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date: 18 August 2019

Galleani, Luigifree

(12 August 1861–04 November 1931)
  • Rudolph J. Vecoli

Galleani, Luigi (12 August 1861–04 November 1931), anarchist, was born in Vercelli, Piedmont, Italy, the son of Clemente Galleani, an elementary school teacher, and Olimpia Borini. Raised in a bourgeois family, he studied in the faculty of law at the University of Turin. He did not receive a degree since he soon became involved in the social ferment that was sweeping Italy. Although his father was a religious monarchist, Galleani quickly moved from republicanism to democratic socialism to anarchist communism. During the 1880s he wrote for several labor papers, organized workers’ circles, and gave numerous speeches. His police dossier commented that he had given himself “body and soul to the revolutionary movement.”

Fleeing arrest for his role in strikes in Turin in 1889, Galleani spent two years in France and Switzerland, where his activities soon made him persona non grata. Returning to Italy in 1891, he plunged into the labor and political struggles of the day. In the bitter conflicts among socialists and anarchists, Galleani became a leading exponent of intransigent, antiparliamentary anarchism, an ideological stance that he vigorously maintained throughout his life.

During the reaction following the fasci siciliani (uprisings in Sicily) of the early 1890s, Galleani was sentenced to prison for three years and then condemned to confinement on Pantelleria, a penal island, for five years. In his police dossier he is described as “endowed with a vast, if superficial, culture; elegant and facile of speech; strong and vibrant of voice; with a pleasing appearance; he knows how to insinuate himself in the souls of the workers.”

In 1900 Galleani escaped from Pantelleria, making his way to Egypt, where he remained for a year. Upon the invitation of comrades, he arrived in Paterson, New Jersey, in October 1901. This city had gained notoriety as a center of Italian anarchism following the assassination of King Umberto I of Italy by Gaetano Bresci, who had returned from Paterson for that purpose. Galleani resumed his agitation through speeches and articles in La Questione Sociale, an anarchist journal of which he soon became editor. Not one to be cowed, Galleani extolled Bresci as an “apostle of absolute liberty” and referred to Leon Czolgosz, who had killed President William McKinley, as an “instrument of justice.”

When a strike erupted in April 1902 among the silk mill workers, Galleani emerged as their tribune, inciting them to a general strike. In violent clashes with the police, he was shot in the mouth, but he managed to escape to Montreal. Entering the United States under an assumed name, he went to Barre, Vermont, a granite center with a large number of Italian stone workers. The workers were divided between socialists and anarchists, and Galleani’s intolerant orthodoxy exacerbated their conflicts, resulting in bloodshed.

Galleani began publication of Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive chronicle) in Barre on 6 June 1903; he moved the paper and himself to Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1912. In this journal he expounded his uncompromising brand of antiorganizational anarchism until he was deported in 1919. Given Galleani’s international connections, the paper published original pieces by Pyotr Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, and other leading anarchists. Despite a modest circulation of some 5,000, the paper was read by Italian workers throughout the United States as well as in Europe and South America. Through Cronaca Sovversiva and extensive speaking tours, Galleani converted thousands to his militant creed.

Influenced by Mikhail Bakunin and Kropotkin, Galleani espoused anarchist communism. He was primarily an activist and propagandist rather than a theorist, and his writings appeared in newspapers or pamphlets, only later to be collected in volumes. The most fully developed statement of his ideas was a series of articles published in 1925 as La fine dell’anarchismo? (The end of anarchism?). Responding to a work that asserted that anarchism was dead, Galleani proclaimed that the social revolution was inevitable. Parliamentary politics, reform socialism, and bourgeois society were all corrupt and exploitative. The workers through unrelenting class war would destroy the existing social order. While embracing all forms of direct action, including assassination and terrorism, Galleani believed the social revolution would be realized through insurrection and the general strike. With the abolition of private property and all forms of authority, “natural harmony” would prevail based on human solidarity and mutual aid.

Since Galleani opposed all forms of organization, the movement of Galleanisti took the form of local autonomous groups, often called Circoli di Studi Sociali (social studies circles), bound together only by his charismatic leadership. Although strikes were to be exploited as episodes in the class war, Galleanisti rejected labor unions, even the Industrial Workers of the World. Despite their numbers and militancy, Galleani’s followers played at best a disruptive role in the American labor movement.

Viewing nationalism and militarism as mere rhetorical facades for bourgeois mercenary interests, Galleani condemned the war in Europe, urging immigrants not to respond to Italy’s call for arms. When the United States entered the war, he advocated resistance; an article of 26 May 1917 in Cronaca Sovversiva denounced military conscription as a form of slavery. Regarded by the federal government as “the most dangerous anarchist in the United States,” Galleani and his associates were subjected to repeated detentions, sequestrations, and raids. Galleanisti were arrested by the hundreds. Despite tough measures to suppress Cronaca Sovversiva, the paper continued to be published regularly until 18 July 1918 (two additional issues appeared clandestinely in 1919).

From 1917 on the Galleanisti responded with a campaign of terror. Dynamite was their explosive of choice. In 1905 Galleani had published a bomb-making manual, La salute è in voi! (Health is in you!). A series of bombings from 1914 on have been attributed to the Galleanisti, and in the spring of 1919 thirty letter bombs were sent to leading congressmen, public officials, and businessmen. On 2 June bombings took place in eight cities. On 16 September 1920 a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing thirty-three persons. While Galleani appears not to have been directly involved in the conspiracy, there is no doubt that the bombers were inspired by his teachings and that he approved of their actions.

Meanwhile Galleani was deported with eight of his followers on the Duca degli Abruzzi on 24 June 1919. He left behind his wife, Maria Rallo (they formally married in May 1919), and their five children. Although suffering from diabetes, Galleani threw himself into the maelstrom of postwar Italy, reviving Cronaca Sovversiva in Turin in 1920. He was soon arrested, imprisoned, and once again confined to a penal island. Mussolini had reason to fear Galleani and his followers, since anarchists made several assassination attempts in the 1920s. Aged and ill, Galleani was finally allowed to return to a small village on the mainland, Caprigliola, where he died.

Galleani left behind a troubled legacy in America. Among his most dedicated followers were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were involved in the terrorist conspiracy. Arrested on 5 May 1920 for a robbery and murder in South Braintree, Massachusetts, they were convicted and finally executed on 23 August 1927. The question of their innocence or guilt has never been conclusively established, but there is no doubt that they were victims of the “Red Scare” to which Galleani had given substance.

Once feared as the most dangerous radical in America, Galleani has been largely ignored by history. Yet he ranks with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in the heroic age of American anarchism. The Galleanisti carried out the most extensive terrorist campaign conducted in the United States to that time. Following Galleani’s deportation and severe government repression, Italian anarchism in America became a mere shadow of its former self. Yet the Galleanisti maintained a presence for another half-century. Their organ, L’Adunata dei Refrattari (The gathering on the refractories), published until 1971, continued to disseminate Galleani’s ideas. The movement, however, failed to attract a second generation, and as the faithful gradually died, there were no replacements.


No body of Galleani’s papers has survived, but scattered correspondence is in the Jacques Gross, Max Nettlau, and Ugo Fedeli archives of the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. The institute holds extensive files of the Italian-American anarchist press. The Aldino Felicani Papers at the Boston Public Library are an important source for the Galleanisti. Rich documentation on Galleani is in the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Rome) and in the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Collected writings by Galleani are Faccia a faccia col nemico (1914); Figure e figuri (1930); Aneliti e singulti (1935); Il pensiero di Galleani (1950); and Methodi della lotta socialista (1972). A major work translated into English is The End of Anarchism? trans. Max Sartin and Robert D’Atillio (1982).

A full-length, if uncritical, biography is Ugo Fedeli, Luigi Galleani: Quarant’anni di lotte rivoluzionarie, 1891–1931 (1956). The most thorough history of the Galleanisti movement is Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background (1991). For a brief biography see Franco Andreucci and Tommaso Detti, eds., Il movimento operaio italiano: Dizionario biografico, 1853–1943, vol. 2 (1976), pp. 418–24. On the Galleanisti’s bombing campaign, Nunzio Pernicone, “Luigi Galleani and Italian Anarchist Terrorism in the United States,” Studi Emigrazione 30 (1993): 469–89, is useful. For bibliographies of Galleani’s writings see Fedeli, pp. 199–206, and Andreucci and Detti, pp. 213–14. Obituary notices are in L’Adunata dei Refrattari, 14 Nov. and 19 Dec. 1931.