Hal Draper

Presenting the Case of the Workers Party
before the Board of Regents in Albany –

Independent Socialism and ‘Subversive’ Lists

Speech by Hal Draper at Feinberg Law Hearing

(14 July 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 31, 1 August 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On July 14 the Board of Regents of New York State held a hearing in Albany for the purpose of determining a list of “subversive organizations” in accordance with the Feinberg Law, passed by the state legislature to bar from the schools any teacher belonging to such an organization. (See last week’s Labor Action for the story on the hearing.) Five organizations – the Workers Party, the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the IWW and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party – were invited to attend, present written statements and make an “oral argument” on why they are not subversive.

The presentation of the case for the Workers Party, which since April has been replaced by the Independent Socialist League, was made by Hal Draper, editor of Labor Action and acting national chairman of the ISL in the absence of Max Shachtman. His oral argument before the board is given here in full. As noted last week, no oral testimony was recorded at the hearing. The text as given here was drawn up by Comrade Draper on the basis of the detailed notes used when delivering his speech in Albany. – Ed.


I do not want to spend any time now on our condemnation of the Feinberg Law, especially in view of the fact that so many excellent arguments have already been made on that score by the preceding speakers. I realize that the law has been passed by the state legislature which has – unfortunately – foisted upon this committee the task of implementing it. I want rather to discuss the question which is directly before this committee hearing: whether or not the Workers Party was “subversive” as defined in the act.

However, I cannot resist making one comment in passing on the law itself before taking this up.

One – not the only one and not even the most important one, perhaps, but one of the reasons for our condemnation of the Feinberg Law and similar laws is precisely the fact that it makes it possible for supporters and defenders of the most brutal and despotic tyranny on earth, Russia, to come before this committee and elsewhere and pose as defenders of democracy, as Mrs. Gates of the Communist Party did a while ago.

It is such laws and such practices by government agencies in the U.S. which make it easy for the Communist Party to dupe followers and sympathizers, hypocritically and demagogically (and with excellent arguments too!), while at the same time they laud the Russian prison-state. For our part, as democratic socialists, we do not condone such police measures when they are practised by the Russian government, and we cannot condone them when practised by the American government.

But, as I said, I want to discuss the Workers Party’s relationship to the Feinberg Law. And on this point I come before you as the representative of an organization which is, in one respect, in a somewhat different position from that of the other groups here. You have already been told that the attorney general’s “subversive” list was drawn up without any hearings or presentation of evidence. Well, we have had a hearing of a sort, at least.

If occurred, to be sure, somewhat accidentally and without any thanks to the attorney general’s office. Itwas a hearing by a president’s loyalty review board; and it resulted in a decision which cleared the Workers Party and in effect reversed the opinion of the attorney general. As far as I know, we are the only organization in whose case the listing of the attorney general was thus in effect overruled.

(I should make one thing clear before going ahead, though I think the committee already understands it. You invited the Workers Party to this hearing. Well, last April, at the last convention of the Workers Party, it was decided to dissolve the Workers Party as a political party and establish in its stead a league for the popularization of the ideas of socialism; the Independent Socialist League was adopted as the name. The Workers Party therefore no longer exists, but the last thing we wanted was any suspicion that this action was taken in order in any way to circumvent or “get around” the attorney general’s listing. We even sent a letter to the attorney general’s office informing him of the change and stating that the ISL would continue all efforts to remove the name of the Workers Party from the list. That is also why I am here this afternoon.)

Board Cleared WP

The case I mentioned just before came up in the Department of Commerce. The man involved was charged with being a supporter of the Workers Party. He not only admitted this charge but stated that he had personally helped the Workers Party in its activities; that he had contributed money to it; that he had helped to distribute its literature. There was therefore no purely personal issue involved.

The hearing on his case was transformed into a hearing on the character and ideas of the Workers Party. The president’s loyalty review board, a national board of the Department of Commerce, headed by Oliver C. Short, permitted him to call witnesses to testify. Max Shachtman, the national chairman of the Workers Party (now national chairman of the ISL), was called before the board and cross-examined thoroughly and at length by counsel and by the members of the board on the beliefs and activities and organization of the Workers Party. Professor C. Wright Mills was called before the board to testify on the subject.

This, you see, while far from perfect, was something of a real hearing, unlike the drumhead procedure of the attorney general.

And this, the first thing resembling a real hearing on the attorney general’s listing, resulted in the clearing of the Workers Party of the charge of “subversiveness.” The man involved was reinstated in his job, solely as the result of the board’s conclusion on the nature of the Workers Party. The attorney general’s opinion was, as I’ve said, in effect reversed.

Now it would seem evident that your committee should take this occurrence as a very important consideration. Naturally, we do not suggest that you should take the word of the president’s loyalty review board any more than you should take the word of the attorney general. But certainly the status of the Workers Party, with respect to “subversive” listing is now, to say the least, anomalous.

If has been impugned by one government agency – without a hearing and without any presentation of evidence. it has been cleared by another government agency – after a hearing and presentation of evidence.

We are anxious for such a hearing in this case, for the most thorough examination of the organization. But this hearing today – is it to be of such a nature, that is, at least as much of a hearing as was vouchsafed by the president’s loyalty review board?

Can the FBI Be Trusted?

You have already heard a number of criticisms of the strange procedure of the attorney general. Permit me to say a few words about this also, especially in contrast to what I have told you about the Department of Commerce board.

We were invited here by the Board of Regents, because the Workers Party was listed by the attorney general, to submit a written statement and to make an “oral argument.” Excellent! We are to be heard. But on what?

The charge that the Workers Party is “subversive”? Well, we have denied that – in detail, as I shall do shortly also.

No evidence of any sort has ever been presented to us to back up this general charge, as you know. And so I am forced to wonder: On what basis, on whdt possible basis, can your committee come to the conclusion, after this hearing, that the Workers Party is subversive?

Because the FBI says so? But, gentlemen, consider the following:

  1. The Feinberg Law says that it is the Board of Regents that is to make up your subversive list, not the FBI. If your conscience permits you to put the Workers Party on the list because of the FBI’s say-so, then no hearing is necessary at all, not even this hearing.
  2. Can the board – or any other citizens – trust the FBI’s say-so? In asking this question, I am not even referring to the fact which Fred Thompson of the IWW mentioned before: Attorney General Tom Clark’s characterization of himself as the biggest fool in the United States. Tom Clark is not the FBI, to be sure.

    But first of all I should like to call your attention to something which appears only in today’s newspaper [the New York Times). William Hastie, the governor of the Virgin Islands, who is in the most responsible governmental post achieved by a Negro In this country – no irresponsible personage, you see – is quoted as stating that the FBI has put groups on the subversive list because they are interracial! That is Governor Hastie saying that, not I, not some radical!

    Are you sure you can trust the FBI’s say-so?
  3. But let’s say Governor Hastie is wrong. Let us even say that the FBI is a politically and socially unprejudiced body. Let’s say that, at any rate. Well then –

Is the FBI to be considered infallible in its judgments – never, mistaken, that its say-so can be taken? Are men to be deprived of their livelihood and career, as the Feinberg Law requires, because an FBI clerk makes a notation on a filecard? with no check?

Ask yourselves simply this: Is the FBI nearer infallibility on cases of “subversion” than it is on criminal charges? Remember, please, that the FBI is also supposed to deal with catching criminals. In the case of criminal charges, it has to present EVIDENCE, not its say-so, to be democratically judged by others.

Let’s say that in even 90 per cent of its cases, it succeeds in making its charge stick, with evidence. In 10 per cent – or 20 per cent, or whatever it is – of the cases, its charges are thrown out, after it is compelled to submit its evidence. So it is not infallible. Why should its say-so be taken by anyone in the case of subversive charges, with not a scintilla of evidence submitted for public judgment?

But let us say that the board does not take the FBI’s say-so. It has the FBI submit evidence to it. This evidence is whispered in its ears – I say that because we haven’t heard it.

What is the worth of this evidence? I don’t know. More important, I do not see how the board can know – unless it does what elementary democracy demands, unless it submits it for possible refutation and disproof, confronts the accused with it and hears the other side.

For example:

Let’s See the Evidence!

In response to an inquiry made before, you Chairman Moot, stated that no fascist organization was invited to this hearing because the attorney general did not present any such names to you as being subversive under the terms of the Feinberg Law; you added that you would be willing to have anyone submit such names of groups to you and would be willing to consider evidence as to their fascist character.

Well, I can name for you a fascist organization operating in this state: Gerald L.K. Smith’s outfit, the Christian Crusaders of America or whatever it’s called nowadays. I can present evidence also, if I wished. I’ve written a pamphlet demonstrating the fascist and anti-Semitic character of Gerald L.K. Smith and his movement. I can, for example, present evidence showing that Gerald Smith organized gangs of hoodlums to break up union meetings.

Suppose I did so, what would you do with this evidence? Would you confront Smith with it at a hearing, my say-so? You can’t deal one way with FBI “evidence” my say-so? You cant deal one way with FBI “evidence” and another way with other evidence. Is a democratic socialist organization like ours, secretly accused by the FBI, to be deprived of the right to be confronted with the case, while a fascist organization, ignored by the attorney general, is given the right to confront its accusations and accusers?

This procedure of the attorney general is very strange indeed, and it would be even stranger if the Board of Regents were to adopt such procedure as its own. Thompson made an analogy before, but it wasn’t precisely accurate. The case is rather something like this:

Suppose you, Mr. Moot, are accused of murder. I accuse you, and tell you: “Clear yourself.”

You ask: “Whom am I supposed to have murdered?” – “Sorry, I can’t reveal that detail.”

”Well, then, when am I supposed to have committed this murder?”

“That’s a secret. Come, come, what’s your alibi?” “With what weapon did I – er – commit this murder?” – “I must inform you that ‘there is no provision in the law requiring us to furnish you with this information.’ “ (That is a literal quotation from a letter which we actually received from the attorney general’s office, a copy of which has been submitted to the board.)

But you’re still puzzled: “What possible motive ...?” – “That’s ‘classified data.’ Enough of this; please prove that you didn’t commit this murder!”

You might even finally be driven to asking: “How do I know that there even WAS a murder?” ...

In this procedure of the attorney general, you have already been told, a man (or organization) is guilty until proved innocent. More than that: in this procedure, We are not only guilty until we prove ourselves innocent – we don’t even know of what exactly we’re supposed to prove ourselves innocent!

In contrast, I’ve told you of the procedure of the president’s loyalty review board – which was far from perfect, as I said, but at least that board did not accept the opinion of the Department of Justice as anything more than the opinion of one source, to be checked and weighed – and finally thrown out – by it. It reached the only possible conclusion on the basis of some evidence.

Every liberal, indeed every man who really has democracy at heart, cannot but be revolted at the procedure of purges and an Index Expurgatorius of organizations on the basis of secret-police evidence and cardfiling.

Lastly on this point: the procedure of the attorney general is a one-way street! You are put on the list, for good or bad reasons. How, if you feel strongly that this is a grave injustice, do you go about trying to get delisted? How do you get off this list? Do you know? Does anyone know? We have asked; see the correspondence we have submitted.

Once on this list, there is simply no way of getting off! None. No channel exists for challenging such listing. No channel exists for rectifying any mistake or injustice by this far-from-infallible FBI!

Against Totalitarianism

And so, since there is no evidence, and no specific charges against the Workers Party, in response to your invitation to make an “oral argument” I can only make some shots in the dark, more or less.

To be sure, there are at least two such points which I can discuss which certainly bear on the question. Whether what I shall say will be considered adequate by you, I have no way of knowing. This was possible in the case of the Department of Commerce hearing because the board members there asked questions to decide their doubts; they cross-examined; they brought up their doubts. In the procedure you are following here, there is no such possibility. And so I cannot know whether what I shall say will really be directed to what you have in mind or not.

But unless the pretty universal understanding is sadly mistaken, the occasion for such legislation as the Feinberg Law is not any sudden threat today from American radicalism. I am sure everyone is aware that in the eyes of its sponsors and supporters its justification is something else: the existence in this country as in others of a substantial force (the Communist Party) which acts as the political agent of a foreign reactionary power (Russia), which is engaged in a cold war with the United States.

Now, like a very, very large number of liberals who are not even socialists, we do not believe that such purge and witch-hunt methods can combat an ideology and movement like the Communist Party’s. We are opposed in principle to the idea that the only way to combat the totalitarians is to adopt the methods of totalitarianism. And so we are likewise opposed to the procedure and type of legislation embodied in the Feinberg Law.

But the Feinberg Law was passed by the state legislature and not by the Board of Regents. I know that. But contrariwise, it is not the state legislature which is considering putting the Workers Party on a subversive list; it is this board. And it is this board, therefore, which has this grave responsibility and the opportunity to remove a grave injustice.

For the attitude of the Workers Party was, and the attitude of the present ISL is, one of irreconcilable hostility to the Communist Party and the Russian regime, which I have already called the most barbaric, despotic, tyrannical regime, on earth today or, perhaps, that has ever existed.

In his testimony before the president’s loyalty review board, our national chairman Max Shachtman made a flat statement, which I repeat to you: that if is inconceivable that any member of our organization would in any way aid Russia or its agents – any more than it is conceivable that any would help the National Association of Manufacturers.

We are socialists. We educate toward the replacement of the capitalist system of private profit by a democratic socialist society based on production for use.

As democratic socialists, we are unalterably opposed, not only to capitalism, but to any form of what is sometimes called “state-ism” – I refer to the idea that the state should be raised to a position of absolute mastery over dehumanized human beings who are the de-personalized tools of an all-powerful bureaucracy.

This conception, this state of affairs, is as abhorrent to us – at least as abhorrent to us – as the capitalist private-profit system! In one form it is represented in Russia today. For us what exists in Russia is not “some kind of socialism,” not even a bad kind; there is nothing resembling socialism in Russia today.

The Russian regime and the Communist Party are the mortal enemies of every ideal and aim and principle and good that we hold dear.

Some of you may perhaps believe that any kind of socialism, even democratic socialism, inevitably leads to totalitarianism. I’ve heard that said. I don’t believe so. But need I argue this? I, for example, would tell you that the continuation of capitalism leads to totalitarianism in the long run. Well, who is right? That will be shown in the long run, and shown most effectively by the free clash of conflicting ideas. But it will NOT be thus shown by one side declaring the other illegal.

Let me make this clear. I believe that the continuation of capitalism inevitably leads to totalitarianism in the modern world. But even if we had the power today – please stretch your imagination that far – we would be unalterably opposed to declaring supporters of capitalism illegal because of such an opinion. Such a policy could not lead to a free socialist world.

Socialism and Democracy

The ideas I am expressing with some brevity are not a set of ideas dusted off simply for presentation to this board. We can prove without the slightest difficulty that the Workers Party was founded and organized around such ideas. (We have indeed been denounced for them by certain other self-styled socialists!)

The Workers Party was first formed in 1940 because the members who formed it, then members of another organization, refused to go along with the idea of the majority of that organization that Russia deserved any defense in the war as some kind of “workers’ state,” albeit a bad one. [A board member here asked what organization that was.] That was the Socialist Workers Party. We rejected any support to the Russian government.

Around that and related ideas the Workers Party was formed. And since then, up through our last convention, there has been a development of our concepts of socialism and democracy – the concept that socialism and democracy are inseparable!

And if, however much you disagree with our socialist opinions, you will try to understand our views (and, after all, it is our views that you are called on to label), then I think you will be forced to agree that it is precisely because we hold the ideas I have sketched that it is so senseless, so contrary to all we stand for, to accuse us of “advocating the overthrow of the government by force and violence,” by conspiratorial methods, etc.

We not only believe, but argue constantly with others, that a socialist government which takes power otherwise than with the will of the majority cannot bring about socialism even with the best of intentions!

We insist with the greatest vigor that no “benevolent despotism” can lead to socialism. No benevolent despotism – and that means: not even our own. It can benefit capitalism, and has. It did in the case of feudalism and chattel slavery, many a time. But there is one kind of society that cannot be built that way, and that is socialism.

Why do we believe that? I repeat that you should try to understand our views, since you are called upon to judge them. We believe that because socialism is different from all other social systems in a very basic respect. Socialism means, if it means anything, that for the first time in the history of man. the mass of people are freed of class rule over them, that they take the stage of history on their own behalf and in their own interests. The working people become the dominant class, and they are the mass of people, the overwhelming majority.

And this freedom from class oppression cannot take place unless they themselves act. It cannot happen if a utopia – even a well-intentioned utopia, let alone a totalitarian dictatorship! – is thrust down their jaws with a mailed fist.

“Force and Violence”?

How does this bear upon “advocacy of overthrow,” etc.?

Unless one is simply mad, it makes no sense to base a movement upon the advocacy of such ideas and yet to advocate overthrow of government by a conspiratorial minority or something of the sort, presumably with armed bands using force and violence to make up for the lack of support by the democratic majority!

As long as we do not enjoy the support of a majority – and the socialist movement unfortunately does not yet in this country – and as long as the opportunity exists to reach the ears of and convince such a majority by persuasion and conviction, we will continue to use every channel of persuasion and conviction open to us to gain that majority without which the achievement of socialism is hopeless. To do otherwise would be contrary to our socialist principles.

In Russia today, I might say, I would certainly be “subversive” – yes, subversive in the sense defined in the Feinberg Law. Under that regime, which is detested by the great majority of its people, where any criticism of the regime of any kind is met with jail and slavery and repression, there is not the slightest channel open to real socialists except secret and conspiratorial action, leading to organization for a forceful overthrow of the totalitarian government. There is no other recourse.

Today in the United States, other channels do exist, the channels which permit us to try to persuade a majority to replace the capitalist system with a socialist society. WILL IT ALWAYS REMAIN SO? No one here is going to guarantee that, nor would it even be relevant to try to do so. If, say, a KKK government, a fascist government, were to be installed in Washington, I hope that not only we but many others, you included, will be for “force and violence” to get rid of such a government, that is, a government which does not permit expression of the will of the people.

Can this “happen here”? I’ve expressed my view of the trend of capitalism, which is indeed borne out by current events. You may think, as I said, that this opinion of capitalism’s direction is unwarranted, and that will be seen in the long run. But all that is relevant to your inquiry is our firm and deeply founded opinion: that for socialists to try to take power by force and violence even though a majority is against them, would not only be wrong – it would be a great blow precisely to the prospects of the socialism we advocate.

A last point:

There may be a certain question still in your mind; at least, there often is in such cases. You may be asking yourselves: These views which I am presenting here – are they strictly for external consumption only, and do we speak otherwise and contradict these views in our “private” classes and lectures and among ourselves? Do we tell one thing to our members and another to loyalty boards?

Now, naturally I can only repudiate any such idea, but then anyone can do that. I want to explain briefly why such a practice is indeed impossible for us.

We Want a Real Hearing

In the first place, I want to call your attention to the fact that ours is the only socialist organization I know of which deliberately has no so-called “internal bulletin” of political discussion which is distributed only to members and withheld from the public. We have differences of opinion and political disputes in our ranks – and, incidentally, we think that’s a good thing in general and not a bad thing – but we have done away completely with the practice common even in the socialist movement of confining discussion of such questions to private “internal” bulletins. Our classes and meetings are open; even our bulletins of internal discussion are open to public sale. It is very easy for you to check on the truth of this statement: the FBI ought to be able fo tell that at least!

Secondly, I would like you to understand that any policy of having one line for public consumption and another for private education would create a furore first of all in our own ranks.

Our movement indeed is composed largely precisely of people who have been attracted to our ideas and practices just because they are revolted and fed up with the doubledealing and hypocrisy of organizations like the Communist Party! Our ability to exist as an independent socialist group is based on the fact that we represent a concept of socialism which has nothing in common with Stalinism, which rejects both Stalinism and capitalism, and the doubledealing and chicanery which in our opinion is inseparable from both. The Communist Party can make a different kind of appeal. We cannot, and we exist because we cannot.

These are some of our ideas, and we vigorously urge an examination of them, a thorough examination, a thorough- hearing, a real hearing, and this hearing cannot be called that on the basis of the procedure laid down. We will be more than anxious to cooperate fully in such a real hearing.

Last updated on 28 August 2021