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Workers Vanguard No. 897

31 August 2007

80th Anniversary of Legal Lynching

Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free All Class-War Prisoners!

Part One

August 23 marked the anniversary of the executions of anarchist workers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts in 1927. Arrested in May 1920 at the height of the anti-immigrant Red Scare that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution, the two were convicted the next year on frame-up murder and robbery charges. Sacco, a skilled worker in a shoe factory, and Vanzetti, who supported himself as a fish peddler, were singled out because they were Italian immigrants and because they had dedicated their lives to fighting for the emancipation of the working class.

With their executions, Sacco and Vanzetti joined a long list of working-class fighters subjected to the barbaric death penalty or entombed in prison by the rulers of “democratic” American capitalism: the Haymarket martyrs, labor organizers and anarchists executed in 1887; Joe Hill, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) activist framed up on murder charges and killed by a firing squad in Utah in 1915; Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, also framed up on murder charges stemming from a bomb explosion at a 1916 San Francisco “Preparedness” rally that drummed up support for U.S. entry into World War I, an interimperialist war. (Mooney and Billings were released from prison in 1939.) Up to their last breaths, Sacco and Vanzetti remained unbowed. As the guards strapped him in the electric chair, Sacco declared, “Viva l’anarchia.” Moments later, Vanzetti turned to the warden and stated, “I am innocent of all crime, not only of this one, but all. I am an innocent man.” He was electrocuted within minutes.

The story of Sacco and Vanzetti is also one of militant struggle for their lives and freedom led by the International Labor Defense (ILD), associated with the early Communist Party (CP). The U.S. affiliate of the International Red Aid (MOPR), which was established by the Communist International, the ILD blazed a trail of class-struggle defense by mobilizing workers across the U.S. on Sacco and Vanzetti’s behalf, in conjunction with MOPR’s efforts internationally.

Following the executions, ILD secretary James P. Cannon, a leader of the early CP and later of American Trotskyism, drew the lessons of this struggle in an article in the ILD’s Labor Defender (October 1927) titled, “A Living Monument to Sacco and Vanzetti.” Cannon wrote: “In this act of assassination the ruling class of America shows its real face to the world. The mask of ‘democracy’ is thrown aside.” In appealing for workers solidarity, Cannon pointed out, the ILD “endeavored to link up the fight for them with the general defense of the scores of labor prisoners confined in the penitentiaries today and with the broader fight of the toiling masses for liberation from the yoke of capitalism.”

That is the perspective that guides the work of the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League. The work of the ILD provides vital lessons for working-class militants, leftists and radical youth in the struggles of today, in particular the fight for the life and freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A Black Panther Party spokesman in his youth, later an award-winning journalist and supporter of the MOVE organization, Mumia was framed up on false charges for the 9 December 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Mumia’s case is the racist and political frame-up of an innocent man. As we have stressed since the PDC first took up his cause some 20 years ago, the road to his freedom lies in mobilizing the proletariat in the U.S. and internationally, whose social power lies in its numbers, organization and ability to bring production to a halt.

The similarities between the frame-ups of Sacco and Vanzetti and of Mumia are striking. All three were victimized for their political beliefs and activities. Sacco and Vanzetti were among the anarchists targeted for repression by the federal government; Mumia had been targeted by the FBI and Philadelphia cops from the time he was a 15-year-old spokesman for the Black Panthers, also earning their wrath for his later defense of the MOVE organization against brutal cop attacks. Both cases featured jury-rigging, concealment of evidence, coercion of witnesses and phony ballistics, with trials presided over by judges openly biased against the defendants.

In 1924, after denying a motion for a new trial for Sacco and Vanzetti, Judge Webster Thayer told Dartmouth College professor James Richardson, “Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?” (quoted in Herbert Ehrmann, The Case That Will Not Die [1969]). At the time of Mumia’s 1982 trial, Judge Albert Sabo was overheard by a court reporter boasting, “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.” In both cases, another man ultimately confessed, absolving the defendants of any involvement, only to have the courts disregard the confessions. And for Mumia as well as for Sacco and Vanzetti, workers and oppressed around the world rallied to their support, seeing their own struggles in the fight for their freedom.

Of crucial importance is that in the Sacco and Vanzetti case—as in Mumia’s case today—the policy of class-struggle defense was pitted against illusions sown by bourgeois liberals, trade-union misleaders and reformist leftists in the “fairness” of capitalist justice. Up to the day of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, the ILD waged a tireless fight for unity in action on their behalf, based on the class struggle. The ILD supported using any legal means available for Sacco and Vanzetti. But as Cannon insisted, the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti had to be taken to the “supreme court of the masses.” At every turn of the legal battle—motions for a new trial, appeal before Massachusetts’ highest court, petitions for clemency or appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court—the ILD fought against those who undermined the struggle by preaching reliance on the black-robed justices or the Massachusetts governor, a policy accompanied by slanders, exclusions and even physical attacks against the ILD and CP.

A Proletarian Cause

By the time of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, their cause had been taken up by a wide spectrum of organizations and prominent individuals: from labor unions and socialist organizations in the U.S. to Members of Parliament in Britain and world-renowned writers and artists. Albert Einstein signed a protest to U.S. president Calvin Coolidge. Playwright George Bernard Shaw denounced the frame-up, while Pulitzer prizewinner Edna St. Vincent Millay publicized their cause in her poems. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, the classic muckraking novel about the meatpacking industry, championed their defense as did John Dos Passos in his 1927 pamphlet Facing the Chair. Sacco and Vanzetti were later memorialized in paintings by Ben Shahn, music by Woodie Guthrie, Ennio Morricone and Joan Baez, and in plays and movies.

An article by Harvard law professor and later Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in the Atlantic Monthly (March 1927), later expanded into the book The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti, laid bare the legal farce to a national and international audience. Frankfurter’s book created such a stir that the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, former president William Howard Taft, blasted it as “vicious propaganda” and Frankfurter’s phone was tapped.

Support for Sacco and Vanzetti was notable for its breadth, including from liberal figures like Frankfurter who saw in their frame-up a stain on the image of American democracy. But their case belongs to the international proletariat. As early as 1921, there were protests in European capitals like London, Rome and Paris, as well as in Casablanca, Morocco, Mexico City, Caracas, Venezuela and Montevideo, Uruguay. The identification of workers around the world with the two militants was captured by the Syndicate of Truck Drivers of the Port of Veracruz, Mexico, who in a 1921 protest demanded, “Free Sacco and Vanzetti or the proletarian world will rip out your guts!” In the U.S., various unions and even the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) tops, along with the Socialist Party (SP), IWW and other leftist and civil libertarian groups, would also add their voices.

Organized defense of Sacco and Vanzetti was initiated by Italian anarchists in Boston and joined shortly after by a number of civil libertarians. But it was the intervention of the International Red Aid and the ILD in the U.S. that played a central role in the proletarian protest movement. And at a time when executions routinely took place shortly after convictions, it was the mobilization of millions that kept Sacco and Vanzetti alive for six years.

The Communist International and the CP in the U.S. issued appeals for a worldwide campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti in the fall of 1921. The first issue of Labor Herald (March 1922), publication of the CP-allied Trade Union Educational League, called for “Labor! Act at Once to Rescue Sacco and Vanzetti!” The CP’s Daily Worker reported on each twist and turn in the case and regularly reported on protests internationally. In a front-page appeal, the CP called in the Daily Worker (27 December 1924) for “all organizations of workers in America to join with it in a united front for Sacco and Vanzetti, against their capitalist enemies and for their immediate release.”

The Sacco and Vanzetti case was a feature of the founding convention of the ILD in 1925. The ILD grew out of discussions in Moscow between James P. Cannon and ex-“Wobbly” Big Bill Haywood. Non-sectarian labor defense had been a theme of Workers (Communist) Party propaganda since its inception, but the ILD gave it flesh and blood. A former IWW member himself, Cannon had a history of experience in labor defense cases. He recalled, “I came from the background of the old movement when the one thing that was absolutely sacred was unity on behalf of the victims of capitalist justice” (quoted in Bryan Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928 [2007]). Seeking to overcome the limitations of past labor defense practices, in which each case would lead to the establishment anew of an ad hoc defense committee, Cannon sought to build a labor-based defense organization for the entire workers movement.

As Cannon described in The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962), the ILD was founded especially to take up the plight of “any member of the working class movement, regardless of his views, who suffered persecution by the capitalist courts because of his activities or his opinions.” The ILD fused the IWW tradition of class-struggle, non-sectarian defense—captured in the Wobbly slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all”—with the internationalism of the Bolshevik Revolution. Upon its founding, the ILD identified 106 class-war prisoners in the U.S. and instituted the policy of financially assisting them and their families. Within a little more than a year, the ILD had branches in 146 cities with 20,000 individual members as well as 75,000 members of unions and other workers organizations collectively affiliated to the ILD.

The ILD publicized Sacco and Vanzetti’s struggle and organized rallies and political strikes to demand their freedom. The ILD struggled to prevent the workers’ militancy and class solidarity from being dissipated by the liberals, social democrats and AFL tops who preached the inherent justice of the capitalist courts. The ILD mobilized on the basis of the united front, seeking maximum unity in struggle of the various organizations standing for defense of Sacco and Vanzetti while giving a thorough airing of the political differences between the CP/ILD and others. The slogan “march separately, strike together” embodies the two aims of the united-front tactic: class unity and the political fight for a communist program.

The international protest movement wrote a historic page in the textbook of class-struggle defense. The ILD initiated 500 May Day Sacco and Vanzetti meetings in cities across the country and played a key role in organizing labor protests and strikes, from a rally of 20,000 in New York City’s Union Square in April 1927 to protests and strikes involving hundreds of thousands on the eve of the executions. The ILD understood that in order to stop the executions and win their freedom, it could rely only on mounting such a powerful wave of labor action that the capitalist rulers would refrain from carrying out their plans.

However, the anti-Communist AFL tops sabotaged the strike movement at decisive moments, abetted by the SP social democrats and others. Countless articles and books have since been written vilifying the CP and ILD—from those that acknowledge a “miscarriage” of justice in the case to others preposterously claiming that either Sacco or both men were guilty. Representative of the former is the newly published Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind by Bruce Watson, which parrots anti-Communist slanders passed on for generations, from the grotesque claim that the CP couldn’t have cared less whether Sacco and Vanzetti lived or died to the lie that the ILD pocketed the money they raised for the defense.

The Red Scare

Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on 5 May 1920 amid a virulent anti-immigrant, anti-Red hysteria. When U.S. imperialism entered the First World War, the government implemented a plethora of repressive measures criminalizing antiwar activity. The 1917 Espionage Act mandated imprisonment for any act deemed to interfere with the recruitment of troops. Haunted by the spectre of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the following year Congress passed the Sedition Act that made criticizing the “U.S. form of government” a felony.

The Red Scare hit full stride in 1919. That year saw the crest of a wave of labor radicalism that swept Europe in response to the carnage of WWI and under the impact of the Russian Revolution. In the U.S., the ranks of the SP swelled to more than 100,000, mostly foreign-born workers, with two-thirds supporting the pro-Bolshevik left wing. The U.S. was hit by the biggest strike wave up to that time, as four million workers walked off their jobs in response to inflation induced by the war. In Seattle, a general strike brought the city to a halt for five days in February 1919, while later that year longshoremen refused to load munitions being sent to counterrevolutionaries seeking to overthrow the young Soviet workers state.

The U.S. bourgeoisie whipped up hysteria over a series of bombings attributed to anarchists. After an attempt to bomb his home in June 1919, U.S. attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer unleashed an additional wave of repression, ranting that revolution was “licking at the altars of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundation of society.” In November the Palmer Raids were launched with the arrests of over 3,000 foreign-born radicals. Ultimately, at least 6,000 would be deported. As the world capitalist order stabilized, the 1920s in the U.S., now the world’s chief capitalist power, was a decade of rampant reaction: further anti-immigrant legislation was passed in 1921 and 1924; anti-trust laws were used to break strikes; labor militants and Communists were thrown in jail. Growing by leaps and bounds, the Ku Klux Klan marched 40,000-strong in Washington, D.C.

Sacco and Vanzetti came to symbolize those caught in the web of repression. Each had come to the United States in 1908. Within five years they had become anarchists and subscribers to the Italian-language anarchist newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (Chronicle of Subversion) of Luigi Galleani. Sacco’s name appeared frequently in the paper’s column announcing organizing activities, particularly raising money for political prisoners and jailed strikers. Sacco helped raise funds for workers and their arrested leaders during the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The following year he helped organize strike pickets at the Hopedale Paper Mill and in December 1916 was one of three Massachusetts anarchists arrested for holding a meeting without a permit in solidarity with striking iron workers in Minnesota. Also in 1916, Vanzetti raised funds to support strikers at the giant Plymouth Cordage plant, at which he had previously worked.

Sacco and Vanzetti met for the first time in 1917 in Mexico, where many Galleanists had gone to avoid registering for the draft. Sacco returned to the U.S. after a few months. Vanzetti returned later, at a time of intense repression against Cronaca Sovversiva, including repeated raids on its offices and confiscation of the paper, which was banned from the mails. In February 1918, federal agents raided the Cronaca office in Lynn, Massachusetts, seizing 5,000 addresses of subscribers, including Sacco and Vanzetti. Eighty Galleanists were arrested, and Galleani himself was deported in 1919.

The Frame-Up

On 24 December 1919, an attempt was made to rob a payroll truck as it approached the L. Q. White shoe factory in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. When payroll guards fired back, the two gunmen fled to a waiting black car which drove off. Witnesses described the gunmen as “foreigners.” One who fired a shotgun was said to have a dark complexion and black moustache. On 15 April 1920, two employees of the Slater & Morrill shoe company in South Braintree, outside of Boston, were attacked by two men as they carried the factory payroll. Paymaster Frederick Parmenter and his assistant Alessandro Berardelli were shot and killed, and the bandits escaped with others in a dark-colored car.

Three weeks later, on May 5, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested in a trap set by Bridgewater police chief Michael Stewart, who sought to pin both robberies on anarchists. The two anarchists, along with their comrades Ricardo Orciani and Mike Boda, had sought to retrieve Boda’s car from a West Bridgewater garage where it was being repaired. As prearranged with Chief Stewart, the owner refused to turn over the car, and his wife called the cops. After the anarchists left the garage, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on a streetcar to Boston.

Never told that they were robbery suspects, Sacco and Vanzetti believed that they were being arrested for their political activities. In his court testimony, Vanzetti described the questioning by Stewart: “He asked me why we were in Bridgewater, how long I know Sacco, if I am a Radical, if I am an anarchist or Communist, and he asked me if I believe in the government of the United States.”

The immediate backdrop to their arrests was the death two days before of fellow anarchist Andrea Salsedo, who had plunged 14 floors from the Department of Justice office in New York City. Arrested in February, Salsedo and Roberto Elia had been held incommunicado. In late April, Grupo Autonomo, a cell of Italian anarchists, had sent Vanzetti to New York to obtain information about the two. There he was advised by the Italian Defense Committee to dump any radical literature as more raids were anticipated. For that purpose, on May 5 they went to retrieve Boda’s car. When arrested, they did not tell the cops the purpose of their visit to the garage.

Vanzetti was first tried on frame-up charges for the failed robbery in Bridgeport in an attempt by the state to stick either him or Sacco with a criminal record before trial on the Braintree murder charges. Felix Frankfurter described the farce in The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti (1927):

“The evidence of identification of Vanzetti in the Bridgewater case bordered on the frivolous, reaching its climax in the testimony of a little newsboy who, from behind the telegraph pole to which he had run for refuge during the shooting, had caught a glimpse of the criminal and ‘knew by the way he ran he was a foreigner.’ Vanzetti was a foreigner, so of course it was Vanzetti!”

Despite the testimony of 18 witnesses that he was in Plymouth selling eels at the time, Vanzetti was convicted of assault charges. Vanzetti and Sacco were then immediately indicted for the Braintree murders.

The murder trial began on 31 May 1921 in Dedham, Massachusetts, with a platoon of cops armed with riot guns stationed on the courthouse steps. Even a federal agent noted that “the feeling in Dedham against Italians is very strong, and will probably get stronger as the trial progresses” (quoted in William Young and David E. Kaiser, Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti [1985]). Five of the jurors were chosen from a pool of personal acquaintances of a sheriff’s deputy. Jury foreman Walter Ripley was a former police chief who began every court session by ostentatiously standing and saluting the flag. When a friend told Ripley before the trial that he didn’t believe Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty, Ripley snapped back, “Damn them, they ought to hang them anyway!”

In his opening remarks, Judge Thayer called on the jurors to render service “with the same spirit of patriotism, courage and devotion to duty as was exhibited by our soldier boys across the seas.” With Thayer’s support, prosecutor Frederick Katzmann cross-examined Sacco as to whether his collection of anarchist and socialist literature was “in the interests of the United States.” To inflame the jury, Katzmann asked repeated questions about their avoiding the draft by going to Mexico, and in his jury instructions Judge Thayer repeatedly referred to Sacco and Vanzetti as “slackers.”

As in Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial, there was a total lack of evidence. None of the stolen loot was ever found on or near them. Thirteen alibi witnesses placed Vanzetti in Plymouth selling fish. Witnesses also testified that Sacco was in Boston at the time of the killing. Among them was a clerk from the Italian consulate, where on the day of the killing Sacco had gone to get a passport.

Eyewitnesses initially told the cops that they had not seen enough to identify the gunman; they were coerced to change their accounts. Two of them initially identified a photo of New York bank robber Anthony Palmisano, who was in prison at the time, as that of the shooter. Witness Lola Andrews, a part-time nurse with a history of prostitution and insurance fraud, identified Sacco as a man whom she asked for directions shortly before the shooting. On cross-examination, Andrews conceded that she was pressured by Katzmann to say that Sacco was that man. Other eyewitnesses testified that Sacco was not the killer. Barbara Liscomb testified that the gunman she saw standing over Berardelli looked directly at her, and it wasn’t Sacco. Additional witnesses were concealed by the prosecution, such as Roy Gould, who was crossing the street when he was shot at by someone in the getaway car. The description of the shooter Gould gave to the cops could not have been that of either Sacco or Vanzetti.

Equally specious was the ballistics evidence. Six .32 calibre bullets were removed from Parmenter and Berardelli, ruling out the .38 revolver Vanzetti had on him when arrested. There was no formal record of custody for the bullets to document who handled them and when. All of the witnesses testified that there was only one gunman and only one pistol used. This was confirmed by the doctor performing the autopsy, George McGrath, who testified to the grand jury that all of the bullets “looked exactly alike,” with the same markings. Nevertheless, the prosecution came up with a “Bullet III” that, unlike the others, had a left twist, claiming that this was from Sacco’s .32.

In a post-trial affidavit submitted by the defense in 1923, the state’s chief ballistics expert, Captain Proctor, noted that he had told the prosecutor that if asked specifically whether tests showed that Bullet III passed through Sacco’s gun, he would have answered no. But after repeated badgering by the D.A., Proctor agreed to testify that the bullet was consistent with one from Sacco’s gun. Proctor later stated that he never believed the bullet passed through Sacco’s gun.

Despite the utter lack of evidence, the jury returned with guilty verdicts after only five hours of deliberation. In December 1921, Judge Thayer turned down a motion for a new trial. Though conceding the weakness of the prosecution’s case, Thayer ruled that “the evidence that convicted these defendants was circumstantial and was evidence that is known in law as ‘consciousness of guilt’,” supposedly manifested by the lies Sacco and Vanzetti told when arrested in order to protect themselves and their comrades. As the 1927 ILD pamphlet Labor’s Martyrs written by Max Shachtman put it, “The consciousness of guilt attributed to Sacco and Vanzetti was nothing but a healthy consciousness of the class struggle and the methods of the enemies of the working class.”

Parallels with Frame-Up of Mumia

Everything used to convict Sacco and Vanzetti—phony ballistics, terrorization of witnesses, use of the defendants’ political background to inflame the jury—would be replicated in Mumia’s trial 60 years later. Prosecutor Joseph McGill argued to the nearly all-white jury that Mumia’s Black Panther Party membership 12 years earlier proved that he had been planning to kill a cop. The prosecutors’ two main witnesses were coerced into changing their testimony, and witnesses who could exonerate Mumia were terrorized into not coming forward.

As documented in the PDC pamphlet The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!, a ballistics expert testified that the fatal bullet was “consistent” with Mumia’s gun—but there is no evidence that Mumia’s gun, a .38 calibre, was even fired that night, or even what gun was used! The Medical Examiner’s report states that Faulkner was shot with a .44 calibre bullet. A witness to the shooting, William Singletary, said that the killer used a .22 calibre. Years later, Arnold Beverly came forward to confess to the killing and said that the gun he used was a .22. As part of a broad-ranging concealment and doctoring of evidence, there is a missing bullet fragment from Faulkner’s wound and a missing Medical Examiner’s X-ray of Faulkner’s body.

The most spectacular evidence that Sacco and Vanzetti and later Mumia did not commit the crimes for which they were sentenced to death consisted of the confessions of professional criminals exonerating them. And in both cases, the courts threw out the evidence.

In November 1925, Celestino Madeiros, in Dedham prison awaiting an appeal for his 1924 conviction for murdering a bank guard, passed a note to Sacco stating, “I hear by confess to being in the south Braintree shoe company crime and Sacco and Vanzetti was not in said crime” (The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti). Medeiros subsequently swore an affidavit stating that the robbery was carried out by a group fitting the description of the Morelli gang, which was wanted for a series of freight train robberies, and that five others were involved. Shortly after the robbery, Medeiros had $2,800 in the bank, which would represent his share of the stolen payroll. Two friends of Medeiros later confirmed that he had described to them the role he and the Morellis played. Many years later, in his book My Life in the Mafia, Vincent Teresa described a meeting with Frank Morelli in the 1950s during which Morelli complained about a Boston Globe article accusing his gang of involvement in the Braintree murders. Morelli told him, “What they said was true, but it’s going to hurt my kid.”

In 2001, Marlene Kamish and Eliot Grossman, attorneys for Mumia at the time, submitted to state and federal courts the affidavit of Arnold Beverly that he, and not Mumia, shot officer Faulkner. According to Beverly, he was hired, along with someone else, to do so by cops and the mob because Faulkner was a problem for corrupt cops, interfering with rackets, bribery, drug dealing, etc. Beverly’s testimony is supported by a mountain of evidence and ties together loose threads previously unexplained. Beverly had sworn his confession in 1999 to PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein, who was on Mumia’s legal team at that time but who resigned that year when his lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, along with Dan Williams, suppressed Beverly’s confession.

The ILD waged a hard political battle against those who threw up obstacles to class-struggle defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. Today we face similar obstacles, and then some, in our effort to mobilize labor-centered protest to demand Mumia’s freedom on the basis that he is an innocent man. The Sacco and Vanzetti case occurred in a period marked by the October Revolution, which inspired militant fighters around the world and drew a sharp dividing line between those who defended the Soviet Union and those who sided with the capitalist rulers. Today’s world is profoundly shaped by the impact of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet workers state in 1991-92, following decades of Stalinist betrayal. As the bourgeois rulers proclaim the lie of the “death of communism,” the bulk of the left, which in the main joined in the imperialists’ anti-Soviet campaigns, places its political activity solidly within the framework of the “democratic” capitalist order.

Whereas in Sacco and Vanzetti’s case it was the prosecution who vilified the Medeiros confession, today many liberals and reformist leftists among Mumia’s defenders sling mud at the Beverly confession and even cast doubt on Mumia’s own 2001 statement that he did not shoot Daniel Faulkner. Representative of these types is David Lindorff, whose book Killing Time: An Investigation Into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (2003) is dedicated to trashing the Beverly evidence. Lindorff states, “I’m not convinced that Mumia Abu-Jamal was simply an innocent bystander” and concludes that Mumia may have shot Faulkner (see “David Lindorff, Michael Schiffmann: Undermining Mumia’s Fight for Freedom,” WV No. 892, 11 May).

Why would Mumia’s ostensible defenders attack the Beverly confession? The Beverly evidence makes clear that the injustice to Mumia was not the action of one rogue cop, prosecutor or judge but the entire functioning of the capitalist system of injustice. This understanding is directly contrary to the liberal framework of Lindorff & Co., who embrace the very “justice” system that at every level has declared, as in the infamous Dred Scott case, that Mumia has no rights that it is bound to respect. Imbibing bourgeois liberalism, Socialist Action, Workers World Party and other reformist groups helped demobilize what had been a powerful protest movement by subordinating the call for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a new trial. In so doing, they have sought to appeal to those in the “mainstream” who see the legal hell that Mumia has been put through as a stain on the image of American “justice.”

The political battle against such illusions in capitalist “justice” must be won if labor’s social power is to be wielded on Mumia’s behalf. Many unions and union organizations have voiced their support for Mumia. But to turn this sentiment into labor protest and strike action requires fighting against the policies of the pro-capitalist union leaders, who see “friends” in the bosses’ government and political parties. We fight for a class-struggle defense strategy that places no faith in the justice of the courts and all faith in the power of the workers. In doing this, we honor the memory of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.



Workers Vanguard No. 897

WV 897

31 August 2007


Bridges, Levees, Runways, Tracks

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Republicans, Democrats Step Up War on Our Rights

Protest Padilla Conviction! Free All the Detainees!


Chicago Cops Keep on Killing

PDC Speaker: Mobilize Labor! Protest Racist Cop Terror!


Germany, France

Protest Government Repression Against Leftists!


Free Jamal Hart Now!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)


Stop the Execution of Kenneth Foster!


(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)


Against Illusions in Bourgeois “Justice”

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Mexico City: Right-Wing Reaction Against Abortion Reform

Free Abortion on Demand!

No Illusions in Bourgeois PRD!

For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Women and Revolution pages)


80th Anniversary of Legal Lynching

Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free All Class-War Prisoners!

Part One


“Racial Oppression and Working-Class Politics”

Revolutionary Marxists at 1969 PL-SDS Conference

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Organize Non-Union Mines!

Utah Mine Collapse: Industrial Murder