Obituary: Max Salvadori

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Max Salvadori, intelligence officer and political economist, born London 16 June 1908, died Northampton Massachusetts 6 August 1992.

MAX SALVADORI, the Italian radical, was a vigorous opponent of Mussolini, and after that dictator's death became a leading New England intellectual.

His father was a count, and so in Italian law was he; he did not use the title. His English mother - he was a Londoner by birth - brought him up in the traditions of Protestantism, of which his father, a philosopher, also approved. Their home was in Florence, and they made little secret of their dislike of the early Blackshirt regime, the sequel to Mussolini's so-called March on Rome - made in the comfort of a sleeping-car - in 1922. Both father and son were beaten up by Blackshirt thugs in 1924, and the family retired for a while to Switzerland.

There Max finished his schooling, and took his first degree at Geneva University. He then volunteered to return to Italy, ostensibly to take a doctorate in Rome, actually to act as linkman between a group of anti-Fascist exiles in France and the headquarters in Italy of a democratic body, 'Giustizia e Liberta' (Justice and Liberty). He undertook subversive activity among his fellow-students at Rome University, and among his fellow-conscripts when he was called up for army service.

The Italian secret police, the OVRA, got on to his trail. He was arrested; 48 hours in solitary in the 'Queen of Heaven' Prison gave him a sense of the power of the Fascist state. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Pressure from one of his English cousins secured his release, on condition that he returned into exile. He farmed for three years in Kenya; and then secured a life more to his liking, teaching economics and sociology at St Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Early in the Second World War he made himself useful to the British secret authorities, who were trying to get in touch with anti-Fascist Italians living in the United States. On the strength of his birthplace, he volunteered to serve in the British Army, and was accepted into the Special Operations Executive early in 1943. He gave most valuable advice, both to SOE's London office under Colonel Roseberry which handled Italian affairs and to Commander Gerry Holdsworth, who ran No 1 Special Force into Italy from Algiers; for he had a much fuller understanding than they of the intricacies of Italian politics.

Under the name Max Sylvester, Salvadori organised from Capri the escape of Benedetto Croce, an anti-Fascist liberal philosopher; and carried out other small-boat operations behind, and crossing operations through, the German lines in Italy, moving secret agents to and fro. When Rome fell Harold Macmillan tried to persuade him to help in rebuilding a new Italian government; he preferred to stick to active resistance until all Italy was free. When Florence was liberated two months later, he went to call on his father; but the old count would not talk to anyone who was wearing another country's uniform, even his own son.

'Sylvester' was parachuted into Lombardy on 4 February 1945 to make contact with the National Committee of Liberation in Milan. For the last six weeks of the fighting, in a city that crawled with Gestapo and OVRA agents, he led an exceptionally active clandestine life, sometimes meeting as many as 50 other secret agents in a single day. Thanks in part to his efforts, the Germans were driven away. The Milanese later made him an honorary citizen; the British awarded him a DSO to add to the MC he had won already for his work in moving agents.

Salvadori worked for a time with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and when Nato was formed joined its Paris staff; but the call of academe was strong. He taught at Benington, in Vermont, and then settled at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, where he became Professor of Political Economics. He taught and wrote vigorously for the rest of his life. A score of books on modern European history, politics and economics testify to his abounding intellectual energy. The Labour and the Wounds (1954) was his personal record of the 23 years he had spent fighting Fascism; and he always remained alert to the danger that educated men would succumb to the fascination exercised by totalitarian regimes.

(Photograph omitted)