- Transnational Radicals: Italian Anarchists in Canada and the U.S., 1915–1940 by Travis Tomchuk
Travis Tomchuck brings the anarchist movement in Canada and the United States to life from a transnational perspective. By shedding a nationally-bound approach, Tomchuck is able to reconstruct some of the complex and influential international networks and relationships that were at the heart of the movement. The transnational element, albeit limited to only six cities (Toronto, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, Newark, and New York City), allows the author to explore how Italian anarchists navigated across intellectual and physical borders; how they transplanted ideas from the Old World; and how foreign-born anarchists practiced their anarchism in a North American context.
Chronicling the movement’s ideological and institutional transformations between 1915 and 1940, Transnational Radicals offers four original scholarly contributions. First, the work is grounded in archival sources, including Italian government security files and Italian-language anarchist newspapers. A key strength of this book is that it incorporates the testimony and experiences of Italian anarchists who settled in North America. Second, the work re-evaluates the nature of the Italian immigrant community by challenging the perception that Italian immigrants were immune to radical and traditionally ‘‘deviant’’ overtures. It explores varying degrees of conviction, and looks at Italians who turned to anarchism because of unemployment, discrimination, and other challenges. Third, Tomchuk demonstrates that immigrant culture as a transmitter of different, [End Page 438] even conflicting political ideologies does not only reveal essential information on how culture influenced community politics, but it also shows how immigrant identity is intertwined with political ideologies. Finally, the work discards the introverted approach that has characterized most studies of ethnic community organizations and places the North American anarchist movement within a transnational context. Here the work makes broader conclusions about the nature and evolution of anarchism in North America.
Transnational Radicals begins with a comprehensive discussion of the intellectual backbone of the anarchist movement, emphasizing leaders such as Mikhail Bakunin, Carlo Cafiero, and Luigi Galleani, and their influence in nineteenth-century Italy. Tomchuck correctly observes that once the anarchist movement starts to coalesce in Italy, a new working class culture begins to emerge in response to Italian state repression. Informed by newspapers and debates, and hardened by insurrections and protests, many Italian migrants who left in search of work or to escape persecution transplanted their ideas and activism to the New World, where they established communities and political networks mirroring those in Italy. Even vigorous debates over the structure of the movement were replicated in North America where an ‘‘enmity existed between the anarcho-syndicalists and the anti-organizationalist anarchist communists’’ (187).
Focusing on gender roles and identity formation within Italian anarchist culture, Tomchuk offers a concise discussion about newspapers and various public outreach initiatives that sought to educate members and spread anarchist ideas. While his discussion about anarchist newspapers is thorough, it lacks details about readership and circulation figures, especially in rural areas. More comparisons with other ethnic anarchist groups and their newspapers would also better situate the influence and size of the Italian movement and its press in North America. It would have been interesting to learn more about inter-ethnic comradery, and about relations with other anarchists and traditionally ‘‘deviant’’ groups.
While Italian anarchist networks are generally coherently unearthed, a thorough discussion of Canadian and American surveillance is lacking, especially during the height of the Great Depression when Canadian and US officials cracked down on radical and revolutionary groups. Quebec is also not mentioned, which is an oversight, since Montreal was (and is) home to one of the largest Italian communities in Canada. More on the interactions with Italian ‘‘patriotic’’ right-wing and religious groups is also missing. Tomchuck creates the impression that the marginalized status of Italian immigrants invariably led them to join radical groups but fails to consider why those who were just as exploited instead adopted conservative ideologies in North America. [End Page 439]
A major strength is that Tomchuck reaches for a...