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Severino Di Giovanni
Severino di Giovanni.jpg
Date of birth: March 17, 1901(1901-03-17)
Place of birth: Abruzzo, Italy
Date of death: February 1, 1931 (aged 29)
Place of death: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Movement: Anarchist Movement

Severino Di Giovanni (1901-1931), an Italian anarchist, moved to Argentina, where he became the best-known anarchist figure in that country for his violent acts in support of Sacco and Vanzetti and antifascism.

Contents

Italy

Giovanni was born on March 17, 1901, in the town of Chieti, in the Abruzzo (Italy), about 180 km from Rome. He was raised in a post-war era (World War I) of hunger, poverty and wounded soldiers in the streets, and that had a huge impact in his ideals. He followed courses to become a teacher, and soon started teaching, before graduating, in a school of his town. He learnt by his own the art of typography and read, on his free time, Bakunin, Malatesta, Proudhon, and Élisée Reclus[1].

Di Giovanni started rebelling against authority at a very young age. At the age of 19 he was orphaned, and at the age of twenty (1921), fully embraced the anarchist movement. He married Teresa Masciulli, a girl from Chieti, in 1922, the same year that Mussolini's Black Shirts took power during the March on Rome. Giovanni and Teresa decided to exile themselves to Argentina, where they immediately became involved with anarchists and antifascist movements. Severino and Teresa had three children together.

Arrival in Argentina

Di Giovanni arrived at Buenos Aires in the last big wave of Italian immigrants before WWII, mostly poor people with little education. He lived in Morón and travelled daily to Buenos Aires Capital to participate in meetings and plan actions against fascism and Italian fascist supporters in Argentina[1]. Many Italian anarchists had already immigrated to Argentina. To this day, Argentina has the largest anarchist contingent of any South American country.

Giovanni was closer to the radical factions of the anarchist movement in Argentina, gathered around Ramón González Pachecho and Teodoro Antilla's La Antorcha magazine, than to the FORA (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation) and the historical newspaper La Protesta, published by Emilio López Arango and edited by Diego Abad de Santillán.

During the 1920s, Argentina was led by the moderate left UCR Party, headed successively by Presidents Hipólito Yrigoyen and Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear. As an anarchist, Giovanni had nothing but contempt for the UCR, which he saw as nothing but a pale reflection of more right-wing and fascist elements in Argentine politics.

Severino Di Giovanni's first act was on June 6, 1925, during the celebration of the 25th birthday of Victor Emmanuel III's accession to the Italian throne, which took place at the Teatro Colón. President Alvear, his wife, the opera singer Regina Pacini, and the count Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti, ambassador of Fascist Italy, were present at the act, as well as numerous Black shirts put in place by Marescotti to prevent any disorder. When the orchestra started the Italian hymn, Giovanni and his comparses threw leaflets around, at the cries of "Assassins! thieves!". The Black shirts managed to overcome them, and hand them over to the police[2].

Culmine, Sacco & Vanzetti, and Propaganda of the Deed

After being quickly released, Giovanni took part in international protests against the arrest and trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, members of the Galleanist anarchist group, who were accused of a robbery and murder of two payroll guards. At the time, Giovanni was in Argentina one of the most active anarchists in Argentina defending the two Italian immigrants, writing in various newspapers, including his own, founded in August 1925 and titled Culmine, and in the New York publication L'Adunata dei Refrattari[3].

Culmine advocated direct action and propaganda of the deed. Di Giovanni worked at it at nighttime, supporting his activism and family by working in factories and as a typesetter. He summarized Culmine's objectives:

  • To spread anarchist ideals among Italian workers;
  • To fight the propaganda of pseudo-revolutionary political parties, which use fake anti-fascism as a tool for winning political elections;
  • To start anarchist agitation among Italian workers and keep anti-fascism alive;
  • To interest Italian workers in Argentina in protest and expropriation;
  • To establish an intense and active collaboration between anarchist groups, isolated partners and the regional anarchist movement.

On May 16, 1926, a few hours after the condemnation to death of Sacco and Vanzetti, Giovanni bombed the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires, destroying the entire front of the building[3]. The following day, president Alvear ordered several police searches of those suspected in the attack, and the police requested assistance from the Italian embassy in order to identify suspects. The embassy immediately named Giovanni, who had disturbed the celebrations of the Teatro Colón. He was soon arrested by the police and tortured for 5 days, but would not provide information[4]. Henceforth, Giovanni was released for lack of evidence[4].

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts the defense counsel for Sacco and Vanzetti managed to postpone their execution until August 23, 1927. A movement in support of the Galleanist anarchists continued to agitate for their pardon and release. On July 21, 1927, the US embassy published an article in the conservative newspaper La Naciόn, which described the two Italian anarchists as common-law delinquents. On the following day, Giovanni and two of his anarchist comrades, Alejandro and Paulino Scarfó, blew up Washington's statue in Palermo[5], and a few hours later, exploded a bomb at one of the most important concessions of the Ford Motor Company[5].

Confronted with evidence of anarchist involvement in the bombings, on August 15, 1927, Eduardo Santiago, the Federal Police officer in charge of the investigation, claimed that everything was under control and that no anarchist in the world would defeat him. On the following day, Santiago barely escaped from the bombing of his house by Giovanni and his group, having gone to buy cigarettes a few minutes before[6].

On August 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed; in response, a 24-hour general strike was proclaimed in Buenos Aires, as well as many other capitals of the world[6]. A few days after the executions, Giovanni received a letter from Sacco's widow, which thanked him for his work, and informing him that the director of the tobacco firm Combinados had proposed her a contract to produce a cigarette brand named "Sacco & Vanzetti"[6]. On November 26, 1927, Giovanni and his comrades duly bombed Bernardo Gurevich's tobacco shop Combinados on Rivadavia 2279[6][7]. Giovanni and his comrades continued their anti-U.S. campaign of terror. The Citibank and the Bank of Boston's headquarters were severely damaged in a bomb explosion on December 24, 1927, killing 2 persons and injuring 23[6].

At the beginning of 1928, the Italian liberal newspaper from Buenos Aires, L'Italia del Popolo, denounced the Italian consul, Italo Capil, as an informer and supporter of fascist elements in the Federal Police. Upon being told that the consul would visit the new consulate, along with the new ambassador Martin Franklin, Giovanni and the Scarfó brothers bombed the Italian consulate on May 23, 1928, killing 9 (some sources state 22 persons were killed), and injuring 34[8]. At the time, the Italian consulate bombing was the deadliest bombing ever to take place in Argentina[8]. Opponents of the Italian fascist government took pains to note that the funerals of the consular employees were performed in accordance with the "fascist funeral rite", in presence of the ambassador and count Martin Franklin, the state delegate of Italian fascists in Argentina Romualdo Materlli, as well as president Alvear, his wife Regina Pacini and general Agustín P. Justo[9].

On the same day, Giovanni attempted to bomb Benjamín Mastronardi's pharmacy, in La Boca. Mastronardi was the president of the Fascist Committee of La Boca. The bomb, however, was casually disactivated by Mastronardi's little son[8]. After an attempt to bomb a cathedral, Giovanni was branded by Catholic church authorities as the "most evil man ever to tread the earth."

Giovanni's penchant for 'propaganda by the deed' triggered fierce debates inside the anarchist community; some anarchist leaders argued that Giovanni's actions were counterproductive, and could only result in a military coup and a victory for fascist forces. Anarchist journals such as La Antorcha and La Protesta criticized Giovanni's methods of direct action and indiscriminate violence. La Protesta, edited by a fierce opponent of Giovanni, the anarcho-syndicalist Diego Abad de Santillán,[10] took an openly anti-Di Giovanni line, which hardened as the bombings got more indiscriminate.[11] La Antorcha was more ambiguous in its criticism. Neither paper particularly pleased Giovanni, and both were denounced at one time or the other from the columns of Culmine.[11] The war of words escalated, and on October 25, 1929 someone assassinated Emilio Lopez Arango, one of the editors of La Protesta. At first a group of bakers who were members of the same union as Arango were suspected of the killing but were never charged with the crime.[11] Although it has never been proven conclusively, Di Giovanni and his group were the prime suspects in the assassination.[11]

La Protesta immediately denounced the bombing of the Italian consulate[12]. The criticism had no effect. Three days after the Italian consulate bombing, Giovanni struck again in Caballito, bombing the house of César Afeltra, a member of Mussolini's secret police. Alfeltra was accused by Italian anarchist exiles of having practiced torture on members of various radical anarchist and anti-fascist groups in Italy[12].

U.S. President-elect Herbert Hoover visited Argentina in December 1928. Giovanni wanted to bomb Hoover's train in revenge for the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, but the bomber, Alejandro Scarfó, was detained a short time before putting the explosives on the rails[12]. This debacle led Giovanni suspend his bombing campaign; he focused instead on his journal Culmine. In 1929, he wrote:

"Spending monotonous hours among the common people, the resigned ones, the collaborators, the conformists; that isn't living, that's a vegetative existence, simply the transport, in ambulatory form, of a mass of flesh and bones. Life needs the exquisite sublimity experienced by rebellion of mind and arm."[13].

Following the September 1930 military coup, which overthrew Hipólito Yrigoyen, replaced by General José Félix Uriburu and Agustín P. Justo, Giovanni made plans to free his comrade Alejandro Scarfó from prison. Needing funds in order to bribe the prison guards, he assaulted Obras Sanitarias de la Nación on October 2, 1930, achieving the most important robbery until then in Argentina, taking with him 286,000 pesos[14]. However, the planned breakout never took place, and Alejandro Scarfó remained in prison.

Capture and execution

Severino Di Giovanni in court

In 1927, Giovanni left his wife, and had commenced an affair with America Josefina ("Fina") Scarfó, the fifteen-year old sister of the Scarfó brothers, Alejandro and Paulino.[15] Fina had married anarchist Silvio Astolfi as a convenience so as to remain with Giovanni, but was promptly cut off from all contact with her family. At the beginning of the Infamous Decade initiated by the military coup, Giovanni passed long periods of his time in reclusion, working on Elisée Reclus' complete works[14]. The police attempted to arrest him at a printing shop, but Giovanni managed to escape during a gun battle in which one policeman was killed and another injured[14].

In January 1931, Giovanni was arrested after being seriously injured in yet another gun battle, along with Fina and Paulino Scarfó. Two other anarchists were killed in the firefight. Giovanni announced that the 300 chickens found in their house were to be given to Burzaco's poor[14].

The military junta publicized the arrests as victories of the new regime, and immediately organized a military tribunal[14]. Giovanni was ably defended by his appointed defense counsel, Lieutenant Juan Carlos Franco, who spoke out in favor of the independence of the judicial system, and alleged that Giovanni had been tortured by the police[16] Lt. Franco's spirited defense of his client caused his own arrest after the trial; he was later dismissed from the ranks of the armed forces and briefly imprisoned before his deportation from Argentina.[16][17] It was all to no avail; the evidence against Giovanni was overwhelming. Both he and Paulino Scarfó were sentenced to death; Fina, being under-age, was freed.[16][18]

In his last political flyer, written after government forces killed workers marching in a funeral procession for those killed in strike violence, Giovannni wrote "Be warned, Uriburu (Jose Felix Uriburu, Argentine dictator) and his assassins; our bullets will seek their bodies...Bourgeoisie, industrialists, bankers, and landlords, beware...your possessions and lives will be destroyed and burned."

A few hours before his death, Giovanni asked for sweetened coffee to be taken to his cell. He gave it back after tasting it, saying humorously, "I asked for one with a lot of sugar... It doesn't matter, maybe next time."

Severino Di Giovanni was executed by firing squad on February 1, 1931. Giovanni shouted "Evviva l'Anarchia!" (Long live Anarchy!), before being hit by at least eight 7.65mm Mauser rifle bullets. After exchanging a final farewell, Paulino Scarfó was also executed. Giovanni's body was secretely buried on orders of the Interior Minister Matías Sánchez Sorondo, in La Chacarita[19]. Despite these precautions, on the following day his grave was anonymously decorated with flowers[19].

Postscript

Paulina Scarfó, Fina, 1930

After Giovanni's execution, Fina left her husband Silvio Astolfi, and eventually remarried, settling down to a quiet life in Buenos Aires.[20] After serving a lengthy prison term, Silvio Astolfi returned to Europe and carried on with his antifascist activity: he was later killed during the civil war in Spain.[21] On July 28, 1999, Fina Scarfó obtained the love letters which Giovanni had sent to her from prison decades earlier, but which had been seized by the police[19].

Teresa Masciulli, Giovanni's wife, also remarried; Giovanni's children changed their names.[22]

Alejandro Scarfó, after serving a term of imprisonment for the attempted assassination of President Hoover, was released from prison in 1935. Abandoned by his relatives and even his fiancée, he vanished into obscurity, embittered and resentful.[23]

Bibliography

  • The FORA In Argentina
  • L'Adunata dei refrattari The Buenos Aires Tragedy: The Last Tango of Severino Di Giovanni & Paul Scarfo. London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004.
  • Bayer, Osvaldo. Severino Di Giovanni, El idealista de la violencia. Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1970.
  • Noble, Cristina. Severino Di Giovanni, Pasión Anarquista. Buenos Aires: Ed. Capital Intellectual, 2006.

References

  1. ^ a b Felipe Pigna, Los Mitos de la historia argentina, ed. Planeta, 2006, p.106 (chap.IV "Expropriando al Capital")
  2. ^ Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.107
  3. ^ a b Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.108
  4. ^ a b Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.109
  5. ^ a b Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.110
  6. ^ a b c d e Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.111
  7. ^ Val Basilio, The Merchants of Life (English)
  8. ^ a b c Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.112
  9. ^ Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.113
  10. ^ Fernando López Trujillo An Interview with Osvaldo Bayer, Argentine Public Intellectual and Social Historian, in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Vol. 5 - No. 2, Fall, 2001 (English)
  11. ^ a b c d The FORA In Argentina
  12. ^ a b c Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.114
  13. ^ Severino Di Giovanni, Culmine, August 1928, quoted by Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.114: The exact text reads, "Vivir en monotonía las horas mohosas de lo adocenado, de los resignados, de los acomodados, de las conveniencias, no es vivir la vida, es solamente vegetar y transportar en forma ambulante una masa de carne y de huesos. A la vida es necesario brindarle la elevación exquisita de la rebelión del brazo y la mente".
  14. ^ a b c d e Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.116
  15. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004
  16. ^ a b c Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.117
  17. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004
  18. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004
  19. ^ a b c Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.120
  20. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004
  21. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004
  22. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair) (1996)
  23. ^ Orlando, Antonio, Last Tango In Buenos Aires (The Aftermath Of The Di Giovanni Affair), London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004

See also

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