Workers Vanguard No. 897

31 August 2007


Against Illusions in Bourgeois “Justice”

(Quote of the Week)

Writing shortly after the execution of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti 80 years ago, Max Shachtman, then editor of the International Labor Defense monthly Labor Defender, upheld the ILD’s fight for class-struggle defense against those in the official Boston-based defense committee who preached reliance on the capitalist courts.

The courts, the judges and executives of Massachusetts, never had any idea of giving “justice” to Sacco and Vanzetti. Their intentions were at no time characterized by a desire to consider the abstract principles of equity and fairness in the case. All the delays, all the illusive legerdemain of the courts, the pompous and fraudulent going through with the motions, was only for the purpose of demonstrating to naive people the thoroughness and legal sanctity of the final decision.

The blows dealt the liberation movement for Sacco and Vanzetti by the elements who fastened themselves on the Boston Committee and dominated its policy consisted essentially in this: that they failed to see the case as a class issue, a part of the bitter and inexorable international struggle between the ruling class and the ruled; that they nursed and fostered the illusion that it was possible to extract an essence of “justice” from the murderers of Sacco and Vanzetti by dignified and respectable supplication. They tried to smother the militant protest movement and hurled the mud of slander upon the workers who organized it. They sought to cover the rough clothes of the workers’ movement with the cap and gown of the lawyer, and substitute a cultured Boston accent for the violent shouts of the masses in a dozen tongues.

It was quite different with the masses of the world. Their magnificent and almost unprecedented solidarity was based on a common understanding of who was enemy and who was friend. The earth-shaking rise of the workers everywhere for Sacco and Vanzetti not only showed how much explosive is contained in the working class of the world, how dangerous it is for the capitalists to tamper with these powder kegs, but it also proved that the world proletariat pierces and contemns the shams and pretences of the American ruling class and its “peace” and its “justice” and its “golden opportunities.”

If anything was demonstrated by the Sacco-Vanzetti case it was that labor cases cannot be fought with fat volumes of legal spider webs alone but that the class character of the prosecution must be pointed out and the defense organized on that basis.

—Max Shachtman, Sacco and Vanzetti: Labor’s Martyrs (1927)