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Ciancabilla portrait photo; source
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(Born Rome 1872- Died San Francisco 1904)

Biographical/historical notes:

Giuseppe Ciancabilla was one of the important figures of the anarchist movement who immigrated to the US in the late 1800s, along with F. Saverio Merlino, Pietro Gori, Errico Malatesta, Carlo Tresca, & Luigi Galleani.

According to historian Paul Avrich, Ciancabilla was one of the most impressive (now one of the least well known) of the anarchist speakers & writers.

Giuseppe Ciancabilla was born in Rome & moved to America in 1898 & settled in Paterson, New Jersey, a major stronghold of Italian anarchism. He became the editor of La Questione Sociale (The Social Question), a paper which Pietro Gori helped establish in 1895, & one of the leading organs of Italian anarchism in the US.

Ciancabilla eventually moved westward, settling among the Italian miners of Spring Valley, Illinois. After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, the anarchist groups were raided by the police, & Ciancabilla was driven from pillar to post, arrested, manhandled, & evicted.

Driven out of Spring Valley, driven in turn out of Chicago, Ciancabilla wound up in San Francisco, editing the journal La Protesta Umana when he suddenly took ill & died in 1904 at the age of 32, one of the most intelligent & capable of the Italian anarchists in America.

The following text is from "Willful Disobedience" (Volume 4, number 3-4, Fall-Winter 2003):

Giuseppe Ciancabilla was born in 1872 in Rome and died at just 32 years old in a hospital in San Francisco, California.

At the age of 18, he went to Greece to join in the battle against Turkish oppression there. He acted as a correspondent for the Italian socialist paper, Avanti!, but rather than fighting with the Italian volunteers he joined a group of libertarian combatants from Cyprian Amalcare who sought to encourage a popular insurrection through partisan guerrilla war.

In October 1897, he met Malatesta to do interview for Avanti!. This meeting and the response of the PSI (Italian Socialist Party) leadership to the discussion led Ciancabilla to leave the socialist party in disgust and declare himself an anarchist. This “Declaration” appeared in Malatesta’s paper, "L’Agitazione" on November 4, 1897. Ciancabilla portrait photo; source

The choice of becoming an anarchist forced Ciacabilla and his companion, Ersilia Cavedagni, to flee Italy. After a short time in Switzerland and Brussels, Ciancabilla moved to France where he collaborated with Jean Grave on the paper, Les Temps Nouveaux, though the editors felt the need to occasionally point out their differences with his perspectives.

In 1898, when the Italian authorities pointed him out as a “dangerous anarchist”, Ciancabilla was expelled from France. He returned to Switzerland where he attempted to bring together Italian revolutionary refugees. He was expelled from Switzerland for writing the article “A Strike of the file” in defense of Luigi Luccheni [he stabbed the Empress Elizabeth of Austria —ed.] for the anarchist-communist paper "L’Agitatore" that he had started himself in Neuchatel.

After a short time in England, he decided to move to the United States. Once in the US, he was called to Patterson, New Jersey to direct the anarchist paper "La Questione Sociale." However, due to changes in his ideas, he quickly found himself in conflict with the editorial group of the paper who supported Malatesta’s organizational ideas and methods. In August 1899, Malatesta came to the US and was entrusted with directing "La Questione Sociale." This led Ciancabilla and other collaborators to leave that magazine and to start the journal "L’Aurora" in West Hoboken. Besides spreading anarchist ideas and propaganda in "L’Aurora," Ciancabilla used it for translation including works by Grave and Kropotkin. His Italian translation of Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread even managed to make its way into Italy despite legal hardships.

The final period of Ciancabilla’s life was spent between Chicago and San Francisco where he published the journal, "Protesta Umana," a review of anarchist thought.

Ciancabilla was always explicit about being an anarchist-communist, but was equally explicit (like Luigi Galleani, another Italian anarchist immigrant active in the US at that time) about his critique of formal organization and his support for those who took individual action against the masters of this world such as Michele Angiolillo, Gaetano Bresci and Leon Czolgosz [who shot American president McKinley — ed.].

On September 15, 1904, he died, attended by his companion.

The following article briefly expresses his ideas on organization.


Against organization

We cannot conceive that anarchists establish points to follow systemically as fixed dogmas. Because, even if a uniformity of views on the general lines of tactics to follow is assumed, these tactics are carried out in a hundred different forms of applications, with a thousand varying particulars.

Therefore, we don’t want tactical programs, and consequently we don’t want organization. Having established the aim, the goal to which we hold, we leave every anarchist free to choose from the means that his sense, his education, his temperament, his fighting spirit suggest to him as best. We don’t form fixed programs and we don’t form small or great parties. But we come together spontaneously, and not with permanent criteria, according to momentary affinities for a specific purpose, and we constantly change these groups as soon as the purpose for which we had associated ceases to be, and other aims and needs arise and develop in us and push us to seek new collaborators, people who think as we do in the specific circumstance.

When any of us no longer preoccupies himself with creating a fictitious movement of individual sympathizers and those weak of conscience, but rather creates an active ferment of ideas that makes one think, like blows from a whip, he often hears his friends respond that for many years they have been accustomed to another method of struggle, or that he is an individualist, or a pure theoretician of anarchism.

It is not true that we are individualists if one tries to define this word in terms of isolating elements, shunning any association within the social community, and supposing that the individual could be sufficient to himself. But ourselves supporting the development of the free initiatives of the individual, where is the anarchist that does not want to be guilty of this kind of individualism? If the anarchist is one who aspires to emancipation from every form of moral and material authority, how could he not agree that the affirmation of one’s individuality, free from all obligations and external authoritarian influence, is utterly benevolent, is the surest indication of anarchist consciousness? Nor are we pure theoreticians because we believe in the efficacy of the idea, more than in that if the individual. How are actions decided, if not through thought? Now, producing and sustaining a movement of ideas is, for us, the most effective means for determining the flow of anarchist actions, both in practical struggle and in the struggle for the realization of the ideal.

We do not oppose the organizers. They will continue, if they like, in their tactic. If, as I think, it will not do any great good, it will not do any great harm either. But it seems to me that they have writhed throwing their cry of alarm and blacklisting us either as savages or as theoretical dreamers.

— Giuseppe Ciancabilla

This page created September 2004; updated March 2006, August 2010

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