James P. Cannon

On Witness Stand

Tells Jury About Origin and History
of the Workers’ Defense Guards

They Were Formed to Protect Workers’ Parties and Unions
Against the Attacks of Fascists and Hoodlums

(19 & 21 November 1941)

Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 50, 13 December 1941, pp. 2–5.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: This work is in the under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive/Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors, translators, proofreaders etc. above.

The last two issues of The Militant printed the testimony of James P. Cannon on the witness stand at the Minneapolis “seditious conspiracy” trial. Under direct examination from Albert Goldman, chief defense counsel and himself one of the defendants in the case. Comrade Cannon told of the formation, activities and principles of the Socialist Workers Party.

One of the charges against the defendants was that they had helped to organize a Workers’ Defense Guard in Minneapolis. The prosecution contended that the purpose of this Guard was to help overthrow the United States Government, while the defense maintained that it had been organized to protect the Minneapolis drivers union hall and officials against attacks by the Silver Shirts and other fascist groups. The testimony of Comrade Cannon on this page opens with an explanation of this question.

At noon, Nov. 21, Cannon finished his direct testimony, and cross examination by Assistant Attorney General Henry Schweinhaut was opened. In the words of Felix Morrow:

“The spokesman for capitalism and the tribune of the people crossed swords.

“The technical rules of the court were all in favor of the prosecutor. He could ask questions well-nigh at random, shifting from subject to subject, filling his questions with broad innuendos in an attempt to prejudice the jury against the defendants. He could interrupt Cannon at almost any point, and he did, seeking to break down the effect upon the jury of what Cannon was saying. He suddenly produced, torn out of context, sentences and half sentences from Marx, from Lenin, from Trotsky, from the 1929–1941 files of the Trotskyist press, from forgotten pamphlets – and demanded that Cannon answer, yes or no, whether he agreed with the quotations.

“Despite all these advantages on the side of the prosecutor, Schweinhaut was worsted in the great debate ... It was not mere debating skill that enabled Jim Cannon to triumph over the Assistant U.S. Attorney General. Mr. Schweinhaut was undoubtedly the best that Attorney General Biddle and official Washington could produce for this unsavory assignment. But the prosecution foundered on the rock which splits all frame-ups eventually: the rock of the truth.”

* * *

Workers’ Defense Guard Is Not a New Idea

Q: Will you tell the court and jury the position of the Socialist Workers Party on Workers’ Defense Guards?

A: Well, the party is in favor of the workers organizing defense guards wherever their organizations or their meetings are threatened by hoodlum violence. The workers should not permit their meetings to be broken up or their halls to be wrecked, or their work to be interfered with, by Klu Klux Klanners or Silver Shirts or fascists of any type, or hoodlums, or reactionary thugs, but should organize a guard and protect themselves where it is necessary.

Q: How long ago was the idea of a Workers’ Defense Guard first put forth by the group of which you are a member?

A: Well, I may say that I have known about this idea, which we didn’t invent at all, all my thirty years in the labor movement. I have known about the idea of Workers’ Defense Guards and seen them organized and helped to organize them more than once long before I ever heard of the Russian Revolution.

Q: And did the Trotskyist group ever start organizing these guards before it became the Socialist Workers Party?

Attacks by Stalinist Hoodlums

A: Yes, in the first year of our existence, in 1929. The Communist Party, the Stalinists, tried to break up our meetings by hoodlum violence. They did break up a number of meetings and we reacted to that by organizing a Workers’ Defense Guard to protect our meetings, and invited to participate in this guard not only Trotskyists, but other workers’ organizations which were also being attacked by the Stalinist hoodlums.

Let me explain this. The Stalinists had a system in those days of trying to break up meetings of the Socialist Party, of the I.W.W., of a group called the Proletarians, of anybody who didn’t agree with the Stalinists. They tried the Stalin game of breaking them up, so in self-defense, without any theory from anybody, we reacted by organizing Workers’ Defense Guards to protect our meetings. And I may add, parenthetically, we protected them so well that we put a stop to that monkey business at the cost of a few cracked heads, which I personally greatly appreciated in those days.

Q: I show you a volume of The Militant, marked 1928 and 1930, and ask that you refresh your recollection from that volume, and tell the jury on what occasions Workers’ Defense Guards were organized by the Trotskyist group. Just read the item, and then tell the jury, without reading the item to the jury.

A: The first one is dated January 1, 1929. It refers to a meeting addressed by me in New Haven, Connecticut, under the title, The Truth About Trotsky and the Platform of the Opposition. It is a news account of the meeting.

Q: Well, Mr. Cannon, just read that and then tell the jury what you remember about that incident.

A: Well, I remember it very well, because they sent a gang of hoodlums to the meeting and they broke it up and didn’t permit me to continue my speech, and created a fight, and in the midst of the fight the police came to the hall and declared the meeting dissolved. That is a report of a meeting in the Labor Lyceum at New Haven, Connecticut, December 21, 1929.

Q: And did you subsequently organize any Defense Guards to protect your meetings?

A: Yes, in the same account is the report of a second meeting held in Philadelphia on December 27th, with Max Shachtman as the speaker, and it states there that, profiting by the experience in New Haven, they organized a Workers’ Defense Guard which came and protected the meeting, and the speaker was allowed to continue without disruption.

Q: Did you ever hold a meeting where you spoke where Workers’ Defense Guards protected the meeting?

A: Yes. Here is The Militant, (indicating) under date of January 15, 1929, which reports a meeting addressed by me in Cleveland, Ohio, on the same subject about which I was speaking then, The Truth About Trotsky and the Russian Opposition, and the account in the paper tells about a gang of Stalinists who came there and tried to disrupt the meeting, and heckled the speaker, and they began to try violence –

Q: You were the speaker, were you?

A: I was the speaker, and I recall very well that I stood there waiting to be protected by a guard which we had organized, and the report says that the Workers’ Guard, under the leadership of Elmer Boich, finally formed a flying wedge and put the disrupters out of the meeting, and the speaker was allowed to continue to the end.

Q: And subsequently to that, did you ever speak at meetings where Workers’ Defense Guards were organized to protect those meetings?

A: Yes, here is a report in The Militant of February 1929, and it tells about two meetings addressed by me in the city of Minneapolis.

Q: And do you remember what happened at those meetings?

A: Yes, the first meeting we attempted to hold in some lodge hall here – I forget the name, A.O.U.W. Hall, it is reported here – I recall at this meeting, before the meeting started, a gang of Stalinist hoodlums invaded the meeting and attacked Oscar Coover with blackjacks, where he was standing at the door taking tickets, I think, and forced their way into the hall before the crowd had come, got front seats, and then as the crowd came in and I went to the front and tried to speak, they got up and interfered and heckled and disturbed and disrupted the meeting until it finally ended in a free-for-all scuffle, and I didn’t get a chance to make my speech. Then this account here tells –

Q: Well, what do you remember?

A Previous Guard in Minneapolis

A: Yes, it is reported here in this issue of the paper that we then went to the I.W.W. Hall here – that is, another radical organization which we are not affiliated with, but who had also suffered from these Stalinist tactics, and asked them if they would cooperate with us in organizing a guard to protect the meeting, so that I could speak on the subject that I was touring the country then on, The Truth About Trotsky and Our Platform. They agreed.

We formed a Workers’ Defense Guard in Minneapolis in January 1929 and the I.W.W. gave us the use of their hall. They had a hall of their own somewhere down here on Washington Street. We advertised the meeting widely and announced that this meeting was going to be held under the protection of the Workers’ Guard. And I personally know that there was such a guard, that they equipped themselves with hatchet handles, and stood along the side of the hall, and stood out in front, and announced that nobody should interfere with this meeting. I spoke for about two hours there without any interference, under the protection of that Workers Guard.

Q: So that you can say from your knowledge that the Workers’ Defense Guard –

A: There are more news accounts here, if you want them. That was a period until we finally established our right to be let alone, and then there was no more need for the guard, and we dissolved.

Growth of Fascist Movements Before the War

Q: Now, with reference to the Workers Defense Guard advocated by the Socialist Workers Party, what formal action did the party take at any time?

A: Well, in this later period of 1938 and ’39, in some parts of the country we were confronted with an incipient fascist movement. Different organizations with different names began preaching Hitlerite doctrines in this country, and tried to practice Hitlerite methods of physical intimidation of workers’ meetings, of Jews, Jewish stores, and suppressing free speech by violent methods.

In New York it became a rather acute problem. The various Bundists and associated groups in New York developed the practice of breaking up street meetings when either our party or some other workers’ party would attempt to speak under a permit given by the city authorities. They had a habit of going around and molesting Jewish storekeepers, picketing them, and beating them, and challenging them to fight, and so on.

There was an organization rampant at that time called the “Silver Shirts”. I don’t recall them in New York, but at various points in the West and Mid-West.

Q: Do you recall the Christian Front?

The Christian Front and Bundists

A: Yes, in New York the Bundists and the Christian Front,

and two or three other would-be fascist organizations, used to combine on this kind of business. At this time free speech was being very flagrantly denied in Jersey City under the authority of this man Hague who announced that he was the law, got the habit of chasing people out of town and permitting meetings to be broken up ostensibly not by the authorities, but by the “outraged citizens” whom he and his gang had organized for that purpose. In general there were signs then – there was a lot of discontent and unrest in the country – there were signs of a fascist movement growing up, and the question arose of how we could protect, not only ourselves, but how could the unions protect themselves.

For example, in Jersey City picketing was denied by these means and the right to strike infringed upon – very serious questions of the invasion of civil liberties by unofficial bodies.

Basing ourselves on the experiences of the German and Italian fascist movements, which began with gangs of hoodlums and ended by destroying completely the labor unions and all workers’ organizations and all civil rights – we came to the conclusion that the fascists should be met on their own ground, and that we should raise the slogan of Workers’ Defense Guards to protect workers’ meetings, halls and institutions against hoodlum violence by the incipient fascists.

We discussed that with Trotsky; his part in it was primarily an exposition of the development of the fascist movement in Europe. I don’t recall now whether he originated the idea, but at any rate he heartily seconded it, that our party should propose that the unions, wherever their peace was menaced by these hoodlums, should organize Workers’ Defense Guards and protect themselves.

Q: And did the unions follow the advice of the party?

Unions Discuss the Problem

A: Well, I recall that we organized, in cooperation with some other radicals and some Jewish people – even some Jewish Nationalists who didn’t agree with our Socialist program, but agreed on defending their human rights to live – we formed at that time a Workers’ Defense Guard in New York. To protect not only the meetings of our party but of any organization menaced by these hoodlums. To protect citizens from molestation in the Bronx, where these hoodlums were intimidating and insulting Jewish people. This guard had several scuffles and fights with these gangs.

Then conditions in the country began to change. The economic situation in the country improved a bit. The question of the European war began to absorb attention, and take it away from these provincial American Hitlers. The fascist movement dropped into passivity and our Workers’ Defense Guard in New York didn’t have anything to do and it just passed out of existence. In Los Angeles, if I recall correctly, there was a similar experience.

Q: Did any International trade unions ever adopt that idea, as far as you know?

A: I don’t know. I know the question was raised in the Garment Workers Union, which had a double concern about the matter because, first, as a labor union they were menaced by the growth of fascism, and second, a large percentage of their members are Jews who are considered proper victims by these

hoodlums. A resolution was passed in favor of the idea in one of the garment locals in New York, and was referred then to the International Executive Board for consideration, and some correspondence and some interviews between our comrades who had sponsored the idea and the officers of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union took place. I don’t think it developed any further, either positively or negatively, because the fascist movement subsided and the issue got cold.

What Happened to the Guards

Q: So that the issue of the Workers’ Defense Guard died down because a change of conditions occurred?

A: Yes. We retained the proposal for Workers’ Defense Guards in our program. I believe it is on the editorial page of The Militant as one of the points we are proposing as a practical program.

Q: And it becomes vital especially in view of a possible fascist movement in our country?

A: Yes. At that time our paper was full of stories and articles about the Bundists and the Christian Fronters, and so on, but if you look over the files, they show a gradual recession of reports about fascist violence. And the question of the Workers Defense Guard left the pages of the paper and is only occasionally raised there now in a slogan.

(Defendants’ Exhibit H was marked for identification.)

THE WITNESS (Continuing): – I might add, Mr. Goldman, that so far as I know, there doesn’t exist now any functioning Workers Defense Guard in any part of the country that our members are associated with, not to my knowledge. But we retain the idea for practical education in case the unions should again encounter the experience of those days.

MR. GOLDMAN: I offer in evidence, Your Honor, Defendants’ Exhibit H-l to H-5, inclusive, being a copy of a resolution entitled Convention Resolution on Workers Defense Guard, published in the Socialist Appeal of July 7, 1939.

THE COURT: It will be received.

MR. GOLDMAN: I do not intend to read it, because the witness made an exposition of it.

You can take the witness.

THE COURT: I think we might recess at this point.


The Opening of the Cross-Examination

By MR. SCHWEINHAUT (Prosecutor):

Q: Now, you stated on direct examination that the expropriation of private property, without compensation, was not a principle of the Socialist Workers Party, but I want to read to you from the Declaration of Principles this sentence, and ask you a question about it:

“The most important of the social economic measures to be taken by the workers’ state in its initial period is the expropriation and socialization, without compensation, of all monopolies in industry and land, or mines, factories, and shipping, all public utilities, railroads, airplane systems, and other organized means of communications, all banks, credit agencies, and gold stores, and all other supplies and services that the revolutionary government finds it necessary to take over in order to lay the foundations of a socialist society.”

What have you to say about that, Mr. Cannon?

A: If I remember correctly, I said it is not a principle of Marxism that property taken by the government cannot be compensated for.

Q: Are you quite certain you were discussing Marxism as distinguished from the program of the party at the time?

A: I think I referred to Marxist authorities. I had in mind particularly the authority of Trotsky.

Q: Well, in any event, it is a principle of the Socialist Workers Party that such property shall be taken without compensation?

A: That is in the Declaration. But it is not a principle.

Q: Would you mind explaining why the present owners of the property, who have acquired their ownership, at least, by constitutional means, would be given nothing for it? Why is that principle embodied in the program of the party?

A: The Sixty Families who own the bulk of the industries and banks of America are not rightfully entitled to so much ownership and power over the lives of the people who produced this property by their labor.

Q: You would give them, then, no credit for their own industry and effort, education, intelligence –

A: Yes, I would give them the same credit that every citizen will have who participates in the production of the wealth of the country – that is, the opportunity to function in the new society on the basis of equality.

Q: Yes. But I am talking about the time when you take the power and with it the property, as of that time you would take it over without any compensation, and I ask you, therefore, why you do not at that time take into account the effort, the industry, the intelligence, and I might add, the risk of loss, that has been constantly present, of those people?

Concerned with Welfare of the Masses

A: What we are concerned with is the welfare of the great mass of the people. Their welfare categorically requires that the productive plant of this country be transferred from private hands into the hands of the public. That is what we are concerned with first of all. Industry must be nationalized – private property must be eliminated in the industrial process. The question of the rights and the interests of the comparatively small number of the population who are affected by that drastic measure is naturally secondary to what we consider this public necessity, public interest.

I don’t see any principled reason why such people, who are deprived of their ability or their power to exploit labor any more, cannot be given consideration on condition that they acquiesce in the will of the majority. They can be pensioned, they can be given consideration in view of their age, or their incapacity for labor, or their agreement not to resist by force the mandate of the majority.

As a matter of fact, I think we would be in favor of that.

Q: You would give them a pension?

A: Possibly, yes.

Q: Well, now, is it your theory that no person who has acquired large property holdings could have done it in other ways than by the exploitation of the workers?

A: That is the way property is created under capitalism.

Q: Now, will you please tell us what you mean by “exploitation?”

A: That means the employment of wage labor at a rate of pay less than the value of the product of the labor.

Q: Well, then, it is an arbitrary dogma, shall we say, of the Socialist Workers Party that no person who labors is adequately paid under this present system of government?

A: I wouldn’t say “no person”. Some people are very badly overpaid.

I am talking about the workers – the same workers you are talking about.

A: Yes, I can conceive of even a worker being overpaid – that is, an unproductive, an unskillful or negligent worker.

But when we speak of wage labor, we speak of the average, and the general rule. Marxism deals in the general and not in. the analysis of each and every individual worker. The workers, taken collectively and an average struck, produce an enormous amount of wealth for which they do not receive the equivalent in wages. That is surplus value, according to Marxist terminology. That is profit that goes into the hands of the capitalists, not in return for labor but as profit on investment.

Q: And you think they should have no profit on their investment?

A: We want to eliminate the whole profit system. We want to have production for use, not for profit.

The Role Of America’s Sixty Families

Q: Well, now, you would expropriate the property, not only of the Sixty Families, but of anyone who owns property in a large measure, is that correct?

A: Our program specifically excludes the expropriation or interference with small proprietors. We speak of people who have big holding’s and exploit labor. Their property shall be transferred to the ownership and control of the public as represented by the Workers’ and Farmers’ Government.

Q: Where did the term “Sixty Families” originate?

A: To my knowledge, it first came to public attention through a book written by a brilliant journalist named Ferdinand Lundberg.

Four or five years ago Mr. Lundberg conducted researches into the ownership and control of American industry, banks, and so forth. Out of an exhaustive research he produced a remarkably documented book entitled, America’s Sixty Families, in which he set out facts and figures to prove that the decisive control of American industry, banks, and other institutions which represent the real economic wealth and power of this country – that this is concentrated in the ownership and control of sixty families whom he listed.

Mr. Lundberg’s work, as far as I know has never been seriously controverted. I recall that even such a representative figure of the present Administration as Secretary Ickes spoke on the radio and referred to this book as authority for some position he was taking in a current political dispute.

Q: Now, then, you have used the term, when you use it in the party literature, literally then, have you not, having specific reference to sixty specific families?

A: I wouldn’t say it is an iron-clad literal description. It is an approximation of the real situation. We don’t propose to limit the thing exactly to that, but the expression “Sixty Families” graphically illustrates what has been happening in this country. While the workers were working and the farmers were farming, sixty families were getting control of the country, and it is a very graphic figure to use in our agitation. A lot of people don’t realize what has been going on in the concentration of wealth in this country.

The Government Represents the Capitalists

Q: Let me ask you a question or two, if you please, about the concept of an imperialist, capitalist government. You have said that the present government of the United States is both imperialist and capitalist.

A: Yes.

Q: You believe, then, that the government is the tool of the capitalists?

A: It is the representative of the capitalists.

Q: And then, in order to suppress the capitalists, should they resist you, it follows, of course, that you must suppress the government?

A: We are going to change the government.

Q: So you are going to suppress the Government as a natural concomitant of the transaction of suppressing the capitalists. That is correct, isn’t it?

A: After we get the majority and get the power – if that power comes into our hands by peaceful, democratic processes, in that case we will radically change the whole structure of the government, reorganizing it on a basis of council representation, as I described this morning.

Q: Well, now, suppose the Government doesn’t follow the example of Count Karolyi and turn it over to you. Then you are going to take it, aren’t you?

A: You mean if they resist a majority in a democratic election?

Q: Oh, you are going to do it by election?

A: We are participating in elections all the time. All that we have said is that the ruling class of this country will resort to violence before there is a fair opportunity to test the majority or the minority in the democratic process.

Q: Well, now, tell us how you think that is going to come about and work out here in this country. Don’t, for the purpose of that question, if you please, use the illustration of any other revolution. But how do you think it is going to work out here? Let me suggest your train of thought upon that: You say that if they resist an election, or something of that sort – tell us what you mean by that; give us the program as you envision it.

A: As things are going now, and as they conceivably can in the near future, we, as a minority party, will keep preaching our doctrines, recruiting members, doing our best to grow bigger, more popular, and get more support.

Historic Developments on Our Side

Naturally, if we have to rely solely on the effectiveness of our arguments, things remaining as they are, we will not grow very fast; but we, as Marxists, believe that historical development will come powerfully to the aid of our ideas. Continued bankruptcy of the present system, its inability to solve its problems, its worsening of the conditions of the people, will push them on the road in search of a solution of what seems to them an absolutely hopeless situation.

Under those conditions our program can appear to the people more and more plausible, more and more reasonable, and we cap begin to become a stronger party. It has happened before with parties of similar ideas.

Q: I understand now; you are doing all right. But understand that I want you to tell us how you think it is going to work out in this country.

How the Bosses Will Try to Stop Us

A: As our party grows, it in itself will be a reflection of the growth and development of the broad labor movement, the trade unions. The unions will be pushed more and more along the lines of aggressive action, because the capitalists of America don’t think the workers are entitled to decent living and decent hours and will try to squeeze the workers down.

The capitalists will try to use the pretext of “National Defense” and the war danger to deprive the workers of the right to strike. And once they have deprived the workers of the right to strike on so-called patriotic pretexts, then the capitalists will begin squeezing down wages and refusing concessions, and pushing the workers on the road to a more radical attitude toward the state of affairs, and our party will grow with that.

The next thing that will probably appear on the horizon is attempts of these Sixty Families and their supporters to stop the popularizing of ideas inimical to the capitalists, and to check by legislation the organization of the workers. You have the beginning of it here in Minnesota with the Stassen Anti-Strike Law.

They will begin arresting people for expressing their honest opinions, and putting them in jail, framing them up. They will begin organizing bands of fascist hoodlums as, in Germany, Fritz Thyssen, the big steel magnate, confessed that he gave millions of marks to finance the organization of Hitler’s hoodlums. The task of Hitler’s hoodlums was to go around breaking up workers’ meetings, and by violent assaults depriving the workers of their civil liberties and democratic rights.

Q: The capitalists will use legislation?

A: Yes, legislation violating the first amendment of the Constitution which prohibits this kind of legislation.

And in this situation they will go through the war. They won’t stop with any army of a million and a half; they will organize an army of five million. They will send millions of American boys abroad for imperialist war adventures to protect their markets and their profits. Lives will be lost. Conditions at home will grow worse, because all this sixty to one hundred billions of dollars that they are appropriating for the wasteful expenses of war has got to be paid for by somebody and they will try to make the masses and the poor farmers pay it.

Misery will grow and increase, and demands will grow in this country, among people who want freedom and a right to live, for some way out of this madhouse of war and unemployment and growing fascism.

We Want Right to Advocate Our Ideas

Q: Will this be during the war now, this part in your story?

A: Well, it can happen during the war, if the war is prolonged. Or it can happen in a catastrophically rapid manner at the end of the war, when millions of men return home from victories or defeats, as the case may be, to find no jobs waiting for them, and the whole economic prosperity of the day is exploded because it is based on the production of armaments.

The moment they stop building battleships and bombers and guns and ammunition, and all the other implements of war, you will have an army of fifteen to twenty-five million unemployed in this country. The small business men will be ruined and the farmers who have been in a chronic crisis for twenty-five years will have still worsened conditions.

The people of this country are going to begin thinking seriously then about finding some kind of a political solution for this crisis that the present leaders got them into and can’t get them out of. That is the way I visualize the development.

What do we want then? We want the simple right to advocate our ideas. We want the right to have free speech and free press and free assemblage.

Q: I know, but I think you are getting a little bit off the track. You have gotten to the point now in your story of how it is going to come about in the United States where everybody is pretty unhappy about the situation, or maybe worse than unhappy – angry. Go on from there and tell us – what is the next step?

Winning the Majority

A: That is what I intend to do. I said, what do we want in that situation?

We want the opportunity to continue explaining to the people of America what our plan is to solve this problem.

That is what we want, and granted that demand, we will put our program forward in elections. We will introduce resolutions in unions. We will introduce resolutions in farmers’ organizations. We will try to bring about conferences between the workers in the cities and the farmers, to see if we can work out a joint program to propose a solution.

We will participate in elections, and if we are elected and are not deprived of our electoral rights, we will begin debating the question in Congress. Given this one small provision, that we retain our Constitutional rights, we have every reason to be confident that we can win over the majority of the people to our program.

And the question of whether the will of this majority will be asserted in an orderly and democratic manner is not going to be determined by us; that is going to be determined by your Sixty Families, whether they want to begin the violence, or whether they want to accept a peaceful solution.

Q: Wait a minute. You haven’t gotten yourself elected to control of the government yet. You are just at a point where maybe you have won an election or two. You contemplate that you will be able to elect yourself into control of the government?

A: I think it is conceivable, yes.

Q: I mean, that is what you seek? That is your aim?

A: That is the purpose in having candidates to get them elected.

Q: Do you believe you can accomplish the control or acquisition, shall we say, of governmental power by being elected to it?

A: We can accomplish it if we are not interfered with by violence on the part of the capitalists.

Q: You mean, the capitalists are not going to let you be elected?

A: When we say that it is an illusion to expect that we can effect the social transformation by parliamentary action, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do it, or that we wouldn’t gladly accept such a method. We don’t believe, on the basis of our knowledge of history, and on the basis of our knowledge of the greed and rapacity of the American ruling class, that they will permit that kind of a solution.

Q: Then let’s go back to the question that I asked you. You don’t believe that the capitalists, the Sixty Families and what-not, will permit you to be elected to power?

A: No.

Reactionary Legislation and Fascist Violence

Q: How are they going to stop you from doing that – won’t they let the people vote?

A: They can stop it in various ways.

Q: How are they going to do that?

A: They can abrogate elections.

Q: Tell us about that, please.

A: That has been done, you know, so many times and in so many countries, that there is nothing novel about it.

Q: How are they going to do that?

A: By cancelling elections; and you know, we are not the only ones who anticipate such possibilities.

Q: You mean, they are just not going to permit any elections to be had?

A: Even such a public figure as Lindbergh has raised the question seriously whether there will be Congressional elections permitted in 1942. I think he is ahead of time, but it is not necessarily a Trotskyist idea that they will stop elections.

Q: Possibly I haven’t made myself clear. I am trying to find out now, how the capitalists are going to prevent you from being elected into office? You said there were several ways they could do that. One of them is to abrogate elections. Now, I ask you what you mean by that? Do you mean that the capitalists will not permit any elections at all to be held?

A: That is possible, yes.

Q: Is that one way you think you are going to be prevented from being elected into office?

A: That is one way, yes; that has been done.

Q: Here?

Use of Reference to Other Countries

A: Not here yet, no. In France, the Petain government wasn’t elected and doesn’t permit any elections to test it. They put an end to the democratic parliament. I personally think that –

THE COURT: I think, Mr. Cannon, you ought to stick to the text suggested by the question. We are not interested in elections in France at this stage of the proceeding.

Q (By MR. SCHWEINHAUT): Now, I don’t want to prolong this, but I do want you to try to answer me. I want to know again how the capitalists in the United States of America are going to prevent you from being elected into office? Now, you have answered one of the several ways. They are going to stop elections from being held at all.

A: Yes.

Q: Tell us what other ways they are going to prevent you from being elected into office.

A: Another way is to pass discriminatory legislation, penalizing workers’ parties.

Q: Explain that please.

A: Restricting the functioning of workers’ parties, preventing their full freedom of action, which would be necessary to secure parliamentary victories.

Q: And any other ways?

A: Yes. Another way, the most likely way for the Sixty Families, is to organize and subsidize a fascist movement with the aim of destroying the labor movement by force before it has an opportunity to test its strength in elections.

That is the way it was done in Italy; and I would like to explain that I am only using these references to other countries because they throw light on the process that is possible here. It was not my intention to bring in these examples as an extraneous issue. We think capitalist society operates in one country or another according to similar laws under similar conditions.

Q: Now, how are you going to prevent those things from happening? You want to stop them before they happen, I assume?

A: Yes.

Q: How are you going to do that?

Protecting Rights of Workers

A: First of all, we are going to try to assert our rights. We are going to try our best to get the support of enough people, whether they agree with our political theory or not, to maintain the democratic processes and civil rights of all the population. We are going to try to do that.

When we see fascist bands organizing with the aim of breaking up the labor movement, we are going to advise the workers, before it is too late, to organize Workers’ Defense Guards and not permit the fascist hoodlums to break up workers’ organizations and meetings.

Those are two of the most important and immediate ideas we have about protecting the rights of the workers and their possibilities to develop their movement in a democratic process.

Q: Now, suppose there is no abrogation of elections. You are going to continue to propagandize only, is that correct?

A: That is right.

Q: To try to get yourselves elected into office?

A: That is right.

Q: No matter how long it takes?

A: We can’t determine the time at all.

Q: Now how do you expect the capitalists to abrogate the ejections? How will they accomplish that purpose?

A: They can do it in various ways – by decree, by vote of Congress declaring there is a state of emergency which requires dispensing with election struggles, and handing the power over to the President or somebody to rule for this period, which may be long or short – but most likely it would be long.

That is precisely what was done to a legally constituted parliament, elected by the suffrage of the French people, containing representatives of various parties – Socialists, Radical Socialists, Conservative, Communist and other parties. This parliament was dissolved, and a dictator appointed with power to rule the country at his will until further notice. That is what happened just like that (indicating).

Q: Supposing they don’t do those things that you anticipate, and you get yourself elected into control of the government, control of the Senate and the House, let us say, and you elect a President, too. Do you expect then that the Army and Navy are going to turn against you and try to resist your authority?

A: I anticipate that some of the officers would – those who are tied most closely to the upper circles of the ruling class. I would expect some of them to attempt to dispute the authority of the people’s government. That happened in other instances.

How We’ll Try to Prevent Fascism in This Country

Q: Yes, I know you are illustrating by that. I am talking about this country. You have got yourself elected into control of the government now. Now tell us how you expect the resistance against your authority is going to be made. Who is going to do it, and how is it going to be done?

A: It would be done by the agents of the ruling class that is facing dispossession.

Q: Do you expect the Army and Navy of the United States Government to turn its guns against you when you are in duly elected control of the government?

A: Yes, I would expect some of the officers to do it – not all of them. If all of the Army and the Navy would be of such a mind, it would be manifestly impossible to be elected in the first place, because the Army and Navy are more or less in their ranks reflective of the general population, and if we are elected by a majority vote, you can be sure that our popularity in the masses of the people will be reflected in the military establishment. That is always the case.

Q: Well, how would you resist this uprising against you?

A: The same way Lincoln did in 1861.

Q: Would you already have an Army, or would you use the Army that you find standing when you came into power?

“A Wonderfully Good Idea”

A: We will just use what measures are possible. A good section of the American Army and its best officers in 1861 revolted against the authority of the legally elected government of Lincoln. Lincoln took what he could and recruited some more and gave them a fight, and I always thought it was a wonderfully good idea.

Q: But in the meanwhile you want to build, do you not, a workers’ militia?

A: A Workers’ Defense Guard, yes.

Q: I mean, not alone for the purpose of defending the union halls, but for other purposes, isn’t that right? Don’t you want to build, while you are advancing toward power, a workers’ militia? To help you when you get into power?

A: We use the expression “Workers Defense Guard” because that is most American and most easily and precisely defines what we want. The Workers’ Defense Guards will grow in size and strength insofar as the guards have a task to perform, not because we want them to grow.

If the fascists grow and fight the unions, the unions must inevitably counter that movement by developing their defense guards, and if the defense guards are overpowered by fascist gangsters and hoodlums and thugs, the only answer of the unions can be to strengthen the guards, and in the course of that struggle between the fascist gangs and the Workers’ Defense Guards, we hope the Workers’ Defense Guards will grow strong and eventually become a very effective power.

Q: Well, let’s sort of boil the thing down a little bit. You do not expect that you will be able to be elected into office, do you?

A: No, our program says we do not expect that, and for the reasons that I have given you.

Q: But you expect to take power, nevertheless, do you not?

A: Yes, the revolution can’t be stopped by suppression, because the revolution is a tremendous social movement of great masses of people.

Q: So your party looks forward to an inevitable civil war brought about by the difference between your views and those of the capitalists?

A: If you will permit me, I would like to say we don’t look forward to it in the sense of wanting it.

Q: I understand you, yes.

A: And we don’t consider it inevitable. A variation of historical processes is possible.

But we spy the overwhelming weight of probability, based upon historical experience, is that the ruling class of this country will attempt to resolve the conflict with the workers by fascist violence before we gain a majority in Congress, Or if it should come to the point where we gain a majority in a democratic election, the ruling class would stage a slaveholders’ rebellion against it. And we will undertake to put down that rebellion as decisively as possible.

Q: And to that end you want to start in advance to build up a workers’ army, don’t you?

A: You can’t by mere program build up a workers’ army to confront such a thing. The force of the workers will grow up out of their unions, out of their Workers’ Defense Guards, out of the rank and file of the soldiers and the farmers who are in the armed forces, who will not support the slaveholders’ rebellion. We will not be without resources if we have a majority of the people.

Q: I understand that. Now, the setting up of Union Defense Guards in all trade unions would be very beneficial to your program if the resistance you anticipate occurs, wouldn’t it?

A: It will be an absolutely indispensable thing, yes.

Q: So that it is a good idea for your ultimate purposes to have Union Defense Guards right now?

A: It is a good idea, if you can organize them.

But you cannot organize Workers’ Defense Guards merely because you want them – only when there is a pressing need for them that is obvious to the workers, regardless of their agreement with our ideas.

Q: It would be a pleasing thing, would it not, to the Socialist Workers Party to be able to establish workers’ guards in all trade unions for the ultimate purpose of the party?

Defense Guards Will Grow Automatically

A: I would go further than that and say that the establishment of Workers’ Defense Guards is an absolutely automatic process as the unions encounter the violence of fascist hoodlums. Our task will be to accelerate it, to say it is a good idea, build it up and make it stronger and don’t let the fascists break up your movement and drive you into slavery.

But the Guard is not something we can suck out of our fingers. It is a natural process growing out of the development of the struggle and we try to see it in advance, try to accelerate it, try to popularize the idea, convince the workers it is a good thing, and bestir themselves about it.

But no matter how many hooks we write, or how much we holler, we couldn’t organize a Workers’ Defense Guard in any place where a union is operating uninterfered with. That is illustrated, you may say, by way of Minneapolis where we have very good friends and influential comrades in the unions – but when the Silver Shirt menace disappeared, the Union Defense Guard just didn’t find any function, and dropped into quiescence. It can’t be built artificially.

Q: Are you saying that the Union Defense Guard doesn’t exist any longer?

A: I don’t know whether it exists formally, but it doesn’t function, as far as I was able to judge from the testimony.

Q: Now, let me ask you this question: After you get into power, you are going to establish an army, aren’t you?

A: Eventually, yes.

Q: Your Declaration of Principles says the workers’ state will not have a professional army, but will depend upon a mass workers’ militia in which distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished and democratic control over officers will be exercised by the ranks.

A: That has always been the Marxist conception of an army.

Q: Well now, would you mind elaborating on that a little bit.

The Kind of Army a Workers’ State Will Have

A: We want to do away with professional soldiers. The workers’ state would probably for some time need a military establishment even if it came to an agreement with the dispossessed capitalists here to pension them off in return for their submission to the decision of the majority. There is the possibility that a capitalist Europe, a Hitler or something like that, would menace our country, and we would have’ to maintain a military establishment, to defend the country.

Our idea is not to have a professional soldier class except, of course, in technical competence. Every able-bodied citizen would be liable for military service, alternately. The people should be armed.

Q: I think I probably understand that, but specifically will you tell us what this means (reading from the Declaration of Principles): “in which distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished and democratic control over officers will be exercised by the ranks.” Let’s take the first one: “distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished.” What does that mean?

A: There have to be certain people in the military establishment who are proficient in certain techniques – artillery, aircraft, and so on.

The distinctions that we want abolished are the distinctions of privilege in the Army, the distinctions which make it possible for the officers to have greater compensations than the soldier, and not only greater, but so far greater that the officer lives in a different world. It is possible for the officer to marry, to have a social life, to live something like a human being; while the soldier, because of his low wages, is deprived of these possibilities.

If we had our way, we would abolish these distinctions of privilege and secure to every member of the military apparatus a more or less similar compensation, regulation of privileges, and so on. Of course, I don’t say that applies only to the Army. That applies to society in general, in our theory.

Q: The private would be equal to the major-general under that theory, in all respects, to use an extreme basis, I suppose?

Relation of Officers to Men

A: Equal not in his military knowledge – equal not in his military position, but equal in his right to have a decent living and social life. Why shouldn’t he?

Q: I am asking you. Take the captain, would he be able to give orders to his privates?

A: Yes.

Q: Would they have to take the orders?

A: Yes, you can’t have a military establishment without discipline, without command.

Q: What do you mean by “control over officers exercised by the ranks?”

A: We are in favor of the ranks having the privilege of electing their officers in the military establishment, the same way they have the privilege of electing then city officials in civil life, or their union officials in the unions. We believe that on the whole they would get a better grade of officers, and one in whom they would put more confidence, than by having officers imposed upon them. You will get a better discipline because of the democratic right granted to the rank and file to select their officers.

Q: Now, will you have a sort of political commissar, if that is the proper word, which would have control over the officers in the army?

A: Well, that all depends on whether the officers are considered reliable or not.

Q: They had it, I believe, did they not, in Soviet Russia?

A: Yes, in the army after the revolution they had a lot of officers trained in the Czarist regime.

Q: Would that be what you mean by democratic control of the officers?

The Question of Political Commissars

A: No, no, that is an entirely different thing. By democratic control of the officers, we mean the right of the ranks to elect them and to recall them.

Q: But would you have any representative of the state administrative office, or whatever you call it, with the troops, and in control of the officers?

A: You are speaking of the institution of commissars in the Russian army?

Q: I don’t know whether I am or not. I am asking you.

A: I will explain that, but that is a different point. In the reconstituted army, organized by Trotsky after the revolution, they naturally had to rely on tens of thousands of officers, who had been trained under the Czarist regime. The workers had had no chance to train any of their people to be officers. Many officers rallied to the support of the Soviet government, for various reasons. Some of them became converted to the revolution. Others remained hostile to the revolution but were patriotic to the country, and were willing to fight to defend it against the interventionists. Others reconciled themselves to reality, and made the best of it.

But many of them, naturally, were considered politically unreliable. The control exercised by commissars over them was not a control from the ranks such as we propose by election. This was control from the top by the government. The commissar was appointed as a trusted representative of the central government to work with the officer and see that he conducted himself loyally. That is what was worked out in life in the Russian experience.

We haven’t even mentioned it in our program, because we don’t know what will happen here.

I should add that insofar as these officers became assimilated into the new regime, and new officers were trained, the necessity for the commissar over the officer of doubtful loyalty was eliminated, and to that extent the institution was reduced.

Q: I would like to know whether or not having those political commissars is embraced within the program of the Socialist Workers Party?

A: No, I don’t think it is stated in our program.

Q: I am asking you.

A: No, it is neither incorporated nor rejected. It is one of numerous ideas that remain to be answered.

Q: They had the same system in the Spanish Civil War recently, didn’t they?

A: To some extent they did, yes.

Example of Need for Military Training

Q: Will you explain to us a little bit, or use the Spanish Civil War as an illustration of the desirability of your own program that there be training under trade union control and that sort of thing? Will you elaborate on that for us a little bit?

A: I mentioned that the People’s Front coalition secured a majority in the elections. The reactionary minority then revolted and started a rebellion by armed force, taking with them a considerable section of the staff of the army.

On the other hand, as is nearly always the case, a section of the staff remained loyal to the legally constituted government. A large section of the ranks remained loyal to the government, as was the case here in our Civil War – there was a division in the army.

The workers previously had clamored for arms, but the Popular Front government had refused to give them arms, and delayed so long that the workers hadn’t acquired any training in the use of arms. That is one of the reasons for the victory of fascism in Spain.

The workers’ organizations were the most aggressive opponents of the fascists. Our party in Spain, while it did not give political support to the People’s Front government, did support and participate in the military struggle to beat back the fascists, fought in the army side by side with the republicans and democrats and so on.

The unions and workers’ organizations found that they could organize and equip and put men in the field far better through their own machinery than they could through the People’s Front government. The powerful unions there organized their own regiments. The political parties organized their own regiments, and they were incorporated in the fighting lines side by side with the republicans and the official forces, and fought together. Without them, a serious military struggle wouldn’t have been possible in Spain.

If the workers of Spain had had opportunity for military training in the previous years, particularly had they had a chance to train men to be officers, I think it is quite possible that the military outcome in Spain would have been different.

Q: Let me ask you this: The Loyalist Army during the war had adopted, had it not, a theory of democratic control over officers and election of officers somewhat like that advocated by your party?

A: I believe to a certain extent that prevailed at first in some of the regiments controlled by the unions. Whether it prevailed in the army as a whole, I don’t really know. I am not acquainted with sufficient intimacy with the military side of the Spanish Civil War to know that.

The Election of Officers

Q: Your party believes that the present army of the United States should be run that way, doesn’t it?

A: Yes, we believe the ranks should have the right to elect their officers.

Q: Right now?

A: Right now.

Q: And in the event we get into the war?

A: Yes, all the more so then, because then it is all the more important to the ranks of the soldiers to have officers that they want and that they can trust because they are going into dangerous situations. It is a very, very unhappy business to be sent into danger of one’s life under officers who are not trusted.

Q: Your party members are instructed, are they not, to continue to be faithful to the party principles and theories after they are inducted into the Army?

A: They are not instructed, but it is taken for granted that a man who is educated in our movement never forsakes his principles under any circumstances.

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: Would your Honor be willing to suspend at this point?

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and we shall observe it. I hope you have a pleasant day and a comfortable one.

You will please keep in mind the admonitions of the court. We will recess now until ten o’clock on Friday morning.

(Whereupon, at 4:35 o’clock p.m., a recess was regularly taken until 10:00 o’clock a.m., Friday; November 21, 1941.)

Schweinhaut Reads Some Quotations

November 21, 1941
10:00 o’clock a.m.

One of the defendants, previously sworn, recalled, testified as follows:


Q: Mr. Cannon, I want to read to you a clause from the Communist Manifesto, about which Mr. Goldman interrogated you on Friday or whenever it was:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”

Does that represent the Party’s view or not?

A: Insofar as it is incorporated in the Declaration of Principles it does. We have interpreted that, as all other Marxist writings, in our own way, as it appears in the Declaration of Principles.

Q: You will agree, will you not, that, taken as it stands, and without anything else, it amounts to advocacy of the overthrow of the Government by force?

A: No, I do not interpret it that way.

Q: You do not agree that that is what that means?

A: We do not interpret it that way, but in the Declaration of Principles

Q: I am asking you whether or not, taking this language alone, and without anything else, do you not agree that it amounts to advocacy of the overthrow of Government by force?

A: No, not necessarily because the authors of that same document, in the statement that I cited the other day, stated specifically that they thought their aims could be attained, at least in England, by the process of parliamentary democracy.

Q: Now, you know that that is not in answer to my question, don’t you, Mr. Cannon? Let me ask you this, please: Taking that language which I just read to you alone, and without anything else, don’t you agree that it amounts to advocacy of overthrow of Government by force?

A: No, I don’t think so, because the authors themselves have interpreted it differently at least in the case of England.

Q: All right – we will let that go. When you give out the Communist Manifesto to your members, do you caution them against that sentence?

A: I don’t know, particularly, that we do. We publish it as a historic document, 93 years old.

Q: You would expect the members of the Party, when they read that, to understand when they read it, that it does not represent the views of the Party, and that it does not advocate overthrow of Government by force?

A: We expect the members of the Party to be governed by the Declaration of Principles.

Reforms and Revolution

Q: Now, I wish to read to you from the Founding Conference of the Fourth International, where I find this phrase: “The strategical task of the Fourth International lies not in reforming capitalism but in its overthrow.” Doesn’t that mean that

you do not even intend to attempt anything by legislative reformation?

A: No, it does not mean that.

Q: What does it mean?

A: On the contrary, we are constantly proposing legislative changes.

Q: What does that sentence mean to you, as found there?

A: We do not expect to attain the final aims of Socialism by the reformation of capitalism which we consider an outlived system. Meanwhile, we are constantly looking out, on the road to the time when we will be able to accomplish our final aims, for suitable occasions to propose timely reforms.

Q: Isn’t it a fact that throughout your literature there is constant ridicule of any idea of reforms?

A: We do not think the final aims of socialism can be accomplished by reforming a state or system which has to be replaced. But we do not consider reforms and revolution incompatible, not at all.

Formulations and Interpretation

Q: Now, I find this line in The Revolution of 1905 by Lenin: “It is our duty – ”

MR. GOLDMAN: That was not admitted in evidence, Your Honor.

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: I am not saying it was. I want to ask the witness something about it.

Q (Continued): “It is our duty in time of an uprising to exterminate ruthlessly all the chiefs of the civil and military authorities.” Does that represent the Party’s views?

A: No, we have never made any such declaration.

Q: You disagree with that?

A: Yes, I don’t know that that is in any way a statement of our Party policy.

Q: That is part of the philosophy and dogma of Lenin with which you do not agree – is that correct?

A: We do not agree with the extermination of anybody unless it is in case of an actual armed struggle, when the rules of war apply.

Q: Then in the event that your Party leads an uprising, would you agree then that the chiefs of the civil and military authorities should be exterminated ruthlessly?

A: I do not want to be made responsible, or I do not want the Party made responsible, for such statements that are not in our official declarations.

Q: But you have told us that the basic views of Lenin are the basic views of the Socialist Workers Party, have you not?

A: That is right and I told you at the same time that that does not mean that we take every letter and line written by Lenin as dogma.

Q: And this is one that you do not regard as dogma, is that right?

A: Certainly not with the interpretation you give it.

Q: I am not giving it any interpretation. I am reading it and asking you if that represents the Party’s program.

Now, in the Socialist Appeal of April 14, 1939, there is an editorial entitled, Court Attacks Menace Labor’s Right to Live and Fight. It says among other things, “If it is necessary to violate an injunction there should be no hesitation to do so. If it is necessary to disregard a decision it should be disregarded.” Doesn’t that mean that you do not believe in waiting to get control of the Government, so as to change the system; that you are going to openly resist and defy constituted authority today?

A: I do not agree that that is a correct statement of our policy, and I do not think it is embraced in the Declaration of Principles.

Q: No, it is not, but do you agree with the sentence I read to you?

A: No, I do not agree with that statement.

Q: Then your editors made a mistake when they said that?

A: I think so, yes.

Q: There never was any correction of it, was there?

A: I don’t know. I am not familiar with it.

Q: Well now, you have sort of supervisory power over the editorial staff, do you not?

A: Yes, as a member of the Political Committee.

Q: You do not recall any correction of it, do you?

A: I read our press, but not every word of it. I see, quite frequently, items in the paper, which I consider errors in writing, and I know it is impossible to have a paper published under these conditions without careless and foolish statements being made in it from time to time.

Q: And you agree that this is both careless and foolish – is that true?

A: I think so, yes.

Q: Don’t you agree that it is entirely consonant and consistent with the general editorial policy of the Party press?

A: No, I never wrote that way, to my knowledge.

Q: I am not asking you whether you ever wrote that way or not. Is that statement I read to you consistent with the regular policy of your editorial staff?

A: No, I don’t think so. I do not know of any case where the most responsible leaders of our Party have used such language. I do not think you can find it in the writings of Mr. Goldman, or in my writings.

Q: Wouldn’t you call your editors responsible leaders of your Party?

A: Yes, but there are various people who work on the staff of the paper – as I told you the other day, the paper has to go to press at a certain hour. Not all the editorials are written by the responsible editor. Careless language and foolish statements are quite possible, and I would say, inevitable, in the publication of a periodical paper such as ours, the same as any other paper.

Q: Let me read to you some quotations from the publication What is Trotskyism, designated as Outline Course No. 2, by Jack Weber, also distributed by your Party: “To realize socialism Marxism posits that it is first necessary to destroy the state machinery of the capitalist ruling class: namely, the army, the police and the state bureaucracy.” And then: “The policy of Marxism remains that of utilizing the war and the arming of the workers to further the interests of the world revolution, to turn the imperialist war into civil war, to look upon the bourgeoisie at home as the main enemy.” And then: “The working class cannot win power by pursuing a policy of pacifism.” Doesn’t that mean that you and your Party intend, in the forthcoming war, if we get into it, to use that means for fomenting civil war?

We Will Offer the Alternative of Socialism to War

A: I Would not put it in such a bald manner as that. I have explained here in some detail that we would continue to propagate our ideas under all circumstances, insofar as we are permitted to do so. We believe that the prolongation of the war conducted by the imperialist powers, will have the inevitable effect of accelerating the decay of the system represented by the imperialist powers, of increasing the mass misery and discontent, and the demand for cessation of the slaughter, and our Party will certainly undertake to offer to the public in such a situation the alternative of socialism, that is right.

Q: And you will seek to utilize war, during the war, to destroy the present form of Government, will you not?

A: Well, that is no secret, that we want to change this form of government.

Q: And you look forward, do you not, to the forthcoming war as the time when you may be able to accomplish that?

A: Yes, I think the forthcoming war will unquestionably weaken the imperialist governments in all countries.

Q: You said, I believe, that you will not support the war? You do not believe in National Defense at all, do you?

A: Not in imperialist countries, no.

Q: I am speaking of this country?

A: I believe 100 percent in defending this country by our own means, but I do not believe in defending the imperialist governments of the world –

Q: I am speaking about the Government of the United States as it is now constitutionally constituted. You do not believe in defending that, do you?

A: Not in a political sense, no.

Q: You do not believe in defending it in any sense, do you?

A: I explained the other day, that if the majority of the people decide on war, and participate in the war, our people and the people under our influence will also participate in the war. We do not sabotage the war, we do not obstruct it, but we continue to propagate our ideas, calling for a cessation of the war and calling for a change in government.

What We Mean By ‘Good Soldiers’

Q: Do you mean by that statement that your people, when inducted into the army, would be good soldiers?

A: Yes.

Q: And that they would seek to further the military efforts of the United States?

A: We say that our people must be good soldiers in the army, in the same sense that they are good workers in the factory, and good unionists in the union. Otherwise, they could not possibly have any influence over their comrades.

Q: How can you reconcile that statement with the statement appearing in the Socialist Appeal of August 1, 1939: “A Socialist who preaches national defense is a petty bourgeois reactionary at the services of a decaying capitalism.” How do you reconcile your previous answer to my question, with the statement made there?

A: We are not in favor of defending the present regime. We are opposed to the present regime.

Q: And your members who are soldiers in the army, when they are inducted into the army, will be opposed to it?

A: So far as their ideas are concerned, yes, so far as their expression of opinion is concerned, insofar as they are permitted to express their opinion.

We do not believe in capitalist authority and direction in the factory, either, but as long as we are in the minority and cannot prevent it, we work in the factory, and insist that our people be good workers.

A: And while you are working in the factory, you try to do everything you can to fight against the bosses?

A: We do everything we can in the way of explaining and propagandizing to our fellow-workers the idea that it is better for them to own the factories than to be wage-workers under the control of a private owner.

Q: And personally, you ridicule the idea of defending the United States Government, don’t you?

A: In the sense of giving political support to all forms of capitalist government, yes.

Q: I will read from one of your own speeches, and see whether that means political opposition. On November 14, 1939, in a speech of yours, you said –

A: What was the date again?

When We Will Support War

Q: November 14, 1939. This speech of yours was reported in the Internal Bulletin, for members only. You said:

“Some comrades speak nowadays of giving ‘conditional’ defense of the Soviet Union. If you stop to think about it we are for conditional defense of the United States. It is so stated in the program of the Fourth International. In the event of war we will absolutely defend the country on only one small ‘condition’; that we first overthrow the government of the capitalists and replace it with a government of the workers.”

Did you mean political opposition by that?

A: I meant, that in that case we would withdraw our political opposition and become political supporters as well as military participants of the war.

Q: Do you think that statement is consistent with what I just read, which was stated by you in your speech?

A: That is what I meant by it. We have never at any time said we would not fight in the army of the United. States along-

side of the rest of our generation, in time of war. We said, “We will not give political support to war.”

Q: Let’s see whether your statement in the Declaration of Principles is consistent with what you just said: (Reading)

“If, in spite of the efforts of the revolutionists and the militant workers, the U.S. government enters a new war, the S.W.P. will not under any circumstances support that war but will on the contrary fight against it. The S.W.P. will advocate the continuance of the class struggle during the war regardless of the consequences for the outcome of the American military struggle; and will try to prepare the masses to utilize the war crisis for the overthrow of U.S. capitalism and the victory of socialism.”

Does that mean that you are supporting the war effort?

A: No, I have never said that we support the war effort. We do not. We oppose it.

Q: And could one of your Party members observe that principle and be a good soldier?

A: He could; he not only could, but he will, in the same way that he can be a good worker in a shop while opposing wage labor in the shop. We cannot prevent it as long as we are in the minority.

Q: The Declaration of Principles also says: “The Socialist Workers Party opposes and will continue at all times to oppose every form of social-patriotism, all advocacy of ‘national union’ or ‘suspension of the class struggle’ during war time” –

A: That is under conditions of a capitalist government.

Q: You mean under the present conditions in this country today, do you not?

A: That is right.

Q: But still you say that you would not obstruct the military? .

A: No, not in a military sense.

Q: I want to ask you whether what I am about to read now does not mean that you want to foment and bring about a civil war, from the pamphlet Are You Ready for War published by the Fourth International, Young Peoples Socialist League:

“Do we believe in turning imperialist war into civil war? This is the way by which the Russian workers secured peace in 1917 while their brothers in other lands were still struggling under the yoke of imperialism. This is the only way by which permanent peace can be gained and war abolished from the face of the earth.”

Doesn’t that mean that you intend to foment and deliberately try to bring about civil war during the forthcoming period of war?

A: Conditions mature for the development of a revolutionary movement in war-time. We continue our opposition to the imperialist system, the imperialist regime, and try to lead it in the direction of socialism. There is no doubt whatever but what that is the aim of our Party.

Q: This is from one. of your convention resolutions to the same general effect, and I suppose your answer would be the same:

“If the working class is unable to prevent the outbreak of war, and the United States enters directly into it, our party stands pledged to the traditional position of revolutionary Marxism. It will utilize the crisis of capitalist rule engendered by the war to prosecute the class struggle with the utmost intransigence, to strengthen the independent labor and revolutionary movement, and to bring the war to a close by the revolutionary overturn of capitalism and the establishment of proletarian rule in the form of a workers’ state.”

Is that your idea of not obstructing the military effort of this country?

A: Yes, that is a clear statement of our aims. We are going to oppose the war; we are going to speak against it.

Q: Do you suggest that this language means that you will only speak against it?

Political Opposition Does Not Mean Sabotage

A: If you try to construe that to mean that we are going to instruct our people, or the people under our influence, to obstruct the military prosecution of the war, to break discipline, to commit sabotage, to create actions of this kind, that does not mean that. It means political opposition.

Q: Reading now from the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, I read this: “Every rank and file member of our organization is not only entitled but is duty bound to consider himself henceforth an officer in the revolutionary army which will be created in the flame of events.” Do you think your members could be good soldiers and not obstruct the military effort if they obeyed that principle?

A: That does not necessarily mean officers in a military sense. When we speak of the revolutionary army, we use it in many senses. We speak of the Party as the revolutionary army; we speak of the movement of the proletariat as the revolutionary army; not always in a military sense. That would not mean literally in a military sense because –

Q: I am not asking you if it does. I am asking whether one could be a good soldier in the American army and obey that principle?

A: Yes, if not, he would not have influence enough to be an officer anywhere.

Q: Let me read to you from one of your speeches on military policy, appearing in the Socialist Appeal of October 26, 1940:

“How do we work in a conscript army, someone asked. We work the same way as in a shop. Indeed, the main purpose of industry now is supplying the army. Where would you draw the line? There is hardly an industry that won’t be mobilized either for the manufacture or transportation of materials for the army. The masses are in the army, or working to supply the army. The workers are subject to military exploitation. We go in and defend the interests of the slaves of military exploitation, just as we go into the factory and fight against the capitalist exploitation there. Our basic line everywhere is the class line.

“The second point is to be careful, cautious. Make no putsches, make no premature moves that expose us and separate us from the masses. Go with the masses. Be with the masses, just as the Bolsheviks were in Kerensky’s army. Why can’t we do that here? And how otherwise can we do it? How otherwise, in a world dominated by militarism, can we see our way to world salvation except through military means? And how can we get these military means except by penetrating the army as it exists?”

You mean by that, do you not, that you want your members, when inducted into the army service, to preach your doctrines to other soldiers in the army, and thereby defend them against military exploitation by their commanding officers? Isn’t that a fair statement of what that means?

Favor Defending Soldiers’ Rights

A: Our Party is in favor of defending the rights of the rank and file soldiers, their democratic rights to decent treatment, their rights to express their opinions and to petition Congress, to elect their officers, at least their lower officers, generally protecting them against capitalist mistreatment.

Q: And that is what you want your members that are in the army now to do, to speak in favor of and to propagate those ideas?

A: Yes.

Q: In the army?

A: In the same way that they do it in the shop.

Q: But you do not think that would obstruct the military effort of the army?

A: If you will read that again you will see that we do not want any putsches. We say to the members “Do not make any putsches, and do not obstruct the army.” It is our direct instruction to our people not to create obstruction of the military operation, but to confine their efforts to propagandistic work, to gain the sympathy and support of the rank and file masses.

Q: And you believe that your people can propagate that kind of stuff in the army and not obstruct the military efforts?

A: Yes, I think so. I think military life, as a matter of fact, will be a whole lot better, the more the rights and feelings of the rank and file soldiers are considered. The whole conception of militarism based on a rank and file without organization rights, and with arbitrary discipline imposed from above, without any expression of opinion or consideration for the feelings of the masses – we are just as much against that in the army as in the factory or in civil life.

Q: And the way you are talking now is the way you want your members to talk in the army, is it?

A: Each in his own way.

Our Independent Tasks in Time of War

Q: Now, on June 29, 1940, the Socialist Appeal published this from the report of the Manifesto of the Fourth International:

“Independently of the course of the war, we fulfill our basic task: We explain to the workers the irreconcilability between their interests and the interest of bloodthirsty capitalism; we mobilize the toilers against imperialism; we propagate the unity of the workers in all warring and neutral countries; we call for the fraternization of workers and soldiers within each country, and of soldiers with soldiers on the opposite side of the battle front; we mobilize the women and youth against the war; we carry on constant, persistent, tireless preparation of the revolution – in the factories, in the mills, in the villages, in the barracks, at the front and in the fleet.”

You want the soldiers to do that, don’t you?

How to End the Slaughter

A: Yes, I think that is a summation of the idea, for the soldiers and everybody to do that. That is the way to put an end to this slaughter.

Q: And you do not think that promulgating those ideas in the army during the war would obstruct the military efforts?

A: Not in the sense of opening up the front for the advantage of opposing armies, no. We are offering this solution to the soldiers of all the imperialist armies, but it does not mean and could not mean in any sense that we want to sabotage the operation of the American Army in the interests of an opposing army. You will not find it there, or anywhere else in our literature.

Q: Well, that is a difference in points of view. In the Socialist Appeal of March 30, 1940, appears this editor’s note in the Workers Forum, which says: “Entering the Army upon being drafted is necessary for our work.” What do you mean by that?

A: Is there a connecting sentence with it?

Q: It is from Exhibit 215-A. Mr. Smith will get that for us. While Mr. Smith is looking for that, I will ask you about this from the Socialist Appeal of June 29, 1940, an article entitled Enlistment Lag Forces Compulsion:

“Meanwhile, let the workers remember this. When they are conscripted, let them not waste the period they spend in the Army. They must learn everything there is to be learned about military training so that when the time comes they can use that training for the interests of the labor movement.”

What do you mean by that?

A: Meaning that the better trained the workers are, the better instructed in tactics and in military arts, the better they will be able to defend their socialist regime against the efforts of the minority reactionaries to overthrow it.

Q: This is the context from the Workers Forum, editor’s note, March 30, 1940:

“We follow Lenin; we oppose war, not as a measure of self-expression, but as an integral part of our struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Entering the Army upon being drafted is necessary for our work.”

A: For our people, or people under our influence, to refuse to accept conscription, the only thing they would accomplish would be to simply isolate themselves from the generation who are going to decide things in the future, and such individual or minority actions are utterly false and incompatible with the aims of a Party that can only realize its program by support of the majority.

That is why we oppose conscientious objectors, and why we oppose draft-evaders. We oppose all people who try to set themselves up as individuals against the majority. Our policy is to submit to the decision of the majority, but to oppose it in our political activities, to speak against it.

Q: In October 1938, you made a speech on Ten Years of the Fight to Build a Revolutionary Party in the United States in which you said this:

“In the great Minneapolis strikes ‘Trotskyism’ revealed itself in the most dramatic fashion, as no bookman’s dogma but a guide to the most militant and most effective action.”

What did you mean by that?

A: That in the strike in Minneapolis in 1934 some comrades affiliated with our Party played a leading influence, or a part of the leading influence, and demonstrated in practice that the principles of Trotskyism are the best and most effective principles, and can be applied most effectively in the interests of the workers.

Q: Would this be a demonstration of this principle? In The Militant of July 12, 1941, under the heading, Local 544-CIO’s Proud and Stainless Record, this was said:

“During the first drivers’ strike of May 1934, the employers threw against the embattled transport workers the entire police force of Minneapolis and 5,000 special deputies armed with clubs and guns. In a historic battle – the ‘Battle of Bull’s Run’ – the drivers fought the police and deputies to a standstill and chased them off the streets of the city.”

Is that Trotskyism demonstrating itself?

A: Well, I can give you my own opinion, that I am mighty proud of the fact that Trotskyism had some part in influencing the workers to protect themselves against that sort of violence.

Q: Well, what kind of violence do you mean?

A: This was what the deputies were organized for, to drive the workers off the street. They got a dose of their own medicine. I think the workers have a right to defend themselves. If that is treason, you can make the most of it.

Defending the Legality of the Russian Revolution

Q: When you were tracing the history of the Russian revolution, you said this:

“The Kerensky government was losing ground because it was not solving any problems of the people. The Bolsheviks’ slogans of ‘Bread’ and other slogans – those were the slogans that the masses wanted. The Bolsheviks got a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. On November 7th was held the Congress of the all-Russian Soviets. The Bolsheviks had a majority there, and simultaneously with the meeting of the all-Russian Soviet, where the Bolsheviks had a majority, they took the power from the government.”

Now, do you want us to understand from that, that the Bolsheviks took power by virtue of a majority vote of the Congress of the Soviets?

A: That is right.

Q: Do you not mean that the contrary was true?

A: No, I do not.

Q: Don’t you know that there was a planned insurrection before the Congress, and that the insurrection actually took place before the Congress met?

A: No. The Congress met the morning after the struggle had begun, and confirmed the new government.

Q: The fact is that the insurrection was started and was completed before the Congress ever met, isn’t it?

A: No, the power was in the Congress, and the Congress was the real power.

Q: Well, just answer my question, please. Isn’t it a fact that the insurrection had been planned and actually carried out before the Congress ever met?

A: No. The question was submitted to the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets on November 7th. That is why they call it the November 7th Revolution.

Q: Don’t you know, further, that Lenin persistently warned against waiting for the Congress and doing it in a legal way?

A: Oh, that was one time that Lenin was overruled.

Q: And who won?

A: Trotsky won.

Q: Isn’t it also a fact that Trotsky ridiculed the notion that it was done legally?

A: No, on the contrary, Trotsky commented on the legal sanction of the action by the Soviets. That was why it was delayed to November 7th.

Q: Isn’t it also true that he lulled Kerensky into inaction by pretending to wait until the Congress met, so that it could be decided legally who was to take power?

A: He did not pretend to wait. He waited.

Schweinhaut Reads from Trotsky

Q: I submit that the contrary is true, in that Mr. Trotsky said so, and I would like to read to you about ten pages or so from the Lessons of October, and then you can tell me whether I am right or wrong.

(MR. SCHWEINHAUT reads from pages 74 and 80 of Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)

MR. GOLDMAN: I submit, Your Honor, that this book was ruled out of evidence. I have no objection if he wants to read one or two or perhaps three sentences, but to take advantage of cross-examination and put into evidence what the Court has ruled out, I think is going a little too far.

THE COURT: Well, this has to do, I assume, with the dispute between counsel and witness, as to the facts with reference to which the witness takes one position and counsel takes another. Now this is an attempt to impeach the statements of the witness by the means indicated. I assume he has a right to do that. He may continue to read it.

MR. GOLDMAN: Exception.

(MR. SCHWEINHAUT reads pages 80-91 from Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: Now, am I right or wrong, Mr. Cannon, that the insurrection actually started and was concluded before the Soviet Congress put its seal of legality on it?

Cannon Explains a Little History

A: If you will permit me, I will show you where you are wrong. You misunderstand the whole thing; my authority for the evidence I gave here was Trotsky. He wrote the most authoritative and authentic history of the Revolution. Perhaps I should mention several things to show where you are wrong:

First, those pages you have read show that there were three different opinions in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Lenin said they had a majority, and they should take the power without waiting. There was the opinion of Zinoviev and Kamenev who thought the Bolsheviks did not have a majority and should not take the power. And the third opinion was Trotsky’s that they could base the assumption of power on the legality of the Soviets.

Second: those pages you read prove that both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks derived their authority from the Soviets. In November it became clear that the Bolsheviks had won the majority in the Soviets. Kerensky, who formerly had the majority in the Soviets, prepared to move troops from the capital. What did the troops do? The troops refused to go until ordered by the Congress of Soviets. The Congress of the Soviets convened on November 7th. It was revealed that the Bolsheviks had the majority, and their assumption of power was confirmed.

In this all-Russian Congress of Soviets were present the other parties who had been the majority of yesterday. They spoke and debated there. When the vote was taken, the Bolsheviks had the majority. The Bolsheviks offered to give proportionate places in the government to the other parties. They refused and walked off. The Bolsheviks did, as a matter of fact, incorporate into the government a section of Kerensky’s party, the left wing of the Social Revolutionary Party.

It seems to me that here is an excellent illustration of how a revolutionary party, after long propagandistic work, succeeded in a political crisis in winning over to its side a majority of the population represented in the most authoritative body, the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. And the Bolsheviks, adapting themselves to the legality of this authoritative body –

Q: Now, just a minute. Are you still telling us how it occurred, or are you just telling us now that you think it was a mighty fine thing?

A: No, I am explaining the legality of the development, as against your interpretation that it was illegal. And it seems to me –

Q: I don’t want your opinion on that. If you want to go on and tell us what happened, all right. Don’t characterize it.

A: I don’t think you will ever get a more legal revolution than that.

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: That is all.

Last updated on 23 March 2019