Emilio Lussu

Emilio Lussu

Lussu in 1950s as Senator.
Senator of Italian Parliament
In office
19 April 1948  19 May 1968
Personal details
Born December 4, 1890 (1890-12-04)
Armungia, Cagliari, Italy
Died March 5, 1975 (1975-03-06) (aged 84)
Rome, Italy
Political party Sardinian Action Party
Other political
Justice and Freedom
Action Party
Italian Socialist Party
Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity
Spouse(s) Joyce Lussu (1939–1975; his death)
Residence Cagliari, Sardinia (1910s–1960s)
Rome, Lazio (1960s–1972)
Occupation Politician, writer, soldier

Emilio Lussu (December 4, 1890 – March 5, 1975) was an Italian soldier, politician and a writer.


The soldier

Lussu during World War I.

Lussu was born in Armungia, province of Cagliari (Sardinia) and graduated with a degree in law in 1914. Lussu married Joyce Salvatori, a notable poet, and member of the noble family of the Marche.

Prior to the entry of Italy into World War I, Lussu joined the army and was involved in several skirmishes. As a complementary officer of the Sassari Infantry Brigade in 1916 he was stationed on the Asiago Plateau. The brigade had arrived on the plateau in May 1916 to help in the Italian effort to stop the Austrian Spring offensive. In the month of June 1916 the brigade conquered Monte Fior, Monte Castelgomberto, Monte Spil, Monte Miela and Monte Zebio. After the war Lussu wrote the book A Year on the High Plateau (Un anno sull'altipiano) about his experiences of trench warfare on the Plateau.

Politics and exile

After the war Lussu, together with Camillo Bellieni, founded the Partidu Sardu-Partito Sardo d'Azione (The Sardinian Action Party), that blended social-democratic ideas and Sardinian nationalism. The party took a formal position in 1921, opposing the increasing power of the Fascist movement. Lussu was elected to the Italian parliament in 1921 and, in 1924 was among the Aventine secessionists who withdrew from the Italian Parliament after the murder of Giacomo Matteotti.

Lussu's anti-Fascist position was, at the time, one of the most radical in Italy. Lussu was physically attacked and injured by unknown aggressors several times. In 1926, during one of these attacks (notably, the same day that Benito Mussolini suffered an attack in Bologna), Lussu shot one of the squadristi, in self-defense. He was arrested and tried; and was acquitted. However, he was re-tried by an administrative Fascist commission and sentenced to 5 years of confinement on the island of Lipari, near Sicily.

In 1929 Lussu escaped from his confinement and reached Paris. There, together with Gaetano Salvemini and Carlo Rosselli he formed Giustizia e Libertà (Justice and Freedom), an anti-Fascist movement that proposed revolutionary methods to upset the Italian Fascist Regime. While in exile came to be known as "Mister Mills".

In 1938 Lussu's novel Un anno sull'altipiano ("A Year on the Plateau"), was published in Paris. This thinly fictional account tells of the lives of soldiers during World War I and the trench warfare they encountered. Un anno sull'altipiano underlines, with chill rationalism, how the irrationalities of warfare affected the common man. Gifted with a keen sense of observation and sharp logic, Lussu demonstrates how distant the real life of soldiers is from everyday activities. In a notable passage, he describes the silent terror in the moments preceding an attack, as he is forced to abandon the "safe" protective trench for an external unknown, risky, undefined world: “All the machine-guns are waiting for us”.

Return to Italy

Lussu took part in the civil war in Spain. Between 1941 and 1942 he was the protagonist of the most important "episode" of the collaboration between British Special Operations Executive and Italian antifascism in exile. He tried to get the clearance for an antifascist uprising in Sardinia, which the SOE supported at some stage but did not receive approval from the Foreign Office.[1] He returned to Italy after the armistice of 1943 when joined the Resistenza and became the secretary of Partito d'Azione for southern Italy. He became the leader of the left wing of Partito d'Azione and later joined forces with the Italian Socialist Party. After World War II he served as a Minister of Aid in the government of Ferruccio Parri and later as a minor minister in Alcide De Gasperi's government.

In 1964 he separated from the Socialist Party creating the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP). Ideological differences with the political line of Partito d'Azione deepened and Lussu left Sardinia.

Emilio Lussu died in Rome in 1975.


Many political meanings have been drawn from Lussu's works, but his works are perhaps more important at a personal level. Morally and philosophically, Lussu's books reflect his need to repent, having been previously an interventista (favourable to entering the war) and a revolutionary (in Giustizia e Libertà); his works soberly describe what war, in its cruellest moments, was like for him.

The alteration of Lussu's opinion of war is quite apparent in the range of his works: first an interventista, then the author of a manual for revolution, soon afterwards the author of a pacifist book, then again a revolutionary and a volunteer in the Spanish civil war. Anyway, A Year on the High Plateau combines well the repulse of the war with the bravery of the fighter.[2] Lussu's consistency has been questioned and politics often invades evaluations of his works.


Honours and Awards


  1. Mireno Berrettini, La Gran Bretagna e l'Antifascismo italiano. Diplomazia clandestina, Intelligence, Operazioni Speciali (1940–1943), Firenze, 2010
  2. Giulio Angioni, Emilio Lussu e i sardi, in Il dito alzato, Sellerio, 2012


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