Anyone who opts to take the life of a tyrant is often driven, not just by a strong moral conviction but also by a conviction that his action may prompt the masses into rebellion against the oppressor.
It is in this light that we have to view the individual actions taken several times against Mussolini by the anarchists. The series opened with Gino Lucetti from Avenza on 11 September 1926 and his attempt in the Porta Pia square in Rome. Lucetti hurled a bomb at the car carrying Mussolini from the Villa Torlonia to the Palazzo Chigi. The device, however, bounced off the Duce’s car and went off only when the vehicle had long since passed.
As he was arrested, Lucetti stated: “I did not come with a bouquet of flowers for Mussolini. I also meant to make use of my revolver if I failed to achieve my purpose with the bomb.” At the end of his trial he was sentenced to 30 years in jail whilst another two anarchists, considered his accomplices, Stefano Vatteroni and Leandro Sorio, received lesser sentences.
The bids by Michele Schirru and Angelo Sbardelotto, however, never got beyond good intentions in that they were arrested before they could carry out their plans.
Schirru was picked up on 3 February 1931 and sentenced to death by a Special Tribunal before being shot on 29 May. Sbardelotto, who had travelled from Belgium, was captured on 4 June 1932, confessed his intentions, was sentenced to death and shot on 17 June.
In our chronology of the attempts on Mussolini’s life we have deliberately left out the incident that occurred in Bologna in October 1926 and credited to 15-year-old Anteo Zamboni, the son of anarchists; he was stabbed to death on the spot by the fascists surrounding the fascist leader. The whole episode is obscure.
“Many believe that it was one of his own retinue that fired the revolver shot that grazed Mussolini’s jacket and that young Zamboni was sacrificed to divert any possible suspicion from the fascists.” Others, however, do credit the attempt to the youth, for want of “…sufficiently credible evidence of the thesis of ‘sham assassination attempt’ really planned by extremist fascists who intended to force Mussolini’s hand”.
To conclude this brief account let us adopt as our own a comment made by Gino Cerrito on the period in question:
“It is utterly pointless to debate what the assassination bids might have brought the country to. Their failure triggered no collective movement but the many arrests that followed, the trials and the sentences handed down, based on various expedients, show that the attempts helped to keep public opinion alert and to give heart to anti-fascists and to the labour movement opposed to the regime.
Without these events, without the many attempts at clandestine reorganisation, without the distribution of leaflets and graffiti on walls… we would probably not have had the strikes that marked certain years of the 20 years of fascist rule, nor would we have had a revolution that for the first time in our country’s history directly involved not only minorities, workers, yes, and peasants as well.”
Adapted from Prisoners & Partisans: Italian Anarchists in the Struggle against Fascism (1999). Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit. Published under a Creative Commons license.