For somebody who was born just after the First World War, Luigi Fiori is an amazingly busy person.
When I phoned his landline he was on his mobile making the final arrangements to speak at an anti-fascist meeting.
Luigi, a former Italian partisan who resisted both Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime and German Nazis, is coming to the Marxism festival in central London this week to speak on the fight against fascism, then and now.
He is a worried man, concerned about the votes for the fascists in the European elections and the presence of fascists within the Italian government.
Members of Silvio Berlusconi’s right wing government have their political roots in the fascist period.
As Luigi says, “They just pretend to be democrats. Take Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the parliament and the former leader of the National Alliance party.
“He’s been to the Wailing Wall in Israel and paid homage to the victims of Italy’s racial laws.
“He’s a fascist but he’s not stupid. He’s not a rabid dog. His ilk are just waiting for the right moment.
“Once Berlusconi falls – and he’s wobbling a bit at the moment – Fini and his gang will make a bid for power.”
Fiori is also worried because he experienced fascism as a schoolboy.
Mussolini’s National Fascist Party took power in Italy in 1922 and imposed a one party state that ruled with an iron fist.
Luigi said, “We knew nothing about what was happening outside of Italy. We were totally isolated.
“Society was totalitarian and you couldn’t speak a word out of turn.
“When other people of my age say, ‘I used to say’ I respond with comments like, ‘What do you mean? You couldn’t say anything.’
“Fascism was normality. Due to the level of repression, the anti-fascists – we didn’t know who they were – didn’t dare talk to us because we were just kids.
“They would have risked too much by revealing their identities to us.”
Even the taking of exams was an excuse for indoctrination.
If you weren’t wearing the fascist uniform then you weren’t allowed to take your place in the examination hall.
Soon after leaving school Fiori was called up to serve in the Italian army in the Second World War.
When the fascist regime collapsed in 1943, Luigi – along with tens of thousands of others – refused to serve in the puppet army set up by the Nazis and a severely weakened Mussolini.
Luigi and his comrades went up into the mountains to become partisans – armed anti-fascist resistance fighters.
Over the next 18 months they fought – and won – a bitter guerrilla war against fascists and German Nazis.
As opposed to a conventional army, the resistance movement had no hierarchy of ranks.
Commanders were elected and their powers could be immediately revoked.
Fiori led a unit in the Appenine mountains.
For security reasons he was only known by a codeword: “Commander Friar Devil”.
He never tires of telling young people that his generation faced terrible problems – and overcame them.
“When I speak at meetings I’m always saying to people: ‘Look kids, don’t give up.’
“Many are the times the Nazis assembled between 10,000 and 12,000 men to attack us, and they really knocked the hell out of us.
“But ten days later we were back on our feet again, and had already organised another brigade.”
Fiori is keen to learn about the situation in Britain, and agrees that parties such as the fascist British National Party (BNP) need to be confronted on the streets.
He says, “We need to be careful though as normally they have the police on their side.
“However, we’re far stronger denouncing what they’re doing – shouting loud and clear that what they’re doing is dangerous.
“We’ve been far too tolerant for far too long – these people shouldn’t be allowed to go around waving swastikas.
“Our strength lies in our commitment and our numbers.”
Luigi Fiori and Tom Behan are speaking on the Italian Resistance: fascists, guerrillas and the allies at the Marxism festival at 2pm on Sunday 5 July in RNH A. For more information on the event go to » www.marxismfestival.org.uk