Vittorio Vidali

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Vittorio Vidali (1900–1983), also known as Vittorio Vidale, Enea Sormenti, Jacobo Hurwitz Zender, Carlos Contreras, "Comandante Carlos") was an Italian Communist.

Early life[edit]

He was born in the small coastal town of Muggia, then part of the county of Istria in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Already as a teenager, he joined the socialist movement in the nearby port city of Trieste. Vidali is said to have been, aged only twenty, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, but was expelled from the country after Benito Mussolini ascended to power in 1922. He is described as a Bolshevik in the file kept on him by the police in Fascist Italy.

Comintern agent[edit]

After Italy, Vidali relocated to Moscow, where he was enlisted into the NKVD. While in the Soviet Union, he was officially rebuked for indulging in love affairs (Cacucci, 1999). With Socorro Rojo Internacional as his cover, Vidali was sent by the Comintern to Mexico to discipline the Mexican Communist Party. His time there brought Vidali's romantic involvement with communist photographer Tina Modotti, who had previously been Diego Rivera's friend.

The Murder of Julio Mella[edit]

Vidali’s interest in Modotti is believed to be related to the killing of her then current lover, Cuban communist Julio Antonio Mella, a founder of the Comintern version of the Communist Party of Cuba [1] (Tennant, 1999). Mella had fled Cuba in Gerardo Machado’s time, to join and then leave the Mexican Communist Party.

The famous operative is immortalized in Diego Rivera's mural In the Arsenal [2]. The extreme right [as you face it] of the mural shows Tina Modotti holding a belt of ammunition. Vidali's face, partly hidden, stares suspiciously from under a black hat, as he peers over her shoulder, while Modotti gazes lovingly at Julio Antonio Mella (shown with light colored hat).

Given the closeness of Diego Rivera to the people involved, and the fact that the painting is said to slightly predate the murder, some consider it to be evidence of Vidali's and Rivera's involvement in Mella's assassination, also related to Rivera's subsequent expulsion from the Mexican Communist Party.

Vidali is believed to have used the revolver he commonly carried to murder Mella, rather than the M1911 pistol that Modotti kept in her house. The assassination took place in Mexico City on January 10, 1929, one month after Mella was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party for association with Trotskyists. Mella had rejoined the party just two weeks prior to his death, although this circumstance -like much else related to Vidali- is murky.

Modotti was by Mella's side as he was shot, and was holding his arm in a manner which may be likened to their pose in Rivera's mural. Vidali's rivalry for Tina Modotti's affections may have been partial motive for the murder.

The Mella assassination illustrates the complexity of the issues, and demonstrates Vidali and his superiors' skills at obfuscation and covering tracks. Officially, José Agustín López (said to have no particular political affiliations) was charged with Mella’s murder, but two other known criminals, Jose Magriñat and Antonio Sanabria, were also suspected. The police investigators were given conflicting eyewitness reports. In one version, Mella and Modotti were walking alone, whereas another stated that Vidali was walking together with the two. Since Mella's wounds were from point-blank range, neither Modotti nor Vidali were injured, and, as Modotti had given a false name to the investigators, the police were suspicious of her alibi - she was arrested, but released soon after. Magriñat, himself in custody, was also set free: apparently a loose end, he was ultimately killed in Cuba (allegedly by communists) in 1933 (Albers, 2002).

The official position of the present Cuban government is still that Mella was killed on Machado's orders, but it too admits that Tina Modotti was a Stalinist operative in a number of countries. Yet even in Cuba there are those who seem to believe that Vidali was responsible [3]. How Machado’s men could have operated alone and independently in the highly politicized environment of Mexico City is not explained. Adding to the mystery, according to Abers (2002), both Magriñat and Rivera (who had just returned from Cuba) would have warned Mella that he was in danger. [4].

The Spanish Civil War[edit]

After Mexico, Vidali and Modotti left for Spain during the Spanish Civil War, where Vidali headed the anti-Trotskyist faction of the International Brigades known as the 5th Regiment (Quinto Regimiento). He is known to have participated in the assassinations of many suspected anti-Stalinists, in collaboration with GPU agent Iosif Romualdovich Grigulevich. In Republican Spain, many of the "accidental deaths" of fellow Republicans, especially those of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification [5] and probably the "disappearance" of their leader Andreu Nin [6] were said to have been carried out under his direction. As a result, Vidali was greatly feared. Vidali, identified as "Carlos Contreras, one of the first Commanders of the [Communist] 5th Regiment [of the Republican Militia]" was shown addressing an assembly of military personnel in the 1937 pro-Republican propaganda film The Spanish Earth.

In Mexico and Italy[edit]

Back in Mexico, Vidali was definitely involved in the May 24, 1940 failed frontal assault on Trotsky's residence in Mexico City, along with Grigulevich and Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. Vidali is thought to have been involved with the insertion of assassin Ramón Mercader into Trotsky's inner circle - Mercader was to kill Trotsky later that year.

Vittorio Vidali returned to Trieste in 1947, when the Free Territory of Trieste was established. He soon became one of the most influential members of the Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste. In 1948, after the Tito-Stalin split, he became the leader of the party and carried out the de-Titoisation of Trieste's Communist organizations. He also got rid of the Yugoslav influence on the Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste, establishing strong links with the Italian Communists. During this period, he also clashed with the local Slovene minority that had been influential among Trieste's Communist before his arrival. After 1954, when Trieste became part of Italy again, Vidali served as a member of Italian Parliament.

Image[edit]

The circumstances relating to Vittorio Vidali, Ramón Mercader and the other agents (Trotsky's murder, the lethal purges of agents in the Soviet Union and Fulgencio Batista's Cuba (such as Sandalio Junco [7], [8]), as well as Vidali's travels through Cuba before and after Fidel Castro's coming to power, and his presence in Turkey, Mexico, Spain, have drawn comparison with a James Bond story [9]. Tina Modotti is said to have told Valentín González in Spain, after he had decided not to kill Vidali, words to the effect: "You should have shot him, I hate him". Yet she continued: "I have to follow him until I die" (which she in fact did) [10].

External links[edit]

  • Julio Mella [11]
  • Cuban Communist History [12]
  • Modotti [13]

Printed sources[edit]

  • Albers, Patricia 2002 Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti. Clarkson Potter 382 pages; ISBN 0-609-60069-9
  • Cacucci, Pino (Translated by Patricia J. Duncan) 1999 Tina Modotti: A Life. St. Martin's Press 225 pages; ISBN 0-312-20036-6
  • González Aguayo, Rosa María, René Aguilar Díaz, Gerardo Aragón Carrillo, Eduardo Morales Trujado, Jaime Peralta Benitez, and Enrique Salame Méndez (accessed 05/12/2005) Diego Rivera, Chapingo, Capilla Riveriana. Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo. http://www.chapingo.mx/academicos/capilla/Nrev/ND1.htm
  • Jeifets L., Jeifets V., Huber P. La Internacional Comunista y America Latina, 1919-1943. El diccionario biografico. Moscu-Ginebra 2004.
  • Ross, Marjorie 2004 El secreto encanto de la KGB: las cinco vidas de Iósif Griguliévich, editorial Farben/Norma, Costa Rica
  • Tennant, Gary 1999 Dissident Cuban communism: the case of Trotskyism, 1932-1965 PhD Thesis, University of Bradford, England . http://www.cubantrotskyism.net/PhD/central.html
  • Thomas, Hugh 1997 The Spanish Civil War. Harper and Row, New York Revised and enlarged edition. ISBN 0-06-014278-2
  • Thomas, Hugh 1998 Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom, Da Capo Press; Updated edition (April, 1998) ISBN 0-306-80827-7