La Salute é in Voi: the Anarchist Dimension
By Robert D'Attilio
... the case against Sacco and Vanzetti for murder was part of a collusive effort between the District Attorney and agents of the Department of justice to rid the country of these Italians because of their Red activities.
It was a contention rejected by Webster Thayer, the trial judge, who asked rhetorically:
Have Attorney General Sargent of the United States ... and former Attorney General Palmer ... stooped so low and are they so degraded that they were willing by the concealment of evidence to enter into a fraudulent conspiracy with the government of Massachusetts to send the two men to the electric chair, not because they were murderers, but because they were radicals?
Consequently, one might expect that the gathering and examination of facts about the radical activities of Sacco and Vanzetti would have been a chief concern of writers dealing with the case. And, indeed, several of the books written shortly after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti did make an attempt to deal with such issues, but they did not have sufficient access to necessary information, both official and private, that would have allowed them to deal fully with this subject. (Upton Sinclair's Boston is much the best of these, but since it is written in the form of a novel, most readers do not realize that it is also quite accurate as history -more so than most of the other "formal" histories of the case.) Later books, as a glance at their indices will show, dealt less and less adequately, or not at all, with the precise nature of their anarchist beliefs and activities-the anarchist dimension. The most extreme position has been taken by the author of the most recent book on the case:
I cannot agree that the specifics of Italian American anarchy have much to do with the case. Those who persecuted Sacco and Vanzetti did not care whether they worshipped Galleani or some other prophet; that they were Italian anarchists sufficed.
The point of this paper will be the opposite of that statement: the specifics of Italian-American anarchism have everything to do with the case; they are one of the most important dimensions of the case; those who persecuted Sacco and Vanzetti did care if they "worshipped" Galleani; the fact that they were just Italian anarchists did not suffice to explain why the powerful forces of the state were mobilized against these two particular men, so relentlessly and unforgivingly, for seven long years.
But, before beginning, let us consider how this situation has come about. How could this dimension, perhaps the most important of the case, be so overlooked despite the floods of words that have been written in the attempt to describe and understand it?
Many crucial government documents concerning the anarchist activities of the two men were sealed and have not been open to scholars of the case until recently.
No author who has attempted a comprehensive historical account of the case has known Italian or used the Italian language sources that contain the information necessary for understanding the anarchist milieu that Sacco and Vanzetti were part of.
The legal aspects of the case have been overemphasized because the majority of the books about the case have been written by lawyers or legal scholars who have quite naturally concentrated their interest upon the trial record and other such legal documents.
And finally, the many dramatic elements of the case-its detective story/whodunnit appeal, the conflict of political outsiders against established society, the sagas of ethnic discrimination and immigration - attracted the attention of many people who knew little or nothing about the anarchist ideas or activities of the two men. As a result much more attention was focused upon the personalities of the two men, leaving the more complex and arcane world of their radicalism in the shadows.
It was the attractive character of Sacco and Vanzetti, the impressive humanity that they expressed so movingly in their words and letters that made much of this attention quite sympathetic, so much so that it caused Vanzetti to marvel, "... they are doing for us what once could have only been done for saints and kings."
Vanzetti's words have an ironical and, in my eyes at least, unfortunate application to the history of the case; for Sacco and Vanzetti, just as countless saints and kings before them, have been turned into myths and legends that have enshrouded the true story of their lives and their ideals. Dramas, poems, novels, paintings, films, all inspired by their struggle for life, have helped to transform Sacco and Vanzetti into symbols, and as often happens in causes cï¿½lï¿½bres symbols that are rather far from reality.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of such a transformation is the most widely known image associated with the two men: the good shoemaker and the poor fish peddler. The image supposedly comes from the words of Vanzetti, spoken during an interview with the journalist, Phil Stong. These much anthologized words of Vanzetti are:
If it had not been for these thing, I might have live out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for joostice, for man's onderstanding of man, as now we do by an accident.
Yet the truth of the matter is that Vanzetti never used the phrase "the good shoemaker and the poor fish peddler" to describe himself and Sacco. The source of this image is clearly stated in a letter from Phil Stung to Upton Sinclair (July 16,1928). Sinclair, while writing his novel based upon the Sacco-Vanzetti case, Boston, wanted to use Vanzetti's exact words and had written to Stong for them. In reply Stong said:
... the quotes are pretty accurate I think, and if there is any allowance to be made, it is in Bart's favor. ... He did not, of course, say "lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler." I had to inject that humility and simplicity that was in his presence into my story artificially. That was about the only conscious liberty that I took with his words and I think that it was justified.
Upon reflection one can see that the image seems too self-conscious; Vanzetti would never have mistaken a shoemaker for the shoeworker that Sacco was (he was an edge trimmer), nor would he have described himself as a fish peddler, something that he did for less than a year, and that only during the time he was trying to begin the publication of an anarchist journal, Cara Compagna, with his friend Aldino Felicani.
Yet this image, more than any other, has come to symbolize the two men and their struggle throughout the world. Why this is so we can leave to social commentators, but I hope to make the point that such symbols can easily mislead or deceive one about the essence of the case.
Other images of the two men as "philosophical" anarchists, Tolstoyan pacifists, poor and naive immigrant workers, and harmless Utopian dreamers that have been generated by their sympathizers are as incomplete as the images of their adversaries, who present Sacco and Vanzetti as ungrateful foreigners, common criminals, or atheistic anarchists capable of any unspeakable crime. None of these images is comprehensive enough to represent the complexities of the Sacco-Vanzetti case nor the story of their lives.
The time has come to get down to details, to try to show "how things really were" in the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, to describe their activities as militant anarchists, to understand the anarchist movement that they were part of, and to appreciate the actions of the authorities against this movement. In order to understand the full significance of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, it is time to explore the neglected anarchist dimension.
By militant anarchists I mean people who were actively trying to overthrow the state, people who rejected all religions, and people who, perhaps above all, wanted the freedom to present their beliefs and their ideals openly, to make propaganda for the Idea, as they called their beloved anarchy
In this paper I will focus mostly upon the connection of Sacco and Vanzetti with the Italian language anarchist paper, Cronaca Sovversiva (Chronicle of Subversion), published at that time in Lynn under the editorship of Luigi Galleani, a man whose activities in America have been sketched out for you by Paul Avrich and David Wieck.
Much of the material I will use is unfamiliar, and it may lead to some relentless detail, but I think that such specific detail is needed to show the magnitude and the significance of this overlooked dimension.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, when they arrived in America within several months of each other in 1908, were neither anarchists nor particularly political. Both came from families that were better off than most of the great mass of Italian immigrants, though they were not by any means wealthy. Vanzetti came from the North, from a family that was deeply Catholic and apolitical; Sacco, from the South, from a nominally Catholic family that reflected the anticlerical strain of Mazzinian republicanism.
By 1913, after five years of living in America, each in his own fashion had become a convinced anarchist, a subscriber to and supporter of Cronaca Sovversiva.
The name of Sacco appears for the first time in Cronaca Sovversiva on August 6, 1913, on the back page among the short notes and letters which appeared under the heading Piccola Posta (Brief Notes). Sacco's note gives an account of money that he and others had raised to help jailed strikers during the recent strike at the Draper factory in nearby Hopedale. It was signed Ferdinando Sacco, his actual name, and the name he always used in his dealings with Cronaca Sovversiva; he did not adopt the name Nicola until some time later. During the next few years Sacco's name appears more and more frequently in the pages of Cronaca Sovversiva, always in the Piccola Posta, attending picnics and conferences, acting in social dramas, continually raising money to aid political prisoners and jailed strikers, always collecting money for "the propaganda." He listened to the many anarchist speakers who came to agitate among those who, like himself, worked in the factories scattered about his hometown of Milford: Carlo Tresca, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Ettor, and Arturo Giovannitti, all prominent figures in the famous Lawrence strike of 1912, and, of course, Luigi Galleani. During 1914, by coincidence, the names of Sacco and Vanzetti appear together for the first time in print, among the list of contributors on the back pages of Cronaca Sovversiva; the two men would not meet in person until several years later.
In August 1916 the anarchists of Milford wanted to hold a series of meetings to help the iron workers of the Mesabi Range of Minnesota in their great strike, led in part by Carlo Tresca. They wanted to use the Town Hall, but they were refused permission by the Milford authorities, and the meeting had to be held elsewhere. Later, on December 3 of that year, Cronaca Sovversiva reported that the police had arrested three anarchists for holding yet another meeting in support of the Mesabi strikers without a permit; Sacco was among them. He was convicted in Milford and received a sentence of three months, though the charge was later dismissed in Worcester Superior Court.
December was a troubled month for Sacco. Shortly after his arrest his daughter Alba, not yet one month old, died. Cronaca Sovversiva in a personal note about her death said, "It was as if she did not value this wretched world of ours, dripping with blood and cowardice."
Despite this personal tragedy, several months later in May 1917, just after the United States had entered World War 1, Ferdinando Sacco left his wife and young son to go to Mexico in the company of anarchist comrades. It was now that he met Bartolomeo Vanzetti for the first time.
In the beginning Bartolomeo Vanzetti's search for work and a place to live in America had been wandering and uncertain. His jobs ranged from work as pastry chef in luxurious restaurants to hard outdoor labor. He vacillated between New York and Connecticut, the city and the country, before coming to Massachusetts. It was while working on the construction of a reservoir in Worcester on November 30, 1912, that Vanzetti sent in his 250 for his first subscription to Cronaca Sovversiva.
Shortly after this, within several months, he had moved to Plymouth, where he found lodging with a fellow anarchist and strong supporter of Cronaca Sovversiva, Vicenzo Brini. In Plymouth, like most of the immigrants there, Vanzetti worked for some time at the giant Plymouth Cordage Plant, then the largest such plant in the world, busily prospering as it supplied warring Europe.
In the pages of Cronaca Sovversiva the Cordage owners were sarcastically described as hypocritical capitalists, paternalistic Brahmins with a smattering of Ruskin, who tried to keep their workers contented by giving them ping-pong tables for recreation, instead of higher wages. In January 1916 they were unpleasantly surprised by a strike; Cronaca Sovversiva militants were in its forefront; and Galleani, much practised in industrial conflict, always ready to fan the sparks of insurrection, came to Plymouth to agitate among the workers.
Though, at the time of the strike, Vanzetti was no longer working at the Cordage, he nevertheless took an active role in it. Not only was he in charge of the money collected to help the strikers, always a trusted and responsible position among the anarchists, but he also sent in reports to Cronaca about the progress of the strike, some under his own name, others under a pseudonym, Nespola, a tactic that many anarchists used to avoid the attention of the police.
Bitter disputes between the anarchists and the socialists over strike tactics, in which Vanzetti was often involved, dissipated energies, and, after the strike had lasted one month during a bitter winter, the workers rejected the militancy of the anarchists and accepted the settlement of the owners.
In 1916 the violence in labor conflicts continued to mount throughout America; Cronaca Sovversiva militants, Vanzetti among them, continued their activities, agitating, leafleting, raising money for strikers and political victims; Galleani again left the paper for several months to aid in the miners' strike in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, during which he was charged with "incitement to rebellion" and jailed for several weeks before the charges were dropped.
But another volatile element was about to be introduced into America's troubled society. Woodrow Wilson, despite earlier public promises to the contrary, using the issues of military preparedness and 'Americanism," kept edging the United States closer to war. He courted the support of "those that are for America, first, last, and all the time." On April 6, 1917, he finally led the United States into World War 1.
On May 5, 1917, three years to the day before the arrest of Vanzetti, we come across a curious event; a document now in the possession of his family shows that, for some reason, he took out first papers for American citizenship. Did this show some hesitancy about his convictions? Or is there some other explanation? We do not know. At any rate, by the end of the month, influenced by Galleani's article, "Matricolati!" Vanzetti left Massachusetts to go to Mexico in the company of other anarchist comrades, including Sacco.
I have gone into some detail about the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti so that there would be no doubt about public identification of these two men as militant members of the Cronaca Sovversiva group, by themselves, by their communities, and by the authorities.
Now let us consider this trip that Sacco and Vanzetti took to Mexico. It would be introduced into their trial, not only by the prosecution but by their own defense counsel, Fred H. Moore, to explain the lies they had told the police the night they were arrested. The prosecution charged the men lied because they were conscious of being guilty of the South Braintree crimes; the defense tried to meet the charge by claiming that Sacco and Vanzetti had lied because they were afraid of revealing their radical activities, for which they could be deported. The trip was to be a case in point; in the Dedham trial both men testified they had gone to Mexico to avoid the draft; or as Katzmann, the prosecutor, pouncing on the admission, put it in his first words of cross-examination to Vanzetti, "So you left Plymouth, Mr. Vanzetti, in May 1917 to dodge the draft ."
Now it was known, and most certainly by the prosecutor, that only U.S. citizens were eligible for the draft; aliens, like Sacco and Vanzetti, were not; they were only required to register. As a result, the testimony that Sacco and Vanzetti gave to explain their Mexican trip is generally taken as an example of their naivete and incomprehension of the America they lived in. For example, Francis Russell, in his book Tragedy in Dedham, says
The official notice explained that registration did not mean liability to military service except for citizens or those who had taken out first papers. Sacco and Vanzetti were not liable, but so remote were they from ordinary American life that neither of them understood this.
As a matter of fact, this trip is a vivid example of how certain actions which were to be important in the Sacco-Vanzetti trial have been misconstrued bySacco and Vanzetti scholars and how the trial records and legal documents of the case can be severely deficient in their ability to explain what was really going on.
A little known but authoritative book about the Italian-American anarchist movement, Un Trentennio di Attivita Anarchica (1914-1945) [Thirty Years of Anarchist Activities] Cesena, Italy, 1953, compiled by anarchists, some of whom had been comrades of Sacco and Vanzetti, gives the real reason for their trip to Mexico. Under the date, May 26, 1917, it states:
Several score Italian anarchists left the United States for Mexico. Some have suggested [undoubtedly a reference to Katzmann-translator's note] they did so because of cowardice. Nothing could be more false. The idea to go to Mexico arose in the minds of several comrades who were alarmed by the idea that, remaining in the United States, they would be forcibly restrained from leaving for Europe, where the revolution that had burst out in Russia that February promised to spread all over the continent.
Obviously, this was not a reason they could give in a period shortly after the excesses of the "Red Scare" and in a courtroom where the foreman of the jury often saluted the American flag rather ostentatiously before entering the jury box. Instead of admitting the full truth about the Mexican trip-that they had left the U.S. so that they would be free to fight in the social revolution they felt was imminent in Europe -Sacco and Vanzetti chose what seemed to be the lesser danger for them: they said they had gone to Mexico to escape the draft. (Actually this was literally true in Vanzetti's case, since he had taken out first papers and was eligible for the draft; but, for some unexplained reason, this does not seem to have been known to either the defense or the prosecution.)
A vivid indication of the state of mind that existed around Cronaca Sovversiva just before Sacco and Vanzetti and their comrades left Mexico (and an example of the cultural dimension of the movement) is provided by a pamphlet published at that time by one of its most Active, sustaining groups, Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston (The Autonomous Group of East Boston). It is the Italian translation of a play which had great popularity among radical audiences of that time, La Vigilia (On the Eve) by Leopold Kampf: it dealt with the lives of Russian revolutionaries on the eve of the 1905 Revolution, who had begun their activities as peaceful propagandists for a better life, before persecution by the government forced them to resort to political and social violence and to sacrifice their lives for the cause. It carried the seeds of prophecy for the Sacco-Vanzetti case.
New rather startling evidence in recently opened federal files shows that the presence of the Cronaca Sovversiva anarchists in Mexico was known to the U.S. government. A Department of justice report written on January 5-6, 1922, while monitoring "Italian Anarchist Activities" in Boston during the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, refers to earlier letters that had fallen into the hands of the Department in 1918. The report contains the partial text of a letter sent from Mexico to Cronaca Sovversiva by one Pacco Carlucci, described as an alias - and correctly, I think - of Carlo Valdinoci, a former editor of Cronaca Sovversiva who will figure in this account later on. In this letter he talks of some of his comrades who came with him to Mexico. Mentioning Sacco and Vanzetti by name, Carlucci-Valdinoci says that Vanzetti had not yet decided when to return to the United States, while Sacco had already left to visit a brother-in-law in Ohio. (This would seem to date the letter sometime at the end of the summer of 1917, for Sacco had returned to Massachusetts by the end of August 1917.) It shows clearly that the federal authorities had the Cronaca Sovversiva group under heavy surveillance in 1918 and that, as a result of their attempts to suppress the group and its newspaper, the names of Sacco and Vanzetti had appeared in their reports.
The attempt to suppress and deport alien radicals by the United States government has been carefully and convincingly documented in William Preston's valuable book, Aliens and Dissenters. In it (pp. 184-185) he describes the concerns that the Department of justice and the Bureau of Immigration had over certain inadequacies-as they saw it-of a 1917 act which they had been using in their drive against radical aliens. They were awaiting passage of new legislation which would remove these inadequacies, but both agencies wanted to act immediately for they felt they were losing their struggle against the radicals. On July 26, 1918, the two agencies held a meeting in which they decided secretly to apply the measures in the law before it was enacted. Preston quotes from a memorandum of this meeting in which the new criteria for deportation (which were not to become law until three months later) were set forth; but he is interested only in their use against the IWW He does not mention that a significant portion of the memorandum, two of its six paragraphs, is directed specifically against another radical group, subscribers to Cronaca Sovversiva. These paragraphs state:
3. In the case of Italian anarchists, evidence of their continued subscription to Cronaca Sovversiva, the leading anarchist newspaper in the United States, writing articles for publication in this paper, taking subscriptions for it, and transmitting proceeds to the publishers, acting as distributing agents, receiving of bundles of paper sent by the express after it was denied the use of the mails, contributing to or soliciting and remitting 'money for the Anarchist Defense Fund, and otherwise by their acts, as well as by their words, assisting in the spreading of the anarchist propaganda, shall be considered good grounds for deportation on the charge of advocating and teaching anarchy in the United States.
Now why was all this time and energy being spent by the Department of justice, the Bureau of Immigration, Military intelligence of the Army, Naval Intelligence, and the Post Office to spy on and suppress Cronaca Sovversiva, a newspaper that was described by Galleani as "a rag of a paper that lives on crusts and bits of bread, with the support and pennies of five thousand beggars"? (Galleani's estimate of Cronaca's circulation is borne out by its subscription list which had also fallen into the hands of the Department of Justice. It has about 3,200 names. Two addresses show that it dates from before May 1917: Ferdinando Sacco, 76 Hayward Street, Milford, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Suosso's Lane, Plymouth). While not an insignificant movement, Cronaca Sovversiva was clearly not of the size and scope of the IWW. Why, then, did this band of some five thousand beggars demand so much attention from the authorities?
The answer to this question is La Salute Ã¨ in Voi (Health is within you), a pamphlet published by Cronaca Sovversiva. At first, in 1906, it was quietly listed on the back page among the many other titles of the Library of the Social Studies Group. Later it would be more prominently displayed with the terse and somewhat recondite description, "an indispensable pamphlet for those comrades who love self instruction." La Salute Ã¨ in Voi, at 25? the most expensive pamphlet printed by Cronaca Sovversiva, was a manual for making bombs and would become the great unmentioned fact of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, unmentioned by the two adversaries who knew of it, the anarchists and the authorities.
The tall, oblong pamphlet of forty-eight pages, written in a very clear, elementary Italian, refers to certain materials in Italian terms, with costs in Italian lire. This makes it likely that it is, or was derived from, the explosives manual written by Ettore Molinari, fervent anarchist, renowned chemist (trained in Switzerland and Germany, later Professor of Chemistry at the Politecnico in Milano), and a friend of Luigi Galleani. The note to the reader and poem at the beginning of the pamphlet were probably written by Galleani. The note states the purpose of La Salute Ã¨ in Voi:
... to eliminate the vulgar objection that subversives who continually preach individual and collective revolt to the oppressed, neglect to give them the means and weapons for it.
The poem, presumably there to inspire the reader before he encounters the more prosaic demands of instruction in chemistry, says in part:
the Passion, the Sorrow, and the horrid slaughter
of undefended right.
Thou hast curst, thou hast wept
prison, misery, and affliction.
Cursing is sterile; weeping cowardly,
History directs you; Science arms you.
From unavenged tombs, killed by disease and
Entrust you with their vengeance
Redemption springs from audacious revolt
The authorities did not know about La Salute ï¿½ in Voi for some time, but as the social mood in America became more militant and the labor struggle more intense, events would lead them to discover its existence and eventually obtain their own copy.
Let us see how this manual came into the hands of the authorities.
On July 4, 1914, in New York City a bomb explosion in a Lexington Avenue tenement killed three men who were making a bomb, Arthur Caron, Charles Berg, and Carl Hanson. They were all anarchists. This was shortly after the Ludlow (Colorado) massacre, one of the most tragic episodes of social warfare in U.S. history. At a Rockefeller-owned mine, federal troops that were supposedly there to prevent violence suddenly and unexpectedly attacked a tent city that the striking workers were living in with their families. Using machine guns and setting the tents on fire, the troops killed eleven people, mostly women and children. A pitched battle followed in which many score died; only strikers were indicted and convicted; no soldiers were charged. Outrage swept throughout the country; it was especially intense among workers and revolutionary militants. Since Caron, Berg and Hanson had taken part earlier in the demonstrations against John D. Rockefeller at his Tarrytown, New York, home, both police and anarchists assumed that the bomb they had been making was intended for use against Rockefeller.
This event led to the creation of a bomb squad in the New York City Police Department, headed by Inspector Thomas Tunney. The Squad, in the period prior to World War 1, would become the largest, most active, and knowledgeable such unit in the United States. Among other groups, it focused particular attention on Cronaca Sovversiva.
I should point out, however, that like most bomb squads throughout the world, it hardly caught or convicted anyone. Indeed, its lack of success in solving a series of bomb explosions in New York City led it to use a timeless police tactic, the agent provocateur. Two Young, impressionable Italians who frequented the Bresci Circle, an anarchist center on 106th Street, were lured into trying to bomb Saint Patrick's Cathedral and arrested while planting the explosives. Several days later, on March 13, 1915, Luigi Galleani published a front-page article in Cronaca Sovversiva that dealt with this affair (the Abarno-Carbine case as it was called after the two men who were caught), and the recent spate of bombings that had hit New York City; they included explosions in churches on the anniversary of the execution of the Spanish educator, Francisco Ferrer, and an explosion in the Bronx Court House on the anniversary of the execution of the Haymarket anarchists. In this article Galleani charged that the police, unable to face the humiliating failure of their attempts to discover the authors of these deeds, had been reduced to taking advantage of the moral outrage of the young against a corrupt society. But Galleani made it clear to his readers that these other bombings were to be considered.
... attentats, more or less serious, more or less
The public sanctioning of such acts was not unusual for Galleani. Earlier, in 1907-1908, he had published a series of ten articles entitled "La Fine dell' Anarchismo?" (The End of Anarchism?) that had been written in response to a former comrade-in-arms, Francesco Saverio Merlino, who had asserted that anarchism was now finished, the dying creed of a diminishing band of militants. These articles (later expanded and printed as a book in 1925) presented his most systematic thinking about the nature of anarchism. In these articles Galleani recast, in his compelling inspirational style, ideas that were current within anarchist circles of that period, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus: the inevitability of the social revolution, the necessary overthrow of the ruling classes by force, the insurrectionary role of the general strike, the unwilled, spontaneous nature of popular uprisings, the dangers of unionism and parliamentarianism, total communism in the economic sphere, etc.; but he was unique among them in his strong emphasis on the efficacy of the propaganda of the deed, the individual act of revolt. He saw it as a necessary intermediary between the Idea (i.e., the ideal concept of anarchism) and the insurrection which would lead to the only justified war, the war of social revolution. Galleani wrote with an almost mystical intensity about such acts:
... The Idea is embodied in the martyrdom of its first heralds and sustained by the blood of its believers.
He gave a highly ethical, even aesthetic, attitude to such acts of revolt (Bresci's killing of the King of Italy, for example); he saw them as rebuffs to cowardice, submission, and indifference; they redirected history on its road to the final insurrection. Above all, Galleani insisted that any such act could not be repudiated by anarchists, for they had been spurred on by anarchist propaganda.
It is supreme cowardice to reject acts of rebellion when we, ourselves, have sown the first seed and brought forth the first bud.
In 1914, Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston published the historical counterpart to "La Fine dell' Anarchisnio?" a collection of articles also written for Cronaca Sovversiva, called Faccia a Faccia col Nemico (Face to Face with the Enemy). In this book Galleani, under the pseudonym Mentana, left a record of what he described as militant anarchism in action. His method was to describe the historical and social circumstances that led certain anarchists to commit acts of expropriation and vindication and to contrast his interpretation of events with the official records of their trials, full of the lies and justifications of the state.
During April 1915 Galleani gave a similar account of the Abarno-Carbone trial in New York City in three long detailed articles, each of which was accompanied by a photograph of the agent provocateur who had trapped them. In them Galleani warned the readers of Cronaca Sovversiva that La Salute ï¿½ in Voi was now in the hands of the police; it had been found in Carbone's room and it had been introduced as evidence into the trial record. This did not at all prevent Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston from still listing it among the titles available in its Library of Social Studies, almost right next to the defense fund it had begun for Abarno and Carbone. We can be sure that by this time, 1915, the social remedies of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi were no longer a secret from Sacco and Vanzetti.
In the same justice Department report that had linked Sacco and Vanzetti to Carlo Valdinoci (let me remind you that this report was written in 1922, during the Sacco-Vanzetti case, but based on materials seized in 1918), the agent speculated that the Cronaca Sovversiva anarchists had gone to Mexico to get instruction in the use of explosives. The lessons of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi in the hands of Cronaca Sovversiva militants clearly disturbed the authorities.
Matters in Mexico failed to go as the Cronaca had intended. The war continued unabated, making their return to Italy impossible, the Russian Revolution did not spread throughout Europe as had been anticipated, and life in Mexico was much more difficult than had been imagined.
Most of the group returned clandestinely to the United States, though several kept to their original intention of returning to Italy for the post-war revolutionary struggle they expected so fervently. Sacco, who had left behind a family, was among the first to return to Massachusetts by the end of summer, 1917. At this time he had an alias, Nicola Mosmacotelli, that he kept until the end of the war, when he would take back his real name of Sacco. He would choose to keep his new first name, Nicola.
Vanzetti returned to the United States, sometime later, stopping mainly at Youngstown, Ohio, for about six months. But he, too, was in Massachusetts by the end of 1918; he, too, upon his arrival in Plymouth gave up the alias he had been using, Bartolomeo Negrini, but he did not grow back the beard he had before he left for Mexico that had earned him the nickname, "Barbetta!' (Little Beard).
It is reasonable to infer that both men had taken these measures to avoid the attention of the authorities, for they had returned to America in the midst of a fierce period of repression for Cronaca Sovversiva. Several years before the more notorious and widespread "Red" or "Palmer Raids, " the massive forces of the United States government were very specifically directed against this journal and its supporters. Time and time again its offices were raided, its issues con fiscated and refused the mails, its editors arrested.
As a result of these raids, contrary to later public statements of federal officials, other material identifying Sacco and Vanzetti as more than ordinary subscribers found its way into Department of Justice files.
These files contained a postcard from Ferdinando Sacco addressed to Cronaca Sovversiva. Dated August 10, 1916, one week after the Milford meeting for the Mesabi Range strikers, it said, "In whatever concerns Cronaca Sovversiva I am with you. Yours for the revolution. "
Two letters from Vanzetti addressed to Cronaca in September of that year were also listed as having been confiscated, but no mention of their contents was made; there was also mention of a photograph of Vanzetti taken together with Galleani. (This material, though listed in Department of Justice indices is presently not recoverable from their files) And we must also remember that the Department of Justice knew that Sacco and Vanzetti were in Mexico with Carlo Valdinoci and other anarchist comrades.
By July 18, 1918, the United States government, by its actions - many of them illegal - had stopped Cronaca Sovversiva from publishing openly (two clandestine issues would appear in 1919); by the end of the year it had arrested, deported or forced its militants underground; and its files contained information connecting Sacco and Vanzetti with Cronaca Sovversiva, Luigi Galleani, and Carlo Valdinoci. The federal authorities had entered the once "unexplored world of the reds" with a vengeance.
But though Cronaca Sovversiva had been suppressed, it would not yet disappear from America's attention. In the week preceding May 1, 1919, more than two dozen packages with explosives in them were mailed to addresses throughout the country. It was only by chance that practically all were intercepted; only one exploded, injuring two people. These deadly packages had been sent to public officials and private individuals who had been known for their anti-radical views and activities, people such as Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, Commissioner General Anthony Camminetti, Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and John D. Rockefeller. Most of them had been specifically involved in actions directed against Cronaca Sovversiva.
The shock created by these attempted bombings had not yet died down when a second attack was made on June 2, 1919. This time a series of bombs were set off, all at about the same time, in nine different locations, causing much material damage and two deaths. The most sensational explosion occurred in Washington, D.C., at the residence of Attorney General Palmer.
It severely damaged his house and blew to pieces the man who was placing the bomb. Leaflets found among his remains proved to be similar to leaflets found at other locations. The leaflet, entitled "Plain Words," said in part:
... it is war, class war, and you were the first to wage it under the powerful institutions you call order, in the darkness of your laws, behind the guns of your boneheaded slaves...
Throughout the country Cronaca Sovversiva and Luigi Galleani were named in many front-page stories as possible perpetrators of both attempts. Nonetheless, no attempt was made by officials to stop the deportation of Galleani and eight other anarchists of the Cronaca Sovversiva group from the United States on June 24, 1919.
Clues led the Department of justice to suspect that Carlo Valdinoci, a former editorial associate of Galleani on Cronaca Sovversiva, a comrade of Sacco and Vanzetti, who had been with them in Mexico, was the man killed at Palmer's house. Though the authorities were never able to prove this conclusively, Valdinoci was never heard of again, and other evidence makes it a fair assumption that he was the man involved.
The investigation to verify this was taken over by the new, young and ambitious leader of the newly formed General Intelligence Division of the Department of justice, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover's efforts led to the arrest of two printers of the small anarchist journal, Domani, Roberto Elia and Andrea Salsedo, both of whom had been close friends of Galleani and collaborators with Cronaca Sovversiva. The men, under suspicion of having printed the leaflet "Plain Words", were arrested at the end of February 1920 and questioned intensely about the May 1 and June 2 bombing attempts.
In the midst of these events a robbery and brutal murder took place on April 15, 1920, at South Braintree, Massachusetts. The criminals escaped.
On April 25 anarchist comrades in the Boston area - Sacco, Vanzetti and his new friend, Aldino Felicani, among them-met at the hall of Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston in Maverick Square to rally help for Salsedo and Elia. Not having much information, they sent Vanzetti to New York City to find out what was happening. Vanzetti went to see Carlo Tresca, good friend of Aldino Felicani and editor of the anarchist journal, Il Martello (The Hammer). He was in the forefront of the legal battles to aid the victims of the government's anti-radical drive. Tresca did not know much, for Elia and Salsedo were being held incommunicado by the Department of justice. He did, however, urge Vanzetti and the comrades in Massachusetts to get rid of any radical literature and materials that were in their possession; more raids were anticipated, and it was best to be cautious in these dangerous times.
On his return to Boston at their Sunday meeting on May 2 in East Boston, Vanzetti repeated Tresca's warnings to Il Gruppo. It was agreed that three of the men present, Sacco, Vanzetti and Riccardo Orciani, would meet with another of their comrades, Mike Boda, the owner of a car, some time early in the week to round up and dispose of any such dangerous materials. Vanzetti would have probably reminded everyone that there would be a meeting to raise money for Salsedo and Elia next Sunday, May 9, in Brockton; he would be the speaker.
In the early morning hours of May 3, 1920, from the fourteenth floor, where he had been held illegally, without charge, in the custody of Justice Department agents, Andrea Salsedo fell to his death on a Manhattan sidewalk. His anarchist comrades charged he had been thrown to his death by federal agents during brutal third-degree questioning; federal officials claimed he had jumped to his death because he had become depressed after confessing that he had printed the leaflet, "Plain Words." The Boston Herald of May 4, 1920, carried a front- page article, "Suicide Bares Bomb Arrests" that stated Elia and Salsedo had been helping the government round up members of that "Galleani group of bombers" which had staged the death conspiracy of June 1919. No longer were the anarchists of Cronaca Sovversiva, as Galleani had once claimed, "impossible to grasp, ineffable, inexorable, like air and like destiny"; now much of America had turned into a deadly hunting ground for them.
Within several days of Salsedo's death, on May 5, 1920, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti fell into a police trap for the South Braintree murders that had been set for others. As a result of it, their comrade, Riccardo Orciani, was also arrested on the following day, but, because of an unbreakable alibi, he was released within a week.
The trap had been set, because of suspicions aroused by two other anarchist comrades, Feruccio Coacci and Mike Boda. I will not attempt a narrative of the events that led to the arrest, but it is instructive to look at the others who had fallen under the suspicion of the police.
Feruccio Coacci -- At the time of the Braintree and Bridgewater crimes he lived in East Bridgewater. In 1918 he had been arrested by the local authorities there under the direction of the Department of Justice as an alien anarchist, who supported Cronaca Sovversiva. He was also known publicly as an anarchist because of the many dramas he staged with his dramatic society, Il Filodrammatica di Quincy, and the small anarchist library that he made available to all interested readers. His name appeared often in Cronaca Sovversiva, signed to letters and brief notices.
The local Bridgewater police chief, Michael Stewart, who had arrested Coacci in 1918, by his own admission suspected him of the Braintree crime simply because he was an anarchist capable of such crimes. But since Coacci had been deported on April 19, 1920, four days after the Braintree crime, Stewart transferred his suspicions to Coacci's boarder, Mike Boda.
Mike Boda -- The real name of Boda was Mario Buda, but unlike Sacco and Vanzetti, with whom he had been in Mexico, he did not change his alias on his return to Massachusetts. Boda had been identified with Cronaca Sovversiva for some ten years. He had been with a group in Roxbury, Il Circolo Educativo Mazziniana di Roxbury, which had opened an anarchist school for children and was a long-standing member of Il Gruppo Autonomo di East Boston. He had been arrested in 1916 during a wild anti-war riot in Boston's North End that made all the Boston papers and identified him as an anarchist. Stewart used Boda's automobile to set the trap for the Braintree crime.
Riccardo Orciani -- A friend of Sacco's from Milford. He, too, had been involved in the Hopedale strike, the Mesabi agitation. His name appeared in Cronaca Sovversiva both as a subscriber and a donor.
Though the local police had not expected to catch Sacco and Vanzetti and prior to their arrest probably had known nothing of their anarchist activities, yet they would have suspected from the start that Sacco and Vanzetti might be connected with Cronaca Sovversiva. The police chief, Michael Stewart, who set the trap and first questioned Sacco and Vanzetti, had been the one who had arrested Feruccio Coacci in the anti-Cronaca Sovversiva drive of 1918. Sacco, when arrested, had upon him the penciled draft of the leaflet for the May 9 meeting that Vanzetti was to hold in Brockton; the language alone would have been sufficient to identify them as anarchists.
"Workers, you have fought all the wars. You have worked for all the masters. You have wandered over all the countries. Have you harvested the fruit of your labors, the price of your victories? ... To these questions, on this argument, and on this theme, the struggle for existence, Bartolomeo Vanzetti will speak."
But now there is even more compelling evidence in the new Sacco-Vanzetti archive that has come to the Boston Public Library, the Aldino Felicani collection (perhaps, the most important single archive concerning the case), to indicate that any suspicions of the police would have been confirmed as fact rather quickly. In a search of Vanzetti's room after his arrest, the police found two unopened registered letters of Carlo Tresca sent from New York City the day after Salsedo's death. In these letters, opened by the police, of course, Tresca told Vanzetti he knew little about Salsedo's death, and, in both, he repeated the advice he had given to Vanzetti in New York City in words that could have only aroused the police attention: "struggi la presente; non conservate mai carte." ("destroy this letter; don't ever keep documents.")
Such letters, written by the notorious Carlo Tresca about the Salsedo affair at a time when it was a front-page story in Boston papers would have been sufficient to suggest to any police official that Sacco and Vanzetti required investigation for more than just the crimes of robbery and murder.
And indeed, the questions that Sacco and Vanzetti were asked in their first interrogations did not deal with either the Bridgewater or Braintree crimes; they were asked instead about their beliefs, their friends, and their activities. The prisoners, undoubtedly with the fate of Salsedo on their minds, tried to give the police as little information as possible; sometimes they lied. With these lies the legal machinery that was to execute Sacco and Vanzetti had been set in motion.
Now let us look, in brief, at the activities of J. Edgar Hoover and the Department of Justice during the few months before the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to just before the opening of their trial in May 1921.
Hoover, in his investigation of the June 2, 1919, bombings, immediately set about to collect all Department of justice files concerning Cronaca Sovversiva. The end of World War I and the attendant confusion in Washington's bureaucratic reshuffling had caused many of these files to become dispersed or lost, and it had become a source of irritation to Hoover that he could not track down one of the items he most desired, the copy of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi that had been in the Department's hands. During the months of April and May 1920 he sent letter after letter to every person and every agency that had been involved in the surveillance and suppression of Cronaca Sovversiva, but nothing availed; Hoover could not find La Salute ï¿½ in Voi.
(The Department of Justice had found its own copy of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi during its raids upon supporters of Cronaca Sovversiva in 1918. As far as I can ascertain, Hoover never did find the original copy of the manual, nor, up to the present, has it ever turned up in federal files; only its translation into English, made shortly after its capture, remains in federal files. I should note also that the Boston Public Library now has its own copy of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi --a later edition that was distributed gratis-- in the Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti collection.)
Strangely enough, Hoover never seems to have contacted Inspector Tunney of the New York City Bomb Squad who had just at this time published a memoir of his activities on the bomb squad. Under the rather sensational title, Throttled, it contained Tunney's account of the Abarno-Carbone affair, and, among its illustrations, had a photograph of several pages from the actual manual, La Salute ï¿½ in Voi. The book was published by a Boston firm at the end of 1919 and a copy was in Harvard's Widener Library by January 1920.
Sacco and Vanzetti were not formally indicted for the South Braintree murders until September 11, 1920, more than four months after their arrest.
Several days after the indictment, on September 16, 1920, an event occurred which would direct the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the Department of justice to the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. There was a terrible explosion on Wall Street in Manhattan outside the Morgan Bank -- thirty-three people were killed. Several newspapers quickly interpreted the explosion as a bombing that was intended as a reprisal by the Galleani "gang" for the prosecution of Sacco and Vanzetti. In fact, the explosion has never been clearly proven to be a bombing; no one was ever arrested for it; no substantial evidence was ever produced publicly by any authorities to indicate why the so-called Galleani "gang" was suspected.
Yet, shortly after the Wall Street incident, the Department of Justice, on the testimony of the prosecutor Katzmann placed an undercover agent in the cell next to Sacco's in the hope of getting information about the matter, and Hoover intensified his search for La Salute ï¿½ in Voi, extending it, among other places, to Lynn and to Italy.
It would be hard to imagine that Massachusetts authorities, and especially those involved in the prosecution and trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, were unaware of this intense search for La Salute ï¿½ in Voi and the suspected connection between the Wall Street explosion and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial.
And, indeed, there is evidence to show that Massachusetts authorities were not only aware of such matters but were afraid that they might be the target of a bombing attack. They took a rather remarkable action. They outfitted the Dedham court room, in which the Sacco-Vanzetti trial was to be held, with bomb shutters and sliding steel doors that could seal off that wing of the courthouse in case of a bomb attack. A Norfolk County official pointed out to me how the cast-iron shutters were cleverly made to match the usual wooden shutters so that no one would notice them.
The search for truth in the Sacco-Vanzetti trial would be conducted in a far more formidable cage than the simple prisoner's cage that surrounded Sacco and Vanzetti during their trial. It was a cage built for fear of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi.
Let me sum up the points that I have wanted to make:
Cronaca Sovversiva, the Italian-language anarchist journal, edited by Luigi Galleani, preached a very militant form of anarchist-communism that advocated the overthrow of capitalism by violent means; this journal and its supporters were considered a highly dangerous group of revolutionaries by the authorities, federal, state, and local;
from 1914 until its final clandestine issues in 1919, the political suppression by legal or illegal means of Cronaca Sovversiva was the unrelenting goal of the authorities;
during this period the authorities and Cronaca Sovversiva were pitted against each other in a bitter social struggle that was just short of open warfare; the government's acts of repression, often illegal -- surveillance, raids, arrests, and deportations, the use of agents provocateurs, the refusal of the mails, perhaps murder -- were met in turn by the anarchists' attempts to incite social revolution by their militancy in strikes, protest meetings, anti-war activities, by sabotage, and retaliatory violence; the "propaganda of the deed", some of whose practitioners received instruction from La Salute ï¿½ in Voi.
Sacco and Vanzetti were militant supporters of Cronaca Sovversiva, and participants in these struggles; and this information was in the files of the authorities long before their arrest.
If these points are acknowledged, and I think they must be, they carry far reaching implications for the Sacco- Vanzetti Case; they indicate that the primary target of the authorities was the anarchist group that Sacco and Vanzetti were part of, not the two men as individuals; they indicate that the authorities tried to use the Sacco-Vanzetti case as an instrument to finish off the remnants of this group that had been centered about Cronaca Sovversiva; they indicate that the substance of the politics of Sacco and Vanzetti can no longer be ignored, overlooked, or dismissed, if we are to get at the "real being" of the case.
Let me end by discussing the impact of La Salute in Voi upon these matters and point out the reconsiderations and new developments that it will provoke.
As I have suggested, the bitter social war that existed between the authorities and Cronaca Sovversiva turned into the judicial drama of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. In the courtroom, however, the open and almost unrestrained violence of the two antagonists toward one another would be muted by the legal machinery that enmeshed them both and by the presence of a tremendous world audience. These restraints would impose a common bond of silence upon the prosecution and the defense; neither side would mention La Salute ï¿½ in Voi in any recorded legal proceeding.
The prosecution could not mention La Salute ï¿½ in Voi if they wanted to keep up the appearance of trying Sacco and Vanzetti solely as common criminals and if they wanted to deny the charge of collusion with federal authorities.
Yet the prosecution cooperated with the Department of Justice secretly in placing a spy next to Sacco's cell in an attempt to get information about the Wall Street explosion; they put bomb shutters on the courtroom windows to protect it in case of an attack; they surrounded Sacco and Vanzetti with the largest and most heavily armed guard that any prisoners in Massachusetts had received up to that time; and they searched courtroom spectators for guns and bombs before allowing them in.
The Department of Justice, during the trial, without publicly acknowledging the size and scope of its role in the case, illegally intercepted the mail of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, placed its spies within the same committee, tried hard to get information through the State Department and the Italian Government about the possible complicity of Sacco and Vanzetti in terroristic bombings and wanted badly to locate another copy of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi without success. Clearly Sacco and Vanzetti were not just two ordinary unknown alien radicals; they belonged to a group that had, in the authorities' eyes, the fearful force of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi behind them.
Such activities make Frankfurter's charge of collusion between state and federal authorities to convict Sacco and Vanzetti all the more compelling. (It should be noted that Frankfurter's activities led to his phone being tapped by the State Police in the month before the execution of the two, perhaps as part of the continual, but never successful, attempt of the police to get information about bombings from Sacco-Vanzetti supporters, even from a Harvard professor.) They raise again unresolved questions about the exact role of the justice Department in the case -- would the opening of their files have saved the two men? turned public opinion against them? or, at least, given them a new trial? Were justice Department files crucial to these issues destroyed? If so, by whose order?
And finally did Governor Fuller and his Advisory Committee, the so-called "Lowell Committee" in their review of the case know anything about La Salute ï¿½ in Voi? It should be remembered that Inspector Tunney's book, Throttled, with its prominent mention and photographs of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi was printed in Boston at the end of 1919 and a copy was available in Harvard's Widener Library by January 1920. It seems unlikely that it would not have been brought to the attention of Governor Fuller and the Lowell Committee, but, at this time, there is no conclusive evidence to show that it was. The possible effect of La Salute ï¿½ in Voi upon the deliberations of Governor Fuller and the "Lowell Committee" remains a topic to be investigated,
The defense, on the other hand, though it had introduced the issue of radicalism into the trial, could not mention La Salute ï¿½ in Voi during a time of fierce repression against alien radicals for fear of hopelessly prejudicing the chances of the men before a jury. As a result Sacco and Vanzetti testified in the courtroom that they needed Boda's automobile --which had led to their arrest-- for moving "radical literature" to a safe hiding place. "Radical literature" may have been an euphemism for La Salute ï¿½ in Voi or explosives made under its guidance, for Fred Moore told Upton Sinclair several months after the execution of the two men, that "Sacco and Vanzetti admitted to him that they were hiding dynamite on the night of their arrest and that was the real reason why they told lies and stuck to them." Did Fred Moore's bitterness for being dismissed from the case color his testimony to Sinclair, or was it true? This explanation certainly would have strengthened the defenses attempt to explain the lies of the two men and their resulting "consciousness of guilt," but it would have created other problems, just as dangerous for Sacco and Vanzetti.
At any rate, it is clear that the connection of Sacco and Vanzetti with La Salute ï¿½ in Voi cannot be overlooked; they both knew about it from the pages of Cronaca Sovversiva; they may have been trying to hide copies of it or dynamite made from its formulas on the night of their arrest; and, when they were in prison, they, themselves, used its words in an appeal to their anarchist comrades. They appeared in the first number of the Defense Committee paper, La Protesta Umana (The Human Protest) that was printed shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Court had denied motions for a new trial. (It is part of Felicani's Sacco-Vanzetti collection and can be seen on display as part of the exhibition that accompanies this conference.) The large headline reads, "Our prisoners warn us La Salute ï¿½ in Voi (Health is Within You)" The statement of Sacco and Vanzetti, entitled "The Testament of those about to Die," written by Vanzetti and signed by both, ends with the words, "Remember La Salute ï¿½ in Voi." It is without question a call for help to their comrades, a call for direct action now that their legal means apparently had been exhausted, a cry of defiance hurled at the authorities, who would have understood its meaning.
La Salute ï¿½ in Voi means that the historian of the Sacco-Vanzetti case must enter the world of anarchist ideas so that he can deal with the role of violence within the anarchist movement; he must deal with "propaganda of the deed" and "direct action"; he must appreciate the intense and agonizing debates among the anarchists that argued the political and moral impact of such actions; the distinction between common crime and conscious acts of social revolt; he must understand that the politics of Sacco and Vanzetti clearly state that violence is necessary to bring about the social revolution, that a revolutionary should oppose authority by force, that a revolutionary should retaliate against the repressive use of force with force, that docile submission to the forces of the state is cowardly; but, at the same time, he must be careful about applying such general ideas to the concrete historical situations that formed the Sacco-Vanzetti case; and he must not ignore the violence of the authorities that brought the men to such ideas.
In dealing with the violence --and the counterviolence-- of the authorities and the anarchists in the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the questions are many and complex, the definite answers are few, clear facts difficult to obtain; it is work which in large part, still remains to be done now more than fifty years after their execution.
La Salute ï¿½ in Voi, the dark part of the anarchist vision, the unmentioned fact of the Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, the unknown fact in all historical accounts, tells us clearly that the history of the Sacco-Vanzetti case must be substantially rewritten, that it must take the full measure of the anarchist dimension in order to reveal the true nature of the lives that Sacco and Vanzetti gave up for their Idea.