THE names of the "good shoe-maker and
poor fish-peddler" have ceased to represent merely two Italian
workingmen. Throughout the civilised world Sacco and Vanzetti
have become a symbol, the shibboleth of Justice crushed by Might.
That is the great historic significance of this twentieth century
crucifixion, and truly prophetic, were the words of Vanzetti when
he declared, "The last moment belongs to us--that agony is
We hear a great deal of progress and by
that people usually mean improvements of various kinds, mostly
life-saving discoveries and labor-saving inventions, or reforms
in the social and political life. These may or may not represent
a real advance because reform is not necessarily progress.
It is an entirely false and vicious conception
that civilisation consists of mechanical or political changes.
Even the greatest improvements do not, in themselves, indicate
real progress: they merely symbolise its results. True civilization,
real progress consists in humanising mankind, in making
the world a decent place to live in. From this viewpoint we are
very far from being civilised, in spite of all the reforms and
True progress is a struggle against the
inhumanity of our social existence, against the barbarity of dominant
conceptions. In other words, progress is a spiritual struggle,
a struggle to free man from his brutish inheritance, from the
fear and cruelty of his primitive condition. Breaking the shackles
of ignorance and superstition; liberating man from the grip of
enslaving ideas and practices; driving darkness out of his mind
and terror out of his heart; raising him from his abject posture
to man's full stature--that is the mission of progress. Only thus
does man, individually and collectively, become truly civilised
and our social life more human and worth while.
This struggle marks the real history
of progress. Its heroes are not the Napoleons and the Bismarcks,
not the generals and politicians. Its path is lined with the unmarked
graves of the Saccos and Vanzettis of humanity, dotted with the
auto-da-fé, the torture chambers, the gallows and the electric
chair. To those martyrs of justice and liberty we owe what little
of real progress and civilization we have today.
The anniversary of our comrades' death is
therefore by no means an occasion for mourning. On the contrary,
we should rejoice that in this time of debasement and degradation,
in the hysteria of conquest and gain, there are still MEN that
dare defy the dominant spirit and raise their voices against inhumanity
and reaction: That there are still men who keep the spark of reason
and liberty alive and have the courage to die, and die triumphantly,
for their daring.
For Sacco and Vanzetti died, as the entire
world knows today, because they were Anarchists. That is to say,
because they believed and preached human brotherhood and freedom.
As such, they could expect neither justice nor humanity. For the
Masters of Life can forgive any offense or crime but never an
attempt to undermine their security on the backs of the masses.
Therefore Sacco and Vanzetti had to die, notwithstanding the protests
of the entire world.
Yet Vanzetti was right when he declared
that his execution was his greatest triumph, for all through history
it has been the martyrs of progress that have ultimately triumphed.
Where are the Caesars and Torquemadas of yesterday? Who remembers
the names of the judges who condemned Giordano Bruno and John
Brown? The Parsons and the Ferrers, the Saccos and Vanzettis live
eternal and their spirits still march on.
Let no despair enter our hearts over the
graves of Sacco and Vanzetti. The duty we owe them for the crime
we have committed in permitting their death is to keep their memory
green and the banner of their Anarchist ideal high. And let no
near-sighted pessimist confuse and confound the true facts of
man's history, of his rise to greater manhood and liberty. In
the long struggle from darkness to light, in the age-old fight
for greater freedom and welfare, it is the rebel, the martyr who
has won. Slavery has given way, absolutism is crushed, feudalism
and serfdom had to go, thrones have been broken and republics
established in their stead. Inevitably, the martyrs and their
ideas have triumphed, in spite of gallows and electric chairs.
Inevitably, the people, the masses, have been gaining on their
masters, till now the very citadels of Might, Capital and the
State, are being endangered. Russia has shown the direction of
the further progress by its attempt to eliminate both the economic
and political master. That initial experiment has failed, as all
first great social revaluations require repeated efforts for their
realisation. But that magnificent historic failure is like unto
the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti--the symbol and guarantee
of ultimate triumph.
Let it be clearly remembered, however, that the failure of FIRST attempts at fundamental social change is always due to the false method of trying to establish the NEW by OLD means and practices. The NEW can conquer only by means of its own new spirit. Tyranny lives by suppression; Liberty thrives on freedom. The fatal mistake of the great Russian Revolution was that it tried to establish new forms of social and economic life on the old foundation of coercion and force. The entire development of human society has been AWAY from coercion and government, away from authority towards greater freedom and independence. In that struggle the spirit of liberty has ultimately won out. In the same direction lies further achievement. All history proves it and Russia is the most convincing recent demonstration of it. Let us then learn that lesson and be inspired to greater efforts in behalf of a new world of humanity and freedom, and may the triumphant martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti give us greater strength and endurance in this superb struggle.
France: July, 1929.
(This joint article reached America on the
17th of July. It is altogether too good to be left till another
time. How penetrating the analysis and how apt the historical
inferences! It is indeed a long time since Comrade Berkman has
seen his name signed to an article in an English Anarchist paper
and nearly as long since Emma Goldman has appeared as a contributor.
Road to Freedom is grateful for this opportunity to bring out
a joint article wherein both our immutable fighters are in such
complete agreement. We hope we merit more from their powerful
pens in future issues.--Ed.)
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