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Article published on 16 June 2009

by r-c.
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Marie Louise Berneri was a leading member of the Freedom Group during the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, and until her early death.

Marie Louise Berneri
Born 1 March 1918, Arezzo, Italy, died 13 April 1949, London.

British anarchism in the 1930s was far from being an active or even lively movement, despite the appearance of the Freedom Bulletin and Freedom (New Series). This changed only in the second half of the decade after, as Albert Meltzer once quite rightly pointed out, `Vernon Richards. .. started Spain and the World on his own, and with only very meagre support in the following years, made it the focal point for the revival of Freedom Press and the propagandist activity well known to... readers of Freedom’. Of that meagre support the most important contribution came from Marie Louise Berneri.

Maria Luisa Berneri was born on 1 March 1918 in Arezzo near Florence, the elder daughter of Camillo and Giovanna Berneri. Her father, originally a socialist, became an anarchist in the early 1920s, and was soon one of the best-known (and at times most controversial) intellectuals in the Italian anarchist movement. He was a teacher who after Mussolini’s seizure of power in 1922. refused to accept the demands laid upon the teaching profession by the Fascists, and in 1926 he went into exile in France. In Paris his - and his family’s - home soon became a centre of anti-Fascist activities, and his two daughters grew up in a highly politicised environment.

Adopting the French version of her name, Marie Louise obtained her baccalauréat and in the mid-1930s started to study psychology at the Sorbonne. She soon became involved in the anarchist movement and participated in the production of the short-lived paper Revision (with Luis Mercier Vega, alias S Parane, alias Ridel). At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War her father went to Spain and, after a short period of active fighting on the Aragon front, eventually took up residence in Barcelona in order to edit the Italian language paper Guerra di Classe, perhaps the most clear-sighted revolutionary anarchist paper to come out of the Spanish Revolution. Marie Louise went twice to Barcelona, the second time after her father’s assassination by Communists in May 1937; subsequently she came to England, where she joined her companion Vernon Richards and spent the rest of her life. (They married to give her the protection of British nationality.) Her sister Giliane remained in France where she studied psychology and in the years after the War also became active in the anarchist movement. Their mother Giovanna, who during the 1920s and 1930s had become more and more involved in anti-Fascist activities and eventually the anarchist movement, was during the War arrested in France, interned for a while in the South of France, and then eventually handed over to the Italian authorities; she was imprisoned in Italy till the end of the War, and then after the Liberation became one of the most prominent and active anarchists in Italy.

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