Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 4
Some Historical Vignettes
Gaetana Teresa Recchia (1899–1935)
THE NINETEENTH of April of this year  marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Gaetana Teresa Recchia. Her figure is connected to a whole period of the history of the Italian working class movement and to an entire epoch of the class struggle.
Born in Turin on 29 October 1899, ‘Teresa’ joined the Socialist youth at the age of 17 during the imperialist war of 1914–18. Hired by Fiat as a very young girl, she worked as a ‘saddler’, and made herself conspicuous by her political and union activities. When she finished her working day in the factory, she would spend the evening in the party branches discussing with her party comrades. As an exceptional agitator and organiser, beginning from 1917 she closely collaborated with the leadership of the Turin Socialist Federation. In the May of that year she took part in the huge demonstration in the Corso Siccardi, where over 30,000 workers welcomed a delegation sent to Turin by the Kerensky government with the cry: ‘Long live Lenin!’
A member of the Socialist Club in Borgo San Paolo, ‘Teresa’ was in the forefront during the proletarian riots of August 1917 in Turin, and, together with her comrades, she persuaded a detachment of Alpini  who were stationed in Piazza Villafranca to fraternise with the insurgent workers. She was always there, tireless, in the most dangerous parts of the town, bringing the rebels revolvers and ammunition hidden in her clothes. At the end of the First World War, she tenaciously devoted herself to recruiting for the party. During the big demonstration of May 1919 she was once again in the front rank, risking police bullets in Piazza Statuto. At that time ‘Teresa’ was a member of the ‘hard’ group, that is, the leftist, revolutionary majority of the Turin section of the Italian Socialist Party, which opposed revisionism. With her usual courage and devotion, she took part in the factory occupations in Turin in September 1920. It was during those years that ‘Teresa’ met Mario Bavassano, who was to become her lifelong companion.
When the Leghorn split took place on 21 January 1921, ‘Teresa’ immediately joined the newly-born Partito Comunista d’Italia (PCd’I). During the tragic days of 1922 she was amongst the organisers of the armed working class response to the Fascist terror. In the following years she took an active part in the struggle against Fascism, putting her experience and abilities at the disposal of the young Communist Party. In 1924 she was a member of the Italian delegation to the Fifth World Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in June-July of that year. Back in Italy, ‘Teresa’ was arrested in 1925 when she was caught distributing Communist leaflets at the Diatto Fiat plant where she worked.
‘Teresa’ supported Gramsci’s positions, and she was elected a candidate member of the Central Committee at the Third National Congress of the PCd’I, which was held in Lyons during January 1926; she was harassed by the Fascist police, and was forced to go underground. Until mid-1926 she worked in the PCd’I apparatus in Tuscany, where she lived in Viareggio together with Bavassano, who by that time was the Regional Secretary of the party in Tuscany. Following Bavassano’s assignment to the Venice region, they both moved to Padua in November 1926, where they stayed until March 1927. On 30 September that year a warrant for the arrest of ‘Teresa’ was issued by the Court of the Territorial Army Corps in Milan, on the basis of the notorious Fascist extraordinary legislation passed in November 1926. By that time, however, ‘Teresa’ and Bavassano had already secretly emigrated abroad on the party’s orders, first to Switzerland and later on to France.
In the political emigration she continued to work for the party. But in March 1930 she was bureaucratically expelled from the PCd’I Central Committee because of her opposition to the Stalinist ‘Third Period’ turn, and on 30 July that year she was expelled from the party together with Bavassano, who was by then a leader of the Italian Communist groups in France, and amongst those responsible for the Italian section of International Red Aid. Having previously linked themselves with the ‘Three’ (Pietro Tresso, Alfonso Leonetti and Paolo Ravazzoli), ‘Teresa’ and Bavassano were among the founders of the Nuova Opposizione Italiana (NOI), the Italian section of the International Left Opposition.
After her expulsion from the party, ‘Teresa’ experienced Stalinist slanders and harassment as did all the other Italian Bolshevik-Leninists, which added to the enormous difficulties of exile, due to the lack of legal papers, of a job, and frequently of anything to eat.
Starting in July 1933, after three years of membership in the NOI and after the shameful collapse of the Stalinist Comintern in Germany, ‘Teresa’ and Bavassano opposed the new orientation suggested by Trotsky, which involved the building of the Fourth International. They both linked themselves to the ‘Groupe Juife’, the Yiddish-speaking group within the French Trotskyist organisation which was equally opposed to the new orientation. In the first half of October 1933, the ‘Groupe Juife’ broke with the Fourth Internationalist movement and created a new group, the Union Communiste, the formation of which was given decisive help by ‘Teresa’ and Bavassano.
In the following months they actively worked within the new group, which upheld hybrid positions somewhere between Trotskyism and Bordigism. On 19 April 1935 ‘Teresa’ died of tuberculosis in the Tenon hospital in Paris, a victim, as her comrades of the Union Communiste wrote, ‘of a long illness contracted in the course of her underground revolutionary activity against Italian Fascism, and aggravated by the hard privations of exile’. Her burial took place on 22 April at the Cimetière Père-Lachaise in Paris, and some 200 militants and delegations of different organisations attended it, including those from the Italian Socialist Party (Maximalist), the Left Faction of the PCI (Bordigist), the ‘Giustizia e Libertà ’ movement, the Trotskyist International Secretariat, several French unions and the Tresso-led Gruppo Bolscevico-Leninista del PSI. A group of exiled Turin workers in France was also there to give a last greeting to the revolutionary fighter.
There is little to mark the passing of ‘Teresa’ today. Whoever looks for her grave in the Paris cemetery will be disappointed. The carelessness of men left her ashes to be dispersed amidst a thousand others. The Stalinists, for their part, with help from certain ostensible ‘Trotskyists’, succeeded in almost completely erasing her memory. For example, it would be futile to look for her name in the ponderous and ill-considered six volume biographical dictionary of the Italian workers’ movement, written in Stalinist-Togliattist style, which someone rightly called ‘a dictionary with holes’. But the names of ‘Teresa’ and Bavassano still live among proletarian revolutionaries today, and will live yet more vividly among those of tomorrow. History will take revenge on the inquisitors and their direct and indirect accomplices, and against their lies and omissions.
Let us finally reproduce the words that an old comrade of ‘Teresa’, Giovanni Boero, a Turin Communist worker who joined the NOI in 1931, wrote in the last paragraphs of a passionate obituary published in the pages of the paper of the Union Communiste, L’Internationale, a few days after her death:
‘Having fought since her youth for the creation of a proletarian revolutionary party, she always struggled against party bureaucratism. Teresa didn’t want to kneel before the new idols who have disintegrated the consciousness of the working class and led it to so many defeats. For that reason she was driven out of the PCI and hated and insulted by her old comrades. But the phalanx of proletarians, who bring indelibly carved in their hearts and minds the principles of strong character and personal frankness which are necessary to every revolutionary fighter, will be able to raise the best woman comrade in Turin – Teresa Recchia – to the honoured place she deserves, and to point to her as an example for all those who fight for proletarian revolution.’
Virginia Gervasini (1915–1993)
VIRGINIA HAS left us for ever, after a long and painful illness. She was born in Milan on 16 January 1915, and, whilst still a little girl, she followed her father, Emilio Gervasini, an Anarchist woodworker specialising in carving valuable woods such as ebony, into emigration to Paris in France in 1924, where she grew up and learnt the trade of seamstress. In about 1933, in a Paris café where Italian political émigrés were regular customers, she met Nicola Di Bartolomeo (‘Fosco’), who became her companion and who introduced her to the Trotskyist movement, within which Virginia was to assume the pseudonyms of ‘Sonia’ and ‘Marta’.
Fosco was then working in a small factory as a mechanical fitter under the false name of Alfonso Venturino, and at that time he was struggling with the leadership of the Nuova Opposizione Italiana. Along with him, Virginia was one of the members of the Gruppo di Unità Comunista which refused to take part in the creation of the Sezione Italiana della Lega Comunista Internazionalista and in the launch of the paper La Verità in the first months of 1934, and instead founded the Gruppo La Nostra Parola in the spring and summer of that year.
In April 1935 Virginia was one of the six founding members of the group who decided to join the Italian Socialist Party to carry out ‘entrist’ activity. One year later she chose to follow Fosco, who had been forced to leave France for Spain because he lacked papers and was subject to police persecution.
When they arrived in Barcelona, they went to see a lawyer who had been recommended to them by Pietro Nenni, but who instead prompted their arrest early in May. Released a short time later due to the intervention of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), in May–June 1936 they were the main organisers of the Barcelona Bolshevik-Leninist group which publicly joined the Movement for the Fourth International at the beginning of August, and founded the Comité Unico Internacional de los Refugiados Antifascistas (CUIRA), a body for assisting anti-Fascist refugees which functioned until early 1938.
After taking part in the events of July 1936, Fosco and Virginia settled in the Hotel Falcón, the headquarters of the POUM. Both worked with the POUM while maintaining their political criticism of that party. Virginia was the only member of that group who took out a POUM membership card, and she was given the job of registering foreign volunteers who came to fight in the POUM ranks.
In July-August 1936 Fosco managed to turn the CUIRA into an armed force, the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM, which was the first military unit made up exclusively of foreigners who fought in the Spanish Civil War. A photograph taken at that time in the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona shows him together with Virginia, both surrounded by the Trotskyist and Bordigist militiamen of the column. During the first phase of the Civil War, Virginia worked as an announcer for the Italian and French-language broadcasts of Radio POUM as well as becoming acquainted with the most important leading members of that party, and she met some outstanding figures of the European workers’ movement who had come to Spain, such as Alfred Rosmer and Hendrikus Sneevliet.
After the arrival in Barcelona of a delegation from the Trotskyist International Secretariat and the French Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste in August 1936, Fosco was accused by Jean Rous, the leader of the delegation, of wanting to liquidate the Bolshevik-Leninist organisation into the POUM. Fosco then went on a collision course with the official Trotskyist movement, which he considered far too sectarian. At the same time he and Virginia met Raymond Molinier in Barcelona, who was the leader of a dissident Trotskyist group in France, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI).
In the same way as Molinier, Fosco started to build a dissident grouping, through which he later sought to exert an influence on the Sección Bolchevique-Leninista de España, the official Trotskyist organisation which had been built in November 1936 around Manuel Fernández Grandizo (‘G. Munis’). Toward the end of 1936 this factional activity caused Fosco’s expulsion from the party; he then launched an independent group, the Grupo (or Célula) Le Soviet, of which Virginia was a member. It was she alone who did the technical work for the typewritten bulletin of the group and used to sketch in its heading Le Soviet with a painter’s brush and paintbox.
Virginia was active in the Grupo Le Soviet throughout 1937; she took part in the ‘May Days’, and continued to carry on her activity in the POUM. But in January 1938, having been warned by the Italian republican leader Mario Angeloni that the Stalinists were preparing Fosco’s arrest, Virginia left with him for France. After joining Molinier’s PCI, they contributed to its press, and in December 1938 they took part in the PCI’s entrist tactic in the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan, until the wave of anti-Trotskyism which mounted within that party between May and November 1939.
It was in May 1939 that Virginia became one of the editors of Nuevo Curso, the Spanish-language information bulletin published in Paris by the Molinierite group of the Bolcheviques Leninistas por la construcción de la Cuarta Internacional, who were carrying out entrist work in the POUM. In July 1939 Virginia and Fosco travelled to Brussels and London. Back in Paris, they were taken by surprise by the outbreak of the Second World War. Fosco, who was a member of the Délégation internationale des Communistes Internationalistes pour la construction de la Quatrième Internationale, then tried to reach Belgium again, but was arrested on the border and imprisoned in the Looz-les-Lille prison. One month later, in October 1939, he was interned in the concentration camp of Vernet-sur-l’Ariège. The personal break between Fosco and Virginia goes back to the summer of 1940, on the eve of Fosco’s being handed over to the Italian Fascist police.
Virginia took part in the Resistance in France, and returned to Italy after the end of the war. After short stays in Milan and Varese she decided to go to Palermo, where she had some relatives and could start a new life. She would often recall with the greatest sadness that she had passed through Naples during her long journey to Sicily in December 1945 without knowing that, at the time, her old companion Fosco was to die in that city a few days later.
Virginia succeeded in opening up a tailoring workshop in Palermo, and met a local leader of the Italian Communist Party, Franco Fasone, whom she married in 1950. After Fasone’s death, which occurred just two years later, she continued to carry on her work as a seamstress in Palermo, and it was only in 1968 that she decided to move to Varese together with her father, who died two months later. It was particularly in the period following her move to Varese that Virginia started to re-establish contact with many old French and Spanish militants.
In 1976 she received a gold medal for her activity as an anti-Fascist militant in Spain. During a solemn ceremony which took place in Milan in the November of that year on the occasion of collecting the medal, she refused to shake hands with one of the ‘big shots’, the former Stalinist agent Vittorio Vidali (‘Carlos Contreras’). In October 1980 she was invited to Follonica to attend the International Conference on the Fortieth Anniversary of Trotsky’s Death, where, after more than half a century, she met another Italian Trotskyist veteran of the Spanish civil war, Domenico Sedran (‘Adolfo Carlini’).
I happened to be reading Sedran’s memoirs at the time, which had been published by the magazine Critica Comunista. They ended with a note by Fausto Bucci about some Italians who had fought in the Spanish war in which he erroneously stated that Virginia was born in Varese. But it was precisely due to that mistake that I met her. About two years later, while I was serving in the army near Bergamo, I lost no time going through the Varese telephone directory, and I thus discovered that one Virginia Gervasini Fasone was living there in the Piazza Cesare Beccaria. So I went there at the first opportunity, and knocked on a small glass door. The curtain was just drawn, and I saw an elderly lady looking me up and down for a few minutes; then she opened the door a little and asked me what I wanted. ‘Excuse me, madam’, I replied, ‘I would just like to know whether you were in Spain in the 1930s ...’ That was our first meeting, and the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Between January and March 1983 I visited her a few more times, and later I started to exchange letters with her. Virginia took out a subscription to the journal of the Gruppo Operaio Rivoluzionario, the group of which I was then a member, and she was amongst the main supporters of the Centro Studi Pietro Tresso which was founded in October 1983.
I met her again 10 years later in Varese on 8 March of this year . How long had I waited for that moment, and how much had I longed to embrace her again! To be sure, time had gone by and illness had changed her, but Virginia still succeeded in enchanting me by her reminiscences, by her gentleness and her modesty. She was glad to know that there were young people to take and reignite the torch of Bolshevism-Leninism.
I called her by phone on 12 September. Her health had worsened, but she continued to resist with all her strength. Subsequently I was unable to get in touch with her again; her telephone was always silent. But in the evening of 13 November a call from Paris informed me that ‘Sonia’ had been taken to a hospital in mid-September, and that she had stayed in an old people’s home in the mountains in October; but all that had been in vain: on 6 November her brave heart ceased to beat.
So Virginia left us, at the age of 78, overwhelmed by an illness that she had fought until the last moment. ‘I strongly wish to live, at least up to the year 2000’, she told me during our last meeting, ‘and I feel I can do that because we Bolshevik-Leninists have thick skins!’ But in the end, after a merciless struggle, death succeeded in vanquishing her tormented body and her youthful spirit, her shining smile and her powerful will.
Domenico Sedran (1905–1993)
DOMENICO SEDRAN died on 26 June 1993 at the age of 88 in an old people’s home in Sequals. Known in the Trotskyist movement under the pseudonym of ‘Adolfo Carlini’, he was born on 28 February 1905 in Pozzo, a small village near San Giorgio della Richinvelda (Pordenone province), to a family of poor peasants of the Friuli region. In May 1922 he emigrated to Luxembourg, but stopped to work at Beaucourt in the Verdun region of France and later near Paris, at Sannois and at Nanterre, where he joined the Italian ‘groupe de langue’ of the French Communist Party in 1925.
In 1927 he adhered to the ideas of the Left Opposition, and in the following year he was expelled from France. Settled in Brussels, he was a member of the Italian ‘groupe de langue’ of the Belgian Communist Party, within which he upheld Trotskyist positions. After being expelled from the party in 1928 he was deported from Belgium in 1929 for ‘threatening national security’ by taking part in several anti-Fascist demonstrations, including the one against the death penalty inflicted by the Italian Fascist regime on the Slovenian nationalist, Vladimir Gortan. He then clandestinely reached Paris on the morning of New Year’s Day 1930.
Prevented from getting help from Red Aid because of his anti-Stalinist positions, he settled in Lyons, where he learnt about the expulsion of the ‘Three’ – Tresso, Leonetti and Ravazzoli – from the Italian Communist Party and about the formation of the first Italian Trotskyist organisation, the Nuova Opposizione Italiana (NOI), which he joined some time later. In 1930–31 he lived at Bastia in Corsica; later on he returned to Lyons, and then to Marseilles, Toulon and Marseilles again, where he joined the local branch of the NOI and the Ligue Communiste, the French organisation affiliated to the International Left Opposition.
In August 1936 he left for republican Spain along with Italian and French Trotskyist militants and other anti-Fascists living in Marseilles. Arriving in Barcelona, he went to the Hotel Falcón, headquarters of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM), where he and other Trotskyists of the Barcelona Bolshevik-Leninist group asked in vain for membership with factional rights. Settled in the Lenin Barracks, he subsequently fought on the Huesca front as a militiaman of the Columna Internacional Lenin of the POUM. Back in Barcelona, he worked in the leadership of the Sección Bolchevique-Leninista de España, the Spanish section of the Fourth Internationalist movement which had been founded in November 1936, side by side with Manuel Fernández Grandizo (‘G. Munis’), Jaime Fernández Rodríguez, Hans David Freund (‘Moulin’) and Erwin Wolf.
One of the editors of La Voz Leninista, he took part in the ‘May Days’ of 1937 and in the activities of the Spanish Trotskyist organisation. Arrested in February 1938, and imprisoned in various Barcelona prisons under the charge of being one of the accomplices in the assassination of a Stalinist agent, Captain Lev Narvich, he was sentenced to death, but later released on the eve of the arrival of Franco’s troops. He remained in the underground in the Catalan capital until August 1939. In the second half of that month he left for France on foot through the Pyrenees, and arrived at Perpignan, where he was arrested and interned in the prison camps of Saint Cyprien and Gurs, in which the Spaniards and ‘Internationals’ who had fought in the Civil War were being kept.
Evacuated at the time of the German offensive in May 1940, he was deported from Compiègne to Paris and subsequently to Vannes province in Brittany. After escaping from the camp, he made for Rennes and Paris. With no job and unable to establish contact with the French Trotskyist organisation, he went to Brussels where he met some comrades who had fought in Spain, and he also found work. Whilst in Belgium, he contacted the Trotskyist leadership, and, in the summer of 1941, he attended an underground meeting at which Abraham Wajnsztok (Abraham Leon) spoke at length on Marxist economic questions.
Moving because of his work between Belgium and Northern France, for a time he helped the Belgian and French sections of the Fourth International to keep in contact. In August 1943 he took part in a meeting of the Brussels Trotskyist branch which discussed the Italian situation after the fall of Fascism; the main report was given by the 20-year-old Ernest Mandel (‘E. Germain’). In the following days he left for Italy, stopped in Paris, and was arrested at Modane on the Franco-Italian border. Handed over to the Carabinieri, he was taken to Bardonecchia, from there to the Susa prison, and subsequently to the prisons of Turin, Novara and Milan, from the last of which he escaped.
In Milan he was persecuted by the Fascists, and threatened by the Stalinists. He attended some meetings of anti-Fascists, where he met the Socialist leader Lelio Basso. He also joined for some time the Bordigist Partito Comunista Internazionalista, and became acquainted with such outstanding militants as Onorato Damen and Bruno Maffi. Having been taken on in a small factory in Milan which built trolleys, he was amongst the organisers of a strike in 1946 which the trade unions sought to sabotage because the reformist parties – both Stalinist and Social Democratic – were in the government, and trying to rebuild the capitalist economy. In the postwar years he married Digna De Martin Toldo, a working class woman from the province of Belluno.
He later worked until the 1960s for the Milan ATM, a tramway enterprise, and during the 1970s he moved to Valeriano in his native Friuli region, where he decided to write his memoirs, which were subsequently published in Italian and with portions in French and English.  This is a valuable document in which he reconstructed – not without some inaccuracies – his exceptional political career. He undoubtedly thought that it was his duty to try in some way to convey to younger generations his experience of several decades as a revolutionary fighter.
Sedran was an honorary member of the Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari, the Lega Comunista Rivoluzionaria (LCR) from November 1979, and the Associazione Quarta Internazionale (AQI) from July 1989 – the names adopted by the Italian section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International – and joined the parties which the AQI decided to enter: Democrazia Proletaria from July 1989, and the Rifondazione Comunista from June 1991. He stood for the June 1978 regional elections in Friuli for Democrazia Proletaria, and in June 1980 he stood as an LCR candidate for the provincial elections in some Pordenone constituencies. In October 1980 he went to Follonica to take part in the International Conference on the Fortieth Anniversary of Trotsky’s Death.
In March 1983 ‘Carlini’ attended the Second National Congress of the LCR, which was held in Milan. By that time the writer of these lines was a member of the Gruppo Operaio Rivoluzionario (GOR), and attended the congress as a GOR representative. It was on that occasion that ‘Carlini’ expressed his disagreement with the policy put forward by the LCR leadership, which was summed up by the slogan of a ‘Workers Alternative’: he took the rostrum and said that this slogan was a call for the formation of a Popular Front to which the LCR was prepared to give a left cover, thus playing a rôle similar to that of the POUM in Spain in 1936–37. When he finished his speech I approached him to compliment him.
For the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War in Spain in 1986, he sent the Liga Comunista Revolucionaria, the Spanish section of the USFI, a generous donation of money through which he intended to restate his revolutionary link with the land of Spain. Some time after the death of his wife in January 1989, he moved to Pula in Istria where he spoke at the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of Gortan’s execution, and subsequently in Rovinj, always in old people’s homes. But during 1991 he was forced to move back to Italy, as the war-like events in former Yugoslavia had made living conditions difficult in the Istrian towns, and his state of health needed regular medical checks (he had undergone an operation for a pacemaker). I saw him again only in January 1991 in Bellaria, where he had come to attend a national congress of the AQI. On that occasion he told me that we would not see each other again, since his heart would not last that long. And so it was.
At his funeral, which was of a non-religious type in the square of Valeriano on 29 June, apart from his relatives there were many members of the Rifondazione Comunista, some of them belonging to the AQI. On his coffin the flag of the Fourth International and a red rose had been laid. Amidst widespread emotion one of the comrades who had been closest to him in the last 20 years, Carlo Vurachi, delivered a short but touching funeral oration in which he tried to stress the human and political significance of ‘Carlini’’s experience. His remains were cremated in the Udine cemetery, and his ashes buried in the Aurava cemetery, beside his wife.
‘Carlini’ is no longer amongst us. His death has left a painful void for all those who had the privilege of meeting him personally and appreciating his moral rectitude and his unflinching devotion to the cause of Communism.
1. The Alpini are élite mountain troops of the Italian army.
2. Cf. Carlini in Spain: An Italian Trotskyist in the Spanish Civil War, in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, nos. 1/2, Winter 1991–92, pp. 253–64.
Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011