Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sraffa Angers Mussolini

And not for the first time.

Apparently Sraffa, an Italian living in England, probably only wrote the first sentence of the following letter. Angelo Tasca, an Italian communist, wrote the bulk of the letter after discussion with Sraffa. Maurice Dobb translated Tasca into english.
"Sir, - In view of the discussion which has been taking place in your columns on the methods of Fascism, it seems opportune to bring before your readers the facts of a recent case which can hardly be included within Mr. Shaw's category of crimes justified by 'necessity'.

Antonio Gramsci, a Communist deputy in the Italian Parliament and a journalist, was arrested in November, 1926, in spite of the immunity attaching to a deputy, and was banished, along with other members of the Opposition, to the Italian island of Ustica. Signor Gramsci had always been an invalid owing to a pronounced curvature of the spine, and had only been able to indulge in continuous intellectual activity - an academic study of philology at the university prior to the war and a study of Italian politics since the war - by virtue of a special regime of life and a special diet. Even the milder rigours of prision life were therefore likely to be in his case particularly serious.

A few months after his initial arrest Signor Gramsci was taken from the island and sent to Milan. This journey was by means of the extraordinarily slow and painful process by which prisoners in Italy are transferred from place to place: cramped in a small cell of a special prison coach on a crawling train all day, and breaking the journey on the way at various places - at Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Naples, Rome, Florence, Bologna, - to be housed in the dirty and vermine-infested detention cells of the local prison for days on end. In Milan he has been awaiting trial since early February. The diet of a political prisoner is usually little more than a pound of bread and soup per day. Usually this can be supplemented by gifts and by food bought in the canteen by money received from friends and deposited with the prison governor. In Signor Gramsci's case, however, this has not been allowed; both gifts of food and money from friends have been intercepted by the prison authorities and prevented from reaching Signor Gramsci. Friends have been prevented from seeing him, even though he has legally a perfect right to receive such visitors.

A delicate invalid from the first, Signor Gramsci has been reduced to a state of extreme emaciation byt the harhness of his treatment since his arrest - treatment which would have shaken the constitution of the strongest man. Unable to digest even the meagre and poor food he receives, he is in a state of literal semi-starvation. He has several times had to be removed to the prison infirmary, and the state of his helath, affecting his mouth, has caused him to lose most of his teeth in the last few weeks, so that his ability to eat the coarse prison fare is still further lessened. After nine months of such treatment this man has now to undergo a further journey to Rome to stand his trial, at which he is likely to be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, probably twenty or thirty years, for the crime of organizing opposition to the Fascist regime. - Yours, &c,, An Italian in England" -- Piero Sraffa (1927). Manchester Guardian, (October 21)
It was at this trial that the Fascist prosecutor, pointing to Gramsci, said, "We must prevent this brain from functioning for twenty years." Sraffa opposed this.

  • Nerio Naldi (1998). "Some Notes on Piero Sraffa's Biography, 1917-27", Review of Political Economy, V. 10, N. 4: 493-515
  • Jean-Pierre Potier (1987). Piero Sraffa: Unorthodox Economist (18989-1983): A Biographical Esay, Routledge

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