Who can save Sacco and Vanzetti?
By James P Cannon, Labor Defender January 1927
The Sacco-Vanzetti case is at a turning point. Legally speaking, it now rests on another appeal to the Massachusetts State Supreme Court from the latest decision of Judge Thayer refusing a new trial. But speaking from a more fundamental standpoint, that is, from the standpoint of the class struggle, the issue really hangs on developments taking place within the Sacco-Vanzetti movement which embraces many workers of various views.
Within this movement lately a certain indecision and hesitation has been noticeable. This by no means signifies a change in the attitude of the masses toward Sacco and Van- zetti. Their faith and solidarity remain unshaken. The waiting and uncertainty which characterise the movement at the present time are merely the reflection of a serious conflict over policy and methods of conducting the fight. The Sacco-Vanzetti case is no private monopoly, but an issue of the class struggle in which the decisive word will be spoken by the masses who have made this fight their own. It is therefore, necessary to discuss openly the conflicting policies which are bound up with different objectives.
One policy is the policy of the class struggle. It puts the centre of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favouring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations — organised protest on a national and international scale. It calls for unity and solidarity of all workers on this burning issue, regardless of conflicting views on other questions. This is what has prevented the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti so far. Its goal is nothing less than their triumphant vindication and liberation.
The other policy is the policy of “respectability”, of the “soft pedal” and of ridiculous illusions about “justice” from the courts of the enemy. It relies mainly on legal proceedings. It seeks to blur the issue of the class struggle. It shrinks from the “vulgar and noisy” demonstrations of the militant workers and throws the mud of slander on them. It tries to represent the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti as an “unfortunate” error which can be rectified by the “right” people proceeding in the “right” way.
The objective of this policy is a whitewash of the courts of Massachusetts and “clemency” for Sacco and Vanzetti in the form of a commutation to life imprisonment for a crime of which the world knows they are innocent. The conscious proletarian elements with whom we identify ourselves unconditionally, are for the first policy. The bourgeois elements, and those influenced by them, are for the second. The corruption and class bias of the courts of Massachusetts are already proved to the hilt. A division of the proletarian forces will only facilitate their murderous plans. They are determined to have the blood of Sacco and Vanzetti. Only the organised and united protest movement of the masses can save them. In this movement the class conscious workers — the militants — are the driving force. Let those who hamper this movement or endanger its unity pause lest they unconsciously become the executioners of Sacco and Vanzetti.
Sacco and Vanzetti must not burn on the electric chair!
A speech by James P Cannon at a Sacco-Vanzetti mass meeting held in Chicago on 23 May 1927. Printed in Labor Defender, June 1927
The Sacco-Vanzetti case has been a part of American labour history in the making. It is seven years now since Sacco and Vanzetti have been in the shadow of the electric chair. I do not believe that history knows of a similar case to this. I do not believe that we could find anywhere a case of such prolonged torture as the holding of the sentence of death over the heads of men for seven years; and at the end of that time we can come together for a meeting and not know yet whether that sentence is to be executed or not.
The cause of Sacco and Vanzetti demands of us, of the entire labour movement, militant, unhesitating and unified support. We may have different opinions on many problems, but there is one thing that we have become sure of in these seven years in which we have said our word for Sacco and Vanzetti. We have become absolutely convinced that the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, the case of these two Italian workers in Massachusetts is not the ease of two hold-up men or bandits.
We have become convinced that it is the working class against the capitalists. We have become convinced that Sacco and Vanzetti are not only innocent of this specific crime with which they are charged, but that they are innocent of any crime except that of being victims of exploitation by the capitalists of the masses.
Their case is a universal one indeed, and it has gone so far that we do not need to discuss it from a legal standpoint; but for those who are interested it has been set forth by Mr Holly, and we can say for others that recently a book was published by Professor Felix Frankfurter in which he comes to the conclusion that there is no case against Sacco and Vanzetti. But the case of Sacco and Vanzetti has a far bigger significance than any legal procedure. Sacco and Vanzetti began in this case as two employees, obscure fighters of the working class, but they have grown in these years until their personalities have made their impression not only in Massachusetts, not only in the United States, but all over Europe and America.
Sacco and Vanzetti have grown as the great symbols of the whole labour movement. They stand for the upward struggle against oppression and exploitation, for fearless defiance of the enemies of labour with which the best representatives of the working class are instinct. Everyone today knows why the bourbons of Massachusetts arrested, imprisoned and tried Sacco and Vanzetti. Had they not been scrupulously loyal to the cause of the working class they would not now be faced with the grim march to the death chair. Had they remained silent while their brothers and comrades around them suffered persecution and oppression, had they not made the ideal of the liberation of the working class their own ideal, there would not today be a Sacco-Vanzetti case. Had they, in court, begged for mercy and renounced their cause and their past, they would have been freed to achieve obloquy.
But they did none of this. Despite the hundreds of interminable nights and days of imprisonment, with the ghastly thought of execution constantly in their minds, they have remained as simply true to the workers’ cause as they were before this infamous frame-up was conceived in the minds of the Massachusetts re-action. Yes, their persecution has even steeled their convictions and history has already bound them inseparably with the history of the American labour movement. After seven years they came to court for sentence, and I wish that every worker in America could read the speech that Vanzetti made there. After seven years of torture and seven years of fighting by friends and comrades with the death sentence, this man stood up in court not as one guilty, not as one afraid, but turned to the judge on the bench and said to him: “You are the one that is afraid. You are the one that is shrinking with fear, because you are the one that is guilty of attempt to murder.”
Vanzetti called his witnesses there, and not merely legal witnesses. He marshalled before Judge Thayer’s attention the thousands who have decided to hold mass meetings such as ours, and men of our period like Anatole France, Maxim Gorki, Bernard Shaw, Henri Barbusse, Albert Einstein. He pointed to the many millions who have protested against the death-hunt of two labour fighters. He turned to Eugene Victor Debs and other men in America.
Let us not forget that we should measure guilt and innocence not by formal evidence in court alone, but by higher values than that. Let us not forget that the last thing that Eugene Debs wrote publicly was an appeal to the workers of America for Sacco and Vanzetti, an appeal whose stirring language aroused with renewed vigor the protect of hundreds of thousands in this country, and brought again the million-voiced demand for life and freedom to these two valiant fighters, and condemnation to their persecutors.
It is hard to speak with restraint. I, like Comrade Chaplin, also had the honor of speaking with Vanzetti. Everyone that has seen or spoken with him comes away with the feeling that he has stood in the presence of one of the greatest spirits of the time. It is hard to speak with restraint when one is pressed by the thought that the vengeful executioners of Massachusetts are consummating their hideous plan to press the switch that will forever remove from our ranks the persons of these two men who we feel are so much a part of labour and its cause. Our impassioned determination to mobilise all of our strength and power to rescue Sacco and Vanzetti from the blood-lusty jailors must be communicated through the land if we are to save them from the fate that has been prepared for them.
While I believe with the statements of Fitzpatrick that our meeting should disassociate itself from irresponsible people, let us not forget the year 1916 when Joe Hill was killed in Utah. We must remember that when the wave of working class protest began to rise in protection of Joe Hill, gangs of detectives began to frame-up fake letters. After the heart of Joe Hill had been pierced by the bullets of the death squad, it was exposed that frame-up letters had been used. This must be a lesson for us and for those who are the friends of Sacco and Vanzetti. There is no need to threaten the governor or anyone else because the protection of Sacco and Vanzetti is far stronger than any personal act. The protection of Sacco and Vanzetti is the job of the working class of the world, which is knocking on the door, not with the hands of irresponsible individuals, but with the titanic fist of the workers of the wide world because they believe in the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti. We say to you, our friends and our chairman, before they turn on the switch, that the real aim is not to burn Sacco and Vanzetti in the electric chair but to burn the labour movement in America. If the workers of America and the workers of the world are determined enough and encouraged enough, we can yet save Sacco and Vanzetti.
And it is in that spirit that we meet here tonight. We do not meet here to resign ourselves to their fate. We meet as another stage in the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti. We believe that the workers assembled here will go back to their organizations and their jobs and raise again the battle cry for Sacco and Vanzetti. Let us demand not only the liberation of Sacco and Vanzetti. Let us demand also the impeachment of the monstrous judge who tried and sentenced them.Let us consider ways and means of making our protest more effective. From this great movement, from the words of Sacco and Vanzetti, let us draw inspiration. We have hope, and we have faith in the workers of America, and in the workers of the rest of the world who have so often and readily responded to the calls for solidarity and aid for Sacco and Vanzetti. Every worker in the land must be made to realise the monstrosity and significance to the whole labour movement of this crime. Every worker must stand shoulder to shoulder with his brothers to build a solid wall of defence for the victims of the Massachusetts bourbons who are bent on their bestial revenge. Only the great and inspiring solidarity of the whole working class will succeed in snatching Sacco and Vanzetti from the chair of death.
With all our strength for Sacco and Vanzetti!
By James P Cannon, printed in Daily Worker, 20 May 1926
The fatal hour draws near for our beloved comrades, Sacco and Vanzetti. The frame-up-witnesses and perjurers have finished their testimony. The lawyers have finished their arguments. The august courts have rendered their verdict. After six years of suspense and torture the ghastly conspiracy is scheduled to culminate very soon by a cruel death in the electric chair. Sacco and Vanzetti remain undaunted after their long ordeal.
They look into the face of death without fear. How heroic and inspiring they are, and what an example they set before the labour movement! After the Supreme Court rendered its decision refusing them a new trial. Comrade Vanzetti wrote to the International Labor Defense: “I am and will remain to the death for the emancipation of the working class!”
The two Italian rebel workers know the issues involved in their case better than all the clever lawyers. They know it is for the crime of solidarity that their lives are to be sacrificed. Comrade Vanzetti says in the same letter: “It is a long time that I wanted to write to you to tell you that I appreciate your solidarity. I am one of the old guard who appreciate and approve the solidarity and have been solidarity with all.”
Our brave comrade in his own manner of expression puts the idea clear and straight. Our brothers in prison have no illusions. They know the blood-thirsty master class of Massachusetts intends to do them finally to death. Vanzetti says in his letter: “They are preparing the fire on which to burn us alive.”
Not only do they understand the reason for their long suffering and sacrifice, with the death chair at the end of it. They know also where the power lies that can save them. In the hour of their desperate need they turn to the labour movement with their appeal. “Only the revolutionary workers, the people, can give us life and freedom,” writes Comrade Vanzetti.
Let us make these words of our imprisoned comrades ring around the world. Let us make them a clarion call to the workers everywhere to raise their voices in such a mighty protest that the monstrous conspiracy will be defeated and our comrades brought back to “life and freedom.” Time is pressing! Precious lives are in danger! Swell the protest! Sacco and Vanzetti must not die!
From the Supreme Court of the capitalists to the Supreme Court of the labouring masses
By James P Cannon. Printed in Labor Defender, May 1927
The news of the decision of the Supreme court of Massachusetts comes to hand just as this number of the Labor Defender goes to press. The black-robed judges have pronounced the doom of Sacco and Vanzetti. Evidence of frame-up and conspiracy was piled high enough for the whole world to see, but the judges would not look at it.
The New Eng-land Bourbons want the blood of innocent men. This was decided from the first. Only fools expected otherwise. Only fools put faith in the courts of the enemy. It is all planned and decided.
The two Italian workers have been taken into the Dedham court room, where they were falsely convicted of murder six years ago this summer, and there sentenced by Judge Webster Thayer of the Superior Court to die in the electric chair at Charlestown on July 10 for the crime of rebellion against the capitalists. They will take them from their cells and strap them securely in the chair. They will turn on the switch with the hope that when the deadly electric current burns and sears the warm flesh of the two rebel workmen. There will also be consumed within these flames the cause they symbolise. So they have decreed and so they hope. But the game is not over. There is another power yet to be considered. There is a higher court than that of the solemn reprobates who decreed the death of Sacco and Vanzetti.
The laboring masses of America and the world have faith in Sacco and Vanzetti. It is time now to appeal finally to the masses. It is time for the workers to say their word. Such slender legal resources as yet remain must be utilised. This goes without saying, But the real hope for Sacco and Vanzetti must now be placed in the protest movement of the workers. Only the united protest move- ment of the workers can save Sacco and Vanzetti from the hands of the executioners.
The defence of Sacco and Vanzetti is an issue of the class struggle. They are not criminals but the symbols and standard bearers of the militant labour Sacco and Vanzetti movement. The fight for Sacco and Vanzetti is the fight of the working class. The need of the hour is an organised, united movement of protest and solidarity on a national and international scale. The great world-wide movement which has stayed the hands of the executioners up till now must be revived and infused with new strength and militancy. In this movement unity must be the watchword. All partisan aims, all differences of opinion and all controversial questions must be put aside. All forces must be united with-out delay on the broadest possible basis for the struggle to free Sacco and Vanzetti. The agitation must be conducted with concrete aims.
The first big objective is the concentration of the indignation and protest of the workers in a gigantic National Sacco and Vanzetti Conference. Only through a Na- tional Conference can the forces be united and the resources gathered for further struggle. We must go forward with the organisation of this National Conference at all costs, in spite of all difficulties and without delay.
Death, commutation, or freedom?
By James P Cannon. Printed in Labor Defender, July 1927
The great movement of solidarity in the campaign to save Sacco and Vanzetti for the working class, which has developed to such splendid proportions, may be confronted with a new danger by the time these words appear in the Labor Defender.
It is the same danger that sapped the strength, resoluteness and militancy of the movement to rescue Tom Mooney and Warren Billings from the hangman’s noose. It arises out of the diabolical cunning and fear of the vultures of capitalism who see their prey staunchly defended and seek to hold it with new snare.
This is known to us from the history of the past. We remember the movement for Mooney and Billings; how it enlisted the support of the entire labour movement in this country and in others, of prominent men and women, writers and thinkers; how the cry for a general strike to free the two frame up victims found an echo among hundreds of thousands of workers. We know that with a whole world convinced of their innocence, the executioners were forced to forego murdering Mooney and Billings, and instead cheated the movement for the two labour fighters out of its victory by putting them in prison for life.
The change of the death sentence to one of life imprisonment was the clever evasion of the consequences of the powerful and swiftly growing movement to vindicate Mooney and Billings. But although they were saved from the death of the sprung trap, they were condemned to the living death of life imprisonment and the movement for their release was virtually destroyed. The workers who had rallied to Mooney and Billings were soothed by the sinister argument that imprisonment for life was, in any event, better than execution.
They were told that we would have to be satisfied for the while with one victory, and that the final release of the two fighters would be won later. But after ten years there remain only a few who still keep alive the memory of these buried men and who are pledged to continue the work for their freedom. The great movement for Sacco and Vanzetti, which now embraces millions of workers, must not allow itself to be dissolved by a similar subterfuge. It is not a fantastic possibility that is projected here, but a probability that may rapidly develop into a fact. Already the rumour is being cautiously spread that the governor of Massachusetts, in whose hands the final decision on Sacco and Vanzetti is placed, may commute the sentence of death to one of life imprisonment. It is being spread so that the enemies of Sacco and Vanzetti may feel out the reaction to this prospect among the defenders of the two Italian rebels.
They want to know if this splendid movement of solidarity, which has time and again struck heavy blows at the Massachusetts reaction, will allow itself to be dissolved with the bait of a commutation. They want to know if, since some retreat must be made, they can wreak their revenge upon these rebels, who have not feared to defy them, by burying them alive and at the same time liquidate the movement which must free them!
We declare that these “kind” gentlemen who are so ready to grant a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment, and those who are so ready to greet such a commutation. are not the friends of Sacco and Vanzetti. For these fighters, who have so bravely withstood the tortures and nightmares of seven years constantly being confronted with the frightful prospect of death in the electric chair, who have been borne up only by their own bravery and the knowledge of the support and solidarity of the millions of the world, a sentence of life imprisonment in many respects worse than death, for it is at best a living death, a death by the spirit-crushing torture of cold walls and bars. We repeat the warning to the friends of Sacco and Vanzetti which Bartolomeo Vanzetti addressed to his friends almost a year ago, in the pages of the Labor Defender, when the decision on the case had been postponed and illusions on its outcome were being created: “We see evil, not good, in the delay. Look out, friends and comrades, let no unfounded optimism lure you in a restful slumbering of confidence that could be awakened only by a shameful and deadly, new and final vanquishment.”
The millions of workers in every part of the world who have not ceased to fight for the cause of Sacco and Vanzetti, which has become the cause of the whole working class, must not be deluded by talk of commutation of sentence. The workers who have thus far by their power and solidarity prevented the execution of the two rebels must continue their great fight with more consciousness and determination. The workers who have snatched Sacco and Vanzetti from tho chair of death must snatch them from the cell of death by slow torture. No unfounded joy must dull the sharp edge of the movement. It must continue to fight forward with its million-armed power until this great issue is set- tled with a great victory. The hearts of the Massachusetts executioners have not softened with kindness, and their desire to murder our comrades has not changed. On the contrary, they seek for new methods of torment. The working class must reply: Not the chair of death, but life for Sacco and Vanzetti! Not the imprisonment of death, but freedom to Sacco and Vanzetti!
A campaign of the mass movement
By James P Cannon. Printed in Labor Defender, September 1927
As this issue of the Labor Defender goes to press (August 16, 1927) the final issue in the Sacco-Vanzetti case is impending. The danger appears greater than ever before and the lives of the heroic labour fighters hang in the balance.
This warning against false hopes and illusions and a call to new work and struggles must be the keynote of every word addressed to the masses in these fateful days. There is nothing in the new developments, in the short respite, to warrant their being taken as anything but a manoeuvre to quiet the protest movement and, by taking advantage of the paralysis in the movement created by false hopes and groundless illusions, to carry out the murderous designs of the enemies of the two fighters.
The workers who have fought so well for Sacco and Vanzetti must understand the danger and guard against it. The most important thing now is to examine the situation and to draw the necessary conclusions. Unless this is done, the movement will not be able to steer clearly between the rocks of illusions and passivity. The eleventh hour reprieve for Sacco and Vanzetti was brought about by the thunderous clamour of the labouring masses of the world who demonstrated their international working class solidarity in an imposing manner. It did not for a moment mean, as some naive people believe, that the Massachusetts Bourbons whose whole energy is bent on continuing their horrible torture of Sacco and Vanzetti until they can safely destroy them in the electric chair, have experienced any change of heart. On the contrary, the reprieve only enabled them to create most dangerous illusions and to gain for themselves some relief from the aroused world’s millions. To believe otherwise is to fall victim to just those illusions that the reactionaries are anxious to spread.
Not to realise that this latest action is a manoeuvre to gain time, during which to demoralise and split and weaken the protest movement is to fail to see the fundamental question involved. Those who from the beginning had seen the class issue in the case, and based their activities and confidence on the mass movement of the workers were entirely correct, and all events have proved this. The strike movement, in which millions everywhere participated, has opened a new page in the development of the American working class. Even the sporadic beginnings made in the use of this great weapon in political cause, in spite of and against the opposition or indifference of the official labour leaders in most cases, is fraught with profound significance.
It demonstrates the irresistible power that lies in the organised working class, spurred on by the spirit of solidarity. The case has always been an issue of the class struggle and not merely one of an exceptional miscarriage of so-called justice. The Massachusetts Bourbons know this well, and they recognise the magnificent protest movement as a distinctly class movement against which there must be, and is being, organised a counter campaign. First there is a new delay of a few days ostensibly for the purpose of providing for further legal deliberations (after seven years!) but in reality to instill the masses with the illusion of hopes from the courts that have prejudged the case. It is a delay calculated to sap the strength of the protest movement and make it more easy for the executioners to carry out their plans of death.
Then there is the worn-out trick of “bomb” plants, which of course never hurt anyone, and which gives Governor Fuller the opportunity to express “indignation” and “regret” at such “horrible deeds” — the same Governor Fuller who coldly and deliberately already put the seal of approval on the burning alive of Sacco and Vanzetti. This old game of “plants” is well known in the labor movement. It is being played now with the aim of discrediting the movement for Sacco and Vanzetti by creating the impression that the friends of the two rebels are irresponsible terrorists. More cunningly, it is hoped to isolate the militant elements of the movement in this manner, and leave the field to those groups who put all their cards on the illusion of Sacco and Vanzetti’s chance of obtaining justice from the courts. The mass movement of the workers, which relies upon its organised strength, has no use for the methods of individual terror, and does not agree with them. Moreover, the history of the labour movement in this country’s rich with incidents of the work of provocateurs and we know how to correctly estimate such transparent fakes.
Together with this are the attempts everywhere to suppress protest meetings in order to prevent the expression of the demand of the workers for the liberation of Sacco and Vanzetti. Thousands of police, armed with clubs, riot and machine guns, and tear bombs, were mobilised for these meetings, and hundreds of workers were arrested throughout the country. In Chicago alone, a score of meetings was broken up in one evening. The capitalists fear the protest of the workers for they realise that therein lies the strength of Sacco and Vanzetti. If we add to these developments the attempt of a number of the capitalist-liberal elements who joined the movement only to betray it at the critical moment, shown by the suppression of Heywood Broun’s articles in the New York World and the change of tone in other capitalist papers; and the threats of Congressman Johnson and Secretary of Labor Davis against all foreign-born workers for participation in the Sacco and Vanzetti movement, we can see that the whole machinery of reaction is being mobilised for the counter-campaign which is a combination of trickery and force, illusion and coercion.
The new developments bring out with crystal clearness the class issue in the case, the fact that the exploiters are launching all their forces against the movement of the workers which alone stands between Sacco and Vanzetti and the chair of death. We have no grounds for the belief that there has been the slightest change of plan by the executioners. On the contrary they are conspiring against our comrades with the same malice and working with feverish speed to consummate the assassination. It is true that the case is now before the judges of the Supreme Court. But this gives us no hopes for it has been there before and we know what to expect from that source. The working masses have a deep conviction of solidarity toward Sacco and Vanzetti, and they know that even the illusory respite was granted only because of the menacing protest of the workers. We must therefore confidently proceed at all costs to still further arouse and organise the anger of the working men and women against the slaughter of the two labor fighters and assist it to take the form of huge mass demonstrations and effective strikes.
That is the great task in the coming days: to put all our energy, militancy and courage up to the last minute into the strike movement and the mass demonstrations. We depend for this on the work of the men in the ranks, those class conscious militants who have been working steadily and quietly, often in the face of calumny, to organise and build the magnificent protest movement. We must work swiftly. All brakes on the movement must be regarded as the greatest danger. All illusions which paralyse the movement must be overcome. All agents of the bosses who try to sabotage and discredit the protest and strike movement must be given their proper name and exposed. Only a few fateful days remain. But there is still time, if we are able to disperse the illusions that have been created, to mobilise the power of the workers which is for us the court of last resort to which our appeal must be made.
Only to the extent that we understand this elementary fact will our work in the remaining days have the possibility of success. No faith in capitalist justice and institutions! That is the lesson of history confirmed by every development in the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Organise the protest movement on a wider scale and with more determined spirit! Remember the Haymarket martyrs! Remember Mooney and Billings! Remember the other class war prisoners! Demonstrate for Sacco and Vanzetti! Strike a blow for freedom!
New developments, new dangers
By James P Cannon. Printed in the Daily Worker, August 1927
The Sacco-Vanzetti case is moving to its final issue with express-train speed. Events in this mighty drama are transpiring now as though some unseen elemental force were driving them on. These events are fraught with significance and danger for Sacco and Vanzetti. and for the cause of labour which they represent and symbolise.
The labouring masses must penetrate the haze of these developments, interpret them truly and draw the right conclusion from them. Only on this condition will they be able to strengthen the iron ring of solidarity and protection around Sacco and Vanzetti. The main developments are the following:
(1) A few days delay of execution ostensibly to provide opportunity for further legal deliberation (after seven years!), but in reality to manoeuvre against the protest movement and gather more strength and courage to go through with their plans.
(2) A revival of the old game of bomb “plants” in order to create the impression that friends of the prisoners are irresponsible terrorists.
(3) Governor Fuller promptly issues a statement expressing horror at a bomb explosion that injured no one — the same governor who felt no horror at all in condemning innocent men to death on the basis of an “investigation” framed-up in secret session.
(4) Attempts of the police to prevent and break up protest meetings and demonstrations and to suppress the expression of the workers against the execution. At least several hundred workers were arrested in the different cities in which demonstrations of protest were held prior to August 10.
(5) A number of capitalistic and “liberal” elements, who “joined” the movement for a time and even tried to lead it, begin to desert, to get cold feet and to find excuses to justify the legal murder or life imprisonment. The suppression of the Heywood Broun articles by the New York World and the changed tone of other capitalist papers are cases in point.
(6) Along with these happenings go the outspoken threats of a new drive against the foreign-born workers. Thus we see the forces of reaction mobilizing along the whole front with a strategy which represents a combination of trickery and force. They are organizing their forces for the counter-campaign against the mass movement of the workers, the power which stands between Sacco and Vanzetti and the electric chair. They are conspiring and working with feverish speed.
There is no ground for the belief that they have changed their plans. The new developments bring out more than ever, and with crystal clearness, the class basis of this famous case. They show that it is a case of workers against exploiters — with Sacco and Vanzetti, the victims elected for the holocaust, standing out before the whole world as the representatives of the exploited class.
The class-struggle policy in the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti was right from the beginning and is a thousand times right now. The short reprieve was not an act of mercy or justice. It was a trick to create illusions and false hopes. It would be criminally foolish to regard it in any other way. The bomb “plants” are part of the same strategy and are designed to demoralise and discredit the protest movement, to split its ranks and above all to isolate and discredit the militants who are the organizing and driving force in the entire movement the world over.
Bomb-throwing and other futile acts of individual terror are not the weapons of class-conscious workers. We base ourselves on the masses and rely on the power of the masses in the fight for the liberation of Sacco and Vanzetti. The police violence and suppression against the protest meetings and the threatened drive against the foreign-born are bound up together with the other developments noted above. There is no contradiction between them. The exploiters are operating as a class and on a class basis, combining the tactics of fraud and manoeuvre with direct attacks and violence. In all this there is nothing new for those who understand the class struggle and have no illusions about the possibility of “justice” and “fair play” from the courts and other institutions of the class enemy.
The Sacco-Vanzetti case must be considered from this point of view. The power of the workers is the court of last resort to which our appeal must be made. Only to the extent that we understand this elementary fact will our work in the remaining days have the possibility of success. Put no faith in capitalist justice! Organise the protest movement on a wider scale and with a more determined spirit! Demonstrate and strike for Sacco and Vanzetti!
By James P Cannon. Printed in the Daily Worker, 18 August 1927
The lives of Sacco and Vanzetti still hang in the balance and they are in greater danger now than ever before. Every mention of the case should begin with this warning to the working masses not to be fooled with false hopes and false security.
What has happened, and what are the conclusions to be drawn for our guidance in the struggle during the remaining days, of suspense? Some people, no doubt, have seen in the eleventh-hour reprieve a sign of a change of heart of the Massachusetts Bourbons who have been moving, with such refined and deliberate cruelty, to blot out the lives of the Italian rebel workers. Such ideas are the most dangerous illusions. It was just to create these illusions and thereby to get some relief from the thundering clamour of the world’s millions, that this latest action in the “cat and mouse” game was taken.
There is not a hint or promise in any aspect of this new development of any design except to gain time, to manoeuvre for the demoralisation of the protest movement of the masses and to organise a counter-campaign against it The foremost problem of the workers, who see in Sacco and Vanzetti the symbols and banner bearers of their own class and cause, is to understand clearly the new turn of events and to shape their course along the right line.
The militant protest movement has halted the executioners up till now. As the final hour drew near, the movement assumed such proportions and militancy and expressed itself in mass demonstrations and strikes on such a scale, as to shake the world. It was especially the last phase of mass demonstrations and strikes which threw the real power of the masses into the scale against the murder plans of the Massachusetts hangmen. Those who emphasised this line of action, who understood and pointed out at every turn the fundamental class issues involved in the case, and who appealed to the mass power of the workers, were entirely correct. This line is the decisive line.
The greatest hope now lies in a further development and energetic promotion of this class-struggle policy. The case is again before the black-gowned judges on another appeal by the defence against flagrant errors in the trial. It is, of course, absolutely right to exhaust every legal possibility and technicality in the fight. Provided that the workers have no illusions. We must remember that the case has been before these same judges many times before, and that they live again and again put their scat of approval on the criminally false verdict. We must remember that the appointment of Governor Fuller’s Commission revealed itself as a ghastly trick to disarm the protest movement and fortify the verdict with more dignified sanctions. The slightest move should be suspected as another manoeuvre of the same sort, designed to give the outward appearance of still more scrupulous “fairness” in the process by which the two labour fighters arc to be burned alive.
Remember, also, that powerful influences of the exploiting class are being brought to bear for the carrying out of the death sentence, and that the final issue, just because it is an issue of the class struggle, and not merely an isolated instance of the miscarriage of their so-called “justice”, will depend upon the power and might of the class forces set into motion on each side. The great task, therefore, in the few fateful days remaining, up to the last minute of the last hour, is to put all energy, courage and militancy into the organization of mass demonstrations and protest strikes. All brakes upon this movement must be regarded as the greatest danger. All illusions which paralyze the movement must be overcome. All agents of the bosses who try to sabotage and discredit the protest and strike movement must be given their proper name.
While the judges of the Supreme Court prepare their decision on the case again, we must appeal at the same time to the labouring masses of America and the whole world who are the highest court of all. The workers have a deep conviction for Sacco and Vanzetti, and they have the power to compel their release. We must help the workers to understand this power, to organise it and to use it. The protest strikes already carried out, in spite of and against the misleaders of labour, are opening up a new page in the development of the American working class. The unparalleled heroic example of Sacco and Vanzetti has inspired and called forth new resources of courage, class solidarity and sacrifice.
The tireless work of the militants has already been responsible for the organization of this spirit on an astounding scale. Concentration of all forces and energies along this line, will succeed in harnessing the mood of the masses to an organised demonstration of such intensity and power that it will compel the liberation of Sacco and Vanzetti. It will deal a powerful blow to the whole infamous frame-up system. It will put the cases of Mooney and Billings and other militant workers long buried in the prisons again on the agenda of the labour movement. And will infuse that movement with a new consciousness of power.
The cause that passes through a prison
For the Second Annual Conference of International Labor Defense. By James P Cannon, Labor Defender, September 1926.
The path to freedom leads through a prison. The door swings in and out and through that door passes a steady procession of “those fools too stubborn-willed to bend,” who will not turn aside from the path because prisons obstruct it here and there. The doors of the San Quentin penitentiary swung outward the other day and three men stepped forth and drank in their first breath of freedom for several years.
They were workers, members of the IWW who had just finished a sentence under the criminal syndicalism law. On almost the same day, at the other end of the country, in Massachusetts, John Merrick began to serve his sentence imposed for activity in a shoe workers’ strike several years before. A week or so later, Gorge Papcun, a young man who distinguished himself in the struggle to organise the coal miners of Pennsylvania, was convicted of sedition and took his first steps in the long tortuous path which leads through technical motions and appeals to the prison.
In the state penitentiary in Massachusetts, Sacco and Vanzetti wait for the final judgment to be passed upon them because they are rebels and foreigners. The United States Supreme Court will decide the Ruthenberg appeal in the October term. The warden of the Michigan state penitentiary is ready. The mills of capitalist justice grind out victims for the penitentiary. If you put your finger on any corner of the map of America, whether Texas, California. Washington, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, West Virginia, New York, you can say with certainty: “In this state is a penitentiary which confines labor prisoners.”
In one sense of the word the whole of capitalist society is a Bastille. For the great mass of people who do the hard useful work there is no such word as freedom. They come and go at the order of a few. Their lives are regulated according to the needs and wishes of a few. A censorship is put upon their words and deeds. The fruits of their labour are taken from them. And if, by chance, they have the instinct and spirit to rebel, if they take their place in the vanguard of the fight for justice, the prisons are waiting.
The procession that goes in and out of the prison doors is not a new one. It is the result of an old struggle under new forms and under new conditions. All through history those who have fought against oppression have constantly been faced with the dungeons of a ruling class. The greater the cause has been and the deeper it has been rooted in the needs and sufferings of the masses, the more it has been menaced by the tortures of prison cells. The number of victims taken from among the ranks of those who have fought for a cause has been the measure of its greatness, and no cause is a great one which has not produced fighters in its ranks who have dared to face arrest and trial and imprisonment.
And the fear of a ruling class and the effectiveness of those who struggle against them can always be measured by the number upon whom they wreak revenge in this way. The class war prisoners of today, just as those in previous periods of history, are representatives of the most courageous and advanced section of the oppressed but upward-striving class. As a rule they are individuals of particular audacity and ability who have stood out conspicuously in their environment as leaders and militants and have thereby incurred the hatred of the oppressors.
Even in prison they continue to serve their class. Read the prisoners’ letters which appear every month in the Labor Defender. See their dauntless spirit reflected there. See how little confinement has been able to tame their spirit or to weaken their faith in the eventual triumph of their class. The fortitude with which they bear their ignominious punishment and the fidelity to principle which they show in almost every case, gives them a power as an inspiring and forward-driving force in the labor movement as a whole, which cannot be over-estimated. The service they render is as great as their sacrifice is heavy.
The class conscious worker accords to the class war prisoners a place of singular honor and esteem. The class war prisoners are stronger than all the jails and jailers and judges. They rise triumphant over all their enemies and oppressors. Confined in prison, covered with ignominy, branded as criminals, they are not defeated for they are the banner-bearers of the class that is destined to triumph. They are the representatives of an idea that will crack the walls of every prison and crumble them into dust.
There is a way of saying that the class war prisoners are victorious which smacks of superficial optimism and which offers little consolation to men who spend long, almost forgotten years behind the gray walls of the jail. We do not mean to sneak in this sense, as though it were an automatic process.
The victory of the class war prisoners is possible only when they are inseparably united with the living labour movement and when that movement claims them for its own, takes up their battle-cry, remembers its obligation to them, and carries on their work. The matter-of-fact attitude which shrugs its shoulders lightly at the procession of rebel workers passing through the prison doors, passes it off as ‘’part of the game,” lets the prisoners lie there year after year neglected and forgotten and lets the prisoners’ helpless dependents shift for themselves, is a poisonous and dangerous attitude indeed.
That way spells defeat for the class war prisoners and for the things they stand for. There has been too much of this in the past, as many a prisoner could tell with bitter words if he wished to speak about it. We believe it is one of the great tasks of the movement to make war upon this attitude and to eliminate it entirely. There are plenty of signs already that our efforts are meeting with success and that the claim of the class war prisoners is beginning to occupy a prominent place on the agenda of the labour movement.
The never-to-be-forgotten conference of earnest militants held on 28 June last year to launch the International Labor Defense marked a turning point in the struggle to unite the imprisoned fighters with the militant labor movement. The conference which founded International Labor Defense set before the organization a number of serious and difficult tasks. In the year which has intervened, substantial progress has been made in all directions. The burning issue of labour defence has been raised more insistently and in a more organised fashion than ever before in America. The assistance given to prisoners and their dependents during the past, year, though pitifully small when measured in comparison to their sacrifice, still is something — a sign of remembrance and an act of practical solidarity. The legal defence of persecuted workers has been put on an organised basis and not a single one has appealed to us in vain.
Our development of publicity for labor defence, the crowning achievement of which is the solid establishment of the Labor Defender, which represents and entirely new departure in American labour journalism, has been a fruitful and substantial work indeed. The ILD way, which is the way of brotherly solidarity and unity, has made its impression deep and indelible on all sections of the conscious and militant labor movement. And most important of all, a solid organization has been built up embracing many thousands of militant workers of diverse views who are uniting in practical solidarity under the banner of the ILD.
This is exerting a powerful in-fluence for unity in other activities in the class struggle. International Labor Defense is not a separate and independent movement of itself: it is a part of the whole labor movement. It is a shield for the workers as a whole in their daily struggle in their battle for liberation, it keeps the issue of liberation of the imprisoned labor fighters constantly before the eyes of labor, the issue which stone walls and prison bars often cause workers to forget their brothers and comrades.
The work of International Labor Defense is by its very nature work for the class struggle and for solidarity. Thousands of workers who are going into activity for ILD are being led by degrees into the mainstream of the class struggle itself, not only as sympathisers but as participants, as active soldiers. By its work and organization ILD draws greater numbers of workers into the movement and reveals to them, with the aid of their own experiences, more and more the role of our class government. ILD has a great work to perform in building and rebuilding the revolutionary traditions of America, some of the most valuable inheritances of the working class.
The Frank Little number of our Labor Defender contributed to this side of our work and we plan, in November, to organise a revival, more widespread and profound than ever before, of the militant tradition of the Haymarket martyrs of 1887. International Labor Defense is only in the initial stages of its development, but its power and potentialities have already been demonstrated. Our great campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti reached almost, every corner of the American labour movement and resounded throughout the world.
The reports from our local secretaries show that the Sacco-Vanzetti conferences which were organised everywhere on the initiative and inspiration of ILD units have embraced more than a million workers. The Second Annual Conference of the International Labor Defense which meets in Chicago on September 5th will mark another milestone along the road we travel. The. leading spirits of the ILD from all sections of the country will assemble there to review the year’s work and to lay out the lines for the future. It will be a gathering of historical significance, permeated through and through with the ILD spirit and the ILD way, made up of men and women who are bound for life and death with the cause of the class war prisoners and the movement they represent.