La Voce operaia was published between 1933 and 1935 by the militant members of the Mazzini Club of Toronto. The association’s antifascism stemmed from the sound democratic views its members had of society and from their political convictions. The Mazzini Club was affiliated with the C.C.F. (Canadian Commonwealth Federation) and the editor of La Voce operaia, Nicola Giancotti, was a card-carrying member of the party. Despite the political orientation of the editorial board, the newspaper was open to all shades of antifascism including liberals, socialists, communists, Trotskyites and anarchists.
The various political groups and individuals who professed such different and opposing political views and beliefs often clashed, thus making the bi-weekly paper a lively political vehicle for dissonant voices. The often-turbulent situation, however, proved to be a threat to the very existence of the periodical.
The repression during the last two years of the Great War in addition to the post-war economic crisis had created extremely difficult conditions for left-wing movements everywhere in Canada and worldwide. Consequently, in the first half of the Twenties, Italian Canadian radicals were disoriented and practically lacking in any kind of organization. Moreover, mirroring the situation among Italian antifascists expatriated to France, Italians in Canada who broadly considered themselves as leftists, were constantly involved in internal quarrels. Little room was left for dialogue and the only bond keeping them together was their anti-capitalist ideology.
The Canadian nation’s repressive attitude and the conviction of well-to-do Canadians that ‘foreigners’ were responsible for the Bolshevik threat looming over the country created an unbearable situation for left-wing ethnic groups and activities. Because of the fear created by the ‘Red scare’, even legal union activities were suspected of having a subversive intent and workers were blacklisted.
In order to avoid the industrialists’ reprisals and government coercive measures, Italian left wingers of Ontario and Quebec brought their radicalism – and later, their antifascism – into the traditionally pro-fascist community associations such as the Order of Sons of Italy, mutual aid groups and social clubs. There, they found support from fellow workers and the petit bourgeois who, being mostly Catholic, did not share their left-wing ideology but had democratic convictions and stood against imported fascism.
However, from the mid-1920s onward, some collaboration among antifascists of different ideological orientations began to take root as a reaction against three events that aroused international interest and turmoil in the left-wing movement worldwide: the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti (1924); the campaign to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti (1927); and the boost local fascists received from the Concordat (1929). The minimal collaboration between the leftist political currents that started in the Twenties made possible the publication of La Voce operaia in the early Thirties.
La Voce operaia appeared on 29 July 1933. It identified itself as a ‘Periodical of antifascist propaganda published by the Mazzini Club, affiliated with the Labour section of the CCF.’ Its subtitle bore a maxim by Mazzini: ‘Freedom as a means and as an end.’ Using these words, the Italian Canadian antifascists drew an analogy between Mazzini’s stand for freedom and Italian national unity with their own struggle against fascism. Several political and mutual aid organizations supported the paper, directly and indirectly, with paid ads. One of the associations that regularly placed its ads in La Voce operaia was the numerically strong Famee Furlane association whose first President, Giuseppe De Carli, was an antifascist as was Dante Colussi Corte, one of the Society’s most active members and editor of the weekly Il Messaggero.
Being an antifascist publication, La Voce operaia treated only political issues of interest to the Italian left wing and its main thrust was exposing the ugliness lying behind the triumphal propaganda of the fascist regime. The contributors reported on political murders and violence, on the economic misery of the working people in Italy, and on the suppression of every form of freedom, including freedom of the press, of speech and the right to organize, call and attend meetings. They argued that all this had reduced Italians to an enslaved people and Italy to a large prison. Attention was paid to the Italian dictator Mussolini by publishing in installments the book Mussolini in a Shirt: Documents on Mussolini’s Life [Mussolini in camicia. Documentazione sulla vita di Mussolini] by the anarchist Armando Borghi.
Besides those in Toronto and its surrounding area, La Voce operaia had supporters in Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor and Sault Ste Marie in Ontario. Antifascists from Vancouver and Trail (BC) and other smaller cities sent letters to the editor and correspondence and contributed financially.
La Voce operaia focused on general issues affecting the Canadian labour force. The RCMP’s repressive measures enacted against workers disaffected with the capitalist economy were often reported and discussed in addition to the treatment of provincial and City Police against strikers and unemployed activists. Indeed, numerous reportages were dedicated to investigations into the activities of the Toronto Police Squad and its Chief, General Draper, a hugely divisive and pro-fascist figure.
Judging by the space devoted to them (over 40% of its columns) in the few surviving issues of the newspaper, four events attracted their attention and were at the forefront of La Voce operaia’s concerns, namely 1) the defrauding of the Relief fund in Montreal; 2) the persecution of antifascists in Italy seen through the activities of the fascist Special Tribunal for the Defence of the State; 3) the visit to Toronto of Piero Parini, General-Secretary of the Italian Fasci Abroad; and 4) antifascist historian Gaetano Salvemini’s speaking engagement in Montreal.
These activities were not enough to keep under control the ideological conflicts among the people involved in La Voce operaia; the glue holding them together was antifascism and a shared but not identical class view of society and its economic system. Men and women who postulated these ideas but in different measure had found a temporary but shaky truce in the pages of La Voce operaia.
Finally, it is noteworthy that, according to original documentation preserved in the Italian Central State Archives in Rome, at least one issue of La Voce operaia was sent to Italy where it was confiscated by the Mail Police and ended up in the hands of the Prefect of Bari. The envelope containing the copy of the paper was addressed to Pasquale Cassano, a blacksmith residing in Pisticci (Matera) and created havoc in the local fascist hierarchies who ordered the arrest of Cassano and several of his family members.
Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Ministero dell’Interno (Direzione Generale di APS: Divisione A.G.R., Sezione II) Urgente Raccomandata, N. 014897, 26 August 1933.
Principe, Angelo, Olga Zorzi Pugliese. 1996. Rekindling Faded Memories: The founding of the Famee Furlane of Toronto and Its First Years (1933-41). Toronto: The Famee Furlane.