Carlo Tresca

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Carlo Tresca
Carlo-tresca-1910 (cropped).jpg
Tresca, photographed in 1910
Born March 9, 1879
Sulmona, Italy
Died (1943-01-11)January 11, 1943 (age 63)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Newspaper editor and labor leader.
Children Peter D. Martin

Carlo Tresca (March 9, 1879 – January 11, 1943) was an Italian-American newspaper editor, orator, and labor organizer who was a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World during the 1910s. He is remembered as a leading public opponent of fascism, Stalinism, and Mafia infiltration of the trade union movement.

Born, raised and educated in Italy, Tresca was editor of an Italian socialist newspaper and secretary of the Italian Federation of Railroad Workers before he emigrated to the United States in 1904. After a three-year spell as secretary of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America, he joined the Industrial Workers of the World in 1912, and was involved in strikes across the United States over the rest of the decade. He was jailed in 1925 after printing an advertisement for a birth control pamphlet in one of his newspapers.

During the 1930s, Tresca was a staunch critic of both Benito Mussolini's fascist government in Italy and Stalinism in the Soviet Union. In 1937, he was a member of the Dewey Commission, which cleared Leon Trotsky of all charges made during the Moscow Trials. Tresca also used his newspapers to mount a public campaign criticising the Mafia. In January 1943, in New York, he was assassinated, probably by a Mafia gunman.

Personal life

Carlo Tresca was born March 9, 1879, in Sulmona, Italy, the son of a landowner.[1] Tresca attended primary, grammar, and high school in Italy.[1] Tresca had no hope of attending university as his family's finances were poor during the economic slump of the 1880s.[2] He studied at a seminary instead, but left soon after, emerging as an anticlerical atheist.[2]

From 1898 to 1902, Tresca was secretary of the Italian Federation of Railroad Workers.[1] He was also the editor of Il Germe, a socialist weekly based in Abruzzo.[1] Seeking to avoid a jail term for his radical political activities, Tresca emigrated to America in 1904, settling in Philadelphia.

Tresca had a relationship with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Flynn's sister, Bina, and was the father of Peter D. Martin.[3][4] He also had a relationship with sculptor Minna Harkavy, whose bust of him was erected in his birth town of Sulmona.[5]

American years

In America, Tresca was elected Secretary of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America in 1904. He remained in that position for the next three years.[1] During this same interval, Tresca was also the editor of Il Proletario (The Proletarian), the official newspaper of the Italian Socialist Federation.[1]

Tresca's political views became increasingly radical and he soon came to identify himself as an anarchist. In 1907 Tresca resigned as editor of Il Proletario and began publishing his own newspaper, La Plebe (The Plebeian).[1] He would later transfer La Plebe to Pittsburgh and, with it, revolutionary ideas to Italian miners and mill workers in Western Pennsylvania. In 1909, Tresca became editor of L'Avvenire, (The Future) remaining in that capacity until the coming of World War I, when the publication was suppressed under the Espionage Act.[1]

Tresca joined the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1912, when he was invited by the union to Lawrence, Massachusetts to help mobilize the Italian workers during a campaign to free strike leaders Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti, jailed on false murder charges. After the victorious strike in Lawrence, Tresca was active in several strikes across the United States; the Little Falls, New York textile workers' strike (1912), the New York City hotel workers' strike (1913), the Paterson silk strike (1913), and the Mesabi Range, Minnesota, miners' strike (1916). He was arrested several times and jailed for nine months awaiting trial for murder in conjunction with the Minnesota action, ultimately being released without going to trial.[1]

Americans march in a "Sympathy Labor Parade" for Carlo Tresca, 1916

In August 1920, Tresca became involved tangentially in the Irish War of Independence. Sidnev Czira Secretary of the Cumann na mBan in New York later and sister of Grace Gifford later recalled that, "Picketing of the British Embassy in Washington had been going on from 1916 onwards and I remember a very successful picketing that was undertaken as a protest in New York against the British arrest of Dr. Mannix in August 1920. This latter picketing was largely the work of an Italian called Carlo Tresca, a personal friend of the well-known Irish-American family of Flynn, who were great friends of James Connolly. Tresca had great influence among the sea-faring fraternity and suggested that we should call out the seamen from the British ships as a protest against the arrest of Dr. Mannix. This was done by pickets walking on the docks with placards, calling on the men to leave the ships. So far as I was concerned, this was rather an amusing incident, because I had a placard which read something like this, "Hear the call of the blood and refuse to work on British ships". I realised that the call of the blood was addressed to Greeks, Italians, Lascars, etc., and when they saw a young woman with a placard they came up to enquire what the strike was about. My efforts to translate "Hear the call of the blood" into Italian were funny, but I found one word which they all seemed to know was "tyranny - Irlanda", and smiling and nodding, they would all walk away. The picketing was extremely effective because when we were holding our meetings it was a thrilling sight when, from time to time, we would hear the march of feet and the crew of some ship would come marching into the room. We found out subsequently that Tresca, who had organised them, was generally supposed to be an anarchist! Of course, there were extremely severe penalties under American law for behaviour of this kind."[6]

In August 1923, Tresca was arrested on charges of having printed an advertisement for a birth control pamphlet in his new publication, Il Martello[1] (The Hammer). He was found guilty in an October 1923 trial and was sentenced to a year and a day in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.[1] This sentence was confirmed on November 10, 1924, and Tresca entered prison on January 5, 1925.[1]

Making enemies

Tresca became a major figure among Italian-Americans in trying to halt Benito Mussolini's attempts to organize Italian immigrants into Fascist support groups. At this time, Tresca was editing an anti-Fascist newspaper named Il Martello, where he blasted Mussolini as a class enemy and traitor (the latter accusation made reference to the fact that Mussolini had been a socialist in the past). Tresca's activities were being monitored in Rome, while, in the United States, he was under heavy surveillance from the US government. In 1926, Fascists attempted to assassinate Tresca with a bomb during a rally.

Tresca was part of the defense committee for accused murderers Sacco and Vanzetti, and frequently spoke in their defense at rallies and in articles.

During the 1930s, Tresca became an outspoken opponent of Soviet Communists and Stalinism, particularly after the Soviet Union had engineered the destruction of the anarchist movement in Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Revolution.[7]

Prior to this, Tresca had supported the Bolsheviks, reasoning that a communist state was preferable to a capitalist state, regarding Soviet Communists as allies in the fight against Fascism.

In 1937, Tresca was a member of the Dewey Commission, which cleared Leon Trotsky of all charges made during the Moscow Trials.[8]

In early 1938, Tresca publicly accused the Soviets of kidnapping Juliet Stuart Poyntz to prevent her defection from the Communist Party USA underground apparatus. Tresca alleged that before she had disappeared, Poyntz had talked to him about her disgust over Joseph Stalin's Great Terror.

When the Italian-American antifascist Mazzini Society was founded in the United States in 1939, Tresca joined it and worked for cooperation between its liberal democratic members and the Italian Socialists and Communists through his contacts in the labor unions and the Committees for Victory. In New York, Tresca also began a public campaign of criticism of the Mafia in his weekly newspaper, Il Martello. Tresca appeared to be well aware of the risk he was running to his life. At the end of an article published shortly before his death, Tresca stated, "Morris Ernst, my attorney, knows all the facts. He knows that if an anti-fascist is assaulted or killed, the instigator is Generose Pope" (this is believed to be a reference to Generoso Pope Sr., a New York political power broker with ties to mobster Frank Costello, whose Italian-American newspaper interests included the Corriere d'America (American Courrier) and the daily Il Progresso Italo-Americano).


By 1943, Tresca, on parole at the time, was under police surveillance. On January 9, 1943, his surveillance team witnessed an incident in which a speeding car attempted to run Tresca over.

Two days later, on January 11, 1943, in New York City, Tresca was leaving his parole officer's offices when he dodged surveilling officers by jumping into a car that was waiting for him. Two hours later, Tresca was crossing Fifth Avenue at 15th Street on foot when a black Ford pulled up beside him.[7] A short, squat gunman in a brown coat jumped out and shot Tresca in the back of the head with a handgun, killing him instantly. The black Ford was later found abandoned nearby with all four doors open. One theory at the time was that the suspected assassin was a member of the Mafia, acting on orders from Sicily. Others have theorized that Tresca was eliminated by the NKVD as retribution for criticism of the Stalin regime of the Soviet Union.

More recent research by Alan A. Block in Space, Time and Organized Crime, Dorothy Gallagher in All the Right Enemies, and Nunzio Pernicone in Carlo Tresca: Portrait of A Rebel all confirm that the most likely scenario is that Tresca was killed by Carmine Galante on the order of Frank Garofalo, underboss to Joseph Bonanno, Fascist sympathizer and close friend to Generoso Pope. Tresca had not only been critical of Pope but recently berated Garofalo and threatened to expose him in Il Martello. Galante, only recently released from prison, was seen by his parole officer fleeing the scene. Unfortunately, due to the wartime ration of gasoline, the parole officer was unable to give chase.

A eulogy at his memorial service was delivered by Angelica Balabanoff, socialist activist and former Bolshevik. According to Lewis Coser's account of the funeral, "I was sitting near a burly Irish policeman who clearly didn't understand a word of Balabanoff's fierce Italian oratory. But at her climax he burst into tears."[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Solon DeLeon with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole (eds.), The American Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pp. 231-232.
  2. ^ a b Aaron, Daniel. "Who Killed Carlo Tresca?". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  3. ^ Pernicone, N. (19 October 2005). "Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel". Springer. Retrieved 2 December 2017 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Guide to the Dorothy Gallagher Research Files on Carlo Tresca". Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Minna B. Harkavy". Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  6. ^ Page 48 of Witness Statement 909 to the Irish BUREAU OF MILITARY HISTORY, 1913-21
  7. ^ a b Kazin, Alfred (October 2, 1988). "Who Hired the Assassin?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-07-30. On Jan. 11, 1943, the Italian-born anarchist editor Carlo Tresca, who had long been one of the stormiest and most vivid figures on the American labor and radical scene, was shot to death on the corner of 15th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York. The wartime blackout - Tresca was shot about 9:30 in the evening - prevented his companion from getting a good look at the assassin. And such was Tresca's current list of opponents and enemies - especially among the former Fascist sympathizers in the Italian-American establishment - that the Manhattan District Attorney's office never pursued several lines of investigation and the case has never been officially solved.
  8. ^ Trotsky, Leon. "The Case of Leon Trotsky (Report of Dewey Commission - 1937)". Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  9. ^ Lewis Coser, "From a Heroic Past." Dissent, Summer 1989.
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