Listen to the Episode — 31 min



Clara: Welcome back to the Ex-Worker! As we record this episode, Italian anarchist prisoner Alfredo Cospito has been on hunger strike for over 100 days, demanding his release from the brutal regime of solitary confinement and severe restrictions known as “41bis.” Despite the mobilization of anarchist and radical networks across Italy in solidarity, as well as actions in support across the world, the Italian state stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his protest, and Alfredo’s life is in severe danger.

In this episode, we share three short pieces that introduce you to Alfredo Cospito, explain the context behind the hunger strike and the repressive prison regime in Italy, and describe anarchist efforts to challenge the state’s attempt to bury our comrade. We open with a short solidarity statement about the case recently published on, along with a translation of a statement by Italian philosopher Donatella Di Cesare titled “Release Alfredo Now—It’s a Question of Justice.” And we’ll conclude with an interview between Alanis and a friend from Rome who locates the hunger strike and solidarity efforts in a broader context of anarchist activity in Italy and beyond.

To read more background and the latest updates about Alfredo’s case, check out the links we’ve got posted on our website,, under Episode 90. Wherever you’re listening to this, we encourage you to consider ways that you can take action to put pressure on the Italian state to recognize Alfredo’s demands, and to push back against the nightmare of prison society. Thanks for listening!


Since October 20, 2022, the imprisoned Italian anarchist Alfredo Cospito has been on hunger strike, demanding to be released from solitary confinement under the “41bis” regime. As of February 3, 2023, he has passed 107 days without eating.

In the course of the past three and a half months, Alfredo has lost more than 90 pounds. Bobby Sands, the member of the Irish Republican Army who was elected to Parliament during his hunger strike in 1981, died after 66 days without food. At death’s door, Alfredo has been transferred to a medical facility. His life hangs by a thread. Denounced by the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and the European Court of Human Rights, the 41bis regime isolates prisoners from all human contact save an hour-long monthly meeting with family members through a reinforced partition, during which no physical contact is possible. Alfredo is forbidden even to pin the photos of his deceased parents on the cell walls without permission from the Ministry of Justice. He and several hundred other prisoners in Italy are kept confined to cells only a few feet square, subjected to permanent sensory deprivation and cut off from all information about the outside world. The psychological effects on these prisoners have been shown to be severe. In short, they are buried alive. A prisoner in solitary confinement facing life in prison has very few options when it comes to asserting his humanity. His body, confined within steel and mortar far from the world of living things, is the last battlefield available to him. We cannot judge the decision to stake one’s life in such a situation; we cannot decide for a prisoner facing such conditions whether life is worth living. But we owe it to ourselves not to let him die in oblivion. Alfredo’s strike cannot be understood simply as an attempt to sway the consciences of his captors. Even in Europe, the days when the authorities pretended to take an interest in the well-being of their subjects are long past. No one should have any illusions about how governments view the sanctity of life in the age of COVID-19, when the United States government can countenance the deaths of a million people without blushing while the Russian government explicitly employs convicts as cannon fodder. The newly elected fascist politicians who govern Italy have no scruples about consigning whole populations to death, let alone permitting a single anarchist to die. Rather, Alfredo’s strike is a message to us about the conditions being prepared for all of us in an increasingly inhumane society. As it becomes common for those who hold power to treat human life as expendable, his hunger strike is a warning. If you love life, there are some conditions under which you, too, might be compelled to refuse it. Alfredo’s situation represents a threat to all of us. When environmental protesters are charged with terrorism simply for occupying trees and posting on social media, it is common sense to anticipate that what is done to Alfredo today will be done to a much wider range of arrestees tomorrow. The 41bis regime was supposedly introduced to isolate mafia kingpins, but the real purpose of all repressive laws is to enable those who rule to suppress those they govern. Because none of those who hold power today have any sort of plan regarding how to address the crises that economic disparities and ecological disaster are imposing on us, their only strategy—from Italy to the United States to China—is to clamp down more and more violently on dissent. We should identify Alfredo’s fate with our own. Such living graves are being constructed for us, right now, in Italy and elsewhere around the world. To fight for Alfredo—or else, if it is too late, to avenge him—is to fight to for ourselves, for our own freedom, confronting the inhuman regimes that will exterminate us one by one, whether by sins of commission or omission. They will go on imprisoning and killing us right up to the limits we impose by collective resistance. Preposterously, the Italian government has sought to portray itself as the victim of Alfredo’s impending death. “An international anarchist campaign has been orchestrated against institutions and private and public property in Italy and abroad,” whines Antonio Tajani, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, attempting to deflect attention from the decision to bury Alfredo alive. “The State must not allow itself to be intimidated by those who think of threatening its officials,” declares Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, an avowed devotee of Benito Mussolini, as she prepares to celebrate Alfredo’s death. We must be very clear here: the representatives of the Italian state are murderers, not victims. For background on the court cases that put Alfredo Cospito in prison, start here. You can read some of the writing that Alfredo’s captors cited to justify isolating him here. There have been solidarity statements and actions on three continents to bring attention to his case; students are currently occupying the Department of Literature at the University of Sapienza in Rome in solidarity with Alfredo. There is a support page here.


Below, we offer an English translation of a text by Italian philosopher Donatella Di Cesare, who has previously engaged in good faith with anarchist ideas.

This is a country where there is a lot of talk about human rights when it comes to others’ governments, without having the courage to cast a glance in the domestic jails, without having the conscience to denounce the many oppressions that take place here. Right now, Alfredo Cospito is suffering a very serious abuse. Who is responsible? And who will have to answer for it in the future? The current minister, Carlo Nordio, who, although he could revoke this measure, does nothing? The Meloni government? Or, by any chance, would some cowardly person wish to place the blame on the detainee who was compelled to this extreme act? The transfer to the Opera prison hospital is in no way sufficient, because it is only a temporary palliative.

It is clear by now that the Cospito affair has taken on a symbolic and political value that cannot be underestimated. The culpable inaction of this government—the first post-fascist government in Mussolini’s country (much to be forgiven!)—has the terrible taste of repugnant revenge. Cospito’s body taken hostage, captured, to demonstrate farcical firmness. Despite all the interpretations of the homegrown liberals, ready to give them credit, government officials have no qualms about showing themselves to be petty fascist gendarmes.

Forget the hard line! Forget the blackmail! It is peculiar that there are even magistrates who use these terms. In whose hands are we? Here the terms are completely reversed. We call for Cospito to be released from 41bis first and foremost as a matter of justice, well before as a matter of humanity. It is not just about saving a life—although this politics of death, this necropolitics, is making us completely forget the value of human life. But the point here is: why on earth is Cospito in 41bis? What is he doing there? This question concerns everyone.

Let me briefly recapitulate. For injuring an Ansaldo executive in Genoa, Cospito was sentenced in 2013 to ten years and eight months. When he was already in prison, he was accused of placing two explosive devices in front of the Carabinieri cadet school in Fossano on the night of June 2-3, 2006, devices that caused neither deaths nor injuries. After his conviction, he was placed in the high-security prison circuit, where inmates are subject to close supervision and severe restrictions. From time to time, Cospito sent some writings to publications in the anarchist milieu.

The shift thereafter is what is being debated: the crime is reinterpreted and goes from common massacre to political massacre. Why? On what basis? A singular choice, since there were no new facts. The crime of political massacre was not applied even for Capaci [a mafia bombing in 1992 that killed a magistrate, his wife, and three police officers] or Piazza Fontana [a far-right bombing in Milan in 1969 that killed 17 people and wounded 88]. Here Cospito—with the endorsement of former Minister [Marta] Cartabia—is assigned to 41bis.

He ends up in a kind of sepulcher, a tomb: one meter and 52 centimeters wide and two meters and 52 centimeters long. Darkness, need for electric light, glimmers only at the top, at the surrounding wall. The cell is below sea level in Sassari prison. Hours of air only in a walled cubicle where the grating allows glimpses of the sky. Isolation, separation, elimination of even memories and of photos of family members. A kind of burial alive, of exclusion from the human community.

This happens in Italy in 2023. Honestly, it becomes almost grotesque to recount the anguish of the inquisition. We know very well that torture, a black phoenix, a practice that never ended, has taken on new forms in the democracies of the 21st century. Should we accept a state that tortures? That uses violence on a detainee’s body? Because there are many ways to exercise violence, even without leaving a trace. Italy has a recent past littered with victims of police abuse. It would hardly be appropriate, not even in the interests of the Republic, to witness an announced suicide.

Finally, I would like to touch on two issues that I feel have been overlooked. I will set aside 41 bis: I am against it always and for everyone (but I would need another article to say that). The first issue concerns the concept of terrorism, which is dangerous and slippery. Who is a terrorist? And who decides that? We know how all the emergency legislation, created in the American context, and that of other European countries, has revealed the violent face of democracy by producing abuses of all sorts, preventive torture, illegitimate administrative detentions. A risky path that undermines the right of every citizen. Does dissent constitute subversion? Does publishing in an anarchist magazine make one look like a terrorist?

The second issue concerns the very idea of anarchy. Much more than other countries, Italy has an ambivalent relationship with it. On the one hand, Sacco and Vanzetti [the Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in the United States 1927 in what was widely considered a travesty of justice], almost fathers of the free and anti-Mussolinian Italy, exponents of the great Italian anarchist tradition, without whom it would be difficult to even imagine the culture of this country; on the other hand, Valpreda and the bombs, the temptation to demonize anarchists [the Italian anarchist and novelist Pietro Valpreda was charged with the Piazza Fontana bombing and sentenced to prison; in 1987, he was acquitted when the fact that he had nothing to do with it became inescapably evident].

Here, too, Italy has much to answer for. In these hours, attempts are being made to portray anarchists as either monsters or demons, terrorists threatening “our headquarters abroad” (!), at best people fallen prey to a “blind faith out of time.” Grotesque visions, which would be somewhat laughable, if they did not then have the anti-democratic implications we see. Anarchist thought, which in recent years has appeared philosophically the most interesting and the most productive, is part of today’s cultural and political context. And, certainly, there is no comparing it with fascism and post-fascism, which should have been excluded from our cultural and political context instead.

In short: is Cospito in 41bis because he is an anarchist?

Let us hope that on behalf of Italian citizens, Minister Nordio will intervene by February 12 to remove 41bis. It is already too late. Cospito’s life, the rights of all of us, and this democracy depend on it.


Alanis: This is Alanis from the Ex-Worker; it’s February 6, 2023, and we’re speaking with a friend from Rome who is involved in the struggle to defend Alfredo Cospito, who has been on hunger strike for over 100 days against the 41bis prison regime in Italy. Thank you for speaking with us!

A Friend from Rome: Thanks to you!

Alanis: Tell us how you learned about Alfredo Cospito and what inspired you to become involved in the effort to show solidarity with him.

Friend: Alfred Cospito is an anarchist comrade who has been well known in Italy for at least ten years and even before. Everyone that was in the “anarchist galaxy”—let’s say that—knows about him. That’s why we are involved in this struggle in solidarity with him. I don’t belong to any organization and and I speak strictly for myself. That’s something I wanted to add at the beginning of our discourse.

Alanis: Tell us about the background behind the “41bis” regime of severe repression in prison.

Friend: The 41bis regime is a provision of the penal and jail code that, at the beginning, was just a decree with force of law that was limited in time and space. It was a hard prison just for containing revolts in the prisons that had been coded in 1975, then in 1986, and step by step became from an exceptional measure made by the government to a law, so from the executive to the legislative. It’s not limited anymore to revolt in jails, but is something that could be imposed as a special particular regime on different people. It has been turned into a law after the 1992 “massacre” made by the Mafia in Sicily, close to Palermo in Capaci. This is the first time that this hard prison regime has been used against an anarchist prisoner. That’s why there is all this mess in Italy right now.

Alanis: How is 41bis and Alfredo’s struggle connected to the larger political context in Italy, with the far right’s recent rise to power? Why is this happening to Alfredo right now?

Friend: Yeah, it’s a mess, because of course the Alfredo Cospito affair is being instrumentalized by all of the political parties. First of all, the far right that is now in parliament wants to show off as being super severe and not dealing with anarchists or terrorists. That’s why they are ignoring the hunger strike by Alfredo. I also want to remember, in connection with the question before: Alfredo is in 41bis because the judges, the magistrates, declared the Article 285 law of the penal code that condemned a person for a crime against the security of the state, for a “massacre” against the security of the state. It’s clear to anyone that in the action that the judges wanted to put to Alfredo and Anna, no one had been injured and there were no victims, so the measure they have taken is super disproportionate to what happened. That’s why it is super instrumentalized by every kind of party. They are struggling between them, the democratic party and those of the far right, and they are also building something super creepy and ridiculous. For example, they declared last week, ten days ago, that anarchists are dealing with the Mafia, just because Alfredo was talking with the only other people that they have in the 41bis regime, who of course were Mafia people, because the 41bis regime was built for isolating mobsters and Mafia people in Italy. So the news reporters tried to connect anarchism and the Mafia just because Alfredo was talking with the only people he could talk to, which are Mafia people. They are trying to instumentalize this for a strategy of tension that is super, super difficult to unpack and decode. At the same time, and also super important, a major Mafia boss has been caught and arrested at the same time that public opinion is fighting around the 41bis. So it is super difficult to decode what is happening, what’s going on in here.

Alanis: What is the significance of anti-prison struggles for anarchists in Italy today? How do prisoner solidarity campaigns connect to the larger visions of liberation that anarchists are fighting for?

Friend: Of course for anarchists, today as always, the anti-prison struggle has always been and is super important. Around the Cospito affair, the anarchists are not just trying to say in a humanistic way that Alfredo is a human being who doesn’t deserve the 41bis, but they are pushing a little bit further to say: this is the repressive logic of the neoliberal state, of the democratic state like Italy, to deal with problems, to deal with people who have been condemned to this kind of regime despite no injuries and no victims. Of course, anarchists try to expand this kind of discourse to all the prisons and to the prison society we are living in, where this kind of state creates the conditions of poverty, misery, and struggle between the poor, and then puts people in jail. So the discourse is way, way wider.

Alanis: What has been the response of anarchist and radical movements in Italy to 41bis and Alfredo’s case?

Friend: Anarchists and similar people from before the beginning of the hunger strike started this struggle for and with Alfredo. Just in the last month, other parts of the antifa left kind of jumped into the same struggle. We hope it’s not too late. In the last two weeks, the situation has been kind of hectic but also exciting, because high school guys and girls and university students jumped into the struggle. Last Thursday the occupation began of the literature department of La Sapienza University of Rome by students and comrades. Last Saturday, there was a big demonstration in Rome with 1,500-2000 people. So this is the situation right now.

Alanis: Can you tell us a bit about the solidarity organizing for Alfredo and how that connects to conversations in Italy over questions of organization in “the anarchist galaxy”?

Friend: We have seen here in Rome that whenever we didn’t fall into the trap of being in a dialectic with power—because they wanted that; they wanted to show how macho they are, how strong they are—every time we didn’t fall into this trap, it has been fun and it has been useful. We saw from the act of the processes to Alfredo and other repressive processes that police, judges, magistrates, they are craving for a strong subject, they are craving for an association, they are craving for leaders. They want anarchists or similar people to have pyramidal structure, an organization, and in this way easier to be controlled. That’s why Alfredo is in 41 bis right now, because they say, “41 bis is the only regime in Italy that allows us to cut every [link] between the leader and the organization.” The 41bis regime was made for Mafia bosses, to cut every relation between them. So we have seen that every time we don’t act as a subject, as a strong subjectivity, we don’t act as a structure that we don’t have in reality, every time that we lose this kind of identity and subjectivity, it has been super helpful.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we or whoever don’t need to organize. It means more that probably we should not identify, should not create a strong subjectivity, because strong subjectivities jumped in one way or another in a dialectic with power, and being in a dialectic with power, it’s always an arm-wrestling, and we don’t need that, in my opinion. That’s what I want to suggest to comrades all around the world.

Alanis: What can the people listening do to try to show solidarity and help to save Alfredo’s life?

Friend: Okay, this is up to every sensibility and to the creativity of people around the world. Of course, to put pressure of the Italian state is always useful; like ten days, two weeks ago, there have been problems in the Italian embassies in Barcelona, in Athens, in Berlin, in Venezuela, in Chile, there have been demonstrations to let Alfredo not feel alone and to let all the comrades know not to feel alone in this struggle. But of course it is up to the sensibilities of everyone how to deal with it.

Alanis: Thank you so much for speaking with us!

Friend: Thank you very much to you for your questions and for the solidarity. We really appreciate it here in Rome. Keep us posted!


Alanis That’s all for this episode of the Ex-Worker. For links to the text versions of what you’ve just heard, or to listen to more podcast episodes, audio zines, and audio books from our collective, check out our website at

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