Labour’s martyrs: the story of Sacco and Vanzetti

Submitted by AWL on 16 March, 2016 - 9:19 Author: Sean Matgamna

The working-class victims of bourgeois repression and deliberate murder are legion. The murder of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were burned alive in the electric chair in Massachusetts, on August 23, 1927, was a cold-blooded crime committed by the American capitalist class in the full sharp glare of world wide attention and protest. Mass demonstrations were organised in every city in the world where Communist and Socialist movements existed. Protests and demands for clemency were made by many well known writers and politicians. These included British working-class leader George Lansbury, whose indignant exposition of the case serves as an introduction to this pamphlet. There were riots in European cities when news came through that, after six years under sentence of death, Sacco and Vanzetti had finally been killed.

Both of them were Italian American anarchists. Both were brave, dignified and class-conscious men. They saw what was happening to them with the eyes of working-class militants. They commented publicly at each turn in the legal-political murder process that had them in its grip. Vanzetti was a man of uncommon eloquence. They became known as people, not just as far-away symbolic figures, to millions all over the world.

The authors of this collection, James P Cannon and Max Shachtman, were central organisers of the campaign to save Sacco and Vanzetti. Cannon was National Secretary of International Labor Defense, the US section and the hub of the international campaign to save them. The young Max Shachtman edited its monthly journal, Labor Defender.

An arm of the Communist movement, International Labor Defense operated as a non-factional defender of all working class victims of class justice and bourgeois vengeance, whether they were Communists or its declared political opponents. The world wide campaign for the anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, was conducted in that fine spirit, and exemplified it.

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