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12 August 2019

Luigi Galleani - anarchist

Activist who mainly operated in the United States

Luigi Galleani supported anarchist philosophies from a young age
Luigi Galleani supported anarchist
philosophies from a young age
Luigi Galleani, an anarchist active in the United States in the early part of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1861 in Vercelli in Piedmont.

Galleani was an advocate of the philosophy of "propaganda of the deed" first proposed by the 19th century Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane. 

The theory was that violence against specific targets identified as representatives of the capitalist system would be a catalyst for the overthrow of government institutions.

Between 1914 and 1932, Galleani's followers in the United States - known as i Galleanisti - carried out a series of bombings and assassination attempts against institutions and perceived “class enemies.”

The Wall Street bombing of 1920, which resulted in the deaths of 38 people, was blamed on followers of Galleani, who had been deported from the United States to Italy the previous year.

The large following he acquired among Italian-speaking workers both in Italy and the United States stemmed from his brilliant oratory.  He also edited a newspaper, Cronaca Sovversiva - Subversive Chronicle - which he published for 15 years until the United States government closed it down in 1918.  At one point Cronaca Sovversiva had 5,000 subscribers.

Born into a middle-class family in Vercelli, he studied law at the University of Torino but he never graduated. The end of the 19th century was a period of social tensions, marked by the creation of workers’ movements and repressive measures by the state.  Galleani was attracted to anarchist ideology and soon found himself sought by the police in Turin.

The aftermath of the Wall Street bombing of 1920, which was blamed on Galleani's supporters in the United States
The aftermath of the Wall Street bombing of 1920, which
was blamed on Galleani's supporters in the United States
He fled first to France in 1880 and then Switzerland. When he returned to Italy in 1893 he was arrested and sent to prison for three years, found guilty of conspiring against the State. On his release he was exiled to the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily, where he met he met and married a young widow, Maria Rollo, with whom he had four children.

They escaped Pantelleria in 1900, fleeing to Egypt, which at the time had a large expatriate Italian community. He befriended a number of anarchists but his presence became known to the Egyptian authorities and he was informed that they would soon begin proceedings to extradite him to Italy.

Abruptly, he and Maria left Egypt and went to London. They then emigrated to the United States, arriving in 1901.

Soon after arriving in the US, Galleani attracted attention in radical anarchist circles as a charismatic orator. He settled in Paterson, New Jersey, and became the editor of La Questione Sociale, the leading Italian anarchist periodical in the United States.

The textile mills in Paterson, New Jersey, where Galleani found support among the workforce
The textile mills in Paterson, New Jersey, where
Galleani found support among the workforce
In 1902, during a strike by silk workers at a factory in Paterson of which Galleani had been an agitator, police opened fire on the strikers. Galleani was wounded in the face and later indicted for inciting a riot. He fled to Canada but was expelled.

In time, he settled in Barre, near Vermont, where he found more support among the community of Italian stonemasons. It was there that he founded Cronaca Sovversiva.

It was a result largely of the content of Cronaca Sovversiva, which not only contained articles advocating the overthrow of government but in one issue included bomb-making instructions, that Galleani was deported back to Italy in 1919.

He continued to publish Cronaca Sovversiva but after Benito Mussolini’s Fascists came to power in 1922 he was arrested and sentenced to 14 months in prison. For the second time in his life he was exiled to Pantelleria, then the island of Lipari, and finally to Messina.

Eventually he was allowed to return to the Italian mainland and died in 1931 in the village of Caprigliola, in the area of Tuscany known as Lunigiana, at the age of 70.

Before and after Galleani was deported, America was hit with a wave of bombings blamed on his followers, culminating in the Wall Street attack in 1920, which injured 143 in addition to the 38 deaths. Many other attacks resulted in fatalities.

The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli, where Galleani was born
The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli, where Galleani was born.
Travel tip:

Vercelli, where Galleani was born, is a city of around 46,500 inhabitants some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin. It is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC, and was home to the world's first publicly-funded university, which was opened in 1228 but folded in 1372. The Basilica of Sant'Andrea is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.  Since the 15th century, Vercelli has been at the centre of Italy’s rice production industry, with many of the surrounding fields in the vast Po plain submerged under water during the summer months.

The sighting tower in Caprigliola may be almost 700 years old
The sighting tower in Caprigliola may
be almost 700 years old
Travel tip

The village of Caprigliola sits on a sandstone rock on the left bank of the Magra river in Lunigiana, an area of northwestern Tuscany known for its great beauty that was a favourite of the poet Dante Alighieri, who enjoyed the peace and solitude of the mountain regions.  Long-term Caprigliola residents still use a unique dialect that is a mix of Tuscan, Emilian and Ligurian words.  Caprigliola has a fine example of the circular sighting towers that were once a feature of the Lunigiana landscape between the 11th and 15th centuries. This one, which rises to a height of 28.8m (95ft), may have been built in around 1230. It is not open to the public but can be visited by contacting the parish priest.

More reading:

How anarchist Gino Lucetti tried to assassinate Mussolini

Why anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli inspired a Dario Fo play

Gaetano Bresci - the anarchist who killed Umberto I

Also on this day:

1612: The death of composer Giovanni Gabrieli

1943: The death of mountain photographer Vittorio Sella

1990: The birth of footballer Mario Balotelli


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