Mon Nov 27, 2023
November 27, 2023

Pietro Tresso (Blasco), Trotskyist militant and founder of the IV International

Pietro Tresso (Blasco) was born on the 30th of January 1893, in Magrè di Schio in the province of Vicenza, in Italy.

In 1921, Tresso was among the founders of the PCdI (Communist Party of Italy) and was one of the founders of the Fourth International in 1938. He died in 1943, murdered in France by a gang of Stalinist assassins in the “Wodli” camp in Haut-Loireafter an order issued by Commander Giovanni Sosso. His body was never found. The death of Pietro Tresso was one of countless attacks perpetrated against revolutionaries which tarnished the reputation of Stalinism, the most notorious of which was the murder of Lev Trotsky in Mexico. It was a extermination organized and carried out in many countries by the proponents of Stalinism because they were aware that politically coherent Marxist revolutionaries, namely Trotskyists, would have been able to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy and direct the international workers’ movement towards an authentic socialist revolution. A socialist revolution that would have brought into question the political bureaucracies of the Stalinist communist parties, not only in Russia, but also in other countries – such as, for example, the Italian Communist Party led by Palmiro Togliatti – revealing the deceptions, the compromises with the enemies of the working class, and the betrayal of the international cause. Pietro Tresso, a friend and comrade-in-armsof Antonio Gramsci, with whom he founded the Italian Communist Party was a politically coherent and courageous militant revolutionary. By looking at his life, today’s young revolutionaries can find an example of a life dedicated to the cause, an antidote to cynicism and to the current disillusionment that envelops politics and political organizations.

Pietro Tresso, a young socialist tailor

An apprentice tailor, Tresso started to frequent socialist circles in his village at a very young age, and at just sixteen years old he founded the “Young Socialists’ Circle” in Magrè. In a note in the archives of the prefecture in Vicenza, there is a record of his participation, in 1911, in a demonstration against the war in Libya; in Tresso’s personal file, a diligent civil servant describes him as follows: “He completed his primary school education and has no academic qualifications. He is a mediocre worker and supports himself by working as a tailor. He mixes with other socialists of a similar ilk and behaves appropriately in his family environment”. To proclaim yourself to be a socialist in a household of Catholics from the Veneto region cannot have been easy, but the atmosphere in that small area of Magrè di Schio was incandescent: a small village that was bubbling with socialist ideas as a consequence, also, of the working class presence of the Rossi wool mill which was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the largest wool-making business in Italy.

Despite having “no academic qualifications”, Pietro Tresso always stood out – and from this perspective he can also be considered among the best examples that can be indicated to the young generations of revolutionaries – for his desire to understand, learn and seek the truth. In 1941, he wrote to his niece Pierina: “In life we can do very few things according to our own will, and – directly or indirectly – we must submit to necessity, which is more powerful than our wishes. Therefore you must resign yourself to studying. To tell the truth, when I was your age, studying wasn’t a hardship for me; on the contrary, it was the most satisfying thing in my life. To be able to read, study, learn, to be able to open my eyes and take in everything in the world; to be able to understand why and how various events occur: what greater joy could there be for a fifteen-year-old boy or girl?”

To study and seek the truth, but to also share the sufferings of others, and also feel an absolute need for justice: these are the characteristics of this great revolutionary who has handed down to us – together with the other comrades who shared his battle against Stalinism and Fascism – the possibility, with the founding of the Fourth International, of being able to resume our journey along the road to socialism that the Stalinists had interrupted with the phenomenon of the Popular Fronts (alliances between the working class and the bourgeoisie) and with the theory of “socialism in one country”. An ability to share and focus on the sufferings of his class which enabled Tresso to face hardship, persecution, and poverty with courage and without wavering.

What is true and what is false

“It seems to me that sentiments and ideas of justice can only evolve and develop within society. They reveal the nature and extent of development and of the relationships between human beings”, he wrote to Barbara his comrade-in-armsand life partner, from Lodève prison, a military prison, in 1942. “Sentiments and ideas of justice presuppose not only the existence of a society based on humankind but one based on humanity. That is to say, the existence of a being organized in a certain way and not in another. Which is the same as saying that just as it is impossible to conceive of humanity outside society, it is equally impossible to conceive of humanity outside certain sentiments and ideas of justice”.

And again in 1942, he wrote to his sister-in-law Gabriella Maier: “It’s exactly because we are still young that we find ourselves outside the various “churches”. The same aspirations that drove us – from our youth – towards and into a political party, drove us out when they found themselves in disagreement with what are defined as practical necessities. If we had grown old, we would have listened to the voice of experience, we would have become wise, we would have adapted ourselves like many other people to deviousness, to lies, to obsequious smiles towards the various “sons of the people”.  But for us this was impossible. Why? Because we remained young. And because of this we were always dissatisfied with what there was, and we always aspired towards something better. Those people who did not stay young became, in realty, cynics. For them, all of humanity is only an instrument, a way to achieve their personal aims, even though these aims are disguised with phrases of a general nature; for us, humanity is the only authentic reality in existence. Naturally, all this is very generic. It is also necessary to establish the necessary link between the moral strength within us and daily reality. But one thing seems certain to me: it is impossible to tolerate in silence the things that clash with humanity’s deepest sentiments. We can’t acknowledge as fair those actions that seem unjust to us; regarding something that is true, we can’t say “it’s false”, and regarding something that is false, “it’s true”.

“We are in good health”, he wrote in 1943 to his niece Maria, “but the enormous tragedy that is engulfing the world causes us anguish. We think of the thousands and thousands of people who fall on the battlefields. Despite my current situation, I can only consider myself to be privileged if I think about the limitless physical and moral suffering that befalls so many other people.”

In the letters that Tresso wrote to his partner Barbara, we continually find sentences in which he recalls the injustice, poverty and horror of the imperialist war: “Today, the poor may sing and tomorrow, they will perhaps be dead or they will destroy other young people as carefree as they are. As you know, these Italian alpine troops originate from one of the poorest regions in the peninsula. Their mothers and fathers are farm workers who, towards the end of their lives, hoped – and hope – to retire and be maintained by the work of their sons… And in the meantime they live a life of poverty, pain and sadness… We think about those who are dear to us, about those who die or weep because of this great carnage that afflicts the world. And in our suffering (I should say: in my suffering) there is also the awareness of being privileged compared with all those young people who fall lacerated or lifeless in every corner of the world.

From northern to southern Italy, from the Veneto to the Apulia regions, in favour of salaries for farm workers and against the war

From the small village of Magrè in the Veneto region, where Tresso gained his first trade union and political experiences, he moved to Gravina di Puglia in the southern region of Apulia for a period of time. Here, he was on the front line in the battle for a guaranteed minimum salary for farm workers. It was in Gravina di Puglia where he gained his first experience as a trade union leader and where he also began to write articles for the press. At the same time he spread anti-militaristic ideas among the young people, also becoming the promoter of an anti-war appeal presented in 1914 at the Chamber of Labour in Bari.

In 1915, when the First World War broke out, he was called to arms. In 1917 he was involved as a defendant in the trial at Pradamano, accused, together with other soldiers, of having disseminated the deliberationsof the Zimmerwald Conference, the international conference of socialist parties that was held in September 1915 in Switzerland. But he was acquitted on account of a lack of proof. Having returned to Schio in the Veneto region, in 1920 he became the editor of the local newspaper El Visentin, taking on the role of political editor. In that period, Tresso focused on the issue of factory councils, their meaning, and the duties that they needed to assume within factories.

Tresso always stood out for his ability to analyse critical situations without being conditioned by the majority of his party or by the particular faction that he belonged to. One example of this stance was his position on the agrarian question at the Congress of the Chamber of Labour in 1920, when he opposed the idea that small landowners were intrinsically reactionary and had to be fought. In his intervention, Tresso reiterated that: “There is already a ferocious struggle between small landowners and casual labourersand it is only by incorporating the former within our own organizations that we will be able to calm it down and put an end to it. That way, we will be able to create that nice, benevolent atmosphere around the purely proletarian movement which is necessary for us to win the battle. If, elsewhere, the small landowners are with us, this is due to the fact that the socialists – rather than fighting against the small landowners – have taken the trouble to organize them.” In that period, Tresso was involved in trade union activities on a daily basis. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1920, he stood in the elections and was elected, on behalf of the Socialist Party, as a provincial councillor and as a town councillor for Magrè.

One of the Founders of the Italian Communist Party

Towards the end of 1920 it was from the columns of the newspaper El Visentin, edited by Tresso, that the signs of the by now imminent internal split within the Socialist Party were also made public in Vicenza, and that the news was given that a Communist splinter grouphad officially been formed in that city.

Tresso was involved in the founding of the Italian Communist Party as a delegate at the Socialist Congress in Livorno, in 1921, where the so called Livorno split occurred; from this the Italian Communist Party emerged, a section of the Communist International (21 January 1921). In that period, as a consequence of the defeat in Italy of the biennio rosso, a two year period (1919-1920) of proletarian militancy, the Fascists – in the Vicenza area as in the other regions of Italy – became increasingly aggressive, repeatedly organizing punitive raids and forcing various Communist leaders to emigrate. Faced with the increasingly rampant Fascist violence, Tresso’s position was always clear and determined in reiterating – even publically – the right to “self-defence”.

Tresso moved to Milan but at the same time participated in party activities in the Vicenza area, and in February he was involved in the struggle between Socialists and Communists for control of the Chamber of Labour in Vicenza, taking part in the congress both as a local official and as a member of the Communist trade union committee. In the Spring of 1922, he was beaten up by Fascists and towards the end of the summer he travelled illegally to Berlin. After this initial period, Tresso’s personal and political history unfolds with an even greater political coherence and commitment. During his exile he was the representative of the Italian Communist Party at the 12th congress of its German equivalent.

The battle against Stalinist degeneration

In the subsequent period, Tresso began a battle against Palmiro Togliatti and against the Italian Communist Party’s policy of alignment with Moscow’s Stalinist politics. He wrote a document for Trotsky, who was in exile in Prinkipo, and his analysis reveals differences in comparison with the perspective outlined by the leadership of the Italian Communist Party concerning the situation in Italy, the role of social democracy and concerning the nature of Fascism. The points of convergence with Trotsky’s analysis are of considerable importance. Tresso strongly disputed Togliatti’s analysis of the situation in Italy in 1929. For Togliatti and for all the Stalinist leaders, in that period Italy was passing through a pre-revolutionary phase, whereas, as was evident, Fascism was becoming rampant. As a consequence of this analysis, Togliatti demanded that the leaders of the Italian Communist Party who had taken refuge abroad should return to Italy to “direct the revolutionary process”, with the consequence – entirely predicted and denounced by Tresso – of exposing them to the danger of arrest by the regime’s police. Togliatti’s perspective was supported by the Federation of Young Communists. Luigi Longo (known as Gallo, or Cockerel) was given the task of developing a plan, the so called “Gallo plan”, to harmonize the activities of the Italian party with the policies of the International. Tresso, Leonetti and Ravazzoli opposed this plan, and they presented a counter-plan, known as the “Blasco counter-plan”. Tresso, who was a member of the Central Committee, declared that the party’s decisions represented “a lapse into opportunism disguised by leftist phrases”, and he also criticized Togliatti, accusing him of carrying out changes of direction at the expense of others.

 “We must aim to do more”, Tresso asserted, “that’s the right thing. But our real organizational ability will be demonstrated in the pace that we will maintain in doing more. Because if we increase the pace to an extent that goes beyond our strength, beyond the concrete possibilities for work that exist, and beyond the real development of the party’s rank and file, we will turn a good organizational project into a bad project”. The party responded to the criticisms by Tresso, Leonetti and Ravazzoli (called “the three”) and decided on their expulsion from the party in 1930. Tresso declared: “I said that I would fight for my viewpoints on the Central Committee if the party allowed me to, or outside the Central Committee if the party wanted it this way. Now I’ll add that I am willing to fight for them outside the party.”

Entering the International Left Opposition and the founding of the Fourth International

Tresso, with his comrades and Leonetti and Ravazzoli, created the New Italian Opposition and became part of the Trotskyist International Left Opposition. Italian members of the International Left Opposition worked actively but clandestinely in France, and were often without documents, work, or a home. In these difficult conditions, and often persecuted by the Stalinists, Tresso and the other Trotskyist militants carried on their battle.
In France he continued to work with the Trotskyist journal La Verité and joined the Ligue Communiste, which grouped the French Trotskyist Communist Left together. From France he wrote an important article, “Stalinism and Fascism”, in which he accused Stalinism of not being a useful tool against Fascism and he wrote of Stalinist policies that “far from being a barrier against Fascism, they facilitate its grip on the masses and become an auxiliary to Fascism’s victories”. Referring to the policy of the Spanish Popular Front, he wrote: “Not fighting for socialism, like the Stalinists, is actually equivalent to serving Franco”.

In September 1938, Tresso participated as a delegate, under the false name of Julien, at the founding conference of the Fourth International, which was held in secret in Perigny, near Paris. The conference involved 21 delegates representing 12 countries (several other sections were not present for organizational and security issues, just as Trotsky’s absence was enforced). The congressional debate took place around the draft programme elaborated by Trotsky and entitled The Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, also known as the Transitional Programme. For Trotsky, the founding of the Fourth International met the need to gather activists and organizations around a revolutionary political programme. These activists and organizations were fighting in different countries against the consequences of the degeneration of the two previous Internationals, in order to build new revolutionary parties. Pietro Tresso provided important contributions to the development of the programme and was elected to the International Executive Committee.

Tresso’s arrest and death at the hands of the Stalinists

On August 23rd, 1939, the Hitler-Stalin pact was announced and the confiscation and closure took place of newspapers run by political organizations, trade unions and workers’ groups. On September 1st, Hitler invaded Poland and France entered the war against the Nazis. The PCF (French Communist Party) was outlawed. In June 1939, with the German troops in Paris and the government having fled to Bordeaux, parliament gave full powers to General Pétain. In 1938 the defeat of the Spanish revolution was clear, and the workers’ organizations crumbled. The International Secretariat of the Fourth International moved to New York, where an “emergency” Conference was held (19th to 26th May 1940). On August 20th, 1940, Lev Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico by a Stalinist assassin, which was a heavy blow to the international revolutionary movement.

Tresso continued his clandestine political work, but to escape the Gestapo, left Paris and arrived in Marseilles. Using the false name of Julien Pierotti, he received money from the United States which the International Secretariat sent to France for the reorganization of the Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste, and Tresso collaborated with the Centre Américain de Secours (ACS), which assisted with the expatriation of victims of Fascist and Nazi repression. In June 1942, Pietro Tresso, his partner Barbara and Demazière (the political head of the Committees for the Fourth International) were arrested, along with five other militants, by the Vichy police, tried, and with the exception of Barbara, convicted. Through an irony of fate, they were convicted of spreading the slogans of the Third International (that of Stalin!).

After being moved several times they were imprisoned in Le Puy where the escape of 79 political prisoners (and their warder) from prison was organized. On the night of October 1st, 1943 all the prisoners were freed. Tresso, with others, was brought into the “Wodli” camp, in an area called Raffy (Haute-Loire). Demazière managed to escape and return secretly to Paris where he made his report to Trotskyist leaders. Tresso, Reboul, Ségal and Sadek instead remained with the Maquis (the French partisans) and it was at this point that all trace of them was lost. Only after the collapse of Stalinism and of the wall of silence and lies about the death of Tresso and his other comrades, was it possible to reconstruct what happened in that period at the end of October 1943. Pietro Tresso, Pierre Salini (Maurice Sieglmann) Abraham Sadek and Jean Reboul were killed by assassins who arrived by order of the commander of the Maquis, Giovanni Sosso, who was likely to have been the man following the orders of Stalin’s Secret Service. But, beyond the question of which hand committed the murder and who executed the order, the instigators of the murder of these comrades were Stalin and his trusted collaborators, like Togliatti who, after the show trial in Moscow, argued that “Our struggle against counter-revolutionary Trotskyism is still not enough, it must be extended, improved, and taken to a much higher level.”

Barbara, Tresso’s life partner and comrade-in-arms

In his political and personal life Pietro Tresso had beside him a Communist militant who shared political battles and personal matters with him. Tresso’s life partner and comrade-in-arms was Deborah Seidenfeld-Stratiesky, known as: Ghita; Lucienne Tedeschi; Blascotte; and as Barbara. She was born in Mako (in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) on May 17th, 1901 and died in Rimini on November 3rd, 1978. She joined the PSI (Italian Socialist Party) at a very young age and in 1921 joined the PCDI (Italian Communist Party). She was an official, in Moscow, of the International Socialist Youth. At the height of the Fascist period, at just 25 years old, she crossed the border between France and Italy, hiding under her clothes the typographical printing plates to print the clandestine newspaper l’Unità, and she carried them as far as Naples before returning to Paris.

She rejected the proposals of Togliatti who was willing to give her an important position if she dissociated herself from Tresso and when he was expelled from the party Barbara followed him; she did this because she shared the same ideas and not, as the Stalinists say, because she was Pietro’s “lover”. That choice cost her dearly in terms of personal relations, particularly in terms of her rapport with Serena, the elder of her two sisters who held  Stalinist political views (her bond remained very strong with her other sister, Gabriella, who was the companion of the writer Ignazio Silone). Barbara took part in clandestine political activity in Italy and shared political militancy with Tresso in the Noi organization (New Italian Opposition), the Italian section of the OSI (International Left Opposition).
It was in front of Barbara, who was arrested with him and other Trotskyist militants in 1942, that Tresso was tortured, without uttering a single word, by the police of the Vichy government who were seeking information. For around thirty-five years Barbara continued to seek the truth about the disappearance of Tresso, reacting harshly to the many falsehoods spread by Togliatti and by other leaders of the Communist Party.

Remembering Tresso by continuing the project of the Fourth International

Neither Barbara nor Pietro belonged to the ranks of people with “flexible backs” as Tresso liked to call the “comrades” or “friends” who were capable, through personal interest or weakness, of giving up the truth. Pietro Tresso dedicated his life to the international workers’ movement. During his terrible plight as a political emigrant, persecuted and hunted by the police of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, Pietro Tresso never abandoned his position within the ongoing struggle. In 1930, writing to the secretary of the party he had helped to found and which marginalized and expelled him, he wrote: “I have never needed, and I’ll never need to be part of the governing bodies to wait to do my duty as a revolutionary working class fighter”, and on January 30th 1937, in a letter to his family, he said:”I am a “Trotskyist” and I’m a Trotskyist because today Trotsky continues Lenin’s work in a great and immortal way”. A year later, five years before his assassination, he had contributed to the founding of the Fourth International, to the creation of that path which generations of revolutionaries born after him have a duty to continue and complete: the construction of the international party for the Socialist revolution.

Translated by William Hope, University of Salford, GB

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