Hidden Histories and Material Culture: The Provenance of an Anarchist Pamphlet
By Andrew D. Hoyt
Some historical processes leave multitudinous records of their passing: the histories of conquerors and the machinations of bureaucratic state apparatus are preserved in archives just as battles leave landscapes pockmarked by cannon fire and wars leave deep scars on the cultures involved. However, contemporaneous with all these “history making” events, are more obscure realities — realities hidden either intentionally by the actors involved or by competing groups who have succeeded at dominating the spotlight of historical memory. This process of erasure is particularly evident when one tries to research Individuals and groups actively opposed to dominant forces. Researchers who wish to investigate these alternative histories must be aware of the role that the “archive” plays in creating the very vocabulary through which we tell our supposedly objective stories about the past.
Despite such obstacles, dedicated researchers have found ways to doggedly document these hidden social movements. Historian of Italian anarchism Davide Turcato emphasizes that revolutionary movements are often misunderstood because of the lack of consistent records in traditional archives.
Historian of material culture Janet Hoskins has noted that while "objects can be used to both reveal and conceal secret histories" approaching such histories through questions of provenance, in the manner of a detective, can "lead to further linkages of geography, genealogy and history."
The Barre Pamphlet
During the summer of 2009, Pitzer College professor Dana Ward received a large collection of Italian-language radical literature from the Centro Studi Libertari Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli in Milan. Professor Ward had previously visited the archive and the volunteer archivists had mentioned that they had limited space and were looking for new homes for duplicate materials. As the curator of one of the internet's oldest anarchist archives, Professor Ward offered the Pinelli archive a chance to not only help preserve these rare materials but also make them accessible to a wider audience. Upon the arrival of these materials in California, I was charged with unpacking and organizing the books and pamphlets. At the time I was unfamiliar with the Italian language and I found myself with a stack of boxes the written content of which was beyond my grasp. Nonetheless, each item carried other information I could gather. Publication dates and locations, the quality of paper and binding, and the nature of the topic contained in each book suggested both changes within the anarchist movement and its surprising continuity over time. When taken together, the collection as a whole hinted at a large and hidden history of transatlantic radicalism spanning the last century.
Originating in the massive transatlantic movement of people and ideas at the end of the nineteenth century, the lost world of Italian-American radicalism was a place of bomb plots and militant strikes, of FBI investigations and mass deportations that helped shape America in the twentieth century.
The majority of material shipped to Pitzer College from Milan was printed in various cities in Italy, mostly after the 1940s and the end of World War II. One of these pamphlets was printed in Barre, Vermont, in 1913. The first few pages contain several important traces of past-life that suggest an interesting provenance. Armed with these few leads, I began my investigation into the history of the Barre, Vermont, 1913 printing of La Responsabilita’ e la Solidarieta’ nella Lotta Operaia (Responsibility and Solidarity in the Worker’s Struggle).
Held together with two rusting staples, this particular pamphlet has probably never been read. In fact, the majority of the pages remain uncut. The uncut pages suggest that this particular pamphlet was set aside, either in a special collection or in a pile of un-purchased propaganda material. Yet, notably, the Barre pamphlet is nearly falling apart: many of the page creases have torn and the cover has begun to decompose. Ironically, the fact that the book survived to reach the archive is likely the result of it never having been used for its intended purpose. Does this mean that the most influential and well-read works are less likely to reach the researcher’s hands than their unread companions? Was this item saved from the ravages of time because it represented a much-loved work, or because it simply remained un-purchased?
This "Barre Pamphlet" contains a rather elaborate set of titles scrolling down its faded light blue-green cover. These extended credits (naming everything from the original author, to the originating library, to the original group it was associated with, to the publishing house and location) all seem designed to grant the work authenticity and respectability within its own cultural parameters.
The Barre pamphlet’s price is not the only indication that it was geared towards the working class. Economic austerity is also evident in the pamphlet’s construction, such as the relatively thin and flimsy paper used for the cover. The back of the Barre Pamphlet contains two advertisements. The first is for a semi-weekly paper, L’Azione; the second is for a series of small pamphlets available from the Biblioteca di Propaganda. The use of this space for advertising, rather than conveying information about the pamphlet’s content, reflects the multi-purpose and practical nature of its design. The advertised publications are offered at similar rates as the Barre Pamphlet, clearly targeting the lowest wage earners in the community.
In physical appearance, the interior of the pamphlet is fragile: made from light, smooth, and thin paper that was never meant to impress anyone with its construction. Cleary this was not an item intended to persist through nearly a century of violent history. The pamphlet’s material elements suggest cheap construction and rapid distribution. Furthermore, its size makes it convenient for transportation and shipping. This pamphlet’s purpose was not to generate a profit. Rather, this is a text meant to be read, to be passed from person to person, to be yet another tool in the hands of the workers.
The bottom of the front cover of the pamphlet lists the publisher as the Casa Editrice L’Azione(Action Publishing House). The text itself is listed as a reprint of Max Nettlau’s Rapporto letto alla “freedom discussion group” Il 5 dicembre 1899 (Report to the Freedom Discussion Group). This information is prominently displayed on the cover, along with a line declaring it to be the “Prima Edizione Italiana” (First Italian Edition) of the original text. Whether or not this was actually the first time the work had been translated into Italian is hard to say, but by including this claim on the front cover it is clear that the little book seeks validation beyond its humble appearance.
The translator is never named. We do know that the original author of the text was the anarchist-historian from Austria, Max Nettlau. Nettlau worked closely with the London-based Freedom Group, a collective that included the Russian geographer Peter Kropotkin. This association carries great weight within anti-authoritarian communities. It is fair to say that this is the reason that the pamphlet so loudly announces its origin, rather than simply the author’s name or the title of the text. Another reason for this added emphasis could be the lack of name recognition of L’Azione, the collective responsible for publishing the pamphlet in Barre. L’Azione appears to be a group of behind-the-scenes propagandists, rather than original thinkers or writers.
Across the top of the Barre Pamphlet we find the supposed publisher of the translation: “Biblioteca di Propaganda Rivoluzionaria" (Library of Revolutionary Propaganda); yet, neither the scope nor the location of this association is made clear in any formal way. In fact, one is left wondering if the “Abbonamento alla prima serie di dieci volumetti di propaganda” (Subscription to the first series of ten small volumes of propaganda) was intended for the same library or for the publishing house. The advertisement on the back cover also asks for a 35 cent “pagamento anticipato” (advanced payment); the mailing address included is the same as that for L’Azione.
Nunzio Pernicone, one of the best scholars of Italian-American radicalism, has pointed out that, “Generally, any publisher whose name started withBibliotecaor Libreriawas associated with a newspaper or a group. But group names were ephemeral, because the groups were here this year, gone the next.”
The Barre Pamphlet is only one out of a larger series of works being printed by the Casa Editrice L’Azione and the Bibliotecha di Propaganda. The back cover of the Barre Pamphlet also includes a short list of other publications that are part of this series, including: Studio su l'Individualismo(Study on Individualism), Lavoro e Surmenage (Job and Overwork), and Il Vangelo dell'Ora (The Gospel of Now).
My research also suggests that “L’Azione” is not only the name of a publishing house but also the title of a periodical. L’Azione was printed in Barre and offered for an annual fee of $1.00, or a $.50 semi-annual subscription. The back of the Barre pamphlet refers to the periodical as a “settimanale di critica e propaganda Rivoluzionaria” (weekly [review] of revolutionary criticism and propaganda). Dirk Hoerder’s 1987 annotated bibliography of the immigrant labor press in North America cites the founder and editor of this publication as one Felice Guadagni.
While the periodical “L’Azione” advertised on the back of our pamphlet does not show up in the archive, other works by the Casa Editrice L’Azione do appear. The interior pages of the pamphlet offer several more interesting pieces of information that are unique to this single copy of the pamphlet. This peculiarity is of critical importance. First, on the main title page someone has adhered a label, which reads, “Libreria Popolizio/Road 2 Box 1/Rivesville, W. Va. 26588/U.S.A.” Second, on the reverse side of the title page, opposite the first page of the text, is a small credit to “Stamp. Edit. C.A. Bottinelli/Barre, Vermont 1913” and a union label for “typographical/Barre, Vt.” The final clue as to the pamphlet’s history is an inscribed signature over the first paragraph of the text, in blue ink, written in a shaky hand, reading something close to “Agostino Govino” (underlined). This same signature appears on a number of other books sent to Pitzer College by the Pinelli Archive in Milan and suggests the route this pamphlet may have taken to reach Italy.
Out of all this information, only the hand-written signature and the stamp, clearly pasted into the book by the people in West Virginia, distinguish this particular pamphlet’s unique path through the world. All of the other information is part of the original printing and is not unique to this particular copy of the pamphlet. Before opening the cover of the Barre pamphlet, I already had a couple of questions: who was the publishing house L’Azione and what was the "Biblioteca di Propaganda Rivoluzionaria”? Upon opening the cover more questions arose. How was Barre, Vermont connected to the international world of radical activism? What can the archives tells us about Italian-American radicals in West Virginia, and why was this pamphlet in coal country? What was the connection between Barre, Vermont, and Rivesville, W. Virginia, and what was the “Libreria Popolizio” (Popolizio’s Bookstore)? Finally, how did this item make its way across the Atlantic Ocean, and how did it reach the archive in Milan? Questions are often clues in disguise, and if even a few answers can be found in the rubbish bins of history or the great archives of the digital world, then the story behind the pamphlet may yet emerge.
Following the Clues Around New England
Barre is a town well known for its granite quarries. At the turn of the century, large numbers of immigrants from Carrara, a region of Italy famous for both its marble carving and labor militancy, began to settle in the area. Many of these workers emigrated after a failed insurrection brought martial law to their hometown. In Barre, they continued to be involved in the worker’s struggle.
Trade unionism was already a familiar phenomenon in the quarries of Europe, and organized labor became a way of life in Barre. By 1900, for example, the Barre branch of the Granite Cutters' National Union was the largest local in the entire United States, with over 1,000 members.
Barre is currently attempting to dust-off its radical history, a process that has included repairing the town’s old Socialist Labor Hall.
Notably, the Labor Hall was also the site of conflict between Anarchists and Socialists. In 1903, a conflict reputedly resulted in at least one shooting death.
Luigi Galleani settled in the granite-town the same year as Corti’s shooting. The leading Italian anarchist, or sovversivo, in the United States during the first 20 years of the century, Galleani would later be the focus of an extended Federal investigation and, eventually, deportation for opposing the draft during the first world war. Paul Avrich describes him as,
One of the greatest radical orators of his time, a man of magnetic personality and bearing, Galleani inspired a far-flung movement that included Sacco and Vanzetti… Yet Galleani has fallen into oblivion. Today he is virtually unknown in the United States outside a small circle of scholars… No biography in English has ever been devoted to him, nor has he been so much as mentioned in the general histories of anarchism. His writings, more-over, remain for the most part untranslated, despite their impact on Italian radicals.
Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 48.
Despite this invisibility, during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Galleani’s work in New England helped to shape some of the major events of the pre-WWII years, including the Wall Street Bombing of 1920 and the notorious Palmer Raids. Galleani helped to galvanize and inspire a hardline individualist anarchist movement that has often been referred to as the "Galleanisti." For at approximately 9 years (1903-1912), Galleani directed his propaganda campaigns from the same town in Vermont that produced the little pamphlet sold by the Casa Editrice L’Azione.
Luigi Galleani first settled in Barre under the assumed name Luigi Pimpino, having already fled the United States once before to avoid prosecution for allegedly instigating the militant strike/riot of the Patterson silk workers in 1902.
One federal agent described Galleani's weekly rag as “the most rabid, seditious and anarchistic sheet ever published in this country.”
There is no evidence that Galleani was personally involved in printing this pamphlet. If he had been, the cover of the publication would certainly have referenced his contribution. By 1913, Luigi Galleani had already moved to Barre to Lynn, Massachusetts. The decision to move was most likely caused by the vitality of the Galleanisti in Massachusetts. Robert D’Attilio comments that Cronaca Sovversivi moved to Lynn so that it could be closer to the mainstream currents of modern American activism; Barre was simply too far removed. D’Atillio also confirmed that Bottinelli’s shop was the print shop for Cronaca Sovversiva until the journal moved to Lynn in early 1912.
Another pamphlet in the collection sent to Pitzer College was printed in Lynn, in 1913. This one, labeled “Madri d’Italia!,”
After the Cronaca Sovversiva moved to Lynn, the Casa Editrice L’Azione printed many additional small anarchist pamphlets on Bottinelli’s press. Robert D’Attilio states that they often worked for the “gruppo autonomo di east boston” (East Boston Autonomous Group).
The East Boston autonomous group was comprised of anarchists associated with the Cronaca Sovversiva, as opposed to the less militant anarcho-syndicalist union agitators, or the less ideological stringent “free-lance revolutionaries” who followed the writer Carlo Tresca and were engaged in heated polemics with Galleani. Nunzio Pernicone comments that,
Internecine conflict undeniably was an integral feature of the sovversivi’s subculture… generally limited to words, subsumed under the rubric 'polemica.' A polemic might take the form of a doctrinal dispute conducted on a serious intellectual level, or of personal attacks repeat with allegations, denunciations, and coarse insults… Broadsides exchanged between antagonists appeared in host newspapers often for weeks or months on end; their echoes sometimes reverberated for years, even decades.
Pernicone, “War Among the American Anarchists: The Galleanisti’s Campaign Against Carlo Tresca,” p. 77.
The East Boston Autonomous Group was home to the anarchist martyrs Sacco and Vanzetti and was considered to be one of the more militant anarchist collectives in New England. In fact, the Boston anarchists faced intense federal investigation, including undercover spy work and repeated police raids, and the eventual judicial murder of two of their members.
This publishing connection suggest that the Casa Editrice L’Azione had ties to Barre-based Galleanisti who had worked on Cronaca Sovversiva for several years and then turned to printing these small pamphlets after Galleani left town. They would have been amongst the more trusted and radical of Italian subversives and were essentially providing other groups with propaganda material. It is also likely that the East Boston Autonomous Group helped supply the translation material to be printed and possibly helped choose some of the selected texts. Some of their members may have constituted the Biblioteca di Propaganda Rivoluzionaria listed on the front of the Barre Pamphlet. These anarchists would likely have faced deportation during the post-war raids, and those who managed to remain in the country would have been involved in the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee, which was largely run by Galleanisti.
While this information helps us understand what was happening in New England and identify the Casa Editrice L’Azione, we must attempt to uncover the connection to Rivesville, West Virginia. After all, upon leaving Bottinelli’s print shop, the little blue pamphlet traveled a long and convoluted course throughout the world before reaching Pitzer College in the summer of 2009.
Following the Clues to Coal Country
Rivesville is today a town of approximately 900 people, located on the banks of the Monongahela River in West Virginia, not far from the Pennsylvania border and the old steel mills of Pittsburgh. A coal town that was thriving during the early part of the twentieth century, Rivesville is part of anthracite coal country, a region that faced near war-like conditions during the major periods of labor unrest prior to the Second World War.
This is indeed the same man who placed his sticker on the cover page of the Barre Pamphlet and was someone known to have worked with Guadagni, the possible publisher of the pamphlet. This is why the innocent little label on the title page of the 1913 Barre pamphlet is so interesting. Popolizio is listed in the Casellario Politico(Political Criminal) files of the Italian Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Central State Archives) as a socialist and a bookseller who resided in New York City.
The information the Barre Pamphlet gives us adds to the idea that the Italian sovversivi shared an interwoven identity despite separation into ideological camps. Popolizio embodies the blending lines of ideologies and identification that existed amongst Italian radicals. This solidarity is seen in his shared sense of pain concerning the famous Galleanisti, Sacco and Vanzetti. Popolizio vividly describes the impact of the execution of these Galleanisti from the East Boston Autonomous Group, saying, “we are stunned and seem to be dreaming and going mad. We lack the strength to speak and cry out because we feel paralyzed.”
Thus, while the figureheads of various branches of anarchism may have had heated relationships, the rank-and-file activists not only read each other’s work, but also emotionally identified with each other as members of a common movement. Professor Pernicone confirms this idea, commenting that,
There's nothing strange about books or pamphlets being read by anarchist currents seemingly in conflict. Despite all their internecine hassles, they all had basic ideological tenets in common and would read literature published by other groups: e.g. Organizzatori [Organizationalists] would read stuff by the anti-organizzatori [Anti--Organizationalists] and vice versa.
So, how did Popolizio end up with a libreria in Rivesville? One would not think that a poor coal town like Rivesville would have a radical bookstore. In fact, the Rivesville of today has no bookstore, nor public library. There are no lists of businesses in Rivesville during this period, because of the lack of taxation or governmental record keeping. This lack of bureaucratic oversight also makes one think that Rivesville would be a good place for an old radical to hide out. The address on the stamp corresponds with an area of town not far from the old coalmine. When asked about Popolizio, Pericone commented that,
I don’t recall if he actually had a book store or merely a collection from which he sold books and pamphlets in Rivesville. It was commonplace for Italian radical newspapers to operate a “libreria” from which they sold these items. We corresponded about Tresca many years ago, but I never asked him how or why he ended up in Rivesville. In his early days he worked closely with coal miners.
Pernicone, “Re: Looking for Info on Italian-American Anarchists, 1913, VT and WV.....”
It is also possible that Popolizio had relatives in the area, although his last name does not appear on any of the West Virginia birth/death certificates currently available for online research. Also, importantly, the presence of a zip code on the sticker means that the label must have been added to the Barre Pamphlet after 1963, when the Post Office began employing the zip-code system. This means that Popolizio would not have placed this label on the Barre Pamphlet until very late in life.
Rivesville did have a large Italian speaking population of miners who were involved in various union/labor activities, implying that there was enough of a labor movement in the area to support a small library. According to Robert D’Attilio, the Libreria Popolizio had existed in New York City as an active part of the Italian American radical scene up until its closure, at which time Popolizio must have relocated to Rivesville.
The Giuseppe Pinelli Archive also holds several other works published by Libreria Popolizio, including, "Sassate: Prosa rimata al sugo di limone,”
This also means that Popolizio was not just collecting other people’s publications, but also publishing material himself, both in New York City and in Rivesville. The Pinelli Archive also informed me that their holdings include at least four more texts carrying labels identical to the one stuck onto the Barre pamphlet by Popolizio.
Finally, the inked signature on the inside cover of the 1913 Barre pamphlet corresponds to similar signatures found on several other items that Pitzer College received from the archive in Milan. This suggests that the Barre pamphlet came into the possession of Agostino Govino prior to its trip to the Milan archive. Ellis Island has a 1913 record of an Agostino Govino immigrating to the United States from Lercara, an area of Sicily know for its sulfur mines.
Another possibility has been suggested by Amedeo Bertolo, one of the workers at the Giuseppe Pinelli Archive in Milan. Bertolo believes that most of their Italian-American anarchist literature was donated to the archive in the 1980s, by a Bruno Rossi. Bruno Rossi is the alias for Max Sartin, the long time publisher of the New York Galleanisti paper, L’Adunata dei Refrattari (The Gathering of the Recalcitrant). Max Sartin, in turn, is the alias for Raffaele Schiavina, the longest lived of the original Galleanisti and Luigi Galleani's right-hand during the years in which Cronaca Sovversiva was printed in Lynn. Avrich’s Book on Sacco and Vanzetti argues that Schiavina was part of the group actively bombing government offices after World War One, and that he was close to the man behind the bombing of Wall Street in 1920.
Schiavina lived a clandestine life in the United States for more than 60 years. He probably knew Popolizio, although it is doubtful they were friends. Nunzio Pericone thinks that there is no chance Schiavina would have been involved in Popolizio’s literary project.
I have presented the exploration of this pamphlet’s provenance not simply as a means of addressing its particular hidden history, but to show that such insignificant looking objects can carry with them data that would be otherwise lost to us as researchers and historians. The physical clues that the pamphlet presented to me, beyond the primary text printed on its interior pages, opened up a whole world of radical activists, bomb plots, FBI raids, left-wing factions and long forgotten labor struggles.
The journey of this pamphlet, from its inception and production through its circulation across the Atlantic, connects whoever holds it to mysterious men such as Felice Guadagni, Luigi Galleani, Raffaele Schiavina, and even the anarchist martyrs Sacco and Vanzetti. When I first picked it up, I was interested in its title, the name Max Nettlau being known to me from previous reading; however, its physicality quickly took me beyond the well-documented history of the Freedom Discussion Group and Peter Kropotkin. Instead, by examining it as physical evidence, I was led to little known men in granite towns and labor halls, to coal mines and radical book stores. Slowly, I discovered a century of connections reaching from east Boston to Milan, from Vermont, to West Virginia, to California.
The pamphlet has now come to rest as part of Professor Dana Ward’s online Anarchist Archive project, where old texts are digitized and made freely available to online readers. Judging by the values embedded in the Barre pamphlet’s construction, this is a project that the Casa Editrice L’Azione would have found pleasing. However, as researchers we must also be aware that when turning pamphlets into digital texts, we are losing some of the clues that these pamphlets offer us. Even digitized images of covers and title pages cannot transmit all of the sensual properties of the original work.
The Hathi Trust Digital Library has made a copy of the Barre pamphlet available online, in the form of pictures, text, and PDF files.