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Sacco-Vanzetti Case and the JFK Assassination

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Before the assassination of JFK the case that the world's intellectuals took note of was the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They kept up the campaign for 50 years and on 23rd August, 1977, Michael Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation, effectively absolving the two men of the crime. We have already passed the 50 years mark but maybe America will eventually elect a politician that will bring justice to Lee Harvey Oswald.

On 15th April, 1920, Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli, in South Braintree, were shot dead while carrying two boxes containing the payroll of a shoe factory. After the two robbers took the $15,000 they got into a car containing several other men and were driven away.

Several eyewitnesses claimed that the robbers looked Italian. A large number of Italian immigrants were questioned but eventually the authorities decided to charge Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco with the murders. Although the two men did not have criminal records, it was argued that they had committed the robbery to acquire funds for their anarchist political campaign.

The trial started on 21st May, 1921. The main evidence against the men was that they were both carrying a gun when arrested. Some people who saw the crime taking place identified Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco as the robbers. Others disagreed and both men had good alibis. Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth while Sacco was in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken. The prosecution made a great deal of the fact that all those called to provide evidence to support these alibis were also Italian immigrants.

Vanzetti and Sacco were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language. Webster Thayer, the judge was clearly prejudiced against anarchists. The previous year, he rebuked a jury for acquitting another anarchist Sergie Zuboff of violating the criminal anarchy statute. It was clear from some of the answers Vanzetti and Sacco gave in court that they had misunderstood the question. During the trial the prosecution emphasized the men's radical political beliefs. Vanzetti and Sacco were also accused of unpatriotic behaviour by fleeing to Mexico during the First World War.

In court Nicola Sacco claimed: "I know the sentence will be between two classes, the oppressed class and the rich class, and there will be always collision between one and the other. We fraternize the people with the books, with the literature. You persecute the people, tyrannize them and kill them. We try the education of people always. You try to put a path between us and some other nationality that hates each other. That is why I am here today on this bench, for having been of the oppressed class. Well, you are the oppressor." The trial lasted seven weeks and on 14th July, 1921, both men were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. The journalist. Heywood Broun, reported that when Judge Thayer passed sentence upon Sacco and Vanzetti, a woman in the courtroom said with terror: "It is death condemning life!"

Bartolomeo Vanzetti commented in court after the sentence was announced: "The jury were hating us because we were against the war, and the jury don't know that it makes any difference between a man that is against the war because he believes that the war is unjust, because he hate no country, because he is a cosmopolitan, and a man that is against the war because he is in favor of the other country that fights against the country in which he is, and therefore a spy, an enemy, and he commits any crime in the country in which he is in behalf of the other country in order to serve the other country. We are not men of that kind. Nobody can say that we are German spies or spies of any kind... I never committed a crime in my life - I have never stolen and I have never killed and I have never spilt blood, and I have fought against crime, and I have fought and I have sacrificed myself even to eliminate the crimes that the law and the church legitimate and sanctify."

Many observers believed that their conviction resulted from prejudice against them as Italian immigrants and because they held radical political beliefs. The case resulted in anti-US demonstrations in several European countries and at one of these in Paris, a bomb exploded killing twenty people.

It was also argued that the conviction was a result of the Red Scare. In 1919 Woodrow Wilson appointed A. Mitchell Palmer as his attorney general. Palmer had previously been associated with the progressive wing of the party and had supported women's suffrage and trade union rights. However, once in power, Palmer's views on civil rights changed dramatically.

Soon after taking office, a government list of 62 people believed to hold "dangerous, destructive and anarchistic sentiments" was leaked to the press. This list included the names of progressives such as Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Oswald Garrison Villard and Charles Beard. It was also revealed that these people had been under government surveillance for many years.

Worried by the revolution that had taken place in Russia, Palmer became convinced that Communist agents were planning to overthrow the American government. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.

Palmer claimed that Communist agents from Russia were planning to overthrow the American government. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.

In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested and held without trial. These raids took place in several cities and became known as the Palmer Raids. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects, many of them members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), continued to be held without trial. When Palmer announced that the communist revolution was likely to take place on 1st May, mass panic took place. In New York, five elected Socialists were expelled from the legislature.

James Larkin, an Irish trade unionist living in New York City, was charged with "advocating force, violence and unlawful means to overthrow the Government". Larkin's trial began on 30th January 1920. He decided to defend himself. He denied that he had advocated the overthrow of the Government. However, he admitted that he was part of the long American revolutionary tradition that included Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He also quoted Wendell Phillips in his defence: "Government exists to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection - they have many friends and few enemies."

The jury found Larkin guilty and on 3rd May 1920 he received a sentence of five to ten years in Sing Sing. In prison Larkin worked in the bootery, manufacturing and repairing shoes. Despite his inability to return to Ireland, he was annually re-elected as general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

When the May revolution failed to materialize, attitudes towards Palmer began to change and he was criticised for disregarding people's basic civil liberties. Some of his opponents claimed that Palmer had devised this Red Scare to help him become the Democratic presidential candidate in 1920.


The anarchist movement in America at this time was incredibly small at this time. What is more, they tended to follow the neo-pacifist views of Peter Kropotkin rather than those of Sergi Nechayev, who favoured terrorist activities.



There was also no link between anarchism and communism. In fact both groups hated each other with a passion. At this time the Bolsheviks were busily arresting and executing anarchists in Russia. The most interesting example of Nestor Makhno, who along with his anarchist followers, had played an important role in overthrowing Tsar Nicholas II and then winning the Civil War against the White Army and their foreign supporters.


The leaders of the American Communist Party decided to use this case as propaganda. Liberals, fearing the threat to their own civil rights, also joined in the campaign.

In 1925 Celestino Madeiros, a Portuguese immigrant, confessed to being a member of the gang that killed Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli. He also named the four other men, Joe, Fred, Pasquale and Mike Morelli, who had taken part in the robbery. The Morelli brothers were well-known criminals who had carried out similar robberies in area of Massachusetts. However, the authorities refused to investigate the confession made by Madeiros.

Important figures in the United States and Europe became involved in the campaign to overturn the conviction. John Dos Passos, Alice Hamilton, Paul Kellog, Jane Addams, Heywood Broun, William Patterson, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Parker, Ben Shahn, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Felix Frankfurter, John Howard Lawson, Freda Kirchway, Floyd Dell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells became involved in a campaign to obtain a retrial. Although Webster Thayer, the original judge, was officially criticised for his conduct at the trial, the authorities refused to overrule the decision to execute the men.

Eugene Debs, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, called for trade union action against the decision: "The supreme court of Massachusetts has spoken at last and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, two of the bravest and best scouts that ever served the labor movement, must go to the electric chair.... Now is the time for all labor to be aroused and to rally as one vast host to vindicate its assailed honor, to assert its self-respect, and to issue its demand that in spite of the capitalist-controlled courts of Massachusetts honest and innocent working-men whose only crime is their innocence of crime and their loyalty to labor, shall not be murdered by the official hirelings of the corporate powers that rule and tyrannize over the state."

By the summer of 1927 it became clear that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti would be executed. Vanzetti commented to a journalist: "If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, 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, justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing! The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all! That last moment belong to us - that agony is our triumph. On 23rd August 1927, the day of execution, over 250,000 people took part in a silent demonstration in Boston.

The United States system of justice came under attack from important figures throughout the world. Bertrand Russell argued: "I am forced to conclude that they were condemned on account of their political opinions and that men who ought to have known better allowed themselves to express misleading views as to the evidence because they held that men with such opinions have no right to live. A view of this sort is one which is very dangerous, since it transfers from the theological to the political sphere a form of persecution which it was thought that civilized countries had outgrown." That's right, the same man who protested against the Warren Commission report.




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Another intriguing aspect to the case, and a possible similarity to the Kennedy assassination, is that the growing consensus on the case appears to be mixed--in this instance, that Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti innocent.

I suspect in time the consensus will be that Oswald didn't shoot Kennedy, but that he did shoot Tippit.

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I have studied the Sacco and Vanzetti case for years

I have so many thoughts on the case it would take months to post them all

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I have studied the Sacco and Vanzetti case for years

I have so many thoughts on the case it would take months to post them all

I am really interested in opening a debate on this issue.

After the execution Upton Sinclair decided to investigate the case. Sinclair was a well-known socialist who had been involved in the campaign to overturn the verdict in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. He had originally been an investigative journalist who had become famous for writing a book called The Jungle.

In 1904 Fred Warren, the editor of the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason, commissioned Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat packing houses. Julius Wayland, the owner of the journal provided Sinclair with a $500 advance and after seven weeks research he wrote The Jungle. Serialized in 1905, the book helped to increase circulation to 175,000.

Sinclair had his novel, The Jungle, rejected by six publishers. A consultant at Macmillan wrote: "I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich."

Sinclair decided to publish the book himself and after advertising his intentions in the Appeal to Reason, he he got orders for 972 copies. When he told Doubleday of these orders, it decided to publish the book. The Jungle (1906) was an immediate success selling over 150,000 copies. In the first year he received $30,000 (equivalent to $600,000 today) in royalties.

After this success, Sinclair wrote a series of novels with the intention of exposing flaws in the capitalist system. George Bernard Shaw wrote to Upton Sinclair: "I have regarded you (Upton Sinclair), not as a novelist, but as an historian; for it is my considered opinion, unshaken at 85, that records of fact are not history. They are only annals, which cannot become historical until the artist-poet-philosopher rescues them from the unintelligible chaos of their actual occurrence and arranges them in works of art."

Sinclair decided to do the same thing with the Sacco-Vanzetti case. During his research he interviewed Fred Moore, one of defence lawyers in the case. According to Sinclair's latest biographer, Anthony Arthur: "Fred Moore, Sinclair said later, who confirmed his own growing doubts about Sacco's and Vanzetti's innocence. Meeting in a hotel room in Denver on his way home from Boston, he and Moore talked about the case. Moore said neither man ever admitted it to him, but he was certain of Sacco's guilt and fairly sure of Vanzetti's knowledge of the crime if not his complicity in it."

A letter written by Sinclair at the time acknowledged that he had doubts about Moore's testimony: "I realized certain facts about Fred Moore. I had heard that he was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels.... Moore admitted to me that the men themselves had never admitted their guilt to him, and I began to wonder whether his present attitude and conclusions might not be the result of his brooding on his wrongs."

Sinclair was now uncertain if a miscarriage of justice had taken place. He decided to end the novel on a note of ambiguity concerning the guilt or innocence of the Italian anarchists. When Robert Minor, a leading figure in the American Communist Party, discovered Sinclair's intentions he telephoned him and said: "You will ruin the movement! It will be treason!" Sinclair's novel, Boston, appeared in 1928. Unlike some of his earlier radical work, the novel received very good reviews. The New York Times called it a "literary achievement" and that it was "full of sharp observation and savage characterization," demonstrating a new "craftsmanship in the technique of the novel".

The first part of Sinclair's letter was leaked and has been used by those who claim that Sacco was guilty of the crime. However, the second-part of the letter, where Sinclair raised doubts about Moore's testimony, did not enter the public domain until the publication of Anthony Arthur's, "Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair" (2006).


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I wish to know what type of Anarchists these two men were. Libertarians, syndicalists. There are a number of flavours but most references to SnV just say Anarchists. The above book seems to shed more light on it but does not appear to be definitive. Their own descriptions seems to indicate a syndicalist flavour.

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I wish to know what type of Anarchists these two men were. Libertarians, syndicalists. There are a number of flavours but most references to SnV just say Anarchists. The above book seems to shed more light on it but does not appear to be definitive. Their own descriptions seems to indicate a syndicalist flavour.

John, Sacco and Vanzetti were Insurrectionary Anarchists and also involved in Anarchist Communism

Both S and V followed Luigi Galleani


Edited by Dean Hagerman
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