How to honor victims of political violence

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Commemoration of Sacco and Vanzetti Speech
By Pasqualino Colombaro

It was a very fortunate intuition six years ago to form a Committee for the commemoration of Sacco and Vanzetti. Because the very image that the story of the two Anarchists evokes, is replete with valuable teachings and meanings for all those who today dare to struggle for a free and egalitarian way of life for all.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two ordinary human beings, two workers, two immigrants from Italy like millions of others. With one difference: they had the spark of critical consciousness awoken within their hearts. They were self-professed Anarchist labor and community activists who had the misfortune to gravitate around a Massachusetts Italian Anarchist enclave headed by Luigi Galleani, an Italian Anarchist intellectual who passionately and convincingly advocated for the propaganda of the deed, i.e.: targeted violent action against the system of oppression, which included bomb throwing and assassinations.

Between May 5th 1920, the day of their arrest and August 23rd 1927, the day of their execution, the world witnessed the unfolding of such ?due process of law?, as was interpreted and applied by the power of the judicial branch of the American democratic system of government in Massachusetts at the time. Besides several jury trials and appeals, this included the ability of an ad hoc committee to develop an unprecedented and highly successful global campaign of mobilization of public opinion to spare the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti and the eventual confession of the actual material executor of the crimes of which Sacco and Vanzetti had been accused, Celestino Madeiros of the Joe Morelli mafia gang in Providence, RI.

However, neither the campaign of global support nor the confession of Celestino Madeiros were sufficient to convince the Boston (wanna be?) brahmin governor of Massachusetts Alvan T. Fuller to grant a new trial or commute the sentence. Fuller appointed instead a three-member panel composed by fellow brahmin Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, MIT President Samuel W. Stratton, and retired Probate Court Judge Robert Grant to conduct a complete review of the case and determine if the trials presided by rabid ?red scare? activist judge Webster Thayer, had been fair. The committee reported that no new trial was called for and based on that assessment Governor Fuller refused to delay their executions or grant clemency.

What had this democratic ?due process of law? really been about? Why did the lives of two lowly and innocent Italian immigrants end up in the hands of the premier representatives of the judicial, political and intellectual powers of the high and mighty Boston bourgeoisie?

May 1920 was barely 17 months since the end of World War I with a resounding victory by Britain, France, Italy and the US over Austria, Germany and Turkey and 30 months after the October of 1917, when the Bolshevik party led the first successful and violent revolution against a major remnant of the post Napoleon European autocratic restoration and since the Jacobin led, bourgeois French revolution of 1789.

Thayer, Fuller, Lowell, Stratton and Grant surely felt that as newly inducted dominant members to the world?s power elite, having just won a world war, ending up with a violent ?socialist? revolution on their own door step would not be in keeping with their newly found status, means, reputation and upper class demeanor.

After all their class had been successfully hating, exploiting, oppressing, fighting off and repressing the political forays and insurrections of socialist, anarchist and unionized workers for the previous 50 years while progressively and relentlessly establishing in the US the modern fordist factory system and the military expansion of their influence over the global market from which they obtained cheap natural resources and in which they unfairly competed with their products.

Particularly serious blows had been dealt also to the IWW prior to the end of the war and by the time the Palmer raids came about against mostly Anarchist activists in 1919 and 1920, under the leadership of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his young appointee to the Justice Department?s Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, the IWW was already enmeshed in internal factional fights that caused its demise shortly thereafter.

A campaign of Galleanist bombing attempts, which took place between April and June 1919 (following a general strike in Seattle in February 1919) allowed Palmer to convince the House Appropriation Committee to add an extra $100,000 to his budget of $1,500,000 and the Secretary of Labor to routinely issue warrants for the arrest of ?alien? violators of the US Immigration Acts and to sign their deportation orders following a hearing by an immigration inspector.

May 1920 was also 13 months before Adolf Hitler assumed the leadership of the National Socialist German Workers Party and 29 months prior to Mussolini?s National Fascist Party?s march on Rome. Both fascisms came about taking advantage of the infighting within the left and with the promise to modernize, urbanize, industrialize, militarize and bring about American style economic prosperity to their respective ?nations?.

The Galleanist bombing spree in the US continued until 1932 when yet another bombing hit Palmer?s home. Palmer finished his days under constant police protection.

Of further note are the 1927 exploits of Galleanist Severino Di Giovanni in Buenos Aires, Argentina in reprisal for Sacco and Vanzetti?s execution.

Virtually single handedly and despite the vehement disapproval of the Argentinian Anarchist Federation and organized Labor Movement he proceeded on a spree of bombings which included the Combinados Tobacco Shop, the American Embassy, the headquarters of Citibank and Bank of Boston, a statue of George Washington, the Ford Motor company concession, the Italian Consulate, the Pharmacy of the local Fascist leader, the house of an agent of the Fascist secret police and he plotted but did not succeed to bomb the train on which Herbert Hoover was touring Argentina.

As a result of such actions 12 people were killed and 57 wounded, mostly innocent bystanders. The death toll included Anarchist activist Emilio Lopez Arango one of the editors of the Anarchist periodical, ?La Protesta? and member of the Bakers? Union, whom together with Diego Abad de Santillan had sternly chastised and opposed Di Giovanni?s volatile spree on the pages of the paper and within the Anarchist and labor communities.

In September of 1930 a fascist, law and order, military coup took place in Argentina also using the Di Giovanni exploits as pretext. In response, in October 1930 Di Giovanni staged a successful Bank Robbery for an unprecedented take of 286,000 pesos. After several Bonnie and Clyde style gun battles with the police he was wounded, arrested, tried, sentenced and on February 1, 1931 he was executed by firing squad together with Paulino Scarfo?, his principal collaborator, while his underage fiancee, Fina Scarfo? was let free.

By then the Argentinian state had dismantled all Anarchist organizations, suppressed the Anarchist led labor movement and all other worker unions and associations and either imprisoned, executed or deported all Anarchist and Socialist activists.

Similar sequences of events dating back to the same period can be found in Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, Bolshevik Russia, Eastern Europe, etc. Clashes and armed confrontations were the order of the day between Anarchists, Communists and Fascists as they competed for the consensus and support of the industrial and agricultural working masses. Such violent clashes and state repressions all led to the consolidation of state, bureaucratic and repressive rule on behalf of a national bourgeois class or on behalf of the bureaucracies of the National State proper in country after country. Newly emerging nationalistic industrial powers such as Germany, Italy and Japan could not be brought into the fold by the then globally dominant British and American bourgeois interests, until after their defeat in WWII.

A resurgence of worker and student revolts in 1968 and 1969 throughout the world would be quelled following the textbook written by Palmer and Hoover in the 1920?s. Avowedly socialist organizations advocating the seizure of political power through violent means such as the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground in the US, the Red Brigades and Autonomia Operaia in Italy, the Red Army Faction in Germany, a plethora of guerilla movements in every Latin American country and in other parts of the world were all defeated through armed confrontation by their bourgeois powers that be.

And from the study of all this history, also going back to the beginning of recorded political history, there is one element, one lesson that emerges and that is that political violence by fighters that claim to represent the interest of the exploited and the oppressed always end up being used as pretext or ?casus belli? (case for war) by the more established and dominant economic and political forces, their armies and police, with the clear strategic objective to crack down, set back and/or destroy entire social movements for radical change, if not entire social and economic classes and/or ethnic groups otherwise peaceful in nature.

In addition, political violence by such groups is quickly turned on friends and allies once dissent and internal struggles for power emerge. In fact police or hostile infiltration is usually applied at this particular point to hasten the process of falling apart from within. In countries like Russia, Spain, China, Cambodia and too many others to mention, the victims of such fratricidal violence can be counted in the hundreds of thousand if not the millions.

It occurs to me that in order to truly honor victims of political violence like Sacco and Vanzetti one needs to think of all such victims and to devise ways of social and economic change that are critical and alternative to the seeking of naked political power through force, coercion and violence.

Such ways and means must be in keeping with the highest Anarchist prefigurative practices, ideals and traditions, mentioned several times in Vanzetti?s and Sacco?s last letters, and geared at building peace and conflict resolution at every step, through firm, militant, uncompromising struggle and effective forms of civil disobedience, such as general strikes and the positive building of new, sovereign, independent, egalitarian and self-managed ways of positive living and producing.