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

Paolo Casciola

Pietro Tresso (Blasco) and
the Early Years of Italian Trotskyism

This article is a revised translation by the author of his booklet Pietro Tresso, militante trotskista, which was originally published by the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso in Foligno, Italy. It has been updated and rewritten in order to incorporate important archival discoveries made during the last eight years, particularly as regards the period after 1935. It has also profited from the academic work of Rosangela Miccoli, Pietro Tresso, oppositore comunista (1928–1944), which was submitted for a master’s degree at Parma University in 1987–88.

Earlier accounts of this remarkable activist include Les hommes qui ont forgé notre internationale: Pietro Tresso (Blasco), Quatrième Internationale, Volume 13, nos. 11–12, December 1955, pp. 12–3; Alberto Pian, Le chemin de Tresso vers l’Opposition de gauche, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 29, March 1987, pp. 5–17; and Alfredo Azzaroni, Pierre Naville and Ignazio Silone, Blasco: La vie d’un militant, Paris 1965. This latter includes French translations of several of Tresso’s letters and articles, along with correspondence entered into with Rinascita about his disappearance. Interesting reviews of it include those by Pierre Frank (Quatrième Internationale, no. 26, November 1965, pp. 53–4); Yves Legall (Voix ouvrière, no. 49, 14 December 1965, p. 5); and J. Stern (La Vérité, no. 533, July–September 1966, pp. 83–90). Another of Tresso’s articles, Marxismo e questione nazionale (1935) has been republished with an introductory note by Paolo Casciola as no. 10 in the series Dagli Archivi del Bolscevismo of the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso.

Readers may find useful an outline Chronology on Italian Trotskyism, 1930–47, written by Keith Hassall to accompany a talk to a Workers Power summer school. A general description of Italian Trotskyism occupies pages 586–98 of Robert J. Alexander’s International Trotskyism 1929–1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement (Durham NC 1991).

Trotsky’s relations with the Italian Left (generally known in Britain as Bordigists) can be followed in his articles, A Letter to the Italian Left Communists, 25 September 1929 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1929, New York 1975, pp. 318–24); An Open Letter to the Prometeo Group, 22 April 1930, To the Editorial Board of Prometeo, 19 June 1930 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, New York 1975, pp. 191–2, 284–9); Critical Remarks about Prometeo, 15 January 1931, Two Letters to the Prometeo Group, 14 April and 28 May 1931, The Italian Opposition and the Spanish Revolution, 9 June 1931 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930–31, New York 1975, pp. 133–6, 234, 262); The Bordigist Line, 10 June 1931, Bordiga and Social Fascism, 14 February 1932, When Ultra-Leftists Can Be More Correct, 6 March 1932, Our Strength Is in Clarity, 23 March 1932 (Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1929–33, New York 1979, pp. 84–5, 107–110); The Left Opposition in Italy in The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods, December 1932, and A Letter to Prometeo, 1 January 1933 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, New York 1972, pp. 58–9, 64). Articles contributed by the Italian Left to this controversy can be consulted in a French version in Le trotskysme contre la classe ouvrière, Textes de la Gauche Italienne dans les Années 30, 1990, pp. 50–4.

Other letters from Trotsky to Tresso and his comrades about their work with the international movement include Problems of the Italian Revolution, 14 May 1930 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, New York 1975, pp. 220–7); Reply to an Invitation, 15 February 1933, Recommendations to the International Secretariat, 29 April 1933, Full Time Staff, 30 July 1933 (Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1929–33, New York 1979, pp. 188–9, 239, 259–60); and Greetings to La Verità , 25 March 1934 (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933–34, New York 1975, pp. 269–70). A further short letter to Tresso dated 31 July 1933 has never been translated into English (Oeuvres, Volume 2, Paris 1978, p. 58).

Author’s Preface

THIS IS a new, revised and enlarged version of my essay Pietro Tresso militante trotskysta (1930–1944?), which appeared in Paolo Casciola and Giorgio Sermasi, Vita di Blasco. Pietro Tresso dirigente del movimento operaio internazionale (Magrè di Schio 1893–Haute-Loire 1944?), Odeonlibri-ISMOS, Vicenza, 1985, pp. 117–90. I wish to thank all those who gave me assistance in various ways, and especially Louis Eemans and Jacques Lombard (Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur les Mouvements Trotskyste et Révolutionnaires Internationaux [CERMTRI], Paris); Louis Bonnel, Rodolphe Prager, Louis Rigaudias and Pierre Naville (Paris); Albert Demazière (Bourg-la-Reine); Virginia Gervasini (Varese); Rosangela Miccoli and Ilario Salucci (Brescia); Diego Giachetti (Turin); Fritjof Tichelman (Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis [IISG], Amsterdam); Giulia Barrera (Archivio Centrale dello Stato [ACS], Rome); and my companion Ornella, who stoically bore with me and encouraged me all the time. I dedicate this work to the memory of my friends and comrades Edmund Samarakkody and Virginia Gervasini, who held fast to revolutionary Marxist ideas till the end.

I. Trotskyism and Bordigism. Origins of the Italian New Opposition

FROM THE second half of 1929 onwards, the International Left Opposition (ILO) had, as its Italian group, the Frazione di Sinistra del Partito Comunista d’Italia (Left Fraction of the Italian Communist Party) (Bordigist), which whilst in political emigration regrouped around the magazine Prometeo and was led by Ottorino Perrone (Vercesi). [1] Contacts between the ILO and the Italian Fraction had been started with the publication by Prometeo of an open letter to Trotsky. [2] The latter replied warmly to the Bordigists, stressing the positions which the ILO had in common with the Fraction. [3] Trotsky, however, did not ignore the existence of differences, and even very deep ones, with the Bordigist grouping. In fact, despite the emphasis on the solidarity of the ILO and the Fraction about the essential questions of the critique of the domestic and foreign policy of Stalinism, Trotsky added: ‘I want to leave to time and events the verification of our ideological closeness and mutual understanding.’ [4]

Trotsky probably thought that the existing differences could have been overcome by the development of ideological and programmatic uniformity between the various national groups which had joined the ILO. A first step in that direction was to summon, through the ILO’s French section, an International Preliminary Conference with the aim of unifying the adhering organisations on a world scale and of centralising their activities and political debates so as to develop a common platform. This conference was held in Paris on 6 April 1930. [5] The Bordigists around Prometeo did not take part in it officially, though it seems that two observers from their group did attend. [6] But relations between the ILO and the Italian Fraction had already been deteriorating during the preparation of the conference, and became more and more strained after it.

During that same period, early in April 1930, the Italian opponents of the Stalinist ‘Third Period’ turn established contact with the ILO. Alfonso Leonetti (Feroci) and Paolo Ravazzoli (Santini), with the agreement of Pietro Tresso (Blasco), [7] paid a visit to Alfred Rosmer – at that time one of the leaders of the French Trotskyist organisation – who put them in touch with Pierre Naville, another French leader who had just been elected to the ILO International Secretariat by the Preliminary Conference. Here is what Rosmer wrote to Trotsky some days later:

‘In the last few days I had an interesting visit, that of an Italian comrade who asked me to keep our meeting secret until further orders. In this case, too, it is a whole group coming close to us, and what a group! A good half of the comrades who led the Italian [Communist] Party over the last years. Of course, they have nothing to do with either Tasca or Ercoli [Palmiro Togliatti] and his petty gang, who are always ready to follow Stalin’s footsteps. By and large, they claim adherence to Gramsci – who at the moment is to be found in Mussolini’s prisons. Basing myself on our first, quick talk, I think that what drove them to take a clear position in their Central Committee and to make a step in our direction is the attitude of La Vérité, and in particular its articles on the “Third Period”. That comrade told me: “It is we who are in agreement with you, and not the Bordigists.” What is certain is that the latter will not be at all pleased with their forthcoming appearance. So much the worse for them! As you wrote, their temporising and hesitations are becoming unbearable.’ [8]

There is no question that the series of articles written by Trotsky against Stalin’s adventurist ultra-leftist ‘Third Period’ turn, published in La Vérité, played an important rôle in the political training of the Italian oppositionists, [9] even though, at least until the Central Committee meeting of the Partito Comunista d’Italia (PCd’I: Communist Party of Italy), in March 1930, there is no trace of Trotsky’s critique in their interventions, but rather a substantial acceptance of the arguments brought forward by the Central Committee majority to justify the ‘Third Period’ turn. [10] Despite Rosmer’s arguing to the contrary, it is a fact that the oppositionists completely capitulated to the majority, and their political defeat was sealed by severe disciplinary measures against them: Ravazzoli and Gaetana Teresa Recchia [11] were expelled from the Central Committee; Leonetti was demoted to candidate member of the Central Committee; and Tresso was ejected from the Political Bureau, but kept on the Central Committee.

The oppositionists had a fundamental weakness. They lacked the political homogeneity and the programmatic cohesion that were necessary to carry on a successful battle inside the party. [12] Their contacts with the ILO and their subsequent correspondence with Trotsky were partly to remedy that weakness.

As for the Bordigists, Rosmer’s statements turned out to be prophetic. The emergence of a competing organisation within the arena of the Italian political emigration was in fact one of the factors that accelerated the final deterioration of relations between the ILO and the Italian Left Fraction.

In the meantime, after their meeting with Naville, the Italian oppositionists started contributing to La Vérité. The very first article they published in it, written by Leonetti, was an open attack by the ‘Five’ – Leonetti himself, Ravazzoli, Tresso, Recchia and Mario Bavassano [13] – upon the policy of the Stalinised Comintern and against its acceptance by the majority of the PCd’I leaders. [14] This was followed by three articles, also written by Leonetti, which started with an historical analysis of the Fascist dictatorship, and ended with an explicit attack on the policy pursued by the majority bloc on the Central Committee. [15]

The members of the majority bloc were correctly convinced that these articles had been written by their internal oppositionists, and summoned a meeting of the Political Bureau which was held late in April in order to try and solve the problem. Leonetti and Ravazzoli were hit by further disciplinary measures: the former was expelled from the Central Committee, and both of them were removed from party trade union work. As for Tresso, the Political Bureau asked Pietro Secchia to contact him in order to convince him to dissociate himself from the others openly and unmistakably. But Secchia’s mission was unsuccessful. [16]

During that same period the five oppositionists decided to send a long letter/report to Trotsky aimed at giving him information about their struggle. [17] Tresso was entrusted with drafting the letter, which started with a declaration of formal adherence to the ILO. [18] In addition to the ‘Three’, the letter was also signed by Recchia and Bavassano.

In the first part of the letter, the oppositionists review their own history and the political mistakes they made. Thus we learn that the group of the ‘Five’ had formed ‘automatically and spontaneously’ in September 1929 on the basis of an overall critique of the opportunist line followed by the PCd’I ‘from the promulgation of the special legislation (November 1926) until September 1929’.

The oppositionists’ self-criticism started from the admission that they had ‘never developed a coordinated ... factional activity’ in the preceding period, and their entire activity had been based upon the illusion, which they held in the last months of 1929, that it was possible to collaborate with Togliatti and Ruggero Grieco against the adventurist ultra-leftism of the Communist youth (Secchia and Luigi Longo), up to the irresolute and vacillating attitude they had followed until the Central Committee meeting of March 1930 in order to avoid being cut off from any links with the rank and file in Italy. After those experiences, the ‘Five’ now said they were ‘ready to abandon the posts and offices we still hold in the party if, for one reason or another, this will be deemed useful for the purposes of the work of the Left Opposition’.

Further on they analyse in detail the main political differences that existed with regard to the assessment of the Italian situation by the majority of the PCd’I leadership. While agreeing with the prevailing point of view, according to which ‘the immediate perspectives are those of a further deterioration in the situation’, the signatories of the letter to Trotsky pointed out that ‘the problem is not to take a photograph of the present economic situation as it is, but to know if this crisis will be the final one for capitalism, or if, with the help of favourable circumstances of a domestic and international character, capitalism will eventually succeed in reviving again for a more or less protracted period’.

The answer the Italian oppositionists gave to this question was that ‘it cannot and must not be excluded that this crisis, too, may be temporarily overcome’. Such an answer amounted to a deep-going critique of the majority’s optimism as to the possibility of a revolutionary explosion in the very short run. The ‘Five’ insisted that the episodes of struggle which were occurring in Italy showed that, whereas a more and more unbearable situation pushed the masses towards spontaneous action, the strength and influence of the party remained nearly irrelevant. Hence they disagreed with the majority view that the ‘workers’ and peasants’ bloc’ had already been built because the masses had apparently been persuaded that the immediate alternative was between Fascism and Communism. Over against this, the oppositionists put forward the possibility that the Italian bourgeoisie might at some point give up the Fascist form of its class rule, and take up again its old ‘democratic’ façade.

At the same time, they criticised the majority’s attitude toward Social Democracy. Rejecting the bizarre theory which equated Social Democracy and Fascism, as did the wretched Stalinist doctrine of Social Fascism, the ‘Five’ emphasised the serious political dangers lodged in such a position. To the unbelievable justifications of Togliatti and the other majority leaders they counterposed a Marxist, dialectical analysis of the rôle of the Social Democracy:

‘... we do not see why Social Democracy should spontaneously head towards suicide by inserting itself into Fascism, that is, by becoming Fascist itself. For Social Democracy such a manoeuvre would not mean bringing its social mass base over to Fascism, but of cutting off any political link with these very masses and passing over to Fascism without the masses, that is, to capitulate purely and simply to Fascism. The rôle of the Social Democracy is not to defend the Fascist method of bourgeois rule, but to defend the bourgeoisie through the application of a method which can bind the masses, on which it relies, to the bourgeois state, that is, through applying the democratic method.’

Then the Italian oppositionists dealt with the differences which separated them from the majority: the slogan of a political general strike, the class nature of Fascism, and the organisational situation of the PCd’I with regard to the Stalinist turn. It was above all on the latter point that they embarked upon the struggle in the party. Now, while correctly pointing out that the turn was nothing but the result of a forced application of the ‘Third Period’ diktat to the Italian situation, the ‘Five’ did not seem to realise that one of the reasons for the ineffectiveness of their struggles was that they gave a priority to the organisational aspect of the problem to the detriment of the proper political one.

The letter also hints at the existence of ‘some differences’ inside the group of the oppositionists themselves, one of which was the tactic to be followed in respect of the slogan of the ‘struggle for the right to be elected in municipal governments’ – a difference that underscored deeper political disagreements.

In the final part of their letter to Trotsky, the ‘Five’ take up the ‘Bordiga question’. They had not yet established any relations with the Left Fraction of the PCd’I, but they expressed the hope that ‘it will be possible in the future to find ground for agreement with it on the basis of a common political line’. But in the meantime they reminded Trotsky of the validity of the criticism of Bordiga by the Second, Third and Fourth Congresses of the Communist International with regard to a whole series of political positions which he upheld, and which were key questions of revolutionary tactics and strategy – from principled abstentionism in elections to the rejection of the proletarian united front and his inability to understand the character, nature and rôle of the party.

Trotsky quickly replied to the Italians. [19] From his Turkish exile he thanked the ‘Five’ for the valuable information they had provided about the Italian situation, the organisational problems of the PCd’I, and the various tendencies existing in that party. After expressing his own opinion that ‘I regard our mutual collaboration in the future as perfectly possible and even extremely desirable’, Trotsky took up the fundamental political questions raised by the Italian oppositionists, pausing especially on the ‘period of transition’ from Fascism to Communism and on the Stalinist doctrine of ‘Social Fascism’. As far as the latter was concerned, Trotsky completely agreed with the ‘Five’:

‘Fascism has not liquidated the Social Democracy but has, on the contrary, preserved it. In the eyes of the masses, the Social Democrats do not bear the responsibility for the regime, whose victims they are in part. This wins them new sympathy and strengthens the old. And a moment will come when the Social Democracy will coin political currency from the blood of Matteotti just as ancient Rome did from the blood of Christ ... Only outright fools or traitors would want to instil the idea in the proletarian vanguard of Italy that the Italian Social Democracy can no longer play the rôle that the German Social Democracy did in the revolution of 1918.’

And on the question of the ‘transitional period’, too, Trotsky agreed that the possibility of transforming the Fascist regime into a bourgeois parliamentary republic should not be written off in advance. If a proletarian revolution does not triumph, he added, ‘the transitional state that the bourgeois counter-revolution would then be compelled to set up on the ruins of the Fascist form of its rule could be nothing else than a parliamentary and democratic state’. Revolutionaries should therefore take such a possibility into account by assigning a correct rôle to democratic demands, without thereby falling into ‘democratic charlatanism’. In this letter Trotsky also formulated his thoughts on the possibility of the creation of a constituent assembly: ‘And I do not even exclude the possibility of a constituent assembly which, in certain circumstances, could be imposed by the course of events or, more precisely, by the process of the revolutionary awakening of the oppressed masses.’

Contrary to what has generally been asserted by most of those who have dealt with the question of the relations between Trotsky and Gramsci, there was no ‘identity of views’ on the problem of the constituent assembly. [20] Gramsci’s perspective was utterly pessimistic with regard to the revolutionary capacities of the Italian proletariat: ‘... historically, we do not have the strength to seize power in Italy. After the fall of Fascism we will be able to carry on a governmental function only if, before its fall, we are able to play our rôle as a vanguard of all healthy forces in our country. And only the unification of these forces and masses could overthrow Fascism.’ [21] Gramsci suggested that the party should orient its whole policy around the slogan of a constituent assembly. [22] In his opinion, this would enable the PCd’I to reach an ‘agreement with the anti-Fascist parties’, [23] be they proletarian, petit-bourgeois or bourgeois, secular or Catholic. The bloc suggested by Gramsci was a cross-class one in which the working class was to be subordinated to the bourgeoisie in order to ease a painless transition from a Fascist-totalitarian to a democratic-parliamentarian form of capitalist rule, as happened in Italy after the Second World War.

As opposed to Gramsci, Trotsky repeatedly stressed that the struggle against such ‘anti-Fascist’, Popular Front blocs was a precondition for a genuinely revolutionary fight against Fascism. And as for democratic slogans – which for Trotsky were incidental or episodic and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents – he visualised combining them with transitional ones as the proletarian movement took on a mass character. Such a perspective is totally lacking in Gramsci.

As related above, at the time of the Preliminary Conference of April 1930, the Bordigists kept their distance from the ILO. Trotsky, greatly disturbed by this ‘national Communist’ behaviour, asked them to make their positions clear, and explicitly invited them to join the ILO. [24]

The Italian Fraction replied at first through a letter to the newly-elected International Secretariat of the ILO, [25] in which they tried to justify their own political passivity vis-à-vis the ILO and its international work, and subsequently through a letter to Trotsky along the same lines. [26] In that letter the Bordigists displayed their opposition to the new grouping founded by the ‘Five’, the Opposizione Comunista Italiana or Nuova Opposizione Italiana (NOI, Italian New Opposition), which was called ‘new’ precisely to differentiate it from the ‘old’ Bordigist opposition. They regarded the NOI as a ‘manoeuvre’ and a ‘new experience of confusion’ fostered by the ILO.

Trotsky replied stressing the sectarian conservatism of their position, which once again proved the passivity and national narrow-mindedness of the Bordigist group. As for the relations of the ILO with the NOI, Trotsky stated the following:

‘On the one hand you consider that the International Opposition does not merit sufficient confidence for you to take part in its collective labours. On the other hand, you evidently deem that the International Opposition has no right to get in touch with Italian Communists who declare themselves in solidarity with it... Naturally, it may be considered unfortunate that relations and negotiations with the New Italian Opposition are going on without your participation. But the fault is yours. To take part in these negotiations you should have taken part in the entire activity of the International Opposition, that is, entered its ranks.’ [27]

But the Bordigists never really joined the ranks of the Trotskyist opposition. The final break was eventually ratified by the ILO International Pre-Conference of 4–8 February 1933. It was a simple but belated settling of accounts as for some time the Trotskyists had realised that it was impossible to include the Bordigist current in the international Bolshevik-Leninist organisation.

It should be remembered that the ILO considered itself as an international faction of the Stalin-led Comintern at that time. Even if the various national sections of the Trotskyist movement had been expelled from the latter, the policy followed by the ILO with regard to the Stalinised International was to struggle against both Stalin’s ‘bureaucratic centrism’ and the Bukharin-Brandler right wing in order to take the Comintern back on the road of genuine Bolshevism. Such a policy of reform of the official parties was applied and pursued by all sections of the ILO.

Born de facto in May 1930, perhaps the NOI was the only section of the ILO which succeeded in remaining inside the official party, even if for a very short time, and ‘clandestinely’. But the expulsion of the ‘Five’ was not long in coming. As a matter of fact, on 9 June 1930 the PCd’I’s Central Committee decided to expel Tresso, Leonetti and Ravazzoli from the party. And some days later they also expelled Bavassano and Recchia.

Even their expulsion, of course along with Trotsky’s letter to them, was a relevant factor of cohesion for the tiny group of oppositionists, whose main activity, as an expelled faction of the PCd’I, would have been, for a whole period, to attempt to ‘reverse’ the line of the party from which they had been ejected. That activity is documented by a long series of articles published in La Vérité [28] and by the Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana (PCI), the mimeographed organ of the NOI – 16 issues of which were published between 10 April 1931 and 15 June 1933. [29]

The results of this ‘reform campaign’ were rather disillusioning as far as the PCd’I was concerned. The main reason for that lies especially in the weaknesses and the mistakes made by the Italian oppositionists in the course of their struggle in the party after September 1929. But another no less important reason is to be found in their inability to appear before the PCd’I members as a genuine revolutionary pole of attraction and alternative to the bureaucratic-centrist leadership of the party.

This inability was in turn due both to objective factors (such as the great numerical weakness of the NOI; the lack, for a whole period, of a paper which put forward a revolutionary standpoint; and the difficulty, or more accurately, the impossibility of establishing contacts in Italy), and to subjective factors (such as the scarcity of cadres and members; the lack of an apparatus and a clearly defined organisational structure; the continuing and increasing differences amongst the NOI’s leaders; and the lack of any overall political platform).

II. ‘Dual Membership’ in the NOI and in the Ligue Communiste

WHEN THE NOI joined the ILO, all the Italian oppositionists were political émigrés living in France. The formation of the NOI went therefore in parallel with that of the Ligue Communiste, the French section of the ILO which had been founded in April 1930 just after the Preliminary Conference. Furthermore, the political struggle which went on in the Ligue decisively influenced the NOI.

The Italian oppositionists were immediately plunged into the atmosphere of violent factional struggle which raged between two rival groupings in the Ligue – one led by Pierre Naville, and the other headed by Raymond Molinier, who enjoyed Trotsky’s support. During the summer of 1930 the friction between the two French leaders was interrupted when they both paid a visit to Trotsky in Prinkipo, and they were temporarily reconciled. But in the following autumn the struggle was resumed, especially around the ‘trade union question’. [30] In the November of that year Rosmer, who supported Naville, quit the Ligue and the ILO.

The members of the NOI Leading Committee – Tresso, Leonetti, Ravazzoli and Bavassano – together with Recchia joined the Ligue in December 1930; thus they had dual membership. Tresso was elected to the Ligue’s Executive Commission, and Bavassano represented the NOI within that same body. Leonetti sided with Naville, and endorsed the rightist trade union positions of the Gourget group. Tresso became a supporter of the Molinier-led ‘Marxist wing’ of the Ligue. In January 1931 Tresso accused Leonetti and Ravazzoli of factionalism, and resigned from the NOI Leading Committee. [31] His resignation was rejected by the NOI majority, but on 15 February he was expelled from the Leading Committee of the NOI [32], and was thus reduced to the status of a rank-and-file member. A special control commission on the ‘Blasco case’ was set up and met on 5 July 1931; the minutes of this meeting help shed light on the differences which existed between Tresso and the NOI majority. [33]

The reasons why Tresso decided to break with the NOI were both political and organisational. First of all, as far as the Italian situation was concerned, Tresso held that Italian capitalism would be able to overcome the conjunctural crisis it was then facing, whereas Leonetti and Ravazzoli thought that the crisis was terminal. This implied a different assessment of the partial change in the Comintern’s ‘Third Period’ policy made by Manuilsky at the Eleventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in December 1930, when the Comintern leader had stated that the crisis in Italy and France might be reversed, and capitalism could be relatively stabilised.

Leonetti had initially thought that this new turn was not positive [34], but five months later he had completely changed his mind. In sharp contradiction with their previous opinion that the crisis of capitalism was insurmountable, Leonetti and Ravazzoli now held that Manuilsky’s turn was a confirmation of the criticisms raised by the ‘Three’, and therefore a step forward which should be supported. On this question, Tresso agreed with Naville: they both thought that the turn was an opportunist manoeuvre behind the back of the masses, and that the ILO should take advantage of this opportunity to stress the correctness of its policy as a whole.

Furthermore, Tresso gave a restrictive interpretation to democratic slogans, which he thought must have a precise class application. In his opinion, democratic demands should be raised only for the benefit of the working class. On this question he was attacked by the NOI leaders, who upheld a more flexible and general application of democratic slogans in agreement with ILO policy.

Deep differences also existed in the trade union field. They had already appeared when Tresso attacked Ravazzoli’s intervention at the Fifth Congress of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) held in September 1930 in Moscow, where Ravazzoli and the leaders of the NOI majority had supported the RILU’s organisational views. Tresso put forward a trade union policy which opposed the betrayal of trade union unity by the French CGTU and the Twelfth Plenum of the ECCI, which had asserted the need to leave the reformist unions and build independent ‘red’ ones. He championed a trade union united front, a policy of ‘reforming’ the unions, with the right for Communists to build fractions in them – and therefore opposed Naville’s support for the Opposition Unitaire.

As a matter of fact, both Naville and the NOI majority regarded the Opposition Unitaire as a sort of embryo of a revolutionary trade union, whereas Tresso thought that revolutionaries should have a perspective of trade union unity. Thus he suggested that the CGTU should ‘take the initiative by organising a conference to merge all the different union centres on a platform of proletarian democracy and the right to factions’; this would have created ‘an organic fusion between the revolutionary vanguard active in the trade union movement and the huge masses of workers who are influenced by the reformist leaders’. [35] Tresso was the main inspirer of the trade union policy adopted by the new majority of the Ligue under the leadership of Molinier. [36]

Finally, very important organisational differences existed in the NOI leadership about the kind of relationship that they should have with the Ligue. On the one hand, the Leonetti-Ravazzoli-Bavassano majority hoped that the NOI, as a national section of the ILO, would keep its total independence from the Ligue, whereas Tresso argued for the organisational views of the ‘Marxist wing’, which was by then still in a minority, with regard to the Italian section. According to these opinions:

‘... as for all problems which stem from its particular national activity, the NOI can and must function in an independent way. It can even assign a certain number of comrades to this specific work on a permanent basis. Those comrades would not be members of the Ligue and would derive from the [Italian] New Opposition alone. But this cannot be the case for all the Italian comrades who are living in France and who adhere to the Left Opposition and to the trade unions or to branches of the CP [Communist Party]. All these comrades must be put under the control of the competent bodies of the Ligue ... The EC [Executive Commission] of the Ligue, together with the Leading Committee of the NOI, should examine which Italian comrades should be assigned exclusively to the “Italian” work and which others, on the contrary, should join the ranks of the Ligue.’ [37]

The debate and political struggle around this question were to last for some years, up to the de facto dissolution of the NOI. In the meantime, at the beginning of 1931, the group round Molinier and Frank won a majority in the Ligue. In January 1931 Tresso and Bavassano were elected members of the Ligue’s Executive Commission. Bavassano, as a representative of the centrist majority of the NOI, supported the faction led by Naville and Gérard Rosenthal, which was in a minority within the Ligue. Tresso, in an isolated position within the NOI, became part of the Ligue’s new majority supported by Trotsky. From then on, with some short interruptions, Tresso was to be a member of the leading bodies of the French Trotskyist organisation until his death.

The year 1931 was marked by the intensification of the NOI’s political activity vis-à-vis the PCd’I and the Bordigist group. Early that year Leonetti, who had been coopted onto the ILO International Secretariat, published a veritable apology for Bordiga [38], whereas Trotsky hammered home his critique of Bordiga’s followers. [39]

Unlike Leonetti’s advances, which were to no avail, Trotsky’s criticisms soon started bearing fruits. Within the Bordigist Fraction a real ‘Trotskyist faction’ began to take shape under the guidance of Nicola Di Bartolomeo (Fosco). [40] It was through the latter that the dissident Bordigists established contacts with the NOI, with the ILO International Secretariat, and with Trotsky himself. In a letter to Trotsky, Di Bartolomeo expressed his readiness to fight against the ideological confusion, the impotent sectarianism, and the ‘eunuch-like’ pretensions of the Fraction. He stressed that ‘the struggle against the ideology of our (Bordigist) fraction should be waged energetically... even though this may lead to a break’, and he asked what Trotsky’s opinion was about ‘the way in which we should raise the question of the unity between our fraction and the new opposition’. [41] We do not know Trotsky’s reply to this letter, if there was any. However, we do know that Di Bartolomeo upheld Trotskyist positions within the Bordigist group, and was eventually expelled from it in August 1931. [42]

The events in Spain further deepened the gulf between the ILO and the Bordigists. Thus in August 1931 the NOI summed up the differences which separated the Italian Fraction from the Bolshevik-Leninists, [43] and at the same time the NOI majority, in a letter to Trotsky, accused Tresso of having the same positions as the Bordigists on the question of democratic slogans – something which hindered any political struggle against them. [44]

But 1931 also witnessed a sharpening of the organisational strife between the NOI and the French Ligue. At a meeting held on 8 August, the NOI passed a resolution which sharply condemned the attitude adopted by Tresso and the Ligue majority. Indeed, Tresso was the main target of the document. The resolution denounced the ‘organisational method according to which one and the same member adheres to two different national organisations’ as inadmissible. The NOI leaders – who had made themselves conspicuous by defending the ‘Navillite’ minority at a meeting of the Ligue’s National Council on 24–25 May 1931 [45] – bitterly attacked the Molinier-Tresso bloc, which in their view was frustrating ‘any move for cooperation between the Italian Communist Opposition and the present leadership of the French Ligue’. They decided to withdraw their representative (Bavassano) from the Ligue’s Executive Commission, and asked the International Secretariat to intervene directly in the dispute by solving once and for all the ‘Blasco case’, and by calling upon Molinier to cease his ‘work of slander and disruption’ against the NOI. [46]

These accusations against Molinier and Tresso were not new. Bavassano had previously made them at a meeting of the Ligue’s Executive Commission. A commission of inquiry had been specially set up to investigate their accuracy. The International Secretariat itself had considered the question, and called a special meeting of the NOI. [47]

It was on these grounds that the Ligue’s Executive Commission replied to the NOI’s resolution, criticising the ‘erroneous and even clearly centrist’ political positions of its Leading Committee, which at that time was formed by Leonetti, Ravazzoli and Bavassano. The Executive Commission recalled that it was the NOI who had asked for, and had obtained, membership in the Ligue, criticised their request to force Tresso’s resignation from the French leading body, and rejected their request to have Bavassano as a representative on the Executive Commission, not as a member of the Ligue but as a member of the NOI.

The French leadership also stressed that the differences existing within the leading staff of the NOI – between Bavassano and Leonetti-Ravazzoli – had been papered over for the sake of trying to overthrow the new ‘Molinierite’ leadership of the Ligue. As for the accusations levelled by Bavassano against Tresso, the Executive Commission pointed out that:

‘The NOI leaders decided to prevent Comrade Blasco from carrying out any political activity, both in the NOI and in the Ligue. In that sense today’s documents from the NOI are nothing but a continuation of the intrigues of Feroci [Leonetti], Santini [Ravazzoli] and Giacomi [Bavassano] against comrade Blasco.’ [48]

In October 1931 the National Conference of the Ligue reconfirmed Tresso as a member of the Executive Commission.

In the course of 1932 the NOI eventually developed a political platform. Tresso, who was wholly involved in the leadership of the French section, did not take part in the elaboration of this document. In the November of that year Trotsky was invited by a Danish Social Democratic youth group to hold a public lecture in Copenhagen for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution. From his Turkish exile, Trotsky replied in the affirmative. Undoubtedly, he hoped to get a visa that would have allowed him to leave Turkey and settle in Denmark, or in another European country, from where he could better follow the first steps of the ILO, and take a more active part in its political life. But the Danish ‘Socialist’ government only granted him a visa for eight days.

Trotsky’s trip to Copenhagen was an important and unprecedented opportunity for the European Trotskyist leaders to meet Trotsky and discuss a whole set of political and organisational problems with him. Among those who made the trip to Copenhagen were Tresso and Leonetti. Despite the fact that their journey was not free from incidents, [49] the two finally arrived in Copenhagen.

According to the testimony of Harry Wicks [50], who was at that time a leader of the British section of the ILO, discussions between the Old Man and his followers were absolutely informal in the days before Trotsky’s lecture on the Russian Revolution, held on 27 November 1932. But in the evenings that followed the lecture, they became precise formal meetings attended by a dozen Trotskyist leaders, including Tresso and Leonetti. Several questions were dealt with there, including the question of the ILO’s relations with the Bordigists (with whom a final break was approaching), the problems of the Spanish section, and the electoral tactic of the Belgian section.

Although all the reports from the Copenhagen meetings do not say that the internal problems of the Italian section were discussed there, we know from an NOI document dated April 1933 [51] that some steps were undertaken in Copenhagen to solve the ‘Blasco case’. So a compromise was reached between Tresso’s positions and those of the centrist majority of the NOI – a compromise which was entirely favourable to the Leading Committee of the NOI, insofar its demands for ‘autonomy’ were completely accepted: ‘The NOI is a national section which, exceptionally, is living in emigration. It must maintain its cadres and ensure it carries out its tasks as a national section.’ [52]

In order to understand better how much this compromise favoured the leading group of the Italian section politically, it must be borne in mind that the NOI members had been ‘set up as a groupe de langue’ of the French Ligue before the Copenhagen meetings. [53] Therefore, the Copenhagen compromise reversed the situation. But the discussion on this question within the Ligue did not end here. In January 1933 the NOI dispute once more appeared in the French internal bulletins, where Pierre Rimbert (a militant of Italian origins whose true name was Pietro Torielli, and who had been elected to the Ligue’s Executive Commission in January 1932) attempted to defend the autonomy of the NOI. [54] Tresso drafted an unsigned reply to Rimbert [55] where he recalled the position of the Communist International ‘according to which Communists who were immigrants in any given country must join the party ... of the country in which they are immigrants’, and stressed that:

‘The NOI has never been so weak in the eyes of the Italian proletarians who emigrated to France as when it moved outside the French Opposition. If the NOI does not link itself more to the life of the left opposition in France, and to the life of the Ligue, not only it will not make any progress as far as Italy is concerned, but it will also hinder the development of an Italian section of the International Left Opposition.’

The NOI’s failure to integrate itself into the French section’s internal life and political activity was correctly explained as arising from concrete reasons, that is, from political disagreements ‘existing between the NOI majority and the Ligue’:

‘These disagreements, at a certain point, have driven the NOI comrades to enter the Ligue to uphold within its ranks those currents which were similar to it. But this helped to unmask them in a way that was rather dangerous for their stay within the ILO. That is why the NOI majority decided to leave the Ligue.’

Shortly after issuing the above-quoted documents, a Pre-Conference of the ILO was held in Paris on 4–8 February 1933. It was attended by three Italians – Tresso, Leonetti and Debora Seidenfeld [56], who was Tresso’s companion. As already pointed out, this international gathering of the Trotskyist movement sanctioned the final break with the Bordigists, and recognised the NOI as the sole Italian section of the ILO. It also elected Tresso to a post on the International Secretariat, which was still located in Berlin.

But the main task of the Pre-Conference was to prepare the ground for the First International Conference of the ILO, planned for July 1933. To this end it was decided to entrust the principal sections with drafting specific theses on the various national situations, and the NOI was to prepare a thesis on the dictatorship of the proletariat, democracy and Fascism. [57]

The attention of the Pre-Conference was mainly focused on the German events. At the end of January 1933, following the crisis and the fall of von Schleicher’s Bonapartist government, Hitler had been appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Reich, and had formed his own government. On 2 February the first repressive measures against the Communist and Socialist parties were taken. The brown tide mounted rapidly. The ILO’s Pre-Conference called for the creation of a united front of working class organisations to fight and defeat Fascism. This was a slogan that the ILO had been propagandising for many months, counterposing it to the Stalinist doctrine of ‘Social Fascism’.

The German Communist Party (KPD), which was the second strongest section of the Comintern after the Soviet party, was not equal to the objective tasks posed by the situation. Only on 24 February, and mainly because of the pressure coming from its ranks, did the KPD decide to propose unity of action to yesterday’s ‘Social Fascists’. But it was too late. On the eve of starting negotiations for the creation of the united front, the Reichstag burned down in Berlin, and on the morrow the government denounced it as a ‘Communist plot’. On 1 May 1933 the KPD was outlawed and deprived of its leadership. This was the final débâcle: the witch-hunt against the ‘Reds’ became generalised, and a long nightmare set in.

Having been defeated without a fight, the KPD melted like snow in the sun. On 12 March 1933 Trotsky gave up the perspective of ‘reforming’ the German party. In a letter to the ILO International Secretariat he stated that by that time the KPD was a corpse, and that ‘the question of preparing for the creation of a new party must be posed openly’. [58]

Tresso fully endorsed Trotsky’s call for a new party in Germany. At a meeting of the International Secretariat with some leaders of the ILO German section held in early April 1933, he opposed the latter’s refusal to start building a brand new, independent revolutionary organisation: ‘Hitler’s seizure of power and the capitulation of the old KPD’, he argued, ‘have opened up a new era.’ [59] Tresso took part in the plenum held in late May 1933, the basic task of which was to take a decision on the policy of a new party for Germany. From an ILO bulletin we know that Tresso played a prominent rôle in that meeting, inasmuch as he delivered the main report on this crucially important question as well as on the ‘Spanish question’. [60]

Tresso was a permanent member of the International Secretariat. For some time the entire weight of the secretariat’s activity fell on him and the Greek Demetrios Giotopoulos (Vitte). But the French Ligue wanted Tresso to resume his work on the Executive Commission. [61] The matter was solved in the summer of 1933, when the financial crisis of the International Secretariat forced it to do without its full-timer, that is, without Tresso. He was then forced to find a job to sustain himself (he was a tailor) and was again deeply involved in the leadership of the French section. His resignation from the Secretariat was handed in at the ILO Plenum of August 1933. [62]

In the meantime, the differences between the NOI and the Ligue had again shown themselves, and in a very sharp form. In February Di Bartolomeo had handed in his resignation from the NOI, and had proposed the ‘self-dissolution’ of the Italian group. Giotopoulos was asked to follow the debate within the Italian section. He declared himself against Di Bartolomeo’s proposal. But the Secretariat wanted to know more about the political and organisational differences within the NOI, especially after they got a copy of Di Bartolomeo’s letter of resignation. At a meeting held on 1 May 1933, the Secretariat decided to contact him personally in order to ‘find out what his differences were’ with the NOI. [63]

The response of the NOI was not long in coming. At a meeting held on 9 April 1933, the Italian section of the ILO expelled Tresso and Di Bartolomeo from its ranks. [64] The resolution for their expulsion dated the beginning of the friction between the NOI and the French Ligue back to the time when, some months after the founding of the Italian group, Tresso had gone over to the Ligue Communiste on the basis of ‘serious’, ‘irreconcilable’ political differences with the NOI majority, especially on the ‘question of fighting for democracy’.

The resolution went so far as to accuse Tresso of playing into the hands of the Bordigists by hampering the political struggle against them. Furthermore, the NOI denounced the Ligue’s desire to ‘slander and destroy the Italian section’, a desire that had found its highest expression in Tresso’s unprincipled ‘intrigues’. That is why the NOI had resolved to expel him, and why it asked the International Secretariat to do the same:

‘This [Italian] section decided to expel Blasco as a deserter and saboteur of the organisation and of the work for the Bolshevik-Leninist cause among the Italian toilers, and invites the international organisation to approve such a measure by expelling Blasco from the ranks of the international organisation.’

Informed about these developments by Jan Frankel, Trotsky intervened in the dispute by advising the adoption of a more conciliatory attitude vis-à-vis the NOI:

‘What you report about the NOI I find extremely amazing. I have not received any documents about the expulsion of Blasco and the others. On what grounds was this done? From your letter one can draw the conclusion that a break is unavoidable and that the only question is what form it should take. I am astonished in the utmost. I have not heard of any differences in principle. Apparently the basis for the conflict lies in the relations between the NOI and the [French] League. If that is so, we must make serious concessions to the NOI, that is, allow it not to join the League but to carry on its work completely independently. It seems to me that mistaken statements were made and mistaken steps taken in relation to the NOI and these were bound to offend the sensibilities of the émigré circles especially deeply. These mistakes must be corrected, rather than being deepened and being carried to the point of a split.’ [65]

But the resolution adopted on this question by the Executive Commission of the Ligue Communiste was not at all conciliatory to the NOI. [66] As a matter of fact the French leadership vehemently attacked the political and organisational positions held by the Italian section, and stressed that the NOI was ‘trying to justify its own behaviour towards the Ligue by resorting to the “Blasco question”’.

As for the charges of pro-Bordigism which the NOI had levelled against Tresso, they were thoroughly false and groundless. In fact, in January the Executive Commission had discussed and unanimously adopted, and therefore with an affirmative vote from Tresso, [67] a lengthy resolution on the Left Fraction of the PCd’I, which was considered as a sort of official break, and was immediately published in the Ligue’s theoretical journal. [68] In addition to that, Tresso had intervened at two meetings of the Bordigists (in 1932 and in April 1933) to confront their positions.

On the other hand, the Executive Commission’s resolution went on, in the course of the February Pre-Conference the NOI delegate Leonetti did not allude to any ‘differences which would justify expelling Comrade Blasco from the NOI’. On the contrary, on that occasion Leonetti himself had voted for the election of Tresso to the International Secretariat.

As for the political differences within the Italian section, the Executive Commission declared itself unable to make a judgement on them due to its lack of information, and proposed to open a discussion in which everybody could freely state his or her own standpoint. A similar proposal had been previously raised by the International Secretariat. Finally, the Executive Commission asked the ILO to repudiate the expulsions of Tresso and Di Bartolomeo, and to condemn the bureaucratic methods followed by the NOI majority.

The ILO Plenum at the end of May retracted the expulsions by adopting a resolution moved by the Ligue’s delegate [69] which required all NOI members residing in France to be members of the French section of the ILO as well, ‘in accordance with the decisions of the Ligue’s First Conference and of the Copenhagen Conference’ (sic). The plenum’s resolution, however, also stated that the NOI should function independently under the direct control of the International Secretariat.

The plenum also observed that it was precisely the lack of contact with the Ligue and the hostile attitude of the Italian leaders to the Ligue that had favoured the stagnation of the NOI and the development of an internal crisis which had led to the expulsions of Tresso and Di Bartolomeo. Finally, by annulling those expulsions, the plenum invited the NOI to open a discussion on the political differences – a discussion in which the ‘expelled’ had also to be involved. It seems, however, that this invitation was not followed up. In any case, beginning with the first half of 1933, a rapprochement between Tresso and the NOI majority took place. Tresso’s signature appears as one of the members of the Leading Committee of the NOI in an article published early in July. [70]

III. The End of the NOI and the Struggle for the Fourth International

BY MID-JUNE 1933 Trotsky first raised the possibility of an extension of the turn towards a new party in Germany to all sections of the Stalinised Comintern. [71] The process of abandoning the perspective of ‘reforming’ the Comintern went in parallel with a growing interest about left centrist organisations which had mostly emerged from of the crisis of the Social Democracy and which had not joined any international grouping. [72] The task Trotsky set for the ILO was ‘to accelerate the evolution of left Socialist organisations towards Communism by injecting its ideas and experience into this process’. [73]

By 15 July 1933, on the eve of the end of his Turkish exile as a visa for France had been granted by Daladier’s government, Trotsky proclaimed the need for a radical turn in the activity of the ILO, and declared himself for the building of a new International, the Fourth, and new revolutionary parties. [74] Within such a framework he thought that the left centrist organisations could be won over to the cause of the Fourth International.

The initiative for summoning a conference of the left Socialist groupings came from these organisations. This conference, held in Paris on 27–28 August 1933, was also attended by three members of the ILO’s International Secretariat – Erwin H. Ackernecht (Eugen Bauer), Naville and Tresso, who had handed in his resignation from this body only a few days before. The 14 participant organisations were squarely divided over the issue of the new International. The Resolution on the Necessity and Principles of a New International [75], drafted by Trotsky and signed by the ILO and three other organisations after some amendments, was the only tangible result of the conference. Despite the compromise character of this document, which passed into history as the ‘Declaration of the Four’ (a reference to the number of organisations which signed it), the political bloc built around it was an important step towards the creation of the Fourth International.

The orientation for a new International had been ratified just one week before by the ILO Plenum of 19–21 August 1933. But this historical turn was met by some opposition within the various national sections of the ILO. A similar opposition also emerged in the NOI, and irreparably divided its majority. Thus the NOI’s death throes started simultaneously with the adoption of the orientation towards a new International. By mid-June the NOI’s bulletin ceased publication. Early in September 1933 Ackernecht sent a report to Trotsky which was utterly pessimistic about the NOI:

‘A break with the NOI is also unavoidable. The history of this group shows that, despite their political knowledge, they are a centre of infection. They cannot develop. But they can do considerable harm to our growth. Should we therefore lose a section? Anyway, it is nothing but a fiction. And as far as the ILO is concerned, we must precisely stop relying on fictions. When comrade RM [Raymond Molinier] developed the idea of a break with the NOI six months ago, I got indignant with him. Today I must make honourable amends to him, on this question as well as on many others.’ [76]

At the above-mentioned plenum of 19–21 August, Bavassano declared himself against the ILO’s turn to the Fourth International. Within the Ligue Communiste, he and his companion Recchia had linked up with the ‘Groupe Juife[77], the Yiddish-speaking group which opposed the turn as well. By mid-September Bavassano was expelled from the Ligue, together with five other members. At the Ligue’s Second National Conference, held on 2–4 October 1933, a minority of four delegates representing 24 members declared their solidarity with the expelled. On 11 October Bavassano confirmed his serious differences to the International Secretariat. Finally, on 14 October the minority dissidents broke with the Ligue and founded the Union Communiste, in whose ranks were also Bavassano, Recchia and another leading member of the NOI, Giovanni Boero.

Within the Italian section, Ravazzoli also had many doubts about the correctness of the turn to the Fourth International – and these doubts were soon to lead him to break with Trotskyism. It was probably the renewed sharpening of the NOI’s crisis – caused by the defection of Bavassano and Recchia as well as by Ravazzoli’s waverings – that facilitated a rapprochement between Tresso and Leonetti. It was exactly at this time that Leonetti wrote a letter to Trotsky pointing out the need for joint work with Tresso: ‘After the recent case of comrade Giacomi [Bavassano], I still had hopes in the possibility of creating a basis of common work with Blasco ... which is absolutely necessary for the attainment of a new internal equilibrium in our small organisation.’ [78] But for now, the NOI had left the stage.

In accordance with the new orientation, the ILO plenum of 13 September 1933 decided to change the name of the world Trotskyist organisation, which took the new title of Internationalist Communist League (Bolshevik-Leninist) (ICL). And the ICL was soon to be faced with the need to make a new tactical turn. In fact, as the period of left Socialist splits from the Second International had ended, the crisis of the Social Democracy expressed itself in the emergence of remarkable leftist currents within the Social Democratic parties. These currents undoubtedly represented an important, albeit merely potential, field of activity for the sections of the ICL. In February 1934 Trotsky started sketching out the ‘entrist’ tactic. [79]

Conditions for an effective application of this tactic were particularly favourable in France, where a strong left tendency had appeared within the French Socialist Party, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), during the final months of 1933. The SFIO’s right wing – the ‘Neo-Socialists’ – had been expelled early in the November of that year. Moreover, demonstrations of monarchist and Fascist forces took place in the first weeks of 1934 in Paris. Prevented from attending a meeting of the Ligue’s Executive Commission on 29 January, Tresso sent a letter to the French leading body in which he suggested that the Ligue take the initiative in building a ‘popular anti-Fascist militia’ by calling a meeting of the representatives of all the left wing political and union organisations. [80]

The ‘popular anti-Fascist militia’ suggested by Tresso expressed the need for a proletarian united front to resist the advance of the right, which, by early February, felt strong enough to seek a showdown through a mass mobilisation that caused the fall of Daladier’s Radical government and the formation of a new cabinet headed by the conservative Doumergue. The response from the left was impressive, and showed that the proletariat had understood better than their leaders the lessons arising from Hitler’s victory. The drive toward unity of action between the PCF and the SFIO, which came from rank and file members, become more and more noticeable. It was under this pressure that the two big reformist parties started negotiations with the aim of building a united front on 11 June.

From February 1934 the left wing of the SFIO started to gain strength. This process of radicalisation of the French Social Democracy was a powerful pole of attraction for advanced workers. For its part, the Ligue Communiste, despite its theoretical and programmatic strength, was extremely weak in numbers and had few roots in the working class. Entry into the SFIO, as proposed by Trotsky, would have enabled the members of the Ligue to intersect and make contact with those Social Democratic workers who were moving to the left, and to win them over to Bolshevik-Leninist policies. But the leaders of the French section’s majority hesitated.

In Trotsky’s opinion, there was no time to lose. It was necessary to act quickly in order not to miss valuable political opportunities. He then assigned to Molinier the task of getting the new entrist tactic rapidly adopted by the French section. But the discussion within the Ligue showed that there was strong opposition to entrism: a group of members led by René Lhuillier – a member of the Executive Commission – opposed it in principle, and another group led by Naville and Tresso, whilst not opposing the entrist turn in principle, sharply criticised the hurried, compulsory methods with which Molinier was trying to carry it out. Their position was that if the Ligue entered the SFIO, they would not take part in the entry. To avert the risk of a split, Naville and Tresso asked for the right to maintain their own ‘independence’ within the French section – a demand which Trotsky indignantly rejected. [81]

The atmosphere within the Ligue became increasingly tense. Under the pretext that an article by Tresso had not been published in La Vérité, a group of oppositionists to the entrist turn, which included Tresso himself and his companion, refused to take part in the life of the organisation, and started an extremely unscrupulous anti-entrist campaign. Those who supported entrism, with Molinier at their head, were then compelled to carry on with the publication of the Ligue’s paper alone. The Central Committee of the Ligue had split into two.

It was at this point that the anti-entrist leaders took the initiative of themselves summoning a sort of ‘lesser Central Committee’, which was illegal according to the statutes. This meeting was attended by Naville, Tresso, Couté (the pseudonym of an unidentified leading member of the French section) and Debora Seidenfeld. They decided, in an ad hoc press release, to repudiate the issue of La Vérité which had been produced by the supporters of entrism, to publish a new issue immediately, and to hold four public meetings in Paris in order to expose the ‘fraud of the entrists’.

When a split was imminent, the question was discussed by the International Secretariat which met in the middle of August 1934. Naville took part in the meeting as a spokesman for the Ligue’s ‘lesser Central Committee’. In his capacity as the representative of the ‘entrists’, Molinier declared his opposition to a split, and proposed to Naville to prepare jointly the forthcoming national conference of the Ligue under the arbitration of the International Secretariat. But Naville rejected such a proposal, and unequivocally stated his desire to split. [82]

On 17 August 1934 the PCF and the SFIO signed a pact for unity of action. Whilst Trotsky continued to ask for a swift entry into the SFIO, his French followers were paralysed by the factional fight over entrism. The Third National Conference of the Ligue was held on 25 August in Paris. The negotiations with the SFIO’s leading bodies, which had already been started by the ‘entrists’, had a positive outcome: the Ligue members were to be welcomed as a tendency into the SFIO with the right to maintain their organ, La Vérité. The majority of the conference voted for entry into the SFIO. On 4 September the International Secretariat approved such a decision, which was to be ratified by the ICL Plenum of 14–16 October. Thus the Trotskyists of the Groupe Bolchevik-Léniniste de la SFIO (GBL) – the new name adopted by the Ligue Communiste – entered the ranks of the French Social Democracy, whereas Naville and Tresso, who at the conference had voted against the entrist turn, refused to comply with the conference decision.

On 14 September 1934 the entry of the Trotskyists was officially announced in the pages of Le Populaire, the SFIO’s central organ. Again the Naville-Tresso group repudiated this with a press release. On 16 September the GBL Central Committee expelled Naville, and, after some weeks, Naville and Tresso founded their own independent organisation, the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste (GCI), which was to enter the SFIO a little while later. The ILO Plenum of mid-October called upon the GCI to reunite with the GBL on the basis of a common discipline; but the call was useless.

Then the American Trotskyist leader James Patrick Cannon was entrusted with the task of investigating the possibility of a reconciliation. Cannon met the GCI representatives twice, and on 31 October 1934 made a report to the International Secretariat on the outcome of these meetings. [83] The differences between the GCI of Naville-Tresso and the GBL essentially revolved around the issue of the internal regime of the French section. While accepting, in perspective even if not immediately, the possibility of a reunification with the GBL, for the moment the GCI intended to maintain its own independence.

After having started the Bulletin d’Informations des Communistes Internationalistes (adhérents au Parti Socialiste SFIO) [84], in January 1935 the GCI resumed the publication of the old theoretical journal of the Ligue, La Lutte de Classes. [85] Tresso contributed to both papers.

What had happened to the Italian Trotskyist group in the meantime?

The process of the reorganisation of the NOI, which had started in the last months of 1933, proceeded very slowly and amid huge difficulties. As was pointed out, after the break by Bavassano and Recchia, even Ravazzoli had opposed the turn to the Fourth International. He first oriented toward the ‘Giustizia e Libertà’ (GL) movement. The NOI had already carried on a political debate with the GL in the pages of their respective papers, and the Italian Trotskyists had sharply criticised the GL. [86] But towards the end of 1933 and the beginning of 1934 Ravazzoli and another member of the NOI, Tullo Tulli, [87] established political relations with the GL. [88] Tulli joined it one year later, [89] whereas Ravazzoli, with increasing interest, followed the GL’s attempt to publish a paper for workers in Italy. [90] He broke with the Trotskyist organisation in March 1934, joined the PSI in February 1935, and remained a member of this party until his death, which occurred on 27 February 1940 due to septicaemia that he had contracted in the Renault factory where he was working. In addition to all this, the ‘Leonetti affair’ of November 1933 did no good to the rebuilding of an Italian Trotskyist organisation. [91]

In the first months of 1934 the rapprochement of Tresso and Leonetti was consolidated by the common struggle they conducted against Ravazzoli. Furthermore, the NOI began to recover from its crisis owing to the influx of new forces – Veniero Spinelli [92] and a whole group of PCd’I oppositionists led by Angiolino Luchi. [93] This also involved a geographical extension of the organisation to Southern France – in Marseilles and in the Tarn and Var departments.

In March 1934 the new organisation, called the Sezione Italiana della Lega Comunista Internazionalista (Italian Section of the ICL), published its paper, La Verità . It was a printed paper, quite different from the modest duplicated bulletin of the NOI. Trotsky warmly welcomed this new step [94], which was to be short-lived. The second issue of La Verità would also be its last one. [95]

Concurrently with the creation of an official ICL section, a competing, dissident Trotskyist group started taking shape as early as January 1934 around Di Bartolomeo, which at first called itself the Gruppo di Unità Comunista (Group of Communist Unity) and later took the name of the Gruppo La Nostra Parola (Our Word Group) in the spring–summer of 1934. It was founded by seven people, and some time later it claimed a membership of a dozen members, with a few sympathising contacts in Paris, Lyons and Marseilles.

The group published two issues of a journal – La Nostra Parola, from which it derived its name – in August and December 1934. It proclaimed its adherence to the ICL [96], denounced the old NOI as a ‘grouplet of unprincipled centrist bureaucrats’, [97] and criticised the creation of the new Leonetti-Tresso group as an ‘unprincipled manoeuvre’. [98] More precisely, Di Bartolomeo’s group attacked the vagueness and eclecticism of the political and organisational line followed by the official Italian section, which, in their opinion, had been built on the basis of a misunderstanding, that is, of a ‘mutual and friendly tolerance between two basically counterposed tendencies: a centrist-rightist tendency [Leonetti’s] and a leftist-confusionist-conciliationist tendency [Tresso’s]’. [99]

La Nostra Parola came out in opposition to the Italian section’s overall policy, from its historical assessment of Gramsci’s rôle to its analysis of the Fascist phenomenon and the question of democratic demands, as well as to Leonetti’s and Tresso’s anti-entrist attitudes. But whilst Tresso did eventually join the PSI in February 1935, [100] Leonetti always opposed entrism in principle, and even went so far as to publish an anti-entrist article in the PSI’s paper. [101]

IV. Entrism and the Reunification of the Italian Bolshevik-Leninists

IN SEPTEMBER 1934 the PSI organ published an article by Spinelli, who had joined Di Bartolomeo’s group, which invited all revolutionaries to enter the PSI. [102] Most of the members of the Gruppo La Nostra Parola actually entered the PSI in April 1935. [103] Tresso had entered it two months earlier, and had set up a group within it, the Gruppo Bolscevico-Leninista del PSI (Italian GBL), while at the same time being a member of the French GCI and a contributor to La Lutte de Classes [104], which also published some contributions by Leonetti. Thus, by the spring of 1935, all the Italian Trotskyists, with the exception of Leonetti, found themselves divided into two groups within the PSI.

As early as January 1935 Tresso had attended a public meeting on the question of the ‘organic unity’ of the working-class parties that had been organised in Paris by the Circolo Proletario di Cultura, with the participation of representatives from the PCd’I, the PSI and the Maximalist PSI. He subsequently published a lengthy report concerning the discussion in the February 1935 issue of La Lutte de Classes. [105] And after their entry into the PSI, both Tresso’s Italian GBL and Di Bartolomeo’s group intervened politically in the discussion on organic unity which was developing since some months between the PCd’I, the PSI, and the Maximalist PSI.

For a long time, however, the two Italian Trotskyist organisations could not reach an overall political agreement which would have enabled them to unite their forces and make their entrist activity more effective. Their division came into the open at the PSI General Council which met in July 1935 to discuss the proposed pact for unity of action between the Stalinist PCd’I and the PSI.

Both Tresso and Di Bartolomeo had been elected as delegates to the congress. Tresso proclaimed his opposition to any extension of the unity of action to other ‘democratic’ bourgeois and petit-bourgeois anti-Fascist forces, that is, to any Popular Front perspective. He also opposed the sectarian character of the PSI-PCd’I bloc, which had been conceived as a pact between two party bureaucracies, and called for a new revolutionary party and a new International. But his motion got only his own vote. Di Bartolomeo criticised the exclusion of small factions from the pact for unity of action. He too declared himself in favour of the Fourth International, and moved a motion which got only his own vote. [106]

At this meeting of the PSI General Council, the political clash between the Trotskyists and the PSI leadership was so deep and harsh that the latter went as far as taking into consideration the possibility of expelling the two groups – a possibility which did not materialise. [107] The Executive Committee of the PSI also rejected a proposal by Angelo Tasca according to which a special committee for underground work in Italy should be set up, formed by Tresso, his companion Seidenfeld, Ravazzoli and Pietro Bonuzzi. [108]

In April 1935 Tresso attended Recchia’s funeral as the representative of the Italian GBL. It was during that year that he increasingly devoted himself to studying several issues in Marxist theory, including the national question. [109] By November 1935 the Italian GBL had launched a very modest duplicated bulletin, Quaderni di Critica Proletaria, the first and only issue of which was devoted to the imperialist aggression against Abyssinia started by Italian Fascism in October 1935. [110]

This was rightly thought to be an important area for political discussion. The International Secretariat of the ICL set up a special ‘Italian Coordinating Committee’ to intervene in this field. It was formed by Leonetti, Tresso, Ruth Fischer, Arkady Maslow and Bavassano. [111] According to Giancarlo Telloli, this committee produced a leaflet on the ‘African war’ which was distributed in Italy, and even amongst the Italian soldiers in Abyssinia. [112] The first issue of Quaderni di Critica Proletaria was probably a result of the debate which developed within the committee. Tresso, who was the author of the one single article contained in the issue, upheld the internationalist strategic orientation that ‘in the present period the main duty of the revolutionary organisations of the Italian proletariat is to take advantage of the economic and political crisis opened up by the imperialist war in Africa in order to turn this imperialist war into a civil war in Italy, and to speed up the expropriation of the bourgeoisie’. [113]

The Gruppo La Nostra Parola del PSI also published a duplicated bulletin, the Bollettino ‘interno’ della corrente Bolscevico-Leninista internazionalista. [114] Despite this split, from the beginning of 1936 onwards there was a slow rapprochement between the two Trotskyist groups. As a matter of fact, from the second issue of the bulletin of the Gruppo La Nostra Parola we learn that, at a PSI meeting, ‘the party’s right wings found themselves faced with the accomplished fact of a “rebuilt minority” (as Nenni cried out) [115] which had rebuilt itself on the basis of a unity of principles which were summed up in a document put forward by Blasco and supported by the Gruppo La Nostra Parola’. [116]

The support given to Tresso by the group led by Di Bartolomeo and Luchi was part of the general perspective that the Gruppo La Nostra Parola had adopted, which consisted in ‘approaching all oppositional currents which lay claim to revolutionary internationalism inside the [Socialist] Party, in order to counterpose a Marxist united front to the opportunist policy of the leading bodies’. [117] The article ended with the following call, which was implicitly addressed to Tresso’s Italian GBL:

‘... we assume the need for closer agreement between those on whom common political positions impose common efforts aimed at bringing “a still continuing experience” to a successful conclusion; taking into account the special circumstances under which this experience is going on (that is, political emigration), such a conclusion should be real unity of the IBL [Italian Bolshevik Leninists] based on a clear platform which excludes any misunderstandings and any equivocations.’

Shortly after drafting this article its author took part in a big public meeting held in Paris on 3 April 1936 at which Tresso was also present. [118] The main speaker at the meeting was Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin, who had been allowed to go to France – together with his wife and two GPU guards to look after him very carefully – in order to try to buy the archives of the German Social Democratic Party. According to Leo Valiani during the meeting ‘Tresso shouted “Liberez Victor Serge”, but he shouted this at poor Bukharin, who was soon to go back home and later was to be imprisoned and executed; Tresso was however perfectly right to do so’, [119] and Serge was in fact released a few days later.

The two Trotskyist groups eventually merged in the spring of 1936. It was a short time after the fusion that Di Bartolomeo and his companion Virginia Gervasini left for Spain, where they started building a Bolshevik-Leninist group in Barcelona in about May or June, which proclaimed its adherence to the Movement for the Fourth International (MFI) by early August 1936. [120] In addition to some other people, such as the French POI member Robert De Fauconnet, this group included all the other Italian Trotskyists who were in Spain at the time of the 1936 ‘July Days’, that is, Di Bartolomeo and Gervasini, Lionello Guido, [121] the Milanese Giuseppe Guarnieri (Pino) and ‘Piero’, and the Sicilian Placido Magreviti.

After a factional struggle inside the Barcelona Bolshevik-Leninist group which lasted for some months, Di Bartolomeo and Gervasini broke with the official movement – represented in Spain by the Sección Bolchevique-Leninista, which had been founded in November 1936 and was led by Manuel Fernández Grandizo (G. Munis) – and set up a separate dissident group, the so-called Grupo (or Célula) Le Soviet, which was linked to the French Molinierite organisation and derived its name from the French-language typewritten bulletin it published in 1937: Le Soviet, ‘Organe des Bolcheviks-Léninistes d’Espagne pour la Quatrième Internationale’. [122]

Tresso’s commitment to entrist work and the reorganisation of the ranks of the Italian Bolshevik-Leninists went in parallel with his activity within the framework of French Trotskyism. During the first half of 1935 the GCI led by Naville and Tresso refused to unite with the GBL of the SFIO, but cooperated with the latter in the context of the Mulhouse Congress of the SFIO. [123] The principal ground for such cooperation was their joint opposition to the Popular Front policy, which they both called a betrayal of the working class and of the Socialist revolution.

The growing influence of the Trotskyists within the SFIO was a genuine and direct challenge to the reformist majority around Léon Blum, who had openly stated at the Mulhouse congress his readiness to do away with the Bolshevik-Leninists insofar as they represented an impediment to the proposed political bloc with the Stalinist PCF. On the morrow of that congress Trotsky called upon the French GBL to make a new turn, that is, to quit the SFIO and to resume independent work for the building of a new party and the Fourth International. But a majority of the French GBL refused to abandon the SFIO [124] even after the July 1935 Lille conference of the SFIO youth, at which a bureaucratic purge of the leaders of the left had taken place.

In the meantime the GCI dissolved itself into the GBL of the SFIO [125] and Tresso was elected to the Central Committee of the reunified organisation by the Fourth Congress of the French GBL, held on 20–22 September 1935. [126] But the congress did not make the position of the GBL any clearer, and, in fact, sought to reach a compromise between the two different and opposite positions. And after the expulsions on 17 November of the Trotskyists from the SFIO, the Molinier-Frank faction rejected any compromise and launched a ‘mass paper’ of their own, La Commune, the first issue of which appeared on 6 December. This involved a split down the middle of the French GBL.

On 28 December the Central Committee of the French GBL met and denounced the centrist nature of the Molinierite manoeuvre. Fifteen members of the GBL, including eight leading members, belonging to the Molinier faction were expelled. [127] On 15 January 1936, after the political failure of La Commune, Molinier and Frank launched a new organisation of their own – the Comité pour la Quatrième Internationale (CQI), which applied to join the Fourth Internationalist movement [128] and, on 7 March, turned itself into the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), and claimed to be the ‘French section of the Fourth International’.

Tresso had sharply criticised Molinier’s ‘putschist’ financial and organisational methods, and had firmly opposed a reunification with the Molinierites. By mid-March, however, his opposition to the Molinierite PCI had softened. At a joint meeting of the International Secretariat and the Political Bureau of the French GBL which discussed the PCI’s application for membership of the official Trotskyist movement, he made a clear distinction between the PCI and Molinier:

‘If La Commune enters the Fourth International, it must be asked to enter the French section as well, that is, the GBL. However, we cannot accept a gangster in the Fourth only because he has got money. The Molinier issue is independent from the question of La Commune. To readmit Molinier would amount to giving him a bigger field of activity – and this would be a mistake.’ [129]

On 31 May 1936 the GBL of the SFIO and the Jeunesses Socialistes Révolutionnaires (JSR) met at a national conference and founded the Parti Ouvrier Révolutionnaire (POR). On the next day the POR merged with the PCI, including Molinier, to form the Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste (POI), French section of the ICL. [130] Tresso was elected to the Central Committee of the reunified organisation. A few weeks later he wrote a document on the differences which still existed between the two wings of the POI, and stated that ‘the fusion is far from being a real one’. [131] And in truth it was not.

After the electoral victory of the French Popular Front in May 1936 and the ensuing wave of working class strikes and factory occupations in June, Molinier suggested revising the traditional Marxist position on the trade union question, and proposed the formation of revolutionary factory committees as opposed to the unions. [132] Tresso then accused him of attempting to impose from above a preconceived organisational form on the mass movement without starting from the real consciousness of the workers, and thus abandoning them to the influence of their Social Democratic and Stalinist leaders. [133]

Coupled with this important difference there was a re-emergence of the old accusation that Molinier had used his financial means to help impose his views on the organisation. This became common knowledge when a Paris newspaper, L’Intransigeant, carried an article which dealt with a POI member and his shady business. At a meeting of the POI Central Committee, Tresso asked for clarification on this matter, and opposed Frank’s proposal to use Molinier’s funds to launch the POI’s new organ, La Lutte Ouvrière. [134] On 14 July the POI Central Committee met again and decided to expel Molinier – who had gone to Norway to confer with Trotsky – from its ranks. Three months later the Molinierite PCI was formally rebuilt, thus ushering in a major new split in French Trotskyism which lasted until 1944.

The unification of the two Italian Trotskyist groups working inside the PSI was carried out under the leadership of Tresso, Leonetti and Di Bartolomeo. By June 1936 the united organisation, which took the name of Bolscevichi-Leninisti Italiani aderenti alla IV Internazionale (BLI), launched a new duplicated journal, the Bollettino d’Informazione. [135] But their stay inside the PSI was more and more awkward, inasmuch as the main thrust of their intervention was a revolutionary criticism of the Popular Front-type policy which was supported by both the PSI itself and the PCd’I. At the end of June 1936 Tresso intervened at a joint meeting of these two parties which was held at the office of the Paris branch of the PSI, stressing that they had ‘abandoned the independent class struggle of the proletariat’, and, by their joint manifesto of 30 May, they had called for ‘national reconciliation with Fascism ... as against Hitlerism’. [136]

In the same period Tresso took up the ‘Beiso case’ to expose the demoralising effects of Stalinist Popular Frontism. On 9 August 1935 Guido Beiso, formerly a PCd’I member in Nice, killed Camillo Montanari, who was a leading figure of the PCd’I apparatus in Paris. The Stalinist press – both l’Humanité and l’Unità – accused Beiso of being at the same time a Trotskyist, a Bordigist, and an agent of the Fascist OVRA. As a matter of fact, he had simply opposed the USSR’s entry into the League of Nations, the Stalin-Laval pact, and the People’s Front policy. Looking for a genuinely Marxist position, he had actually established contact with the Bordigists, who later defended him. It was for that reason that the PCd’I had spread rumours implying that he was an agent provocateur. Thus, as Trotsky correctly observed, Beiso had been ‘subjected to an extraordinarily painful personal experience ... which finally threw him off balance and drove him to a senseless and criminal act’. [137]

The PCd’I had taken advantage of this act to renew its anti-Trotskyist campaign. Beiso was eventually brought to court on 9 June 1936, and sentenced to five years forced labour. The trial unequivocally showed that Beiso was neither a Fascist provocateur nor a Trotskyist or a Bordigist, but ‘a Communist disgusted by the methods and policies of Stalinism’, who had been driven to commit an ‘act of despair’, as Tresso put it. [138]

All this put the PSI in a very uneasy situation as regards the Stalinist PCd’I, which insisted that the PSI should expel the Trotskyists. By the summer of 1936 the PSI leadership then explicitly threatened to oust them from the party ranks. [139]

A supplementary reason for this conflict was undoubtedly due to the fact that in the course of 1935 the Italian Trotskyists, belonging to both Tresso’s Italian GBL and Di Bartolomeo’s group, had established relations with the Maximalist PSI, which was a member of the centrist ‘London Bureau’ and was divided into two competing tendencies: a majority led by Elmo Simoncini (also known under the pseudonym of Dino Mariani), who wished to join the pact for unity of action signed between the PCd’I and the reunified PSI in August 1934; and a minority current that championed an ‘agreement between revolutionary forces’. The latter was supported by Angelica Balabanova and led by Alessandro Consani, who after the Second World War was to be fully exposed as an agent provocateur working for the Fascist OVRA.

According to Sigfrido Sozzi, who has delved deeply into the available and not always reliable OVRA sources in the Italian State Archives, [140] the leadership of the Maximalist PSI had meetings with the Italian Trotskyists of both groups from at least September 1935. Tresso and Di Bartolomeo attended several meetings organised by the Maximalist leaders, and Consani hoped to win their groups to the Maximalist PSI by November 1935 in order to fight more effectively against the Simoncini-led majority.

At a meeting of the Maximalists held in November 1935 Pistone stated unequivocally that the Gruppo La Nostra Parola was not ready to join. The discussions between the Italian Trotskyists and the Consani tendency, which was growing stronger inside the Maximalist party, continued on a regular weekly basis from July 1936 on, that is, a few months after the unification of the two Trotskyist groups. The BLI was represented by Tresso, Leonetti, Luchi and Roberto Mosè Eskenazi. But relations with the Consani tendency were broken in December of that year, when the Italian Trotskyists again refused to join the Maximalist PSI. [141]

The Italian Trotskyists were deeply involved in the émigré political milieux, especially those which opposed Popular Front politics. Already in June-July 1936 Temistocle Ricciulli [142] and Pistone had attended some meetings for the creation of a ‘Cultural Council’ of the Italian anti-Fascists aimed at functioning as an organisation for political education under the sponsorship of the Maximalist PSI, GL, some Anarchists and the BLI. The latter also had relations with Bavassano and Boero, who had broken with the Union Communiste. Boero contributed to the Bollettino d’Informazione, but he also supported the launching of a new journal, L’Operaio, published by Bavassano and Michele Donati, although he refused to follow them when they entered the Maximalist PSI in the summer of 1936. (In the end even Boero entered that party in June 1938.)

Both Tresso and Leonetti attended the so-called ‘Geneva Conference’ of the ICL held in Paris on 29–31 July 1936, and in the following weeks they paid a visit to Trotsky in Royan. By that time, the Italian Bolshevik-Leninist organisation had been greatly weakened because most of its members had left for Spain both before and after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Amongst them we recall those who came from the official group – Domenico Sedran (Adolfo Carlini), [143] Guido, Guarneri, ‘Piero’, Magreviti and the Paduan Luigi Zanon – and those who came from the Gruppo La Nostra Parola – Di Bartolomeo, Gervasini, Salvini, Alfredo Stabellini [144] and Ricciulli, as well as Pistone and Spinelli. Tresso did not go to Spain, even though his name was suggested at a meeting of the International Secretariat held on 5 January 1937, when the need to send a delegate to Spain arose. As a matter of fact, Tresso did not reply to this proposal, and in the end the Secretariat opted to send Erwin Wolf to Spain, who was later murdered by the Stalinists in Barcelona. [145]

Towards the end of 1936 the BLI took part in the building of a Comitato per la Difesa della Rivoluzione Spagnola (Committee for the Defence of the Spanish Revolution) together with the Maximalist PSI, some Anarchists, and those militants who had been expelled as ‘politically unworthy’ from the Italian Faction of the Communist Left (Bordigist) in November 1936 because they had disagreed with the latter’s characterisation of the Spanish Civil War as an inter-bourgeois war. Most of those ‘Bordigist’ oppositionists had gone to Spain in August 1936, and had fought in the ranks of the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM, which was formed in Barcelona on the initiative of Di Bartolomeo and placed under the command of Enrico Russo. They returned to France in November 1936, and eventually joined the Union Communiste. [146]

With their greatly reduced numbers and under threat of expulsion from the PSI, the BLI ceased most of their oppositional activities within that party towards the end of the summer of 1936. The final break eventually occurred at the beginning of 1937. [147] It seems that after the break they called themselves the Gruppo Bolscevico Italiano. A short press release was published under that signature in an issue of the POI journal in May 1937 to expose a dubious manoeuvre by the Maximalist leader (and OVRA agent) Consani, whom the Italian Trotskyists accused of being in the service of the Stalinists. [148]

At the POI’s National Congress held in January 1937, Tresso intervened on the question of revolutionary perspectives for France. He also stressed the treacherous rôle played in Spain by the centrist POUM, and he opposed the participation of an MFI delegation to the projected international conference sponsored by the London Bureau, which was to have been organised by the POUM in Barcelona in January 1937, but had been postponed to February (and was eventually cancelled after the ‘May Days’). [149] In addition to this, Tresso proposed that the POI form a special committee for revolutionary work amongst immigrant toilers, including the Italians. [150] Such a body was indeed set up, and it published one issue of the bulletin Le Travailleur immigré in June 1937. [151]

Tresso contributed to the POI’s paper, La Lutte Ouvrière. After the death of Gramsci on 27 April 1937, he drafted an obituary which was a sincere and even over-exaggerated apology for Gramsci, insofar as Tresso wanted to prevent the Stalinist-Togliattite PCd’I from ‘exploiting Gramsci’s personality to serve their own ends’. This appears explicitly when Tresso over-emphasised the anti-Stalinist aspects of Gramsci’s thought, which he traces back to the famous letter Gramsci addressed on behalf of the PCd’I’s Political Bureau to the Central Committee of the Russian party in October 1926. [152] Tresso did not fail, however, to point to the fact that ‘despite his outstanding qualities, Gramsci also made mistakes, and he was wrong on important questions’. In the final lines of the obituary he stressed that ‘Gramsci died because of a heart attack, [but] perhaps we will never know who is most guilty of his death: either his 11 years of suffering in Mussolini’s prisons, or the revolver shots which Stalin ordered to be fired at the necks of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, Pyatakov and their comrades.’ [153]

Also of interest is Tresso’s article Stalinism and Fascism which appeared in the POI’s theoretical magazine Quatrième Internationale in 1938. In the first place, he objects to Stalinism’s claim to be an effective means of struggle against Fascism. On the contrary, this Stalinist policy, ‘far from being a barrier against fascism, helps the latter keep its hold on the masses, and so assists its victories’, as was shown by the politically suicidal orientation followed by the KPD faced with the rise of Nazism, as well as by the policy of the Spanish Popular Front, which subordinated the revolutionary proletariat to the ‘democratic’ bourgeoisie, thus paving the way to new bloody defeats for the working class. Hence Tresso’s statement that ‘not striving for Socialism, as the Stalinists do, in fact amounts to serving Franco’.

Tresso then explains the PCd’I’s policy of the Appeal To Our Blackshirt Brothers as a Stalinist attempt to break Mussolini away from Hitler in order to bring the Italian Duce into the camp of ‘democracy’. For the PCd’I’s leaders, ‘the enemy is no longer fascism but Hitlerism’, to which Stalin’s Italian lackeys proposed alternatively the need for the ‘reconciliation and unity of the Italian people’, for the ‘building of a Popular Front in Italy’, and for a struggle to achieve an ostensible national independence, ‘not by unleashing a civil war against the direct exploiters of the Italian people, but through the unity of all classes against the Germans’ – thereby seasoning this red-black salad with anti-German chauvinism. In the final paragraphs of his piece, Tresso ruthlessly exposed the shameful anti-Trotskyist campaign waged by the PCd’I’s leaders:

‘Those “Trotskyists” who find themselves in Mussolini’s prisons and islands [on deportation] are increasingly the victims of assaults, day and night, by the Stalinist “Mafia” which has been set up in those places. Those who have not been imprisoned are reported by the Stalinist press to the Fascist OVRA, with their names and the venues of their meetings ... This is the same method that the “black-shirted brothers” once used in Italy to terrorise the proletarian militants, and above all their families ... The life-or-death struggle against the “Trotskyists” is the necessary extension of the Stalinist policy of fraternisation with the strata and clans of the Italian bourgeoisie.’ [154]

Some months later Tresso drafted another important article to expose the pro-Fascist attitude followed by the Jewish bourgeoisie in Italy before the promulgation of the ‘race laws’ by Mussolini’s regime in September–October 1938. Tresso stressed that in the first 16 years of Fascist rule:

‘Fourteen senators appointed by Mussolini were Jewish. Under Fascism there were 203 Jewish professors ... at Italian universities ... All of them swore allegiance to the regime ... Federico Camme – a Jew – laid the legal foundations for the reconciliation with the Vatican. Guido Jung – a Jew – was a member of Mussolini’s government as Minister of Finance ... The only two biographers to whom the Duce granted his cooperation were the Italian Jew Margherita Sarfatti and the German Jew Emil Ludwig. An Italian Fascist has recently issued a book on Italy’s economic development after the country’s unification – the Storia di una nazione proletaria by the Jew H. Fraenkel ... The General Confederation of Industry, which at the time of the “March on Rome” had the Jew Olivetti as its President, gave Mussolini some 20 millions [of liras]. All this filled the bourgeois Jews of the whole world with joy, and they all gave Italian Fascism their praises – and their money.’

Tresso explained the anti-Jewish turn of the Fascist regime within the framework of the perspective of ‘a war waged as a function of the Rome-Berlin axis, against England and France’. In such a perspective, the Jews were:

‘... a hostile force (at least potentially) to Axis policy, which Italian Fascism regards as absolutely vital today. Fascism is therefore compelled to break this force which, in the case of war, might cause it incalculable harm. From this angle, the struggle against the Jews is nothing but a continuation of the struggle that Fascism wages against the Italian revolutionary workers. It is a way to defend ... its fatherland, that is, the fatherland of the capitalists and of the exploiters.’

But Italian anti-Semitism was also a trick of Mussolini to divert the ‘discontent of the Italian people’, as well as to appear as ‘the defender and liberator of the Arab world’. [155]

When the above-quoted articles were published, the Italian Bolshevik-Leninist organisation had virtually disappeared from the political scene, and Tresso was deeply involved in the internal discussions of the POI. Tresso had intervened on the question of the French strike wave, which had become increasingly radical from December 1937 to March 1938. His view was that only a new, nationwide working class offensive could preserve the gains of June 1936. But he thought that such an offensive was not likely to take place, and therefore advised the POI to act on the basis of ‘a perspective of retreat’: ‘We cannot raise the slogan of a strike even if we were able to lead it.’ [156] The retreat actually became a real necessity after the failure of the general strike of 30 November 1938.

On 3 September 1938 the founding conference of the Fourth International took place in the Paris suburb of Périgny. Amongst the two dozen delegates who attended it was Tresso, who officially represented a virtually non-existent Italian section. He intervened several times in the discussion.

During the debate on Trotsky’s draft programme of the Fourth International – the so-called Transitional Programme – he spoke on the trade union question, opposing the Polish delegate Stefan Lamed, who was against the slogan of building factory committees in capitalist countries in ‘normal’ or reactionary periods insofar as they ‘would come under the control of the reformists’. Contrary to this analysis, Tresso ‘stressed the importance of factory committees’, even when they had a reformist leadership, as a ‘necessary weapon of struggle’ which, in a situation that was becoming sharper, could wage a fight against the union bureaucracy. Equally important to Tresso was the struggle to drive the bureaucracy out of the soviets in the USSR. Tresso also endorsed Trotsky’s draft programme on the question of the progressive character of the patriotism of the oppressed: ‘In speaking to the workers, we must admit the principle of national defence, [and] point out that to defend any nation in any real sense we must first get rid of the parasites, the bourgeoisie.’ Finally, Tresso urged the Polish Trotskyists ‘to seize the opportunity afforded by the recent dissolution of the Communist Party of Poland to create at once a new Communist Party’. At the end of the conference, Tresso was elected to the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the newly-proclaimed Fourth International (World Party of the Socialist Revolution). [157]

By early June 1938 the crisis of the SFIO resulted in the formation of a left-centrist grouping, the Parti Socialist Ouvrier et Paysan (PSOP) led by Marceau Pivert. On 8 October the POI Central Committee asked the PSOP for a merger. The POI’s proposal was repeated in the following days, and on 15 October the POI Political Bureau elected a delegation formed of Naville, Tresso and Louis Rigaudias to meet the PSOP’s leaders two days later. [158] But the negotiations dragged on until after the PSOP National Council met on 17–18 December 1938. As a matter of fact, the PSOP rejected the perspective of a fusion, which was championed by Naville, but declared it was ready to accept the ‘individual entry’ of POI members with no factional rights. The PSOP’s proposal was accepted by the POI minority led by Jean Rous and Yvan Craipeau, who were supported by Trotsky and the IEC majority.

As a member of the IEC, Tresso opposed the IEC majority, which declared itself in favour of the individual entry of POI members into the PSOP at an IEC meeting held on 8 January 1939. By that time Tresso was in fact siding with the POI majority led by Naville, Marcel Hic and Joannès Bardin (Boitel) which opposed the party minority as liquidationist. At the POI’s National Congress that took place on 14–15 January, the POI minority walked out. On the following day, the IEC met again and authorised the POI minority to enter the PSOP, thus ratifying the split in the French section. The POI minority, enjoying the support of Trotsky and the IEC, eventually entered the PSOP on an individual basis on 3 February 1939. At an IEC meeting held on 5 March 1939, Tresso once more opposed the IEC majority on the question of entrism into the PSOP, and supported a resolution, signed by himself and Bardin, favouring independent activity. [159]

After the split, the POI majority, including Tresso, kept the party going. But on 3 June the IEC met in order to put an end to the ‘French crisis’. It formally dissolved the POI, and enjoined those who had remained in the POI to enter the PSOP individually within a week. [160] As a result, by the middle of June 1939 the IEC ceased to recognise the POI as the French section of the Fourth International. After the IEC meeting of 3 June, however, the Bardin wing of the anti-entrist tendency decided to persist in maintaining an independent POI, and even published one issue of La Lutte Ouvrière in July. On 7 July Naville and Hic agreed to enter the PSOP with their followers. But Naville finally broke with the Fourth International shortly afterwards.

No information is available about Tresso’s political activity in those weeks, nor during the ensuing months. Officially expelled from the Fourth International as decreed by the IEC ultimatum of 3 June 1939, he apparently chose to stay aloof for some time.

V. Tresso’s Arrest, Imprisonment and Assassination

IN THE meantime, a wave of anti-Trotskyism increasingly raged in the PSOP from May 1939 onwards, bringing about the expulsion in June of several Molinierite cadres who were leading members of the PSOP’s youth group. [161] The two wings of the former POI were still divided into the Craipeau-Rous ‘official’ group, which on 1 September 1939 established itself as the Comités de la Quatrième Internationale (CdQI) and launched the journal L’Etincelle, and the Hic tendency, which continued its existence as an ‘informal’ grouping. It seems that Tresso did not join either of these two groups. [162]

The outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September caused the Fourth International to move its International Secretariat to New York, where an emergency world conference was held in May 1940. The CdQI, which had been ejected from the PSOP in November 1939, eventually merged with the Hic group in July 1940, and took the new name of Comités Français pour la Quatrième Internationale (CFpQI), whose new journal, La Vérité, started in August. By that time, German troops had entered Paris on 14 June 1940. According to Rigaudias, after June-July 1940 ‘Blasco had cautious relations with the Paris group due to the precautions he had to take to avoid the police’. [163]

In mid-June 1940 Tresso’s companion Debora Seidenfeld left Paris for Southern France, whilst Tresso remained in the French capital. It was then that Tresso wrote a diary from 16 to 21 June, in which one can read the following meaningful sentences:

‘It would be better, a thousand times better to face all life’s difficulties than to be killed by a bullet from an unknown source. Human bestiality, cowardice, meanness and stinginess are really unbounded. In these days, I am nauseated by them. And it will soon be even worse. But precisely for that reason we must not give up but rise and face up. If I could, I would turn myself into a Jew; and in front of the ravenous herd of hounds and whores who are preparing to lynch the sons of Isaac and Jacob, I would be proud to shout: shit and shit, and shit again to that despicable pack of scoundrels ... these self-proclaiming Frenchmen who, instead of having at least the decency to keep silent before the huge catastrophe which has fallen on their country, copy the language of the victors to hurl insults against their own fellow countrymen. What filth, what scum! But the people of France will sweep away all this garbage, if necessary with fire and sword.’ [164]

Seidenfeld soon decided to interrupt her move to Southern France and returned to Paris. But by mid-1941 the Nazi Gestapo got wind of Tresso’s underground whereabouts. This is why he too, together with Rigaudias, had to leave Paris clandestinely for Marshal Philippe Pétain’s so-called ‘free zone’ in Southern France in late July of that year. [165]

Upon their arrival in Marseilles, they established contact with Abraham Sadek, who was a leading member of the CFpQI organisation in the Southern zone, and Léon Bardin. [166] Initially both Tresso and Rigaudias were not directly involved in the activity of the Marseilles CFpQI branch, but they had almost daily contact with Albert Demazière [167], who was politically in charge both of the CFpQI in the whole of Southern France and of contacts with the New York-based International Secretariat. [168]

Debora Seidenfeld only joined Tresso some months later, [169] that is, towards the end of 1941. He became the treasurer of the Marseilles group, and cooperated as a ‘political counsellor’ and as a member of a ‘selection commission’ [170] with the Centre Américain de Secours (CAS, also known as the American Relief Centre), headed by the US Quaker Varian Fry. This was a body originating from the US Emergency Rescue Committee which had been founded in August 1940 to save those European intellectuals who were being threatened by Fascist or Bonapartist regimes. Such a selective criterion for rescue was later confirmed by Fry’s chief aid Albert Hirschmann, who pointed to the CAS’s elitism: ‘We forgot about all the others’, that is, those who were not considered remarkable enough to be rescued. [171]

Tresso’s views unquestionably collided both with the CAS’s acceptance of, or at least acquiescence with, this elitism, and with the attitude of the US consulate in Marseilles, which granted visas ‘in the merest trickle, in a manner so criminally stingy that thousands upon thousands of real victims, all fine human beings, were left to the mercies of the Nazis’. [172]

Rigaudias, who eventually left Marseilles for Cuba in January 1942, relates: ‘My situation was precarious, and, with the agreement of the Marseilles leadership [of the CFpQI], I took the decision to leave France. I tried in vain to convince Blasco to do the same. He was 48 and was not willing to move to the United States and learn another language; he thought he was relatively safe in the Southern zone.’ [173] It seems, however, that later on Tresso and his companion tried to embark for Mexico with the help of Tresso’s famous brother-in-law Ignazio Silone [174] and Luigi Antonini, who was the President of the Italian Dress and Waistcoat Makers Union in New York. [175] There exists a letter by Tresso in which he dealt with the possibility of getting to Mexico; but he wrote that he was ‘very sceptical’ about that. [176] As a matter of fact, in the end they could not get the necessary papers.

Tresso was coopted into the Southern zone leadership of the CFpQI, which in April 1942 changed its name into Comités Français de la Quatrième Internationale (CFdQI). Two months later this leading body was hit by the first large-scale wave of repression which affected the French section of the Fourth International during the war – a blow which deprived it of a number of leading cadres and rank-and-file members.

This was the outcome of a police investigation which lasted for quite some time, and which was carried on not only in Marseilles but also in Lyons, Toulouse, Grenoble and Clermont-Ferrand. But the true cause of the arrest of these Trotskyists, who had been shadowed by police agents, still remains uncertain. [177] Alfredo Azzaroni, who was in close touch with Tresso’s widow, thought that the round-up of Trotskyists was due to a distribution of Trotskyist leaflets which occurred in Marseilles ‘in the summer of 1942’. [178] But there are two other different versions of the matter.

Contrary to the opinion of Demazière and Debora Seidenfeld, [179] Craipeau credited a police story according to which the June 1942 wave of arrests was the result of the sequestration by the French police in Casablanca (Morocco) of several microfilmed political documents hidden inside a tablet of soap, originating in the International Secretariat in New York, and addressed to Demazière himself in Marseilles. [180]

A third version is based on the fact that Michel Kokoczynski, a Trotskyist militant in Marseilles who cooperated with the CAS from September 1941 to January 1942, may have been an agent provocateur. In fact, when he got a visa for Algeria he ‘forgot’ in a desk drawer of the CAS office a compromising document on the reactionary nature of the Vichy regime – a document that was found by the police and was used as one of the justifications for closing down the CAS itself. [181] In addition to this, after the end of the Second World War Kokoczynski, under the name of Michel Rouze, joined the PCF. [182] These events seem to imply that he was indeed an agent provocateur planted both in the French section of the Fourth International and in the CAS either by the Vichy police or the Stalinists.

Be that as it may, several CFdQI members were arrested on 2 June 1942 in Marseilles by a special police unit under the command of commissioner Pierre Sirinelli, which had come from Vichy expressly for that purpose. Amongst those arrested there were Tresso, Demazière, Seidenfeld, Jean Reboul, Marguerite Usclat and Pierre Delmotte. Sadek was arrested at the same time in Lyons, and Gérard Bloch was also arrested in Lyons some time later.

Tresso was jailed at the Haut Fort Saint-Nicholas in Marseilles, together with Demazière and Reboul. Debora Seidenfeld was imprisoned in the prison for women of Les Présentines. Tresso was tortured during police interrogations. He was even beaten with iron bars in front of his companion. But he did not squeal. [183]

After a detention of some four months, the Trotskyist detainees were brought to trial on 30 September 1942 before a special Military Court of the Fifteenth Military Division in Marseilles. They were charged with having ‘carried on forbidden activity having directly or indirectly the aim of propaganda for slogans emanating from, or relating to, the Third International’ (sic). Demazière was sentenced to lifelong hard labour. Tresso and Reboul, who had Gaston Monnerville as their defence lawyer, were condemned to a 10 year term of forced labour. Marguerite Usclat was sentenced to five years imprisonment, whereas Debora Seidenfeld was acquitted because no evidence was found of her activity as a Trotskyist militant. [184] Tresso was also deprived of civil rights as well as his residence permit for another 10 years. [185] On 2 October the Vichy press carried reports about the trial under the title ‘Militants of the Fourth International Given Severe Sentences’. The articles named those sentenced. [186]

On 6 October 1942 Tresso, Demazière and Reboul were transferred to a military prison in Lodève (Hérault department), where they found Mocho Ségal, a Molinierite cadre who had been arrested seven months before in Marseilles. Life in the prison was not as hard as in the Fort Saint-Nicholas, and they succeeded in being assigned the same cell where they created a small library and devoted themselves to studying (though political books were not allowed), reading novels and playing chess. [187] This ‘holiday camp’, as Demazière ironically called it, was disturbed by their relations with the numerically stronger group of Stalinist detainees. Here is how the latter had dealt with Ségal before the arrival of Tresso and his two comrades:

‘The Stalinists had been ordered from outside [the prison] to point the finger at the Trotskyists as if they were enemies. It was a complete success for their discipline. In the cell, even his oldest co-detainees, those with whom he had been imprisoned for several months, did not utter a single word to him. They did not share their parcels with him, nor did they accept anything from him. It was even forbidden to light his cigarette ... [They] ignored him and tacitly excluded him from community life ... [They] asked the prison director to expel him from their cell. “He is a Trotskyist. He is not a patriot.” That’s all. Salini does not wish to laugh. He does not eat any more, he is unable to stand up, and he often felt his reason wandering; we asked ourselves what could have been his fate if we had not come in.’ [188]

Tresso himself reported the hostile attitude of the Stalinists one month after his arrival in the Lodève military prison:

‘The black spot for us here is our relations with the Stalinists To these gentlemen we are of course a gang of filthy reptiles, with the whole refrain of what you undoubtedly know too well. As a consequence our relations with them boil down to a lack of any relations whatsoever. From my personal standpoint, I do not care about that, but their hatred of us has no limits. Too bad.’ [189]

After the Allied landing in North Africa and the Nazi entry into France’s unoccupied zone, the French army was dissolved, and the military prisons were consequently abolished. Thus on 13 November 1942 the Lodève prison was evacuated, and the political prisoners were brought to a prison camp in Mauzac (Dordogne department), where they stayed for about a month before being transferred to the prison of Puy-en-Velay, in the Haute-Loire. Tresso arrived there in December [190], that is, during a period in which he had been feverish and suffering from bronchitis due to the bad living conditions to which he was subjected in Mauzac. [191]

In the Puy prison Tresso was locked up in the same cell with Sadek and two Stalinist workers – the Czech (or Yugoslav) Joseph Skledar and the Italian (or Corsican) Arthur Bassani [192] – whereas Demazière, Reboul, and Ségal were together in another cell. In about February 1943 Debora Seidenfeld and Demazière’s companion travelled to Le Puy to pay a visit to their imprisoned friends. Tresso had his hair cropped and wore striped clothes and leather slippers. He asked Debora for news about developments on the African front. [193] Later that year, in the course of their written exchange, he also asked Debora about the situation in Italy after the fall of the Fascist regime, which occurred on 25 July.

Relations with the Stalinists in the Puy prison were as cold and hostile as in Lodève, but by early September 1943 they got worse. In a letter to his companion, Tresso reported the Stalinists’ plans for the physical liquidation of the Trotskyists:

‘The news coming from Claudine’s father [that is Demazière] is, on the contrary, less agreeable. It seems that Ercoli’s cousin [a Stalinist detainee, perhaps one Jean Burles or even Théodore Vial (Massat)] decided to get rid of both Bébert [Demazière] and the little family around him [Tresso, Reboul, Sadek and Ségal] at the first opportunity – which would be soon. It was two sons of Ercoli’s cousin [two other Stalinist prisoners] who, being shaken by or, to put it better, indignant at their father’s intentions, informed Bébert himself. Of course sometimes there is a certain difference between saying something and doing it, but Bébert’s little family can expect anything from such a guy. What can be done?’ [194]

In the meantime, an attempt at organising Tresso’s getaway from the Puy prison had reportedly been suggested by the GL leader Emilio Lussu. But it had no support. [195] Attempts to organise a massive escape of detainees from the Puy prison had been made on two occasions – in March and April 1943 – by those Stalinist partisans who were active in that department. But they had ended in failure. At last a further attempt in early October was successful. In the night of 1–2 October 1943 a partisan attack freed all those who were in the prison of Puy-en-Velay. [196]

That FTP operation was led by Victor Joannes [197] and Antoine Rey. The evacuation of the liberated people was carried out under the command of Jean Sosso (also known as ‘Colonel Quillemot’), who was the commander of the ‘Georges Woodli’ partisan camp, which derived its name from that of an Alsatian member of the PCF’s Central Committee who had been hanged by the Gestapo in Struthof (Bas-Rhin) earlier in 1943. The 80 or so former detainees [198], including the Trotskyists, were boarded onto trucks, and they were also given some weapons. Then they were divided into two separate groups. The smaller one – some 30 to 35 people – set out for the ‘Gabriel Péri’ partisan camp in the Puy-de-Dôme department, which derived its name from that of a member of the PCF Central Committee who had been shot by the Nazis at Mont-Valérien in 1941. The remaining escapees ‘headed towards different departments (Cantal, Ardèche, Loire, etc). Tresso ... reached the massif of the Meygal (or Mégal), in the Haute-Loire.’ [199]

Demazière was in the smaller group. At a certain point he and two other partisans were instructed to pick up mushrooms in order to make up for the scarcity of food, but they lost themselves in the wood, and, on the following day at dawn, they decided to part. Demazière reached the Ardèche department, where some teachers whom he had met before the war helped him to get false papers with which he managed to arrive in Paris clandestinely at the end of October 1943. There he reported to the leaders of the POI – the new name that had been adopted by the CFdQI in December 1942. [200]

Tresso, Reboul, Sadek and Ségal were in the Wodli camp, which was situated in a small group of abandoned farms in a place called Raffy, above Queyrières, some 20 kilometres away from Yssingeaux, in the Haute-Loire department. [201] From there Reboul, Sadek and Ségal could send postcards to their companions to let them know that, despite the precarious situation, they hoped to come out of it fairly well. [202] This was the last direct trace of them, for the Wodli maquis ‘disbanded’ in November 1943. When it was reconstituted in Sestrières in June 1944 ‘under the command of Captain Massat’ [203], Tresso and his three younger comrades had disappeared.

In September 1944 the POI’s clandestine paper carried for the first time news about the death of Tresso, who was described as ‘a member of our Central Committee’, without pointing to the circumstances of his decease. [204] After France’s ‘Liberation’, Tresso’s companion started inquiring into his fate. She first turned to Paul Schmierer, a left wing Socialist doctor who had been a member of the PSOP, and the POUM correspondent in France. Together with Tresso, he had also worked in the CAS staff in Marseilles, and had taken some part in the Resistance movement in Southern France. In November 1944 he wrote to Debora that he had had knowledge of Tresso’s presence in a maquis from ‘an FTP partisan from the Haute-Loire’, who was none other than the well-known historian Marc Bloch, who had been executed by the Gestapo near Lyons on 16 June 1944. From him Schmierer learnt that Tresso ‘continued to be regarded as a suspect man and treated as a prisoner’. [205]

A confirmation of his status as a prisoner was given to Tresso’s companion by the sister of Yves De Boton, another doctor who had been a Trotskyist in the 1930s and had joined the partisan movement in the Haute-Loire and later in the Rhône-Alpes department, where he was killed by the Gestapo on 20 August 1944. Alice De Boton reported to Debora that Yves had told her that ‘in the Haute-Loire, some partisans who were regarded as Trotskyists, including Tresso, were kept as prisoners by the Communist [Stalinist] maquisards and forced to carry out the hardest labour that others refused to do’. [206]

In August 1945, during one of her travels to the places where Tresso had disappeared, Debora got to Queyrières and managed to meet one Nicolas, an aged peasant who had lived next the Wodli camp. He reported to her that he had seen ‘the escapees arrival; they had grown beards and had bloodstained feet, and were dog-tired. I was surprised when I saw that some young men [belonging to the maquis] welcomed and escorted the new arrivals with their revolvers pointed at them. A strange way to welcome them!’ Nicolas recognised Tresso from a photograph and told Debora that ‘this one could not have stayed here for long’. [207]

Some months before – in late 1944 – Debora had met Salvatore Moro, one of the escapees from the Puy prison living in Beaucaire. He told her about the ‘disbanding’ of the Wodli camp that had occurred by mid-November 1943, following which Tresso and his Trotskyist comrades had disappeared [208], physically liquidated by their Stalinist keepers. According to Debora, Moro ‘did actually talk with me, but he told me only what was strictly necessary. He is a likeable man, but he is linked by solidarity to the [French Communist] Party, and neither threats nor fear would make him say anything more.’ [209]

Late in August 1945 Debora Seidenfeld also met Théodore Vial (also known under the pseudonym of Massat), who had been arrested in Saint-Etienne in May 1943, and was subsequently imprisoned in the Puy prison. After the collective escape from that prison in October 1943, he joined the PCF and became a commander of the Wodli partisan unit. Debora showed him some photographs of Tresso, but ‘he declared that he had never seen him before ... something that was impossible as he had been among the escapees’. Here are Debora’s comments on her talk with Vial: ‘Having got no information, but only the impression of complete unwillingness from him, I left him ... From our talk it appeared not only that he knew the man of whom I was speaking [Tresso], but that he grossly lied and that he had been ordered to hold his tongue.’ [210]

In the postwar years Vial was a member of the PCF’s ‘internal police’, which was charged with controlling party branches and individual members, and at the party’s Twelfth National Congress in April 1950 he was elected onto the Central Committee. Later on he is said to have been the main aide of the PCF’s Organisational Secretary, Auguste Lecoeur, who created a ‘special service’ to investigate the private lives of party militants. Following Lecoeur’s fall into disgrace, Vial did a volte-face and became one of his accusers. He was ousted from the Central Committee at the party’s Seventeenth National Congress in May 1964 – that is, some months after the inception of a wave of polemics around Azzaroni’s biography of Tresso – but remained both a PCF member of parliament until 1986, and the mayor of the town of Firminy in the Loire department.

In November 1978 he intervened once more on the case of Pietro Tresso to deny all responsibility for Tresso’s assassination, alleging that he had ‘never heard of this event’. On that occasion he stated that he had no post in the Wodli unit, neither before nor after its disbandment, and that he became a Wodli commander only when that maquis was reconstituted in June 1944. [211] In 1961, however, the selfsame Vial had claimed to have been the Wodli commander – a rank that he shared with Alain Joubert – from 2 October to 10 December 1943. [212] Furthermore, it seems that during a police inquiry carried out in 1945 by the Puy police station, Vial declared that: ‘They were Trotskyists. They were executed as traitors. The local chief of police of the time knew all that.’ [213]

Thus, despite Vial’s clearly false statements, it is unquestionable that he had some relevant responsibility for the disappearance of Tresso and his comrades Reboul, Sadek and Ségal.

The collective assassination of four Trotskyist militants and the concealment of their corpses were certainly carried out on the basis of precise instructions coming from the Stalinist apparatus, which was intertwined with Stalin’s secret services insofar as the latter had their own representatives in the leading bodies of each and every Communist party throughout the world. On the other hand, Tresso’s name must have been included on their blacklist since more than a decade.

It is a fact that, apart from the hardened Stalinist leaders of the PCF and those of the PCI who were still living in France after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, several GPU men were still active in France during the first half of the 1940s. It was possibly a GPU-affiliated gang that liquidated Willi Münzenberg in 1940. From the time of the occupation of Paris onwards, the Czech Artur London, a GPU veteran of the Spanish Civil War, was active in Marseilles. [214] And in the course of 1942 the GPU agent Noël Haviland Field lived in the same town, where he was collecting information about non- and anti-Stalinist leftists in Southern France. [215]

The PCF, in turn, was not idle: suffice it to mention the case of Mathieu Bucholz (Pamp), a member of the David Korner (Barta)-led Groupe Communiste who was ‘arrested’ during a meeting with members of the PCF’s youth organisation in September 1944; later on his corpse was found in the Seine river, but the French police refused to carry out an inquiry about his death. [216] This was entirely consistent with the anti-Trotskyist line spread by the PCF’s Central Committee even after the country’s ‘Liberation’, which amounted to a call for murder:

‘During the occupation the Gestapo had its Trotskyist agents publishing a provocateur journal called La Vérité. In that paper the Trotskyist agents in the service of the Gestapo attacked the patriots who were waging guerrilla war against the boches [a contemptuous French synonym for Germans]. Thus they contributed to the policy of murdering hostages on the basis of provocation which had been established by Hitler to try to frighten the patriots.’ [217]

On the other hand, the main leaders of the PCF in the Southern zone – Raymond Guyot, Léon Mauvais, Eugène Hénaff and their ilk – were precisely the kind of Stalinists who were ready to carry out whatever task with unflinching devotion and the necessary brutality. According to Rodolphe Prager, Tresso and his comrades were killed in late October 1943 ‘on the basis of a decision taken by the Central Committee of the Southern zone branch of the [French] CP, perhaps also of the Paris CC, and therefore probably of [Jacques] Duclos’. [218]

There is no doubt that the moral and political responsibility for this quadruple murder falls upon Stalin and his henchmen around the world. After the first show trial in Moscow, one of the most prominent amongst them and a personal and political enemy of Tresso – the chief of the PCI, Palmiro Togliatti – had argued that ‘our struggle against counter-revolutionary Trotskyism is not yet sufficient; it should be widened, improved, and brought to a much higher level’. [219] And it was such statements that both politically and psychologically armed those who assassinated Tresso and his three comrades.

VI. Epilogue: Further Stalinist Lies and the Long March of Truth

FOR NEARLY 20 years the case of Pietro Tresso remained enveloped in the silence of living people who could not remember and of dead people who could not speak. But in December 1962 the publication of Azzaroni’s Blasco [220] gave rise to an interesting debate.

In March 1963 the organ of the Italian section of the Mandelite ‘Fourth International’, Bandiera Rossa, published a hostile review of Azzaroni’s book, which tended to give credit to the version that Tresso had supposedly been assassinated by an isolated killer who, ‘obeying obscure orders’, had ‘lurked behind a bush and shot him without anyone else’s knowledge’. [221] This version induced Tresso’s widow to send an indignant letter to the journal: ‘This is the first time that I ever heard such a version, the seriousness of which is quite obvious. Since what is involved is not a private but a public issue, it seems to me that you have a duty to specify from whom this account has come. It should be a Stalinist officer who thus wanted to exculpate his party.’ [222] And Azzaroni, too, wrote to the paper of the Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari that Fausto Monfalcon’s ‘“official” version of Blasco’s death is new to me. Indeed I’m quite astonished that Bandiera Rossa reports it only now and so nonchalantly, in a book review.’ [223]

Replying to both Seidenfeld and Azzaroni, Monfalcon sought to justify the new version by stating that ‘the [new] data concerning Tresso’s death which we have reported were collected on the spot by the French Trotskyists immediately after the war’. ‘On the other hand’, Monfalcon went on, ‘there is nothing odd in the fact that those responsible for this crime sought to hide it from their men through mendacious versions, nor is it strange that honest partisans, under the circumstances of guerrilla warfare, accepted their chief’s word.’ [224]

Such an explanation is hardly credible, and even Monfalcon did not give it much credit. In a private letter to Seidenfeld, Monfalcon explained that the source for that version was Gérard Bloch, who had inquired into Tresso’s disappearance ‘soon after the war’, and had talks ‘with partisans of the FTP unit who had carried out the Puy-en-Velay action’. And the same Monfalcon argued that he agreed with Seidenfeld about the unreliability of this version – ‘it is a convenient story about the crime to muddy the waters’ – which he had reported only ‘by way of information’. What was sure in Monfalcon’s eyes was that:

‘Those who spread that story – the FTP commanders and their senior chiefs – are responsible for Blasco’s assassination; on the other hand in my article I hinted at “obscure orders”. Personally, I am convinced that such “obscure orders” cannot but have come from above ... In my opinion, these orders come from the PCF leaders living in France at that time, and from the FTP’s central command on their behalf. I ... can tell you who the members of that body were: Charles Tillon, [Eugène] Hénaff, André Ouzoulias, René Champin, Marcel Prénant, [Georges] Beyer. Larzac [?] was responsible for the Southern zone. If today there is someone who knows something precise about Blasco’s fate, he will be amongst the above-mentioned names. For example, Prénant is no longer in the PCF: he was the commander of the FTP General Staff. Here is a man who should know something, at least whether an official directive to act against the Trotskyists was actually issued in the FTP units.’ [225]

On the initiative of the Treviso branch of the PCI, a special committee was formed toward the end of the year 1963 in order to study Tresso’s life and ideas, and to give him ‘the place that he justly deserves in the history of the Italian and European workers’ movement’. [226] It was at this time that the Secretary of the Treviso committee, Elio Franzin, sent Togliatti a letter to demand an inquiry into Tresso’s disappearance. The líder máximo of the PCI replied to him on 17 December that year arguing that:

‘In reconstructing the history of our party, we can discuss whether the expulsion [of Tresso from the PCd’I] was more or less justified, but this is an historical and political problem, and nothing else. If Tresso were happily still alive, the question of returning to the party would probably have been posed to him too, as happened with Leonetti, who asked for re-admission and now belongs again to our ranks ... In our party there have been polemics, even bitter ones, from both sides, but nothing beyond the sphere of politics.’ [227]

Apart from the gross lie according to which the old anti-Trotskyist attacks did not go ‘beyond the sphere of politics’, it is unquestionable that, as the French Commission for the Truth on Stalin’s Crimes argued, ‘by associating Leonetti’s name with Tresso’s, Togliatti makes an unjustified amalgam ... Tresso was made of different metal’. [228] Leonetti was a turncoat Trotskyist who broke with the Fourth Internationalist movement in about 1936–37, joined the PCF in 1944, and returned to the Togliatti-led PCI in 1962. And Tresso’s widow had no doubt that he had been, directly or indirectly, ‘an accomplice of Blasco’s assassins’ [229], and one of those responsible for the veil of silence drawn over the circumstances of his death.

In 1964 the ‘detective story’ of Tresso’s assassination was enriched by a new version, probably devised ad hoc in order to put an end to the troublesome controversy. The author of the new story was Stefano Schiapparelli (Willy), a long-time Stalinist cadre who had attended the Lenin School in Moscow in 1934–35 before becoming a PCd’I officer in Paris and Marseilles, where he was arrested in 1940. The following year he organised, together with Giorgio Amendola, the transfer of the PCd’I’s illegal apparatus from Paris to the Southern zone. He was arrested again in 1942, and imprisoned in Aix-en-Provence and in the Nîmes penitentiary, but in February 1944 he managed to escape with the aid of the French partisans and arrived at a maquis located in Giemolhac, on the Lozère mountains. Some months later he returned to Italy, where he took a leading part in the Resistance movement in the Emilia and Venetia regions, and after the war he was for a while one of the apparatchiks of the PCI in Vicenza – the main town of the province where Tresso was born and his relatives were living.

Schiapparelli’s testimony on Tresso’s death – which was intended to reply to Azzaroni’s ‘false accusations against the Italian Communist Party’ – appeared as a letter to the editor of the weekly of the PCI, that is, to Togliatti:

‘I remember very well that one day in March 1944, a French (Communist) comrade who was charged with maintaining liaison with several maquis, and who knew that I was an Italian, asked me whether I had ever met Blasco, and told me that the latter found himself in a maquis (without specifying the place, as we used to do at that time in conformity with the most elementary rules of clandestinity). He added that Blasco was seriously ill with lung disease, and that he was being treated in the best possible way under the circumstances. He also told me that the same Blasco had delivered his autobiography to the “maquis commander” ... In July 1944, some days before returning to Italy on the party’s instructions, I had the chance to meet this comrade again, who, referring to Blasco, informed me that the latter had died some time before due to his illness. I still remember his words: “Ton gars est mort.” As soon as I was back to Italy, late in July 1944, I reported this information to comrade Amendola in Milan so that he could transmit it to whoever [in the party leadership] might be interested in it.’ [230]

Schiapparelli’s version, however, is not at all convincing. First and foremost, the supposition that Tresso died a natural death appears hardly tenable insofar as he did not disappear alone. Whilst it is unquestionable that he had suffered from tuberculosis since the time of the First World War, it is also true that three other younger Trotskyist militants who found themselves in the Wodli camp disappeared as mysteriously as he did, without leaving any trace at all. Jean Reboul was 25, Abraham Sadek was 28, and Mocho Ségal was 36. Is it possible that they, too, died a natural death? Of course not.

A few days after the publication of Schiapparelli’s unlikely testimony, Azzaroni sent Togliatti a letter in which he posed the following questions:

‘1. Why did this revelation about the death of Blasco due to an illness come so late in the day?

‘2. Why did the previous inquiries, including the one by the PCF, fail to uncover anything that would support this tardy version?

‘3. Why is the maquis chief who is supposed to have Blasco’s autobiography in his possession still keeping it secret?

‘4. Why haven’t the Member of Parliament Amendola and the old comrades to whom Schiapparelli confided the truth about the death of Tresso spoken up to defend the PCI from the accusation of having liquidated an opponent? Why didn’t they speak with the surviving members of his family?’ [231]

Togliatti refused to publish this letter in his magazine Rinascita, as Azzaroni had asked, but indirectly replied to him through a short article by which he stated that for the PCI it was neither possible nor relevant to carry out an inquiry which, indeed, ‘has been made by those who should and could make it’, that is, by the PCF. Then Togliatti went on to denounce ‘any tendency to use such a painful event ... to carry on openly or in an underhand way one of the usual defamation campaigns against the Communist Party’. [232]

After reading Schiapparelli’s story, Domenico Sedran addressed a letter to the PCI’s newspaper to report some testimonies he had heard about Tresso’s death. Needless to say, l’Unità chose not to publish it. [233]

Livio Maitan polemicised against Togliatti’s article, and asked whether Schiapparelli’s ‘revelations’ were merely a clumsy step or the consequence of a decision taken ‘at the highest party level’ to prepare the ground for an official statement formally rehabilitating Tresso. ‘We clearly state’, Maitan went on, ‘that our movement does not ask for a rehabilitation inasmuch as Tresso has no need to be rehabilitated’. Further on he numbered Azzaroni – whom he called ‘a contributor to the shameful right wing Social Democratic magazine Correspondenza Socialista’ – amongst the ‘enemies of the Communist movement’ whose speculations Togliatti seemed ‘so eager to avoid’. [234]

Some days later Maitan again tackled the ‘Blasco case’ in the English-language weekly of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, in which he also attacked Silone:

‘The pamphlet [Azzaroni’s Blasco] carried a preface by Ignazio Silone, the well-known right wing Social Democratic writer, who has practically retired from politics but who from time to time makes a foray primarily against the Communist Party. It was largely due to this preface by a figure widely discredited in the workers’ movement that Bandiera Rossa ... published a rather severe criticism of the pamphlet about Tresso.’ [235]

It is a fact that Schiapparelli lied, and that his defender Togliatti awkwardly backed him up in order to try to clear the PCI of any responsibility. And it is a fact, too, that no information was ever made available about a presumed PCF inquiry into the Tresso case. Nor did the PCF people collaborate with Debora Seidenfeld and all those who tried to shed light on the disappearance of Tresso and his comrades.

In the last analysis, the attitude of the Italian Stalinists was equally uncooperative. Suffice it to say that a top leader of the PCI like Mauro Scoccimarro did not even deign to give an answer to Tresso’s widow. [236] Even Togliatti, clearly rather disturbed by Franzin’s work, warned him in this way: ‘You should remember, however, that under the pretext of “studying” [party history], sometimes one can do nothing but develop lousy campaigns against us. So it was with the Blasco case.’ [237] And here is what the General Secretary of the PCI wrote to the same Franzin some three months later: ‘You continue writing to me about your researches on Pietro Tresso’s activity. But I am told that you are also carrying on disruptive activity in the party organisation. You should stop this if you want your historical research work to be taken seriously’ [238]

In November 1965 Tresso’s widow wrote to Leonetti about Schiapparelli’s story and the ‘new version’ of which Leonetti had ostensibly become aware in the meantime:

‘I learnt from different people that you have got hold of a new version of Blasco’s end. I torment myself and remember Schiapparelli who, whilst living in Vicenza in 1946 and working at the local Communist federation together with old comrades or, better still, childhood friends of Blasco (such as Riccardo Walter), did not feel it his duty to inform Blasco’s mother (who was still alive) about the fate of her favourite son. In the same way today, whilst several people know your version about Blasco’s death, I do not know anything precise. Who killed him? And how? Was he tortured? Did he suffer from violence? Where was he buried? In the maquis, one did not die all alone ... [I beg you] not to add new sufferings to those which started 22 years ago, and to tell me what you know about the death of Blasco and his three unfortunate comrades.’ [239]

Leonetti replied to her explaining that he and his friends had thought it necessary not to tell her about the ongoing inquiry in order not to upset her. But now, as that agreement had been broken, he declared himself ready to let her know the confidential dossier they had drawn up. [240] The ‘new version’ was the already mentioned 1965 report by G. Combes, according to which Tresso had been killed by the Nazis, and Leonetti’s confidential dossier surely included a written exchange with an increasingly paranoid Combes [241] as well as some letters from Georges Schwartz. The latter was a Russo-Polish Jew who had attended the same school as Lev Sedov in Moscow, and who had his family destroyed in the Warsaw ghetto. He was a doctor in Vitry-sur-Seine, and had been a Socialist Resistance leader in the Haute-Loire, where he had become a friend of De Boton, Schmierer and Leonetti. On 20 November he wrote the following to Leonetti himself:

‘The day before yesterday I spent two hours with Combes, who had come to Paris. It was the first time I had met him. I was astonished to learn how much he knows about the history of the Resistance movement in the Haute-Loire. Amongst other things we spoke of you and the case you are worried about. I understood that Blasco had “died for France”. As for the circumstances of his death, one wavers between some certainties and some quasi-certainties. But an historian ... must not mix them up, since sometimes there exists a relevant difference between them, that is, between an absolute certainty and a quasi-certainty.’ [242]

The Stalinist Mafia was much more explicit with Schwartz, who had been contacted by Debora Seidenfeld, than Togliatti was with Franzin. Here is what Schwartz himself wrote to Leonetti late in 1969: ‘A short time after receiving a visit from Tresso’s widow, a PCF member called me on the telephone to threaten me. He made me understand “in a friendly way” that I should not be interested in things which did not concern me.’ [243]

Six years later the Circolo ‘Mondo Nuovo’ in Cosenza, which was about to start working on a book on Tresso – an undertaking which was pursued from 1975 to 1978, and was eventually dropped due to financial difficulties – asked Amendola for his testimony on the ‘Blasco case’. In plain continuity with the Stalinist criminal hypocrisy of the PCI, Amendola replied that it was in Marseilles that he had learnt (probably from Schiapparelli, but this is not clearly stated) that Tresso died because of an illness: ‘There is no need to have recourse to a “crime of Stalinist origin” as you did. In the Resistance movement one fought and died, not just by a bullet, but also from privation and illness. And Tresso was no longer a young lad. So it would be better for you to leave the false trail of a Stalinist crime.’ [244]

In 1975 the publication of Umberto Terracini’s book on the 1930 ‘Third Period’ turn of the PCd’I [245] opened up again the debate on the ‘Blasco case’. In his capacity as the Secretary of the Circolo ‘Mondo Nuovo’, Antonio Lombardi polemicised against Rossana Rossanda, a leading figure of the Manifesto group, who had declared that Tresso ‘died fighting the Germans in the Communist maquis’, thus consciously obscuring the fact that Tresso had been physically liquidated by the Stalinist maquisards together with his comrades. [246] Livio Maitan, in turn, responded to Leonetti, who had been quite apologetic with regard to Brezhnevite Stalinism and far too vague when stating that Tresso ‘died in a Communist-led French maquis’, thus cynically passing over the circumstances of his death. [247]

In 1978 Attilio Chitarin edited a special section for Lotta Continua, an Italian far left daily, to commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary of Tresso’s assassination. By the way, Chitarin stressed that ‘to this day, Tresso has not found a biographer to reconstruct the fundamental stages of his life’. [248] Such a gap was filled, at least partially, in May 1985 by the publication of the book Vita di Blasco by Casciola and Sermasi.

This book, in turn, was amply used (even though he did not even deign to mention it) by one Gianfranco Berardi, a journalist for the paper of the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (PDS) (Democratic Party of the Left) – the new name adopted by the PCI after its completely Social Democratic turn in 1989 – to perpetuate the hypocritical attitude of that party with regard to the ‘Blasco case’. In fact, in his article for the hundredth anniversary of Tresso’s birth, Berardi did not dare to utter such words as ‘murder’ or ‘assassination’, but instead confined himself to informing his readers that the French Commission for the Truth on Stalin’s Crimes had ‘come to the conclusion that he [Tresso] had been eliminated under circumstances which have neither been specified nor proved in detail’. [249] A worthy pupil of Togliattite falsity, Berardi was entirely consistent with the Stalinist conspiracy of silence which surrounded the ‘Blasco case’.

The names of the executioners of Tresso, Reboul, Sadek and Ségal are so far unknown, even though it is certain that some at least of those FTP Stalinist killers are still alive. There is little doubt that sooner or later they will be unmasked.

But this will not be the end of the long march of truth. What is more important to know is who gave them the order physically to liquidate Tresso and his comrades. It is quite likely that such an order came from the highest ranks of the PCF and/or the PCI, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the decision to have the four Trotskyists murdered was taken after wireless consultations with Moscow, where several Italian Stalinist top leaders were still living in 1943–44 – including Togliatti, who left the Soviet Union only in February 1944.

Tresso undoubtedly scared all of them insofar as potentially he could have stood as a genuinely Marxist alternative to Togliattite class-collaborationism in post-Fascist Italy, which was deeply shaken by a protracted pre-revolutionary wave. This is probably one of the main reasons why they decided to have him killed.

Pietro Tresso was a proletarian revolutionary with no flexible spine, a militant of the ‘old guard’ who fought for more than three decades – up to his own assassination – for the cause of the exploited and the oppressed of the whole world. Under the difficult conditions due to his status as a political emigré, in the middle of innumerable material difficulties, and whilst persecuted and hunted by the secret police of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, Tresso did not turn his coat or desert his place as a Communist fighter. In Naville’s words:

‘His activity and his figure symbolise at one and the same time the unflinching struggle for an uncompromisingly Socialist political ideal, a complete devotion to its aims, and the opposition to the abominable effects of Stalinist practices on the workers’ movement ... Tresso belongs to that phalanx of victims that, in the last analysis, all states persisted in smashing ... because they represented the living future of Socialism. Tresso’s personality emerges from the ranks of that phalanx with his own special features of courage, intransigence and deep humanity.’ [250]

‘The memory of the Trotskyist militant Pietro Tresso’, as has been written by someone else, ‘does not belong either to his assassins or to their direct or indirect accomplices. It belongs to the working people, to the young workers and peasants of Italy. Let the best amongst them rise and take once more the banner that Tresso upheld high for his whole life! It is in this way, and only in this way, that justice will be done to him.’ [251]


1. The political inspirer of that group, Amadeo Bordiga (1889–1970), had been expelled from the PCd’I on 20 March 1930. From about that time until at least 1944 he abstained completely from political action.

2. Prometeo, no. 20, June 1929.

3. L.D. Trotsky, A Letter to the Italian Left Communists, 25 September 1929, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, New York 1975, pp. 318–24.

4. op. cit., p. 318.

5. For more information on the International Preliminary Conference cf.. Rodolphe Prager (ed.), Les Congrès de la Quatrième Internationale. 1: Naissance de la IVème Internationale, La Brèche, Montreuil 1978, pp. 33–48, and Damien Durand, Opposants a Staline, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 33, March 1988, pp. 221–37.

6. Cf. Gérard Roche, La rupture de 1930 entre Trotsky et Rosmer: “Affaire Molinier” ou divergences politiques?, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 9, January 1982, p. 10.

7. Cf. A. Leonetti, letter to Isaac Deutscher, 20 August 1965, in Belfagor, Volume 34, no. 1, 31 January 1979, p. 51. For a comprehensive political biography of Pietro Tresso before 1930 cf. Giorgio Sermasi, Pietro Tresso communista. Dalla FGS di Magrè alla “svolta” del 1930, in Casciola and Sermasi, op. cit., pp. 17–114.

8. A Rosmer, letter to Trotsky, 10 April 1930, L.D. Trotsky, A. and M. Rosmer, Correspondance 1929–1939 (edited by Pierre Broué), Gallimard, Paris 1982, p. 135.

9. Tresso ‘did not know the French militants of the Ligue Communiste but he read their paper La Vérité’ (P Naville, Note, in Alfredo Azzaroni, Blasco. La vie de Pietro Tresso [preface by Ignazio Silone, introduction by P. Naville], Commission pour la Vérité sur les Crimes de Staline, Paris, 1965, p. 94). Trotsky’s articles appeared in La Vérité on 24 and 31 January and 7 February 1930.

10. At the Central Committee meeting of March 1930 they had even approved Bordiga’s expulsion, something that the NOI later called a mistake. Cf., for example, Noi e la Frazione di Sinistra bordighiana, Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana (PCI), no. 3, 15 August 1931.

11. On Gaetana Teresa Recchia, cf. pp. 101–4.

12. This has correctly been emphasised by Ferdinando Ormea, Le origini dello stalinismo nel PCI, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1978, p. 181: ‘The minority, which had not set up an organised faction, did not yet have a clear-cut line, but was undergoing a process of development. Only with the passing of time would a proper political platform of “collective opposition” have come out of the frequently different and conflicting positions.’

13. On Mario Bavassano, cf. pp. 92–3.

14. ‘Grave crise intérieure dans le Parti communiste italien’, La Vérité, no. 34, 18 April 1930.

15. Akros [A Leonetti], ‘Où en est la dictature fasciste en Italie?’, La Vérité, nos 35, 37 and 38, 25 April, 16 and 18 May 1930.

16. Cf. P Spriano, Storia del Partito Comunista Italiano 2: Gli anni della clandestinità , Einaudi, Turin, 1969, p. 258.

17. The oppositionists’ letter to Trotsky, dated 5 May 1930, was published almost in full in La Lutte de Classes, no. 23, July 1930, under the signature of ‘Blasco’, that is, Tresso.

18. ‘It is our intention, by writing to you, to adhere to the left oppositional current within the Communist International, of which you are the leader and the head.’ (op. cit.)

19. L.D. Trotsky, Problems of the Italian Revolution, 14 May 1930, originally published in La Lutte de Classes, no. 23, July 1930; Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, op. cit., pp. 220–7.

20. This point is also discussed in Alfonso Leonetti: A Turncoat Trotskyist, in this issue of Revolutionary History, pp. 18–9.

21. Umberto Clementi’s testimony to Renzo Di Rienzo, Ecce Gramsci una serie di testimoninanze raccolte da sua nipote e che qui ripubblichiamo, L’Espresso, no. 19, 11 May 1975.

22. Athos Lisa, Memorie, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1973, p. 88.

23. op. cit., pp. 87, 89.

24. L.D. Trotsky, An Open Letter to the Prometeo Group, 22 April 1930, originally published in Prometeo, no. 31, 1 June 1930; Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, op. cit., pp. 191–2.

25. Prometeo, no. 31, op. cit.

26. Letter from the Italian Left Fraction to Trotsky, 3 June 1930, in Silverio Corvisieri, Trotskij e il comunismo italiano, Samonà e Savelli, Rome 1969, pp. 239–45.

27. L.D. Trotsky, To the Editorial Board of Prometeo’, 19 June 1930, originally published in Prometeo, no. 33, 15 July 1930; Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930, op. cit., pp. 284–9.

28. The following pieces published by La Vérité in 1930 can be referred to: Grave crise intérieure dans le Parti communiste italien, no. 32, 18 April; Bordiga est exclu pour “trotskysme”, no. 35, 9 May; Le perroquet-démagogue Ercoli, no. 38, 30 May; Premier bilan du tournant italien and Pour Ercoli et Cie, no. 39, 6 June; Encore sur Ercoli, no. 41, 20 June; La crise du Parti communiste italien. Les opportunistes chassent les révolutionnaires, no. 42, 27 June; Déjà des correctifs sur la route du “tournant”’ and ‘Les mensonges du secrétariat du PC Italien, no. 43, 4 July; La centre et la base dans la crise du Parti communiste italien, no. 45, 18 July; Lettre ouverte de la Nouvelle Opposition à tous les membres du PCI, no. 46, 25 July; Comment les bureaucrates du PCI combattent l’opposition, no. 47, 1 August. It should also be recalled that the theoretical magazine of the French Trotskyists (La Lutte de Classes, no. 23, July 1930) published a bulky dossier on the relations of the NOI and the Bordigists with Trotsky and the ILO.

29. They are reprinted in full in All’opposizione nel PCI con Trotsky e Gramsci, Controcorrente, Rome 1977.

30. After April 1930 a group of members of the French Ligue, led by Pierre Gourget (Barozine) and supported by Naville, gave up independent revolutionary activity in the unions for the sake of tailing a heterogeneous grouping, the Opposition Unitaire, which had been built inside the Stalinist-influenced union, the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGTU). Within the Ligue, a minority group (the ‘Marxist wing’) led by Molinier and Pierre Frank, and supported by Trotsky, opposed such a ‘rightist trade union’ policy.

31. P. Tresso, letter to the NOI Committee, 2 January 1931.

32. Résolution du 15 février 1931.

33. Sténogramme du Procès-Verbal de la Commision de contrôle sur la “Cas Blasco”, Paris, 5 July 1931.

34. A. Leonetti, letter to Trotsky, 28 January 1931.

35. Unsigned [ascribed to Tresso], La crise de la CGTU et les tâches du mouvement syndical révolutionnaire, La Vérité, 3 November 1932.

36. P. Frank, two letters to Lev Sedov, 17 July and 20 October 1931, in which it is stated that ‘it is Blasco who ... from the beginning pointed to the position which we eventually adopted, and which is in line with the position expressed in L.D.’s [Trotsky’s] article’.

37Rapports entre la Ligue et la Nouvelle Opposition Italienne, Bulletin intérieur de la LCI, no. 3, 1931.

38. A Leonetti, Dix ans après Livourne, Bordiga, La Lutte de Classes, no. 27, January 1931.

39. L.D. Trotsky, Critical Remarks About Prometeos Resolution on Democratic Demands, 15 January 1931, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930–31, New York 1973, pp. 133–6.

40. On Nicola Di Bartolomeo cf. pp. 23–9 in this issue of Revolutionary History. Cf. also P. Broué and R. Prager, Nicola Di Bartolomeo, in Jean Maitron and Claude Pennetier (eds.), Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, Volume 25, Les Éditions Ouvrières, Paris 1985, pp. 187–9.

41. Fosco [N Di Bartolomeo], letter to Trotsky, 11 February 1931.

42. Cf. Fosco [N Di Bartolomeo], À toutes les sections de l’Opposition de Gauche, Bulletin intérieur, Ligue Communiste, unnumbered, March 1932, pp. 35–6.

43Noi e la Frazione di Sinistra bordighiana, op. cit.

44. NOI, letter to Trotsky, 10 August 1931.

45. For the minutes, cf. Bulletin intérieur de la Ligue Communiste, no. 1, 1931.

46. The text of this resolution is the first part of the document Rapports entre la Ligue, op. cit., pp. 9–10.

47. op. cit., p. 11.

48. op. cit., p. 14.

49. ‘During their trip Tresso and Leonetti passed a bad quarter of an hour when they were arrested by the German police, having stopped in Hamburg and come across a workers’ demonstration; they subsequently succeeded in being released because their (false) French passports seemed genuine even to the French consul, who had promptly rushed in.’ (Corvisieri, op. cit., pp. 151–2)

50. Cf. L.D. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky Supplement 1929–33, New York, 1979, p. 390, n228; cf. also Harry Wicks: A Memorial, London, 1989, pp. 6–9.

51. Contre l’ésprit individualiste petit-bourgeois en matière d’organisation dans l’Opposition de Gauche Internationale (Sur les rapports des membres de la section italienne avec la section française de l’Opposition de Gauche) (undated, from April 1933).

52. op. cit., p. 5.

53. Minutes of the Executive Commission of the Ligue Communiste, 6 November 1932, p. 3. The groupes de langue had been created by the Third National Congress of the PCF, held in January 1924 in Lyons, in order to regroup foreign Communists living in France into relatively independent organisations, which were nevertheless under the control of the French party.

54. P. Rimbert [P. Torielli], Sur la NOI, Bulletin intérieur de la LCI, no. 23, January 1933, pp. 21–3.

55. [P. Tresso], Réponse à Rimbert, op. cit., pp. 23–5.

56. On Debora Seidenfeld cf. pp. 98–9.

57. The draft theses by the NOI, dated 31 March 1933, were submitted to the international discussion and published in Bulletin International de l’Opposition de Gauche Internationale (Bolchéviks-Léninistes), no. 4, late May 1933, pp. 20–3. But it does not appear that they were officially adopted by the ILO.

58. L.D. Trotsky, KPD or New Party?, 12 March 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, New York, 1978, p. 137.

59. Procès-verbal du SI et IKD, 4 April 1933.

60. Convocation du Plénum de l’Opposition de Gauche Internationale, Bulletin International de l’Opposition Communiste de Gauche, no. 2–3, April 1933, pp. 2–3.

61. Cf. L.D. Trotsky, Full Time Staff, 30 July 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky Supplement 1929–33, op. cit., pp. 259–60.

62. Procès-verbal du Plénum, 19–21 August 1933.

63. Fosco [N. Di Bartolomeo], letter to Trotsky (undated, but probably written in February 1933); cf. also Contre l’ésprit individualiste ..., op. cit. The content of Di Bartolomeo’s letter is discussed in Alfonso Leonetti: A Turncoat Trotskyist, in this issue of Revolutionary History, p. 9.

64. Contre l’ésprit individualiste ..., op. cit.

65. L.D. Trotsky, Recommendations to the IS, 29 April 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky Supplement 1929–33, op. cit., p. 239.

66. Résolution de la Commision Exécutive sur la question de la NOI, Bulletin intérieur, Ligue Communiste, unnumbered, June 1933, pp. 3–5.

67. Cf. the minutes of the Ligue’s Executive Commission meeting held on 16 January 1933.

68. La Lutte de Classes, no. 46–47, January 1933.

69. Résolution présentée au Plénum par le délegué de la Ligue sur la NOI, Bulletin intérieur, Ligue Communiste, unnumbered, June 1933, p. 6.

70. From the signatures of the article Réponse aux camarades “libérés” signataires d’une déclaration “anti-trotskyste”, La Vérité, no. 162, 7 July 1933, it appears that the Leading Committee of the NOI was made up by P. Tresso, Giovanni Boero, A. Leonetti, M. Bavassano, P. Ravazzoli and G.T. Recchia. On Giovanni Boero cf. pp. 93–4.

71. L.D. Trotsky, The Left Socialist Organisations and Our Tasks, 15 June 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, op. cit., pp. 274–8.

72. On this subject, cf. the valuable work by Michel Dreyfus, I socialistsi di sinistra e la Quarta Internazionale, Critica Comunista, no. 4–5, September-December 1979, pp. 141–53. For a general survey of the ‘left Socialist’ movement cf. also, by the same author, Bureau de Paris et Bureau de Londres: le socialisme de gauche en Europe entre les deux guerres, Le Mouvement social, no. 112, July–September 1980, pp. 25–36.

73. L.D. Trotsky, The Left Socialist Organisations and Our Tasks, 15 June 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, op. cit., p. 274.

74. L.D. Trotsky, It Is Necessary to Build Communists Parties and an International Anew, 15 July 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, op. cit., pp. 304–11.

75. L.D. Trotsky, The Declaration of Four, 26 August 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933–34, New York 1975, pp. 49–52. Apart from the ILO, this document was also signed by the German Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (SAP) and by the Dutch Revolutionair Socialistische Partij (RSP) and Onafhankelijke Socialistische Partij (OSP).

76. E. Bauer [E.H. Ackerknecht], Rapport à Trotsky, 7 September 1933, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 22, June 1985, p. 111.

77. This was one of the groupings that had participated in the founding of the Ligue. It had broken with the Yiddish-language group of the PCF on Trotskyist positions. With an overwhelmingly proletarian social composition, its task was to make propaganda for the ILO’s programme among Jewish workers. In 1930 it had supported the Ligue’s ‘Marxist wing’ against the ‘right wing Syndicalist’ majority, but in 1933 it opposed the turn to the Fourth International, and was the main nucleus of the Union Communiste.

78. A. Leonetti, letter to Trotsky, 11 November 1933 (Trotsky’s exile papers at the Houghton Library of the Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, 2699).

79. L.D. Trotsky, Centrism and the Fourth International, 22 February 1934, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933–34, op. cit., pp. 232–7.

80. Blasco [P. Tresso], letter to the Ligue’s Executive Commission, 28 January 1934, Bulletin d’Informations et de Discussions de la Ligue Communiste, no. 2, 1 February 1934.

81. L.D. Trotsky, Summary of the Discussion, 6 August 1934, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934–35, New York 1974, pp. 58–64.

82. Cf. [Raymond] Molinier, Rétablissons les faits, Bulletin intérieur de la Ligue Communist, no. 4, August 1934.

83. Bulletin intérieur, GBL, no. 3, November 1934.

84. Only issue no. 2 (November 1934) of this bulletin has been located (cf. Wolfgang and Petra Lubitz [eds.], Trotskyist Serials Bibliography 1927–1991, KG Saur Verlag, München 1993, p. 35). It was first advertised in La Lutte de Classes, no. 49, February 1935, p. 6.

85. La Lutte de Classes had ceased publication in January 1933. The GCI resumed the old heading and the old numbering, and published only four issues of the new La Lutte de Classes, Monthly Organ of revolutionary Marxism, from no. 48 dated January 1935 to no. 51–52 dated May–June 1935.

86. ‘Despite its pseudo-insurrectionist phrase-mongering, the reactionary physiognomy of the movement active under the label of “Giustizia e Libertà ” is best defined by its programme of action: to block the road to Communism.’ (Rafforzamento o crisi della Concentrazione?, Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana (PCI), no. 4, 30 November 1931). And further on: ‘the “Giustizia e Libertà ” movement is the main hindrance [for us] to bring the masses onto the terrain of a revolutionary struggle against Fascism and capitalism’ (Giustizia e Libertà , Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana (PCI), no. 7, 15 February 1932). Trotsky himself had a not-very-friendly talk with GL leader Carlo Rosselli, which the latter reported in a front-page article that appeared in Giustizia e Libertà , Volume 1, no. 2, 25 May 1934.

87. On Tullo Tulli, cf. p. 100.

88. Cf. Leonardo Rapone, Trotskij e il fascismo, Laterza, Bari 1978, p. 316, n89.

89. ACS (Rome), Casellario Politico Centrale, dossier Tullo Tulli.

90. ACS (Rome), Casellario Politico Centrale, dossier Ravazzoli Paolo. Cf. also Aldo Garosci, Vita di Carlo Rosselli, Volume 2, Vallecchi, Florence 1973, p. 270, and Santi Fedele, Storia della Concentrazione Antifascista 1927–1934, Feltrinelli, Milan 1976, pp. 176–7.

91. On this affair, cf. Alfonso Leonetti: A Turncoat Trotskyist, in this issue of Revolutionary History, p. 11.

92. On Veniero Spinelli, cf. pp. 99–100.

93. On Angiolino Luchi, cf. pp. 95–6.

94. Il saluto di Trotsky alla Verità , 25 March 1934, La Verità , no. 1, March 1934; Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933–34, op. cit., pp. 269–70.

95. La Verità , no. 2, April 1934.

96. Per la IV Internazionale, op. cit.

97. Note polemiche. Un opportunista che si giustifica, La Nostra Parola, no. 1, August 1934.

98. Il problema del partito del proletariato in Italia, op. cit.

99. op. cit.

100. Dichiarazione di Blasco: perche i communisti internazionalisti debbono entrare nel Partito socialista, Il Nuovo Avanti, no. 7, 16 February 1935. The PSI had gone through several crises and splits over the previous years. By March 1930, at a congress held in Grenoble, there was a split between those who were in favour of a reunification with the ultra-reformist Partito Socialista Unitario dei Lavoratori Italiani (PSULI), which had split from the PSI in 1922, and those who opposed it. And in July 1930 a ‘Congress of Socialist Unity’ had taken place in Paris, where the PSI majority had merged with the PSULI to form a reunified PSI adhering to the Labour and Socialist (Second) International. In the meantime, from April 1930, the anti-fusionist wing of the PSI had set up the Maximalist PSI around Angelica Balabanova.

101. Feroci [A. Leonetti], Ritorno al Barnum?, Il Nuovo Avanti, 16 March 1935.

102. Spartaco Travagli [V. Spinelli], I rivoluzionari debbono entrare nel Partito Socialista, Il Nuovo Avanti, 29 September 1934.

103.L’adesione al Partito del gruppo La Nostra Parola, Il Nuovo Avanti, 13 April 1935.

104. From the very last issue of La Lutte de Classes, dated May–June 1935, it appears that Tresso was still a member of its editorial board under the pseudonym of Julien.

105. Bl. [P. Tresso], Discussion entre les partis italiens se réclamant de la classe ouvrière, La Lutte de Classes, no. 49, February 1935, pp. 69–74.

106. Cf. I lavori del Consiglio Generale del Partito, Il Nuovo Avanti, no. 29, 20 July 1935.

107. Cf. Problemi del Partito, Il Nuovo Avanti, no. 31, 1 August 1935.

108. Tasca’s letter to Giuseppe Faravelli, 20 May 1935 and Faravelli’s letter to Tasca, 25 August 1935, in Stefano Merli, Il socialismo italiano e la lotta contro il fascismo 1934–39, Feltrinelli, Milan 1963, pp. 668–70, 681–3.

109. Between March and September 1935 Tresso drafted a document on that question. An untitled copy of the original typescript was located only a few years ago by Rosangela Miccoli at the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (FGF) in Milan. She included it in her degree thesis, Pietro Tresso, oppositore comunista (1928–1944), Università degli Studi di Parma, Facoltà di Magistero, Anno accademico 1987–88, pp. 265–71. It is now published under the title Il marxismo e la questione nazionale, Centro Studi Pietro Tresso, Foligno 1991.

110. Quaderni di Critica Proletaria, no. 1, November 1935.

111. Leonetti, letter to Trotsky, 28 October 1935 (Trotsky’s exile papers at the Houghton Library of the Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, 2713).

112. G. Telloli, Alfonso Leonetti dans le Secrétariat International, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 29, March 1987, p. 38.

113. La nuova impresa africana del capitalismo italiano e i compiti del proletariato rivoluzionario, Quaderni di Critica Proletaria, no. 1, op. cit.

114. We have located only the second issue of that bulletin, dated 12 February 1936, as well as a two-page undated supplement on Stakhanovism.

115. Pietro Nenni was completely in favour of the policy of Popular Fronts officially started by the Seventh World Congress of the Stalinised Comintern in 1935. Let us recall that by that time, Ravazzoli had the same class-collaborationist perspective, and championed the ‘opportuneness of a compromise with the bourgeois parties’.

116. Stelio E [M.R. Pistone], Una polemica senza fondo e il compito dei BL [Bolscevico Leninisti], Bollettino ‘interno’ della corrente Bolscevico-Leninista internazionalista, no. 2, 12 February 1936, pp. 2–4. On Matteo Renato Pistone cf. pp. 96–7.

117. Stelio E [M.R. Pistone], Una polemica senza fondo e il compito dei BL [Bolscevico Leninisti], op. cit., p. 3.

118. M.R. Pistone, interview with Paulo Casciola, Rome, 8 May 1988.

119. L. Valiani, Sessant’anni di avventure e battaglie. Riflessioni e ricordi raccolti da Massimo Pini, Rizzoli, Milano 1983. Cf. an account of the intervention at this meeting in La Commune, no. 19, 10 April 1936.

120. Fosco [N. Di Bartolomeo], letter to Trotsky, Barcelona, 4 August 1936.

121. Lionello Guido was born in Chioggia (Venice). After the Spanish Civil War, he was interned in the French prison camp of Gurs, and was later handed over to the Nazis, who deported him to Germany. He ‘died in the concentration camp of Flossenberg, some days before the arrival of the American troops’ (Un nostro lutto, IV Internazionale, Volume 2, no. 13, 1–15 October 1946).

122. Le Soviet, no. 1 was issued in January 1937. A reproduction of its cover page is to be found in the Molinierite paper La Commune, no. 46, 5 March 1937. Apart from Di Bartolomeo and Gervasini (cf. her obituary in this issue of Revolutionary History), another member of the Gruppo La Nostra Parola also participated in the Grupo Le Soviet – Cristofano Salvini. On him, cf. below, pp. 97–8. The other (French Molinierite) members of the Grupo Le Soviet were Georges Chéron, his companion Louise, and Henri Aïache. Two other members of the Molinierite PCI took part in the Spanish Civil War, even though it does not confirm that they have been directly involved in the activity of the Le Soviet group. These were Emmanuel Loubier and one Vallade

123. Cf. Bulletin Intérieur du GBL, no. 5, 6 April 1935.

124. According to Jean Rous, that majority initially included Tresso and Naville. Cf. Jean-Paul Joubert, Trotsky et le Front Populaire, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 9, op. cit., p. 35.

125. Cf. Bulletin Intérieur du GBL, no. 6, July-August 1935.

126. Résolutions adoptées par la IVè Conférence Nationale du GBL, 20–22 September 1935.

127. Résolution du CC, 28 December 1935. The expelled Molinierites subsequently opposed such expulsions on the grounds that nobody from the Molinier faction had been informed of that Central Committee meeting. In a reply to them, Tresso declared that ‘even if the expulsions were irregular, they were justified’. Cf. La crise de la Section française de la Ligue Communiste Internationaliste (1935–36), Éditions du ‘Comité pour la IVè Internationale (BL)’, Paris 1936, p. 33.

128. Naville hid the application from Trotsky and did his best to prevent a reconciliation with the Molinierite group.

129. Procès-verbal de la séance commune du SI de la LCI(bl) et du BP du GBL, 15 March 1936.

130. On Trotsky’s views concerning the 1935–36 crisis of the French Bolshevik-Leninist organisation, cf. especially L.D. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section 1935–36, New York 1977, as well as Trotsky’s Oeuvres, Volumes 7 to 10, Études et Documentation Internationales, Paris 1980–81.

131. Julien [P. Tresso], Il faut être clairs, Bulletin intérieur du POI(bl), no. 2, 28 June 1936. This bulletin also contains part of the minutes of the founding conference of the POI, which include some interventions by Tresso.

132. R Molinier, letter to the POI Political Bureau, 14 June 1936.

133. Cf. Bulletin Intérieur du POI(bl), no. 2, op. cit.

134. Procès-verbal du CC du POI, 24 June 1936.

135. Bollettino d’Informazione, no. 1, 25 June 1936. According to the testimony of Pistone, Tresso drafted two articles for that issue: Contro corrente. Unirsi, sì. Ma con chi e per che cosa?, pp. 1–3, and Il processo Guido Beiso si chiude con una condanna dello stalinismo, pp. 12–14. Tresso also wrote one article for the above-quoted second issue of the bulletin: Riconciliazione nazionale e “guerra per la pace”, pp. 8–12 (MR Pistone, interview with P. Casciola [Rome, 8 May 1988], op. cit.).

136. Rob [A. Luchi], Cronaca delle riunioni in comune fra i gruppi italiani del PCF e la Sezione socialista di Parigi, Bollettino d’Informazione, no. 2, op. cit., pp. 16–18. The policy of openness to the ‘healthy sections’ of the Fascist ranks was consistently pursued by the Stalinist PCd’I, which conceived of it as an integral part of the work to build the Italian Popular Front. It was launched as early as October 1935, and attained its peak with the notorious call For the Salvation of Italy: Reconciliation of the Italian People (also known as the Appeal to Our Black-Shirted Brothers), which was signed by the main PCd’I leaders, including Togliatti, and published in the party’s theoretical magazine, Lo Stato Operaio, no. 8, August 1936.

137. L.D. Trotsky, A Case for a Labor Jury, 29 August 1935, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935–36, New York, 1977, p. 103.

138. [P. Tresso], Il processo Guido Beiso si chiude con una condanna dello stalinismo, op. cit.

139. ‘The Trotskyists made a mistake in joining our party, and we too made a mistake in accepting them. Fortunately divorce exists to dissolve badly matched marriages.’ (Il Nuovo Avanti, 1 August 1936)

140. Sigfrido Sozzi, Il Partito Socialista Italiano massimalista in esilio ed Elmo Simoncini (Dino Mariani), in Antifascisti romagnoli in esilio, La Nuova Italia, Florence, 1983, pp. 185–333.

141. Cf. Miccoli, op. cit., pp. 178–9, 182, 187–8.

142. Temistocle Ricciulli was born in Castelnuovo di Conza (Salerno) on 29 May 1903. In 1934 he joined the Gruppo La Nostra Parola, and in August 1936 he left for Spain, where he fought in the Rosselli Column. He was seriously injured in a car accident on the Huesca front.

143. Cf. his obituary in this issue as well as his Spanish memoirs in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, nos 1–2, pp. 253–64. For some information concerning the rôle of Italian Trotskyists in Spain in 1936–38 cf. P. Broué’s introductory notes to the different parts of L.D. Trotsky, La révolution espagnole (1930–1940), op. cit.; Pelai Pagès, Le mouvement trotskyste pendant la guerre civile d’Espagne, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 10, June 1982, pp. 47–65; Jean Cavignac, Les trotskystes espagnols dans la tourmente, op. cit., pp. 67–74; and P. Broué, La mission de Wolf en Espagne, op. cit., pp. 75–84.

144. Alfredo Stabellini was born in Borgo San Giorgio (Ferrara) on 29 January 1897. He had been amongst the founders of the Gruppo La Nostra Parola, of which his companion Maria De Salvatori was a sympathiser, and had joined the PSI in April 1935. In Spain he fought in the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM. He died in Riccione on 2 September 1989.

145. P. Broué, La mission de Wolf en Espagne, op. cit., p. 76.

146. Cf. Agustín Guillamón Iborra, I bordighisti nella guerra civile spagnola, Centro Studi Pietro Tresso, Foligno 1993. Di Bartolomeo drafted a critique of the Bordigist attitude towards the Spanish Civil War, which appeared under the title Une leçon Bordiguiste sur les événements d’Espagne, La Commune, no. 129, 28 May 1938.

147. Cf. Leonardo Rapone, L’età dei Fronte Popolari e la guerra (1934–1943), in Giovanni Sabbatucci (ed.), Storia del socialismo italiano. 4: Gli anni del fascismo (1926–1943), Il Poligono, Rome 1981, p. 298.

148. Un démenti du Groupe Bolchevik Italien, La Lutte Ouvrière, no. 46, 27 May 1937.

149. Cf. Julien’s (Tresso’s) intervention in the résumé of the POI National Conference, Le POI et le JSR appellent les ouvriers d’Espagne et de France à lutter pour les Soviets, seul moyen d’assurer la paix du monde!, La Lutte Ouvrière, no. 28, 8 January 1937. Despite Tresso’s opposition, the International Secretariat of the MFI had already decided to attend the Barcelona conference (cf. the resolution Pourquoi la IVème Internationale participe à la conférence de Barcelone?, La Lutte Ouvrière, no. 26, 25 December 1936). Virginia Gervasini attacked Tresso’s passive attitude from the pages of the bulletin Le Soviet, no. 2, 20 January 1937: ‘Why not attend the conference? It will be attended by those militants who are the vanguard of the Spanish proletariat and who have fought for six months with fierce energy without achieving a real revolutionary result. Does comrade Julien wish to say that the BL [Bolshevik-Leninists] from Paris should once again be content with ascertaining and “unmasking”?’ (Sonia [V. Gervasini], Sur l’enclume, reproduced in La Vérité, no. 3 [New series], p. 76)

150. Cf. Bulletin d’Information Intérieur du POI, no. 1 (new series), 15 January 1937.

151. Cf. Jean Rous, Rapport moral établi pour le CN des 30, 31 octobre et 1 novembre 1937.

152. An English translation of this letter can be found in A. Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings 1921–1926, London, 1978, pp. 426–32.

153. O. Blasco [P. Tresso], Un grand militant est mort ... Gramsci, La Lutte Ouvrière, no. 44, 14 May 1937.

154. Z [P. Tresso], Stalinisme et fascisme, Quatrième Internationale, no. 11, August 1938. The Italian translation of this article is introduced by a short but interesting preface by Nicola Gallerano in Soviet, no. 2, February 1972, pp. 17–8. The August 1938 issue of Quatrième Internationale also carried Tresso’s lengthy critique of Tasca’s book on the origins of Italian Fascism (R [P. Tresso], Les livres. Naissance du fascisme, par A Rossi, op. cit.).

155. Z [P. Tresso], Pour mieux préparer la guerre, le fascisme italien devient anti-sémite et raciste, La Lutte Ouvrière, no. 88 (in fact, no. 89), 16 November 1938.

156. Minutes of the POI Central Committee meetings held on 19 December 1937 and 10 January 1938, Bulletin Intérieur, no. 4, 20 February 1938, pp. 19, 22.

157. Julian’s [P. Tresso’s] interventions at that conference are recorded in the American (Charles Sumner’s) and French (Naville’s) minutes, both published in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 1, January 1979, pp. 17–56.

158. BP 15 octobre 1938. Propositions au PSOP (typescript).

159. Cf. IEC, Résolution sur la question française, 5 March 1939.

160. Cf. Resolution of the Executive Committee of the Fourth International: French Question, 3 June 1939, and International Secretariat, Le PSOP, le POI et la IVè Internationale, Bulletin de la Quatrième Internationale, no. 1, June 1939, pp. 2–3.

161. Also hit by expulsion was Di Bartolomeo, who had intervened at a PSOP public meeting on the Spanish defeat on 23 April 1939 in Paris. On that occasion he attacked both the class-collaborationist policy followed by the POUM and the ‘formally intransigent’ but fruitless policy followed in Spain by Jean Rous on behalf of the International Secretariat from August 1936 onwards (Une réunion d’information concluante, La Vérité, no. 4 [New series], 5 May 1939, p. 20).

162. R. Prager, testimony to R. Miccoli, November 1987.

163. L. Rigaudias, testimony to R. Prager, 18 October 1976, p. 3.

164. Quoted in Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 84.

165. L. Rigaudias, letter to J Maitron, 6 March 1979, op. cit., p. 11.

166. L. Rigaudias, testimony to R. Prager, op. cit., p. 4.

167. A. Demazière, testimony to R. Prager, 10 May 1977.

168. Y. Craipeau, Contre vents et marées (1938–1945). Les révolutionnaires pendant la seconde guerre mondiale, Savelli, Paris, 1977, p. 138. A few lines later, Craipeau contradicts himself by stating that the ‘person responsible for international contacts’ was Tresso: ‘The Executive Committee of the Fourth International (which by that time had its centre in New York) maintained liaison with the French section and with Europe until Blasco’s arrest.’

169. P. Tresso, letters to ‘Barbara’, 7 and 28 October 1941.

170. Daniel Bénédite, La filière marseillaise, Clancier Guénaud, Paris, 1984, p. 113.

171. Anthony Heilbut, Exiled in Paradise: German Refugee Artists and Intellectuals in America, from the 1930s to the Present, Viking Press, New York, 1983, p. 41.

172. Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford, 1967, p. 364.

173. L. Rigaudias, letter to J Maitron, op. cit., p. 11.

174. Ignazio Silone (1900–1978), whose real name was Secondino Tranquilli, had been a prominent leading cadre of the PCd’I and a member of its Political Bureau. Known in the party under the pseudonym of Pasquini, he opposed the ‘Third Period’ turn from a rightist position, and in mid-1930 Tresso unsuccessfully sought to win him to the NOI. In December1930 Silone eventually capitulated before Togliatti – who had paid him a visit for that purpose in Switzerland, where he was living since October 1929 due to health reasons – and drafted a declaration approving the party line and condemning the NOI. In retaliation against Silone’s opportunist waverings, the NOI published a letter he had sent to Leonetti in April 1930, in which Silone criticised the Togliattite majority of the PCd’I (Sul caso Pasquini, Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana [PCI], no. 1, 10 April 1931). A few weeks later the NOI published another letter written by Silone late in March 1930, which was a proper plan for organising the political struggle against the PCd’I’s Stalinist majority (Il “caso Pasquini” e l’aut-aut della Direzione italiana, Bollettino dell’Opposizione Comunista Italiana [PCI], no. 2, 15 June 1931). Following these revelations, on 4 July 1931 Silone was expelled from the Swiss Communist Party – which he had joined in 1930 – with the agreement of the Comintern and the PCd’I itself. The NOI commented on his expulsion in the third issue of its bulletin, dated 15 August 1931. For a comprehensive treatment of the ‘Silone case’ in 1930–31, cf. Ormea, op. cit., pp. 259–84. During the Second World War, Silone lived in Zürich and cooperated with the Italian Socialist Federation of Switzerland, within which he championed ‘third frontism’ and European federalism, until he was arrested and deported by the Swiss authorities.

175. Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 85. Cf. also Pia Carena, Pietro Tresso (Blasco), La Classe, Volume 3, no. 17–18, September–October 1978. On Pia Carena, cf. pp. 94–5.

176. P. Tresso, letter to G. Maier, 30 October 1941, in the Dossier Blasco at the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC) in Nanterre.

177. L. Bonnel, Complément à l’article ‘La grande évasion’ par Albert Demazière, paru dans la revue Historama n° 14 (Hors série) d’août 1971 (manuscript), p. 1.

178. Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 85.

179. A. Demazière’s handwritten note in the Prager archives (Paris), and ‘Barbara’’s letter to A. Tasca, 27 November 1957, in the Seidenfeld papers at the FGF in Milan.

180. Craipeau, op. cit., p. 138. Craipeau’s main source may have been a 1942 police dossier on ‘Trotskyist plots’, that is: MJC, Ministère de l’Intérieur, Direction Générale de la Police Nat, Inspection Générale des Services de Police Judiciaire, ‘Menées trotskystes’, Vichy, 24 juin 1942, n 4/5 Pol Jud 2/5. A copy of this documentation is to be found in the Prager archives.

181. Cf. Bénédite, op. cit., pp. 284–319, and René Dazy, Fusillez ces chiens enragés! Le génocide des trotskystes, Olivier Orban, Paris 1981, pp. 251–4. Craipeau claimed that the document was a proper ‘plan for armed insurrection in the unoccupied zone ... placed in the desk drawer by an agent provocateur’ (Craipeau, op. cit., p. 138).

182. Cf. D. Ungemach-Bénédite, letter to ‘M. Rouze’, 13 July 1950, and Procès-verbal de la réunion du Jury d’Honneur (Dr Paul Schmierer, Président; A Demazière et Jean Gemahling, Secrétaire), 25 June 1965, in the Prager archives. Cf. also Dazy, op. cit., pp. 253–4.

183. Cf. especially Azzaroni, op. cit., pp. 88, 208.

184. From his cell in the Fort Saint-Nicholas, Tresso immediately wrote to his sister-in-law (Silone’s wife) to let her know the good news (P. Tresso to G. Maier, 1 October 1942, in the Dossier Blasco at the BDIC in Nanterre).

185. Cf. Pour un enquête sur la disparition de Blasco. Note de la Commission pour la Vérité sur les Crimes de Staline, op. cit., p. 208, and Bonnel, op. cit., pp. 1–2.

186. Azzaroni op. cit., p. 85.

187. Cf. P. Tresso’s letters to D. Seidenfeld, 15 October 1942 and to Gabriella Maier, November 1942, op. cit., pp. 169,172.

188. Demazière’s testimony, op. cit., p. 86.

189. P. Tresso, letter to G. Maier, November 1942, op. cit., p. 172.

190. P. Tresso, postcard to Debora, 17 December 1942, in the Dossier Blasco at the BDIC in Nanterre, in which he wrote that he was on his way to Le Puy.

191. D. Seidenfeld, letter to G Maier, 6 December 1942, in the Seidenfeld papers at the FGF in Milan.

192. Jacqueline Revil-Baudard, Les communistes dans la clandestinité à Saint-Etienne (1939–1944), Memoire de maîtrise, Université de Grenoble, Grenoble 1975, p. 129.

193. Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 87; cf. also Conversazione con Barbara Tresso, typescript (Rimini), 7 October 1975, p. 14.

194. P. Tresso, letter to D. Seidenfeld, 11 September 1943, in Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 192.

195. op. cit., p. 87.

196. Cf. A. Demazière’s testimony (under the pen name of Granet), op. cit., pp. 89–91, as well as his article La grande évasion, in Historama, no. 14, August 1971, pp. 107–10.

197. Victor Joannes (1912–1972) had been a pupil at the Lenin School in Moscow during the 1930s and a top leader of the French Stalinist youth during the Stalin-Hitler pact, before becoming a prominent chief of the Resistance movement in Southern France. He was a member of the PCF’s Central Committee from 1947 onwards and a close collaborator of party Secretary Maurice Thorez.

198. The different available sources do not agree on their number, which ranges between 79 and 83.

199. P. Carena, Pietro Tresso (Blasco), op. cit. Carena’s source could be a confidential report written in 1965 by G. Combes, who was a correspondent for Haute-Loire for the French Committee for the History of the Second World War. Combes claimed that one ‘Blasco’ had been captured and executed by the Nazis in about April 1944.

200. Les partisans à l’oeuvre. La libération massive du Puy-en-Velay (Récit d’un libéré), La Vérité, no. 54, 20 November 1943. Demazière also drafted another, one-page report in September 1944, a copy of which is to be found in the Prager archives.

201. Pour un enquête, op. cit., p. 209.

202. A. Demazière’s report, September 1944.

203. Cf. the booklet Front National de Lutte pour la Libération, l’indépendance et la grandeur de la France en Haute-Loire. Notre organisation, notre action, notre programme (first special issue of the weekly En Avant), third edition, Le Puy, 1945, p. 3.

204. Cf. Liberté de la presse!, La Vérité, no. 74, 30 September 1944.

205. P. Schmierer, letter to D. Seidenfeld, 2 November 1944, in Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 92.

206. Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 91.

207. Rapport du voyage de Barbara, late August 1945, in the Prager archives, and Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 92.

208. Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 92.

209. D. Seidenfeld, Memorandum on a travel to Beaucaire, April 1945, in the Seidenfeld papers at the FGF in Milan.

210. Rapport du voyage de Barbara, late August 1945, op. cit.

211. Déclaration de Théo Vial-Massat, 8 November 1978, in the Prager papers.

212. Historique établie par le commandant Vial-Massat et le lieutenant Pradet le 16 mars 1961 en vue de la reconnaissance du Wodli comme unité combattante, p. 8.

213. Quoted in Pour une enquête, op. cit., p. 211. Former police commissioner and historian Jacques Delarue recently wrote, ‘After the Liberation, the police commissioner of Le Puy is reported as having confided to one of those who inquired about the disappearance of Blasco and his comrades that the Trotskyists had been executed in the maquis as traitors, and that they would have been killed between 23 and 25 October 1943, when Vial was on a short leave.’ (J. Delarue, Les Disparus du Puy-en-Velay, L’Histoire, no. 171, November 1993, p. 48)

214. Cf. Roland Gaucher, Histoire secrète du Parti Communiste Français (1920–1974), Albin Michel, Paris 1974, p. 422.

215. Bénédite, op. cit., pp. 319–23. On Field, cf. also Gaucher, op. cit., p. 422, and especially Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev, London, 1991, pp. 413–7.

216. Cf. Mathieu, La Lutte de Classes, no. 67, 18 September 1946, and Richard Moyon, Barta, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 49, January 1993, p. 20. In the same period two other members of the same group – Pierre and Jean Bois – were also ‘arrested’ by FTP partisans, but they managed to escape. The case of Juan Ferré Gasso should also be mentioned here. A worker in Lerida and a former member of the Catalan Communist Party and later of the Maurinist Bloc Obrer i Camperol, he became a leading member of the POUM; a refugee in France he was assassinated as a ‘Trotskyist’ in a French maquis in 1944 at the age of 52. (cf. Dazy, op. cit., p. 249.)

217. From a communiqué by the Central Committee of the PCF, La vie du Parti, September 1944.

218. R. Prager, letter to P Casciola, Paris, 1 May 1994.

219. Ercoli [P. Togliatti], Les enseignements du procès de Moscou, L’Internationale Communiste, Volume 18, no. 10–11, October-November 1936.

220. Azzaroni, Blasco. La riabilitazione di un militante rivoluzionario, Azione Comune, Milan 1962. This book quickly sold out, and a second edition had to be published in January 1963. An enlarged French version of it appeared only in June 1965.

221. F. Monfalcon, Recensioni. Una discutibile biografia di Pietro Tresso, Bandiera Rossa, no. 3 (145), March 1963.

222. Due lettere sul Blasco, Bandiera Rossa, no. 5 (147), May 1963.

223. op. cit.

224. op. cit.

225. F. Monfalcon, letter to D. Seidenfeld, Trieste, 29 March [1963].

226. Quoted in Pour un enquête ..., op. cit., pp. 211–2.

227. P. Togliatti, letter to E. Franzin, 17 December 1963, op. cit., p. 213.

228. op. cit., p. 214.

229. D. Seidenfeld, letter to the Comité de Solidarité Blasco, 4 September 1974.

230. S. Schiapparelli, La sorte di Blasco, Rinascita, no. 5, 1 February 1964. Seven years later he reconfirmed this version in his autobiography, stating that ‘as far as I am concerned, this is the only truth on Blasco’s death’ (S Schiapparelli, Ricordi di un fuoruscito, Edizioni del Calendario, Milan 1971, p. 254).

231. Azzaroni, letter to P. Togliatti, 10 February 1964, in Lettres sur la disparition de Blasco, in Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 200.

232. ‘R’ [P. Togliatti], Sulle sorte di Pietro Tresso, Rinascita, no. 8, 22 February 1964.

233. Cf. D. Sedran, Il ricordo di un testimone, Bandiera Rossa, no. 12, 21 September 1986.

234. L. Maitan, La fine di Tresso e l’ipocrisia di Rinascita, Bandiera Rossa, no. 3, March 1964.

235. L. Maitan, Fate of Pietro Tresso Still Disturbs Italian Workers’ Movement, World Outlook, Volume 2, no. 12, 20 March 1964, pp. 17–8.

236. D. Seidenfeld, letter to Scoccimarro, 20 July 1964, in the Seidenfeld papers at the FGF in Milan.

237. P. Togliatti to E. Franzin, 20 February 1964, Avanti!, 8 March 1988.

238. P. Togliatti to E. Franzin, 4 June 1964, op. cit.

239. D. Seidenfeld, letter to A. Leonetti, 8 November 1965, in the Blasco Dossier at the BDIC in Nanterre.

240. A Leonetti, letter to D. Seidenfeld, 9 November 1965, op. cit.

241. Excerpts of some letters by Combes are quoted in Miccoli, op. cit., p. 242.

242. G. Schwartz, letter to A. Leonetti, 20 November 1965. Leonetti sent lengthy excerpts of this letter to Tresso’s widow, and explained her that the expression ‘dead for France’ was ‘currently used for those who died in the course of the war against the Nazis’ (A. Leonetti, letter to D. Seidenfeld, 24 November 1965, op. cit.).

243. G. Schwartz, letter to A. Leonetti, 19 December 1969, quoted in Miccoli, op. cit., p. 243. A few days later, Schwartz asked the director of the French Committee for the History of the Second World War to relieve Combes from his appointment as the committee’s correspondent for the Haute-Loire (G. Schwartz, letter to Henri Michel, 24 December 1969, quoted op. cit.).

244. G. Amendola, letter to the Circolo ‘Mondo Nuovo’, 9 September 1975, Bandiera Rossa, no. 10, October 1987, where it is introduced by a note from Antonio Lombardi.

245. U. Terracini, Sulla svolta. Carteggio clandestino dal carcere 1930–32, La Pietra, Milan 1975.

246. A. Lombardi, La verità su Tresso, Il Manifesto, 14 January 1976.

247. Maitan, I “tre” e i problemi oggi, op. cit.

248. A. Chitarin, Un compagno, un certo Tresso, Lotta Continua, 30 March 1978, which introduced two testimonies by Terracini and Naville, as well as some excerpts from Tresso’s writings.

249. G. Berardi, Francia 1944, com’è morto Pietro Tresso?, l’Unità , 3 January 1993.

250. P. Naville, Avant-propos, in Azzaroni, op. cit., p. 12.

251. J. Stern, Blasco, la vie d’un militant, La Vérité, no. 533, July–September 1966, p. 90.

Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011