Remembering the Italian partisans who ended Mussolini’s violence

Italian partisans walking in the Plaza of the 15 Martyrs on the day of the execution, 1945.

By John Palameda, Red Phoenix correspondent, Illinois.

On the anniversary of Mussolini’s death, online left spaces are often filled with the pictures of il duce and his closest allies strung up in the Piazza Quindici Martiri in Milan. As an Italian-American, and an ancestor of those who fought bitterly against Mussolini even before the allies landed on Sicily, it does bring catharsis to remember that moment. But so many years later as we face our own Mussolinis, we should be careful to remember more than that moment of justice.

If we remember only that violent celebration, we forget that communists around the world during the great anti-fascist war did not seek out brutality, but responded to it and ended it — emphatically. In remembering that fight on this anniversary, we also face the uncomfortable truth that their bravery and ideals were later sold out by social democratic electoral politics in Italy and elsewhere. Still, on this day, we remember the entire legacy of those brave anti-fascist fighters and embrace their radical communist goals. 

An undertold part of the story of Mussolini’s death is that the act of stringing him up did not come from the partisans themselves. Indeed, the plaza in which he was strung up was renamed only days before to the Plaza of the Fifteen Martyrs — fifteen partisans who had received the same treatment that Mussolini eventually received. This isn’t a minor historical matter. The thousands of communist partisans who had been fighting in a life and death struggle against Mussolini’s Nazi puppet state did not seek new barbarities and humiliations, they wanted only to avenge their fallen comrades. 

Gaspare “Sergio” Pajetta, 18.

The communists in the National Liberation Committee (CLN) thus responded to atrocities with justice, and in so doing, mobilized thousands of Italians around communist goals. One brave fighter, Gaspare “Sergio” Pajetta, at the age of only 18, joined his local partisan cell. As German forces closed in around his cell just two months before Mussolini’s death, he volunteered to cover their retreat, and was hit several times. Continuing to fight, “Sergio, hit in the side, leaned against a tree and continued to shoot, until he was hit mortally by a burst of machine gun fire. A copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution was found on him, with the pages perforated and soaked in blood.”

These are the people I choose to remember on this anniversary, not Mussolini or the particular manner of his death. I remember the fifteen partisans who gave that plaza its name, and the thousands of stories just like Gaspare’s. I remember, too, that the militancy of their struggle, and the blood they shed for communist principles against fascist barbarism, came to little in Italy despite massive electoral successes for Togliatti and the PCI in the post-war years. Today we dedicate ourselves to remembering the legacy of the Italian partisans who died to bring an end to fascist violence, and renew our own fight against resurgent fascism by celebrating its greatest enemy: revolutionary communism and the diverse working class. 

Categories: Anti-Fascism, History, Italy, Revolutionary History, World History

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