The night before crucifixion, it may seem that one can only pray, even those who brook no quarter with the supernatural.
In such dark hours, however, there is, if nothing else, the literature left by other worthy souls who have served their own time deep in the annals of human cruelty and suffering.
Manning’s humility, his industriousness, his efficiency, his convictions, courage, rationalist outlook, humanism, his persecution and outsider status, his suffering at the hands of an outrageous american court process — and above all his commitment to knowledge, education and light as the way forward for human society — cannot but recall the tribulations of a figure from almost a century past.
Whatever one may think of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, it is impossible to deny the power and the beauty of his memoir, written as an unjustly condemned man.
As Manning stands in Gethsemane, one can do little more than offer an extraordinary extract, which resonates from history and could not be said better today.
The Book of Life: that is the Book of Books! All the others merely teach how to read this one. The honest books, I mean; the dishonest ones have an opposite purpose.
Meditation over this great book determined my actions and my principles. I denied that “Every man for himself and God for all!” I championed the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the simple and the persecuted. I admired heroism, strength and sacrifice when directed towards the triumph of justice. I understood that in the name of God, of Law, of the Patria, of Liberty, of the purest mental abstractions, of the highest human ideals, are perpetrated and will continue to be perpetrated, the most ferocious crimes; until the day when by the acquisition of light it will no longer be possible for the few, in the name of God, to do wrong to the many.
I understood that man cannot trample with immunity upon the unwritten laws that govern his life, he cannot violate the ties that bind him to the universe. I understood that the mountains, the seas, the rivers called “natural boundaries” were formed before man, by a complexity of physical and chemical processes, and not for the purpose of dividing peoples.
I grasped the concept of fraternity, of universal love. I maintained that whosoever benefits or hurts a man, benefits or hurts the whole species. I sought my liberty in the liberty of all; my happiness in the happiness of all. I realized that the equity of deeds, of rights and of duties, is the only moral basis upon which could be erected a just human society. I earned my bread by the honest sweat on my brow. I have not a drop of blood on my hands, nor on my conscience.
I understood that the supreme goal of life is happiness. That the eternal and immutable bases of human happiness are health, peace of conscience, the satisfaction of animal needs, and a sincere faith. I understood that every individual had two I’s, the real and the ideal, that the second is the source of all progress, and that whatever wants to make the first seem equal to the second is in bad faith. The difference in any one person between his two egos is always the same, because whether in perfection or in degeneration, they keep the same distance between them.
I understood that man is never sufficiently modest towards himself and that true wisdom is in tolerance.
I wanted a roof for every family, bread for every mouth, education for every heart, the light for every intellect.
I am convinced that human history has not yet begun; that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is suffused with the rays of the new millennium.
I maintain that liberty of conscience is as inalienable as life. I sought with all my power to direct the human spirit to the good of all. I know from experience that rights and privileges are still won and maintained by force, until humanity shall have perfected itself.
In the real history of future humanity — classes and privileges, the antagonisms of interest between man and man abolished — progress and change will be determined by intelligence and the common convenience.
If we and the generation which our women carry under their bosoms do not arrive nearer to that goal, we shall not have obtained anything real, and humanity will continue to be more miserable and unhappy.
I am and shall be until the last instant (unless I should discover that I am in error) an anarchist-communist, because I believe that communism is the most humane form of social contract, because I know that only with liberty can man rise, become noble, and complete.
Now? At the age of thirty-three — age of Christ and according to certain learned alienists, the age of offenders generally — I am scheduled for prison and for death. Yet, were I to recommence the “Journey of Life,” I should tread the same road, seeking, however, to lessen the sum of my sins and errors and to multiply that of my good deeds.
I send to my comrades, to my friends, to all good men my fraternal embrace, love and fervent greetings!
To PFC Manning, to his friends, too all good women and men, fraternal embrace, love and fervent greetings too!