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PERNICONE, Nunzio. Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel
Article published on 6 September 2012
last modification on 1 November 2012

by ps

1st ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 383 p. Hardcover. ISBN-10 1403964785 ;
ISBN-13 : 9781403964786. EAN13 : 9781403964786

  • AK Press, 2010. 380 p. ISBN-10: 1849350035
    ISBN-13: 978-1849350037.


by Dimitri Troaditis (MACG) in Rebel Worker Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network
<>; Vol.31 No.2 (213) April-May 2012

Carlo Tresca was one of those revolutionary workers whose memory deserves to be honored and this excellent biography of him by Italian historian Nunzio Pernicone fulfils exactly this purpose. Pernicone is the same author who in the past published an excellent history of the Italian anarchist movement (in English the title was «Italian Anarchism: 1864-1892», which was firstly published by Princeton University in 1993 and then by AK Press), but this work is equivalently interesting to anarchists and other radicals.

Carlo Tresca was the son of a middle class family and was born in Italy in 1879. He soon became a socialist and took an active part in the Italian Railway Workers’ Federation before emigrating to the U.S.A. when he was 25 years old. Once he arrived there he was elected as secretary of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America and participated actively in various class struggles. During this time his sympathy for social democracy was transformed quickly into sympathy for trade unionism, as he soon realised the inherent reformism of social democratic ideas and the importance of immediate action to unionise.

Connected with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World - US syndicalist union), he took an active part in the strikes of Pennsylvania coal miners before being involved in several important and often episodic strikes and other activities. Gradually, his trade union beliefs led him to the adoption of anarcho-syndicalism and he became soon one of the leading anarchists the U.S., particularly amongst the Italian America community.

Nunzio Pernicone gives us a picture of a deep lively, vibrant and charismatic figure who played a catalytic role in many struggles for workers’ rights.

He was also a prolific journalist and publisher and edited the Italian speaking anarchist newspaper «11 Martello» («The Hammer") for over 20 years. It was an excellent and passionate writer, propagandist and organiser as well. He was responding to any call for help in trying to encourage Italian workers to strike and fight back. He played a major role in numerous strikes, including the victorious strike in Lawrence (1912), the textile workers’ strike in Little Falls, New York 1912), the hotel workers’ strike in New York (1913), the strike in Patterson, the silk workers’ strike in New Jersey (1913) id the miners’ strike in Mesabi Range of Minnesota (1916).

Carlo Tresca played also an instrumental in the unsuccessful struggle for the salvation of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

Following World War I, Carlo Tresca turned his fire and efforts against fascism, but also Stalinist tyranny. He was the first and an ardent opponent of Italian fascism throughout the USA. His activities caused such hatred by Mussolini and his regime, since Tresca played a key role (both politically and physically) in stopping the spread of fascism within the Italian-American community (this is why he suffered an assassination attempt against him in 1926).

Pernicone goes into great detail about how helpful was the "democratic" American state to fascist Italy by trying to expel Tresca from the country. He tells us also how Tresca sent a telegram to Mussolini in the birthday of the latter. Before emigrating to America, young Tresca had met Mussolini (who was by then one of the leaders of left socialists in Italy), just to inform him that his stay in U.S.A. will turn (Tresca) him into a real rebel. Well, Tresca’s telegram simply reminded Mussolini that he was absolutely right!

Unlike many other militants of that period, Tresca had no illusions about the Soviet Union. He realised that the Lenin regime smashed the real, authentic revolution in Russia and he opposed the new "socialist" regime with the same courage that he opposed fascism. During the 1920’s, however, Tresca tried to work with all opponents of fascism, including even the communists (because he never doubted about the masses’ courage and admitted their willingness to fight against fascism). His efforts to form a single anti-fascist front, as well as the efforts of the Stalinists to put under their direct control such organisations is recounted in detail by Pernicone. These Stalinist manoeuvres, along with their counter-revolutionary role during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War 1936-39, made Tresca intensify this struggle against Leninism during 1930’s until he finally opposed any form of collaboration with the Stalinists.

Tresca’s struggle for freedom, equality and solidarity continued until his assassination at the age of 63 years. Although no

one was ever indicted for his murder, Pernicone presents to us, a quite remarkable assessment of the data and inter-conflicting theories (as suspects include the Stalinists, fascists and the Mafia) concerning his assassination by a member of the Mafia, Carmine Galante.

This biography is the product of work lasting more than 30 years. Pernicone shows in this magnificent work, the advantages and disadvantages of this tireless and fearless champion of freedom and justice, Carlo Tresca. It’s a very good book that not only brings to light the amazing story of Tresca, but also lots of aspects of the radical social movement of this era.

One thing that "hits" the reader is how sectarian was a significant part of the anarchist movement at the time. Because, apart from fascists and Stalinists, Tresca also had to his face the hatred of anti-organisational anarchists who at the time were following Luigi Galleani and did not stop the taunting him (much to the delight of the fascists during the 1920’s and 1930’s). Even the letters of Enrico Malatesta, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were unable to stop these personal attacks. A critical review of this book by Anarcho talks about the paranoia that is currently developing amongst anti-organizational anarchists (such as primitivists) which would encourages such attacks. Therefore, it is important to learn some lessons from the past!

In conclusion, this book by Nunzio Pernicone is a very interesting contribution and we strongly recommend it to readers. Tresca’s memory should be honoured today by all anarchist militants for freedom and equality. Pernicone has offered a great service to our movement by writing this biography of an unjustly forgotten pioneer of the struggle for freedom. Let’s be inspired in our struggles today!