Silone reinvented

Luca Signorelli, I dannati (particolare), Duomo di Orvieto


  “Character assassination”, is an effective method to destroy a person in order to discredit his ideas, which are otherwise unquestionable.  The Silone=spy equation is the paradigm case of character assassination.

The Silone=spy equation is based on accusations levelled at Silone by two Italian historians (Biocca e Canali) asserting that he was a spy during the period 1919 – 1930.  They claim to have discovered documents in official archives which prove that Silone was a regular informer of a Chief Inspector of the police force of the Fascist regime by the name of Guido Bellone.  These accusations against Silone of being a fascist spy, denouncing Communists to the fascist regime,  have been broadly endorsed by the mass-media in Italy and abroad since 1996.


Without evidence


But the equation Silone=spy has not been proven.  On the contrary, the eminent historian of Italian socialism, Giuseppe Tamburrano, after having  analysed the muddled alleged documentary evidence, piece by piece, has concluded that there is no proof to substantiate the allegations, i.e. the documentation is either anonymous or written by several different people; a graphological analysis has indicated that the handwritten documents are not in Silone’s handwriting;  the documents’ contents are generic, and they do not correspond to Silone’s actions and position.  It should also be noted that the code name “Silvestri(o)” is never linked to Silone in any of the decoding books of fascist spies. Tamburrano reconstructs  Silone’s known brief attempt,  as documented by the fascist police itself,  of “pretending” to spy in order to save his brother from a death sentence, immediately after his brother’s  imprisonment by the fascists in 1928. (Giuseppe Tamburrano, with Gianna Granati and Alfonso Isinelli, Processo a Silone, Lacaita Editore, Roma 2001).

More recently, Mimmo Franzinelli, a well known expert on fascist espionage,  has written (“L’Indice”, January 2005):  “After a decade of mass-media hype about the Silone Case, knowledge of the motivation, length and consequences of the relationship between him and an inspector of the Roman police force was expected. There has been none of that (..) From 1927 onwards, the bastion of [the regime’s] anti-Communist activities had been the OVRA [the Fascist secret police], an institution Silone had never had any contact with (except for the fact that he was closely spied on), which is strange considering that he had been described as the police’s contact in the top level of the Communist Party”.

Finally, the documents may be authentic per se (which is what the accusers keep claiming), but their authenticity  has nothing to do with their ascription to Silone.  As the ascription to Silone is what matters,  there appears  to be a play on words on the part of the accusers.


Illogical motivations for illogical accusations


As no plausible motivation for the (undemonstrated) spying has been found, the way has been opened for psychoanalytic and psychiatric arguments in  search for irrational actions and motives.

A young North American writer (Elizabeth Leake) has decided to psychoanalyse Silone, in order to obtain an answer directly from him as to why he had spied. As unfortunately Silone has not been available for the past 25 years,  she has decided to psychoanalyse him through his writings.

The apodictic starting point of this analysis is the Silone=spy equation, taken by the writer as a revealed truth,  although as yet unsolved.

For example, the three letters shown in the book (one typed, two with different handwriting, two signed Silvestri, one Silvestro; ascribed by the writer to Silone addressing Bellone) are not any proof of Silone’s spying.  In the letter dated 5 July 1929 in which  the author refers about his surveillance of Silone,  the phrase “it is physically impossible for me” in Italian means “it is materially impossible for me”  and not “it is carnally impossible for me” as hinted at in italics by the writer.  In the oldest letter (28 April 1928),   written in a confused,  erratic way,  the author wants “reassurance about my brother” through a letter written by “some fascist relative” in order  “to calm down the current press campaign that’s going on abroad for him right now”.  But, at that time, the international events that would need calming had not started yet and vice-versa the fascist police were carrying out searches in Silone’s native village and intimidating relatives. The third letter (13 April 1930), which is the only one with handwriting similar to Silone’s, seems like the expression of a deep ideological and political crisis. The letter, however, speaks of events which would happen at a later date (the editorial business) and not even dreamed of by an exile who at that time had hardly sufficient funds to maintain himself and was spending long periods of time in a sanatorium in Davos. The letter is moreover riddled with concepts and phrases, far away from Silone’s (both then and in the future),  like “homeland”,  “cretinous and criminal orientation of the Communist Party”, “greatly attracted again to(…)Church”.

After  the discredited premise, the writer ventures into Silone’s life to speculate that  he came from a family with acute psychological difficulties and a strong history of tuberculosis,  was alienated from his father, and was prone to deceiving others. Then she  claims having discovered  that  the most significant and dramatic  event in Silone’s life was not  his expulsion from the Italian Communist Party in 1931 or his brother’s death in 1932, but rather his break with  Bellone, a  police inspector and, she believes, surrogate father-figure to whom Silone addressed spying reports since 1919 on his socialist comrades,  then, as agent of the Fascist state continued spying on his Communist comrades. It has also been murmured that the two had a mutual erotic interest.  Those who know  Silone’s life  will therefore conclude that  this murmured affair  started when Silone moved to Rome from the outer provinces, when, being – according to the writer – an 18-year-old orphan with  health and psychiatric problems,  and a weak character, met  a protective adult, Guido Bellone,  with all the consequences illustrated above.


Psychoanalytic reinvention of a “serial” betrayal


Silone, then, according to the accuser, after the trauma  of his break-up with Bellone,   decided that it was time to hide his wicked past under a new identity.  Through his first literary works (which were therapeutic) he buried his wicked  nature and reinvented himself   resurrecting as an icon in a blessed aura with a new false heroic identity (that is, the Silone we know:   a defender of human values with his strenuous quest for social justice, his feelings for the sufferings of the poor, his demands that politics be sustained by morality and integrity and a lifelong antitotalitarianism).   However, as there shouldn’t be any dangerous witnesses of his real nature, this led to the negative influence played by Silone in the circumstances surrounding the tragic event involving his brother,  as with Romolo dead, there was no one left to corroborate or to contradict Silone’s stories.  Later on,  Silone would proceed to turn his brother’s death to his advantage (his brother’s imprisonment and death later became a selling point for Silone).

The false Christ-like Silone was created to cover up the real demonized Silone.  Silone, after a  past of betrayal between the age of 19 and 30,   when he pretended to be a socialist and then a communist,  when he sold out his Communist Party comrades to the Fascist  regime which imprisoned and  tortured them to death, during the following five decades, having reinvented a new and false identity for himself,  deceived and manipulated people all over the world:  Silone or a “serial” betrayal.     

The last  pitiful theory  that Silone, after spying,  had redeemed himself through his novels  (Alexander Stille and others), is buried under this  Silone,  more demonic than human.


List of errors


In her psychoanalytic approach, the writer enriches the Silone=spy assumption with  erroneous or distorted episodes and circumstances in Silone’s life, some of which are listed below.


Dates are quoted at random

Silone does not leave Italy for Davos in 1929:  he leaves Italy in 1927 and not for Davos.    Just a reminder:  Silone – at the heights of the Italian Communist Party,  already expelled from Spain in 1924 and from France in 1925 – when the extreme fascist laws are proclaimed in November 1926,  runs  the clandestine structure of the Communist Party in the north of Italy and in other European countries, always wanted by the fascist police.  Since 1927 he  could not  return to Italy.

Chief Inspector Bellone did not die in 1939: Guido Bellone died in 1948 (Mimmo Franzinelli, I tentacoli dell’OVRA) and there is no indication that he died in a mental hospital. Bellone had furthermore left the police force with solemn tribute  once he reached retirement age.

Psychoanalytic sessions with Jung are invented

Silone did not undergo psychotherapy with Jung in 1929; it cannot therefore be claimed that Viaggio a Parigi is the result of a year-long experiment, begun in Jung’s clinic. Silone could not have been able to afford any therapy by Jung during 1929-1930, as he was living in very limited economic circumstances. In those years, Silone had occasional work such as doing short translations and lived with his partner Gabriella in cheap guesthouses. He also had occasional treatments at the sanatorium in Davos for his physical ills. Franca Magnani remembers Silone in Una famiglia italiana where she describes meeting him in 1934 in Switzerland, when Silone, already  famous since  1933 after Fontamara was published in German in Zurich, was taking part in European literary circles, anti-fascist and anti-Nazi groups, and,  in Jung’s homeland, his intellectual circle. No mention of Silone’s nerve-related illnesses by Franca Magnani.  She in fact writes: “in Swiss and German emigration circles Fontamara became the most celebrated anti-fascist literary work (….) During this time, the Italian writer participated assiduously in C.G. Jung’s circle, the Swiss master of psychoanalysis.  A group of intellectually refined ladies also formed part of the circle (…)”

Aline Valangin,  fascinating, cultured and fine pianist, was not the therapist who took Silone’s case over for Jung. In Valangin’s memoirs (Peter Kamber, Geschichte Zweier Leben, Wladimir Rosenbaum & Aline Valangin) there is a detailed description of how they met and of their brief but intense relationship. It is not true that Valangin was the wife of a friend and that Silone was involved with two women.  Aline Valangin remembers how she and her husband, a well-known Swiss lawyer, had a sort of open marriage and that her relationship with Silone was no secret; moreover at that time, Silone’s love for Gabriella had already been transformed into a kind of deep affection.

Family relations are distorted and untrue

Silone’s feelings towards his parents are totally different from  those attributed to him, i.e. hostility towards his father and lack of interest in his mother. In his private letters (i.a. to Gabriella, to don Orione)  and his recollections with his cousins and other relatives, as well as in  his works,  he refers to both his parents with great tenderness:  we  read about the  fond admiration and pride towards his father, the searing pain he felt the day his father died, and his nostalgic memories of his loving mother next to him at the breakfast table or behind a loom. Where is the punitive aggressiveness of his father? It is certainly not in the light affectionate memory of a meaningful pull of his ear as recalled in Uscita di sicurezza; as regards the names (deemed obscene by whom?) of two Risorgimento patriots,  Mameli and Cairoli, that his father  had originally chosen for him,  we  all remember  Silone talking  with great appreciation of his father’s choice.  After his return to Italy, he asked his cousin Raffaele to retrieve a  blanket woven by his mother:  he treasured at home the blanket he received from Pescina.  I was requested by Silone to give Raffaele one of his prize medals as a sign of his immense gratitude.

It is false that in Silone’s family there was a history of tuberculosis and psychiatric disturbances, for which Romolo was medicated during his incarceration. Perhaps the writer is thinking of a modern-day prison when she writes about medical treatments and above-all when she considers that a medical report on the death of a political prisoner, released by a fascist prison, was a reliable document.  Romolo, a robust young man,  healthy and sporty (confirmed by college teachers,  relatives and military service companions),  had the  physical and psychological problems of a political prisoner in a fascist prison.  Romolo was  tortured, starved and held in isolation. Men and women in Silone’s family were the most robust and tallest in the village and were renowned for their longevity and wit.  Their descendants have the same characteristics and reaching the age of ninety has always been normal.  Silone’s father, who was  strong in the same way as  his nine brothers and sisters,  was the only brother to die young at 41 as he fell victim of pneumonia on his return from  Brazil (antibiotics had not yet been discovered).


His brother’s death caused authentic and private grief, and was not exploited publically

Silone did not work at all to maintain Romolo’s status (…) as a martyr whose death resulted only from brotherly love and emulation.  The authentic and profound affection that bonded both brothers was witnessed by many (from relatives’ accounts to private letters):  they simply adored each other. Silone felt a fatherly responsibility for his younger brother who he regarded as impulsive and naive. It is also  known the way in which Romoletto always tried to imitate his elder brother,  as is the custom in Italy and other mediterranean countries. The great bond between the brothers is also recalled by don Orione, who had a very affectionate relationship with both (it is sufficient to read the correspondence between all three to understand this). When don Orione (sanctified by the Church) speaks about the presumed malevolent [meaning “communist”] influence of the elder brother (as remarked with a different connotation by the writer), he does so in front of a fascist court of law in this way trying to lessen Romolo’s responsibility.

Regarding the statements that it was above all Gabriella who cared for Romolo in prison (Silone’s occasional and Gabriella’s regular contributions etc.),  let’s recall that letters to political prisoners were always censored, especially in the case of those sent by a brother who was known to be an active communist. Correspondence shows that it was easier for Gabriella’s letters and especially their contents to reach their destination  with less problems.

There is no psychoanalysis that can explain the authentic, profound feeling of guilt that Silone has always felt with regards to his brother’s death. All Silone’s relatives knew that Romolo’s imprisonment and death in a fascist prison was the deepest sorrow of his life. Instead we read that  Silone “redirected the guilt he felt for betraying the Communists onto an imaginary betrayal of his brother, for whose death Silone claimed responsibility by virtue of their association”.  Silone’s feeling of guilt,  deep and visible,  was totally due to the fact that it had been him who had asked Romolo to join him in Switzerland, a free country. Here, his 24 year-old brother could have created a future for himself, which he was unable to do in Italy because of his high-ranking communist brother. The times that he spoke about it to closer relatives  he always declared that it was his fault.  Silone’s words were:  “If I had not asked Romoletto to join me, he would not be dead. If it hadn’t been for me he would still be alive”

His brother’s death did not glamorize him and did not give him narrative authority. Silone has never used his brother’s tragic end to his benefit; on the contrary, he has been accused of not talking about it enough in public and in private. In his works, we only find a one-line brief mention in Memorie dal carcere svizzero written in 1942 (not intended for publication) and another similarly brief in Uscita di sicurezza in 1965.  At the same time, how can Silone ever be accused in the book  for making his relatives suffer because of his reserve,  when everyone saw that it was him who suffered the most at the slightest mention of the matter.


The roots of Silone in his native village were not false but deep and sincere

 Instead of accusing him  of not having cared to return to Pescina  for decades after his brother’s arrest (in support of the absurd theory stating that Silone pretended to be attached to his native country by attributing this sentiment to his characters),  it is necessary to repeat again that, after November 1926, Silone operated covertly in the north of Italy, then abroad, where he was exiled from 1927, while several warrants for his arrest were issued by the Fascist regime.  One month after he returned to Italy in October 1944, he went to Pescina, in the Abruzzi region,  which had been liberated by Anglo-American forces even though there was still conflict in central and northern Italy.  During the years that followed,  he would go to  Pescina regularly, where he would  stay in his cousin Raffaele’s house, sleeping in the same room where he was born and had lived with his parents until the age of seven.  On the occasions when I drove him  from Rome to Pescina,  when passing through some village places,  I would see  on his face that expression  of  sorrow which others have malevolently called remorse. However, in his native village Silone has always been considered an enemy by the many fascists and a traitor by the still preponderant communists (including some relatives of his)  who have always  attacked him for leaving the Party.


There was  no personal identification whatsoever with a “filthy traitor”

We arrive at Silone’s presumed confession through the traitor Murica,  represented in an episode in Pane e vino.  In Murica’s character definition, there is nothing that reminds us of what really happened to Silone. Both Murica’s parents are alive, he studied at university, he has a job, he lacks real political vocation, he is afraid of the police and of going to prison and he has a weak character.  The main character, Pietro Spina, has characteristics which can be recognized by anybody who knows about Silone’s private life and his choices in politics: he is an orphan,  his grandmother, aunts and uncles are living, he left the college when he was seventeen,  he’s anti-fascist, he was in exile, his passion for politics is inherent and he is strongly convinced of his own ideals. Pietro Spina defines Murica as a “schifosissimo traditore” (the most disgusting traitor).  Murica and Cefalù in  “La volpe e le camelie” are portrayals of  fascist spies that Silone must have met while he was fighting against fascism.  Talking to closer relatives after the war he mentioned, among others, a well known  fascist spy from Pescina.

The phrase “God help me to live without betraying” is highlighted by the writer to  prove Silone’s innate propensity towards betrayal.  Instead,  if one read the entire  paragraph in Uscita di sicurezza,  from which this single phrase has been extracted,  anyone would understand that Silone means exactly the opposite.  Silone is in fact mentioning  the dismay he felt as a teenager towards what he saw all around him in the religious colleges he attended, i.e. the tendency to betray ideals  by both teachers and students.

To close the circle, the writer contests the autobiographical essay Uscita di sicurezza.   She writes that by the time Uscita di sicurezza was published in 1965, Silone’s readers had long accustomed themselves to relying on the versions of his life that Silone himself furnished Silone is accused of having written about himself by copying the version of his life that he had invented for his novels, in particular he copied from Pane e vino.  My God!   Instead the autobiographical essay contains a historical account of concrete episodes of  his private and political life and was published in 1965, when all the people and politicians he refers to (above all Togliatti, who he judges severely in his book) were still alive: no one belied his words.

The bourgeois Verga was  not an example for the socialist Silone

In an effort to demonstrate Silone’s rejection of all his fathers (literary, ideological and biological) through psychoanalytic methodology, the writer  bestows on Verga the role of being Silone’s literary father. The fact that Silone denied the influence of “verismo” in his literary production, seen by the writer as a rejection of Verga, would be a reflection of the   “rejection of that side of his cultural development which took place during his PCI years“.  The literary and ideological fathers are thereby united in one blow.

Instead, even though  both Verga and Silone describe poor peasants’ lives  in the south of Italy, the total diversity of society’s vision and writer’s role  is evident in their works. While Verga describes Sicilian society with its static social roles from an almost anthropological point of view, in Silone’s books  the apparent static society in Abruzzo hides a class struggle,  only temporarily overcome,  of which the author is an actor or promoter rather than a detached observer.

His early work “Viaggio a Parigi” was rejected by Silone because grotesque and expressionist,   therefore unrelated to Italian literary tradition

Silone’s repudiation of Viaggio a Parigi is easily explained without the help of psychoanalysis. The stories and their background characters which in a way anticipate the farm worker setting in  Fontamara do not have the right balance between irony and drama and are not the  “clean, tidy, insistent, clear” “story telling style”  which, similarly to the antique art of weaving, Silone declares he wants to reach with Fontamara.  Silone did not care about  the stories exclusively and clearly because,  after Fontamara,  he considered them rough, sarcastic, grottesque and, in particular,  too expressionist, therefore completely unrelated to Italian literary tradition.

Would the elimination of the amusing and ironic La storia di Peppino Goriano in the post war edition of Fontamara merit thus a psychoanalytic study, not to mention the revision  of Pane e vino into  Vino e pane?


Nemo propheta in patria

The writer seems not fully informed with regards to Silone’s past and present fortune in Italy.  Maybe she is referring to a few people living up on the mountains in Abruzzo. She claims that the sole mention of Silone’s name in Italy produces a liturgical response. However, it should be clarified that Silone never had nor has any great fortune in Italy. His works were banned in Italy during  Fascism  (even the accuser is forced to admit  that they were not  distributed for obvious reasons, but with no explanation) and, after the war,  they were  ignored by the catholic world and opposed to and belittled  by the dominant culture of the strongest communist party in the western world which did not pardon intellectuals who did not conform and especially ex-communists.  Silone’s  resolute anti-fascism and anti-communism has  been appreciated only by a minority in Italy.



The historical truth on Silone destroys the psychoanalytical reinvention


Silone’s real life,  replaced with the outcome of a  psychoanalytic analysis biased by pre-conceived ideas,  prevents from realizing  that his choices cannot  be reconciled with a  presumed fragility, insecurity and weakness of character. If one knew Silone’s life, one would not write that  Murica reverberates with Silone’s own experiences.

It would be enough to know Silone’s career as a revolutionary from 1919 to 1930;  as an exile for his opposition to fascism in the 1930s;   as a socialist leader during the Second World War;   after  the war,  his battle as  socialist,  his obstinate minority position against the cultural communist hegemony;  finally his  cultural activities from the 1950s until his death. The real Silone can be found in the numerous  police reports and denunciations (starting since 1918),  in the analyses of historians, in the memories of politicians and finally in the memories of his relatives in Abruzzo; he was a volitive political leader who led bitter political battles his whole life, nearly always as an extreme minority. As a teenager,  he showed that he was not afraid of expressing his ideas on social fields;  when he was nineteen,   already leader of the Roman Socialist Youth,  he would get into fights with fascists in the streets. Two years later, in 1921, he entered the tight circle of the Italian Communist Party leaders, against whom agrarians and capitalists would launch violent “squadristici” attacks. He ran the communist clandestine structure against the Fascist regime; he took part in  the political struggles in Komintern during the time when terrifying, bloody conflicts were taking place  at the height of international communism (supra:Cronologia).

Silone was a militant politician from southern Italy, capable of living for years in situations where he experienced material difficulties, accustomed to the rigour of clandestine militancy and  inprisonment.  The idea of a ten-year relation between a revolutionary and a police officer is totally absurd. In a country under fascist police regime and with a clandestine communist opposition, where both sides were obsessed with political and social deviancy to the extent where private lives were ruthlessly controlled, it would have not been possible  for Silone and Bellone to behave like Romeo and Juliet, meeting up secretly and sending each other  messages without anybody knowing it.

The accuser also talks of Silone as if he was an upper middle-class mid-European traveller who would retire to Switzerland when afflicted by an acute crisis resulting from the break-up of a personal  and espionage relationship.  Switzerland was the place where he could find  the best hospitals in Europe to get rid of his hereditary disease, and the best psychoanalyst in the world, C.G. Jung, to resolve his mental hereditary problems.  Afterwards, out of all the myriad possibilities open to him (which were they?),  he chose to become famous as a writer (rehearsing first for a  year with Viaggio a Parigi while staying in the clinic).

Perhaps in the writer’s  opinion, all Silone’s ideological elaborations,  for example  La scuola dei dittatori, or  Der Fascismus,   the anti-fascist Silone, the Silone of the Socialist Centre, of the Italian Assemblea Constituente, the editor of the socialist newspaper Avanti, the social democratic  Silone who opposed  neo-fascism and a  communism anchored to Stalinism, are determined by psychiatric pulses,  by mental deviations.

Silone alternated between his writing and political activities (both in Switzerland and  in Italy): every time he left politics he would go back to publishing novels through which he continued with his politics.  Through his protagonists Silone simply voiced his political opinions.   When the first book on Pietro Spina was published,  Silone’s reputation as an anti-fascist intellectual had already been established internationally three years earlier with   Fontamara,  where  he openly opposed triumphant fascism at a time when it was obtaining the consensus of the Italian masses.

Silone’s role, anti-fascist  during the fascist regime and anti-stalinian  at the time when  Stalin governed and terrorized the Internazionale Comunista,  is public and with no chance of  keeping  skeletons in the cupboard:  it has always had a name and this is “political struggle”.

Given the inconclusive results of the psychoanalysis, perhaps others will decide to resort to the séance table.


May 2005                                    Maria Moscardelli