Good country Calabria
On July 15, 1970, a popular uprising against the Italian state began in the city of Reggio, the godforsaken capital of the province of Calabria. The uprising was truly popular: it was supported by the best representatives of almost all social groups. At the same time, the slogans of the rebels were for every taste and color: anti-communist, anarchist and even pro-fascist.
The end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s of the last century in Italy became a time of a sharp increase in the activity of the most radical political forces. Against the backdrop of the omnipotence of the mafia, which had established itself almost throughout the country, with the exception of the industrial north, the neo-fascist nationalists were the first to raise their heads. They received a powerful impetus from the events in neighboring Greece, where in April 1967 the extreme right-wing nationalist dictatorship of “black colonels” was established.
As you know, these newly-born dictators proclaimed the state ideology of “Enosis” – “national-territorial reunification” of the Greek ethno-geographical territories of the Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus with Greece. But in Calabria, the ultra-left marched side by side with the semi-fascists – according to the principle of “extremes converge.” The latter were already inspired by the Chinese “cultural revolution”, supported by official Albania, which could not but influence the situation in southern Italy.
Back on March 16, 1968, when the whole of Europe and the United States were shaking pretty much, in Italy there were massive clashes between neo-fascist students, anarchists and ultra-leftists with pro-Soviet communists. After the introduction of Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia in the same 1968, radicals from all over Europe rallied under the slogan: “Struggle against the old and new imperialism.” However, this did not prevent them from regularly engaging in fights with each other until the death of Mao Zedong.
But it was in Calabria, on this toe of the Italian boot, that the conjunction of anarchism, anti-communism and “Mao-Stalinism” became maximum. Apparently, the reason for this was primarily the disastrous socio-economic imbalances in post-war Italy, which persist, albeit on a smaller scale, to this day.
Thus, in the 1960s and 1980s, the unemployment rate in Calabria was almost twice the Italian average; the deterioration of the housing stock in the province was many times higher than in most other provinces of the country. In terms of the number of health facilities per capita, Calabria was one of the last in the country.
These factors in themselves stimulated the unification of the local anti-state opposition, regardless of the ideological orientation of its participants. Since March 1970, anti-government demonstrations, sabotage and strikes have become more frequent in Reggio, to the name of which di Calabria was not always added. By the way, it was then and from there that the well-known term “Italian strike” spread throughout the world.
There was a reason, the reasons are already there
There was no need to “invent” a formal reason for the uprising.
On June 13, 1970, the Regional Council of Calabria decided to transfer the administrative center of the region from Reggio di Calabria (the local administration was traditionally dominated by far-right and “pro-anarchist” figures) to the city of Catanzaro. This decision meant significant socio-economic losses for Reggio, not to mention the loss of historical and political prestige.
And exactly one month later the neo-fascist Ciccio Franco made an appeal for “disobedience to the exploitative illegitimate authorities and the dictatorship of the colonialists from Rome.”
Chiccio Franco (1930-1991) was an influential Italian trade unionist and neo-fascist politician. Railwayman by profession, in 1963-1971. he was the head of the main provincial (Calabria) trade union of anarchist orientation – CISNAL. In 1972-91. was a senator from the pro-fascist “Italian Social Movement” (MSI).
According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Ciccio Franco was an active member of MSI from an early age, but at the same time a supporter of corporate syndicalism. For many years he headed the structure of the CISNAL trade union, affiliated with the neo-fascist party, in Reggio di Calabria.
Ch. Franco was the organizer of workers’ protests under extreme right-wing populist slogans. He gained wide popularity in the provinces, actively opposed communist influence in the trade union movement and municipal bodies.
Chiccio Franco cannot be denied a kind of Italian charisma
On July 13, 1970, the authorities of Reggio Calabria announced their refusal to resign their regional powers, at the same time CISNAL supported Ch. Franco’s call for a 40-hour general strike. This day was the prologue to the uprising; on July 15, construction of street barricades with the distribution of small arms began throughout the city.
According to Ch. Franco, “this day is the first step in the national revolution: the scum is the one who surrenders.” The anarchist “National Avant-garde” of Italy took an active, but not leading role in those events. But there was still a long way to go before direct armed confrontation.
To lead the uprising, a “Committee of Action” was formed: its leaders, along with Ciccio Franco, were a veteran of the anti-fascist resistance, a member of the Stalinist-Maoist “Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Italy” Alfredo Pern; publicist and leftist anarchist Giuseppe Avarna; and lawyer Fortunato Aloi, a representative of the center-right Italia del Centro party.
On July 30, 1970, C. Franco, F. Aloi and D. Mauro spoke at the 40,000th rally, reaffirming their determination to “defend the historical rights and traditional status of Reggio di Calabria.” And on August 3, 1970, the Comitato unitario per Reggio was established, headed by Franco, Aloi and Mauro.
At the same time, the Action Committee was not disbanded: it was instructed to develop a legal basis for the autonomy of the city and the entire region from Rome. These structures actually replaced the city hall. But, although the mayor of Reggio Piedro Battaglia announced his support for the uprising, the army and security forces remained under the control of Rome.
The September 14 strike escalated into street fighting with the police. The bus driver was killed. The rebels’ radio channel, Reggio Libera, proclaimed on September 17, 1970: “The Reggians! Calabrians! Italians! Fighting the rule of the barons will lead to the victory of true democracy. Glory to Reggio! Glory to Calabria! Long live the new Italy!”
Archbishop Giovanni Ferro of Calabria expressed his solidarity with the rebels, without consulting the Vatican. The rebels were financed by opposition-minded businessmen Demetrio Mauro, who successfully traded coffee, and Amedeo Matasena, who was engaged in shipping.
Tyrant against tyranny and tyrants
But today it is quite possible to assume that Beijing and Tirana took part in financing the de facto separatist movement in Reggio Calabria, ignoring its largely anti-communist character.
How else to explain that the “Action Committee” included representatives of the Communist Party with its open orientation towards colleagues from China and Albania? And the fact that Albania immediately came out in support of the same movement?
In the fall of 1970, posters with portraits of Stalin and a quote in Italian from his speech at the 19th Congress of the CPSU (October 14, 1952) appeared on the streets of Reggio:
“Previously, the bourgeoisie allowed itself to be liberal, defended bourgeois-democratic freedoms and thereby created popularity among the people. Now there is no trace of liberalism. Individual rights are now recognized only for those who have capital, and all others are considered raw human material for exploitation. The principle of equality of people and nations has been trampled underfoot, it has been replaced by the principle of the full rights of the exploiting minority and the lack of rights of the exploited majority of citizens. “
Despite the ideological confusion in the ranks of the rebels, the first country to side with the rebels was Stalinist-Maoist Albania. Tirana put forward the idea of an “independent people’s state of Reggio Calabria.” Appealing as an example to the existence of “the victorious Italian imperialism of the independent republic of San Marino within the territory of Italy.”
This was quite officially reported on the Radio Albania program for Calabria on 20 August 1970 (see “AnnI DI PIOMBO. Tra utopia e speranze / 1970 20 agosto”). But it must be remembered that Tirana’s close military-political alliance with Beijing hardly allowed Albania an independent position in relation to the revolt in this region of Italy.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that, through the support of the Tirana of the Calabrians, Beijing demonstrated its ability to influence the political situation in Europe. It is well known that the ultra-left propaganda and practice of Beijing were most active precisely in the second half of the 60s – early 70s, that is, during the period of the notorious “cultural revolution” in the PRC.
But Italian historians have no doubt that only the Italian Communist Party could be involved in the posters with Stalin, which at that time held distinctly pro-Chinese and pro-Albanian positions. At the same time, in fact, Beijing (through Tirana and the Italian communists) infiltrated the rebel movement in Calabria.
Official Beijing, however, was silent about the events in Reggio Calabria, but the Albanian media called them “a proletarian uprising, which should be led by the communists.” In Albania, they confidently predicted “the collapse of Italy due to the aggravation of interregional socio-economic imbalances in the country.” But the Soviet mass media in those days regularly reported on the “atrocities of fascist hooligans” in Reggio di Calabria.
It was very uncomfortable for the “then” Albania to coexist with a united Italy with the bases of the USA and NATO located there. Many of them are still located in southern Italy, including Calabria and Puglia. And the latter is separated from Albania by a strait only 70 km wide, although the ferry from Bari does not go to Albanian Tirana, but to the old Montenegrin Bar – the port of Sutomorje.
But in Tirana they decided to support the uprising in Reggio di Calabria, probably with the hope that it would spread to Apulia. And there, you see, not long before the “non-Western” republic in the south of Italy!
However, the rebels in Reggio ended up with a bizarre symbiosis of anarchism, pro-fascism, separatism and Mao-Stalinism. The latter, for obvious reasons, could not become the guiding core of the uprising. However, Italy, even at that time, did not aggravate relations with Albania. Rome, like the West as a whole, was geopolitically very favorable to the anti-Soviet position of Tirana, which, moreover, entered into a political confrontation with Tito’s Yugoslavia.
The end of the “tale of Italy”
In the meantime, the Italian authorities tried to begin the elimination of Calabrian separatism. After the events of September 14, the security forces became more active, and on September 17, 1970, Ciccio Franco was arrested on charges of instigating a mutiny. The arrest immediately provoked major riots: the destruction of weapons stores, the seizure of police stations, and beatings of officials.
The anti-government revolt quickly spread throughout Calabria. As a result, the authorities were forced to release Ch. Franko on December 23. The threat of the unrest spreading throughout the country passed, but in Rome, in the end, they decided to firmly suppress the uprising.
On February 23, 1971, the rebellious Reggio was effectively occupied by large forces of police and carabinieri with the support of the army. On that day, more than 60 people died or went missing, including the military and police. Ciccio Franco and others like him went into an illegal position.
The underground workers did not give up for a long time: their last action was in October 1972, eight explosions in the city and on the adjacent railways. However, control of the central government was restored throughout Calabria by mid-1971. But the administrative center of the province remained in Reggio Calabria.
Monument to Ciccio Franco
The collapse of Italy did not take place. But the memory of C. Franco in Reggio di Calabria is still surrounded by honor and respect: the dates of his life and death are celebrated, a street and a city theater are named in his honor.