sinking into the ocean
On December 7th 1927, Antonio Gramsci reached the island of Ustica after five attempts to cross the sea from Palermo. It was the fifth political prisoner landing in the island, imprisoned because he was the leader of the Communist party, by the fascist regime just established. After two weeks the political prisoners in Ustica became thirty. At the end, the confinement of Ustica came to accommodate about 3000 people.
He lived in a private house that he rented together with other five mates: “The house – wrote Gramsci – consists of a room in the ground floor where they sleep two: on the ground floor there is also the kitchen, the toilet, and a closet that we have used as a toilet. “On the first floor, in two rooms, we sleep in four, three in a large enough room and one in the corridor; a large terrace is over the biggest room and dominates the beach.”
The furniture in his small room was very basic. A bed, a cabinet, a desk over a small platform to see outside while sitting on a poor chair. It was similar to a monastic cell, but with more freedom: “The regime to which we are subject consists of: retiring home at 8 pm and not leaving the house before dawn; not to go beyond the town limits without a special permit.”
From the window of his room he could see the landscape of the island. 1600 people inhabited at that time the island: 600 were prisoners. “It is impossible to imagine the life of Ustica, the environment of Ustica, because it is absolutely exceptional, is out of every normal experience of human coexistence.”
“This is a monstrous machine that crushes and levels. Sure I’ll resist.” Since the beginning of the imprisonment Gramsci had clear in his mind the struggle he was challenging to keep his dignity. His testament are the famous “Quaderni dal carcere” (Prison Notebooks): a series of essays collected in about 3000 pages of history, philosophy, economy and social ananlysis.
The prisoners decided to start a school to share their different knowledge: “We have already started a whole series of courses, elementary and general culture, for the different groups of confined; […] We thus hope to pass the time without being brutalized and helping the other friends, who represent the whole range of parties and cultural preparation.”
A hot cup of coffee was the morning ritual, the first act of an infinite routine: “In the morning, I am usually the first to get up; the engineer Bordiga states that at this moment my step has special characteristics, it is the step of the man who has not yet taken the coffee and is waiting for it with a certain impatience. I myself make coffee.”
The epistolary contact with friends and family was crucial. It was the way to keep the sense of reality beyond the borders of isolations: “When I have no argument for a letter, and for me this is the most common case, I will send you at least one postcard, so as not to miss any postal travel: life goes by here monotonous, uniform, without jumps.”
The isolation brought Gramsci towards an intellectual and physical struggle that he fought with simple weapons: books, newspapers, as well as all the didactic activities where he was teacher and scholar in the same moment. His story magnificently recorded into his writings is a precious legacy, capable, even today, of making us reflect on the ethical and moral value of our ideas.
* All the quotes come from the book “Lettere dal Carcere” (Letters from the prison), which collects all the mails that Antonio Gramsci sent to friends and family during the years he passed in prison edited by Einauidi in 1947.
Disappear like a stone sinking into the ocean
The political confinement of Antonio Gramsci in Ustica island
2A+P/A (Gianfranco Bombaci, Matteo Costanzo)