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Emanuel Garrett

Men and Women of Labor

Out of the Past

Sacco and Vanzetti
(Executed, August 23, 1927)

(22 August 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 61, 22 August 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Nicola Sacco (born in Italy, April 22, 1891) was a shoemaker. For years he worked in a Milford, Mass., shoe factory as a skilled edger. Bartolomeo Vanzetti (born in Italy, June 11, 1888) was a worker who had tried his hands at many trades. For years he peddled fish in Plymouth, Mass. Sacco and Vanzetti were no different from any other worker – except in one thing. Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists. They hated tyranny and oppression. They dreamed of a society in which man would be free. They paid for that crime with their lives.

The year 1920 was the year of the Palmer raids, of the post-war hysteria. On April 20th of that year a paymaster was held up and killed in Braintree, Mass. Sacco and Vanzetti were nowhere near the scene of the killing. There wasn’t a shred of tangible evidence to connect them with the crime. But they were anarchists – and so they were arrested and tried before a judge (Webster Thayer) who publicly bragged that he’d burn the damn anarchists. Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty and sentenced to death. The Massachusetts courts chalked up another triumph for boss justice.

A Seven-Year Fight

Appeals, mass action stayed execution of the sentence for seven years. During those years, the wave of protest swelled higher as added evidence confirmed their innocence, pointed the guilt in fact at a gang of professional thieves. From Shanghai to Boston workers demonstrated. Bourgeois liberals (Felix Frankfurter and others) declared the trial a frame-up. In Paris, barricades were erected. A real united front of labor fought for the release of Sacco and Vanzetti. Union Square was many times packed as labor leaders of differing political viewpoints, James P. Cannon, Carlo Tresca, etc., demanded freedom for Sacco and Vanzetti.

But an “impartial” investigating committee of prominent “liberals” appointed by Governor Fuller “weighed” the evidence, ignored all the facts clearing Sacco and Vanzetti and proving the case a frame-up and confirmed their “guilt”. Massachusetts justice had to have its toll. Sacco and Vanzetti had to die. That they did – with the cry “Long live anarchy!” on their lips.

* * *

How better recite the lives of those two great martyrs than in the unmatchable words of one of them, Vanzetti, from his address to the court before sentence was pronounced, and from his final statement to the court:

“Everybody that knows these two arms knows very well that I do not need to go into the streets and kill a man to take money. I can live by my two hands and live well. But besides that, I can live even without work with my hands for other people. I have had plenty of chance to live independently and to live what the world conceives to be a higher life than to gain our bread with the sweat of our brow.

“My father in Italy is in good condition. I could have come back in Italy and he would have welcomed me every time with open arms. Even if I come back with not a cent in my pocket, my father could have give me a position, not to work but to make business, or to oversee upon the land that he owns ...

“Now, I should say that I am not only innocent of all these things, not only have I never committed a real crime in my life – though some sins but not crimes – not only have I struggled all my life to eliminate crimes, the crimes that the official and the moral law condemns, but also the crime that the moral law and the official law sanction and sanctify – the exploitation of man by the man, and if there is a reason why I am here as a guilty man, if there is a reason why you in a few minutes can doom me, it is this reason and none else ...

“Our Career and Our Triumph”

“I have talk a great deal of myself but I even forgot to name Sacco. Sacco too is a worker from his boyhood, a skilled worker lover of work, with a good job and pay, a bank account, a good and lovely wife, two beautiful children, and a neat little home at the verge of a wood, near a brook. Sacco is a heart, a faith, a character, a man; a man lover of nature and of mankind. A man who gave all, who sacrifice all to the cause of Liberty and to his love for mankind; money, rest, mundane ambitions, his own wife, his children, himself and his own life. Sacco has never dreamt to steal, never to assassinate. He and I have never brought a morsel of bread to our mouths, from our childhood to to-day – which has not been gained by the sweat of our brows. Never. His people also are in good position and of good reputation.

“Oh, yes, I may be more witful, as some have put it, I am a better babbler than he is, but many, many times in hearing his heartful voice ringing a faith sublime, in considering his supreme sacrifice, remembering his heroism I felt small small at the presence of his greatness and found myself compelled to fight back from my eyes the tears, and quanch my heart trobling to my throat to not weep before him – this man called thief and assassin and doomed. But Sacco’s name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when Katzman’s and your bones will be dispersed by time, when your name, his name, your laws, institutions, and your false god are but a dim rememoring of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man.

“If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men, I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career, and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding as now we do by accident. Our words – our lives – pains – nothing! The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler – all! That last moment belongs to us – that agony is our triumph.”

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