Editorial Notes

Fighting for Free Speech

(May 1931)

Written: May 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 10, 15 May 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Minneapolis, where the Communist League branch comprises a majority of the experienced Communist workers – and thereby has the possibility of applying our policy independently in the class struggle – is the present scene of a very interesting demonstration of revolutionary tactics. The City Government there has been seized by a fit of Red hysteria and for some time has been prohibiting and breaking up all kinds of radical meetings. The gatherings of the official party fell under this ban and several meetings of the Communist League shared the same fate, since the chief of police is an ignorant man and does not know that the real purpose of Dunne aud Skoglund is to support the war against the Soviet Union. Both wings of the Communist movement were thus reduced to a virtual state of illegality, at least in regard to the right of public assemblage. Their contrasting reactions to the situation can afford a fruitful subject of discussion. The same state of affairs prevails in other places and, as the class struggle grows more acute, there will be many more.

The tactics of the Stalinists – led by the peerless Karl Reeye, who was sent to Minneapolis by his factional opponents to fight the Trotskyites and be destroyed by them – are characteristic. Imbued with the ideology of the Third Period, which is only one step removed from undergroundism in principle, they have virtually accepted the situation as a proof that the capitalists are against the workers and that the city officials are tools of the capitalists. Thus they prove that there is no free speech, which they consider a point in their favor. The chief of police, at the same time, thinks it is a point in his favor. So both are satisfied – and there are no public meetings of the Party.

The Left Oppositionists have a different idea. They think free speech – and democratic rights in general – have a real value for the workers’ movement and should not be surrendered lightly. In view of the fact that the capitalist government professes to guarantee these rights, and that masses of workers and other citizens who are in no way connected with the Communists ardently believe in them, they decided to test the issue in a fight for free speech. To that unique idea they added another: That a wide movement should be set into motion on this issue. Their appeal to the Stalinists for joint action to initiate the fight failing, they are proceeding to the organization of a broad Free Speech Conference which will draw the trade unions and other organizations into the fight. By this means they aim to shift the position from a fight of the city administration against the Communists to a fight of the labor movement, or a large section of it – including the Communists – against the illegal usurpations of the police.

For our part, we are in complete agreement with the course adopted by the Minneapolis branch of the Communist League. It has a double importance: For the restoration of civil rights in Minneapolis and contact with a wider circle of workers in the struggle for it; and as an example – and a badly needed one – to the whole American movement of Communism. The Communists – a small minority – must fight to be heard. Democratic rights are of the utmost importance to the workers in their struggle for organization. We ought to inscribe them on our banner and call the workers to a joint struggle with us to defend them. The fight itself has an importance hardly less than the object, so long as it is conducted without illusions.

Stalinism has brought devastation into every phase of revolutionary ideas, methods and practices. Not the least of this has resulted from its false approach to the question of free speech and the discredit it has brought to the idea by its own hooligan practices. It is high time to turn the helm. The Minneapolis example is a good beginning.

Last updated on: 27.12.2012