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Sacco and Vanzetti

Sacco and Vanzetti

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Published by: quintus14 on Oct 13, 2012
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Sacco
and
Vanzetti:
Was
the
Trial Fair?
FRANCIS
RUSSELL
THAT
SACCO
AND
VANZETTI
were innocentphilosophical anarchists done to death fortheir radical beliefs by a fear-ridden reac-tionary society has long been a liberalistdogma.
H.
G.
Wells summed it up in
1927
when a few weeks before the two men’s exe-cution he wrote in the London
Sunday
Ex-
press
that “Sacco and Vanzetti are
as
inno-cent
of
the Braintree murders, for whichthey are now awaiting death, as Julius Cae-sar, or-a better name in this connection-Karl Marx.”
For
the next thirty years it re-mained intellectually contemptible to thinkotherwise, like joining the Ku Klux Klan
or
endorsing laws forbidding the teachingof evolution
or
believing in the literalnessof the Bible. In
1948
Professor
G.
LouisJoughin could write in
The Legacy
of
Sac-
co
and Vanzetti
:
the literary verdict
is
unanimously sym-pathetic to the two executed men. Pros-ecution, judges and the hostile Massa-chusetts public majority have not intwenty years found
a
single literary de-fender of their p0sition.lThe first competent challenge came in
1960
with the publication of
Sacco andVanzetti-The Murder and
the
Myth
byRobert Montgomery,
a
conservative Bostonlawyer.’ Montgomery subjected the trialrecord to a minute and searching analysis,and in the process undermined most
of
thelong and tenaciouslyheld assumptions ofthe Sacco-Vanzetti dogmatists. But in spiteof his devastating logic, Montgomerymarred his own credentials through hismembership in the John Birch Society.
His
insularity was apparent in his view of thetwo anarchists as no more than
a
pair ofsleazy criminals.
For
whatever else Saccoand Vanzetti may
or
may not have been,they were interesting individuals, as
I
thinkanyone who reads their letters will agree(in spite of the fact that these letters weredoctored and prettified by Gardner Jacksonand Marion Frankfurter). Nevertheless, asJames Rorty, an earlier Sacco-Vanzettistreet demonstrator and poet of the cause,wrote in a
New Leader
review, Montgom-ery’s book stands like a lion in the path of
30 Winter
1975
 
the fixated dogmatists of innocence. Twoyears after its publication
a
liberal NewYork lawyer, James Grossman, in an articlein
Commentary,
carefully analyzed the Sac-co-Vanzetti trial record and came to thesame conclusion, that the two were indeedguilty.3 Then three years later
a
New Yorkprofessor, David Felix, published a studyof the role and attitudes of the intellectualsin the case.4 He too felt forced to concludethat Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty. In myown book
Tragedy
in
Dedham,
I
releasedthe report
of
a
1961
ballistics test made inthe Massachusetts State Police laboratory.sThis test, conducted by Jac Weller, thehonorary curator of the West Point Muse-um, and Colonel Frank Jury,
a
former headof the Firearms Laboratory
of
the New
Jer-
sey State Police, demonstrated again whatprevious tests had shown, that one of thebullets found in the body of the murderedBraintree payroll guard and one of the sev-eral shells found at the scene of the crimehad been fired in the 32-caliber Colt auto-matic found on Sacco
at
the time
of
his ar-rest. To the last-ditch argument that themortal bullet and shell might have beenfraudulently substituted by the prosecution,one need only point out that at the time ofthe trial the science of forensic ballisticswas
so
elementary that no one realized thesignificance
of
breech-block markings ona shell, although these
are
as unique andindicative as the barrel-markings on a
bul-
let. Even
if
one assumes for the sake of ar-gument that the mortal bullet was substitut-ed, no one would have known enough at thetime to have switched shells.Not until the early sixties did
it
becomegenerally known that the chief defensecounsel
at
the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, FredMoore, had come to the private conclusionthat “Sacco was probably, Vanzetti waspossibly guilty.’ys The radical Moore, a for-mer general counsel for the
I.W.W.,
wasthe one man responsible for taking the ob-scure trial of two Italian immigrants andmaking it into an international issue thatStalin in 1927 could call the most impor-tant event since the October Revolution. AsEugene Lyons-a publicist for the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee-later wrote
of
him,[Moorelwas at heart an artist. In-stinctively he recognized the materials
of
a world issue in what appeared toothers a routine matter. A socialist news-paper-man spent
a
few days in Bostonand returned to New York to report that“there’s no story in it
.
.
.
just a coupleof wops in
a
jam.” Not one of the mem-bers of the defense committee formedimmediately after the men’s arrest
sus-
pected that the affair was anythinglarger than it seemed. When the casegrew into an historical tussle these menwere utterly bewildered. But Moore sawits magnitude from the first. His legaltactics have been the subject of disputeand recrimination.
I
think there
is
somecolor
of
truth, indeed, to the charge thathe sometimes subordinated the literalneeds
of
legalistic procedure to the larger needs of the case as
a
symbol of theclass struggle.
If
he had not! done
so,
Sacco and Vmzetti would have died sixyears earlier, without the solace of mar-tyrdom.With the deliberation
of
a
composerevolving the details of a symphonywhich he senses in its rounded entirety,Moore proceeded to clarify and deepenthe elements implicit in the case.’
Yet
before Moore left the case he hadcome
to
doubt his cause, expressing hisdoubts to, among others, Roger Baldwinand (later) Upton Sinclair. Then in
1961
Max Eastman revealed that the anarchistleader Carlo Tresca had admitted to himin 1943--shortly before he was murderedin New York by the Italian-born Sovietagent Vittorio Vidali-that “Sacco wasguilty, but Vanzetti was not.”* At the time
Modern
Age
31
 
of
the trial
Tresca
was
the leading anarchist
in
the United States, the one to whom otheranarchists turned when they were in trou-ble, who knew their innermost secrets.
He
it
was who had brought Moore into the Sac-co-Vanzetti case, sending him on to Boston
to
take charge after local comrades hadbungled the preliminary defense. Tresca al-
so
told the same story at greater length toProfessor John Roche of Brandeis who in
1941
at Norman Thomas’ house,
as
a
mem-ber of the Young People’s Socialist League,heard Tresca declare angrily that “Saccomurdered a good comrade, Vanzetti, be-cause he thought they could beat the rap.Sacco was involved and refused to pleadguilty and save Van~etti.”~oche did notmake
this
public, however, until 1972.
Half
a
dozen witnesses had testified atthe trial that they had seen Sacco in Bostonon
the
afternoon of the crime, an “iron-clad
alibi”
according to the bombastic assertion
of
the late Justice Musmanno. This alibi be-came paper-thin in 1962 when the laborwriter Paul Jacobs stated that his late closefriend, the former anarchist Anthony
Ra-
muglia, admitted that he had been askedby the Boston anarchists to appear in courtand swear he had seen Sacco in Boston onthat day. Ramuglia
was
willing, until he re-membered just in time that he had then ac-tually been in jail in St. LOuis.loOther bits of evidence indicating Sacco’sguilt loomed larger after these revelations:the fact that Sacco had been absent fromwork on the day of the crime; that at least
two
Italian workmen who knew him ad-mitted in private that they had recognizedhim
as
one of the hold-up men but had beentoo frightened to come forward and say
so
to the police
;
hat
a
hair taken from inside
a
cap found at the scene of the crime whenexamined under
a
microscope exactlymatched a hair taken from Sacco’s head;that the mortal shell
was
from an obsoleteWinchester cartridge and that six such ob-solete cartridges were found on Sacco aher
his
arrest.
Also,
there was the singular
si-
lence of the Sacco family over the years,
ae
if
they were harboring-in !Upton Sinclair’swords-“some deep, dark secret.” Shortlybefore their execution Sacco and Vanzettieach wrote
a
long and moving letter to
Sac-
co’s son Dante. Vanzetti wrote: “the docu-ments of our case, which you and otherones will collect and preserve,
will
provethat your father, your mother, yourself,Inez,
I
and my family are sacrificed by andto a State Reason
of
American PlutocraticReaction.” Dante died in 1971,
a
respectedmember of
a
small-town community, usherat the Congregational church, member
of
his local chamber
of
commerce and
busi-
nessmen’s bowling league. But he collectedno documents, and never once would hemake any public statement about the case,not even the simple assertion that he
be-
lieved his father innocent.
His
only replywas silence. Privately he was much angeredat the renewed publicity in
1959
when theaging Sacco-Vanzetti clique persuaded
an
Italian-American legislator to introduce
a
bill in the Massachusetts Legislature grant-ing
a
posthumous pardon to the
two
anarchists.That Sacco was guilty, that Vanzetti
was
at least an accessory after the fact
is
a
straightforward Copernican solution to theBraintree crime. To continue to maintaintheir absolute innocence in the light of
the
revisionism of the last decade requires,
as
David Felix points out,
a
Ptolemaic ingenu-ity in dealing with obdurate facts. Yet
if
the first line of defense, the myth of inno-cence betrayed, has been breached, the
sec-
ond line remains: Whether guilty or inno-cent, Sacco and Vanzetti did not have a
fair
trial. Certainly this has been accepted
ex
cathedra
by those who followed in the foot-steps
of
Frankfurter’s special pleading
in
1927,
The
Care
of
Sacco
and
Vanzetti,
andthis has continued through the years down
32
Winter
1975

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