Vito Marcantonio

Vito Anthony Marcantonio (December 10, 1902 – August 9, 1954) was an Italian-American lawyer and politician who served East Harlem for seven terms in the United States House of Representatives.[1]

Vito Marcantonio
Vito Marcantonio (New York Congressman) 2.jpg
From 1949's Pictorial Directory of the 81st Congress
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
January 3, 1935 – January 3, 1937
Preceded byJames J. Lanzetta
Succeeded byJames J. Lanzetta
Constituency20th district
In office
January 3, 1939 – January 3, 1951
Preceded byJames J. Lanzetta
Succeeded byJames G. Donovan
Constituency20th district (1939–1945)
18th district (1945–1951)
Personal details
Vito Anthony Marcantonio

December 10, 1902
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 9, 1954(1954-08-09) (aged 51)
New York, New York, U.S.
Political partyAmerican Labor (1937–1954)
Republican (1935–1937)
Miriam A. Sanders
(m. 1925)
Alma materNew York University School of Law

For most of his political career, he was a member of the American Labor Party, believing that neither major American political party supported the interests of the working class. For two years prior to his switch to the Labor Party, he was a pro-New Deal member of the progressive branch of the Republican Party as a supporter of Fiorello LaGuardia (prior to the party's realignment as a mostly conservative party). Marcantonio was a socialist and avid supporter of the working class, poor, immigrants, labor unions, and African-American civil rights.

Marcantonio represented the neighborhood of East Harlem in New York City (containing the smaller neighborhoods of Italian Harlem and Spanish Harlem), which was home to many ethnic Italians and Puerto Ricans. He spoke Spanish, Italian, and English.

Early life and educationEdit

Marcantonio was son of an American-born father and Italian-born mother both with origins in Picerno, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.[2] He was born on December 10, 1902, in the impoverished Italian Harlem ghetto of East Harlem, New York City.[1] He attended New York City public schools (becoming the only member of his class from East Harlem to graduate from De Witt Clinton High School in Hell's Kitchen)[citation needed] and eventually received his LL.B. from the New York University School of Law in 1925.


In 1920, Marcantonio campaigned for Parley P. Christensen, candidate of the Farmer-Labor Party in the presidential election.[1]

In 1924, he became campaign manager for the congressional campaign of Fiorello La Guardia, then a Progressive–Socialist.[1] Together, LaGuardia and Marcantonio also campaigned for U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette for U.S. President.[1][3] Marcantonio also became secretary of the Tenants League, which fought high rents and evictions.[1]

After passing the New York bar examination in 1925, Marcatonio began practicing law, first for Foster, La Guardia, and Cutler.[1] He clerked at the law firm of Hale, Nelles & Shorr, known for its representation of radical individuals and organizations. There, he worked with labor lawyer Joseph R. Brodsky, who "significantly contributed to his left orientation" toward Marxism.[3]

From 1926 to 1932, Marcantonio ran La Guardia's campaigns every two years.[1]

From 1930 to 1931, he worked as an assistant United States attorney.[1]

Political careerEdit

U.S. CongressEdit

Marcantonio was first elected to the United States House of Representatives from New York in 1934 as a Republican.[1] He received a warm write-up in the New Masses in the November 1936 issue.[1] He served in the House from 1935 until 1937, but was defeated in 1936 for re-election.

Marcantonio's district was centered in his native East Harlem, New York City, which had many residents and immigrants of Italian and Puerto Rican origin. Fluent in Spanish as well as Italian, he was considered an ally of the Puerto Rican and Italian-American communities, and an advocate for the rights of the workers, immigrants, and the poor.[4]

In 1939, Marcantonio criticized the 1936 prosecution and conviction of Pedro Albizu Campos, president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party for sedition and other crimes against the United States. In addition to defending the Puerto Rican and Italian communities and common workers, Marcantonio was a strong advocate of Harlem's African American communities and fought vehemently for black civil rights decades before the civil rights movement of the 1950s–60s.

In either 1937 or 1938, Marcantonio became a member of the American Labor Party. He was elected to the House again from New York in 1938, and served this time for six terms, from 1939 to 1951, being reelected in the elections of 1940, 1942, 1944, 1946,[5] and 1948. He was so popular in that district that he cross-filed in the Democratic and Republican primaries and won the nominations of both parties, and he also gained the endorsement of the American Labor Party, which is an example of electoral fusion.[6] Aside from Marcantonio, the only American Laborite congressman was Leo Isacson, who served in Congress from 1948 to 1949, after winning a special election (defeated in the next general election).

On November 25, 1947, the day after the House voted for indictment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Representative Walter Judd attacked Marcantonio by likening the ALP to the China Democratic League in China at that time:

The history of the Democratic League is astonishingly like that of the American Labor Party to which the gentleman belongs. It was originally a coalition of labor groups, liberals and Communists. Then the genuine liberals discovered that it and they were being used as fronts or tools of the Communists, and, as the gentleman from New York is well aware, they broke off and established the Liberal Party.[7]

In 1948, Marcantonio was an avid supporter of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who ran for President on the Progressive Party ticket.[8] A campaign film by Carl Marzani shows Marcantonio's district and his efforts on its behalf.[9][10] Marcantonio was reelected.

In 1949, Marcantonio ran for mayor of New York City on the American Labor Party ticket, but was defeated.[6]

In 1950 he was defeated by the Democrat James Donovan for his House seat, after a particularly vociferous campaign against the congressman because of his refusal to vote for American participation in the Korean War. In that election, Donovan had the broad-based popular support of the Democratic, Republican, and Liberal parties. The passage of the Wilson Pakula Act in 1947 also played some part in Marcantonio's defeat.[11] The law prevented candidates from running in the primaries of parties with which they were not affiliated. It was widely perceived as being directed against Marcantonio.[11]

As the sole representative of his party for most of his years in Congress, Marcantonio never held a committee chairmanship. After his defeat in 1950 and the withdrawal of Communist Party support for the ALP, the party soon fell apart.[12]

Political ideologyEdit

Vito Marcantonio was inspired politically by his Roman Catholic faith. He had always identified himself as a Catholic. In 1939, while speaking before the National Conference of the ILD, had a description of himself “As a Roman Catholic who has not deserted the faith of his fathers.”[13]

Marcantonio, who was arguably one of the most left-wing members of Congress, said that party loyalty was less important than voting with his conscience. He was sympathetic to the Socialist and Communist parties, and to labor unions. He was investigated by the FBI in the 1940s and 1950s because of his extensive affiliation with members of the Communist Party and known communist front groups.[14][15]

Civil rightsEdit

In 2010, historian Thaddeus Russell described Marcantonio as "one of the greatest champions of black civil rights during the 1930s and 1940s."[16] He sponsored bills to prohibit the poll tax, used by southern states to disenfranchise poor voters, and to make lynching a federal crime.[16]

Foreign policyEdit

In 1940, Marcantonio helped form the American Peace Mobilization (APM), a group whose aim was to keep the U.S. from participating in World War II (thus similar in aim to the right wing America First Committee). Before the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (a Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact) was signed in Moscow 23 August 1939, the APM's precursor organization, the Comintern-directed American League for Peace and Democracy, had been anti-Nazi. Marcantonio served as the APM's vice-chair. He appeared in a newsreel in 1940 denouncing 'the imperialist war', the line taken by Joseph Stalin and his supporters in the Soviet Union until the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. The Pact lasted until the Germans broke it by invading the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. In 1942 Marcantonio worked to expand the U.S. military commitment to a second front in Europe against the Nazi expansion. The USSR ordered Communists throughout the world to promote the idea to help it defeat Nazism. Marcantonio was also a Vice President of the International Workers Order, a fraternal benefit society unofficially affiliated with the Communist Party.[17]

In 1947, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation to provide financial aid to fight communism in Turkey and Greece, Marcantonio was the only congressman to not applaud the action, symbolizing his disagreement with the Truman Doctrine.[18]

In 1950, Marcantonio opposed American involvement in the Korean War. He argued that North Korea had been the victim of an unprovoked attack by South Korea. He cited articles by I. F. Stone, a radical journalist.

Freedom of expressionEdit

In 1941, Marcantonio represented Dale Zysman, a high school coach and board member of the New York City Teachers Union a.k.a. Jack Hardy, a communist writer for International Publishers, in a New York Board of Education hearing. Marcantonio asked for a ten-day stay because the Board had failed to present "an itemized bill of particulars," which stay the Board denied. Zysman walked out.[19]

Spanish in Puerto Rico's schoolsEdit

In 1946, Vito Marcantonio introduced legislation to restore Spanish as the language of instruction in Puerto Rico's schools asking President Truman to sign the bill saying, "in the name of the children of Puerto Rico who are being tortured by the prevailing system…to fight cultural chauvinism and to correct past errors." President Truman signed the bill.[4] In 1948, schools were able to return to teaching in the Spanish language, but English was required in schools as a second language.

Later life and deathEdit

After his defeat in mayoral and congressional elections, Marcantonio continued to practice law. It was his law practice, maintained while in Congress, that had generated the money by which he substantially self-financed his political campaigns.

At first he practiced in Washington, D.C. but he soon returned to New York City. At the time of his death in 1954, Marcantonio was running for Congress as the candidate of a newly formed third party, the Good Neighbor Party.[12] He died on August 9, 1954, from a heart attack after coming up the subway stairs on Broadway by City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan. As a devout Catholic, he was given conditional absolution and extreme unction, the last sacrament of the Church.[20][21]


Marcantonio's collection of speeches, I Vote My Conscience (1956), edited by Annette Rubenstein, influenced the next generation of young radicals.[22] His defense of workers rights, his mastery of parliamentary procedure, his ability to relate to the workers in his district while also engaging in worldwide issues, made him a hero to a certain section of the left. Rubenstein's book was reprinted in a new edition in 2002.[22]

Tony Kushner's play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures has a main character who is a fictional "cousin" of Vito Marcantonio.


Pamphlets written by Marcantonio include:

  • Labor's Martyrs': Haymarket 1887 Sacco and Vanzetti 1927 (1941)[23]
  • Should America Go to War? (1941)[24]
  • Marcantonio Answers F.D.R.! (1941)[25]
  • Security with FDR (1944)[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Minton, Bruce (November 1936). "That Man Marcantonio" (PDF). New Masses: 3–5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 August 2021. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  2. ^ Meyer, Gerald (1989). Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954. Albany: SUNY Press. pp. 7. ISBN 978-0-7914-0083-8.
  3. ^ a b Murtagh, Matthew (18 May 2010). "Politician, Social Worker, and Lawyer. Vito Marcantonio and Constituent Legal Services". Archived from the original on 26 February 2018. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b Simon, John J. (2006-03-01). "Rebel in the House: The Life and Times of Vito Marcantonio". Monthly Review. Archived from the original on 2021-08-15. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  5. ^ "Representative Vito Marcantonio of New York". US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. 2001-09-11. Archived from the original on 2020-12-06. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  6. ^ a b Sammin, Kyle (August 13, 2019). "A Socialist Predecessor of Ocasio-Cortez in Congress". National Review. Retrieved March 5, 2022.
  7. ^ Congressional Record. US GPO. 25 November 1947. p. 11762. Archived from the original on 12 September 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  8. ^ "Marcantonio, Vito (Anthony)". Credo. The Columbia Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 14 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  9. ^ People’s Congressman on Vimeo
  10. ^ Musser, Charles (2009). "Carl Marzani and Union Films: Making Left-Wing Documentaries during the Cold War, 1946–53" (PDF). The Moving Image. 9 (1): 135–143. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 May 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b Nicolás Kanellos; Francisco A. Lomelí; Claudio Esteva Fabregat; Felix M. Padilla (1994). Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States. Arte Publico Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-55885-101-6. Archived from the original on 2021-09-12. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  12. ^ a b Vito Marcantonio, Radical Congressman from New York Archived 2009-08-17 at the Wayback Machine, PoliticalAffairs. Retrieved 8-11-09
  13. ^ "Vito Marcantonio Online". Vito Marcantonio Organization. 14 Aug 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2022. he had always identified himself as a Catholic. For example, in 1939, while speaking before the National Conference of the ILD, . . . with a description of himself "As a Roman Catholic who has not deserted the faith of his fathers."
  14. ^ "Vito Marcantonio, Ethnic Populist". State University of New York Press. Retrieved 26 March 2022. further to the left with a domestic political agenda roughly parallel to that the Communist Party (CP).
  15. ^ "Vito Marcantonio". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 8 March 2022. Congressman Marcantonio was the subject of an FBI security matter investigation during the 1940's and 1950's in view of his extensive affiliation with members of the Communist Party and known communist front groups.
  16. ^ a b Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States, 2010, p. 188 (section – "Italian Americans: Out of Africa"
  17. ^ Sabin, Arthur J. (1993). Red Scare in Court: New York Versus The International Workers Order. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. pp. 310–311.
  18. ^ Trussel, C.P. CONGRESS IS SOLEMN: Prepares to Consider Bills After Hearing the President Gravely SOVIET CALLED ISSUE Some Hold Truman Plan Is Blow to U.N. -- All but Marcantonio Applaud.New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]13 Mar 1947: 1
  19. ^ "Zysman Identified as Red: Teachers Union Leader Tried in Absence After He Walks Out on Hearing" (PDF). New York Sun. 17 September 1941. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  20. ^ "Vito Marcantonio Online". Vito Marcantonio Organization. 14 Aug 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2022. a priest who administered the last rites of the Catholic Church.
  21. ^ "Remembering Vito Marcantonio". Center For Puerto Rican Studies. 14 Aug 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2022. Marcantonio had been a devout Catholic.
  22. ^ a b "I Vote My Conscience, 2002 edition, hosted at Vito Marcantonio official website". Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  23. ^ Marcantonio, Vito (1937). Introduction by William Z. Foster. "Labor's Martyrs': Haymarket 1887 Sacco and Vanzetti 1927". Prism: Political & Rights Issues & Social Movements. Workers Library Publishers: 16. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021.
  24. ^ Marcantonio, Vito (1941). Should America Go to War?. American People's Mobilization. p. 11. Retrieved 14 June 2021.
  25. ^ Marcantonio, Vito (1941). Marcantonio Answers F.D.R.!: Congressman Vito Marcantonio's Complete Radio Address Exposing the President's Drive to War. American People's Mobilization. p. 8. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021.
  26. ^ Marcantonio, Vito (1944). Security with FDR. National Fraternal Committee for the Re-election of President Roosevelt. p. 34. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Luconi, Stefano, "When East Harlem's Politics Was an Italian-American Matter: The Lanzetta–Marcantonio Congressional Races, 1934–1940," in Italian Signs, American Politics: Current Affairs, Historical Perspectives, Empirical Analyses, ed. Ottorino Cappelli, 113–66. (New York: John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, 2012. 236 pp.)
  • Luthin, Reinhard H. (1954). "Vito Marcantonio: New York City". American Demagogues: Twentieth Century. Beacon Press. ASIN B0007DN37C. OCLC 1098334.
  • Meyer, Gerald J. Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902–1954 (1989)
  • Simon, John J. "Rebel in the House," Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine (2006) 57#11 pp. 24–46.

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
American Labor Nominee for Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by