About Carlo Tresca
Carlo Tresca (March 9, 1879 – January 11, 1943) was an Italian-born American newspaper editor, orator, and labor organizer who was a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World during the decade of the 1910s. Tresca is remembered as a leading public opponent of fascism, Stalinism, and Mafia infiltration of the trade union movement. Tresca was assassinated by a Mafia gunman in 1943.
Carlo Tresca was born March 9, 1879 in Sulmona, Italy, the son of a landowner. Tresca attended primary, grammar, and high school in Italy.
From 1898 to 1902, Tresca was Secretary of the Italian Federation of Railroad Workers. He was also the editor of Il Germe, a socialist weekly based in Abruzzo.
Seeking to avoid a jail term for his radical political activities, Tresca emigrated to America in 1904, settling in Philadelphia.
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. During this same interval, Tresca was also the editor of Il Proletario (The Proletarian), the official newspaper of the Italian Socialist Federation.
Tresca's political views became increasingly more 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). 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 so-called Espionage Act.
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 9 months awaiting trial for murder in conjunction with the Minnesota action, ultimately being released without going to trial.
In August 1923, Tresca was arrested on charges of having printed an advertisement for a birth control pamphlet in his new publication, Il Martello (The Hammer). He was found guilty in an October 1923 trial and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. This sentence was confirmed on November 10, 1924 and Tresca entered prison on January 5, 1925.
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 American 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.
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.
Tresca was a member of the Dewey Commission which cleared Trotsky of all charges made during the Moscow Trials.
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. In 1941 Tresca, in a revealing moment, admitted to Max Eastman that Nicola Sacco was guilty of the crime with which he was charged, though Vanzetti was innocent.
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 13th Street on foot when a black Ford pulled up beside him. A short, squat gunman in a brown coat jumped out and shot Tresca in the back and 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 Mafia was the suspected assassin, 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, the 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."