Deus Ex Machina: Zola Redux
After Christmas 1924, the Sacco-Vanzetti case slid into the tepid bathwater of news media obscurity. That was not particularly the fault of anyone on the defense committee. A new and overtaxed head counsel had no time for coordinating a public relations campaign. In early January 1925, news came that Bartolomeo Vanzetti had been transferred to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Insane, reportedly suffering from hallucinations. Newspaper reports declared Sacco had also been confined two years earlier for similar behavior, an oblique reference to Sacco’s unsuccessful suicide attempt.1 The situation was very difficult. Neither man had reckoned on being in prison so long, if at all. Several months went by before Vanzetti was sent back to prison and declared sane. By the time he had recovered and was returned to Charlestown prison, a parade of 1,500 demonstrators in Boston had demanded a new trial for the anarchists. The meeting was taken seriously enough by city hall that the acting mayor of Boston spoke to the assemblage.2 The parade was a joint production of the Workers’ (Communist) Party and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. But just in case there was any doubt as to whose idea the production was, Sacco and Vanzetti were declared “victims of class persecution.” No less a figure than party chief Benjamin Gitlow was on hand to ensure the smooth functioning of the day’s choreographed agitation-propaganda.
Nevertheless, the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee was conspicuous by its absence. This was by design, not inadvertence. The Communist Party in the United States had cold-shouldered the Sacco-Vanzetti cause