Viva il Cochi – Alessandro Pellegatta (2013)

Romano Cocchi

Romano Cocchi: seminarian, subversive organizer in Bergamo, communist.

[This article was originally published by Alessandro Pellegatta in the Italian Marxist journal Pagine Marxiste on the 20th of February, 2013. It can be found here.]

More than ninety years have passed since Romano Cocchi, the “Cochi”, tirelessly organized the proletariat in Bergamo. Despite the work of removal carried out by PIPists and PCIists, his record in Bergamo was handed down even to today and is still alive. But who was Romano Cocchi?

Romano Cocchi was born in Anzola dell’Emilia, a small village 10 km. from Bologna, 6 March 1893. His was a peasant family; the father was a day laborer, the mother, housewife, looked after eleven children, to whom she imparted a rigidly religious education.

When Romano was still a child the Cocchi [family] moved a few km,. to San Giovanni in Persiceto; the vivacious intelligence of Romano did not escape to parish priest of Castagnolo, that strived because he could study in Seminary in Bologna, while the archpriest of Persiceto pushed him to follow the diploma of Ginnasio. In Seminary Romano did not finish [his] studies, [which were] interrupted due to falling in love. In that period he searched for various jobs. […] In the meantime he took his first steps in political activity and syndicates. His first commitment materialized in a Catholic group from Cesena that was referred to «The Action»; [but] he abandoned it in 1914 due to its interventionist positions. Cocchi, on the contrary, was a convicted antimilitarist; in that sense he started in search for a Christian movement for peace, looking for it in Torino. But in those days, during which he searched in his village, Persiceto, he went on to [encounter someone] that would signal his future activity: Guido Miglioli, the deputy of the PPI. The twenty-one year old Romano assumed the task of secretary of the Catholic deputy. He transferred first to Soresina, in Cremona, where he worked as an organizer and propagandist; in the farmlands of the Short Lombard the radical current of white [Catholic] syndicalism was taking foot, of which Miglioli was one of the best exponents.

Organizer, propagandist but also journalist. His articles saw citations and praises from Gramsci, in the Prison Notebooks.

For his antimilitarism in 1917 he landed in prison for three months.

The nascent Cremonese fascist located him immediately as a target, and he suffered a blow from the blackshirts of Farinacci. At the beginning of 1919 he left and reached Bergamo. At that moment the most enthusiastic and exciting period of Romano’s activities began, destined to remain in the class memory, handed down from mother to daughter. The Cocchi became il “Cochi”.

Cocchi arrived in a Bergamo where the exploitation in the factories and in the farmlands was at maximum, where children worked up to 12 hours in spinning mills, where the pay was two lire a day for the men: the women earned half, the equivalent of a kg. of bread.

The Cochi searched for an abode in Alzano and started the work immediately. The territory burned: the farmers were in agitation, textile workers, construction workers, bakers, writers, sculptors, creators, button makers, miners, smiths, sailors of Tavernola, [were all] out of work. He started a long series of strikes with the objective to claim better salaries and working conditions. The dispute of the textile workers brought to a stop the Honegger of Albino, of the Beltracchini of Gazzaniga, of the wool mill of Villa d’Almè, of the Legler of Ponte San Pietro, of the Crespi. It was a success and the owners ceded. In Rome the accord was signed, 33% growth and payment of the striking days, the largest strike ever directed by Catholics.

The Cochi supported a very intense work of education to the organization of the struggles. The euphoria of the struggle involved all categories, even the Sacristi were in agitation… A large part of the manpower in the Bergamese spinning mills were female, particularly susceptible to religious propaganda, as our old comrades recalled to us: and who better than one like the Cocchi, who had studied in seminary and knew Catholic culture profoundly, could find the right words to ignite the fire of revolt and class consciousness in working women?

He was called Romano Cocchi, the young activist who, in the 20s in the textile industries “Bellora” and “Dell’Acqua”, taught the workers to struggle for a greater personal dignity, for their own social and political emancipation. My mother was one of those workers and learned from him not to have fear, to not be afraid to react to the manorial exploitation and to not fear the common opinion that the master wanted her submissive and fearful. [2]

Cochi the organizer, Cochi the subversive: the news of the successes of the struggles that were organized by him started to circulate among the Bergamese proletariat. Where there was a hotbed of revolt, there was il Cochi. He became in a short time a leader, a myth, a legend. It is told that in a spinning mill outside the city where he was found to direct a strike,the royal guards arrived to arrest him. Thus the workers closed him in a chest, nailed the cover, and let go of the chest… with him inside.

One of the songs sung by the Bergamese workers was recited like so:

Get rid of your pride, royal troops,
Otherwise we Cocchiani will raise our hands again –
Come on, come on, come on – it will end the quarrel.
If you don’t know us, look us in the eye –
We are Romano Cocchi’s brave boys.
Boom boom boom and to the roar of the cannon
Our soicety is one of the strongest,
Whoever touches a Cochiana risks death
Boom boom boom and to the roar of the cannon
If they don’t bless our white flag
With our own sweat we’ll make it holy
Boom boom boom and to the roar of the cannon

[3]

The radical action brought forward by Cocchi was creating a great contradiction. Cocchi was an extremist, but a white [Catholic] extremist, that stuck to the PPI [the Italian People’s Party], the Catholic party deeply rooted in Bergamo, the party of social peace, and the contradictions did not wait to emerge.
The Catholic hierarchy was in alarm and ran to shelter. The Catholic Bergamese basis was broken, there were pastors in line with the hierarchy from the pulpit arrived to say that the increased wages obtained thanks to the Cocchi was “money of the devil”; but the poor were all with the Cochi. The Bishop Luigi Maria Marelli at last intervened and manage to expel him from the white [Catholic] trade union, the Italian Confederation of Workers. The Cochi responded, founding a dissenting trade union in Bergamo, The Union of the Worker, and the newspaper “White Flag”. Strikes intensified and agitations in the spinning mills, in the countryside and among the cement workers; obtained significant results up to the doubling of the journalist salary.

On the inside of the PPI, which was already registered, he organized the Group of the Avant-Garde, whose objective was the expropriation of land and the redistribution of the land to the farmers. After continuous calls left unheard and the growing pressures of the Bergamese employers came, inevitably, also the expulsion from the party; between those that pressed for the measure of expulsion there were Giovanni Gronchi and Benedict XV.

Cocchi founded the Christian Party of Labor; it appeared in the political election of 1921 not obtaining any seat, but in Bergamo city the votes were almost eight thousand!

He continued to spread his program everywhere: land to the peasants and factories to the workers. The centenarian Daria Bacis of Crespi d’Adda recalled:

“He came to Capriate San Gervasio around ‘25 [certainly before, editor’s note] to hold an assembly: he found to welcome him a heap of people that shouted “Viva il Cocchi”. He continued to repeat this slogan: the lands to the peasants, the factories to the workers. Thanks to his solicitations, the pay increased by one thousand lire.”

[4]

Also, she who wrote these lines was able to listen at home to a testimony on the Cochi. Between the uncles of second grade there were ten brothers of Crespi d’Adda; one of these around 1920 was arrested and shut in the military prison at Gaeta as a deserter of the Royal Army; the others were almost all cotton mill workers that gave the name to the village. So, thanks to the “solicitations” (as Daria called them) of the Cochi, a significant increase in salary was obtained, which also permitted to deliver a more than respectable stash regularly to the detained brother. It is certainly true that, if many of these young Bergamese, raised in a very Catholic environment, successively subscribed to socialism, it was just thanks to the fact of having known il Cochi.

Giampiero Valoti [5] wrote that on old walls of the Bergamesco one can still read today praises to the Cochi, that popular songs were dedicated to him, that his memory is banned from the official sources as guilty of having made the conflict between social doctrine of the Church, the privileges of the Catholic entrepreneur and the disastrous conditions of the Catholic workers explode. There was the saying: “The soul of God, the body to Cocchi”.

In 1922 the exciting experience of the Cochi ended.

“He disappeared suddenly, it was said that the fascists had him deported and killed, but his teaching remained in those valleys where it was so difficult to react to the injustices. And my mother taught me the value of the workers’ struggles that she had learned from him. I learned to not fear the rebellions and the uprising, the strikes and the arrogance of the bosses. I learned the value of the union actions and of the unity and the cohesion of the workers.” [6]

The end of the exciting Bergamese experience, accompanied by numerous aggressions against labor by the local fascists, goes in tandem with his progressive rapprochement to the PCd’I, that he ended up supporting. He entered with the “terzini”, in 1926, and in the internal party conflict he was found in the coalition opposite to the left of Bordiga. After having direct to Milan the workers’ magazine “The Seed”, he became personal secretary to Gramsci, and editor of “Unity”. Arrested in the sting of 1925, two years after the Special Tribunal condemned him to 12 years of imprisonment for subversive propaganda verging on issurection and incitement of class hatred. Free, he fled and took refuge in France, then in Belgium and Switzerland, where he directed the Red Help.

It is right in the course of his Swiss experience that we have already had a way to cite him in one of our notebooks, as editor of “Sickle and Hammer”. [7] It deals with a “negative” note of his political experience. No better than the other “negative” note (its to side with the Gramscian center that fought the left of Bordiga to liquidate it), it had nothing censored: a beautiful and exciting story of exemplary militance like that of Cocchi was made also in areas of shade. And “Sickle and Hammer”, the journal of the exiles of the PCI in Ticino and inthe Confederation directed by Cocchi is aligned with all of the centrist and Philosoviet-Stalinist line of the PCI.

Member of the political Office of the Swiss Communist Party, was discovered and arrested in Lugano on 23 February 1933; sprung the provision of expulsion. Forced also to leave Switzerland, Cocchi returned to France, then to London (where he met Luigi Sturzo) and Spain (1937).

But the framework of the PCI for a militant like Cocchi lasted long enough. The break happened in 1939, when Cocchi sided against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He was expelled. Denigrated, marginalized, removed. In the best criminal Stalinist tradition.

Cocchi remained in France, where he did not renounce the fight; he was in the Maquis, against Nazis and collaborators. He was captured 27 December 1943 and deported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He resisted three months in terrible conditions, then hunger and cold gained the upper hand.

Romano Cocchi died in Buchenwald on 28 March 1944.

But his extraordinary political, trade union, and human affair did not die.

We remember him as militant revolutionaries are remembered, not as icons rendered inoffensive by reformist traitors, but as examples for future generations


Notes

1. In Paolo Balbarini, «Il Borgorotondo», March 2012

2. Testimony of a spinning mill worker of Leffe, in «Eco di Bergamo», 8 March 2012

3. In Paolo Balbarini, «Il Borgorotondo», marzo 2012

4. Adda-news.blogspot.it

5. Giampiero Valoti, Il ribelle bianco. Romano Cocchi e le agitazioni dei lavoratori nel Bergamasco (1919-1922), Quaderni dell’Archivio della cultura di base 37/38, 2008

6. Testimony of a spinning mill worker of Leffe, in «Eco di Bergamo», 8 March 2012

7. «Falce e Martello», directed by Cocchi, published an attack of an anarcho-individualist from Varese against his comrade, accused of informing. The accuser then revealed himself lacking in foundation. See our notebook Cronache Rivoluzionarie in Provincia di Varese.

ALESSANDRO PELLEGATTA

[Many thanks to @notedpseud for translating this article. It is greatly appreciated.]