Greg Maybury () is a freelance writer based in Australia. His main areas of interest are American history and politics in general, with a special focus on economic, financial, national security, military, and geopolitical affairs. For 6+ years he has regularly contributed to a diverse range of alternative, independent media (AIM), news and opinion sites, including OpEd News, The Greanville Post, Consortium News, Information Clearing House (ICH), Dandelion Salad, Global Research, Dissident Voice, OffGuardian, Contra Corner, International Policy Digest, Principia Scientific, The Hampton Institute, and others.
‘If the purpose of the US judicial system…is to ensure that all factual evidence surrounding an alleged crime or crimes be accurately and fairly presented so that the jurors can properly assess the best semblance of the truth…this trial was a complete travesty of justice…. [I]f a basic tenet of the justice system… holds that a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, then again this verdict outcome is an obscene farce and a shameful joke exposing America’s justice system for its gross injustice.’
Joachim Hagopian, “Death Penalty for Boston Marathon Suspect Drives Nail in the Coffin of US Justice System”, Global Research, May 16, 2015.
In Brief: In few other areas do the myriad anomalies, peculiarities, contradictions and ironies embedded in The Grand American Narrative rear their ugly heads more frequently and more profoundly than in the U.S. legal system. Without a doubt, the so-called Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ in Dayton, Tennessee, and the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial in Boston, Massachusetts, during the post Great War ‘era of normalcy’, were two of the most bizarre, extraordinary and notorious of any of the many legal dog ‘n pony shows that America has thrown up. Both events were of seminal cultural, social and political significance at the time and, for a variety of reasons, together and separately, remain so. For now, the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial.
— Anarchists Anomalous —
The author of the seminal The People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn, after noting that the case was one he would talk about as often as he could, said that, ‘[T]here’s always something that happens in the daily newspaper that brings the case to mind.”
It is instructive to note at the outset that issues like social justice, economic equality, legal equity, political freedom, national security, racial vilification, religious prejudice, media bias, official corruption, xenophobia, along with manipulation of public opinion through fear, intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, all prevailed during the so-called era of normalcy.
And the Sacco and Vanzetti case—an event that came to be associated with the era possibly moreso than any other—was the whole ‘pecan pie’, and then some.
To provide some idea of the times, the following extract from Zinn’s People’s History provides a broad, yet captivating snapshot of the era of normalcy and the broad economic and social conditions under which Americans across all social stratum lived at the time in the lead up to the ’29 Crash.
“…..prosperity was concentrated at the top. Whilst from 1922 to 1929 real wages in manufacturing went up per capita 1.4% a year, the holders of common stocks gained 16.4 % a year….One-tenth of 1% of the families at the top received as much income as 42% of the families at the bottom….. Every year in the 1920’s, about 25,000 workers were killed on the job and another 100,000 permanently disabled. Two million people in New York City lived in tenements condemned as firetraps.”
That the use of the word ‘normalcy’ is indicative of America’s ability to do irony, or a predisposition to view such developments and events as progress is hard to say, but if I had to choose I would say on this occasion maybe America wasn’t and isn’t doing ‘irony’. That these developments, trends, or events even at the time might’ve been considered ‘normal’ is a heavy cross to bear in anyone’s narrative, but it certainly appears to say something profound about America in hindsight.
That anyone would continue to see this as an era of normalcy in this day and age though is not what many would expect even from a country that seems for many so narcissistic, so self-obsessed. America may or may not do irony, but few would argue that it does ‘normal’ in any sense of the word.
After the Great War to end all wars until the next one could be cranked up, Americans wanted to be left alone then. They wanted to just be able to get on with the job of being Americans. They wanted to get back to normal, although as hinted at the historical evidence would indicate there was some confusion as to what ‘normal’ was. And whilst most people associate the 20s as a period of unheard of prosperity, to a great degree this ‘prosperity’ was as much elusive as it might have been illusory for many.
The principal beneficiaries of this prosperity were the top five percent of the population (the political, economic, corporate, industrial, criminal and bureaucratic elites) and although the gains by the bourgeoning middle classes were steady, they were far from spectacular. Much of this ‘pre-suburbanisto’ prosperity was based on debt, which went on to rival baseball as the national passion throughout the twentieth century and beyond.
The elites for the most part played down their own skyrocketing levels of prosperity, influence, collusion and profit-making, and spruiked loudly the benefits for all of their increasingly obvious albeit begrudgingly acknowledged accumulation of influence, wealth and power throughout this period.
And the Sacco and Vanzetti case—an event that came to be associated with the era possibly moreso than any other—was the whole ‘pecan pie’, and then some. Prior to relating the back story of this trial—arguably one of the most significant of the twentieth century—an understanding of where the country was at is crucial to appreciating its significance. Memory lane, here we come again.
After the end of the War to End all Wars and into the 1920’s there was widespread industrial, political and social unrest in America. Along with the violence and bitter animosity between social groups, there was political persecution, social ostracism and extreme religious and racial intolerance bordering on fascism.
It was no accident that we witnessed a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan—itself no less than a cult that embraced most if not all these prejudices and animosities and which had its origins in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War—during the era of normalcy, with some estimates putting their membership at upwards of 6 million nationwide in the mid-1920s.
This wide-ranging disenchantment and deep-seated unrest was not just confined to America of course, nor was it entirely homegrown by any means. In the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, socialism, communism (and to a lesser degree, anarchism) became the ideological rallying points of most political radicals and many disparate labor and civil liberty groups in the U.S.
Of course the history of these movements and the relationship between their supporters and leaders on the one hand, and the power elites on the other—both in Europe and in the U.S.—goes back decades prior to the Era of Reconstruction following the Civil War. (We will examine this history in more detail in a later post.)
Those folks who both led and supported these manifestations of political radicalism in general (or were even suspected of being supporters or sympathisers), were singled out for ostracism by both state and Federal authorities. In the land of free speech, free choice and free association though, this was of course, something to behold.
It is of interest also to note that such was the nature of the political zeitgeist, the career of one J Edgar Hoover (the ‘Zelig’ of 20th Century American legal history perhaps?) was launched around this time as a direct result of U.S. Federal authorities’ strategy for dealing with the perceived social unrest and disaffection, and political subversion, of the times.
As the first director of what was to eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), fighting subversives, radicals and political malcontents of all sorts, shapes and sizes was something the redoubtable Hoover was destined for and proceeded—for good or ill—to carve an almost half century career from.
His legacy of course is alive and well.
To be sure we cannot escape the conclusion it was precisely because America portrayed itself in such mythical, idyllic terms and yet in so many ways failed abysmally to turn that myth, or ideal, into an achievable reality, [that] it endured more than its share of political foment and social turmoil. This was especially for those “poor, tired and hungry” masses not born in America but who came to ‘dine out’ on all that the “myth” purportedly offered.
As a result, the immigration debate became increasingly inflamed, and America ‘decided’ that enough was enough! They no longer were prepped to readily accept, much less welcome, the “huddled masses longing to be free”. This was especially so if they weren’t white, protestant and/or didn’t come from western or northern Europe. From this came an immigration quota system, which in effect restricted many folks who’d hitherto viewed America as a beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights and civil liberties, and a magnet for those wanting a better life, whether measured in social, political or economic terms.
For its part, the hapless labor movement in the U.S.—for good reason a hotbed for much of the fervour and unrest around this time—suffered another setback when early in 1920, thousands of recent immigrants and US citizens alike were detained for allegedly subversive activity. In the process many were denied the inalienable rights that quite a few probably didn’t even know existed or that they were entitled to.
Over 500 of these folks then were summarily deported back to where they came from, denying them the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, to say little of the basic rule of law. Because many of these people were associated with the labor movement and/or were considered to be radicals, communists, or their supporters and sympathisers (read: “un-American”), union membership dropped precipitously and Union influence, such as it was, further deteriorated, and would not begin to pick up until the early thirties.
— The Great Red Scare —
For the labor movement this development was once again a case of one step forward and two steps back, another nail in the coffin of employee justice and workplace equity. As employers grew stronger and more demanding, so did the unions’ influence over the workers’ conditions and their treatment in the workplace grow weaker and less effective.
In 1920, union membership in the US was over 6 million; as a result of the so-called Red Scare, and the accompanying intimidation and harassment by authorities, the enthusiasm for active union participation waned considerably. Rank and file numbers sank like a stone such that around three years later, there were little more than 3.5 million members.
There were a number of trends, events and developments during this time that belie most people’s notions of ‘normalcy’, and the resurgence of radicalism generally and anarchism especially as briefly articulated has to be up there with most of them. That these trends etc., and the factors driving them at the time had as much to do with race, religion and ethnicity as it had to do with politics, economics, ideology and the prevailing social milieu, is certainly true.
Understandably though this was not widely acknowledged at the time especially by the folks—including the mainstream media—who were behind the resolutely determined efforts to ensure that Sacco and Vanzetti were tried then fried with extreme prejudice, if not extreme haste, regardless of their guilt. The Fourth Estate then as now acted as a bona fide Fifth Column for the preservation of the existing order and a promulgator of those keen to advance their own interests within that order.
By all accounts it was both diligent and effective in fulfilling this role.
Some explanation of anarchism is appropriate, as like most radical political philosophies whether on the left or right, it can be a moving feast. There are probably few political ideologies that appear more at odds with itself (not to mention at odds with everything else that does not qualify as anarchic). Yet in its own strange way it is quite compelling.
The basic philosophy of anarchism—ostensibly at least the most extreme form of radical left-wing ideology—is characterised by folks who simply do not believe that the state should exist let alone have authority, control, or power over individuals. Anarchists advocate a ‘stateless’ society based around ‘non-hierarchical, free association’ between individuals in the conduct of human affairs and in the organisation of societal structures.
As indicated anarchism can be a moving feast in its varying forms, as it can manifest itself either benignly or peacefully (anarcho-pacifism anyone?), or violently. We might say that anarchism was/is the Ben and Jerry’s of political philosophies, with almost as many flavours to choose from! At its most extreme, it may manifest itself in the form of nihilism in its own varying forms. We even have an anarcho-capitalism, with doubtless many of those less enamoured of capitalism in any variation—especially the variant to which we have been subjected since the Reagan Era—arguing this could well be its most definitive form.
As a social/political movement it had enjoyed fluctuating periods of popularity, even previously in the U.S. in the latter quarter of the 19th century. In the second and third decades of the twentieth century, it appeared to make something of a come-back.This was no doubt linked with the rise of socialism and political radicalism in Europe generally and Bolshevism in Russia especially, the latter reaching its pinnacle of achievement and success with the advent of the Russian Revolution.
Now the Marxists and the Bolsheviks may have been the main players in the lead up to the Revolution and beyond, but the anarchists weren’t far behind. This was certainly the case when it came to cashing in on the prevailing revolutionary fervour of the zeitgeist. Although the basic tenets of anarchism as a mode of political and social thought had been around several centuries, its more modern manifestations and variants can be traced back to the Enlightenment. And it has played significant roles in numerous historical events, beginning in Europe, and of course, later America.
In the mid-nineteenth century around the time Karl Marx was busy honing his own theories (or grinding his axes, depending on where one sits on the political divide), his contemporary Mikhail Bakunin—one of the early exponents of anarchy’s central ideology, if not exactly the first person to describe himself as one—was developing his own radical ideas. It was this which came to be called anarchism as we know it today.
Although there was much common ground between the two ideologies, Marx and Bakunin later came to oppose each other about some of these fundamentals. For his part Bakunin disdained Marx’s theories as too ‘centralist’ (or top-heavy) and envisaged that, if a Marxist party came to power, its leaders would just concentrate and consolidate their new power and simply take the place of the ruling elites they had railed against and eventually overcome. Of course this prediction has a distinctly Orwellian undertone to it (albeit more Animal Farm than 1984).
In this sense Bakunin’s punditry proved prescient, in more ways and in more places on our favourite planet than possibly even Bakunin himself might have dared imagine.
— The Cobbler and the Fishmonger —
With this backdrop in mind then, it is anarchism’s place and role in the American narrative that we are mostly concerned with here. And it is also interesting to look briefly at the history of the movement that began in the decades prior and which led to the Sacco and Vanzetti saga. In 1886, after the eight-hour day was first proposed by the bourgeoning labor movement, rallies were planned and organised to turn this proposal into reality.
It should be noted—especially given their notoriously remorseless reputation for exploiting to the max their respective labour forces—the Robber Baron clique at the time were implacably opposed to anything remotely resembling improvement of the lot of labour, and were prepared to do anything to discredit then derail (might we say “degrade then destroy”?) the movement.
Although most union leaders of the era were far from the most radical anarchists, they were happy to accept their support in achieving their aim, possibly on the basis that to do so, they were going to need all the help they could muster. All ‘donations’ were gratefully accepted as it were. In response, unions across the country prepared a general strike in support of the eight-hour day proposal.
In Chicago, on 3 May, a fight broke out when strike-breakers attempted to cross the picket line, and two workers died when police opened fire upon the crowd. The next day, anarchists staged a rally at the city’s Haymarket Square during which an unidentified person (presumably someone with serious anarchist tendencies) threw a bomb, killing a cop. Amid the melee that followed, fear, panic and confusion reined, with police opening fire on the crowd and this time, each other, the cops themselves apparently being infected by a mutant strain of anarchist fervour.
This time though, seven policeman and four workers were killed. Eight of the anarchists connected to the rally organisers were arrested and charged with murder, with four of the men being executed and another topping himself. In going from live luminary to dead martyr status, they became icons among the international labor movement. Known as the Haymarket Affair, although the incident went on to occupy mythical status, it effectively killed the labor movement at the time.
Notwithstanding this outcome, whilst it may not have been a huge consolation for the families of either those rally participants killed or of the organisers who were executed, Haymarket though provided the impetus for international May Day observances. The labor movement may have been buried, but the Bolshie sentiments that fuelled Haymarket were far from dead. You can kill a movement, but you can’t kill an idea. Or so they say!
— Jailed, Tried, Nailed and Fried —
So in was in this milieu in America during this period that the Sacco and Vanzetti case—one of the most complex and controversial trials in the American narrative —came to symbolise the War on Anarchism. There are of course similar parallels to the War on Communism, especially those to do with the machinations of Joseph McCarthy and his notorious ‘Inquisition’, aka the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and exemplified by the highly contentious trial and subsequent executions of suspected communist spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1954 for espionage (more on this in a future post).
Much also like one suspects the recent trial and conviction of Boston Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev embodied and reflected our presumed collective fears of terrorism. The conviction of Tsarnaev, now sentenced to death for the crime, would suggest Zinn was on to something. The pattern it would appear keeps rearing its ugly head, one with a long, though hardly illustrious, history.
For their part Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged in May 1920 for the robbery and the murder of a security guard and the paymaster during a payroll robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts. For his part Vanzetti was hit with a double whammy in that he was also charged with another earlier robbery in 1919 in Bridgewater, not far from Braintree.
Together and separately then they protested their innocence on all charges, with their arrest and subsequent legal travails sparking worldwide demonstrations, protests, and violent responses from anarchists and radical minded folks, and indeed, ordinary citizens.
This was to continue for well over 6 years, right up until the end of the trial and the various appeals. Indeed, their plight became an authentic cause celebre, a phrase that had it not already existed might have been invented to describe it. Even to this very day, the case still seems to have a life of its own. This no doubt is partly because it recalls so many aspects of America’s less heralded political past, but as Zinn observed it is because of its relevance to the political climate that has prevailed especially so since 9/11.
Peter Miller‘s excellent 2006 documentary—simply titled Sacco and Vanzetti—explores the issues related to the case in detail, and seems to make as much of the men’s political convictions as he does of their personal sensibilities, and the manner in which they conducted themselves throughout their ordeal. Their thoughts and feelings—in fact their personal philosophies—about their predicament are well documented in numerous heartfelt, eloquent letters they each wrote to their respective families.
Indeed, they provide a remarkable insight into not only their legal saga, but the political climate and ideological fervour that prevailed throughout this period, all of which had subsumed their trial and subsequent appeals. Such was the nature of the content and the sentiments of their correspondence, on their own they did much to convince many high-profile folks of their innocence, regardless of any consideration of the rights and wrongs of the case itself.
The Brief: Filmmaker Peter Miller explores the crimes, trial, and execution of notorious 20th-century anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in a documentary that highlights just how this landmark case came to symbolize the injustice and intolerance experienced by immigrants longing to pursue their dreams in the land of the free. It was 1920 when Italian immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of murder in Massachusetts. Seven years later, when the jurors delivered their final verdict in a notoriously prejudiced trial, both men were condemned to death despite massive protests both in the U.S. and abroad. Eight decades later, as America continues to wrestle with issues of civil rights, immigrant liberties, and dissent, the case of Sacco and Vanzetti continues to resonate.
In addition to balancing the personal and political aspects of the case as well as looking into the legal climate of the era, Miller’s film brings the prison writings of Sacco and Vanzetti to life as never before as Tony Shalhoub and John Turturro read the deeply personal letters written by the pair during their ordeal. Additional music, artwork, poetry, and film clips inspired by the case propel the narrative by highlighting just what a lasting impression the Sacco and Vanzetti case has had on American culture.
— War of the Words —
The case attracted the attention of an extraordinary number of notable folks — almost all of whom were simpatico with the pair’s cause — both in the US and elsewhere. These included H. G. Wells, Madame Curie, Harold Laski, Woody Guthrie, Albert Einstein, Walter Lippmann, Robert M. Lovett, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, and last but not least, the Sage of Baltimore himself, H. L. Mencken, who as we have seen added no small measure of colour and flavour to the proceedings of the Scopes Monkey Trial.
For his part Wells—one of the era’s most famous socialists as well as literary figures—waded into the controversial waters surrounding the case with the following:
‘Executing political opponents as political opponents after the fashion of Mussolini and Moscow we can understand, or bandits as bandits; but this business of trying and executing murderers as Reds, or Reds as murderers, seems to be a new and very frightening line for the courts of a State in the most powerful and civilized Union on earth to pursue.’
Wells also apparently used the trial and the controversy surrounding it to observe that Americans were “too thin-skinned” when it came to copping grief from foreigners, a situation which when one considers the European response to the invasion of Iraq for example (Freedom Fries anyone?), does not appear to have changed much in more recent times. On this point of contention, he had this to say: ‘One can scarcely let a sentence that is not highly flattering glance across the Atlantic without some American blowing up.’
Shortly after Sacco and Vanzetti’s arrest, there was a huge bomb set off in Wall Street in New York. The 1920 Wall Street Bombing as it was called, killed almost 40 people and injured over three times more than that, was the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil up to that point. Investigators suspected that anarchist supporters of S&V carried out this attack, but this has never been proven. Although one of S&V’s associates was suspected of perpetrating the bombing, the case has never been officially solved, and indeed remains open to this day.
Needless to say, all of this anarchic turmoil created a climate of fear, suspicion, paranoia, contempt and loathing in America, with senior politicians, law enforcement officers and other Federal and state officials especially keen to arrest the tide of violence, radicalism and unrest by any means available to them, legal or otherwise.
More than just being an interesting aside, the following gives us a graphic insight into the tactics used by law enforcement officers in the battle against radicals at the time, which for some folks may have some contemporary resonance. Before their arrest, the Feds had detained one of Sacco and Vanzetti’s suspected associates. After several days of being subjected to what we now call ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, the ill-fated detainee apparently wandered a tad too close to, or jumped from, an open window on the 15th floor of the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) HQ in New York.
It was either that or the agents during said interrogation lost their grip on the ‘witness’ after he ‘fessed up—or their patience when he wouldn’t—as it was not uncommon for the prototype G-Men to encourage greater cooperation and more accurate, timely recall on the part of witnesses, suspects or persons of interest who were ostensibly assisting them with their enquiries by dangling them by their ankles outside the windows of high-rise buildings.
In this of course one imagines they were merely demonstrating their patriotic duty in fighting evildoers and protecting and preserving truth, justice and the American way; to ensure they achieved that objective in a business-like fashion [they] were happy to provide a ‘helping hand’ as it were in converting the reticent witness into a more cooperative, compliant informant.
Either way, this being the case, in doing so, the hapless witness of course succumbed to the immutable dictates of Holy Mother Gravity that reliably accompanies defenestration—whether accidental, enforced or self-initiated—and, in what might best be described as his last act of anarchism as it were, he left a large, unsightly mess on the public sidewalk directly below!.
— Anarchy and Old Sparky —
As for S&V themselves, although both men were actually convicted in 1921 for the Braintree crime, for the next six years there were several appeals, motions, and petitions for a new trial. Yet despite there being a massive amount of conflicting evidence and unreliable witness testimony that pointed either directly to the innocence of the men, or at the very least provided serious, way beyond reasonable doubts about their guilt, the appeals failed and the original verdicts upheld.
In the minds of many in the media and the general public then, the “guinea wops” were as guilty as sin, and for others the fact that they were anarchists — at the time second only to communists as American society’s political outliers—was more than enough to convince folks that they deserved a one-off appointment with ‘Old Sparky’.
The original presiding trial judge Webster Thayer, a rabid bigot and arch-conservative political reactionary, despised anarchists and radicals and their ilk as much as he did immigrants, especially “guinea wops”. He publicly at least once referred to S&V as those “anarchic bastards”, and his conduct of the trial (and similarly his judicial oversight of the subsequent appeals process), was not exactly a textbook example of judicial detachment.
To say Thayer had a burning hard-on for the accused is an understatement of riotous proportions, so much so that he expressly asked to preside over the appeal process, something that was unprecedented in the Massachusetts legal system, indeed in most jurisdictions. For many to this day, this fact alone points to the S&V trial as a monumental, unparalleled travesty of justice.
Over the years of the marathon legal process the waters ‘dividing’ guilt and innocence for the actual crime for which they were accused and charged became increasingly muddied by the pair’s political beliefs—or more accurately—people’s perceptions of them because of their beliefs.
Like the Rosenbergs and one might now say Tsarnaev, their conviction appeared to be something of a forgone conclusion, their execution preordained and inevitable—even necessary—by the authorities and much of the media. Even some of their ‘supporters’ in the broad labour movement were inclined to think that the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti would benefit their cause, although for obvious reasons those that did so for the most part were careful of making these sentiments known publicly.
Yet the notion that Sacco and Vanzetti were of more value to the movement dead than alive prevailed in some quarters, irrespective of their guilt or innocence.
In any event, according to writer Robert D’Attilio, there was ample evidence of jury bias, perjury by witnesses for the prosecution, of illegal activities by the police and the Feds involved in the investigations (as evidenced by the aforementioned anecdote regarding law enforcement interrogation techniques), an actual confession to the crimes by a convicted bank robber, and further evidence that identified the gang involved in the previous robbery about a year before for which Vanzetti himself had already been charged and convicted.
(It should be noted that prior to the Braintree trial, ‘first-time offender’ (FTO) Vanzetti himself had already been found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years—the absolute maximum—for the Bridgewater rap. This also was unprecedented, in that FTO’s rarely received the maximum.)
All of these were ruled on and rejected by Judge Thayer, the very same judge who earlier had so severely sentenced Vanzetti for the 1919 of the two crimes. The judge himself would even rule on a motion accusing him—Thayer—of judicial prejudice. With all this in mind, regardless of the men’s guilt or innocence, the legal process that characterised the trial was stacked against them. And then some!
— The Agony of the Triumph —
Still protesting their innocence, Sacco and Vanzetti went to meet Old Sparky for the first and last time in April 1927, almost seven years after the crime for which they’d both been convicted. Another victory then for truth, justice and the American way then? Something like that!
It is fitting for any number of reasons to let one of the two men at the centre of this trial have the last word, whom we can safely say is not only speaking on behalf of both of them, but is looking way beyond their fate to a higher significance, for their adopted country and possibly even their fellow man. In a statement to reporter Philip Strong just prior to being executed, after noting that ‘[I]f it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men’, Vanzetti had the following to say:
‘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 of man as now we do by accident. Our words — our lives, our 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.’
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once famously mused: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’. We don’t know if either men were aware of Nietzsche’s insight. But in light of Vanzetti’s last words, we might opine [that] he at least had some inkling of what Nietzsche was referring to, albeit with a twist, to wit: ‘That which does kill us, makes us stronger than those who arranged our final dispatch’.
Nietzsche also observed the following:
‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.’
It appears safe to say both Sacco and Vanzetti—two figures whose life and fate seem eternally emblematic of everything that is wrong with the American Dream and everything that can and does go wrong with said “Dream”—would have little quibble with this either. If indeed innocent, they paid the highest price indeed for “owning” themselves, and one might also say for seeking from the off to own a wafer-thin slice of the ‘real estate’ comprising the American Dream, the Holy Grail of immigrants of all shapes, sizes, colours and beliefs.
Give us your poor, tired, hungry masses indeed.
Greg Maybury, 2013-2015
- This August, Remember Sacco and Vanzetti (jakecarman.com)
- Sacco and Vanzetti (thesignofthecross.blogspot.com)
- today in anarchist history (teessidesolidaritymovement.wordpress.com)
- Remembering Sacco and Vanzetti (jakecarman.com)
- Trial of the Century? (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- May Day (2013): Thoughts and considerations (afdundee.wordpress.com)
- The Black Flag: A Look Back at the Strange Case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti book (ehfecixo.wordpress.com)
- Boston IWW remembers Sacco and Vanzetti! (iwwboston.org)