Albert Goldman’s great speech in defense of socialism explains, much better than could an introduction, how we came to be on trial under threat of sixteen-year sentences. A few dates and details, however, are necessary to complete the story.
On June 27, 1941, FBI agents raided the branch offices of the Socialist Workers Party in St. Paul and Minneapolis and carted off large quantities of Marxist literature. On July 15, 1941, an indictment drawn up by the Department of Justice was handed down in St. Paul by a federal grand jury against 29 men and women, including the national leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and sixteen leaders and members of the famous Minneapolis truck drivers union, Local 544.
Why all this in the Twin Cities and not in New York, the national headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party, the Trotskyist movement in the United States? Because on June 9, Local 544, by overwhelming vote of its members, had disaffiliated from Tobin’s AFL Teamsters and affiliated to the CIO. On June 13 Tobin had appealed to President Roosevelt for aid, saying
“The officers of the local union were requested to disassociate themselves from the radical Trotsky organization ... these disturbers must be in some way prevented from pursuing this course.”
The raids and the indictment followed.
But if the immediate occasion was the inter-union struggle in Minneapolis, the fundamental issue involved was much broader; it was the Socialist Workers Party’s revolutionary internationalist attitude toward war and capitalism. As the American Civil Liberties Union concluded, after a careful investigation,
“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 broader issue dominated the trial which began October 27, 1941. As Albert Goldman’s speech demonstrates, the defendants did not merely defend their right to express their anti-war views, took the offensive against the degenerate capitalist system which was prosecuting them. For the first time in this country revolution systematically defended their revolutionary doctrines in a court room, using it as a forum from which to proclaim their ideas.
The false distinction made by the bourgeois liberals – “either persuade the jury or make propaganda for outside” – did not exist for Albert Goldman. He did both together. Naturally, as a revolutionary socialist, his primary concern was with keeping the banner of the revolutionary movement flying and unsullied as an inspiration to the class-conscious workers. But the essential case for socialism is so impregnable, so persuasive, that he could address his revolutionary message also to the jury, as the best possible means winning at least partial concessions from the jury. And that is what happened, as an analysis of the jury’s verdict will show.
Of the 28 who went on trial, five were acquitted on both counts by directed verdict of the judge for lack of evidence.
The jury found all 23 defendants not guilty on Count 1, and thus thwarted the government’s attempt to use against the labour movement a statute enacted by Congress in 1861 against the southern slaveholders. Count 1 charged violation of the section of this statute which makes it a crime to conspire to overthrow the government by force and violence. Assistant Attorney-General Henry A. Schweinhaut called upon the jury to convict us, because, although the Socialist Workers Party is a small party now, its avowal of the doctrine of the Russian revolution make it possible that, like the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, we could eventually grow to become the leader of a similar revolution here. Thus in acquitting us on Count 1, the jury in effect rejected the government’s attempt to transform the 1861 statute into a ban against revolutionary doctrines.
In doing so the jury also in effect characterized the main section of the government’s case as a frame-up, for the main purpose of the government’s three-week parade of witnesses was to secure a conviction on Count 1 by showing the existence of an immediate conspiracy to forcibly overthrow the government. Under this count the government had pictured the Union Defense Guard of Minneapolis as an army, and had charged that we did “procure certain explosives.” This crude police frame-up was rejected by the jury.
On Count 2 the jury found 13 of the 23 defendants guilty but with a recommendation of leniency. That recommendation undermines the moral validity of the guilty verdict. What does leniency imply here? This was no case of crime committed by a youngster under extenuating circumstances. The defendants were obviously in full possession of their faculties, and not a bit remorseful; indignant against their governmental accusers and determined to go on with their revolutionary work. Under these conditions the recommendation of leniency could mean only a formal registration by the jury of its disagreement with the ideas of the defendants rather than a condemnation of the defendants under the criminal law.
The main sections of Count 2 charged that we had conspired to “advise, counsel, urge,” and “distribute written and printed matter” to cause insubordination in the armed forces, and “advocate, abet, advise and teach the duty, necessity, desirability and propriety of overthrowing the government by force and violence.”
One of these charges – that of insubordination in the armed forces – was so unsubstantiated that it should never have been submitted to the jury at all. The only “evidence” on this point was some oral testimony by two government witnesses to the effect that one or two defendants had told them that soldiers should be induced to “kick” about food and living conditions. Judge Joyce, however, insisted on submitting it to the jury on the ground that “some” evidence had been offered (federal judges may dismiss all or any part of any count in an indictment). The jury, on the other hand, could only vote guilty or not guilty on Count 2 as a whole. Certainly it is hard to believe that the jury recommended leniency if it believed the defendants guilty of causing insubordination in the army.
Even more devastating to the moral validity of the verdict of guilty is the story of what actually happened in the courtroom, which has now been told by certain jurors. There were three jurors who stood ready to vote not guilty on both counts. Had they withstood the pressure, there would have been a hung jury. Instead the jurors, out three days, compromised. Those who believed us not guilty secured acquittal on the first count, acquittal of five on the second count, and a recommendation of leniency, and in return voted guilty on Count 2.
The verdict is a tribute to the persuasive case for socialism made by Albert Goldman. Here were jurors chosen by a hand-picking procedure which made certain that no one known to be sympathetic to labor would be on the venire. They were called upon to pass on a case which, they well understood, had been initiated by the highest circles of the government; an Assistant Attorney-General, sent from Washington, was present to demand of them a guilty verdict. Over the courtroom was the shadow of the impending war – the defendants were sentenced the day Congress declared war, December 8, 1941. Under these conditions it is remarkable that those who believed us innocent were not finally beaten down to submit to a blanket verdict of guilty against all defendants, on both counts, and with no recommendation of leniency.
Judge Joyce sentenced us, some to sixteen months each, the others to twelve months each. We are now out on bail while Albert Goldman and the Civil Rights Defense Committee, with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous trade unions, are carrying the appeal to the higher courts.
Meanwhile the case has achieved two triumphs – this great speech and James P. Cannon’s testimony, published as Socialism on Trial. These inspiring rallying-calls to socialism are worth more than one prison sentence! Read them and get your fellow-workers to do likewise. Albert Goldman will win them not only to our defense but, more important, to the struggle for revolutionary socialism.
I cannot close without a word to the memory of our martyred comrade, Grant Dunne, indicted among the original 29, whom we no longer can save from persecution. He came back from World War I on a stretcher, permanently mangled by wounds and shell-shock. Yet, despite recurrent seizures of this illness, he had a heroic role in leading the hitherto unorganized workers of Minneapolis in great struggles. Shortly before the trial, during such a seizure of illness, worn out by the struggle to defend the workers against the Tobin-Roosevelt onslaught, he committed suicide. Socialism will avenge him, as it will all the innumerable victims of degenerate capitalism.
Last updated on: 22 August 2015