Silone in the ‘thirties' the exile workshop
(di prossima pubblicazione a cura dell'Association Internationale d'Histoire contemporaine de l'Europe)Ignazio Silone (1900-1978) stands out among the protagonists of twentieth century literature as one of the few Italian authors whose works have been reprinted and are still today read in Italy and abroad; with increasing frequency contributions and critiques are dedicated to him as well as an exemplary edition of his works, contained in two volumes of the prestigious “I Meridiani” series. The writer's editorial success has undoubtedly been influenced by his naturalness and the skill with which he revisits the stimulating but distressing passage through youthful utopias, of whose fallacies he finally became aware, without however, allowing himself to be led adrift by the currents of conformism or resentment: his reaction to errors and disillusions took the form of a testimony, in his high quality moral writing. Not rhetoric but sorrowful testimony, at times even nostalgic, which saved and passed on the basic values of human solidarity and the quest for justice. Those same values which, in the early decades of the twentieth century, were spread by writers who had passed their childhood in a rural environment: one will suffice for all, the Slovenian, Ivan Čankar, who, in his long recount, Il servo Jernej e il suo diritto (published in 1907) transposed on paper the sad humanity of an outcast, thirsting for justice, brother of so many of the Marsican novelist's personages, crushed by the arrogance of power, but nevertheless proud of their dignity.
The figure of Silone calls for a particular sense of respect in view of the terrible vicissitudes he experienced right from his early childhood: the loss of his father and a brother at the age of 11, the death of his mother in the earthquake of 1915; his adolescence spent in state and/or religious boarding schools in search of spiritual guidance; his profound relationship with his younger brother Romolo and another bereavement - in 1932 – when he died in prison; his support of Catholicism, his disillusionment and his fideistic militancy in socialism and later in communism; his immersion in political struggle and his painful renunciation, with the urgent need to express in his writings the values betrayed by the ecclesiastical and political party structures; his prolonged exile and his end, which took place in incalculable solitude.
Various autobiographical notes point to the essentially moral and social nature of his inspiration, remote from any form of party ideology. Writing about himself in the third person, he made clear that his works were centred around the political experience of his youth: “The books written during my exile testify to systematic revision of previously professed party ideology”. This revision culminates in what he calls the “discovery of Christian inheritance and libertarian inspiration”. Two closely related elements which represent great spiritual value and explain the interest aroused in his writings abroad, compared with those of numerous authors whose fortunes were confined to the Italian environment and have not survived the wear and tear of time.
Political events forced the writer to endure a long exile, wandering for two decades between Switzerland and France, experiencing important events in Germany, Spain and the Soviet Union, in an apprenticeship that was decisive for his vision of the world and – in particular - for maturing federalist and pacifist convictions.
A restless CommunistHaving taken up politics in 1917, as organizer and spokesman for his peasant compatriots of the mountain village of Pescina (L'Aquila), he was spurred on by moral indignation at class discrimination, which led him to become a socialist and pacifist. In the immediate post-war period he became a leader of the Young Socialists Group of the Italian Socialist Party, which he represented at the constitutive congress of the Italian Communist Party at the end of January
The event that finally made him emigrate permanently was the repressive turn sanctioned by the exceptional laws of November 1926 (justified by the Mussolini government as a reaction to the Zamboni attack); after a lucky escape from arrest, twenty-six year old Secondino Tranquilli lived illegally for a time in Piedmont and Liguria, later residing in France and Switzerland. For three years leader of the party's(illegal) “internal centre”, he participated with Togliatti at the eighth plenum of the International (Moscow, May 1927); the two Italian delegates refused to endorse Trotsky's sentence; faced with their opposition, Stalin withdrew his motion against the former leader of the Red Army; nevertheless, the Communist press corroborated the false version of unanimous approval of the document. This episode, which for Silone represented confirmation of the duplicity and “Jesuitism” of the “Communist church”, prepared his withdrawal from the rites and falseness of politics insomuch as they were power play.
Personal and political problems increased to fever-pitch with his concern for the life of his young brother, Romolo, arrested on 13 April 1928 accused of placing a bomb the day before in Piazzale Giulio Cesare, during the visit of Vittorio Emanuele III to the Milan Trade Fair. Romolo Tranquilli had nothing to do with the carnage (which caused twenty victims) and declared his complete innocence, despite the beatings he received after his capture to force him to admit his guilt. Imprisoned in Rome's Regina Coeli jail, he received encouragement and financial support from Switzerland and Germany: Silone wrote to him on 23 December 1930 : «Dearest, I have made a great effort and collected together one hundred lire which I am enclosing, in addition to the 300 that I have already sent you», The special Court for State defence also involved Silone in a police frame-up and on 24 November 1928, ordered his capture, holding him responsible for placing explosive devices “with the dual purpose of attempting on the life of His Majesty the King and causing mass murder».
His preoccupation over the fate of his brother marked Silone's reconciliation with Police Commissioner Guido Bellone, with whom a decade earlier he had established an intricate relationship that is hard to decipher on the basis of existing documentation. A relationship that is emphasised by some scholars, with forced interpretations that make Silone appear as an insidious police informer within the Communist Party: a scarcely convincing theory, countered by the version, equally unsatisfactory, of Silone the perfect revolutionary. In all probability, his relationship with the Commissioner was influenced by pre-political factors which anyhow, fell within a complex play of relations between the subversive and the policeman, a constant element where, in a despotic regime, subverters and officers of the established law confront each other - in secret struggles and forced contiguity. On 13 April 1930 the relationship with Commissioner Bellone ended with an important letter (which has yet to be fully interpreted), announcing a radical existential change in the name of independent literary activity. The final part of the letter condemns the line taken by the Communist Party with a “fence-sitting” statement: «I still hesitate to publicly announce publicly my withdrawal from the party and am waiting for the right moment, in the near future».
After settling in the Swiss Republic, the émigré undertook an active role in the factionalist laceration of the executive cadres, he suffered from poor health which slowed down his political commitment and in January 1930, formalized his dissension of the Stalinian line prevailing in the Communist party, since it opposed the “shift” (re-establishment of the party centre in Italy) and the fight against the reformists (“social-Fascism” line) . From that moment his relations with the executive group precipitated, passing through a series of crises and recoveries, to the inevitable breaking point.
Between 1930 and 1932 Silone's life underwent profound changes. The two most important events were the stormy conclusion of his Communist militancy (he was excluded from all management functions in March 1930 and expelled in June 1931) and the death in the Fascist prison of his brother Romolo (27 October
The end of his relationship with the Communist Party entailed the acknowledgement of a fundamental error: his second existential blunder; failure on the religious front followed by collapse of his political side. Implicit reference is made to these two disillusions in his studies, not by coincidence abandoned and unfinished after his break with the Italian Communist party. His brother's tragic end, at first experienced as a lacerating pain accompanied by a sense of guilt, little by little became fell into oblivion.
After a decade of intense everyday life, his sentimental relationship with Gabriella Seidenfeld, seemed on the way to its end; some passages in letters addressed to her touch on moments of horrifying self-awareness, like the following excerpt from a letter of 6 November 1931.
It was destiny that, in order to express all the suffering of our times, I should know and, above all, experience all the misery, shame, enthusiasm and defeats of our times and that nothing that a man can suffer should be unknown to me. [...] Before I die, I should like to say one or two things that no other can say and that destiny has entrusted me to say. Two or three things that any worker, any peasant, any communist and any Fascist should think about, that all men should think about.
An ambitious objective, a dimension of high testimony to which Silone remained faithful in his fiction and essays. Der Faschismus His monograph Der Faschismus: seine Entstehung und seine Entwicklung, was written at the turning point between his abandonment of politics and his literary immersion; He began writing it in the autumn of
The militants and leaders of the defeated parties who took refuge abroad were obliged to acknowledge consolidation of the regime and resign themselves to a long exile; they felt the need for deep reflection – which was necessarily self-critical – on Mussolini's take-over of power. Between the mid ‘twenties and the middle of the following decade, assessments were published by Pietro Nenni (Storia di una disfatta socialista), Gaetano Salvemini (The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy), Emilio Lussu (Marcia su Roma e dintorni), Palmiro Togliatti (Corso sugli avversari), Angelo Tasca (
The genesis of Der Faschismus is essentially militant and functional to the cognitive-propagandistic ends of political struggle. The delay with which the far left wing analysed the defeat is no coincidence, but is due to the impossibility of admitting the erroneousness of the presuppositions for the split of Leghorn. Silone mercilessly pointed his finger at Communist aphasia, countering the versions given by representatives of political exile and urged the Italian Communist Party leaders to study the first post-war years of Italian history.
Why do we no longer talk about a book on Fascism? I acknowledge that there are difficulties and that none of us is currently in a position to write it. The difficulties are not only technical. But since we have not remedied it, we are evidently in difficulty compared with our opponents, who have books by Nitti, Don Sturzo, Ferrari, Salvemini, Trentin, etc. in various languages.
If our comrades in other countries sometimes talk nonsense about Italian Fascism, it is our fault I begin to wonder if something a single person cannot do, could be attempted by several.
It is a question, first of all, of acknowledging what are our greatest difficulties, i.e. political difficulties, in criticising the entire Italian post-war period: a comrade should elaborate a plan of the history of the last ten years, leaving aside chronology, and making a list of the decisive points whose illustration should represent our interpretation of the post-war period and Fascism.
On some of these points, a correct judgement can still be found in party records, on others the party has never given its official opinion.
The plan should be sent to a certain number of comrades (4 or 5), who should meet to discuss the controversial points. Obviously, a discussion of this type cannot take place within the executive party organisms. Although important, the issue would become a purely theoretical exercise. (Can they be taken to the C.C. to arrive at a conclusion, after only 2 sessions, as for example, on the problem of an objective evaluation and self-criticism of the positions that Soviet and Ordine Nuovo currents had in the PSI? I think not).
A copy of the reports of the discussions that take place among suitably chosen comrades could be sent to members of the Political Office These could include one entrusted with the task of elaborating the material, who would in practice be the one who writes the book. Some of the political problems that we are faced with in dealing with a critique of the last ten years, could also be dealt with in the journal. For a moment I saw the possibility that all this work could be undertaken by the programme committee but I immediately abandoned the idea. They would do nothing about it. The working methods of a programme committee must be very different. – in fact it does nothing. – whereas the book could be written in 3-4 months, (three or four, not thirty-four).
These, therefore, are the context and the objectives of Der Faschismus, in a remixing of suggestions and work hypotheses: dissatisfaction – with auto-critical undertones, both personal and party – over a communist analysis of the Fascist phenomenon, aspiration to a solid system and a collective method of work, in a proponent and, at least to all appearances, “orthodox” dimension. Joint research fell flat, and relations with the Italian Communist Party deteriorated, while his monograph on Fascism began to take shape between treatment periods, convalescence, relapses... in which significant use was made of the writings of non-communist authors listed in his memorandum of 3 November 1929 to the party leaders
Its tormented gestation makes Der Faschismus an unhomogeneous text, in which there is a problematic coexistence between Marxist criteria and high profile reformist socialism prefigurations. The first part, for example, in its economic approach, underlines the didactic natures of a rigorously classist matrix discovered during his early militancy in the extreme left. Another factor to be considered is the natural recipient of his work: a foreign anti-fascist and anti-Nazi reader, ignorant of the history of united Italy and early post-war socio-political processes.
Some parts of the book reflect a mode of thought assimilated during his Swiss exile; this is the case, for example, of his criticism of the Catholic Church, borrowed from protestant debate, with a significant shift from the anti-clerical tradition to which Silone clung in the ‘twenties. A typical work of his transition, it facilitates comprehension of the “Author as a young man”, on the eve of his literary debut, with intuitions revived and re-elaborated in his subsequent intellectual production. The basic element, behind the various issues tackled at historiographical level or in political vein, is his pessimistic vision of the historical processes which unfold in an aggravation of man's dominion over man.
The analysis of left-wing political and union movements is one of the book's mainstays. Maximalism stands out in its demagogic essence of glib revolutionism and inert spectator of popular struggle, quite inadequate for the duties of the times, unable to transform mass membership of the socialist Party into impact. Notwithstanding, the prose of Der Faschismus reveals persistent Leninist schemes, for example in its stressing of the secret agreement between opposing union and co-operative currents to maintain bourgeoisified leaders at the summit of the PSI. On the other hand, the observation that the working class “lacked a Lenin and Trotsky” is eloquent”. His coolness towards Bordighism emerged as well as his liking for the “Ordinovisti” of Turin, whose isolation in the summer of 1920 and immobilism in front of the Fascist squads was observed by Silone. His overall judgement of 1919-20 condemns reformism as an instrument for encaging the masses and, in particular, the lost opportunity of factory occupation when, because the PSI was unprepared to seize power, the metal-workers union endured reformist-Giolitti mediation and made the workers strike while the middle classes – scared by the phantom of revolution – turned to Fascism. After another couple of years the old reformist leaders left the scene, traitors mindful of the revolutionary movement: “The word “betrayal” has been abused so often that my decision to use it is not without hesitation and reluctance”.
Mussolini is seen as a counter-revolutionary, an able user of revolutionary methods, a pliant strategist who at the delicate moment of abandonment of socialism in favour of nationalism, keeps in contact with the masses. The alignment of quotations from speeches and writings of the future dictator demonstrates the relentless action of the early post-war period, countered by the incapacity of left and centre leaders, tied to old models and prisoners of outmoded logic. Mussolini, unscrupulously rode the crest of unfavourable dynamics, occupation of factories and movements against the cost of living, and - from an anti-Bolshevist viewpoint – channelled the workers' and people's dissatisfaction against the old political order, in open competition with the left. Without getting lost in overvaluations or denigration, Silone sums up the Duce as an instrument of the great capital, together with an array of former revolutionary trade-unionists led by Agostino Lanzillo, guided by the political experiences of their youth to move in keeping with the times, changing position when the socio-political equilibrium penalizes the working classes and favours the middle classes.
Writing his monograph proved particularly problematical, particularly because of the need to adapt to potential foreign readers. Paul Nizan, who was involved with the French edition, read the typescript and suggested adding an introductory section on post-unity Italian history. Comforted by the favourable prospects of publishing his work, in January 1931 the Author resumed work on the text. The original version was expanded with a chapter on the international situation, “to highlight the various social and ideological characteristics that German, Polish etc. Fascism has in common with Italian Fascism. In this way, the unity of the book is kept intact». Countering this, the absence of a specific analysis of the single movements of the extreme Right are explained by the fact that “to refer to the peculiar aspects of other Fascisms, it would be necessary to write not just a chapter, but several volumes”. The first hasty version of Autumn 1930 was followed up by intense checking and revision activity, showing the author's interest in the text, with the prospect of French and German editions, with circulation extended to Switzerland and Belgium. A preview of the monograph was presented to various exponents of the socialist movement and to a few Communist critics, with the dual intent of getting their comments on improvements in the text and facilitating its publication.
In 1931 there were as many as three versions of the research on Fascism: the original (part handwritten and part typewritten), one translated into German and another re-elaborated for the French edition. None of the three versions has reached us. Silone prepared further and final revisions in the autumn of 1933, mainly regarding the situation in Europe; that text, translated into German by Gritta Baerlocher, was finally printed by the Europa publishing house, whose director was an attentive observer of the Italian situation and Silone's first publisher, who, the previous year, had printed Fontamara, the novel that brought immediate international fame to its author. The publication of Der Faschismus was facilitated by the interest of German social-democrats and communists, definitively defeated in 1933 by the Hitler-Hindenburg alliance.. In the new context, Mussolini's regime appeared to change from an Italian phenomenon to a model for exportation; the European democracies – which the Soviet Union had opposed for over fifteen years – felt threatened by the regimes of the Duce and the Führer. For this reason, the book on the defeat of the Italian liberal regime – distributed in Switzerland in the winter of 1933-34 – was read and analysed mainly in German exile circles. Some copies circulated illegally in Germany, imported under the counter by bookseller, Ernst Niekisch, a social-democratic exponent of Saxony, accused of social-Fascism by the Communist newspaper, «Rote Fahne» by supporting an anti-Nazi agreement with the bourgeoisie sectors. Niekisch discovered in Silone's work political-cultural affinities with his analysis of the German crisis. In Italy its circulation was prohibited by the dual obstacle of the language barrier and a police ban. In
The precariousness of the exile The advantages of artistic creation in overcoming complex and problematic situations, in which Silone's fibre began to snap, were seen in the early days of
In Switzerland Silone animated the “Information” magazine (published in Zurich from 1932 to 1934) and with Eugenio Reale set up the Ghilda del Libro, to provide publishing opportunities for studies elaborated by exiles. The period in Switzerland represented a turning point in the life of Silone and coincided with his greatest intellectual creativeness and artistic maturity. The exile spent much of his time in Zurich libraries (particularly at the Zentralstelle für soziale Literatur). In the absence of a permanent job, economic difficulties and a precarious existence were the order of the day for an illegal immigrant with reputation of subversiveness. Nagging financial worries re-emerged in his letters from Zurich to Paris, with mentions of possible copyright royalties: «If I could earn enough from them to live on for 5-6 weeks, I would have time to look for different accommodation. Otherwise, living on soup and with two sleeping in a small bedroom in which a camp-bed only just fits, my will-power is gradually weakening ». Gabriella Seidenfeld recalled – in an unpublished work – the difficult living conditions of the professional revolutionaries in bourgeoisie Switzerland:
Silone returned from Davos, not fully recovered, and we lived hidden in various houses. To earn something, he worked as a typist, copying a manuscript by Doctor Brupbacher, who besides paying him, always offered him tea and biscuits. He always brought the biscuits home to me.
Shortly afterwards they arrested him in the street. He had no documents and Doctor Brupbacher and other Swiss socialists had to struggle hard to get a residence permit for him and to find home where he could receive suitable treatment.
Swiss intellectual Fritz Brupbacher, mentioned in the letter, shared the Italian exile's political itinerary, from his appreciation of the Soviet revolution to his criticism of Stalinism and his turn to socialism; he put his signature, for example, to the open letter of 1 September 1937 which Silone sent to left-wing newspapers in German, disputing KPD attacks against André Gide, accused of being in the service of the Gestapo for having condemned the repression in the USSR.
On 26 December 1930 the police arrested Silone in the street and imprisoned him in Zurich for being an illegal immigrant. The solidarist intervention of various influential supporters avoided his expulsion, leaving, however, the exile in the awkward position of Schriftenlosen («without documents»), a foreigner without a regular residence permit, whose presence was tolerated under certain conditions: abstention from all political and union activities and no journalistic collaboration with political content. In Italy his name was added to the “list of persons capable of carrying out terrorist attacks, and, more precisely, to the 1st category of dangerous persons to be arrested under certain circumstances”.
During that period he strengthened his friendship and collaboration with Turin-born Angelo Tasca, who was expelled from the PCI in September 1929 and turned towards independent socialism; after settling down in Paris, he undertook the important role of liaison between Silone and various French and German left-wing intellectuals, mainly Paul Nizan and Willi Münzenberg, two communists who came to a tragic end following their split with Stalinism (Nizan was killed in combat by the Germans, while the shadow of Muscovite agents looms over the mysterious death of Münzenberg). Reflecting on their sad fate and that of other left intellectuals whom he frequented in his youth or, at any rate, had learned to appreciate through their works (Alfred Kurella, Ernst Toller, Stefan Zweig...) the writer reproduced in his essay La scelta dei compagni, a consideration made by Simone Weil to Georges Bernanos: “We start out as volunteers, with ideas of self-abnegation. And we fall in a war of mercenaries, with a great deal more cruelty”. The epitaph of a generation of rebels thrown in at the deep end.
Police surveillanceSuffering from lung disease and troubled by his break with communism, his literary commitment become preponderant – and undoubtedly had a therapeutic function. It culminated in May 1933 with the publication of one of the most important novels in Europe between the two wars: Fontamara. Silone's critics interpreted his narrative in the light of the author's biographical vicissitudes, from a narrow-minded and inadequate interpretative angle. A few words scribbled on a scrap of paper kept with the unpublished documents in the “Silone Archive” allude to the problematic balance between writing and silence, memory and oblivion. «Burn memories? Burn ourselves. Crematorium oven». The pages of Uscita di sicurezza ensue from a background of anguish and compulsion, in which he recovers memories from a mine of experience, set down on paper in his incisive writings while in Swiss exile in the early 'thirties:
I took refuge in Switzerland and this distressing event coincided with a decline in my health. I was in a situation of total exterior solitude, because I continued to be a foreigner even for the laws of the country in which I took shelter. I had a non-Italian, naturally false, passport; this prevented me from resuming old friendships or even social relations. Then there was this great bereavement, as I have already called it, of the loss of hope, of the dreams of my youth. In those conditions, writing for me was an irresistible intimate need. In writing Fontamara I did not think of publishing it; for me it was a question of creating in that solitude a village in which I could live; the search for memories from my childhood and adolescence, which were my strength, because they were memories in which there was a moral, and I would even say, a religious reserve with which I could challenge life's greatest adversities.
Literary activity represented a therapeutic outlet as well as an alternative to the option of militancy chosen by many other comrades expelled from the Communist Party, who – having maintained a Bolshevist ideological-dogmatic approach – shifted their demands for truth to the Trotsky front , or – like Angelo Tasca – drew closer to the Socialist party.
Silone's intellectual production was remarkable, both in terms of quantity and quality. In the summer of 1934 Oprecht published his collection of stories Die Reise nach Paris, in the spring of 1936 his novel Bread and wine and in the autumn of 1938 his dialogue The school for dictators, which resumes the theme as well as a few ideas from Der Faschismus, re-elaborated within a critical review of the general totalitarian phenomenon.
International acknowledgement of Fontamara brings fame to Silone's name, with the result of attracting the attention of the Fascist repressive apparatuses. On 13 January 1934 the head of the Political Police Division, Carmine Senise, banned introduction of the book into Italy; simultaneously the Political Police Division ordered the Prefecture of Aquila to control the correspondence of members of his family who lived at Pescina and alerted fiduciary no. «290» (Giovanni Bazzi, whose information network covered most of Switzerland): «I make this known to you so that you can involve your friends in surveillance and inform me of the activity he is about to undertake».
During 1934 the Political Police Division received reports on Silone from informers nos. «7» (Livio Bini, from Paris), «37» (Aldo Soncelli – alias «Giove» – from Zurich), «582» (Aldo Sampieri – «Oliviero» and «Saturno» – again from Zurich). The perception that Fascist power had of Silone can be inferred from information issued by the Ministry of the Interior at the beginning of 1935: «His deep hate of Fascism is no mystery; he keeps active correspondence with “comrades” in Paris, for the purpose of carrying out vindictive “action”. (20 January); «A reliable source has confirmed the criminal intentions to be undertaken in the Kingdom by Tranquilli, resident in Switzerland » (6 March); «By order of the honourable Minister a request has been made to include the photograph of Tranquilli in the Wanted Persons Bulletin» (14 March). Police executives subjected the writer to «continued and attentive surveillance», because he combined subversive ideology with personal grievances: «Tranquilli, it is known, makes no mystery of his deep-rooted hate of Fascism, to which, as a Communist, he attributes the death, in an Italian prison, of his brother Romolo, who he endeavoured to help when he attempted to act as one of our informers and who he is strongly convinced died as a result of the beatings he underwent.». There is an interesting reference to an information report of an opportunistic nature, following the arrest of Romolo Tranquilli (on 13 April 1928).
The head of the Political Police Division, Michelangelo Di Stefano, was afraid that Silone might return to the country illegally for terrorist purposes. The preoccupation of the police chiefs, perceived by the two-timer Sampieri, drove the sneak to propose decisive action to his leaders; physical elimination of the writer set off a fight with no-holds barred against the exiles. Forgive me if I make a suggestion to you, something that I shall not do again. It seems that for our national and international situation, it is not a good thing that these remains of an opposition, which exists only in their heads, should continue to sow their poisonous arrows in every continent; and I think therefore that a system should be implemented to eliminate the problem, as the patient draws closer to the surgeon ... in this case Tranquilli seems very close to the surgeon and it is time to complete his treatment. This is my point of view.
Informer no. «290», Giovanni Bazzi, did not share Sampieri's homicide plan nor the terrorist views of the head of the Political Police Division, and on 4 March 1935 – in a report from Lugano - he framed the exile in a less unreal light, summing up his characteristics in three points: 1) Silone really is ill and shows it physically in a marked and conspicuous way – thus justifying his presence at Ascona – a presence which might well have a purpose, but which does not exclude his conditions of health.
2) His present activity and the activity which he himself says he wants to undertake in the future, confirms the impression (which is also a conviction, for the writer) that he has no intention of coming to Italy. His thoughts are addressed to intellectual and writing activity, which will keep him well occupied. In the room he lives in at the Bellaria house, there is a small portable typewriter, which he uses, in particular, to write endless letters and to obtain support for the Magazine he is planning which, he says, is intended for millions of Italians abroad.
3) Silone says, and this is also the writer's impression, that his opposition to Fascism, at least during this period, is a doctrinarian and intellectual opposition – which excludes recourse to criminal actions and Silone's own return to the Kingdom. Informers «37» and «290», having identified in his literary commitment the most insidious ground for attacking the regime, pay increasing attention to the material aspects of this activity, even going so far as to make enquiries at the presses which print Silone's books. In the second half of the ‘thirties, the informer who more than any other collected first-hand information, was Nicola Casavola (no. «507», «Platone»), a self-styled merchant from Puglia, in whom the writer confides on several occasions and to whom he addresses several letters, promptly transmitted by the untrustworthy recipient to his police contacts.
On 12 October 1937 the Political Police Division prepared a detailed biographical document on Silone for Mussolini, who was induced by the exile's international fame to ask for information on his identity and past history. The document clarifies the figure of the outcast, from the point of view of the repressive Fascist structure, giving an overall evaluation of his conditions of isolation. The following is the second part of the report regarding his stay in Switzerland following expulsion from Spain and France: Tranquilli was expelled and after having wandered from country to country in Europe, he settled in Zurich.
In 1931 his brother, Tranquilli Romolo, was arrested and put on trial in Italy for communist activity. Tranquilli Secondino was deeply attached to his brother and suffered greatly. He tried to help him in every possible way, sending him money and often sweets and other delicacies. In the time he showed repentance for his anti-Fascist conduct and attempted an approach with the Italian Authorities by sending, disinterestedly, generic information on the activities of political exiles. This he did with the intention of helping his brother who, however, suffering from a serious disease, died on 20 October
After his brother's death, Tranquilli Secondino fully resumed his communist activity and wrote, dedicating it to his brother's memory, the novel Fontamara set in an acidly anti-Fascist environment.
Meantime, Tranquilli Secondino too, like his brother, was struck down by tuberculosis, which obliged him, and still does, to undergo continuous treatment, preventing him from journeying far and wide in Europe as before. Moreover, he turned to the Trotskyists thus alienating the favour and “support” of Moscow. He has therefore had to establish himself permanently in Zurich (from where he moves only for treatment in Lugano's Bellaria sanatorium) and, to earn his living, he has begun to write articles for various Italian and foreign anti-Fascist newspapers and novels of a social nature, like the one recently published by the Oprecht press of Zurich under the title Brot und Wein (Bread and Wine).
A man of lively intellect, Tranquilli has developed a good culture. More than the intrinsic value of his writings and novels, it is the publicity given to his work in the left-wing press and in Italian language newspapers which publish the work of political exiles and have brought fame to Silone, especially among the foreign anti-Fascist masses, that has allowed him to eke out a living.
From the political point of view, today he can be considered an outsider who lives on the margins of various anti-Fascist political groups – from Republican to Socialist – Giustizia e Libertà, down to the anarchists. In fact, in Zurich he has contacts especially in the Schiiavetti circle..
An impressive profile – of police matrix – outlining a professional revolutionary who, outside all parties, continued his own battle against the regime that killed his brother and forced him into exile.
Between artistic creation and political testimonyCarlo Rosselli was impressed by his reading of Fontamara and even before reviewing the novel he wrote to its Author, to congratulate him on his “outstanding book, perhaps even the best social novel”; Rosselli appreciated the fact that the book was dedicated to the writer's brother who died in prison: “I was unaware that you were the brother of Romolo Tranquilli, a name that is familiar to all anti-Fascists. Allow me to express my sympathy ». Silone declined an invitation to collaborate in the «Giustizia e Libertà» note-books. He did so because he had opted for solitary commitment, incompatible with joining a group: “In every shattered group in retreat, there are militants who find themselves in my situation: with no hierarchical connection to the surviving remainder of his regiment, they continue as best they can to fight the enemy as snipers”. Rosselli's reply reflected his comprehension and respect: “I understand you perfectly. Your experience in the party was too harsh and too tragic for you to come out of the reserve in a stage that is still one of preparation. On the other hand, with your books you have served and are serving our cause with an efficacy that your modesty makes you underestimate, but which we appreciate for its just value”.
The essay, Der Christus von Kazan, stands out among the articles published in the Zurich periodical “Information” in December 1933, in which for the first time Silone tackles the subject of the origins of Christianity, beginning with an analysis of fragments attributed to Giuseppe Flavio: the identikit of Christ recalls the police description card of a wanted person, a rebel against established power and a diehard revolutionary. It should be noted that, during the same period, an essay on Catholicism and Fascism defines the Catholic church “as the most materialist organization our times”.
The artistic atmosphere and the existential approach which accompany the writer's most important works are outlined in the message of good wishes he sent in 1934 to the wife of his publisher Oprecht: “It is good that I have begun 1934 here in the mountains. I work and reflect a good deal. I see things in an orderly and lucid way […] I hope this will be of use to me both in my work and in my private life. Here I feel very good and very young. My life has begun a new spring. My brain has never worked so well and I am preparing some interesting things”. He had overcome his financial difficulties thanks to the patronage of a wealthy merchant in Zurich, who took the intellectual into his home and supported him, enabling him to write without having any material worries. The writer could now concentrate on his work, which represented a lifeline for him in a frenetic period in which democracies and dictatorships clashed with each other in the European scenario: “God only knows how truly restless and anxious I am about everything that happens. However, it is quite different when I write: anything that I cannot express with deliberation, occasionally mixed with pity, I leave to one side”. Silone pursued a consistent course, from which the sirens of celebrity failed to distract him. “I have met with success perhaps a little early, but I want to make sure that I remain faithful to myself and to the reason that has made me write; because Italian literature has had all too many talents and in this sense my contribution would certainly be wanting; if, on the other hand, I continue along my path, I shall produce an impure work of art, but at least I shall be of some use. The Italian edition of Bread and Wine will shortly be issued which I hope will penetrate into Italy, where already many copies of its German and English translation are in circulation”.
An initiative of 1936 shows the depth of his ideals: the promotion in Lugano with Egidio Reale of “Nuove Edizioni di Capolago”. It is a publishing experiment inspired by an organisation of the same name set up during the last century by Italian patriots who took refuge in Switzerland after the repression of the insurrectionary tumults of 1830-31. The society was to publish writings by exponents of non-communist emigration: Guglielmo Ferrero, Randolfo Pacciardi, Gaetano Salvemini, Carlo Sforza and Silone himself.
In the early thirties, Silone had written his monograph on Fascism to warn those who, in Europe, viewed the Italian vicissitudes with an air of superiority, in the belief that a similar phenomenon would be unconceivable in their own country. The events that took place in Europe demonstrated the superciliousness of this prejudice. In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich and Salazar legitimated with a plebiscite the Portuguese clerical-Fascist regime. In 1934 the Austrian National Socialists assassinated Chancellor Dolfuss: a year later a reactionary dictatorship was set up in Estonia and the Polish right-wing government abolished the parliamentary system. In 1936 General Metaxas imposed an authoritarian regime in Greece and General Franco's military revolt was the turning point for overthrowing the Spanish Republic. In this context it is understandable that Silone's writings were studied and used especially by exponents of German and Austrian socialist left who, like Otto Bauer, gleaned various observations from them, making use of some of the passages in their studies on the European counter-revolution. As the situation came to a head in a liberticidal spiral which threatened the remaining democracies, in the second half of the ‘thirties, the writer reviewed the dynamics of authoritarian involution, but this time rejected a historical essay and adopted a narrative in the form of a dialogue in his work The school for dictators, or better, in Machiavellism explained to the subjects. The problems involved in totalitarianism are approached from an eccentric stance, though the lengthy conversations of three personages in Zurich in 1939: a European exiled intellectual, nicknamed Thomas the Cynic, an aspiring American dictator, Mr Double U, and his secretary Prof. Pickup. The author's positions are expressed by Thomas the Cynic, whose biographical traits emulate those of Silone: from his expulsion “from various so-called democratic countries”, to his precarious Swiss exile without a residence permit. Some of the passages taken from the historical investigation on Fascism were used for the second time, re-proposed in a propitious synthesis, made possible thanks to his previous work of historical excavation and subsequent purification of such a burning issue. The following is an example of an observation made by Thomas the Cynic: No, Fascism has not arrived just by chance, nor has it subjugated free men, but rather the masses, already prepared to serve by their everyday way of life and already trained to obey by every form of democratic life (school education, military service, religious practices as well as by instructions received in trade-unions and opposition parties, centralized and bureaucratized like the rest ). The adoption of a dialogue form in various ways facilitates the approach to the totalitarian phenomenon, with a parallel analysis of the democracy crisis and useful techniques for the aspiring dictator to subjugate the State to his rule. The observations on the collective psychology of dictatorship are most interesting and are taken from a review of the German situation: “After national wars, civil wars and prolonged unemployment, the phenomenon of dissociation of conscience arises, in superficial form, so that an ever-increasing number of individuals are deprived of normal mental activity. They succumb to gradual atrophy of their spirit and hypertrophy of their instinctive and automatic mental faculties.”.
The new book marks a considerable innovation in the interpretation of the totalitarian phenomenon, which here includes a left-wing variance: red Fascism. On the other hand, right from the second half of the ‘thirties the author had broken away from the interpretive axis given in Der Faschismus and considered that The school for dictators has surpassed his previous work. In disagreement with this assessment, the literary critic Luce D'Eramo individuated complementarity in the two works, diversified both in their analytical perspective (one develops the community element, the other centres around the individuality of the aspiring tyrant) and in their methodology (historical analysis versus psychological study). The preface written by the Author for the American edition sums up in retrospect the peculiarities and novelties in The School for dictators:
The publication of this book in 1939 responded above all, in accordance with what the situation of the times required, to the immediate needs of democratic defence, without however covering up principles and problems of a general nature. Thus, together with criticism of the ideologies of Fascism and Nazism and demystification of their historical falsifications (at that time widely in vogue also beyond the frontiers of their direct hegemony), the book endeavoured to indicate the social causes which have made totalitarian undertakings easier in our times.
The centrality of his artistic work stands out in a long letter to his friend Rainer Biemel, a memorandum which is the fruit of introspective reflection, in an effort to sum up his own political and literary path in order to get a better grasp of its sense and direction: Artistic work now appears as the only worthy way open to me to live my life as a man. Artistic creation, as it gradually becomes easier, appears to be a natural, spontaneous, inevitable, irreplaceable function of myself. All my previous experiences, which I certainly do not repudiate, appear as a time of secret maturation. The need for truth and sincerity that isolated me from party politics is the main impulse that supports me in my literary work. Not only have I not retracted anything from my previous political non-conformism, but I believe I have pursued it even further and given it a content which makes it incompatible with and irreducible to any compromise.. His isolation from politics, correlated with his gainful literary commitment, appeared sterile in the eyes of Silone, when Europe was overcome by the war of Hitler and Mussolini. At that point the “independent Socialist” resumed his position in the anti-Fascist organisations and in 1941, he founded in Zurich a new foreign centre of the Italian Socialist Party. A commitment marked by the desire for the liberation of Socialism from Communist hegemony and influence. The following year the projects for Terzo fronte (on which he had worked since
 I. Silone, Romanzi e saggi, 2 vols., ed. B. Falcetto, Milan, Mondadori, 1998-1999.  Notes preserved in the Archivio Silone, at the Fondazione «Filippo Turati», Florence (AS FT).  Archivio centrale dello Stato, Rome (ACS), Fondo Tribunale speciale per la difesa dello Stato, b. 325.  M. Canali and D. Biocca, L'informatore: Silone, i comunisti e
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