Italian Immigrant Radical Culture

The Idealism of the Sovversivi in the United States, 1890-1940

287 pages

23 halftones illustrations

May, 2011

ISBN: 9780814791035

$70

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Marcella Bencivenni is an associate professor of history at Hostos Community College (CUNY). Besides her recent book, Italian Immigrant Radical Culture, she has written numerous articles about American labor, immigration and Italian American history, and has co-edited with Ron Hayduk Radical Perspectives on Immigration for the journal Socialism and Democracy of which she is an editorial board member.

All books by Marcella Bencivenni

Maligned by modern media and often stereotyped, Italian Americans possess a vibrant, if largely forgotten, radical past. In Italian Immigrant Radical Culture, Marcella Bencivenni delves into the history of the sovversivi, a transnational generation of social rebels, and offers a fascinating portrait of their political struggle as well as their milieu, beliefs, and artistic creativity in the United States.

As early as 1882, the sovversivi founded a socialist club in Brooklyn. Radical organizations then multiplied and spread across the country, from large urban cities to smaller industrial mining areas. By 1900, thirty official Italian sections of the Socialist Party along the East Coast and countless independent anarchist and revolutionary circles sprang up throughout the nation. Forming their own alternative press, institutions, and working class organizations, these groups created a vigorous movement and counterculture that constituted a significant part of the American Left until World War II.

Italian Immigrant Radical Culture compellingly documents the wide spectrum of this oppositional culture and examines the many cultural and artistic forms it took, from newspapers to literature and poetry to theater and visual art. As the first cultural history of Italian American activism, it provides a richer understanding of the Italian immigrant experience while also deepening historical perceptions of radical politics and culture.
 
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Reviews

  • Italian Immigrant Radical Culture not only makes an important contribution to the history of the Italian-American left but, more broadly, reminds us of the importance of the cultural and literary dimension of radical politics in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century.”

    —Fraser Ottanelli, Professor of History, University of South Florida

  • “A welcome introduction to the poorly understood immigrant sovversivi, whose ideological commitments to revolution and emancipation as often found expression in poetry, theater, and the arts as on the picket line and in the radical press.”

    —Donna Gabaccia, University of Minnesota

  • “Utilizing a broad spectrum of materials from Italian archives and American repositories, Bencivenni penetrates deeply into a hitherto unexplored dimension of the lost world of Italian immigrant radicalism—its culture. With acute insight and intellectual sophistication, she provides a superb analysis of radical working-class poetry, drama, and art, together with vivid biographical portraits of principal contributors, both men and women, and their struggles against capitalist exploitation and fascist domination. Her book is a must for any scholar or general reader drawn to these fascinating subjects.”

    —Nunzio Pernicone, author of Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892

  • "Anyone interested in the topic will benefit from Bencivenni's deep understanding of her subject, her exhaustive research, and her clear organization and writing."

    —R.J. Goldstein, Choice

  • "Bencivenni has written an impressive book that nicely complements existing studies on Italian immigrants. It deserves a wide audience."

    —Mike Rosenow, H-Net Reviews

  • Marcella Bencivenni contributes to the growing literature of the sovversivi (subversives) but with a new twist… Bencivenni’s superb analysis of the importance of the cultural and literal dimension of radical politics and her biographical portraits of its stars ensure that the works of these men and women will have a lasting legacy in American radical history.

    —Diane C. Vecchio, Furman University

  • "Bencivenni's superb analysis of the importance of the cultural and literary dimension of radical politics and her biographical portraits of its stars ensure that the works of these men and women will have a lasting legacy in American radical history."

    —Diane C. Vecchio, The Journal of American History

  • "A great book that will benefit well-established scholars, newly minted Ph.D.'s, and graduate students thinking about distinct avenues of research."

    —Caroline Merithew, Italian American Review

  • "sheds illuminating light on a part of that history that is often overlooked, and in doing so revitalizes a radical tradition"

    —Stefan Bosworth, Science & Society