The Spanish Civil War

Project Overview

The hand drawn front cover for Italo Orciani's unpublished 1937 political memoir, Red Spain: The Memoirs of an Ex-Official in the International Brigades

In September 1937, Italo Orciani—a formerly under-employed traveling salesman originally from the Adriatic coastal city of Ancona, Italy—entered the Italian Embassy in Innsbruck, Austria in order to confess to his political “crimes” against Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship while serving in the International Brigades in Spain during the previous six or so months and, most significantly, to offer valuable intelligence to Fascist Italy’s Interior Ministry in regard to the other Italian members of the so-called Garibaldi Battalion. Having volunteered for the International Brigades in March with the objective of fighting against General Francisco Franco’s ongoing Nationalist uprising against the Second Spanish Republic, Orciani’s struggles in what he frequently referred to as “Red Spain” appears to have sparked a significant transformation in his ideological worldview. Indeed, after escaping from the “Bolshevik hell” that was Civil War-era Spain, as he colorfully phrased it in April 1938, Orciani had come to realize that Fascism, and not Communism, offered the workers and peasants of Italy and the world the “justice and authority” required for maintaining a dignified, orderly civilization. After waiting for several days without receiving any reply from regime officials, Orciani resolved to re-enter Italy on his own accord and, if necessary, face the consequences for his “betrayal” of both his homeland and his Duce. As his passenger train was crossing into Italian territory via the Brenner Pass, Orciani was arrested by a group of Blackshirt militiamen and transferred to the Regina Coeli prison in Rome ahead of his hearing with the regime’s General Management of Public Security. In mid-October, following a month-long investigation by the Interior Ministry, Orciani was sentenced to five years in confino politico (political confinement) on the regime’s Tremiti Islands penal colony in the Adriatic Sea.

Almost immediately, Orciani began writing feverishly from his confino barracks. Beginning with a political memoir on his experiences in Republican Spain and continuing with essays on Italian racism and anti-Semitism, and numerous letters, memos, telegrams, and handwritten notes written to and from prominent public officials, including Mussolini and Pope Pius XI, Orciani hoped to both underscore the brutality and rapaciousness of the Bolshevik elements in Spain as he allegedly saw them and, most significantly, vociferously denounce Communism and proclaim his purported conversion to the “new light of imperial civilization” under Mussolini’s dictatorship. “[B]etween Fascism and Bolshevism there is an abyss,” writes Orciani in the closing pages of his Spanish Civil War memoir, Red Spain!, highlighting the “lessons” he had allegedly learned in regards to the dangers of international Communism and the wisdom of Italian Fascism, “it is the same as comparing Heaven to Hell, civilization to barbarism, the agents of order to bandits!”

In addition to outlining his journeys to and from Republican Spain along with his pronounced objections to the Soviet presence within the ranks of the International Brigades, Orciani’s writings subtly highlight the influences of the dictatorship’s methods of repression, the Axis Alliance between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (1936), and the fascist regime’s “racist turn” (1938) upon the popular Italian mind during the late-1930s. Intended to dramatize, or “perform,” his contrition and thereby grease the proverbial wheels of sympathy for his plight among officials in the Interior Ministry, leading he sincerely hoped to an early release from his unwanted imprisonment, these heretofore undiscovered and unpublished documents will offer scholars, students, and general readers alike valuable glimpses into the various ways in which some political prisoners in Fascist Italy attempted to navigate and come to terms with the quotidian challenges of their confino sentences by deploying the regime’s evolving sociopolitical values in their appeals for liberation and, especially in Orciani’s case, the methods by which they attempted to ingratiate themselves to their Blackshirted masters in exchange for favorable conditions or, ideally, clemency from the Duce.

In addition to Orciani's writings, From "Red Spain" to Fascist Prison features a number of appendices. In the volume’s timeline, we include the key events for both Orciani and Mussolini’s regime between the former’s birth and death in 1896 and 1950, respectively. Our accompanying maps, moreover, track Orciani’s movements from Italy to Spain and his various travels around Italy during and after his confino sentence. The figures section includes a number of photographs of Orciani, the front covers of his memoir and screenplay, which he designed by hand in his confino barracks, and the living conditions on the Tremiti Islands. Lastly, the volume’s glossary provides readers with definitions and explanations of some of the volume’s more obscure terms and phrases.

Project Publications


  • Co-edited with Marla Susan Stone, A Fascist in "Red Spain": The Memoirs of Italo Orciani, 1937-1946 (volume under contract with University of Toronto Press)

Project Images


A co-edited research project based on the unpublished papers by an Italian member of the International Brigades in civil war-era Spain who subsequently served several years in Benito Mussolini's "confino politico" (political exile) penal system.