• Luigi Galleani and the anarchists of Barre
    By
     | April 30,2010
     
    Photo courtesy of Sean Sayers

    Luigi and Maria Galleani sit on the stoop of their home on Blackwell Street in Barre around the turn of the 20th century. Arguably, the most important anarchist in America of his time, Luigi Galleani came to central Vermont in 1903 to evade an arrest warrant and stayed to earn recognition as an incendiary voice in revolutionary thought through the publication of his radical newspaper, Cronica Sovversiva.

    One hundred years ago, an Italian immigrant, reviled by the Justice Department as the most dangerous man in America, lived in Barre. Although a fugitive, his neighbors found him generous, public-spirited, and a strident advocate for the working-class. Arguably, the most important anarchist in America in the early 20th century, Luigi Galleani came to central Vermont in 1903 to evade an arrest warrant and stayed to earn recognition as an incendiary voice in revolutionary thought through the publication of his radical newspaper, Cronica Sovversiva.

    Born in Vercelli, Italy in 1861, Galleani studied law, but soon became enamored of radical politics and learned of anarchism while at university. His leftist sympathies soon led him afoul of the government, and he fled Italy to live among expatriates in Egypt, France and other countries. Arrested upon his return to his native soil, he spent five years in prison before escaping from a penal colony and emigrating to the United States.

    In America, he settled among radicals in Patterson, N.J., where he became the editor of La Questione Sociale, at that time the most influential progressive magazine in the United States. In 1903, Patterson was embroiled in one of its many labor struggles involving textile workers, and Galleani soon became a leader. A contemporary noted, “I never heard a more popular orator … he possesses a marvelous facility with words, accompanied by an ability rare among tribunes: the precision and distinctness of ideas. His voice is full of warmth, his look alive and penetrating, his gestures of exceptional vigor and impeccable distinction.”

    As the strike continued and tempers flared, martial law was declared. Wounded by gunfire and, with an outstanding arrest warrant for “incitement to violence,” Galleani fled to Canada. The fact that President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist a few years earlier fed anti-radical furor that gripped the country and, no doubt, encouraged Galleani's brief sojourn beyond the northern border of the United States.

    Easily crossing the international boundary into Vermont in 1903, he made his way to Barre and may have been surprised to find a community of like-minded Italians already established in the heart of the Green Mountains. Befriended by anarchist and artist Carlo Abate, Galleani was able to craft a life for himself and his family among other immigrants with sympathetic political beliefs.

    Barre was a town of quarrymen and artisans in the throes of an industrial boom when Galleani discovered a band of anarchists in the town's Italian colony.

    In Barre, Galleani found time to reflect and write. He became a beloved orator, established what was to become the leading anarchist periodical in America, Cronaca Sovversiva (The Chronicle of Subversion), and settled his family into a modest home on Pleasant Street.
    His Cronaca, with a subscription list that never grew beyond 5,000, was read worldwide and was the most influential anarchist newspaper ever published in the United States. It included original contributions by Kropotkin, Bakunin, Malatesta, and other leading international theorists.

    In addition to being an important radical newspaper, the Cronaca was beautifully designed with original art contributed by Carlo Abate, the Barre artist who devoted his life to art, political thought and progressive deeds. Abate was listed as the publisher of the Cronaca, a ruse to conceal the identity of Galleani, who was still wanted by the police for his radical activities in New Jersey.

    The masthead, created by Abate, was used throughout the Cronaca's publishing life. He also contributed other work that made a visual feast of the first issue which appeared on June 6, 1903. When contrasted with Abate's more commercial work, a relief of Shirley Temple or a bust of Thomas Edison, his passion for social justice may be fathomed and a sense of his great humanity may be divined.

    While the award-winning artist achieved commercial success, Abate eschewed lucrative commissions in order to establish a drawing school in Barre and enable young men to earn a living without the deadly exposure to granite dust and the hazards of a working life in the granite quarries. The site of his studio on Barre's Blackwell Street is memorialized by a monument erected by the Italian American Monument Association. A tribute to one of Barre's most beloved citizens the inscription reads, “Carlo Abate: Artist, Mentor and Friend. Born Milano, Italia 1860 - Died Barre, Vermont 1941.” The granite statue of “The Italian Stonecutter,” which welcomes visitors entering Barre's Main Street is dedicated to Abate.

    In contrast to Abate, it is worthwhile to remember the average laborers who comprised the bulk of the anarchist and socialist community of Barre in the first years of the 20th century. Immigrants from northern Italy found their stone-working skills commanded a good wage, especially as compared with employment in their native land. In Barre's Hope Cemetery stands a small marker for Innocente Belli, a stone polisher from Italy who lived on Granite Street, across from the Socialist Labor Party Hall. Dying from pneumonia at age 46, he left a wife in Italy and a legacy reflected in the single word that adorns his tombstone: “Anarchist.” Belli was arrested in 1900 for participating in a nearly successful assassination attempt on Barre's chief of police, Patrick Brown.

    As its influence grew, a polemical battle developed between Cronaca and Il Proletario, edited by G. M. Seratti of New York, a leader of America's socialists. Years earlier, the two men had been adversaries in Italy, as their respective factions argued policy and tactics. Galleani urged confrontation or direct action - Seratti advocated a more moderate approach. In true tabloid fashion the editors attacked each other in print, and the debate grew heated. Seratti wrote of Galleani's life in Barre in Il Proletario, thus indirectly informing the authorities of his whereabouts. Seratti protested that this act was unintentional, but the intensity of the hatred between the two men belies his assertion.

    In late 1903, Serrati's partisans invited him to speak at the new Socialist Labor Party Hall on Granite Street and, as he attempted to make his way through the hostile anarchists in Galleani's adopted town, he was met with taunts and threats. His speech was delayed, and before he could mount the lectern a fight erupted in the hall. A socialist who feared for his own safety, shot into the crowd and killed Elia Corti, a purported anarchist and one of Barre's greatest stone carvers. The circumstances of the renowned carver's death continue to be debated in the Granite City, and his loss is still lamented.

    After Seratti betrayed Galleani's whereabouts in Il Proletario, officials in New Jersey requested his extradition to Patterson to stand trial for incitement to riot during the silk-dyers strike some years before. In 1906, Barre's sheriff and his deputies appeared unannounced at Galleani's doorstep. He calmly surrendered, bid his wife and children farewell, and spent that night in the local lock-up. The following day, hundreds of loyal supporters - the first of the Galleanisti - followed the federal marshals and Galleani to the train depot in nearby Montpelier, cheering their support for this avowed enemy of the state.

    A day later, in Barre, a protest in Depot Square attracted hundreds of Galleani supporters, who drafted a petition and presented it to the city's mayor. It read, in part: “Resolved, that we cannot stand without objection to the consignment of an honest and independent man to the arbitrary will against the malicious actions of our local enemies and ask W. Barclay, mayor of the city, if he doesn't want to attest that Luigi Galleani arrested here as a criminal is a man of high estimation and will however let know to the grand jury of Passaic county court that it is the unanimous vote of the Barre workmen to have him come back to his family and to his apostolate of education and emancipation.”

    Amid mounting protest, Vermont's Governor Proctor signed the order authorizing Galleani's extradition to New Jersey to stand trial for his participation in the 1902 Patterson strike. A hung jury resulted in Galleani's return to Barre and his life of polemics.

    Galleani was embraced by his adopted community not only for his constant vigilance on behalf of the working class, but also for his commanding oratorical skills. His fierce intellect and uncompromising view of the world earned the admiration of many, including Emma Goldman who visited her friend in Barre, where they shared a stage at the local opera house. Goldman spoke in English; Galleani in Italian, and their combined presence filled the hall with an audience swollen to 900 working men and women, who were eager to hear their anarchist message.

    Goldman loved Barre, and the good-natured population that was always happy to invite her in for a glass of wine. She noted that after prohibition, the offer of a free drink usually turned into one in exchange for cash. She was arrested and run out of town, some allege, after finding the mayor in a compromising situation involving illegal liquor and a prostitute.

    Galleani became the de facto intellectual leader of American anarchism, and his influence was felt nationwide and embraced by Sacco and Vanzetti, who were both subscribers to Cronaca and the seemingly endless stream of tracts and pamphlets that issued from his pen.
    The Cronaca took a radical stand on America's involvement in World War I, and began to garner attention from the U.S. government. Galleani advised his readers to avoid registering for the draft, and many Galleanisti hid under assumed names to avoid conscription or lived communally in Monterrey, Mexico. It was at such a gathering of expatriates that Sacco forged a friendship with Vanzetti. The hardships of life in Mexico turned anarchist draft dodgers into remorseless revolutionaries and strengthened the zeal of the Galleanisti.

    In the pages of the Cronaca, Galleani developed and expounded his thoughts on what he called “direct action” of the “audacious revolt.” He applauded the direct action of Bresci, the Galleanisti who left the United States to return to Italy and assassinate their king. His collection Aneliti e Singulti: Medaglioni (Sighs and Sobs: Portraits) published posthumously by his followers, celebrated the lives of bombers and assassins as heroes of direct action. The profiles were culled from the pages of the Cronaca. He had favorable words for McKinley's assassin Leon Czolgosz, as well. Such positions shocked federal officials who remained surprisingly ignorant of his small pamphlet, La Salute e in Voi.

    The title in English meant “The Health is Within You” and was advertised in the pages of the Cronaca as “an indispensable pamphlet for those comrades who love self-instruction” It was, in actuality, an Italian language manual for the manufacture of dynamite and other weapons to be used in the upcoming class war. The text was borrowed from an explosives manual written in Italian by Ettore Molinari, a friend of Galleani and a chemistry professor at the Politecnico in Milano.

    In a strident message to supporters hours after their appeal had been denied by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Sacco and Vanzetti's final words, “Remember, La Salute e in Voi!” paid homage to their mentor, and the small manual for making explosives. Misunderstood by all but the cognoscenti, their covert meaning was “Retaliate,” for their reference was to the 48-page pamphlet with the innocuous title that readers of the Cronaca knew was a call to direct action.

    Galleani suffered a fire at the Blackwell Street offices of the Cronaca in 1905, but the printing presses were in a nearby building, and he was able to continue publication, albeit inconvenienced by the loss of administrative files and reference sources. Rumors immediately after the conflagration suggested that the fire was of an “incendiary nature” or arson, some suggested, by agents of the U.S. government. Investigations soon dispelled this claim of the Italian-American anarchist community while the Cronaca continued to command an international audience.

    Not long after the fire was reported, agents of the U.S. and Italian governments took a closer look at the small-but-influential movement in Barre. Italian spies were often met with intimidation and harassment and after being confronted by loyal members of Barre's radical community, wisely left town on the next train. Federal agents reported finding photographs of Czolgosz and Bresci (the assassins, respectively, of McKinley and King Umberto of Italy) among the ruins of the burned anarchist hall on Blackwell Street, but those claims were disavowed by members of the radical community.

    In 1912. Galleani left the remote Green Mountains for Lynn, Mass., where he persisted in publishing his Cronaca and other tracts. He inspired his followers with his clarion call to confrontation and continued to attract the attentions of then-U.S. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer.

    In 1919, as the Justice Department resorted to wholesale deportations to quell dissent, the Galleanisti turned to ‘direct action” in protest. They proclaimed their objective with a bluntly worded pamphlet. “Deportation will not stop the storm from reaching these shores. The storm is within and very soon will leap and crash and annihilate you in blood and fire. You have shown no pity to us! We will do likewise. And deport us! We will dynamite you! Either deport us all or free all!”

    The anarchists-avengers embarked on a terrorist campaign targeting important American institutions and individuals (such as J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller). Sixteen mailed explosives were discovered at the New York post office (undeliverable due to insufficient postage) but others delivered by hand caused panic in cities around the country. Even Palmer was targeted with a bomb delivered to his Washington, D.C., address. The bomber died in the explosion which caused significant damage to Palmer's house.

    Extensive anti-terrorist actions were undertaken by the government with little success. Their investigations were hampered primarily by the inability of anyone within the Federal Bureau of Investigation to speak or read Italian. Eventually, Italian informers were recruited and their efforts finally yielded meager results. Their most-effective informant was able to connect the Galleanisti with the bombings, and the anarchists hurriedly began to conceal their pamphlets and supplies of explosives. The U.S. government deported Galleani in June 1919 in an attempt to tame the burgeoning anarchist threat to American institutions.

    It was during these efforts that Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, and their claims to have been hiding anarchist literature during the robbery/murders in Braintree were considered to be insufficient alibis to offer the authorities. It is safe to say that the Palmer Raids in 1920, instigated by the U.S. Attorney General, whose home was partially destroyed by the anarchists in the previous year, were precipitated by the Galleanisti bombings. In the aftermath, more than 10,000 people were arrested in an effort marred by the absence of due process and extorted confessions. Although the anarchist movement in the United States was greatly diminished, a defiant Galleani continued to publish the Cronaca after his forced return to Italy. But the fascist government of Italy repeatedly jailed him. Destitute and ailing, Galleani, once considered the most dangerous man in America, died in Tuscany Nov. 4, 1931.

    Paul Heller is a retired librarian and historian. He lives in Barre

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