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Severino Di Giovanni

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Severino Di Giovanni (1901-1931), an Italian anarchist, moved to Argentina where he became the most well-known Argentinian anarchist figure, mostly because of his violent actions, in the frame of the Sacco and Vanzetti support campaign and antifascism.


Giovanni was born on March 17th 1901 in the town of Chieti, in the Abruzzo (Italy), about 180 km from Rome. He was raised in a post-war era (World War I) of hunger, poverty and wounded soldiers in the streets, and that had a huge impact in his ideals. He followed courses to become a teacher, and soon started teaching, before graduating, in a school of his town. He learnt by his own the art of typography and read, on his free time, Bakunin, Malatesta, Proudhon, and Élisée Reclus[1].

Di Giovanni started rebelling against authority at a very young age. At the age of 19 he was orphaned, and at the age of twenty (1921), fully embraced the anarchist movement. He married Teresa Masciulli, a girl from Chieti, in 1922, the same year that Mussolini's Black Shirts took power during the March on Rome. Giovanni and his wife decided to exile themselves to Argentina, where they immediately took contact with anarchists and antifascist movements. They had four children.

Arrival in Argentina[edit]

Di Giovanni arrived at Buenos Aires in the last big wave of Italian immigrants, mostly poor people with little education. He lived in Morón and travelled daily to Buenos Aires Capital to participate in meetings and plan actions against fascism and Italian fascist supporters in Argentina[1]. Many Italian anarchists had already immigrated to Argentina. To this day, Argentina has the largest anarchist contingent of any South American country.

Giovanni was closer to the radical factions of the anarchist movement in Argentina, gathered around Ramón González Pacheco and Teodoro Antilla's La Antorcha magazine, than to the FORA (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation) and the historical newspaper La Protesta, published by Emilio López Arango and edited by Diego Abad de Santillán.

Severino Di Giovanni's first act was on June 6, 1925, during the celebration of the 25th birthday of Victor Emmanuel III's accession to the Italian throne, which took place at the Teatro Colón. President Alvear, his wife, the opera singer Regina Pacini, and the count Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti, ambassador of Fascist Italy, were present at the act, as well as numerous Black shirts put in place by Marescotti to prevent any disorder. When the orchestra started the Italian hymn, Giovanni and his comparses threw leaflets around, at the cries of "Assassins! thieves!". The Black shirts managed to overcome them, and hand them over to the police[2].

Culmine, the Sacco & Vanzetti campaign and anti-fascist actions[edit]

After being quickly released, Giovanni took part in the international protests against the arrest and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in the United States in 1920, falsely accused of a robbery. Giovanni was in Argentina one of the most active anarchists defending the two Italian immigrants, writing in various newspapers, including his own, founded in August 1925 and titled Culmine, and in the New Yorkese L'Adunata dei Refrattari[3].

Culmine advocated direct action and propaganda of the deed. Di Giovanni worked at it at nighttime, supporting his activism and family by working in factories and as a typesetter. He summarized Culmine's objectives:

  • To spread anarchist ideals among Italian workers;
  • To fight the propaganda of pseudo-revolutionary political parties, which use fake anti-fascism as a tool for winning political elections;
  • To start anarchist agitation among Italian workers and keep anti-fascism alive;
  • To interest Italian workers in Argentina in protest and expropriation;
  • To establish an intense and active collaboration between anarchist groups, isolated partners and the regional anarchist movement.

On May 16, 1926, a few hours after the condemnation to death penalty of Sacco and Vanzetti, Di Giovanni bombed the US embassy, destroying all of the front of the building[3]. The following day, president Alvear ordered several police searches, and the police requested assistance to the Italian embassy in order to identify the suspects. The embassy immediately claimed Giovanni, who had disturbed the celebrations of the Teatro Colón, was the one. He was thereafter arrested by the police, tortured during 5 days but without obtaining from him a single word[4]. Henceforth, Giovanni was released for lack of evidence[4].

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts defendors of Sacco and Vanzetti managed to postpone their execution until August 23, 1927. The international support campaign continued its agitation. On July 21, 1927, the US embassy published an article in the conservative newspaper La NaciÏŒn, which qualified the two Italian anarchists as common-law delinquents. On the following day, Giovanni blew out Washington's statue in Palermo[5], and a few hours later, one of the most important concessions of Ford company[5].

Confronted to this campaign, Eduardo Santiago, the police officer in charge of investigations for the Federal Police, boasted about his power, claiming on August 16, 1927, that everything was under control and that no anarchist in the world could compete against him. On the following day, he barely escaped from the bombing of his house by Severino, having gone to buy cigarettes a few minutes before[6]. Finally, on August 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, and a 24 hours general strike was proclaimed in Buenos Aires, as well as in many other capitals of the world[6].

A few days after the executions, Giovanni received a letter from Sacco's widow, which thanks him for his action and told him that the director of the tobacco firm Combinados had proposed her a contract to produce a cigarette brand named "Sacco & Vanzetti"[6]. On 26 November, 1927, Giovanni and his comrades blew out Bernardo Gurevich's tobacco shop Combinados on Rivadavia 2279[6][7].

Giovanni and his comrades continued their anti-US campaign. The Citibank and the Bank of Boston's headquarters exploded on 24 December 1927, killing 2 and injuring 23 (employees, clients, etc.)[6].

At the beginning of 1928, the Italian liberal newspaper from Buenos Aires, L'Italia del Popolo, denounced the Italian consul, Italo Capil, who worked for the Federal Police, giving them informations on Italian anti-fascists. Being informed that the consul would visit the new consulate, along with the new embassador Martin Franklin, Giovanni bombed the consulate on 23 May, 1928, killing 9 and injuring 34[8]. The Italian consulate bombing was the largest bombing that had occurred in Argentina until then[8].

On the same day, Giovanni attempted to bomb Benjamín Mastronardi's pharmacy, in La Boca. Mastronardi was the president of the Fascist Committee of La Boca. The bomb, however, was casually disactivated by Mastronardi's little son[8].

The funerals of the preceding bombing were done in accordance with the "fascist funeral rite", in presence of the ambassador and count Martin Franklin, the state delegate of Italian fascists in Argentina Romualdo Materlli, as well as president Alvear, his wife Regina Pacini and general Agustín P. Justo[9].

Giovanni's propaganda by the deed triggered debates inside the anarchist community, La Protesta in particular opposing itself to these methods and denouncing the bombing of the Italian consulate[10]. Three days later, Giovanni destroyed by another bombing, in Caballito, the house of César Afeltra, a member of Mussolini's secret police, accused by Italian exilees of having practiced torture on anti-fascists in Italy[10].

US president Herbert Hoover visited Argentina in December 1928. Giovanni wanted to bomb Hoover's train, in revenge of Sacco and Vanzetti, but the bomber, Alejandro Scarfó, was detained a short time before putting the explosives on the rails[10]. This arrest lead Giovanni to tone down his actions a while, and to focus on writings in Culmine, where he wrote such things as: "Spending the monotonous hours of the common people, the resigned, the conveniences; that isn't living, that's being vegetative, just carrying among one a mass of flesh and bones. Life needs the exquisite rebellion of the mind and the arm."[11].

Following the September 1930 military coup, which overthrew Hipólito Yrigoyen, replaced by General José Félix Uriburu and Agustín P. Justo, Giovanni attempted to free his comrade Alejandro Scarfó. Needing funds to corrupt prison guards, he assaulted Obras Sanitarias de la Nación on October 2, 1930, achieving the most important robbery until then in Argentina, taking with him 286,000 pesos[12].

Capture and execution[edit]

File:Severino di Giovanni in court.jpg
Severino Di Giovanni in court.

Meanwhile, Severino di Giovanni had broken with his wife, living with Josefina Scarfó, a young girl who he had started a romance with. At the beginnings of the Infamous Decade initiated by the military coup, Giovanni passed long periods of his time working on Elisée Reclus' complete works[12]. The police attempted to arrest him at the printing press, but Giovanni managed to escape, killing one policeman and injuring another during his evasion[12]. However, he was finally arrested, along with Josefina and Paulino Scarfó, whom declared to the police that the 300 chickens found in their house was to be given to Burzaco's poors[12].

The military junta publicized the arrests as victories of the new regime, and immediately organized a War Council[12]. However, Giovanni was surprisingly defended by his appointed official defensor, Juan Carlos Franco, who spoke out in favor of the independence of the justice system and alleged that Giovanni had been agressed by the police[13] Franco's defense owned him to be arrested, destituted from the military and bannished[13], while Severino Di Giovanni and Paulino Scarfó were sentenced to death, and Severina, being under-age, freed[13].

In his last political flyer Di Giovannni wrote "Be warned Uriburu (Jose Felix Uriburu, Argentine dictator) and his assassins that our bullets will seek their bodies. Let the bourgeoisie, the industry, the bankers and the landlords that your possessions and lives will be destroyed and burned."[unverified] He wrote this after the government killed hundreds of pacific workers in the funeral of other pacific workers that were also killed by the government a week before during a strike. A couple of hours after his arrest (where a little girl got killed by the police in the process) he was sentenced to die, and was executed 24 hours later.

Just a few hours before his death he asked for a sweet coffee to be taken to his cell. He gave it back after tasting it, saying humorously, "I asked for one with a lot of sugar... It doesn't matter, maybe next time."[unverified]

Severino Di Giovanni died on February 1st, 1931 screaming Evviva l'Anarchia! (Long live Anarchy!). His cadaver was secretely buried, on orders of the Interior Minister Matías Sánchez Sorondo, in La Chacarita[14]. Despite this discretion, on the following day his tumb was anonymously flowered[14]. On 28 July, 1999, Josefina Scarfó managed to obtain the love letters which Giovanni had sent to her, and which had been taken by the police[14].

Di Giovanni had as fierce opponent inside the anarchist movement Diego Abad de Santillán[15].


  • L'Adunata dei refrattari The Buenos Aires Tragedy: The Last Fight of Severino Di Giovanni & Paul Scarfo. London and Berkeley: Kate Sharpley Library, 2004.
  • Bayer, Osvaldo. Severino Di Giovanni, El idealista de la violencia. Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1970.
  • Noble, Cristina. Severino Di Giovanni, Pasión Anarquista. Buenos Aires: Ed. Capital Intellectual, 2006.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Felipe Pigna, Los Mitos de la historia argentina, ed. Planeta, 2006, p.106 (chap.IV "Expropriando al Capital")
  2. Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.107
  3. 3.0 3.1 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.108
  4. 4.0 4.1 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.109
  5. 5.0 5.1 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.110
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.111
  7. Val Basilio, The Merchants of Life Template:en icon
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.112
  9. Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.113
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.114
  11. Severino Di Giovanni, Culmine, August 1928, quoted by Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.114
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.116
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.117
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Felipe Pigna, 2006, p.120
  15. Fernando López Trujillo An Interview with Osvaldo Bayer, Argentinean Public Intellectual and Social Historian, in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Vol. 5 - No. 2, Fall, 2001 Template:en icon

See also[edit]

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