The Day Italy Tried to Stop El Duce

On a back street in the peaceful Ligurian city of Sarzana, a little plaque marks an infamous event in Italian history. It is the spot where an innocent man, Luigi Gastardelli, became the area's first victim of fascist violence - shot by a squadrista firing carelessly as fascists rampaged in Sarzana's streets. Italian politics in 1921 were chaotic and political violence between rival groups was becoming common, but the symbolism of this death was clear: Mussolini's new political ideology had evolved and the fascist squadrons felt they could act with impunity.


The violence that erupted in Sarzana on June 12, 1921, was the opening of a series of conflicts over several weeks known as  'I Fatti di Sarzana' (The Facts of Sarzana).  It is historically important as one of the few armed resistance efforts against the rise of fascism in Italy. Reflecting the times, it involved armed fascists, the Royal Army, police, socialists, communists, anarchists, farmers, workers, and a paramilitary group known as the Arditi del Popolo (comprised of socialist-communist workers). The Sarzana conflict culminated on July 21 with the death of 14 fascists by carabinieri rifle fire or sectarian assault, and of one corporal of the Royal Army by fascist fire.  Ominously, although the events drew national attention, the example of the event at Sarzana did not serve as a spur for meaningful resistance to fascism by the King, the government, or other political parties.

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