Felix Morrow

Biddle’s New Pretext for Prosecuting Us
Biddle Finally Chooses Basis for Frameup

(September 1941)

Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 38, 20 September 1941, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The American Civil Liberties Union has just released to the press the texts of a letter to Attorney-General Biddle, and just reply. We publish these texts below.

The letter of the American Civil Liberties Union is an annihilating indictment of the Department of Justice’s “case” against the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO. As our readers know, the ACLU is an extremely cautious body of middle class liberals, whose attitude toward defense of the democratic rights of the working class has often been none too bold. Before it will defend a workers’ organization against prosecution, the ACLU makes a long and exhaustive investigation. There have been not a few cases in which the ACLU has come to the conclusion that prosecution for labor activity is not a violation of civil liberties. All the more impressive in this case, therefore, are the conclusions of the ACLU:

  1. That the prosecution is clearly one against our opinions, and therefore violates the Bill of Rights which guarantees free speech.
  2. That the one “overt act” charged, the formation of the Union Defense Guard by Local 544,, was a legitimate union activity.
  3. That “it is reasonable to conclude” that the prosecution “arose from the President’s reaction to Mr. Tobin’s request” of June 18 to Roosevelt for government aid against Local 544-CIO.

These conclusions of the ACLU will be of great value in securing a wide public hearing to our side of the case.

The ACLU letter has also served to draw from Biddle an indication of how he plans to conduct his frameup against the SWP. Biddle’s letter shows that he has finally decided that his best move is to use the Union Defense Guard of Local 544 as the basis for his frameup.

I say “finally,” because the fact is that the Roosevelt administration has been threshing around, seeking the most plausible basis for the frameup against us, ever since its June 27, 1941 raids on the Minneapolis and St. Paul headquarters of the SWP.

In his letter Biddle says that “the investigation of the case began early in 1940.” He dare not be more specific in claiming that the “investigation” began prior to AFL teamster chief Tobin’s appeal of June 13 to Roosevelt for aid against Local 544, which on June 9 had disaffiliated from the AFL and accepted a charter from the CIO. Undoubtedly for many months prior to that the Department of Justice had been collecting material for eventual use against all anti-war organizations and militant unionists. But it is easily demonstrable that the Department of Justice began to proceed against the SWP and Local 544-CIO three months ago, in response to Tobin’s call for aid, without any idea of what the government’s specific case was going to be. Here are the facts.

The Government’s Previous Frameup Lines

On June 27, the day that agents of the Department of Justice raided the SWP offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul, TWO “crimes’” were attributed to the SWP by Department of Justice officials, neither of which appeared in the July 15 indictment and neither of which are now referred to by Biddle’s letter:

1. Henry Schweinhaut, Assistant U.S. Attorney-General, who was in Minneapolis to conduct the raids, informed the press that it was his understanding that the case against the SWP would be based on the Voorhis Act which requires registration with the Attorney-General’s office by any foreign-controlled organization or one which advocates violent overthrow of the government. Here is what he told the press at that time:

“Henry Schweinhaut, assistant U.S. attorney general, said the procedure would be based on a new law making it mandatory for all organizations, foreign-controlled or advocating overthrow of the government by force, to register with the attorney general’s office.

“The Socialist Workers’ party has not complied with this, it was declared, and efforts will he made to show it falls within that category.” (Minneapolis Times, June 28, 1941)

2. While Schweinhaut was making this statement in Minneapolis, in Washington Attorney-General Francis Biddle was making a very different kind of a charge. As soon as he had been notified of the carrying out of the raids in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Biddle issued a written statement at 6 p.m., Friday, June 27, which is quoted by the press as follows:

“‘This prosecution is brought under the criminal code of the United States against persons who have been engaged in criminal seditious activities, and who are leaders of the Socialist Workers party, and have gained control of a legitimate labor union in order to use it for illegitimate purposes.’

“Principal basis of the action, the justice department announced, is found in a Declaration of Principles adopted by the Socialist Workers party at its foundation convention, held in January 1938.

“The pertinent phrases in this declaration were given by the Acting Attorney-Genera1 Biddle as follows:

“‘If, in spite of the efforts of the revolutionists and the militant workers, the U.S. government enters a new war, the SWP will not, under any ‘circumstances, support that war but will, on the contrary, fight against it.’” (Minneapolis Star Journal, June 28)

Thus, on June 27, Assistant Attorney-General Schweinhaut was saying we were going to be prosecuted under the Voorhis Act, while Acting Attorney-General Biddle was saying that we were going to be prosecuted under the Smith Act for our anti-war program and for our alleged “illegitimate use” of Local 544 for our anti-war program. Roosevelt’s subordinates were in such indecent haste to carry out his promise of aid to Tobin that they didn’t even have one story in common!

The first government mention of the Union Defense Guard of Local 544 came an the indictment drawn up by the Department of Justice and handed down by the Federal Grand Jury on July 15; and there the Union Defense Guard was but one of many, things mentioned.

Now, from Biddle’s letter, it is clear that Biddle is thinking of concentrating his entire case around the Union Defense Guard.

The government, in other words, went on a fishing expedition and has finally turned up with what it considers its best case.

From this account it is clear how correct the American Civil Liberties Union is when it charges, in its letter to Biddle, that the case “arose from the President’s reaction to Mr. Tobin’s request” and that it “seems more reasonable to conclude that the government injected itself into an inter-union controversy in order to promote the interests of the one side which supported the administration’s foreign and domestic policies.”

The government’s decision to abandon the use of the Voorhis Act against us undoubtedly was taken with the realisation that it would be extremely difficult to make out a case against us under this act. It would be easy for us to prove that Congress voted for this act on the understanding that it applied only to organizations like the Nazi and Communist parties.

Even more obvious is the reason why Biddle no longer repeats his June 27 attack on our anti-war program. It was a blunder for him to make that statement then. In the face of the growing anti-war sentiment in this country, the government could scarcely find a more unpopular issue on which to prosecute us than our anti-war program.

And so, by a process of elimination, Biddle now resorts to the question of the Union Defense Guard. It is not a very good issue, as we can easily demonstrate. But Biddle has nothing better and does as much as he can with the materials at his disposal.

He dare not explicitly rest his case against us on our ideas. It is a settled principle of democracy that no one shall be prosecuted for his ideas. This principle has, of course, been systematically violated by the bourgeois “democrats.” But the Roosevelt administration must pretend not to be violating this principle at a time when it is claiming to be conducting a war for democracy. Hence Biddle’s letter implicitly concedes to the ACLU that we must not be prosecuted for our opinions and seizes upon the “overt act” of the formation of the Union Defense Guard.

Ignoring the actual purposes for which the Union Defense Guard of Local 544 was formed, Biddle calls it “arming workers to carry out the purpose to which the utterances of the SWP are addressed.’’ Here is the syllogism whibh Biddle thereby constructs:

  • The SWP works for revolution;
  • The SWP members initiated the formation of the Union Defense Guard;
  • Therefore, the Union Defense Guard works for the revolution.

The fallacy of which Biddle is guilty in this syllogism is one known to evyery sophomore in the beginning class in logic. Its name in the logic textbooks is “the fallacy of the undistributed middle.” That is, there is an illegitimate identification between the SWP and the Union Defense Guard, as if they were one and the same thing.

This fallacy is scarcely a “mistake” by Biddle. He knows very well what he is doing. But he needs that illegitimate identification for the purposes of his frameup.

The Union Defense Guard of Local 544 was organized in August 1938 for the specific purpose of combating the fascist Silver Shirts of the Twin Cities who were then openly threatening to attack the union headquarters of Local 544. Roy Zachary, National Silver Shirt Organizer, came to Minneapolis and in Silver Shirt meetings on July 29 and August 2 he openly called for fascist gangster bands to raid the teamster hall. These are matters of record which will be easily established at the trial.

At the height of the organization of the struggle against the Silver Shirts, the Union Defense Guard numbered about 500 members. The workers of the Guard knew just what they were organizing for. Yet Biddle now asserts that, presumably without the knowledge of the members of the Union Defense Guard, they were really serving a conspiracy to overthrow the government. Biddle’s logic is on the same level as that of the Nazis, who outlaw unions because they are led by “Marxists,” on the grounds that the unions are really subversive organizations.

The show of strength of the Union Defense Guard during August-December 1938 drove the Silver Shirts into hiding and eventual dissolution, whereupon the activities of the Union Defense Guard were confined to social functions and acting as ushers at the union’s picnics and affairs. The name “Union Defense Guard” was continued as insurance against new anti-labor gangs arising.

In this change in the functions of the Union Defense Guard after the Silver Shirts folded up, is expressed the fact that the Guard’s original purpose was to combat the fascist gangs.

All this will be established conclusively at the trial. All this is well enough known to Biddle and the other figures in the Roosevelt administration who are directly in charge of the prosecution against us. But it does not serve their purpose to stick to the facts. On the contrary they must at all costs distort the facts in order to railroad the 29 defendants to prison.

What the Government’s Real Purpose Is

The real assumption on which Biddle is acting, and which he no doubt holds quite sincerely, is that it is “illegitimate” for members of a workers’ party to play the leading role in a trade union. For a member of the Democratic National Committee like Tobin to rule a union; for a Republican National Committee member like Hutchinson to rule the carpenters; this is legitimate to Biddle. But for members of a workers’ party to win the confidence of the members of a union – that is a crime. In short, the trade union movement is “legitimate” for the bourgeois “democrats” only when the unions are under the control of the agents of the bourgeoisie. So long as the agents of the Republican and Democratic parties are in control, the Roosevelt administration can be assured of subordinating the trade unions to Roosevelt’s war program. But when the unions will be under the influence of a leadership which is independent of the bourgeois parties, then Roosevelt’s war program will be in jeopardy.

Such is the real logic which is motivating the Roosevelt administration in this prosecution. And, from the point of view of perpetuation of the capitalist class, their logic is absolutely correct. A hundred unions like Local 544, under the leadership of men independent of the bourgeois parties, under the leadership of men irreconcilably opposed to Roosevelt’s imperialist war, would be a serious obstacle to the war-mongers. As a preventive measure, to nip in the bud such a revolutionary development, this prosecution is undertaken against us.

But of course the Roosevelt administration dare not reveal the real logic of its case against us. It could not hope to railroad us to jail if the labor movement of this country understand why the government wants us in jail. Hence Biddle must resort to this fake logic of identifying the Union Defense Guard and the SWP. Hence he must cover up his original blunder of referring to our anti-war program as our crime. In short, he cannot conveniently put us into jail for our real opinions and activities. He must put us in jail under other pretexts. He must, therefore, organize a frameup against us.


Last updated on: 24 March 2019