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Italian Immigrant Radical Culture

Italian Immigrant Radical Culture: The Idealism of the Sovversivi in the United States, 1890-1940

Marcella Bencivenni
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 287
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  • Book Info
    Italian Immigrant Radical Culture
    Book Description:

    ·"An important contribution to the history of the Italian-American left." - Fraser Ottanelli, Professor of History, University of South Florida

    ·"A welcome introduction to the poorly understood immigrantsovversivi." - Donna Gabaccia, University of Minnesota

    ·"A superb analysis of radical working-class poetry, drama, and art." - Nunzio Pernicone, author ofItalian Anarchism, 1864-1892

    ·"Anyone interested in the topic will benefit from Bencivenni's deep understanding of her subject, her exhaustive research, and her clear organization and writing." - R.J. Goldstein,Choice

    ·"An impressive book that nicely complements existing studies… It deserves a wide audience." - Mike Rosenow,H-Net Reviews

    ·"Bencivenni's superb analysis… ensure[s] that the works of these men and women will have a lasting legacy." - Diane C. Vecchio, Furman University

    ·"A great book that will benefit well-established scholars, newly minted Ph.D.'s, and graduate students." - Caroline Merithew,Italian American Review

    ·"Sheds illuminating light on a part of that history that is often overlooked." - Stefan Bosworth

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2318-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On January 11, 1912, mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, began a three-month strike to protest a cut in their already thin wages. This “crusade for bread and roses,” as the strike was soon called, became one of the most celebrated working-class protests in American history. For the first time, unskilled immigrants of many different nationalities overcame ethnic differences and scored a significant victory against American industrial manufacturers.

    The Lawrence strike had an enormous impact on the American public consciousness, bringing attention to the atrocious living conditions of unskilled workers and the social divisions that plagued American industrial society. Overnight, the...

  5. 1 Italian American Radicalism: Old World Roots, New World Developments
    (pp. 7-36)

    The story of Italian American radicalism begins with the massive emigration of Italians who entered the New World between 1880 and 1920. More than five million—four-fifths of them from the southern regions and the islands—migrated to the United States during this period. Italians became the largest nationality of the “new immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe, constituting more than 20 percent of the total immigration population. The great exodus of Italians was the result of economic, social, and political pressures. Like other European countries, Italy experienced a severe agrarian crisis in the 1870s, resulting largely from the expansion...

  6. 2 The Sovversivi and Their Cultural World
    (pp. 37-66)

    Bringing attention to the important role of ethnic leadership in shaping immigrant life, the late John Higham noted that immigrant leaders “focus the consciousness of an ethnic group and make its identity visible. . . . [They] create the structures of the ethnic community; they produce (or confirm) its symbolic expressions; they exemplify the style that enables the group fully to experience itself.”¹ Traditionally, the Italian American leader was thought of as someone who had wealth and power in the community: a “prominent man.” Theprominentiorpadroni, as these leaders began to be called in thecolonie italiane, essentially...

  7. 3 A Literary Class War: The Italian American Radical Press
    (pp. 67-98)

    In January 1888 members of the Italian socialist-anarchist-revolutionary group Carlo Cafiero—named after a famous nineteenth-century Italian anarchist hero—met in their office at 108 Thompson Street in New York City to launch a journal that would “express and give voice to [their] ideas.”¹L’Anarchico, as the paper was called, was the first of nearly 200 radical Italian-language newspapers produced in the United States from the late nineteenth century through the World War II period—the third-largest figure in the nation after the German and Jewish presses. Almost one-third of these newspapers were published in the New York City metropolitan...

  8. 4 Politics and Leisure: The Italian American Radical Stage
    (pp. 99-128)

    In 1896, the anarchist poet Pietro Gori, who had just arrived in the United States, published a one-act skit entitledPrimo Maggio(May Day), which he had written a few years before in an Italian prison. The play told the story of Ida, a young peasant woman who leaves her village and family behind to follow a mysterious stranger to “the country of Love and Truth . . . where the land belongs to all; . . . where freedom is the only law and love the only bond; . . . where misery is unknown and equality guaranteed to...

  9. 5 Italian American Literary Radicalism
    (pp. 129-154)

    In addition to parties, newspapers, and theatrical groups, Italian immigrant radical politics also spawned a rich artistic and literary culture. The revolutionary syndicalist Arturo Giovannitti, for example, emerged as one of the most articulate radical voices of the early twentieth century, greatly admired not only by his co-nationals but by Americans as well. Progressive sculptor and illustrator Onorio Ruotolo became one of New York’s most distinguished artists,¹ while communist Pietro Di Donato, whoseChrist in Concretewas chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club novel in 1939, has been recognized as one of the most effective “proletarian” writers.²

    While we now know...

  10. 6 Arturo Giovannitti: Poet and Prophet of Labor
    (pp. 155-185)

    Thursday, December 31, 1959, was a sad New Year’s Eve for the Italian American community: Arturo Giovannitti, one of their greatest crusaders and beloved leaders, had passed away. TheNew York Times, among other newspapers, recalled him as a key figure of the “idealistic radicalism that shaped the immigrant Italian labor movement in the United States”:

    Until the end of World War II, when his health failed, he wrote and spoke extensively in the struggle to establish organized labor. At various times he was a close associate of Max Eastman, Norman Thomas, David Dubinsky and many others. At fiery labor...

  11. 7 Allegories of Anti-Fascism: The Radical Cartoons of Fort Velona
    (pp. 187-220)

    On November 22, 1925, the anti-fascist daily IlNuovo Mondopublished a striking cartoon on its front page (fig. 7.1). It caricatured the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in his typical pose: standing erect with arms by his side, his lips sticking out in a serious, almost frowning, expression, and a defiant, threatening-looking gaze. Emblazoned on his hat are all the terrible effects of the fascist regime: persecution, destruction, working-class slavery, Blackshirt violence, militia, unemployment, and debt. Next to Il Duce stands a figure with a megaphone representing the Italian-language mainstream press—the most important vehicle of fascist propaganda in the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 221-224)

    For fifty years, from 1890 to 1940, Italian radicals in the United States created and sustained a small but vigorous movement that sought simultaneously to elevate the moral and social conditions of their co-nationals and promote a more just, equal, and democratic society. As we saw in the first chapter, the movement as a whole was sharply divided among anarchists, socialists, syndicalists, and communists. Not only was the movement fragmented, but members within each faction constantly argued with one another. Although a few radical leaders like Arturo Giovannitti and Carlo Tresca managed to transcend these ideological divisions and forge broader...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 225-268)
  14. Glossary of Frequently Used Italian Terms
    (pp. 269-270)
  15. Index
    (pp. 271-278)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 279-279)