Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida

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Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida
Giuseppe De Felice.jpg
Born (1859-04-11)11 April 1859
Catania, Italy
Died 19 July 1920(1920-07-19) (aged 61)
Aci Castello, Italy
Nationality Italian
Occupation Socialist politician and journalist
Known for Leader of the Fasci Siciliani
Mayor of Catania

Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida (April 11, 1859 in Catania – July 19, 1920 in Aci Castello) was an Italian socialist politician and journalist from Sicily. He is considered to be one of the founders of the Fasci Siciliani (Sicilian Leagues) a popular movement of democratic and socialist inspiration. As the first socialist mayor of Catania in Sicily, from 1902 until 1914, he became the protagonist of a kind of municipal socialism.

Early life

Born in a humble family in Catania, he spent his childhood years in a children’s home. His father had been killed in 1868 by the Carabinieri during a robbery, while his mother, according to a report by the authorities, "lived in immorality." Released from the home, he found employment as an archivist clerk in the prefecture in 1878.[1]

His combative temperament was played out in journalism. A little over twenty years, in 1880, he founded the political weekly Lo staffile (The Whip), whose very title reflects the polemic nature of its contents. Due to his continuous attacks against local authorities he soon had to leave his job at the prefecture. To feed the family and attend school, he practiced many trades: wine seller, salesman of sewing machines, a printer, and even playing the tuba in a band. He graduated in Law, passed the examinations of attorney, but did not exercise the legal profession ever.[2]

A few years later, he was involved with the weekly L'unione (The Union), which had emerged as the organ of the Republican Club, and became the workers' organ of Catania.[2] De Felice was very active in organizing workers. In 1890 he convened the first congress of workers' associations in Sicily, with the adhesion of a couple of hundreds of associations. However, the congress was prohibited by the police superintendent of Catania, on the orders of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi.[2]

He married at the age seventeen and had four daughters in a few years. But his turbulent life led his wife, Giuseppa De Simone, to break off the relationship. After the break-up, De Felice would have a busy, but rather inordinate love life.[1]

Fasci Siciliani

Election leaflet for De Felice Giuffrida (1892)

On May 1, 1891, he founded the first Fascio dei lavoratori (Workers League) in his hometown Catania. The Fascio’s rapid success as a combination of trade union and mutual benefit society led to the foundation of similar leagues in Palermo and many other Sicilian towns in the next two years.[3] Meanwhile, in November 1892, he was elected a Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the only Sicilian among the socialist deputees.[2]

De Felice was actively engaged in setting up Fasci in the interior of Sicily and travelled extensively over the island. He was often accompanied by his daughter Marietta De Felice Giuffrida. Only 14 years old, she was "extraordinarily animated by the spirit of socialism, who spoke to the people with a fervour of a missionary, and because of her sex and age, she commanded the fascination of the masses." [4]

Although a socialist by inspiration, he remained independent of the official party. At the Congress of the Fasci in Palermo on May 21–22, 1893, De Felice successfully represented the tendency for autonomy within the movement, and was elected a member of the new Central Committee.[2] De Felice, counting on the anarchists, urged immediate insurrection if the government tried to dissolve the Fasci, the majority recognised the futulity of barricades and favoured calm and prudence.[5]

Repression and trial

De Felice Giuffrida in prison in Palermo

In 1893 the upheaval of the Fasci turned into strikes which were violently repressed in January 1894, after Francesco Crispi had taken over government from Giovanni Giolitti.[6] After the declaration of a state of siege on Sicily, De Felice Giuffrida left from Rome for Catania. "The Fasci are perfectly organized, and will resist the military. My place is there among my people. I do not fear the force of arms. … Of course Crispi will imprison me, but it will not help him. My arrest will only react against the Government," he declared. He was arrested after attending a meeting of the Revolutionary Committee on January 4, 1894. Although he initially wanted to resist the arrest, he was persuaded not to do so as resistance to arrest would have been punishable by death under the state of siege. His arrest was described in The New York Times as a "wise act", as De Felice's personal influence alone could have brought Catania to the verge of rebellion.[7][8]

On May 30, 1894, he was sentenced to 18 years of prison at a trial in Palermo against the leaders of the Fasci.[9][10] After two years, he was released in March 1896 as the result of a pardon recognizing the excessive brutality of the repression.[6][11] After his release, De Felice, and other Fasci leaders Nicola Barbato and Rosario Garibaldi Bosco were met by a large crowd of supporters in Rome, who released the horses from their carriage and dragged them to the hotel, cheering for socialism and denouncing Crispi. De Felice said that after he had left the prison he was still more a revolutionary than when he entered it.[12]


While he was still in prison, De Felice was re-elected twice in the Chamber of Deputees in May 1895 and September 1895.[13] He was elected in protest against the repression of the Fasci Siciliani, but could not be sworn in.[14] After his release he was enthusiastically greeted by a large crowd at the railway station in Catania. He was carried to a carriage and after he had entered the horses were unharnessed by the crowd in a sign of respect until he reached a hotel.[14]

Shortly thereafter, in early 1897, he volunteered to fight against the Turks in the thirty-day Turkish-Greek war in the irregular legion of Giuseppe Garibaldi's son, Ricciotti Garibaldi, for the liberation of Crete. Former Fasci-leader and fellow defendant in the 1894 Palermo trial Nicola Barbato and the anarchist Amilcare Cipriani also volunteered.[15]

Re-elected again in the general election of March 1897, he would remain in Parliament until his death in 1920. During the elections his portrait was raised on many altars with burning candles, as before the Saints.[2]

As a result of serious revolutionary activity in Italy, the conservative government of Luigi Pelloux introduced on June 30, 1899, a series of measures seriously restricting the freedom of the press and assembly, as well as introducing criminal offenses for various forms of political opposition, De Felice was among the socialist parliamentarians that opposed the decrees and obstructed by filibustering. When the president of the Chamber of Deputies arbitrarily truncated the debate and put the decrees to the vote, De Felice, along with Leonida Bissolati and Camillo Prampolini, overthrew the voting box. As a result of the uproar, the Parliament was closed down for three months and criminal proceedings were started against the three rioters. De Felice escaped arrest and remained abroad until he was acquitted in October 1899.[2][16]

He also worked as a journalist with some important national newspapers. As such, he was sent to Paris in 1899 for the Dreyfus trial by Il Secolo newspaper from Milan and Avanti from Rome, while evading arrest for his actions in Parliament. In 1906, he assumed the direction of the Corriere di Catania.[2]

Mayor of Catania

In 1902 he was elected as the first left-wing mayor of Catania and became the protagonist of a kind of municipal socialism until 1914. He municipalized the bread ovens and instigated many public works.[17] On August 10, 1914, he was elected President of the Province of Catania, and remained there until his death in 1920.[1]

He was among those who left the Italian Socialist Party in 1912, supporting the Italian invasion of Libya. He saw the new land as essential to relieving southern Italy of the rising cost of bread which had caused riots in the south, and advocated a "war of revolution".[18] He joined the Italian Reform Socialist Party of Ivanoe Bonomi and Leonida Bissolati and supported Italy's participation in World War I on the side of the Triple Entente. He volunteered to fight at the front.[2]

Death and legacy

He died on July 19, 1920. The news of his death came unexpectedly and caused a wave of popular mourning in Catania. The corpse of the politician, loved by the people who came to call "u nostru patri" (Sicilian for: "Our father"), was transported by tram and followed by thousands of people; many others mourned his death.[17] When he died he had only six lire. The funeral procession is estimated to have been attended by about two hundred thousand people; the whole of Catania then.[2]

De Felice was a controversial and charismatic leader and a gifted speaker. Some considered him to be a populist demagogue.[2]


  • Popolazione e Socialismo. Palermo, Biondo, 1896.
  • Evoluzione storica della Proprietà e il Socialismo in Sicilia
  • Maffia e delinquenza in Sicilia. Milan, 1900.
  • La questione sociale in Sicilia. Rome, 1901.


  1. ^ a b c (in Italian) De Felice Giuffrida, Giuseppe, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 33 (1987)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k (in Italian) Giuseppe De Felice, Personaggi storici, Comune di Catania (Accessed October 31, 2010)
  3. ^ Seton-Watson, Italy from liberalism to fascism, pp. 162-63
  4. ^ Guglielmo, Living the Revolution, p. 38
  5. ^ Seton-Watson, Italy from liberalism to fascism, pp. 166-67
  6. ^ a b Bruno Cartosio, Sicilian Radicals in Two Worlds, in: Debouzy, In the Shadow of the Statue of Liberty, pp. 120-21
  7. ^ Martial Law Proclaimed In Sicily; Stern Measures Resorted To to Quiet the Anti-Tax Troubles, The New York Times, January 5, 1894
  8. ^ Trouble Has Been Long Brewing; Quantities of Arms and Ammunition in Hands of Revolutionists, The New York Times, January 6, 1894
  9. ^ Sicilian Rioters Sentenced, The New York Times, May 31, 1894
  10. ^ (in Italian) La firma dei «Patti di Corleone», La Sicilia, September 14, 2008
  11. ^ Pardon for Italian Socialists, The New York Times, March 14, 1896
  12. ^ Freed Italians Unrepentant; Many Socialists Greet Giuseppe de Felice, Bosco, and Barbato, The New York Times, March 18, 1896
  13. ^ Italian Socialists Elected, The New York Times, September 2, 1895
  14. ^ a b De Felice Returns In Triumph; Citizens of Catania Welcome the Socialist Back from Prison, The New York Times, March 30, 1896
  15. ^ (in Italian) Alarico Silvestri, da Amelia, combattè nel corpo di volontari comandato da Ricciotti Garibaldi, Corriere dell’Umbria, November 15, 2010
  16. ^ (in Italian) Quando Prampolini e De Felice rovesciarono le urne in Parlamento, Avanti!, February 4, 2014
  17. ^ a b (in Italian) Il viceré socialista amato dal popolo, Il Vallone
  18. ^ Thayer, Italy and the Great War, p. 254
  • Debouzy, Marianne (1992). In the Shadow of the Statue of Liberty: Immigrants, Workers, and Citizens in the American Republic, 1880-1920, Champaign (IL): University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-06252-3
  • Guglielmo, Jennifer (2010). Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945, University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0-8078-3356-8
  • Seton-Watson, Christopher (1967). Italy from liberalism to fascism, 1870-1925, New York: Taylor & Francis, 1967 ISBN 0-416-18940-7
  • Thayer, John A. (1964). Italy and the Great War. Madison and Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.
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