James P. Cannon

Darrow and the Scottsboro Case

(January 1932)

Written: January 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 3, 16 January 1932, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (March 2013).
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The withdrawal of Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays from all participation in the legal side of the Scottsboro case has called forth a chorus of praise from the bourgeois press. Darrow didn’t like the agitational methods of the International Labor Defense. “You can’t mix politics with a law case,” he said. He would take part in the legal defense only on the condition that the ILD keep out. The withdrawal of the famous lawyer on these grounds affords the brass-check newspapers – whose attention was drawn to the Scottsboro case by the stormy agitation of the ILD – another occasion to point a moral about the harmful effects of “Communist interference” on behalf of any victim of bourgeois justice. Liberal snivellers and muddleheaded workers, whose thinking is done for them by the ruling class, are echoing this judgment.

Such arguments are not worthy of a moment’s consideration. The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom.

There are people, of course – and too many of them – who hold a contrary view. But they are the credulous ones, who have faith in the justice and fairness of the class courts. We rejoice at the blow that has been dealt to this servile and treacherous philosophy. It is true that the lawyers in question are celebrated in their trade. But from our point of view, that fact only invests the calling of their bluff with a greater sig nificance and merits for it a warm approval.

“You can’t mix politics with a law case” – that is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal relation between the lawyer and client and the court. It was under that sign with the same Darrow in the leading role that the McNamaras and Schmidt and Kaplan were sacrificed, and the labor movement was dealt a blow from which it has not yet recovered. It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice. The affair of Darrow, the Scottsboro prisoners, and the ILD will help to inculcate this lesson.

Last updated on: 22.3.2013