes several of her articles and novels (Cesare Pillon [ed.], Pia Carena Leonetti. Una donna del nostro tempo, La Nuova Italia, Florence 1969).

Angiolino Luchi

ANGIOLINO LUCHI (also known under the pseudonyms of Metallo, Maurice, Robert) was born in Galluzzo (Florence) on 16 June 1903. A goldsmith by trade, he was also known under the nickname of Ciolo during the 1920s. He was arrested in October 1929 on a charge of being a member of the PCd’I and of having carried out Communist propaganda, and was imprisoned in Rome from January 1930; he was tried by the Fascist Special Court on 24 June of that year, and was acquitted (see Giovanni Verni [ed.], Pericolosi all’ordine nazionale dello stato. I nemici di Mussolini in provincia di Firenze, La Pietra, Milan 1980, p. 58; and Orazio Barbieri, La fede e la ragione. Ricordi e riflessioni di un comunista, La Pietra, Milan 1982, pp. 16, 22). Luchi emigrated clandestinely to France in June 1931. Within the party he organised an opposition grouping in the Var department, and was expelled on 6 February 1934 because of his criticisms of the ‘Third Period’ policy. He joined the Italian section of the ICL and later the dissident Gruppo Nostra Parola led by Di Bartolomeo. In April 1935 he entered the PSI together with the other five founding members of that group. He subsequently broke with Trotskyism and remained in the PSI even after the Trotskyists left it. On 27 September 1939 he was arrested by the Italian Fascist police when trying to return to Italy. On 21 October of that year he was sentenced to five years deportation to Ventotene, where he arrived on 6 December after having married, in the Florence prison, his companion Ida Ghezzi (Lena) (born on 11 March 1913 and died on 24 December 1988 in Florence) who was also a founding member of Di Bartolomeo’s group. On 14 February 1940 he addressed a letter to ‘His Excellency Benito Mussolini’ in which he repudiated his revolutionary past and proclaimed his return to Italy ‘in order to work, to serve my Fatherland, to serve our Law’. Despite this declaration of good intentions, his imprisonment was turned into an admonition only some two years later in December 1942. After the war he divorced and married Virginia Menegatti. He subsequently worked as a goldsmith in Florence, where he died on 18 October 1975.

Matteo Renato Pistone

MATTEO RENATO PISTONE (also known under the pseudonyms of Lorenzo Stefani, Stellio, Stelio Erst, Stelvio, Henry Benaroya) was born in Grottole (Matera) on 14 September 1910. He came into contact with Bordigism and Trotskyism while in Belgium, and in 1934 he joined the Gruppo Nostra Parola in France. When that group entered the PSI, he declared for ‘entry, but not immediately’. In 1936 he was a member of the tiny Italian Trotskyist group around Tresso, and three days after the events of 19 July in Spain, he arrived in Barcelona. He claimed to have been sent to Spain both by the POI – of which he had also been a member since 1935 – and by the International Secretariat; ‘on the evening that preceded my departure for Spain I first met Pierre Naville ... and then Trotsky’s son, Sedov, at the home of Pietro Tresso, in the presence of the latter’s companion Barbara Stratieski [Debora Seidenfeld]. Jean Rous, Sabas and David Rousset (the latter being responsible for the contacts with the Moroccan nationalists [of the Comité d’Action Marocaine] in Barcelona) caught up with me on 5 August, after I had sent to Paris my first report on the general political situation [which may be the same as the unsigned article published under the title La Spagna al bivio, in Bollettino d’Informazione, no. 2, 1 August 1936, pp. 2–5], and established relations with both Bartolomei [Nicola Di Bartolomeo] ... and the POUM leaders (Andrés Nin, Andrade, Gorkin).’ (M.R. Pistone, letter to P. Casciola, 5 December 1987) In the same letter he also stated that he had served as a liaison between the Barcelona leading committee of the Trotskyist group and the Bolshevik-Leninist militiamen in the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM. According to Di Bartolomeo, Pistone played a factionally dubious rôle in Spain. [1] Broué repeats the same charges: ‘The Italian Stellio [Pistone] ... stole a letter addressed to Molinier from Fosco’s [Di Bartolomeo’s] writing desk, said that Blasco had sent him to look after Rous, and complained that the POUM leaders threatened to execute him’ (in L. Trotsky, La révolution espagnole (1930–1940), Éditions de Minuit, Paris 1975, p. 314). Back in France in September 1936, Pistone continued to be a member of the POI, took part in the activities of the few Italian Trotskyists, and was in touch with Tresso until the Nazi entry into Paris; in 1941 he made a trip to Italy (M.R. Pistone, interview with P. Casciola, Rome, 8 May 1988). In May 1942 he established a contact with the Italian Fascist embassy in Paris to let it know that, as a journalist for several French local newspapers in the Seine-et-Marne department, he was supporting the politics of the Axis and the collaboration between Pétain’s France and Nazi Germany. He further claimed that he was working in close contact with the Nazi propaganda bureau in Melun, and that he was ready to put himself at the service of Fascist Italy (Archivo Centrale dello Stato [Rome], Casellario Politico Centrale, dossier Matteo Renato Pistone). Despite all this, during the final stages of the war he reached Naples, where in 1944 he was the main builder of a dissident leftist group, the Frazione di Sinistra dei Comunisti e Socialisti Italiani, which enjoyed the support of Bordiga.

Cristofano Salvini

CRISTOFANO SALVINI (also known under the pseudonym of Tosca) was born on 7 September 1895 in Casole d’Elsa (Siena). A member of the PSI, in 1920 he was elected a town councillor for that party, and in 1921 he joined the PCd’I. He worked as a day labourer. Persecuted by Fascism, in November 1923 he emigrated to France, where he continued to be a Communist. In 1934 he was one of the founders of the Gruppo Nostra Parola, and in April 1935 he entered the PSI. In August 1936 he went to Spain, where he joined the Barcelona Bolshevik-Leninist group, and later on was a member of the Grupo Le Soviet. He fought on the Huesca front as a militiaman of the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM. In February 1937, after the seizure of Monte Aragón, he wrote a letter which was published in Le Soviet, no. 5, September 1937, (reprinted as Le Soviet au front de la guerre civile du Front Aragón, La Commune, no. 139, 5 August 1938), and it seems that he subsequently joined a CNT unit in Teruel. On 18 March 1937 he also drafted an open letter to the Italian militiamen of the Stalinist-sponsored Garibaldi battalion, which was published in Le Soviet, no. 7 on 3 April 1937, and reproduced in the organ of the French Molinierite PCI (Lettre du camarade Tosca: aux camarades du bataillon Garibaldi, La Commune, no. 141, 19 August 1938). At about this time, that is the spring and summer of 1937, his comrades lost contact with him, and thought that he had been killed by the Stalinists in the aftermath of the 1937 ‘May Days’. Thus in the above mentioned issue of 5 August 1938, La Commune published his obituary under the title La guerre civile en Espagne, and in February 1939 Di Bartolomeo’s companion declared that ‘Tosca’ had been ‘assassinated by the GPU in Barcelona’ (Sonia [Virginia Gervasini], La cause de la débâcle d’Espagne: absence du parti révolutionnaire dans la guerre civile, La Vérité, no. 3 [New series], 15 March 1939, p. 20). But fortunately they were wrong. Back in France, he was interned in a prison camp, and enlisted in the militarised labour units that had been created in France to build blockhouses, outposts and other military buildings. He was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk, and sent to a concentration camp. There he told the Nazi occupiers of France that he was an Italian; he was then released and sent to Brussels, where the Italian consul repatriated him. On 25 June 1940 he was arrested on the Italian border, and was later sentenced to five years confino (deportation) in the penal settlement of the Tremiti Islands off Apulia, where he arrived on 2 August 1940. There he took part in the creation of a Trotskyist nucleus around Di Bartolomeo. Released in August 1943, he went back to his native town, where he worked as a mason. He was known to his friends as ‘Ricci’, and died on 23 November 1953.

Debora Seidenfeld

DEBORA SEIDENFELD (also known under the pseudonyms of Ghita, Barbara, Lucienne Tedeschi, Blascotte) was born in a German-speaking Jewish family in Makò, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on 17 May 1901. During her childhood she lived in the Rijeka (Fiume) region, and towards the end of the First World War she entered a Socialist youth organisation. In 1921, at the time of the founding of the PCd’I, she joined that party. A couple of years later she ceased studying medicine, as the party decided to sent her to Moscow to work for the Communist Youth International. It was in November 1923, during her journey to the Soviet Union, that she first met Tresso in Berlin, who had been working for the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in Moscow and was on his way back to Italy. From late 1923 onwards she lived for several months in Moscow. Together with Tresso, who had become her companion, ‘Barbara’ actively participated in underground Communist work in Fascist Italy. During 1924 she worked for the PCd’I’s underground apparatus as a liaison agent, and in 1925–26 she helped reorganise the clandestine PCd’I ‘Centre’ in Recco, near Genoa, where she collaborated with Tresso in the press and propaganda bureau. A short time after Tresso’s emigration to Switzerland she caught up with him, and in the autumn of 1928 they both moved to Paris, where they lived throughout the 1930s. Before Tresso’s break with the PCd’I, she made several underground journeys to Italy to re-establish contacts in Northern Italy, and to organise a distribution network for l’Unità , which was the party’s clandestine organ. In Naples she recruited a group of young intellectuals (Emilio Sereni and others) who played a prominent rôle in the PCI after the Second World War. After Tresso’s expulsion from the PCd’I in June 1930, the party offered her an important post in Moscow if she would dissociate herself from the positions of her companion. But she rejected this offer, and joined the NOI and the French Trotskyist organisation, thus remaining by the side of Tresso for more than a decade, even from the political standpoint. On 9 January 1937 she married Elioz Stratriesky in a ‘mariage blanc’ (fictitious marriage), to enable her to remain in France; for that reason, she was also known under his family name. Tresso’s ‘mysterious’ disappearance hit her very heavily. For more than three decades she unsuccessfully tried to find out who had killed Tresso, and where he had been buried. Back in Italy after the end of the Second World War, during 1946 ‘Barbara’ was the co-founder – together with her Swiss friend Margherita Zoebeli – of the Centro Educativo Italo-Svizzero in Rimini, which functioned as a summer camp for war orphans, and later became a proper school where advanced pedagogical methods were used. During the 1970s her French friends – Marcel Pennetier being the most active amongst them – founded the Comité de Solidarité Blasco to help her financially. She died in Rimini on 3 November 1978. See her obituaries in Il Militante, no. 16, 1978, p. 11, and in the 9 November 1978 issue of Lotta Continua (the latter was drafted by Attilio Chitarin); see also Jean Maitron and Claude Pennetier (eds.), Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, Volume 41, Les Éditions Ouvrières, Paris 1992, pp. 432–3.

Veniero Spinelli

VENIERO SPINELLI (also known under the pseudonyms of Spartaco Travagli, Mario Spinelli, Stenelo) was born in Rome on 18 September 1909. A member of the PCd’I, he moved to Turin to work in Fiat, where he was arrested in July 1931, and on 25 January 1932 the Fascist Special Court sentenced him to six years imprisonment. On 11 November 1932 he was released from the Civitavecchia prison due to an amnesty for the tenth anniversary of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’, and on 22 May 1933 he was admonished because he was ‘dangerous to the political order of the state’. He emigrated clandestinely to France early in October 1933, and was expelled from the PCd’I in February 1934. He then joined the Italian Bolshevik-Leninist organisation and later the dissident group led by Di Bartolomeo, and it was as a member of the latter that he entered the PSI. On 28 July 1936 he left for Spain, where he fought as a machine-gunner in the Spanish squadron of the republican air forces. Under the battle name of Juan Rodríguez Torrete, he took part in several air missions in French Potez 540 bombers before going back to Paris in late September 1936. After the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, and after the Nazi invasion of France he fled to Casablanca, in Morocco, where he took ship for the United States (see Angelo Emiliani, Italiani nell’aviazione repubblicana spagnola, Edizioni Aeronautiche Italiane, Florence 1981, pp. 85–6). According to a different source, it was the Turin reformist Socialist Francesco Frola, then living in Mexico, who succeeded in obtaining a Mexican visa from the Mexican consul in Marseilles for Spinelli as a political refugee, via President Lázaro Cárdenas (see F. Frola, Ventun anni d’esilio 1925–1946, Quartara, Turin 1948, p. 246). In the USA he was reported as having become an Anarchist (see ACS [Rome], Casellario Politico Centrale, dossier Veniero Spinelli). Though he was not an American citizen, he was allowed to join the US army in 1942, and in 1943 he returned to Italy as an American soldier. He later reached Rome, and quit the US army to join the Resistance movement. According to his brother Altiero – who after breaking with the PCd’I was the principal founder of the European Federalist Movement – after the end of the war Veniero ‘was unable to wait until demobilisation, deserted and continued his turbulent life in Rome until his death’ (A. Spinelli, Come ho tentato di diventare saggio, Il Mulino, Bologna 1988, p. 187). He died on 28 October 1969.

Tullo Tulli

TULLO TULLI was born on 23 November 1903 in Bergamo, where he joined the Gruppo Andrea Costa, a revolutionary student group. After the imprisonment of his brother Enrico – a PCd’I cadre who was detained in the same prison as Gramsci in Turi di Bari – he started collaborating with the PCd’I and GL movement. As a journalist for the anti-Fascist Milan daily L’Italia, he was arrested several times under Mussolini’s regime until his last arrest in August 1930, after which he was soon released. Later that year he emigrated to Paris, where he subsequently was a member of the NOI for some time before finally entering the GL. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he ‘participated in the organisation and activity of the Italian column on the Aragon front’ in August-September 1936 (T. Tulli, letter to Camillo Berneri, 20 November 1936, in C. Berneri, Epistolario inedito, Volume 1, Archivio Famiglia Berneri, Pistoia 1980, pp. 144–5; in this autobiographical letter, however, he did not mention his joining the NOI).


1. Cf. Di Bartolomeo’s The Activity of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Spain and Its Lessons, Revolutionary History, Volume 4, nos. 1–2, pp. 229–30.

Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011