US Galleanists

From Anarchy In Action

The Italian insurrectionary Anarchist Luigi Galleani founded the newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle) in Barre, Vermont in 1903. Published in Italian, the paper had 5,000 subscribers concentrated in the Northeast, Midwest, and in California. Readers formed underground groups that attempted major bombings against capitalist and state targets, and members included Boston's famed Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Anarchists wrongly executed for the murder of payroll guards. At one point, the U.S. Justice Department declared Cronaca Sovversiva “the most dangerous newspaper published in this country."[1] Cronaca Sovversiva ceased publication in 1918 and then briefly resumed publication in Italy in 1920.[2]

There is some dispute over how to name the movement. On one hand, Peter Gelderloos argues in The Failure of Nonviolence that members should not be called "Galleanists" since "their activity predated the presence of Galleani."[3] On the other hand, Andrew Cornell points out that "Galleani was treated with such reverence, and proved such a domineering presence, that Cronaca Sovversiva readers were frequently called "Galleanists" in spite of the anarchist antipathy for designating leaders."[4]

Unlike the Industrial Workers of the World, which declined to explicitly advocate draft resistance during World War I, followers of Cronaca Sovversiva organized uncompromising and even armed opposition to the war. In September 1917, a group of Galleani's followers tried to take down an American flag at a pro-war rally organized by a pastor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Police opened fire, killing two and injuring one. One of the anarchists shot back, injuring two officers. Eleven anarchists were arrested, and more were beaten during a police raid the next day. Some Anarchists responded to the police violence by planting a bomb in the pastor's church. After finding the bomb, police took it to the police station, where it exploded. Ten officers and one bystander died from the blast. In November, the eleven anarchists arrested at the rally were each sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.[5]

In February 1919, some readers of Cronaca Sovversiva mailed thirty bombs to leading industrialists and state officials. The bombs were timed to explode on May Day. Because the senders failed to put sufficient postage stamps on the packages, the bombs did not arrive at their intended targets. The housekeeper of a Georgia senator lost her hands when one of the bombs went off. On 2 June, Galleanists set off bombs at the homes of judges and other officials in seven cities simultaneously. None of the officials were injured, but a bomber died when he tripped and set off a bomb that damaged the house of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.[6] Palmer used the bombings as a pretext for a series of raids, arrests, and deportations of socialists and anarchists. On 19 June 1919, authorities arrested Galleani and nine associates. They were deported to Italy five days later.[7]

On 5 May 1920, police arrested Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian-born members of a Galleani-influenced cell in Boston called Gruppo Autonomo. They were carrying pistols and lied to police when questioned about why they were armed. Dubiously, police charged Sacco and Vanzetti with murdering two payroll guards during an armed robbery a couple weeks earlier. Both Sacco and Vanzetti maintained their innocence, and, according to a 2007 book review in the New York Times, "most historians" today are "almost certain that [Sacco and Vanzetti] did not commit the payroll murders."[8]

On 16 September, Mario Buda, a friend of Sacco and Vanzetti, protested the charges by setting off a bomb on Wall Street, outside the offices of J.P. Morgan and the U.S. Treasury, that killed thirty-eight people. He then fled to Italy and was never arrested.[9] Most of the people who died from the attack were messengers and clerks, although the bombing also destroyed "$2 million -- more than $18.4 million in 2003 dollars."[10]

Sacco and Vanzetti's prosecutors relied heavily on xenophobia and manufactured evidence. As explained in the Times review:

the prosecution paraded a motley lineup of shaky eyewitnesses, most of them pressured or threatened; befuddled the jury with ambiguous ballistics reports; browbeat the many Italian witnesses who vouched for the whereabouts of the defendants on the day of the murders; and, not least, relied on the astounding incompetence of Sacco and Vanzetti’s idealistic but badly overmatched lawyer.[11]

The court case and appeals went on for seven years, as Sacco and Vanzetti sat in jail. The two were ultimately sentenced to death. They were electrocuted in August 1927. Sacco's wrote in his last message to his son Dante, in English:

So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, as as to be able to comfort your mother...take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers here and there...but remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don't you use all for yourself the persecuted and the victim because they are your better friends...In the struggle of life you will find more and love and you will be loved.[12]

While many (or most) contemporary Anarchists reject the entirely insurrectionary strategy of Galleani's movement, some think the movement's deep commitment to illegal action led it to embrace resilient underground organizational forms. In How Nonviolence Protects the State, Peter Gelderloos favorably compares the underground structure of the Galleanist movement to the more visible and formal organizing of the IWW. The IWW's visibility made them an easier target for repression, and raids during World War I all but killed off the organization. By contrast, the tight-knit, secretive organizing of the Italian immigrants may have kept them relatively safe, Gelderloos argues:

The government undertook major efforts to repress the Italian anarchists, and with only partial success. Government forces killed a few by police action or judicial execution, and imprisoned more than a dozen more, but unlike the Wobblies, the Galleanists [Gelderloos rejects this term in his later book The Failure of Nonviolence] avoided being arrested en masse. This was, in part, due to the decentralized, security-conscious forms of organization that the Italians’ concept of militant revolution influenced them to adopt.[13]

Gelderloos also points out that a Bureau of Investigations detective responsible for some Cronaca readers' arrests, went into hiding and then left the Bureau in 1919, due to fear of reprisal.[14]

Andrew Cornell, while praising the movement for its resilience, also assigns it some responsibility for prompting government repression against other Anarchists. Cornell acknowledges that Cronaca readers "formed tight-knit communities" that "proved nearly impossible for police and government agents to infiltrate."[15] He writes, however, that just as nineteenth-century "propaganda of the deed" "prompted intense, sweeping repression of anarchists,"[16] bombings by Galleani's followers "provided the rationale for Attorney General Palmer to order the government's most extensive campaign of arrests, prosecutions, and deportations of radicals to date."[17]

  1. Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State, second edition (Anarchy Library, 2012),
  2. Andrew Cornell, Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 35-38, 76. Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Oakland: AL Press, 2009), 128-129.
  3. Peter Gelderloos, The Failure of Nonviolence, second edition (Seattle: Left Bank Books, 2015), 316. Here, Gelderloos explicitly reverses the terminology he used in his earlier book How Nonviolence Protects the State.
  4. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 37-38.
  5. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 69-70.
  6. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 71.
  7. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 71.
  8. William Grimes, Prejudice and Politics: Sacco, Vanzetti, and Fear," New York Times, 15 August 2007, Cornell, Unruly Equality, 76.
  9. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 77.
  10. James Barron, "After 1920 Blast, The Opposite Of 'Never Forget'; No Memorials on Wall St. For Attack That Killed 30," New York Times, 17 September 2003,
  11. Grimes, "Prejudice and Politics."
  12. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United State (New York: HarperPerrennial, 2003), 376.
  13. Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State.
  14. Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State.
  15. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 37.
  16. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 32.
  17. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 71.