A militant antifascist, liberal Socialist intellectual, founder of the “Giustizia e Libertà” movement, killed in France in 1937 with his brother Nello, on the orders of the Italian Fascist authorities.
Carlo Rosselli was born in Rome on November 16, 1899 and he was assassinated in Bagnoles-de-l'Orne on June 9, 1937.
He was the son of Joe Rosselli and Amelia Pincherle; he married Marion Catherine Cave in Genoa on July 24, 1926; children: John, Amelia (Melina), Andrew.
In January 1917 C.R. and his brother Nello founded the student magazine “Noi giovani” in Florence, writing under the pseudonym of Civis.
In 1919 he attended the Cesare Alfieri Higher Institute of Social Science in Florence. In 1920 he also enrolled in the Law Faculty of Siena University, and in Florence had his first meetings with Salvemini, Nello Niccoli, Ernesto Rossi, Piero Calamandrei and Piero Jahier, which evolved into the Circolo di Cultura, an association supported economically by the Rossellis, that adopted explicitly antifascist positions. It was first trashed by the Fascists and then closed on January 5, 1925 by the Prefect of Florence “for reasons of public order”.
On July 4, 1921 he graduated in Political Science from the Cesare Alfieri Institute, with a thesis on The Trade union movement. In December that year he met Piero Gobetti, Luigi Einaudi, Pasquale Jannacone and Achille Loria in Turin; in February 1923 he was back in the city where he met Gaetano Mosca through the Lombroso family and attended his lectures at the University. He also began to write for the magazine “La Rivoluzione Liberale”.
He graduated in Law from Siena University on July 9, 1923 with a theses on The first outlines of the economic theory of workers’ trades unions and at the end of the year won a place as a lecturer at the Bocconi University of Milan. This new post brought him even closer to the reformist socialist environment and to people like Turati, Treves, Modigliani and Matteotti. Immediately after his degree he went to Britain, where he studied at the London School of Economics and joined the Fabian Society. His contact with the British political establishment, both Liberal and Labour, led C.R. to develop the idea of a Socialism that was non-Marxist and non-class-based, which he wrote about at length in the magazine “Critica Sociale”, for which he had already illustrated his political thought that July in an article on Socialist Liberalism. In 1924 he began his collaboration with the magazine “Riforma sociale”.
The assassination of Matteotti forced the group led by Salvemini to accept that the only way to combat Fascism was now outside official channels, and in June 1924 they set up a Florence section of the militant association Italia libera.
In July 1924 C.R. joined the PSU (United Socialist Party).
In November he was appointed to teach Political Economic Institutions for the 1924-1925 academic year at the Higher Institute of Economic and commercial Science in Genoa.
In January 1925 the first issue of the clandestine paper “Non mollare” was published, funded by C.R. and Salvemini. It continued to be printed until the “St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre” in October, when several antifascists were killed.
His contract as a lecturer was renewed for the 1925-1926 academic year, to teach Political economics and History of Economic doctrines.
On March 27, 1926 the first issue of the magazine “Il Quarto Stato” appeared in Milan, founded and edited by C.R. and Pietro Nenni (they also signed the editorials “Noi”); it survived until the approval of the laws “for the defence of the State”, which led to the suppression of the antifascist press (the last issue was dated October 30, 1926).
In Genoa, in the Spring of 1926, as part of a campaign against teachers who opposed the regime, C.R was the target of persecution because he was considered a leader of the antifascists in Genoa: on April 28 he was attacked by a group of Squadristi (Fascist paramilitaries), and on May 4 the newspaper “Il Littorio” published an open letter against him.
On July 24 he married Marion Cave in Genoa, and they moved to Milan in October.
At the PSLI Congress (Socialist Party of Italian Workers), which met secretly in Milan on October 21 and 22, 1926, C.R., Giuseppe Saragat and Claudio Treves were confirmed as the party executives.
In November 1926 the Socialist group in Milan began to organise the secret expatriation of people who opposed the regime. C.R., Riccardo Bauer and Ferruccio Parri coordinated and prepared the escape of Giuseppe Saragat, Claudio Treves and Pietro Nenni in November, and of Alessandro Pertini and Giuseppe Turati in December, among other people. At the end of this second exploit, C.R. and Parri were arrested and sentenced to 5 years of internment.
During his internment on Ustica, he was formally accused of complicity in Turati’s flight; the trial was held in Savona. The defence’s argument was founded on the ideas of justice and freedom, it transformed the trial into a public accusation of the regime and recognised the “moral motivation” for Turati’s flight, directing the jury to a more “clement” result than expected. The verdict of September 13 sentenced Rosselli to 10 months’ imprisonment for breaking laws of public safety; he had to spend another 40 days in prison in addition to the 5 years of internment on Lipari.
While he was interned on Lipari, he wrote Socialismo liberale, which was published in Paris in 1930. On July 27, 1929, he managed to escape with Francesco Fausto Nitti and Emilio Lussu, reaching Paris, where he founded the Giustizia e Libertà movement with other exiles, including Gaetano Salvemini.
On July 11, 1930, with Tarchiani and Bassanesi he organised a propaganda flight from Canton Ticino to distribute leaflets in the sky above Milan.
In Paris in 1930 he published Socialisme Libéral, a treatise on the Giustizia e libertà movement. The Italian edition was not published until 1945.
The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936. C.R. was in Paris at the time, where he began collecting funds and arms, mobilising the antifascist forces to fight with the Spanish Republicans. He then left for Spain with the “Italian Column”, a group of about 150 Italian antifascists of all political beliefs, who were deployed on the Aragon front, under the military command of Mario Angeloni and C.R.. On August 28 the pro-Franco forces were repelled at the battle of Monte Pelato but the Italian troops suffered heavy losses, including Angeloni, and Rosselli was wounded. During a broadcast for Radio Barcelona, Rosselli launched the famous cry “Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy!” which was to become the slogan of the antifascists militants. Dissent in the Column and his own health problems caused him to return to Paris on January 7, 1937.
On May 17, 1937 C.R. went to Bagnoles-de-l'Orne to convalesce, and his brother Nello joined him there on June 5; Nello and Carlo were assassinated there on June 9 by the pro-Fascist Cagoule group, on the orders of the Italian authorities; their bodies were found on June 11.
The solemn funeral of the Rosselli brothers was held in Paris on June 19, and they were buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery. The ceremony was attended not only by numerous Italian exiles, but also by all the antifascist parties and groups, and the Paris public.
The trial for the assassination of the Rosselli brothers began on January 29, 1945 at the High Court in Rome; Amelia, Marion and Maria Rosselli sued for damages. The verdict was announced on March 12, with the death sentence for Filippo Anfuso, life imprisonment for general Mario Roatta and colonels Emanuele and Navale, and 24 years imprisonment for Jacomoni and Suvich; the sentences were annulled in 1948.
On April 29, 1951, when the corpses of Carlo and Nello Rosselli were returned to Florence from Paris to be buried at Trespiano cemetery, a memorial service was held for the two brothers at Palazzo Vecchio; Salvemini gave the commemorative speech in the presence of Italian President Luigi Einaudi.
Texts edited by Carla Ceresa and Valeria Mosca
The Rosselli Archive
Aldo Garosci, Vita di Carlo Rosselli, 2 vol., Vallecchi, Firenze 1973
I Rosselli. Epistolario familiare 1914-1937, a cura di Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, Mondadori, Milano 1997
Carlo Rosselli, Socialismo liberale. Introduzione e saggi critici di Norberto Bobbio, a cura di John Rosselli, Einaudi, Torino 1997
Politica e affetti familiari. Lettere dei Rosselli ai Ferrero (1917-1943), a cura di Marina Calloni e Lorella Cedroni, Feltrinelli, Milano 1997
Giuseppe Fiori, Casa Rosselli, Einaudi, Torino 1999