In August 1892, the first Congress of the Italian Workers’ Party convened in Genoa. Celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ expedition had just taken place in the city. As a result, the more than 300 representatives of workers’ societies who had come from all over the country could take advantage of discounts on train tickets provided for the Columbus celebrations. This was a useful ploy to enable a large part of the delegates to reach the Ligurian capital. Many of them had never seen the sea.
The situation in the labor movement was very lively. On one side were the anarchists, who rejected any law-abiding form of seizing power and opposed elections. They were a minority, and in order to fight the socialists they wanted to exclude the non-workers from the committee, taking out the socialist intellectuals. Among them was the famous Pietro Gori, lawyer and author of some of the most famous anarchist songs. On the other side were the socialists, represented by Filippo Turati, Anna Kuliscioff and Camillo Prampolini, who instead aimed to create a party that would be able to represent the demands of the people within the institutions.
The decisive battle played out on August 14 in Genoa’s famous Sivori Hall: in the morning, the anarchist Casati, who aimed to exclude intellectuals from the presidency, clashed with Kuliscioff, who presented an opposing motion approved by a large majority. In the afternoon, as soon as work resumed, the final break occurred. The honorable Prampolini addressed the anarchists: “You are as honest as we are, but we are going in an absolutely opposite direction; between us and you there can be no common ground, so leave us alone!” The workers’ representatives and socialists would not return to Sivori Hall. News of a new meeting circulated: “Tonight, the delegates who intend to found the Workers’ Party will meet in the trattoria in Salita Pollaiuoli, to reach an understanding.”
In politics, the most significant steps don’t happen by chance. They are prepared at the negotiating table. In this case, literally. The night before the clash at the congress, Prampolini and Kuliscioff sat down in the trattoria on Salita Pollaiuoli to organize the break with the anarchists. They had a big plate of lasagna with pesto sauce and roasted meat.
What the three socialists discussed was a dress rehearsal for what would happen the next day. At the same restaurant, representatives of 150 workers’ associations would call for a new congress, from which the anarchists were excluded. This took place on August 15 in the Genoese Carabinieri hall and marked the birth of the Italian Workers’ Party, which from 1895 would become the Italian Socialist Party. To this day, in the small trattoria in Salita Pollaiuoli, which has changed names many times over the decades, there is a plaque commemorating that meeting: “On the evening of August 14, 1892, the delegates of 150 mutual aid and social workers’ associations left Sivori Hall, met in this trattoria and here decided to call for the next day, August 15, 1892, in the Genoese Carabinieri Hall on Via della Pace, the founding congress of the Italian Workers’ Party/ Italian Socialist Party.” Having overcome the anarchists’ obstructionism and tenacious opposition to the law-abiding path, the party set out to bring the demands of the working classes to Parliament. It founded socialist branches in many cities, but not all localities were able to put forward their own candidate. This was the case in Umbria, where nationally prominent figures ran with the aim of having the young party ride their coattails. Andrea Costa was a candidate in Perugia’s two constituencies, while leader Turati ran in Spoleto. The events in these small provincial towns showed the deep organizational effort aimed at party building and winning the electoral contest. Needless to say, such tension can also be fueled by good food.
An example of this can be seen in the virtually unpublished letter that Turati sent to a socialist leader from Spoleto, the young lawyer Pasquale Laureti. He thanked him for sending him some excellent woodcocks, which Turati said he wolfed down together with his companion Kuliscioff. From the joking words of the father of Italian socialism, we can understand that the gift was not disinterested: it served to convince him to run for office.
“Dearest, if you have judged me a boor, you have only done your duty. I have received the game. I also confess to have eaten and digested it with great pleasure, together with my little family. If I have sinned with gluttony, God will put us all in purgatory one after the other. But as for saying at least a thank you, not a chance! Ah! What a scoundrel I must be! And what an unrepentant scoundrel! For this cannot be the first time when I committed such crimes against etiquette. Please do one thing: absolve me, anyway, as I no longer even have the capacity for remorse. Have you forgiven me?… Then you will at least forgive me the day I come to pay my dues to old Clitunno. Because you yourself confessed it, those birds served as a lure to pull me into the net! Thou wretch! So let us be counted even: yours was but a snare. So I didn’t owe you gratitude. I have seized the corpus delicti, and that’s it! Now I make my escape from this net and shake your hand as I do so. Yours sincerely, F. Turati.”
Food and eateries also played an important role in the darkest period for the socialist organization: fascism and exile. Of great value is the testimony of Vera Modigliani, the wife of socialist lawyer Giuseppe Emanuele Modigliani, brother of the famous painter, who in her memoir Esilio describes the fascinating experience of the Italian exiles’ canteen. It was attended by the elderly Turati, and then Treves, Pertini, Nenni, Buozzi and other party members who had come to Paris to escape fascist violence. It was Vera Modigliani and Nina Coccia, the wife of a young party leader, who started the trattoria called La Popote Des Proscrits Italiens (“The Mess Hall of the Italian Outcasts”), in a room on the premises of the Union of Italian Workers’ Cooperatives at 16 rue de la Tour d’Auvergne. It was a small, rectangular room with two small windows overlooking the courtyard. The evening of the opening was attended by a great protagonist of the European socialist movement, Angelica Balabanoff. The year was 1926.
The trattoria was born out of the sense of loneliness that exiles experienced in their early days in Paris, and served to offer a hot dish for little money and some human warmth to exiles. With a side dish of the inevitable political discussion. The first Christmas away from Italy, in 1926, brought a lot of melancholy. Nenni was on the sidelines, lonely and silent because of the absence of his loved ones. At that point, Modigliani recounts, Baldini’s fettuccine alla Bolognese and a few extra “big glasses” of wine were needed to warm up the atmosphere.
The escape from Fascist Italy continued, and the premises of La Popote became too small. It was thus decided to move it to the largest room at the cooperative. Everyone had their own task. There were those who swept the floor and those who washed the salad. Buozzi cut the meat, Nina Coccia cleaned the vegetables. Carmen Emiliani, Nenni’s wife who arrived from Italy with her three daughters, recounts: “I remember that Pietro had to grate cheese, but he showed little aptitude for this work, so much so that he was soon ‘removed from office’ and given the task of sweeping the floor.” Intellectual work and manual labor don’t always go hand in hand.