Luigi Galleani was a major figure in the anarchist movement, specifically among Italian anarchists, known as an unflinching advocate of propaganda by the deed. Galleani savored insurrectionary anarchism, seeing the Idea (as they termed anarchism) as a crusade and anarchists as martyrs pursuing holy vengeance and retribution against State, Capital, and Church.
Galleani was most influential Italian anarchist of the early 20th century. He was an accomplished radical orator, strongly charismatic, and inspired countless followers among his Italian comrades. He edited the principal Italian anarchist paper, Cronaca Sovversiva, which ran for fifteen years until its eventual suppression by the US government.
Born to middle class parents, Galleani became an anarchist in his late teen years while studying law at the University of Turin. He refused to practice law, which he now held in contempt, and turned his attentions to anarchist propaganda. He was forced to flee to France to evade threatened prosecution in Italy, but was expelled from France for taking part in a May Day demonstration.
Galleani later lived briefly in Switzerland, where he spent some time with students of the University of Geneva before again being expelled as a dangerous agitator, this time for arranging a celebration in honor of the Haymarket martyrs. He went back to Italy only to run afoul of the police again as a result of his insurgent activities. His return to Italy ended with his arrest for charges of conspiracy, where he spent five years in jail, exiled on the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily.
Escaping Pantelleria in 1900, Galleani fled to Egypt, staying among Italian comrades for a year until threatened with extradition, whereupon he fled to London. He was 40 years old at this time, and arrived at the United States in 1901, barely a month after the assassination of President McKinley at the hand of a self-proclaimed anarchist.
Settling in Paterson, New Jersey, Galleani assumed editorship of La Questione Sociale, the leading Italian anarchist periodical in America. In 1902, the Paterson silk workers engaged in a strike, and Galleani threw his oratorical talents in with the strikers, urging workers to declare a general strike and overcome capitalism, spellbinding his audiences with his rhetorical flourish and clarity of thought.
When police opened fire on the strikers, Galleani was wounded in the face and was later indicted for inciting a riot. However, he managed to escape to Canada before being apprehended by the authorities.
It was during this period that he founded Cronaca Sovversiva on June 6, 1903, what historian Paul Avrich has described as "one of the most important and ably edited periodicals in the history of the anarchist movement." (Sacco and Vanzetti, pg. 50).
While its circulation never exceeded four to five thousand, this periodical was of considerable influence within the movement and held sway wherever there were Italian anarchists--from North and South America, Europe, to North Africa and Australia.
Galleani was captured by authorities in 1906 after a socialist (Giacinto Menotti Serrati, editor of Il Proletario) revealed Galleani's whereabouts in the wake of lengthy personal dispute he had with Galleani. Galleani was tried in 1907 for his role in the 1902 strike, but the trial ended in a hung jury and he was set free.
He returned to Vermont and resumed his editorial duties, assuming the pre-eminent position among Italian anarchists in the following years by way of his fiery oratory and polemical writing. Galleani's force of personality as a living example of revolutionary anarchism won him more converts than any single individual in the movement.
A prolific writer, he produced hundreds of pamphlets, articles, and essays, reaching tens to hundreds of thousands of readers on several continents, although he never wrote a full-length book.
All the books bearing his name are collections of his essays from Cronaca Sovversiva, with the exception of La Fine dell'anarchismo? (The End of Anarchism?), which was Galleani's outraged response to an interview of ex-anarchist Saverio Merlino entitled "The End of Anarchism," in which Merlino "pronounced anarchism an obsolete doctrine, torn by internal disputes, bereft of first-rate theorists, and doomed to early extinction." (Ibid., pg. 50).
Galleani merged Kropotkin's idea of mutual aid with unfettered insurgency, defending communist anarchism against authoritarian socialism and reformism, speaking of the value of spontaneity, variety, autonomy and independence, direct action and self-determination in a world of industrialized conformity.
He spoke of militant anarchism, advocating the overthrow of the government and capitalism by violent means, including use of dynamite and assassination as the chosen methods of bringing this change about.
Galleani detested partial, incremental reforms, seeing them as betraying anarchist ideals.
He later relocated to Lynn, Massachusetts in 1912, where he continued his polemics unabated, urging violent reprisals against the enemies of the anarchist movement. By this time, Galleani's followers, almost all manual laborers, numbered in the thousands, coming to America from all parts of Italy.
The affinity groups of Galleanists were not mere satellites orbiting around Galleani; conversely, they were fiercely independent and were awash with squabbles, disputes, and rivalries. A dangerous dynamic had grown among the Galleanists, as each affinity group sought to outdo the other in revolutionary acts.
Paradoxically, Galleani was, despite his proclamations in favor of liberty and diversity, absolutely intolerant of dissent, castigating those who challenged him as allies of State and Capital, and even accusing them of being traitors and spies!
The Italian anarchists, particularly the Galleanists, were deeply suspicious of formal organizations, seeing them as likely to turn into hierarchical, authoritarian organizations. As a result, they played little role in the union movement, although they did participate in strikes and demonstrations. This shortcoming on their part would prove to isolate them from the rest of working society.
La Salute è in voi! ("Health is in You!") was a 46-page bomb manual adapted from a guide to explosives from a chemist friend of Galleani's, Professor Ettore Molinari. Galleani's handbook was characterized as accurate and practical by the New York City bomb squad, but this turned out not to be the case, as several unfortunate anarchists soon discovered--there was an error in the formula to nitroglycerine that had to be emended.
This work of Galleani's was eventually put to use by his followers (the first instance of its use occurred in 1914). Three anarchists were blown up while creating a bomb with which to destroy John D. Rockefeller's home in Tarrytown, New York (in retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre). Later that year, several bombings occurred in different areas of New York by Galleanists, including several police stations.
Faccia a facciao col nemico ("Face to Face with the Enemy," 1914) was a collection of Galleani's articles defending propaganda by the deed and exalting the anarchists who practiced it. This book was described the the Justice Department as "the glorification of the most anarchistic assassins the world has ever seen" and even possessing this book marked one as a dangerous subversive in the eyes of the government.
One Galleanist, Nestor Dondoglio, a chef by profession, poisoned some two hundred guests at a banquet in 1916 to honor Archbishop Mundelein by lacing the soup with arsenic. None of the guests died--Dondoglio, under the alias of Jean Crones, had used too much poison, which prompted the victims to vomit it back up. Dondoglio was never apprehended.
The Galleanists engaged in numerous high-profile acts of terrorism, including a systematic bomb plot with thirty targets, all high officials or wealthy people directly or indirectly responsible for persecuting anarchists and workers; none of whom were actually hurt by the bombs -- out of sheer luck, not for lack of trying on the part of the Galleanists.
Another Galleanist, Mario Buda, to protest the indictment of Sacco and Vanzetti, bombed Wall Street (September 16, 1920, pictured below), leaving 30 dead, over 200 seriously injured, and creating a conflagration causing $2 million in property damage (including demolishing J.P. Morgan's office).
These bombings caused a panic among the authorities that served as the main impetus for the Red Scare, and led to the unparalleled expansion of the FBI's powers. In fact, one of J. Edgar Hoover's first cases with the FBI was tracking down the bombs carried by the Galleanists.
The authorities invoked the idea of a giant anarchist "conspiracy" to overthrow the government, which was actually false. The infamous "Palmer Raids" whereby the government raided and jailed radicals across the country, were a direct response to the Galleanists' terrorism (Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer being one of their bombing targets). The American Civil Liberties Union was created in reaction to the unconstitutional Palmer Raids.
Between 1919 and 1920, hundreds of radicals, including many anarchists, were deported (including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), as part of a nationwide reaction against radical insurgency, largely instigated by the bombings of the Galleanists.
Galleani himself was deported in 1919, along with a number of his comrades, forced to leave his wife and children behind. Interestingly, these deportations were not carried out juridically, but instead were done by the Department of Labor, mostly because the courts proved unable to convict anarchists and radicals, either from lack of evidence or from hung juries. The government relied on the executive power of the Labor Department to treat it as an immigration issue, allowing them to bypass the court system entirely.
Galleani arrived in Italy on the eve of Benito Mussolini's rise to power, and was eventually arrested by the Fascists, who had been provided reports on Galleani by the FBI. Bouncing in and out of jail in Fascist Italy, Galleani never wavered in his opposition to Mussolini's thugs. He spent the rest of his life under police surveillance, living in exile off the coast of Italy.
Galleani died of a heart attack on November 4, 1931, at the age of 70.
The terrorism of the Galleanists forever created the association in people's minds that anarchism was synonymous with terrorism--the image of the "bomb-wielding anarchist" grew directly in the wake of the massive Galleanist bomb plot. With Sacco and Vanzetti's executions in 1927, the anarchist movement in the United States was pronounced dead, as most radicals joined the Communist Party or the Democratic Socialists, were deported, or renounced anarchism altogether.