Vittorio Vidali
Vittorio Vidali also known as Vittorio Vidale, Enea Sormenti, Jacobo Hurwitz Zender, Carlos Contreras, "Comandante Carlos") was an Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

-born Stalinist.

Early life

He was born in the small coastal town of Muggia
Muggia is a small Italian comune in the extreme south-east of Trieste lying on the border with Slovenia.Muggia is the last and only flap of Istria still in Italian territory, after the dissolution of the Free Territory of Trieste in 1954....

, then part of the county of Istria
Istria , formerly Histria , is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner...

 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Already as a teenager, he joined the socialist movement in the nearby port city of Trieste
Trieste is a city and seaport in northeastern Italy. It is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of land lying between the Adriatic Sea and Italy's border with Slovenia, which lies almost immediately south and east of the city...

. Vidali is said to have been, aged only twenty, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party
Italian Communist Party
The Italian Communist Party was a communist political party in Italy.The PCI was founded as Communist Party of Italy on 21 January 1921 in Livorno, by seceding from the Italian Socialist Party . Amadeo Bordiga and Antonio Gramsci led the split. Outlawed during the Fascist regime, the party played...

, but was expelled from the country after Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 ascended to power in 1922. He is described as a Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

 in the file kept on him by the police in Fascist
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...


Comintern agent

After Italy, Vidali relocated to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, where he was enlisted into the NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

. While in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, he was officially rebuked for indulging in love affairs (Cacucci, 1999). With Socorro Rojo Internacional as his cover, Vidali was sent by the Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

 to Mexico to discipline the Mexican Communist Party
Mexican Communist Party
The Mexican Communist Party was a communist party in Mexico. It was founded in 1911 as the Socialist Workers' Party by Manabendra Nath Roy, a left-wing Indian intellectual. The PSO changed its name to the Mexican Communist Party in November 1919 following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia...

. His time there brought Vidali's romantic involvement with communist photographer Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti was an Italian photographer, model, actress, and revolutionary political activist.- Early life :Modotti was born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini in Udine, Friuli, Italy...

, who had previously been Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, an active communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo . His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in...

's friend.

The Murder of Julio Mella

Vidali’s interest in Modotti is believed to be related to the killing of her then current lover, Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

n communist Julio Antonio Mella
Julio Antonio Mella
Julio Antonio Mella was a founder of the "internationalized" Cuban Communist Party.Mella studied law in the University of Havana until he was expelled in 1925 and is considered a hero by the present Cuban government. Some Cubans view him as a victim of the Stalin-Trotsky struggle...

, a founder of the Comintern version of the Communist Party of Cuba
Communist Party of Cuba
The Communist Party of Cuba is the governing political party in Cuba. It is a communist party of the Marxist-Leninist model. The Cuban constitution ascribes the role of the Party to be the "leading force of society and of the state"... (Tennant, 1999). Mella had fled Cuba in Gerardo Machado
Gerardo Machado
Gerardo Machado y Morales was President of Cuba and a general of the Cuban War of Independence...

’s time, to join and then leave the Mexican Communist Party.

The famous operative is immortalized in Diego Rivera's mural
A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A particularly distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.-History:Murals of...

 In the Arsenal 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
A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The first revolver ever made was built by Elisha Collier in 1818. The percussion cap revolver was invented by Samuel Colt in 1836. This weapon became known as the Colt Paterson...

 he commonly carried to murder Mella, rather than the M1911 pistol that Modotti kept in her house. The assassination took place in Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

 on January 10, 1929, one month after Mella was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party for association with Trotskyists
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

. Mella had rejoined the party just two weeks prior to his death, although this circumstance -like much else related to Vidali- is murky.

After Mella's death Vidali "inherited" Modotti. She as well is believed to have acted as an assassin 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
Point-blank range
In external ballistics, point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm. The point-blank range will vary with the firearm and its particular ballistic...

, neither Modotti nor Vidali were injured, and, as Modotti had given a false name to the investigators, the police were suspicious of her alibi
Alibi is a 1929 American crime film directed by Roland West. The screenplay was written by West and C. Gardner Sullivan, who adapted the 1927 Broadway stage play, Nightstick, written by Elaine Sterne Carrington, J.C...

 - 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 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.

The Spanish Civil War

After Mexico, Vidali and Modotti left for Spain during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, where Vidali headed the anti-Trotskyist faction of the International Brigades
International Brigades
The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939....

 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
Iosif Romualdovich Grigulevich
Iosif Romualdovich Grigulevich was one of the most remarkable Soviet illegal operatives during the 1930s and 1940s, when he took a leading role in assassinating leftists who were not loyal to Joseph Stalin. Under a false identity as Teodoro B...

. In Republican Spain
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

, many of the "accidental deaths" of fellow Republicans, especially those of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification
Workers' Party of Marxist Unification
The Workers' Party of Marxist Unification was a Spanish communist political party formed during the Second Republic and mainly active around the Spanish Civil War... and probably the "disappearance" of their leader Andreu Nin were said to have been carried out under his direction. As a result, Vidali was greatly feared.

In Mexico and Italy

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
David Alfaro Siqueiros
José David Alfaro Siqueiros was a social realist painter, known for his large murals in fresco that helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance, together with works by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, and also a member of the Mexican Communist Party who participated in an...

. Vidali is thought to have been involved with the insertion of assassin Ramón Mercader
Ramón Mercader
Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río Hernández was a Spanish communist who became famous as the murderer of Russian Communist ideologist Leon Trotsky in 1940, in Mexico...

 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
Free Territory of Trieste
The Free Territory of Trieste was to be a city-state situated in Central Europe between northern Italy and Yugoslavia, created by the United Nations Security Council in the aftermath of World War II and provisionally administered by an appointed military governor commanding the peacekeeping United...

 was established. He soon became one of the most influential members of the Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste
Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste
Communist Party of the Free Territory of Trieste was a communist party in the Free Territory of Trieste...

. In 1948, after the Tito-Stalin split
Tito-Stalin Split
The Tito–Stalin Split was a conflict between the leaders of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which resulted in Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau in 1948...

, he became the leader of the party and carried out the de-Titoisation
Titoism is a variant of Marxism–Leninism named after Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, primarily used to describe the specific socialist system built in Yugoslavia after its refusal of the 1948 Resolution of the Cominform, when the Communist Party of...

 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
Parliament of Italy
The Parliament of Italy is the national parliament of Italy. It is a bicameral legislature with 945 elected members . The Chamber of Deputies, with 630 members is the lower house. The Senate of the Republic is the upper house and has 315 members .Since 2005, a party list electoral law is being...



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
Fulgencio Batista
Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar was the United States-aligned Cuban President, dictator and military leader who served as the leader of Cuba from 1933 to 1944 and from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown as a result of the Cuban Revolution....

's Cuba (such as Sandalio Junco,, as well as Vidali's travels through Cuba before and after Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party's foundation in 1961 until 2011...

's coming to power, and his presence in Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, Mexico, Spain, have drawn comparison with a James Bond
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 story Tina Modotti is said to have told Valentín González
Valentín González
Valentín González González was a Republican military commander during the Spanish Civil War. Known as El Campesino , González was one of many competent officers to have served in the Ejército Popular of the Second Spanish Republic.Born in Malcocinado, Badajoz, Spain, Gonzalez worked as a miner...

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)

External links

Printed sources

  • 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.
  • 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 .
  • 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
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