The Seattle Anarchists go to Mexico

From the Transmetropolitan Review (06/05/2024).

In the interests of fostering physical media, the full pamphlet is print only.


As it turns out, anarchists can get things wrong. Not only can they get things wrong, they can be dumb shit morons like every other human, but few anarchists got things so wrong as the Italian anarchists of Seattle, the ones who lived there at the start of 1911, over a century ago.

Not all of them got things wrong, mind you, just most of them. So what did they get wrong?, you might be asking. Well, it’s pretty simple, and unfortunately very complicated. In a word, they refused to support the Mexican Revolution, but only after fighting in its opening battles, physically, in real life. What makes this refusal even more shameful is that their reasons were undeniably racist, believing as they did that the indigenous could never mount a successful revolution.

One of these Italian anarchists from Seattle who fought in Mexico was named Antonio Rodia, a well-known coal-mine agitator of the insurrectionary variety. With him was his brother Sabato, or Sabatino, or later Sam Rodia, who would go on to build Nuestra Pueblo, or the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Sabato was illiterate, he couldn’t read or write, allegedly, but Antonio was quite literate, writing the opening announcement for the new meeting hall of the Social Studies Circle in Seattle, a group he helped found.

When Antonio and Sabato fought in Mexico, they were joined by Michele Bombino, Michele Cirpriani, Vincenzo Cipolla, Domenico Marino, Giuseppe Piccirillo, and Michele Ricci, among many others. Among this international brigade was Joe Hill, the famous songwriter and fighter of the IWW, and in plain words, they all helped ignite the great Mexican Revolution.

The Italian anarchists of the 1910s

The uprising began with the January 29, 1911 liberation of Mexicali and quickly spread, with the rebels soon taking Tecate that March, which is likely when the Italian anarchists arrived from Seattle. Several battles were fought against the federales, and soon an entire anarchist military division was marching on Tijuana, which fell on May 8, 1911. That same day, the forces of rebel general Francisco Madero took Ciudad Juarez, triggering the end of the dictatorship. Without the distraction of the Baja Califronia uprising, Madero might never have taken Juarez.

The anarchists holding Tijuana couldn’t defeat the federales sent to crush them, and after losing twenty comrades and seeing a dozen more wounded, the anarchists escaped back into the US, among them the Italian anarchists from Seattle. They felt used, and when Madero eventually took state power, the great Revolution seemed anything but anarchist, especially when his government condemned the Zapatista rebellion. After that, it was all sangue amaro, or bad blood, and many anarchists didn’t emerge from this conflict looking very good.

Among them was the French anarchist E. Rist, who claimed that not from the raiding cowboys of the north, not from the Yaquis teeming in the plains of the West, not from the Navajos or the Mohavi who grew up in the mountains or on the high discreet planes of Sonora who ignore everything about the modern world and cannot be the pioneers of a social revolution, would the idea of human progress have ever arisen. Just completely shameful, along with its championing of western progress, and it echoes identical sentiments from Luigi Galleni, editor of Italian anarchist newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva, a medium through which much of this conflict transpired.

Unlike the great Russian Revolution of 1917, which many anarchists blindly supported, the great Mexican Revolution of 1911 didn’t receive the same level of enthusiasm, likely because Russians are white, and Mexicans generally are not. Had this shit reality not been the case, had tens of thousands of US anarchists supported the indigenous insurgents of Northern Mexico with all of their skills and resources, history would be vastly different, likely better.

As you will see in this pamphlet, the Italian anarchists of Seattle didn’t make good choices, but not all of them. Of those who went to Mexico, two kept fighting. One was Sabato Rodia, a man who once beat his wife and left her and his children to fight in the Mexican Revolution from 1911 to 1917. The other anarchist who fought in Mexico for at least another year was Michele Bombino, a friend of Ricardo Flores Magon, but he later reconciled with comrades in Seattle and helped them cause an armed uprising in the coal fields of Vancouver Island.

History is merciless in its judgement, and we leave you with these translations from Cronaca Sovvervisa, which can speak for themselves. We hope these documents can add another layer to a group of widely respected anarchists, revealing them to be flawed, stupid, narrow-minded, and eager for infighting, just like many anarchists of today, in 2024. No one is perfect, but all we can hope to do is hope to learn from our mistakes, and ideally never make them again.

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