Book launch: “Il paese dimenticato. Nuto Revelli e la crisi dell’Italia contadina”

Nuto Revelli Foundation – Thursday 17 December 2020, 18 pm.

Live streaming on Zoom and Facebook

On Thursday 17 December, the book Il paese dimenticato. Nuto Revelli e la crisi dell’Italia contadina will be presented online on Zoom, in collaboration with the Nuto Revelli Foundation.

This volume analyses, through Revelli’s published works, interviews, and unpublished archival sources, how he contributed to the national debate about Italy’s industrial revolution, during the 1960s and 1970s.

Nuto Revelli (Cuneo 1919-2004) fought in WW2 as a Second Lieutenant in the Italian Alpine Corps on the Russian front (August 1942 – January 1943). His unit was deployed on the river Don, and as the Red Army broke through the defensive lines of the Axis, Revelli took part in the catastrophic retreat through the steppe in early 1943. As he made it back home, he struggled with PTSD, until the Fascist regime was overturned in July. As Italy exited the war on 8 September 1943, Revelli instinctively decided to leave his hometown and to hide in the mountains, where he founded his first partisan group. After a few months of stalemate, he joined a politically organised partisan group led by two eminent members of the secret antifascist party “Giustizia e Libertà”: Duccio Galimberti and Dante Livio Bianco.

The latter was a lawyer who befriended Revelli and introduced him to a politically aware form of antifascism. Revelli had been an enthusiastic supporter of fascism as a young boy. Only after his disastrous military experience in Russia, he had begun to think critically about Mussolini’s failures. Through the defeat in Russia, Revelli realised that fascism had caused Italy to fall into chaos by deceiving the Italians with its propaganda. His revolt, however, remained for many months instinctive and politically unaware. Only the encounter with Dante Livio Bianco stirred up Revelli’s malcontent and will to revenge, orienting it toward mature political awareness.

The antifascist party “Giustizia e Libertà” was established on principles such as moral intransigence and individual responsibility. The members of this party aimed to educate the youth on ethics and they argued claimed that Italy should become a republican democracy. Revelli poured everything in his partisan experience and was also seriously injured in September 1944, when he had a motorcycle accident that disfigured him.

The partisan war and antifascist education helped Revelli overcome his PTSD. After the war, he became a writer with the two personal narratives Mai tardi (1946, about his war in Russia); and La guerra dei poveri (1962, on his partisan experience). In the 1960s, though, he understood that war testimonies were mostly written by former officers, educated individuals, who had attended school and were used to reading and writing. Privates, who constituted the bulk of the Italian troops and were in large part uneducated and often even illiterate, had not published but very few memoirs. Their war experience remained, for the time being, vastly unknown and neglected by public opinion. Revelli thus found out that the war continued to inflict harm and to kill still many years after its end.

Revelli became an anthropologist and oral historian as he started collecting oral interviews of former Italian soldiers who had fought in Russia. He realised that the Italian post-war society had no interest in listening to the stories of these wrecked men, who often endured PTSD and other physical and spiritual injuries. Many of them were poor peasants, who, after the conflict, came back to a country that they could hardly recognise. In the meantime, Italy had gone under a thorough socio-economic transformation. Since the early 1950s, Italy started its industrial revolution, especially in the northern regions; and manpower was massively drained from the fields, in particular from the most fragile areas of the country, in the South as well as in the North.

Revelli saluted the fact that industrialisation introduced and spread new forms of well-being. Many peasants employed in factories began to collect more solid salaries that helped their families slowly emerge from poverty. However, this revolution imposed its toll. Peasants from the poorer agricultural areas had to decide if either to leave their land and move to the industrial cities in the North industrial workers; or to keep working in the fields part-time, alternating this job with shifts in the factories.

The reason for such a dramatic situation was due to the international political context in which Italy’s industrialisation unfolded. On the one hand, the American Marshall Plan aimed to transform the agricultural economies in the poorer countries (like Italy) into industrialised economic activities. As a consequence, the first accords of the European Economic Community in the 1950s designed the agricultural development strategies in terms of very competitive liberalism. That meant that those areas where agriculture was thriving received economic and technical support to grow faster and stronger into industrial establishments. The poor rural areas, though, did not receive the same support, so their population was forced to move to the cities and to transform quickly into industrial manpower. Quite cruelly, rural economists used to say, still in the 1960s, that the archaic rural economy had to become extinct through depopulation.

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to leave their fields and homes and move to the cities. Many elderly peasants had made sacrifices to buy their fields and homes and now were too old to become factory workers. Moreover, a relevant number of those peasants were WW2 veterans struggling with PTSD and chronic diseases. Peasant women in these rural areas were mostly illiterate too. In the 1950s, the Italian peasant culture still rested on ancient traditions including rigid religiousness and superstition. That culture exploited children as workers and confined women in the house under harsh conditions of ignorance and hard physical labour.

Revelli felt indignation as he discovered this concealed world existing almost unnoticed just outside his hometown. A few kilometres beyond the wealthy agricultural establishments in the plains, the rural world that showed itself on the hills and mountains was comparable to a medieval society. Revelli did not accept that the national political and economic agenda could leave these people to their extinction, just because they would not adapt to the new model of economic growth.

He devoted four books to the people of the archaic rural areas of his region, Piedmont: La strada del davai (1966, forty interviews with veterans from the Russian front and captivity – translated into English as Mussolini’s Death March); L’ultimo fronte. Lettere di soldati dispersi o caduti nella seconda guerra mondiale (1971, collecting about 1300 letters from KIA or MIA Italian soldiers); Il mondo dei vinti. Testimonianze di vita contadina (1977, over 200 oral testimonies from elderly peasants); and L’anello forte. La donna. Storie di vita contadina (1985, more than 200 oral interviews with female peasants).

Nuto Revelli today represents one important critical voice insofar as he reminds us that no one should be left behind in the name of economic growth. No well-being is such if it can be benefited only by the happy few to the detriment of the others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s