From: Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929.
What Is Communist Anarchism?
No, my friend, terrible as it is to admit it, there is no justice in the world.
Worse yet: there can be no justice as long as we live under conditions which enable one person to take advantage of another's need, to turn it to his profit, and exploit his fellow man.
There can be no justice as long as one man is ruled by another; as long as one has the authority and power to compel another against his will
There can be no justice between master and servant.
Justice and equality can exist only among equals. Is the poor street cleaner the social equal of Morgan? Is the washer woman the equal of Lady Astor?
Let the washer woman and Lady Astor enter any place, private or public. Will they receive equal welcome and treatment? Their very apparel will determine their respective reception. Because even their clothes indicate, under present conditions, the difference in their social position, their station in life, their influence, and wealth.
The washer woman may have toiled hard all her life long, may have been a most industrious and useful member of the community. The Lady may have never done a stroke of work, never been of the least use to society. For all that it is the rich lady who will be welcomed, who will be preferred.
I have chosen this homely example because it is typical of the entire character of our society, of our whole civilization.
It is money and the influence and authority which money commands, that alone count in the world.
Not justice, but possession.
Broaden this example to cover your own life, and you will find that justice and equality are only cheap talk, lies which you are taught, while money and power are the real thing, realities.
Yet there is a deep-seated sense of justice in mankind, and your better nature always resents it when you see injustice done to any one. You feel outraged and you become indignant over it: because we all have an instinctive sympathy with our fellow-man, for by nature and habit we are social beings. But when your interests or safety are involved, you act differently; you even feel differently.
Suppose you see your brother do wrong to a stranger. You will call his attention to it, you will chide him for it.
When you see your boss do an injustice to some fellow worker, you also resent it and you feel like protesting. But you will most probably refrain from expressing your sentiments because you might lose your job or get in bad with your boss.
Your interests suppress the better urge of your nature. Your dependence upon the boss and his economic power over you influence your behavior.
Suppose you see John beat and kick Bill when the latter is on the ground. Both may be strangers to you, but if you are not afraid of John, you'll tell him to stop kicking a fellow who is down.
But when you see the policeman do the same thing to some citizen you will think twice before interfering, because he might beat you up too and arrest you to boot. He has the authority.
John, who has no authority and who knows that some one might interfere when he is acting unjustly, will - as a rule - be careful what he is about.
The policeman, who is vested with some authority and who knows there is little chance of any one interfering with him, will be more likely to act unjustly.
Even in this simple instance you can observe the effect of authority: its effect on the one who possesses it and on those over whom it is exercised. Authority tends to make its possessor unjust and arbitrary; it also makes those subject to it acquiesce in wrong, subservient, and servile. Authority corrupts its holder and debases its victims.
If this is true of the simplest relations of existence, how much more so in the larger field of our industrial, political, and social life?
We have seen how your economic dependence upon your boss will affect your actions. Similarly it will influence others who are dependent upon him and his good will. Their interests will thus control their actions, even if they are not clearly aware of it.
And the boss? Will he also not be influenced by his interests? Will not his sympathies, his attitude and behavior be the result of his particular interests?
The fact is, every one is controlled, in the main, by his interests. Our feelings, our thoughts, our actions, our whole life is shaped, consciously and unconsciously, by our interests.
I am speaking of ordinary human nature, of the average man. Here and there you will find cases that seem to be exceptions. A great idea or an ideal, for example, may take such hold of a person that he will entirely devote himself to it and sometimes even sacrifice his life for it. In such an instance it might look as if the man acted against his interests. But that is a mistake - it only seems so. For in reality the idea or ideal for which the man lived or even gave his life, was his chief interest. The only difference is that the idealist finds his main interest in living for some idea, while the strongest interest of the average man is to get on in the world and live comfortably and peacefully. But both are controlled by their dominant interests.
The interests of men differ, but we are all alike in that each of us feels, thinks, and acts according to his particular interests, his conception of them.
Now, then, can you expect your boss to feel and act against his interests? Can you expect the capitalist to be guided by the interests of his employees? Can you expect the mine owner to run his business in the interests of the miners?
We have seen that the interests of the employer and employee are different; so different that they are opposed to each other.
Can there be justice between them? Justice means that each gets his due. Can the worker get his due or have justice in capitalist society?
If he did, capitalism could not exist: because then your employer could not make any profits out of your work. If the worker would get his due - that is, the things he produces or their equivalent - where would the profits of the capitalist come from? If labor owned the wealth it produces, there would be no capitalism.
It means that the worker cannot get what he produces, cannot get what is due to him, and therefore cannot get justice under wage slavery.
'If that is the case,' you remark, 'he can appeal to the law, to the courts.'
What are the courts? What purpose do they serve? They exist to uphold the law. If someone has stolen your overcoat and you can prove it, the courts would decide in your favor. If the accused is rich or has a clever lawyer, the chances are that the verdict will be to the effect that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, or that it was an act of aberration, and the man will most likely go free.
But if you accuse your employer of robbing you of the greater part of your labor, of exploiting you for his personal benefit and profit, can you get your due in the courts? The judge will dismiss the case, because it is not against the law for your boss to make profits out of your work. There is no law to forbid it. You will get no justice that way.
It is said that 'justice is blind.' By that is meant that it recognizes no distinction of station, of influence, of race, creed, or color.
This proposition needs only to be stated to be seen as thoroughly false. For justice is administered by human beings, by judges and juries, and every human being has his particular interests, not to speak of his personal sentiments, opinions, likes, dislikes, and prejudices, from which he can't get away by merely putting on a judge's gown and sitting on the bench. The judge's attitude to things - like every one else's - will be determined, consciously and unconsciously, by his education and bringing up, by the environment in which he lives, by his feelings and opinions, and particularly by his interests and the interests of the social group to which he belongs.
Considering the above, you must realize that the alleged impartiality of the courts of justice is in truth a psychological impossibility. There is no such thing, and cannot be. At best the judge can be relatively impartial in cases in which neither his sentiments nor his interests - as an individual or member of a certain social group - are in any way concerned. In such cases you might get justice. But these are usually of small importance, and they play a very insignificant role in the general administration of justice.no such thing, and cannot be. At best the judge can be relatively impartial in cases in which neither his sentiments nor his interests - as an individual or member of a certain social group - are in any way concerned. In such cases you might get justice. But these are usually of small importance, and they play a very insignificant rôle in the general administration of justice.
Let us take an example. Suppose two business men are disputing over the possession of a certain piece of property, the matter involving no political or social considerations of any kind. In such a case the judge, having no personal feeling or interest in the matter, may decide the case on its merits. Even then his attitude will to a considerable extent depend on his state of health and his digestion, on the mood in which he left home, on a probable quarrel with his spouse, and other seemingly unimportant and irrelevant yet very decisive human factors.
Or suppose that two workingmen are in litigation over the ownership of a chicken coop. The judge may in such a case decide justly, since a verdict in favour of one or other of the litigants in no way affects the position, feelings, or interests of the judge.
But suppose the case before him is that of a workingman in litigation with his landlord or with his employer. In such circumstances the entire character and personality of the judge will affect his decision. Not that the latter will necessarily be unjust. That is not the point I am trying to make. What I want to call your attention to is that, in the given case, the attitude of the judge cannot and will not be impartial. His sentiments toward workingmen, his personal opinion of landlords or employers, and his social views will influence his judgment, sometimes even unconsciously to himself. His verdict may or may not be just; in any case it will not be based exclusively on the evidence. It will be affected by his personal, subjective feelings and by his views regarding labor and capital. His attitude will generally be that of his circle of friends and acquaintances, of his social group, and his opinions in the matter will correspond with the interests of that group. He may even himself be a landlord or have stock in a corporation which employs labor. Consciously or unconsciously his view of the evidence given at the trial will be colored by his own feelings and prejudices, and his verdict will be a result of that.
Besides, the appearance of the two litigants, their manner of speech and behavior, and particularly their respective ability to employ clever counsel, will have a very considerable influence on the impressions of the judge and consequently on his decision.
It is therefore clear that in such cases the verdict will depend more on the mentality and class-consciousness of the particular judge than on the merits of the case.
This experience is so general that the popular voice has expressed it in the sentiment that 'the poor man can't get justice against the rich.' There may be exceptions now and then, but generally it is true and can't be otherwise as long as society is divided into different classes with differing interests. So long as that is the case, justice must be one-sided, class justice; that is, injustice in favor of one class as against the other.
You can see it still more clearly illustrated in cases involving definite class issues, cases of the class struggle.
Take, for instance, a strike of workers against a corporation or a rich employer. On what side will you find the judges, the courts? Whose interests will the law and government protect? The workers are striking for better conditions of living; they have wives and children at home for whom they are trying to get a little bigger share of the wealth they are creating. Does the law and government help them in this worthy aim?
What actually happens? Every branch of government comes to the aid of capital as against labor. The courts will issue an injunction against the strikers, they will forbid picketing or make it ineffectual by not permitting the strikers to persuade outsiders not to take the bread out of their mouths, the police will beat up and arrest the pickets, the judges will impose fines on them and railroad them to jail. The whole machinery of the government will be at the service of the capitalists to break the strike, to smash the union, if possible, and reduce the workers to submission. Sometimes the Governor of the State will even call out the militia, the President will order out the regular troops - all in support of capital against labor.
Meanwhile the trust or corporation where the strike is taking place will order their employees to vacate the company houses, will throw them and their families out in the cold, and will fill their places in the mill, mine, or factory with strikebreakers, under the protection and with the aid of the police, the courts, and the government, all of whom are supported by your labor and taxes.
Can you speak of justice under such circumstances? Can you be so naive as to believe that justice is possible in the struggle of the poor against the rich, of labor against capital? Can't you see that it is a bitter fight, a struggle of opposed interests, a war of two classes? Can you expect justice in war?
Truly the capitalistic class knows that it is war, and it uses every means at its command to defeat labor. But the workers unfortunately do not see the situation as clearly as their masters, and so they still foolishly twaddle about 'justice', 'equality before the law', and 'liberty'.
It is useful to the capitalist class that the workers should believe in such fairy tales. It guarantees the continuation of the rule of the masters. Therefore they use every effort to keep up this belief. The capitalistic press, the politician, the public speaker, never miss an opportunity to impress it upon you that law means justice, that all are equal before the law, and that every one enjoys liberty and has the same opportunity in life as the next fellow. The whole machinery of law and order, of capitalism and government, our entire civilization is based upon this gigantic lie, and the constant propaganda of it by school, church, and press is for the sole purpose of keeping conditions as they are, of sustaining and protecting the 'sacred institutions' of your wage slavery and keeping you obedient to law and authority.
By every method they seek to instill this lie of 'justice', 'liberty', and 'equality' in the masses, for full well they know that their whole power and mastery rest on this faith. On every appropriate and inappropriate occasion they feed you this buncombe; they have even created special days to impress the lesson more emphatically upon you. Their spellbinders fill you full of this stuff on the Fourth of July, and you are permitted to shoot your misery and dissatisfaction off in firecrackers and forget your wage slavery in the big noise and hullabaloo. What an insult to the glorious memory of that great event, the American Revolutionary War, which abolished the tyranny of George III and made the American Colonies an independent republic! Now the anniversary of that event is used to mask your servitude in the country where the workers have neither freedom nor independence. To add insult to injury, they have given you a Thanksgiving Day, that you may offer up pious thanks for what you have not!
So great is the assurance of your masters in your stupidity that they dare do such things. They feel safe in having duped you so thoroughly and reduced your naturally rebellious spirit to such abject worship of 'law and order' that you will never dream of opening your eyes and letting your heart cry out in outraged protest and defiance.
At the least sign of your rebellion the entire weight of the government, of law and order, comes down upon your head, beginning with the policeman's club, the jail, the prison, and ending with the gallows or the electric chair. The whole system of capitalism and government is mobilized to crush every symptom of dissatisfaction and rebellion; aye, even any attempt to improve your condition as a workingman. Because your masters well understand the situation and fully know the danger of your waking up to the actual facts of the case, to your real condition of slave. They are aware of their interests, of the interests of their class. They are class conscious, while the workers remain muddled and befuddled.
The industrial lords know that it is good for them to keep you unorganized and disorganized, or to break up your unions when they get strong and militant. By hook and crook they oppose your every advance as a class-conscious worker. Every movement for the improvement of labor's condition they hate and fight tooth and nail. They'll spend millions on the kind of education and propaganda that serves the continuation of their rule rather than on improving your conditions as a worker. They will spare neither expense nor energy to stifle any thought or idea that may reduce their profits or threaten their mastery over you.
It is for this reason that they try to crush every aspiration of labor for better conditions. Consider, for instance, the movement for the eight-hour day. It is comparatively recent history, and probably you remember with what bitterness and determination the employers opposed that effort of labor. In some industries in America and in most European countries the struggle is still going on. In the United States it began in 1886, and it was fought by the bosses with the greatest brutality in order to drive their workers back to the factories under the old conditions. They resorted to lockouts, throwing thousands out of work, to violence by hired thugs and Pinkertons upon labor assemblies and their active members, to the demolition of union headquarters and meeting places.
Where was 'law and order'? What side of the struggle was the government on? What did the courts and the judges do? Where was justice?
The local, State, and Federal authorities used all the machinery and power at their command to aid the employers. They did not even shrink from murder. The most active and able leaders of the movement had to pay with their lives for the attempt of the workers to reduce their hours of toil.
Many books have been written on that struggle, so that it is unnecessary for me to go into details. But a brief summary of those events will refresh the reader's memory.
The movement for the eight-hour workday started in Chicago, on May 1, 1886, gradually spreading throughout the country. Its beginning was marked by strikes declared in most of the large industrial centers. Twenty-five thousand workers laid down their tools in Chicago on the first day of the strike, and within two days their number was doubled. By the 4th of May almost all unionized labor in the city was on strike.
The armed fist of the law immediately hastened to the aid of the employers. The capitalist press raved against the strikers and called for the use of lead against them. There followed immediately assaults by police upon the strikers' meetings. The most vicious attack took place at the McCormick works, where the conditions of employment were so unbearable that the men were compelled to go on strike already in February. At this place the police and Pinkertons deliberately shot a volley into the assembled workers, killing four and wounding a score of others.
To protest against the outrage a meeting was called at Haymarket Square on the 4th of May, 1886.
It was an orderly gathering, such as were daily taking place in Chicago at the time. The Mayor of the city, Carter Harrison, was present; he listened to several speeches and then - according to his own sworn testimony later on in court - he returned to police headquarters to inform the Chief of Police that the meeting was all right. It was growing late - about ten in the evening, heavy clouds overcast the sky; it looked like rain. The audience began to disperse till only about two hundred were left. Then suddenly a detachment of a hundred policemen rushed upon the scene, commanded by Police Inspector Bonfield. They halted at the speakers' wagon, from which Samuel Fielden was addressing the remnant of the audience. The Inspector ordered the meeting to disperse. Fielden replied: 'This is a peaceful assembly.' Without further warning the police threw themselves upon the people, mercilessly clubbing and beating men and women. At that moment something whizzed through the air. There was an explosion, as of a bomb. Seven policemen were killed and about sixty wounded.
It was never ascertained who threw the bomb, and even to this day the identity of the man has not been established.
There had been so much brutality by the police and Pinkertons against the strikers that it was not surprising that some one should express his protest by such an act. Who was he? The industrial masters of Chicago were not interested in this detail. They were determined to crush rebellious labor, to down the eight-hour movement, and to stifle the voice of the spokesmen of the workers. They openly declared their determination to 'teach the men a lesson'.
Among the most active and intelligent leaders of the labor movement at the time was Albert Parsons, a man of old American stock, whose forebears had fought in the American Revolution. Associated with him in the agitation for the shorter workday were August Spies, Adolf Fischer, George Engel, and Louis Lingg. The money interests of Chicago and of the State of Illinois determined to 'get' them. Their object was to punish and terrorize labor by murdering their most devoted leaders. The trial of those men was the most hellish conspiracy of capital against labor in the history of America. Perjured evidence, bribed jurymen, and police revenge combined to bring about their doom.
Parsons, Spies, Fischer, Engel, and Lingg were condemned to death, Lingg committing suicide in jail; Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab were sentenced to prison for life, while Oscar Neebe received 15 years. No greater travesty of justice was ever staged than the trial of these men known as the Chicago Anarchists.
What a legal outrage the verdict was you can judge from the action of John P. Altgeld, later Governor of Illinois, who carefully reviewed the trial proceedings and declared that the executed and imprisoned men had been victims of a plot of the manufacturers, the courts, and the police. He could not undo the judicial murders, but most courageously he liberated the still imprisoned Anarchists, stating that he was merely making good, so far as was in his power, the terrible crime that had been committed against them.
The vengeance of the exploiters went so far that they punished Altgeld for his brave stand by eliminating him from the political life of America.
The Haymarket tragedy, as the case is known, is a striking illustration of the kind of 'justice' labor may expect from the masters. It is a demonstration of its class character and of the means to which capital and government will resort to crush the workers.
The history of the American labor movement is replete with such examples. It is not within the scope of this book to review the great number of them. They are dealt with in numerous books and publications, to which I refer the reader for a nearer acquaintance with the Golgotha of the American proletariat. On a smaller scale the Chicago judicial murders are repeated in every struggle of labor. It is sufficient to mention the strikes of the miners in the State of Colorado, with its fiendish Ludlow chapter, where the State militia deliberately shot into the workers' tents, setting the latter afire and causing the death of a number of men, women and children; the murder of strikers in the hopfields of Wheatland, California, in the summer of 1913; in Everett, Washington' in 1916; in Tulsa, Oklahoma; in Virginia and in Kansas; in the copper mines of Montana, and in numerous other places throughout the country.
Nothing so arouses the hatred and vengeance of the masters as the effort to enlighten their victims. This is as true to-day as it was in the time of slavery and serfdom We have seen how the church persecuted and martyred her critics and fought every advance of science as a threat to her authority and influence. Similarly has every despot always sought to stifle the voice of protest and rebellion. In the same spirit capital and government to-day furiously fall upon and tear to pieces every one who dares shake the foundations of their power and interests.
Take two recent cases as instances of this never-changing attitude of authority and ownership: the Mooney- Billings case and that of Sacco and Vanzetti. One took place in the East, the other in the West, the two separated by a decade and the whole width of the continent. Yet they were exactly alike, proving that there is neither East nor West, nor any difference of time or place in the masters' treatment of their slaves.
Mooney and Billings are in prison in California for life. Why? If I were to answer in just a few words, I should say, with perfect truth and completeness: because they were intelligent union men who tried to enlighten their fellow-employees and improve their condition.
It was just this, and no other reason, that doomed them. The Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco, the money power of California, could not tolerate the activities of two such energetic and militant men. Labor in San Francisco was becoming restive, strikes were taking place, and demands were being voiced by the toilers for a greater share of the wealth they were producing.
The industrial magnates of the coast declared war upon organized labor. They proclaimed the 'open shop' and their determination to break the unions. That was the preliminary step towards placing the workers in a position of helplessness and then reducing wages. Their hatred and persecution were directed first of all against the most active members of labor.
Tom Mooney had organized the street-car men of San Francisco, a crime for which the traction company could not forgive him. Mooney together with Warren Billings and other workers had also been active in a number of strikes. They were known and admired for their devotion to the union cause. That was enough for the employers and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to try to get them out of the way. On several occasions they had been arrested on frame-up charges by agents of the traction and other corporations. But the cases against them were of such flimsy nature that they had to be dismissed. The Chamber of Commerce bided its opportunity to 'get' those two labor men, as their agents openly threatened to do.
The opportunity came with the explosion during the Preparedness Parade in San Francisco, July 22, 1916. The labor unions of the city had decided not to participate in the parade, because the latter was merely a show of strength by California capital as against unionized labor which the Chamber of Commerce had set out to crush. The 'open shop' was its frankly proclaimed policy, and it made no secret of its determined and bitter hostility to unions.
It has never been ascertained who placed the infernal machine which exploded during the parade, but the San Francisco police never made any serious effort to find the responsible party or parties. Immediately following the tragic occurrence Thomas Mooney and his wife Rena were arrested, as well as Warren Billings, Edward D. Nolan, member of the machinists' union, and I. Weinberg, of the jitney drivers' union.
The trial of Billings and Mooney proved one of the worst scandals in the history of American courts.
The State witnesses were self-confessed perjurers, bribed and threatened by the police into giving false testimony. Evidence showing the entire innocence of Mooney and Billings was ignored. Mooney was accused of having placed the infernal machine at the very time when he was in the company of friends upon the roof of a house about a mile and a half distant from the scene of the explosion. A photograph taken of the demonstration by a film company during the parade clearly shows Mooney on the roof, and in the background a street clock indicating the time as 2.02 p.m. The explosion having taken place at 2.06 p.m., it would have been a physical impossibility for Mooney to have been at both places at almost the same time.
But it was not a question of evidence, of guilt or innocence. Tom Mooney was bitterly hated by the vested interests of San Francisco. He had to be gotten out of the way. Mooney and Billings were convicted, the former being sentenced to death, the latter receiving a lifetime term.
The outrageous manner in which the trial was conducted, the evident perjury of the State witnesses, and the clear hand of the manufacturers back of the prosecution aroused the country. The matter ultimately was brought up before Congress. The latter passed a resolution ordering the Labor Department to investigate the case. The report of Commissioner John B. Densmore, sent to San Francisco for this purpose, exposed the conspiracy to hang Mooney as one of the methods of the Chamber of Commerce to destroy organized labor in California.
Since then most of the State witnesses, having failed to receive the reward promised them, confessed to having perjured themselves at the instigation of Charles M. Fickert, then District Attorney of San Francisco and known tool of the Chamber of Commerce. Draper Hand and R. W. Smith, police officials of the city, have both declared in sworn affidavits that the evidence against Mooney and Billings was manufactured from beginning to end by the District Attorney and his bribed witnesses from the lowest social dregs of the coast.
The Mooney-Billings case attracted national and even international attention. President Wilson felt induced to wire to the Governor of California twice, asking for a revision of the case. Mooney's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but no effort has succeeded in securing him a new trial. The money power of California was bent on keeping Mooney and Billings in the penitentiary. The Supreme Court of the State, obedient to the Chamber of Commerce, steadfastly refused, on technical grounds, to review the trial testimony, the perjured character of which had become a byword in California.
Since then all the surviving jurors have made statements to the effect that if the true facts of the case had been known to them during the trial, they would have never convicted Mooney. Even Judge Fraser, who presided at the trial, has asked for Mooney's pardon, on similar grounds.
Yet both Tom Mooney and Warren Billings still remain in the penitentiary. The Chamber of Commerce of California is determined to keep them there, and their power is supreme with the courts and the government.
Can you still speak of justice? Do you think justice to labor possible under the reign of capitalism?
The judicial murder of the Chicago Anarchists took place many years ago, in 1887. Considerable time has also elapsed since the MooneyBillings case, in 1916-1917. The latter, moreover, happened far away, on the Pacific Coast, at a time of war hysteria. Such rank injustice could take place only in those days, you might say; it could hardly be repeated to-day.
Let us then shift the scene to our own day, to the very heart of America, the proud seat of culture - to Boston, Massachusetts.
It is sufficient to mention Boston to call up the picture of two proletarians, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemeo Vanzetti, one a poor shoemaker, the other a fish peddler, whose names to-day are known and honored in every civilized country the world over.
Martyrs to humanity, if ever there were any; two men who gave up their lives because of their devotion to mankind, because of their loyalty to the ideal of an emancipated and freed working class. Two innocent men who bravely suffered torture during seven long years, and who died a terrible death with a serenity of spirit rarely equaled by the greatest martyrs of all time.
The story of that judicial murder of two of the noblest of men, the crime of Massachusetts that will neither be forgotten nor forgiven as long as the State exists, is too fresh in the memory of every one to need recapitulation here.
But why did Sacco and Vanzetti have to die? This question is of utmost moment; it bears directly upon the matters at issue.
Do you think that if Sacco and Vanzetti had been just a pair of criminals, as the prosecution tried to make you believe, there would have been such ruthless determination to execute them in the face of the appeals, pleadings, and protests of the entire world?
Or if they had been plutocrats actually guilty of murder, with no other issue involved, would they have been executed? Would no appeal to the higher courts of the State have been allowed, would the Federal Supreme Court have refused to consider the case?
You have often heard of some rich fellow killing a man, or of the sons of wealthy parents found guilty of murder in the first degree. But can you name a single one of them ever executed in the United States? Will you even discover many of them in prison? Does not the law always find excuses of 'mental excitation', of 'brain storm', of 'legal irresponsibility in cases of rich men convicted of crime?
But even if Sacco and Vanzetti had been ordinary criminals sentenced to die, would not appeals from prominent men in all walks of life, from charitable societies, and hundreds of thousands of friends and sympathizers have secured clemency for them? Would not doubt of their guilt, expressed by the highest legal authorities, have resulted in a new trial, a revision of the old testimony, and the consideration of new evidence in their behalf?
Why was all this refused to Sacco and Vanzetti? Why did 'law and order', beginning with the local police and Federal detectives, up to the confessedly prejudiced trial judge, all through the Supreme Court of the State, the Governor, and ending with the Federal Supreme Court show such a determination to send them to the electric chair?
Because Sacco and Vanzetti were dangerous to the interests of capital. These men voiced the dissatisfaction of the workers with their condition of servitude. They expressed consciously what the workers mostly feel unconsciously. It is because they were class-conscious men, Anarchists, that they were a greater menace to the security of capitalism than if they had been a whole army of strikers not conscious of the real objects of the class struggle. The masters know that when you strike you demand only higher pay or shorter hours of work. But the class-conscious struggle of labor against capital is a far more serious matter; it means the entire abolition of the wage system and the freeing of labor from the domination of capital. You can readily understand then why the masters saw a greater danger in such men as Sacco and Vanzetti than in the biggest strike for the mere improvement of conditions with in capitalism.
Sacco and Vanzetti threatened the whole structure of capitalism and government. Not those two poor proletarians as individuals. No; rather what those two men represented - the spirit of conscious rebellion against existing conditions of exploitation and oppression.
It is that spirit which capital and government meant to kill in the persons of those men. To kill that spirit and the movement for labor's emancipation by striking terror into the hearts of all who might think and feel like Sacco and Vanzetti; to make an example of those two men that would intimidate the workers and keep them away from the proletarian movement.
This is the reason why neither the courts not the government of Massachusetts could be induced to give Sacco and Vanzetti a new trial. There was danger of their being acquitted in the atmosphere of an aroused public sense of justice; there was the fear that the plot to murder them would be exposed. That is why the Justices of the Federal Supreme Court declined to hear the case, just as the judges of the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts refused a new trial in spite of important new evidence. For that reason also the President of the United States did not intercede in the matter, though it was no less his moral than his legal duty to do so. His moral duty, in the interests of justice; his legal obligation because as President he had sworn to uphold the Constitution which guarantees every one a fair trial, which Sacco and Vanzetti did not get.
President Coolidge had sufficient precedents for interceding in behalf of justice, notably the example of Woodrow Wilson, in the case of Mooney. But Coolidge had not the courage to do so, being entirely subservient to the Big Interests. No doubt the case of Sacco and Vanzetti was also considered of even greater importance and class significance than that of Mooney. At any rate, both capital and government agreed in their resolve to uphold the courts of Massachusetts at all cost and to sacrifice Nicolo Sacco and Bartolemeo Vanzetti.
The masters were determined to uphold the legend of 'justice in the courts', because their whole power rests on the popular belief in such justice. It is not that infallibility is claimed for judges. If that were the attitude, there would be no appeal from the decision of a judge, there would be neither superior nor supreme courts. The fallibility of Justice is admitted, but the fact that the courts and all government institutions serve only to support the rule of the masters over their labor slaves - that their justice is but class justice - that could not be admitted for even an instant. Because if the people found that out, capitalism and government would be doomed. That is exactly why no impartial review of the evidence in the Sacco and Vanzetti case could be permitted, no new trial given them, for such a proceeding would have exposed the motives and objects back of their prosecution.
Therefore there was no appeal and no new trial- only a star chamber hearing behind closed doors in the Governor's mansion, by men whose loyalty to the dominant class was above suspicion; men who by all their training and education, by their tradition and interests were bound to Sustain the courts and clear the Sacco and Vanzetti verdict of any imputation of class justice. Therefore Sacco and Vanzetti had to die.
Governor Fuller of Massachusetts pronounced the final word of their doom. There were, even up to the last moment, thousands who had hoped that the Governor would shrink from committing this coldblooded murder. But they did not know or had forgotten that years before, in 1919, the same Fuller had stated in Congress that every 'radical, socialist, IWW, or anarchist should be exterminated'; that is, that those who seek to free labor should be murdered. Could you reasonably expect such a man to do justice to Sacco and Vanzetti, two avowed Anarchists?
Governor Fuller acted according to his sentiments, in keeping with his attitude and interests as a member of the ruling class, in a manner thoroughly class-conscious. Similarly have acted Judge Thayer and all those involved in the prosecution, no less than the 'respectable gentlemen of the Commission appointed by Fuller to 'review' the case in secret session. All of them class-conscious, they were interested only in sustaining capitalistic 'justice', so as to preserve the 'law and order' by which they live and profit.
Is there justice for labor within capitalism and government? Can there be any as long as the present system exists? Decide for yourself.
The cases I have cited are but a few of the numerous struggles of American labor against capital. The same can be duplicated in every country. They clearly demonstrate the fact that
- (1) there is only class justice in the war of capital against labor; there can be no justice for labor under capitalism.
- (2) law and government, as well as all other capitalist institutions (the press, the school, the church, the police, and courts) are always at the service of capital against labor, whatever the merits of any given case. Capital and government are twins with one common interest.
- (3) capital and government will use any and all means to keep the proletariat in subjection: they will terrorize the working class and ruthlessly murder its most intelligent and devoted members.
It cannot be otherwise, because there is a life-and-death struggle between capital and labor.
Every time that capital and its servant, the law, hang such men as the Chicago Anarchists or electrocute the Saccos and Vanzettis, they proclaim that they have 'freed society from a menace'. They want you to believe that the executed were your enemies, enemies of society. They also want you to believe that their death has settled the matter, that capitalistic justice has been vindicated, and that 'law and orders has triumphed. But the matter is not settled, and the masters' victory is only temporary. The struggle goes on, as it has continued all through the history of man, all through the march of labor and liberty. No matter is ever settled unless it is settled right. You can't suppress the natural yearning of the human heart for freedom and well-being, however much terror and murder governments may resort to. You can't stifle the demand of the toiler for better conditions. The struggle goes on and will continue in spite of everything law, government, and capital may do. But that the workers may not be wasting their energy and efforts in the wrong direction, they must clearly understand that they can no more hope for justice from the courts, from law and government, than they can expect wage slavery to be abolished by their masters.
'What's to be done, then?' you ask. 'How shall the workers get justice?'
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