Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Amendolas: an Italian family

R.J.B. Bosworth

Above you will find an image of the Amendola Fiera station on Milan’s tube line number 1. It was opened in 1964 and is located in Piazza Giovanni Amendola ‘statista’. The square hails Giovanni as a statesman; the station as a ‘martire’ (martyr) of Anti-Fascism. In any Italian city, it is easy to brush up on your modern Italian history. For fans of the Risorgimento, there’s always a Piazza Garibaldi or a Via Cavour. For opponents of Mussolini’s dictatorship plenty of streets or squares recall Giacomo Matteotti (a moderate socialist, murdered in 1924), Antonio Gramsci, a communist whose mind had to be stopped for twenty years but only lasted ten in a Fascist gaol 1927-1937, and, often too, Giovanni Amendola, a liberal democrat beaten almost to his death in 1925. He perished at Cannes in April 1926, buried under the slogan: ‘here lies Giovanni Amendola waiting’.

By contrast, presently, there are no Piazza Mussolinis or other celebration of Fascists heroes. Will that situation remain the same now that Giorgia Meloni of the Fratelli d’Italia party has become Italian Prime Minister? She may pledge that Fascism is now confined to the past. But many of her party members remain unqualified in their admiration of Mussolini (born 1883, one year after Giovanni; before 1922’s March on Rome, they shared a number of political pathways) and his dictatorship. When the centenary looms for Giovanni Amendola’s bashing and death in 2025-6, when it might be assumed that the liberal democrat world will pause to remember him, will his ghost again have to compete with that of Benito Mussolini? Or, by then, will Meloni’s partner in government, Silvio Berlusconi, have taught her what we are all meant to know since the fall of the U.S.S.R. that, with a few adjustments, we must be all for the market, no one against the market and no one and nothing outside the market?

Vediamo (Let’s see), as Italians like to say. Wait a minute. Let’s look again at the Amendola Fiera station. The Fiera part looks good since it means that, in 1964, that part of Milan was being reserved for business festivals. Giovanni Amendola has served, OK briefly, as Under-secretary of Finance in 1920. A sceptic might insist that he only held that role for a couple of months, that, throughout his life, he was singularly unsuccessful in managing his family’s finances, and that, although a liberal democrat, it is hard to find him going anywhere beyond the most conventionally positive thoughts on economics and liberal capitalism. 

Anyway, should we see some other messages at the Amendola Fiera station? After all the stairs into darkness, into what looks like a gulch, might warn us of the fact that Italy did experience a ‘ventennio’ (twenty dark years of Fascist rule between 1922 and 1943, 1945), which led to its utter defeat in World War II, the loss of its (tatterdemalion) empire and its relegation for ever from the ranks of the Great Powers. A national gulch indeed.

But the messaging still isn’t complete. Four red triangles hang down with the name, Amendola, inscribed in white on them, telling us that we have indeed found the station. But Giovanni Amendola had three sons, Giorgio, Antonio and Pietro, each of them, in rather different ways, a communist, but each willing in his time to salute Stalin. Reds, reds. Is the Wikipedia image, seeming so insignificant, telling us that, in that small sector of Milan, we must reflect on Mussolinian totalitarianism (and Giovanni Amendola invented the word for the Duce to take up and deploy as his own), Stalinist totalitarianism and perhaps the market totalitarianism of our own times after the end of communism?

Questions, questions. These and many more are to be reflected on when reading my new and probably last book, Politics, murder and love in an Italian family: the Amendolas in an age of totalitarianisms. So, too, are different issues raised by the Amendolas’ private lives. Giovanni (born 1882) married Eva Kühn (born 1880), a new woman from Vilnius, then in the Romanov empire. They guilelessly planned a deeply intellectual life together in a correspondence they conducted in French. They had four children; apart from the sons, there was a daughter, who went into medicine and was not an Anti-Fascist. The marriage had its ups and downs. The Southern Italian man, Giovanni, was given to confining Eva with the nuns because of her ‘nervous troubles’ or she was too independent and modern for her partner (at least if contemporary feminist historians are to be believed). Readers of the book will find Giovanni had a longstanding relationship with a French-Bulgarian journalist Cornelia (‘Nelia’) Pavlova (born 1895, on Mussolini’s birthday), all but totally ignored in the Italian literature. Nelia may have been truest to Giovanni’s memory since she remained a loyal liberal democrat until her death (probably) in the Second World War and had no truck with communism.

Pietro (born 1918), the youngest son and the simplest in his communism, had a highly unsuccessful wartime marriage with Maria Antonietta Macciocchi (born 1922), to be a radical feminist of her own variety in postwar Italy and France. She summed him up cruelly as ‘un uomo buono, ma un po’ noioso’ (a good man, but a little boring). 

But it is Giorgio who occupies most space in the book, with his version of communism, what he emphasised in one of his books of memoir was ‘Una scelta di vita’ (a Life Choice). If the party had not functioned like a monarchy, he may well have become P.C.I. leader in 1964 when its long-term chief, Palmiro Togliatti, died in the U.S.S.R.  Certainly, back in March 1944, Giorgio was the chief planner of the assault in the Via Rasella in Rome when 35 Nazi German, perhaps ‘really’ Italian soldiers (since many came from Bolzano) died in an attack by the fighting Resistance. Hitler and local Nazi commanders murdered 335 Italians in retribution at the Ardeatine Caves, leaving behind a divided memory whether such an attack could be ethically justified. If Giorgio Amendola had turned himself in, would the Nazis have refrained from murdering the 335? My book has very many ethical problems to be pondered.

By contrast with his father, Giorgio lived an Italian or communist Love Story, with Germaine Lecocq (bron 1909), a working class girl from Paris, City of the Revolution in Giorgio’s imagining. Germaine was never completely separated from her Mum, Hélène. Their story also takes in marriage on the Fascist prison island of Ponza, Germaine’s virginity, Giorgio’s thrust, and the troubled life of a daughter, Ada, dead before either of her parents. Was Giorgio, the only Italian politician in the Republic after 1945 not to have a lover on the side? And, then, the (probably) perfect end. On 5 June 1980, Giorgio died, just before the U.S.S.R, the P.C.I., Eurocommunism, unionism, the peasantry, hopes in equality and an ample welfare state also perished. Germaine stood by his bed through the night to mourn and, early the next morning, her own life came to an end. They were buried together in the special part of Rome’s historic cemetery, the Campo Verano, reserved for communist notables. They had not themselves fallen into a gulch. But what they had spent their adult lives believing in had. At the very last, the political and the personal in my story of a remarkably intelligent and able family across a century of Italian life came to an appropriate end.

Politics, Murder and Love in an Italian Family by R.J.B. Bosworth

About The Author

R.J.B. Bosworth

R.J.B. Bosworth is one of the world's leading historians of modern Italy. He is an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Oxford and the author or editor of thirty-one ...

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