Do “We Want Work"? ------- Albert Weisbord
Was America Ever a Democracy? ---------- Maurice Clifford
The Scandal of the Franco-Soviet Pact ------ A.W.
The Betrayals of the Workers Party (I)
Our Break with the “Youth Bureau”—Statement of the C.L.S.
WHEN WAR COMES—War and Civil Liberties(I)—Robert Barnett
DO “WE WANT WORK"?
by Albert Weisbord
A few years ago, just before Hitler took power, this writer took part in a great demonstration in the streets of Berlin. Among the paraders there were many rather elderly men, about 55 years or so, among whom there stood out two, who were carrying a huge banner which read: “Albeit, Freihelt, Brot” (Work, Freedom, Bread) and all along the line of march the men were shouting in unison: “Was wollen die Arbeiter? Albeit!” (What do the workers want? Work!) All their lives they had worked and slaved for the German capitalists. Now they were out of work and the only thing their miserable leaders could teach them to demand was--more work!
Almost one hundred years ago, Karl Marx had entered into a bitter polemic against the Anarchist Proudhon, who had inspired the slogan in 1848 crisis of “We want work!” And now so little had the servile Socialist and Communist bureaucrats learned from the events of the class struggle, that after these many years, all they could do was to repeat: “We want work. We must have work; without work we are lost.”
One can be very sure that officials of the trade unions and Socialist and Communist Parties did not urge work for themselves. They wanted work for the workers, to be sure, the members of their organization, so that there would be more dues steadily forthcoming. And they themselves would be enabled to have a better subsistence, incidentally. It is just these servile elements, who like to point out how healthy work is and how it builds up the body, etc. Without work, man is lost! This is what the political priests who fatten off those who actually are forced to work under capitalism like to exclaim.
With these ideas the Socialists and Stalinists in Germany played right into the hands of Hitler and the large industrialists. If it is work that the workers want, how easy it is to oblige them! The capitalists can give them plenty—on the chain gang. Is it any wonder that the Nazis took up the cry, “We want work!” with the greatest enthusiasm and idealized “labor” as the noblest activity of all? Why not? What master can object when his slave devotedly exclaims: “All I want is to work for you, as soon as Hitler came into Power he did give work for all; work in the concentration camps, work on military projects, a universal chain gang and compulsory labor service was established throughout the nation. The workers have been regimented into great labor armies. They now have their wish—they have work.
The capitalist likes to see the workers work. It means that his wealth, capital, will be increased and that he can try to beat his competitor down better. It means that the workers are still under his discipline. It means that he can better prepare for the next war. His workers have their muscles hardened. They will be better fighters. He knows that every bit of work that the workers do, increases his power and stability. It is not work that the capitalists fear—it is the class struggle. The boss trembles lest the workers demand that the stuff which they produce be turned over to them as the direct producers, that the factories should be owned and controlled by the working class and the capitalists “rubbed out".
The slogan “We want work!”, takes attention away from the main job, that of wiping out the capitalists and their entire work system. How can you attack the system which hires labor and exploits it, when you are clamoring for work under that system, demanding and beseeching it? And if work is such a fine cure for unemployment, then how can one explain the fact that just before the crisis began, everyone was busy, everyone was at work and wages were relatively high? Is it not true that just before every capitalist crisis we have a period of feverish activity where everyone is working at full speed.
These people who shout “We want work!”, fail to realize that it was precisely because everyone was working that we did have such a terrible crisis, which is lasting until today. The workers were being exploited harder than ever. They were turning out vast amounts of stuff to the bosses who had to sell this stuff at a profit and could not. Not being able to sell their goods at a profit, the capitalists were forced to close down their plants because the workers had produced too much, because they had worked too hard, because they had not fought for a greater share of the produce and did not control the means of production. All this is covered up by the Socialist and communist Party fakers.
The slogan “We want work!”, implies that what is wrong with the present system of society and what has caused the depression is not overwork but underwork. Or, on the other hand, they imply that it is not the work system that is to blame but the “system of distribution". In both cases they attack the bosses not because he is driving the workers too hard, but because he did not give them enough work. In this respect the Communist Party leaders only ape the Hitlers. It is for this reason that they pave the way for the Huey Longs, who can really promise work for all and give it too—on the chain gang, Southern style.
Now, if it is true that capitalist crises are caused not because not enough has been produced and thus more work is needed by society, but because of over production and too hard work, then it would seem that the natural demand ought to be “No more work until we get what we have produced. The stuff in the warehouses is ours. Hand it over. Open the warehouses to the hungry, etc.” The demand “We want work!”, therefore, is a demand that blinds the workers and prevents them from seeing that they do not have to work much to eat, that the workers have produced plenty which the boss has grabbed for himself. What the Communist Party leaders are trying to persuade the workers to believe is that in order to eat, the workers must work more, when the fact of the matter is the workers already have worked enough amply to take care of themselves.
The slogan, “We want work!”, prevents the workers from fighting for unemployment insurance. They are directed to look upon all relief schemes as being unnecessary and if they are given work they can live respectably. Thus the labor “leaders” leave to the employers all of the loot which the bosses have stolen from the workers from time immemorable. The workers are made to feel that if the government grants them relief that they are getting something that does not belong to them, that they must feel grateful to the government and the employers for this charity, when the true situation is that the workers are getting merely a portion of what they themselves have produced and which they should have obtained long ago.
These false impressions have been sharpened by the foolish slogan of the Stalinists and Socialists: “Give the Bankers Home Relief, we want work!”, which was carried prominently in all recent demonstrations. Imagine such an idea: “Put the Bankers on Relief". That is a demand to put the bankers on the government pay roll! As though the bankers do not already draw enough pay from the government without any work in return. As though their filthy fingers are not in every relief pie. As though we must advocate that the government continues to pay these parasites and idlers indefinitely! Only silly comedians but not revolutionists could put forth such banners and demands. it is but another indication that the “demonstration” staged by these clowns are not meant nor can be taken seriously. No serious group of workers’ leaders could possibly have conceived these bizarre and grotesque signs that are carried by Stalinist and Socialist henchmen.
Further, there is the implication that the workers do not want relief, that the government owes them nothing, that only work is suitable to them. But, if the workers are not supposed to want relief, then how can they effectively fight for more relief? How can they demand adequate unemployment insurance, which at the present time can only be envisaged as an improved relief system? Under unemployment insurance, are not the workers here too, “getting something for nothing"?
These slogans show that the Stalinists and Socialists are only the unofficial supporters of Roosevelt’s “public works” program. Both Roosevelt and the Communist Party are shouting that what the country needs is more work. Under such circumstance: “Why should the workers turn to the Communist Party when it is Roosevelt who has the power to hand out the jobs?
Nor can those who constantly holler, “We want work!”, consistently object to the kind of work that is handed out, even if the workers are put to work building military roads and improving naval stations or creating machinery for armament construction and ammunition production. To shout for work and then shout “Strike against war preparations”, is an impossible and ridiculous proposition. For everyone knows that all work under capitalism today must be work for war preparations. If factories are booming today in Germany, it is because of the imminence of war. For those, who want jobs, there is open only the mass murder industry of war. Today capitalism is no longer constructive but eminently destructive. It wastes and tears down far more than it builds up. To demand work under capitalism means to demand work that increases the destructiveness, the waste, the misery of the world.
It must be constantly kept in mind that the demand for work is the demand to work under present social conditions, with capitalist control and direction. But what is this capitalist control? It is a control that destroys the crops, that lays waste the soil, that rots the products, that rusts the machinery, that devastates the land, that kills the humans—that is capitalist control. If a dam is built it is to produce more electric capacity for war time. If new research is undertaken, it is to throw out more workers from jobs. If capitalism is developed it is only to raise the destructive power of the ruling class that has already locked out tens of millions of workers from the factories for now almost seven whole years.
From this it is clear that we must demand not work, but workers’ control. However, to raise the slogan: “No work until we get control over the production”, or “General Strike for Workers’ Control” or “End the Lockout of the bosses. Open the factories under workers’ Control”, seems entirely too much for the unofficial agents of the government who call themselves Communist Party leaders or Socialists. They would much rather give the illusion that the government public works is not capitalist control, that it is social or national control for the benefit of all and for the increase of the wealth of the entire nation as a whole. Or sometimes, in their clamor, “We want work!”, they imply that they do not want to turn to the state for aid but want the private industries to re-employ them. In other words, not to make demands upon the state, or if the demands must be made, not to expose the enemy role of the State, not to throw the workers against the State—this is the program only of traitors and enemies in the ranks of the working class.
The demand, “We want work”, idealizes the entire work-job system. It means that the workers declare they would be very glad to return to the old state of affairs that existed, say in 1929. Thus the workers are put in a position of demanding the return of the “good old days”, and the slogan, “We want work!”, prevents the workers from adequately appreciating the terrible situation that existed under capitalism even in “normal times” and which existed in the United States in 1929.
“We want work!”, is another form of the rotten slogan of the American Federation of Labor: “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, only much worse. When the AFL raised this slogan, it was with the implication that the pay they were receiving was NOT a “fair” one, whereas the slogan “Give us back 1929 when we were working”, states just the opposite, namely that 1929 was a wonderful time when all who worked for a fair pay and could live well. It also carries the implication that for a “fair” day’s pay, workers should be more than willing to put in a “fair” days, work. In this way, too, the “labor leaders”, who raise the demand “We want work!”, give the impression that unless the workers work, they should not get any pay, that they don’t deserve the relief unless they are put to work and build more factories for the bosses to throw them out of.
At one time the Communist Party leaders raised the cry: “Work or wages”, that is either give us work or give us wages. In this way the Stalinists prevented the workers from raising the simple slogan which everyone could understand: “We want unemployment insurance". Notice that the slogan, “work or Wages”, is in an alternative form: It says to the capitalists, give us EITHER this OR that. Now it is one of the basic rules of revolutionary working class activity never to give the enemy class the initiative, but to take the initiative itself. The Stalinists violated this basic rule. They gave the enemy class the initiative and the choice. In their slogan, “Work or Wages”,they practically said to the bosses: “We leave it to you, you can give us either one or the other". Thus it showed that the workers had not yet made up their mind what they wanted, that they were confused and up in the air. It showed that the workers could not take the aggressive offensive and that the bosses had nothing real to fear from them.
The demand “Work or Wages”, implied that the wages that would be given were good wages and that America was a land where the “fair” day’s pay was prevalent. Thus the Communist Party became more reactionary than even the AFL. In the slogan “Work or Wages”, work is compared with wages, as though work is the same as wages when the truth is that work is just the opposite of wages; in the first case the worker has to build up the power of the boss and lose his own strength. In the second case he weakens the power of the employer and builds up himself, taking back what the boss stole from him. Thus the communist Party leaders covered up the entire system of boss robbery. Finally since it was up to the employers to choose between work or wages, of course the bosses would choose work and not wages. That is to say, before the capitalist will “spread the wealth”, they will turn to Fascism. Never was the so called “revolutionary” labor movement so exposed than by these false demands.
(This business of putting alternative demands to the employers has reached a monumental height of stupidity among the Socialists and leaders of the Workers Party when in a recent demonstration in Illinois they marched to the State House with the slogan: “Feed us or shoot us"! Here is “militant servility” with a vengeance. Ghandi should have been at the head of this demonstration!)
When the unemployed raise the demand, “We want work!”, this acts as a club in the hands of every employer of labor who now can tell his working men: “You see, there are plenty after your job. They like your job and are trying to get it. If you don’t behave, I shall fire you and put them in your place". In other words, this slogan, “We want work”, throws the whole army of unemployed against those at work and divides the working class into two antagonistic sections. Each time the factory workers want to strike against wage cuts or for better conditions, they are always reminded that there are millions of unemployed who are praying, yes, are demanding, work, and will do anything to get it. Thus the slogan, “We want work!”, helps to throw labor into a panic and fasten the control of the bosses more strongly than ever.
“We want work!”, is a most reactionary demand. It is the demand for class peace and not class war, for class collaboration and for Fascism. WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS NOT MORE WORK BUT WORKERS’ CONTROL—COMMUNISM.
****************************************************** JUST OUT: --"The Struggle of the Unemployed”—Theses of the Communist League of Struggle on the Unemployment Question—10 cents. This document supplements our general theses “The Struggle for Communism".
There are some people, who believe that Fascism cannot come to America because of the “deep-seated traditions of democracy” that prevails here. Certainly Fascism is not inevitable. But just as certainly must we ask with clear minds, “Was the U.S. ever a democracy?”, in order to see how effective a weapon American democracy may possibly be against the rise of Fascism.
Democracy is a type of State in which the people are supposed to control political affairs either directly or through representatives. Democracy includes as its fundamental characteristics the right to vote and to hold office, but it also takes in a host of civil liberties in which the right of free speech, press and assemblage are the most prominent.
It still seems to be taken for granted in this country that democracy has existed ever since the Revolution. Even Lenin made the stupid blunder of declaring in his famous “Letter to American workers”, that the American Revolution was a war of the people against English robbers. In reality the Revolutionary War had a very slight immediate effect upon the extension of democracy. The U.S. began its history as an anti-democratic republic with such restrictions upon voting and office holding as made it an open dictatorship of the few very wealthy plantation owners and slave holders, merchants, bankers, lawyers and such over the vast majority of the population.
Since earliest colonial times, land property qualification was the one outstanding and universal requirement and the dominating consideration for almost 200 years. In New England, when only company members could vote, strict limitations had been put upon the right to join the company and after the companies had ceased to exist and the colonies became purely political institutions the same limitations of the right to vote were carried over. So it was that in the original States, which formed constitutions in the early years of the Revolutionary War, very little democracy existed. The hastily adopted constitutions embodied the franchise restrictions which were already fixed in the colonies and after the establishment of independence these limitations were continued. In every one of the thirteen original States, a property qualification held and in five of them the property had to be in the form of real estate. With the rise of American capitalism and its commercial and industrial bourgeoisie came the breakdown of the land property qualification. The modifications, however, did not abandon the principle that only property owners might vote but substituted one form of property for another, tax paying or personal property in lieu of real estate. These reservations persisted well into the middle of the 19th century, disappearing for the most part with the advent of the Civil War (though retained by Delaware until 1897).
To understand fully the weight of the restrictions, which were then in force, we must epitomize the distribution of the country’s wealth. Of the four million Americans, only a few thousand persons owned nearly all of the land in great estates and vast plantations. Meanwhile a large minority of the population --mostly craftsmen and small farmers—eked out a precarious living from the tiny plots of land they owned or rented. These two classes were the free men and together they were somewhat less than half the total population. The majority of the American people were either white indentured servants or Negro slaves. In most of the South the Negroes were more than the white population, while in Pennsylvania they were 20% and in New York 16%. These people—the mass of laborers—owned nothing, not even their labor power. We may say hopeless, indeed, was their prospect of attaining the status of free man and free holder necessary to enable them to take part in the government. Of the free working class very few ever could take part in the government or cast a vote in the whole course of their lives. At this time wages paid free laborers averaged less than $2 a week, farm labor getting 31 cents a day, while carpenters were sometimes paid as much as 52 cents for a day’s work. No crime jailed so many as debt. Children, whose parents were unable to maintain them, were bound into forced labor for period of years making a virtually insurmountable the mountain of restrictions placed in their path to democracy.
But the right to vote, even when secured, did not carry with it the right to hold office. Thousands of men who could vote were by law hopelessly debarred from ever holding any office, becoming a Judge or Legislator or reaching the position of Governor of the State. Many States required that office holders should be rich. In one State, the Governor had to own 500 acres of land. In a second, he had to have an estate of $25,000 and in yet another of $50,000. For a seat in either branch of the State Legislature qualifications were of a similar nature. In Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, legislative candidates had to be possessed of $15,000 real or personal property. South of Pennsylvania the land requirement was general. To become a Senator in North Carolina, one had to own 300 acres, while in South Carolina, Representatives had to own at least 500 acres and ten Negroes.
The American Revolutionists were not social revolutionists. Their break with the English King and Parliament was revolutionary in form—overthrowing British rule—but not in content. America’s ruling oligarchy was not in the least democratic. They were fearful that the masses of oppressed, enchained and enslaved population might seize upon the demands, “no taxation without representations”, and “government with consent of the governed”, and attempt to carry forward the bourgeois revolution in their own interests under the banner of democracy. As Madison wrote to Jefferson in 1788, “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of the propertyless or proletarians and at the same time, preserve the spirit and form of popular government , is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” So it was that our first political parties were not, even in name, democratic parties. The followers of Thomas Jefferson, leader of the opposition to the avowedly aristocratic Federalist Party, avoided the very name Democrat, preferring to call themselves Anti- Federalist Republicans. It was not for fifty years, until in Andrew Jackson’s day, that the name “Democrat” was openly used as a Party appellation.
Our Constitutional Dictatorship
It is a very familiar fact to historical materialists that the American Constitution aimed to perpetuate the conditions of slavery, pauperization and oppression of the masses then extant. Alarmed by Shay’s Rebellion—the most highly organized and most nearly successful of the widespread attempts of the poor farmers and craftsmen to democratize the government—the wealthy ruling class soon began to talk of the dangers of democracy. In the guise of discussing commercial relations the tycoons of the times, led by Washington, Madison, Hamilton and others, determined to establish a powerful, new national government to preserve their class hegemony.
A Convention was called in Philadelphia, which for four months sat in secret session. The delegates were hand picked by the State Legislatures which were composed only of wealthy property owners, who were elected not by all of the people, but only by the big and little property owners and tax payers. Rufus King, delegate from Massachusetts, wrote: “If Massachusetts should send deputies, for God’s sake be careful, who are the men.” From the South came slave owners, planters and lawyers; the North sent merchants, bankers, ship owners, landlords and their lawyers. Rhode Island sent no delegates at all and of the sixty-five sent by the other twelve States, ten did not even attend and sixteen declined or failed to sign the document which was adopted. The other forty-four exceeded the powers granted by the Continental Congress—merely to revise the Articles of Confederation—by preparing a Constitution to go into effect as soon as nine of the thirteen States had ratified it.
This secretly prepared Constitution is crammed with all sorts of anti-democratic provisions. The governmental apparatus was divided into three mutually inter dependent divisions, executive, legislative and judicial. Yet each concentrated a high degree of power in itself. The President was made a strong executive with powers greater than those of the King of England at that time or of any elected European State officer since. The President could veto legislation and appoint (concurrent with the Senate) administrative officials and Judges of the federal inferior and supreme courts. His election was as far removed from popular vote as possible. He was chosen by a College of Electors, whose method of selection was left to the choice of the State Legislatures. Should the votes of the Electors give no one a clear majority the House of Representative was given the power to elect the President. “But in choosing the President the vote shall be taken by States, the representation from each State having one vote.” In 1824 Jackson and in 1876 Tilden—the “people’s choice” for President—were robbed of the office when the election was thrown into Congress. The “people” counted for little.
The law making power was subdivided into a bi-cameral legislature with only the House of Representatives chosen by the “people” directly. The Constitution itself provided that only that minority of the population, which could meet the high property qualifications necessary to vote for the State legislatures, could elect Representatives. Thus the restrictions upon voting then prevalent in the States were set right into the constitutional law of the land. To check the responsiveness of this body to the wishes of the masses, the Senate was set up. Senators, like the president, were not to be elected by the “people”, but were to be chosen by the State legislatures. The big property owners, elected by little property owners, selected the biggest one of all to be the U.S. Senator. It took a century and a quarter and a Constitutional Amendment to give the people the right to elect Senators. Should the people wish to turn out “their” representatives from office, they may have to wait two to six years to do it. Moreover, a higher minimum age was set for office holding than for voting and a longer term of citizenship required.
Under the Constitution, the Judiciary is appointed for life by one man, the President and like him they are not directly responsible to the people. Nor are they removable from office except through impeachment proceedings, which the Senate alone has the power to try. They become, thereby, absolutely independent of the will of the people. As early as 1794 the Supreme Court arrogated to itself the power, not granted by the Constitution, to declare “unconstitutional” laws passed by Congress. Many important cases have been decided by a vote of five to four and with the rapid development of the Court’s power in recent years, in a number of instances the vote of a single Judge was often sufficient to nullify legislation. Of all the remnants of monarchy, the life tenure of office was the most flagrant and offensive and opposed to the democratic principle of responsibility to the people. Soon an assault took place against the independent judiciary. Impeachment proceedings were instituted and for a time “Judge-breaking” became wide spread among the federal and States’ judiciary. But nothing came of this protest.
The “Fathers” also provided that the Constitution, once accepted, could be amended only with the greatest difficulty. It required two-thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress or the Legislatures of two-thirds of the States to move an amendment and approval by the Legislatures or Conventions of three-quarters of the States to put an amendment into force. So thoroughly undemocratic was the Constitution that it did not even mention civil liberties. Opposition to it on this score led to such strife that in order to get the Constitution passed it was agreed to add the first ten amendments, “safe-guarding” civil liberties, immediately after its adoption. These first ten amendments declared that the Federal Government could not prevent freedom of speech, press and assemblage; the right to petition; the right to keep and bear arms; the right to a speedy trial by jury upon indictment of a grand jury; and prohibition of excessive bail or fines and cruel punishments. But one after another, these provisions of the “Bill of Rights”, have been nullified by judicial decision, executive action or legislation.
Though the Preamble of the Constitution starts off, “We the people…”, not 4.5% of America’s four million voted on the question, only 100,000 votes being cast for the adoption of the Constitution and 80,000 against. The vast majority of the poor people—the small farmers, frontiersmen and craftsmen—that is those who could vote were opposed to it, while the millions of Negro slaves and indentured servants were not able to voice their opinion at all. The very sharp class demarcation for and against the Constitution was crystallized in the nick naming of its supporters as “Washingtonians” and its opponents as “Shayites". So great was the Federalists’ fear that a strong fight against them might materialize as time passed that they immediately began a high pressure campaign for the Constitution. Their tremendous financial resources were thrown into the fight to establish newspapers and buy public opinion. Hamilton’s, Madison’s and Jay’s essays—now collected as “The Federalist”—played an important role in the battle of words. But they were not above using gangsters’ strong arm tactics to secure their end. At once they called State Conventions to ratify the Constitution in a hurry and approval by five States was pushed through within one month. In Pennsylvania to prevent hasty approval, the “Antis” had remained away from the Convention. To complete a quorum the Federalists broke into the homes of the Anti-Constitutionalists and dragged them to the State House where they were forcibly held in their places. Business was rushed through and the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 43 to 23. The opposition gained strength as time passed, the vote in the three largest States being very close: Massachusetts, 187 to 168; Virginia, 89 to 79, New York 30 to 27.
The Constitution of the United States proved to be an excellent mechanism through which the few thousand large slave owners for many years were able completely to dominate the entire country’s policy. This slaveocracy controlled the several hundred thousand small slave owners and ruled all the twelve million people in the South at the time of the Civil War. Being allowed Congressional Representation out of all proportion to their numbers—the Constitution guaranteed additional Representatives for three fifths of all the Negro slaves—they were able to take the leading role in the Federal Government. Through the Missouri Compromise they maintained in the Senate a voice equal to that of the North and West combined. These few thousand Southerners clogged all the pores of the higher apparatus and they predominated in all three divisions of the government, Legislative, Executive Administrative and Judicial. Most of the Presidents were their henchmen and through appointments they had a majority of the Cabinet posts and the Supreme Court in which the leading Judges were theirs. Their majority in the high Army posts enabled them to prepare for the inevitable insurrection and shift all the arms to the South. On this basis they dominated not only the South but the entire nation of 32 million at the time of the war.
How Much Did Democracy Grow ?
The Southerner Jefferson’s ideal of government was to decentralize and cut its business to a minimum but he did not abandon the Southerner Washington’s hegemony of the slaveocracy. On the other hand, Andrew Jackson’s protest was directed against both varieties of special privilege and stood for the combination of the small Western agrarian. How little all this actually affected the masses could be seen by the election figures. In 1824 the voting percentage was but 3% when only 366,999 of the nations 11,000,000 voted either for Jackson or John Quincy Adams in the Presidential election. Though Jackson had received the highest number of electoral votes the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which chose Adams President. It was not until four years had passed that the number voting exceeded the million mark and the voting percentage jumped to 9.1%.
Notwithstanding the rapid growth in population generally, the increase in the percentage sharing the democracy of the ruling class was slight. From 1828 through the Civil War the voting percentage averaged about 12% of the whole population. From the Civil War through the first two decades of the 20th century the average was only 17%. Only after the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Federal Constitution in August, 1920, which granted the right of suffrage to the women of the country, did the voting percentage then jump to 25% of the whole population. Since then, each Presidential election has seen a slight increase, the percentage in 1932 being 31.9%. In the last Presidential election the number voting reached about 40 million the very largest vote ever cast in the history of the United States. Standing alone, these figures may evoke shouts of patriotic pride, but when we compare them to the prevailing suffrage figures for other countries where millions of people are enfranchised we see such a huge disproportion in favor of these other nations that we must stifle these shouts unuttered in our throats.
For example, in the last British General Meetings in October, 1931, 21 million out of a population of 44.8 million, or 50%, voted. Germany held an election in November, 1932, when 35.4 million of the 65 million German people voted. This vote was 54% of the total population. Four months later another election brought 62% of the population to the polls, 39.3 million votes being cast. This comparison is staggering; a country with half our population casts a vote equal to that in the United States. How can we account for these discrepancies? Further, the highest vote ever cast in this country for any single working class was the Socialist in 1920 of 920,000 for Debs. Of the nearly forty million votes in 1932, only one million went to the candidates of all working class parties. Meanwhile in Germany fourteen million voted for the Socialist and Communist candidates.
The Disfranchisement of the Working Class
First of all we must categorically state that in America, most of those who vote are not workers and most of the proletariat does not vote. In fact, the U.S. is an excellent example of a country where the working class has been disfranchised. That the ballot is limited to the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in the main, is well illustrated by the straw votes of the “Literary Digest”, which have been such close forecasts of election returns. The many millions of “Literary Digest” ballots are sent to a mailing list taken from telephone directories automatically excluding the vast majority of the working class who have no telephones.
Throughout the history of the barring of the workers from a voice in the government the target of direct attack has ever been the foreign born and the Negro. All during the development of the Pacific Coast the Chinese, Mexicans and Indians were openly excluded from the ballot and today Asiatics are denied citizenship and its “rights". The wave of immigration due to the corn famines in Ireland led to an intense anti-foreign sentiment on the Atlantic seaboard. Advanced by the “Native American Party” the literary tests—later to be so freely used against the Negroes-- were brought forth in the pre-Civil War years especially as a bar to the alien. It is true, however, that in the mid-west and Great Lakes regions the suffrage was extended to foreigners to induce them to settle and to develop the country. In seven States as late as February 1917 aliens could vote after declaring intention to become naturalized, but this was no longer true after the last war. However, it should be noted that in all these regions the foreign born were greatly needed to develop the country and could become small property holders, whereas in the East and West coasts the attacks were launched against them as unskilled laborers.
Before the Civil War slavery prevented the Negroes from voting. Afterwards they were violently excluded from the polls by organized terror of the K.K.K. and other bodies, by manipulation of the ballots, false counting of votes, repeating, the sudden removal of the polls and illegal arrests the day before election. After a period of violent intimidation it occurred to the Southern whites that there were perfectly legal and respectable ways to eliminate the Negro from voting: Adultery and those crimes involving moral turpitude, conviction as a tramp or vagrant and crimes against the election laws. Complex election laws were set up to befuddle the Negro. On challenge he must take an oath in minutest detail declaring himself qualified to vote and he must swear that he is not guilty of any of the long list of crimes mentioned. And this oath must be supported by someone known to the election officials. Further legal measures included the abolition of a great number of elective offices and making them appointive by the Governor, heavy tax requirements and “education” or “literacy” tests. It must be remembered, too that in the days of slavery it had been a crime to teach a Negro to read or write, violation of this law by a Negro sometimes being punishable by death.
A problem that always presented itself was how to exempt some special favorites from a test which was meant to bar only Negroes but which had to be worded “impartially". In dealing with the “foreigner” the problem had been: How to frame a tests that would rule out the illiterate Irishman, say, and not the ignorant American. In the case of the Negro the task was to disfranchise all Negroes whether illiterate or not. One way out was to enact an “understanding clause” which required the voter to construe the constitution when read to him and made the voting registrars absolute judges of the most questions of interpretation over which constitutional lawyers had battled for decades. Another way of barring the Negro was through the enactment of “grandfather” clauses which allowed those to vote whose grandfathers were citizens, etc.
Aside from the eleven Southern slave States before the Civil War everywhere in the North, Negro suffrage was denounced in an unmistakable manner, in constitutional conventions and at the polls. All but six of the Northern States also had denied suffrage to the Negro; fifteen excluded him by law while six more had altered their constitutions to bar him. Even the few States which never excluded the Negro erected special barriers for him to climb in addition to those required of the whites. The experience of New York was typical where at these “popular” referendums (1846, 1850 and 1867) equal rights for the free Negro were defeated. Only in 1876 were these special barriers lowered and the three year residence period, ownership of $250 property and tax paying for a Negro to qualify as a voter were finally abandoned.
Even if the Negro can climb over all the trick tests put in his path to the ballot box, his vote can be but a meaningless rubber stamp approval of candidates he cannot name. In the South there is only one election contests and that is in the democratic Primaries from which he is barred and the bar has been but recently sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States. So have the courts sustained all the other abuses with which the Negro has been burdened. In the courts all the burden of proof has been laid upon the negro to show that he was being denied a “right” and they took advantage of all the technicalities and ambiguities of the law to make the Negroes’ problems all the harder. Witness the fact that it is only now that the question of the systematic barring of Negroes from juries has come up in a decisive manner.
The Negro people are almost 100% toilers. As unskilled labor on farm, in factory, mine or railroad the Negro represents the basis of the working class as a whole and the vicious blows against Negro suffrage epitomize the attack on the democratic rights of the entire working class. Obviously, the Negro has no chance at all. Surely the masses of Negroes can have no illusions that under the capitalists’ laws, courts and Constitution, they will be allowed democracy to vote themselves and their class into power.
The capitalists have provided all sorts of barriers to prevent the workers from ever voting themselves into power. The minimum voting age, residence period, literacy and understanding taste, property and tax paying requirements as well as disqualifications upon paupers and delinquent tax payers, are all aimed directly or covertly at limiting the workers’ voice in the government.
Since 1919 the voting age of German men and women has been set at 20 years, while in Russia all citizens above 18 years of age, except those especially debarred, have the right of suffrage. But the minimum age limit of 21, universal in the U.S., bars several million of the most militant section of the nation’s toilers from participation in the government. In Missouri, as far back as 1820, a fruitless effort was made to reduce the age limit to 18 since everybody had to do a man’s work and boys of 18 were already householders and independent. Under capitalist law these young people are infants yet they are a vital factor in his profit structure. Well he knows how dangerous to his interests it might to place the ballot in the hands of American youth.
Today 13 States have a property ownership qualifications for voting, require payment of general or Poll taxes, bar delinquent tax payers or disqualify non taxpayers. This reversion to a tax paying requirement cannot be viewed merely as a “club” against delinquent tax payers, to deny them the franchise until all assessed taxes have been paid. Rather must we regard the Poll Tax as a vicious attack upon the right of the workers to vote. Because the Poll Tax is the most “democratic” of taxes, each individual counting for one and each paying the same tax, it falls most heavily upon the workers and the poor farmers. Not only must the worker, who wishes to vote, deny his family some necessities of life in order to pay this tax out of his meager income, but he must preciously guard the receipts for it and be able to show them to the Registration Board to meet fully even this requirement.
If property qualifications are used to bar workers from the ballot they also are used to keep him from holding office. Not considering the tremendous financial resources which are needed to conduct an election campaign, the expenses of which often run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are very definite property qualifications for office building. For example, in New York State today, as must be the case elsewhere, this is true for service on juries. Prospective jurors, their names drawn from the voting lists, are required to fill out blanks stating their occupations, etc., and they must swear that they own $250 in property—above all debts and liabilities. If they do not meet this property qualification they are ineligible for jury service. While in recent years, this law has not been enforced, jury officials not questioning jurors about their wealth, it still remains on the statute books as a bar to the poor worker. This applies not only to petit or trial juries but especially to grand juries, which usually are hand picked and are always affluent or friends of the “politicians". In all of the nearly two million people in New York County that might be eligible, there are no more than 500 names on the grand jury list. The role of the grand jury is far more important than the layman may imagine. In all felony cases, and in some misdemeanors, after a person is held by a police magistrate to answer for a crime, the grand jury investigates the facts of the occurrence. If it feels that a crime has been committed, it will indict, charging a specific person with a specific crime. Being left to its determination, the grand jury drops the cases of many wealthy men which should be persecuted and persecutes many workers whose cases should be dropped.
Millions of unemployed workers, dependent upon the relief “support” of the State, which makes no provision for payment of the Poll Tax are very neatly deprived of their “inalienable” and “democratic” rights to participate in the government. Alabama specifically requires that its voters be engaged in some employment, thus barring from voting thousands of citizens, who are only seasonally employed, or who are wholly unemployed. Some States have openly denied the vote to citizens who have received relief. Besides, no provisions whatever are made to allow citizens as “work relief” to vote, especially those who may be in CCC Camps and other camps far from home.
Every one of the forty-eight States requires a previous residence period for voting, six require two years in the State, the others a year or less with a proportionate time requirement in the county and election district. These are additional burdens upon the propertyless and footloose worker since, due to seasonal and other unemployment, millions are forced to lead a migratory existence in search of work, living in no one place long enough to acquire a legal voting residence. To enforce these restrictions fourteen States and many cities too, require voters registration, which not only prohibits from voting many moving into or out of the city but stops those, who are moving about within the city itself. In Washington, D.C. half a million people living there have no vote. Legion, indeed, must be the workers, who are prevented from exercising the “right” to the franchise due to these regulations. And each day sees more qualifications added, such as the measure proposed in Colorado, the “Intelligence Test Bill”, providing for mental tests for prospective candidates before their elections, etc.
Let us now summarize the methods of our democracy so far as results go. For 144 years half the American population, the women, were excluded from voting. Today, 13 million Negroes, barred before the Civil War by slavery, are still disfranchised by legislation and terror. Four million working youth are termed “infants” and excluded from participation in the balloting. Thirteen million adult foreign born must wait five years to become citizens and vote while some aliens never can become naturalized. Many States disqualify United States soldiers and sailors from voting. A mountain of regulations, tax paying, property owning and employment requirements, education, literacy and understanding tests, etc., etc., effectively bar the poorest, the most revolutionary sections of our toiling population from participation in our “democracy"?
Additional Note by the Editor:
The empirical evidence brought forward by Comrade Clifford that America never did develop into a “Democracy” embracing the mass of proletarians in this country, is well supported by certain theoretical considerations, which it would be wise for all revolutionary workers to consider.
The first point of importance that we have to stress is the fact that “Democracy” is a type of State, which generally arises from the conflict of classes. Now in the United States, the “State” developed in a very tardy and exceedingly uneven manner. The following table illustrates this late development.
Federal Civil Executive Employees (does not include Military, Legislative or Judicial employees). June 30, 1816 6,327 June 30, 1861 49,200 June 30, 1916 438,057 Nov. 11, 1918 917,760 July 31, 1920 691,116 April 30, 1935 710,000 April 30, 1935—Number of government employees including State and City--3,000,000 April 30, 1935—Number of people dependent on State funds directly 50,000,000
In the South, in colonial days, the “State”, so far as the masses were concerned, was the plantation, that is each plantation owner kept his own police force; the only other force on hand was the sheriff’s posse, made up of the plantation owners and their agents and the militia. Very rarely indeed did the “regular” State interfere with the concerns of the plantation owner. It left these slave holders in complete liberty practically up to the Civil War, to do exactly what they pleased, but not only with their slaves, but in the main, with the poor “white trash” as well. Thus, outside of the complete absolutism of the plantation owner, the “regular” State itself was conspicuous by its absence as a functioning organism. The only role of importance that the Southern State did have was in the sphere of “foreign” policy, that is, in relation to the extension of slavery into other States and territories and countries. Thus, we may say, that in the South there was no democratic State, not merely because there was no democracy, but because there was very little “State”, the individual planters living in a sort of primitive anarchy.
In the West, the “State” was developed even less than in the South in parts; sometimes being practically nonexistent. The sort of primitive anarchy that applied to the Southern plantation owner, applied originally to the entire mass of small property holders in the West. On the “frontier” the hand of the “law” was not to be found at all. Whatever legal action was necessary was done by means of the sheriff’s posse made up of all the people, who owned some property and wanted to protect it from the bandits or from the Indians. There were no courts, no police, no prisons, no armed force of the State, no tax gatherers. As the frontier became more populated, the frontiersman, “squatting” on land not his own, was later pushed out by the homesteader, who bought his land either from the government or from land speculators and who settled down to agrarian rather than backwoods life. Even here the sheriff remained the only State officer to be seen, outside of the soldiers, who came now and then in the course of their wars, or outside of the officials, who might come to collect payments on the price of land due the government. Police were non existent, tax gatherers very scarce. This condition still exists in some of the mountain regions of the country.
Now it is our contention that such a situation is not “Democracy”, but a form of primitive anarchy. “Democracy” means law. There was no law. “Democracy” means police officers. There were no police. “Democracy” means tax gatherers. They did not exist. “Democracy” means “rule". Here there was absence of any rule. “Democracy” means the smashing of an old State apparatus by the people. Here there was no democratic revolution, no smashing, no apparatus to smash—nothing seemed to exist save geography which was free for all.
In the West, then, there was no State, no “rule of the people” over others. Of course there was mutual aid and self help, but one certainly cannot call “Democracy” a condition of society where each man hates the State, desires to minimize the State, where the State is hardly ever to be seen, where the chief desire of every frontiersman and every homesteader is to evade any established governmental apparatus much as marked the European countries, even the democratic ones, where, indeed, the settler had travelled West precisely in order to escape from Eastern State relations.
“Democracy” cannot be obtained without class struggles in the course of which the “people” “conquer” the ballot. In the West there was no “conquest”, there was more evasion. The mass of small agrarians throughout the country protected themselves without the ballot. “Democracy” means that the people, who have taken over the State, defend and cherish their State. Never was there more cynical contempt for the State than existed in the agrarian West.
We must not understand “Democracy” to signify merely free speech and civil liberties. “Democracy” means the right to vote on the part of the people and the right to choose their representatives and control their political destiny. Up to the time of the first quarter of the 19th century in the West, there might have been free speech, but there were no votes for the masses of farmers and small property holders. Nor did these elements need the vote or feel the lack of it or the necessity to pay any attention to the State generally, in order to make a living. It was only when all the best available land was being taken up and the rapacity of the slave holder for more land became absolutely unbounded, that the Western agrarian saw the need for taking part in political action directly to try to control the State for his benefit. As the Westerner could not be put down by force, the important question after the victory of Andrew Jackson, which extended the franchise to the average farmer but not to the proletarian, who would win the West, the South or the East? At first the South was able to win the Westerner, but when the East opened up with its railroads, with its industrial development and with its slogans for a “free homestead for every man”, the farmer became firmly tied to the Eastern States and formed the main troops for the North in the Civil War. It is only after the Civil War that the State really begins to develop in the West.
It is in the East where the State first arises and gets its firmest development. Here, too, a struggle takes place between large and small property holders and gradually, due to the influence of the West and industrial development, the franchise is extended to the small property holders, to the mechanics and artisans and later to the skilled workmen. At first the mass of laborers are disfranchised because they are mainly indentured servants, later because they are immigrants, and then there are added the host of disqualifications which Comrade Clifford has cited.
We can compare the three sections of the country as follows: In the South there was never the pretense of any democracy. In the West democracy was developed but in the main it was a democracy for the small property holder only. In the East there could be in fact only the semblance of democracy, for unlike the West more and more the mass of people became actual laborers and not property holders and therefore very early a potential menace to the entire property system and so were disbarred from the franchise. If in the East and throughout the country there has existed so strongly the illusion that America has been a democracy for all, this illusion was created by the following facts: First, many workers could become petty bourgeois and acquire a little property; second, the West drained off many of the rebellious elements, who were discontented and disfranchised; third, the standard of living was often high enough to prevent those not voting from worrying about it. The disfranchised relied on their own direct aid for economic security rather than looked to the State; fourth, the State did not appear very prominently upon the scene as an oppressive force until only lately. All these factors combined have the general impression of classlessness and of democracy.
Today the United States is the bourgeois State per excellence. Insofar as it has been a democracy only for the propertied, now that the propertied elements are shrinking in numbers, more and more the non-democratic and even anti-democratic character of the State must appear as the bourgeoisie has to turn increasingly to Fascism to prevent the proletariat from solving the contradictions of the crisis in its own way.
In this little editorial note, we do not pretend to make even an adequate sketch of this important subject. We shall, however, refer to it from time to time in future issues.
As the Workers Party swings into the second half year of its life, the treacherous opportunist content of its existence is being demonstrated no longer merely in its program and theories but in its actual practice. We call attention to two outstanding acts of treason of the Workers Party during the past month, the action of the Workers Party in the Toledo Automobile Strike and the action of the same organization in the Minneapolis political campaign. Lack of space prevents us from discussing all the criminal actions of which the Workers Party has been guilty. Indeed, in this issue we must confine ourselves only to Toledo, leaving Minneapolis for next month.
It is not our purpose to go into a full analysis of the great significance of the Toledo Auto strike. Some 35,000 workers were affected, directly and indirectly. And what is of the utmost importance is that it was a real threat to the whole New Deal chain gang system. Up to now the discontent brewing in steel, in coal, in rubber, in automobiles and other basic industries of the country had been skillfully side tracked by the AFL bureaucracy. The Toledo strike was a fist thrust through the whole web of class collaboration. It was a spark to unite the whole inflammable material throughout the country.
Now the Muste part of the Workers Party has always claimed that whatever happens in Toledo is due to its influence, as the Cannon clique boasts about Minneapolis. The fact of the matter is, however, that after the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo last year the Muste group fell down to insignificant proportions. Even Art Preis ("New Militant”, May 25th) has to say there were only “five or six” Musteites before the Auto-Lite Strike; and this did not improve much later. The true situation was revealed in the May Day issue of the “New Militant”, which listed the various branches of the Workers Party in the subscription campaign. Toledo is way down on the list, rated as “very poor". It is not merely in the flashy events of the moment that an organization shows its quality but especially in the day to day organization work does the true situation show itself.
Thus, as matters stood, the Workers Party did not have a great deal of organizational strength, although it might have had more influence. But as luck would have it, this influence was able to play a role in the Auto Strike and Muste was able to rally around him certain elements in the Strike Committee, at the head of which stood the Musteite, James Roland. The ease with which the Workers Party got influence in the strike shows how radical the mass of workers really are, while the dismal ending speaks volumes for the false line of the amateurs in the Workers Party, who rush into the battles of the workers only to prepare the way for their destruction.
There were two imperative tasks set before the workers in the Toledo Strike: 1) Complete independence from control of the AFL officials, who were the agents of the employers to break the strike; 2) Immediate extension of the strike nationally. In both of these tasks the program of the Workers Party proved absolutely fatal to the workers. If there are any workers left, who do not see this clearly, it is simply because of the more open betrayal of the AFL officials into whose hands the Workers Party Musteites played at every turn.
The Workers Party, in the shady manner typical of centrist groups, has worked out a “new” technique in dealing with the AFL officials. It attacks and denounces the “national” officials, the open traitors of their class, but it tries very hard to play with the local bureaucrats of all stripes, to “win” them over to the Workers Party, so as to “reform” and finally win over the AFL. Thus in Minneapolis the Workers Party organization never attacks the host of labor fakers and scabs in the leadership of the local unions. The “revolutionary” Workers Party plays ball with the whole gang of business agents and local officials and is ardently praised by them, in turn.
Such a line is forced on the Workers Party by its completely false approach to the trade union question. The Workers Party does not want to build independent unions if it can. It does not see the inevitability of splits from the AFL at certain moments and the necessity of preparing for them. It believes, with the Lovestone group, that the only work is inside the AFL, and that the skilled workers will take the lead in the struggle for Socialism. If any group of workers leave the AFL due to the unbearable betrayals of the AFL officials, it is the duty of the Cannon-Muste outfit to bring them back under the control of the AFL and Socialist officials, in the name of “unity". But in order to bring them back and carry on their own work, the Workers Party must appear more militant than the Socialist Party. While the Socialist Party plays the game with the “big-shots”, the Muste group plays the game with the “little shots"; thus the Workers Party stands to the Socialist Party as the petty bourgeoisie stands to the bourgeoisie and both of them play the role of capitalist agents. Between the two a sort of division of labor has appeared.
Notice what happened in the Toledo strike. In order to fight Dillon, the agent of the AFL top leadership, and of the bosses and government as well, it was absolutely necessary to fight Dillon’s agents inside the local, especially such people as Schwake, the business agent of the union. All along it was Schwake who was working with Dillon as part of the regular AFL machinery. Did the Muste tricky leadership expose Schwake and Co. and drive the knife of the class struggle between them and the rest of the workers? Did the Workers Party put out leaflets calling attention to the right wing clique inside the local and calling for the removal from all posts, or at least warning the workers to beware? Not at all. In the May 11th issue of the “New Militant”, for example, the week before the strike is broken, there is not a word about Schwake at all, as though he did not exist, while in the May 4th issue of the paper in the leading editorial, there is great praise for the head of the Central Labor Union of Toledo, who are all part of the local bureaucracy of which Schwake is also a part. In all of the editorials during the strike, which expressed the real policy of Cannon-Muste and Co., there was no talk of Schwake and such local elements.
Yet it must be kept in mind that IT WAS NOT DILLON THAT BROKE THE STRIKE BUT SCHWAKE. The Workers Party, perhaps, is “tolerant". It does not want to “divide” the strikers and thus was quite willing to play along with those treacherous local elements without any real exposure of them before the mass of workers on strike. Thus it gave the opportunity to the top leadership of the AFL, WORKING THROUGH THE LOCAL BUREAUCRACY, to scuttle the strike.
AFTER THE STRIKE IS BROKEN, the “New Militant” comes out with the information: “Schwake Rats for Dillon. Despite Dillon’s threats, lies, cajolery and brow beating, it is doubtful that Dillon would have succeeded in his purpose of smashing the strike, had it not been for Schwake.” While the vote was being taken “-- Schwake stepped to the “mike” and pleaded with the strikers to accept the proposals…He pointed to Dillon’s threat to leave their charter. Schwake swung enough of them to carry the vote for Dillon. Until he spoke, the strikers were dead set against acceptance. But Schwake was the man, whom they regarded as one of their own trusted leaders. It was he they had voted for in the Auto Labor Board election one month before. All during the strike he had presented himself as a militant, although behind the scenes he went along with Dillon, fought the progressives under cover, prevented the publication of the strike bulletin, helped to keep strike funds from the strike committee, tried to start a “red scare” and prevented the distribution of handbills by other working class organizations and sought to take over the leadership of the strike from the elected strike committee.” And in the same article there follows this amazing revelation: “But the strikers didn’t come or perhaps did not understand these things. They didn’t know Schwake was betraying Jimmy Roland…They did not know that it was Jim Roland, who was most active in…putting Schwake in as business agent…When Schwake turned tail the props were knocked from under many of them.”
So now the cat is let out of the bag…It was the Muste group itself that had originally boosted Schwake as a militant and had placed him in his office as “progressive” business agent! Let the workers remember this. This is not the first time that the Muste group has placed crooks and fakers in local leadership without the slightest tests. In the Columbus, Ohio, Unemployed Convention, it was found that the unemployed groups which Budenz had built up and had boasted about were headed by out-and-out stool-pigeons , who armed themselves with clubs to beat up any radical who came to the convention. It was only with the greatest difficulty that the Muste group got control over its own convention! This was Muste training for you. Now we see that the very man whom Muste put in as business agent of the Auto Workers Union turns out to be a rat of the first quality.
All workers will want to know if Schwake was guilty of all these crimes later enumerated in the “New Militant". Why was it not brought out adequately during the strike, before the strike was broken? Why was not a real progressive group built up that would carry out the strongest fight against the Schwakes and his type? The answer is that Muste was quite willing to play along with such elements. Even after the strike is broken, editorially the “New Militant” handles Schwake very gently, as in the editorial of May 18th, where it is written, “This will give notice to Dillon, to Fred Schwake, the business agent who buckled under pressure…” etc. Thus, according to the editorial comment, Schwake was a local lad who merely.."buckled under pressure". Here we see the same refusal to expose the local bureaucrats as before. Cannon-Muste must protect Schwake because they must cover their own tracks!
We learn that, “a regular series of leaflets were issued to the strikers by the Workers Party.” but nobody tells us that these leaflets exposed the right wing and began a determined struggle against them. Instead: “Key men… were educated and trained in parliamentary procedure…” Is it not a joke? Plenty of time for parliamentary procedure, but not one moment on Schwake and Co. Not one leaflet warning the men of the real danger—the fake local leaders whom Muste had installed and who were playing the game of the employers and of the AFL bureaucracy. Nothing could be a better commentary on the Muste type of work. Muste has learned, evidently, nothing from the time of 1919, when he formed his shabby “Amalgamated Textile Workers” and put on such ministers as Cedric Long as organizers and coquetted with such parliamentarians as Sidney Hillman.
But what about the real “hero” of the strike, Jimmy Roland? Why did not Roland, who was being “betrayed” by Schwake, fight Schwake tooth and nail? Evidently Roland did not believe his pal, whom he had boosted as business agent, would betray him. Roland made no speeches to the workers on the “betrayal". Evidently this confused militant was being given no proper line of policy by the Muste outfit, for on all important questions, Roland boosted and supported Schwake in fact. Why did Roland allow Schwake to make the fatal speech before the microphone, while the voting was taking place without pushing him off the platform and pointing out that he was out of order? Why did he allow Schwake to have the last word? Why did he take the vacillating attitude towards Dillon? Dillon never would have been allowed inside the hall had it not ben for Roland. Even the May 18th article is forced to declare: “For it was he (Roland), who finally persuaded the strikers to permit Dillon to speak.”
Here, then, is the situation: The men are boiling mad at the AFL fakers who want to sell them out. The workers are so militant they want to throw Dillon out of the hall. It is the Muste “hero” who calms down the workers, who personally calls in Dillon, who allows Dillon to do all his dirty work and at the critical moment, allows Schwake to finish up the job and permits this great automobile strike to be defeated and crushed. AND YET AFTER THE STRIKE THERE IS NOT ONE WORD OF CRITICISM AGAINST ROLAND ON THIS ACCOUNT. On the contrary there is the highest praise for this capitulator and compromiser, trained by Muste, who ruined everything.
Thus, from the articles appearing in the “New Militant” itself, we are forced to reach the following conclusion as to the role of the Workers Party: The Workers Party under Muste covers up the Musteite Roland, the Musteite Roland covers up “progressive” business agent Schwake, whom it put into office, the business agent Schwake covers up Dillon, his boss. Dillon covers up the game of the employers and of Roosevelt. Now is it clear why the Communist League of Struggle calls for the complete annihilation of this treacherous outfit, the Workers Party?
But this is not quite all. We still have to ask ourselves how about the second task that the strikers had to set to themselves, namely, the immediate extension of the strike nationally? Everywhere the automobile workers were anxious to get into action behind toledo. It was this that worried roosevelt the most and kept his Labor Secretary Perkins with her ear glued to the long distance phone. The Workers Party could have shown itself a really national organization by going with the Toledo strikers to Flint, to Detroit, to Cleveland and Buffalo and to all the chief cities urging the workers to come out. Instead they left the whole thing to Dillon, who went everywhere and everywhere broke the militant spirit of the auto workers. The Workers Party should have thrown all its forces into the field for this work. Instead Cannon and Swabeck and Shachtman stayed far from the field. Let Muste break his neck, we"ll keep out factional apparatus intact—that was Cannon and Shachtman’s outlook on the situation—and Muste made speeches… in New York. When it came to throwing themselves into action the Workers Party showed itself completely impotent. Its members taught the strikers…parliamentary law!
If the Workers Party could not do the job, it should at least have formed a united front with other labor groups, who might be able to aid them in the work, namely, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. Why did not the Workers Party form a united front with the S.P. and the C.P. to spread the strike? They formed a united front with Schwake, who attacked the “Reds”, but could not work with the Communist Party whom they had called “racketeers in radicalism” themselves. One could hardly tell the difference between Schwake and Muste. Muste can speak on the same platform with the Fascist Dennis, but he cannot speak to other workers groups for the extension of the strike so as to take control of the whole situation from the AFL officials. The fact is, of course, the Workers Party did not want to take the control away from the AFL officials.
The Workers Party was willing to see the strike go down to defeat rather than form a united front that had the only opportunity to save it. Here we see the leaders of the Workers Party pursuing the same policy of rule or ruin, the same splitting dirty work that characterizes the other centrist and socialist outfits and whom the workers must learn to clean out of their ranks with an iron broom if they are to win anything.
The Muste-Cannon crew have now been in three strikes—the Hotel Strike in New York City, the Truck Drivers Strike in Minneapolis, and the Auto Strike in Toledo. In each of these three strikes they have committed monstrous crimes and have directly led the workers to defeat and demoralization (to be continued)
COMING ARTICLES: “The End of the N.R.A.”
"How Can We Americanize Communism?”
In the early part of 1934 there was organized in an exceedingly hasty and shabby manner a so called “International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations". The driving forces behind the conference organizing this bureau were first, the left socialist groups, the S.A.P. (Socialist Labor Party of Germany) and the O.S.P. (Independent Socialist Party of Holland) and second, the International Secretariat of Trotsky (International Left Opposition) to which was attached the R.S.P. (Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland). Owing partly to the rotten opportunist manner in which the international youth conference was arranged by the Dutch group (we understand the O.S.P. responsible) the conference was broken up by the police, the foreign delegates deported, the German delegates sent to Hitler and the conference forced to continue its meeting in Lille” for a very brief period. The police interference made it practically impossible to do anything constructive at the conference. A Bureau was created, consisting of a delegate from every organization present (including the Communist League of Struggle, which had sent a delegate) and a Secretariat elected, (one from the Swedish group, one from the S.A.P. and one from the I.L.O.).
At that time, the international Secretariat had not behaved so shamefully as to give up its revolutionary banner by liquidating itself into the Socialist parties and with centrist groups. The Communist League of Struggle was still friendly to the I.L.O. of Trotsky and was considered a “friendly” grouping, our delegate sitting in at the caucus of the I.L.O. delegates. We firmly believed that the international conference was for the purpose of laying the basis for a new Communist Youth International and to help in the formation of a new Communist International. According to the reports, we had received from the I.L.O. we were led to believe that the S.A.P. and other left socialist groups were coming over to the position for the immediate formation of a new Communist International.
These reports of the I.L.O. were false. The S.A.P., like a typical centrist body continued to flirt with all the other left socialist parties and to sabotage the formation of a Fourth International. Their agent inside the new Youth Secretariat also began this sabotage. Although the whole S.A.P. is but a small emigre group, their representative was able to win over the third comrade on the Youth Secretariat and thus effectively sabotage all efforts to put forth effective propaganda for a new Communist International. We in America were not aware of the full extent of this sabotage until we got the reports of the last meeting of the Left Socialist Parties and groupings in Paris, where the Youth Bureau representatives actually spoke against the proposals for the immediate formation of a Fourth International. Thus the “left” socialist centrists (S.A.P. and I.L.P., etc.) again try to repeat the role they played when the Third International was formed. It is absolutely necessary for genuine Internationalist-Communists to break completely with this sort of outfit.
But that is not all. Not only was the drive for a new Communist International abandoned from the side of the left socialist centrists, but it also was abandoned in fact by the International Secretariat of Trotsky (the I.L.O. groupings); the R.S.P. of Holland fused with the O.S.P. (socialist), the C.L.A. of the United States fused with Muste’s Provisional committee for an American Workers Party (socialistic), the League of France joined the French Socialist Party, the Belgian League joined the P.O.B. (socialist), the British League entered the I.L.P. (socialist). Everywhere the Trotskyites proved themselves liquidators and capitulators, who were creating the new illusions in the Socialist parties and Socialist International and in the left socialist centrist groupings.
At the very same time as these events were occurring in the ranks of the I.L.O. the Youth Bureau at Malmo, held its first meeting after the Lille “conference". Months later the Bureau sent out a report on this meeting. In this report it stated that the C.L.S. and the Spartacus Youth League (connected with the Workers Party) should cooperate together to put out the English edition of the Youth Bulletin. Immediately we raised the question of whether these groups like the I.L.O., which believed in capitulating to the Second International should remain inside the ranks of the Youth Bureau. We now publish this letter:
December 6, 1934
We are sending you a money order for $1.50, which is our basic contribution of five kronen for the last three months of the year.
In your Organization Letter No.5, you write that the Communist League of Struggle must help in putting out the English Bulletin. We shall be very glad to do this. However, the Bureau must keep in mind that since the treacherous action of the International Secretariat of the Internationalist Communists of the Trotsky school, we are not in very good terms with the Spartacus Youth League.
It seems to us that the problems presented by the shameful capitulation of Trotsky’s International Secretariat can no longer be avoided by any International body including the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organization. A genuine revolutionary international body cannot tolerate within its ranks those whose role is merely to rebuild the Second or Third Internationals or whose functions are to bring the two together into a new “2 1/2 International".
We did not know at the time that the whole youth secretariat had sabotaged the question of the Fourth International and had abandoned any pretense to a genuine revolutionary role. It is also necessary to state that we never received any receipt for the money we sent over.
At this point we must remark that the C.L.S. in its struggle against the capitulation of Trotsky also had to clean out of its ranks some cowards and capitulator discovered within it. One of these persons, whom we expelled ignominiously was Fred Browner**(see footnote below) who had been our delegate to the Youth Conference in 1934. As we heard that this self confessed coward was sending private letters to the Youth Bureau Secretariat, we sent that body the following letter: “Please be informed that Browner has been removed from all posts in our organization. Any further information or letters he may send we are not responsible for. Kindly see to it that all communications are addressed to our organization directly.” ---—--- ---
We do not have to add that neither this letter nor the one given above was answered by the secretariat. Instead of that, we received at the beginning of 1935, mimeographed reports on the work of the “Bureau”, which put down as though in passing, the statement that the C.L.S. was but a “sympathizing” organization, but not an actual part of the Bureau. It must be kept in mind that the Bureau had not met since the middle of 1934, that only the Secretariat of three (two of them meeting in Stockholm and deciding everything, these two being representatives of socialist centrist groups, one of them being a tiny emigre sect) had met and they had “decided” to eliminate the C.L.S. from the Bureau. We at once dispatched the following letter to the Secretariat:
March 20, 1935
We have received a copy of the statement put out in English on the activity of the Secretariat for 1934 in which it is declared that the Youth Section of the Communist League of Struggle is but a “sympathetic” organization (page 4 of the Report) and thus not part of the International Bureau. This is a complete falsehood and we demand that the bureau issue a statement correcting this immediately.
The facts are as follows:
1. We were the first organization in the United States to come out for a new Communist International and new Youth International.
2. At a great cost we had a delegate both at the Laren and Lille conference.
3. Together with the others our delegate was arrested and deported.
4. At the conference our delegate was elected to the International Bureau with the same rights as the others, representing the Youth Section of our organization.
5. When the Bureau called for financial support, our organization sent its contribution in promptly and according to the report given was the only organization in the United States to do this. The Spartacus Youth League of the U.S., which is seated as a regular delegate on the Bureau has not even paid in its contribution.
6. At its last meeting the Bureau deplored the fact that it could not put out the Bulletin in English and called on the Communist League of Struggle and the Spartacus Youth League to unite to put out the Bulletin. We promptly replied that we stood ready to put out the Bulletin in English. But the Spartacus Youth League never would cooperate with us, nor put out the Bulletin themselves.
7. When the U.S. delegates returned from Holland we proposed a united front to protest the deportation and arrests. The Spartacus Youth League sabotaged any demonstration for that purpose alone and forced us to carry out the decisions of the Bureau alone.
“We do not know who is responsible for the false reports given in the English Bulletin, but either the statements concerning the Communist League of Struggle are immediately corrected and the correction sent to all the Socialist and Communist organizations that get the Bulletin or we shall be forced to break with this intriguing clique and openly denounce it before all the European organizations in contact with us.
Please let us hear from you immediately as we shall not wait more than a month to act upon our decision. ---—--- ---
It was since sending this letter that we got the report of the opportunist conduct of the Youth Bureau representative at the left socialist party conference, which held in February, 1935. Had we known of this we would have called for the removal of the Secretariat at once or broken from the Bureau then and there. However, we soon received the following letter which put an end to all doubts as to the worthlessness of the “International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations” as conducted by the intriquant and petty emigre Secretariat:
April 12, 1935
Communist League of Struggle
We have your letter of March 20. The yearly report in English is published by the secretariat of the buro, and we are of course wholly responsible for it.
In accordance with the Malmo session of the buro, the secretariat dealt with the organizational questions of the buro. There was animosity that youth organizations only, with an organizational life of their own, papers etc., could join the buro directly. Groups and organizations of adults, working also among the youth and interested in our work, should join the ranks of sympathizing organizations. From your organizational reports, we did not get the impression that the youth section of the C.L.S. had the above mentioned character. On these grounds we made our decision.
We admit that we ought to have informed you of this. However, this is partly due to the fact that at that time our correspondence with your group was impeded by comrade Browner leaving your group, and the contradictory statements we received from him and you.
The classification in directly joining and sympathizing organizations is by no means a political one. It is solely an expression of the fact that we are a youth buro Organization with a greater membership and more significant politically than yours, such as “Rote Front” of Austria, realizing the suitability of this decision, have asked themselves, to be listed as sympathizing organizations.
We again acknowledge the acceptance of kr.5.—your dues for the 3rd quarter of 1934. However you are wrong when believing that as a sympathizing organization you are making no contributions. All other sympathizing organizations are supporting the work of the buro financially. They also receive all the material we are putting out, (bulletin, yearly reports, etc.)
We hope this letter will clear up all misunderstanding on your part, and that you continually will support our work.
With revolutionary greetings,
(signed) Willy Brandt, Walker Held.
This wonderful letter deserves a few comments from us as the intriguing character of the Secretariat is so beautifully exposed:
1. The Secretariat admits that it never informed us that it was receiving disloyal letters from an individual in the U.S. slandering our organization.
2. The Secretariat actually states that it gives the letters of an expelled individual and an organization of revolutionists equal weight.
3. The Secretariat never sent us copies of the letters sent it by the expelled renegade.
4. The Secretariat, to cover itself up, falsely states it sent us a receipt for the money sent it, which it had not.
5. On the basis of “impressions” the Secretariat undertakes to remove an organization from the bureau, whose servant the Secretariat is, without a vote of the Bureau, without informing the organization involved or even asking questions of it!
We need only add that as a matter of fact what was taken up at the conference of the bureau in Malmo was not whether such organizations as ours could be part of the Bureau, but whether organizations like the French League which had joined the French Socialist Party and the Socialist Youth and thus were part of the Socialist International could remain in the Bureau, which had come out for the liquidation of the Socialist International and the formation of a new Communist International.
Can such a filthy clique deserve any support whatever from genuine internationalist Communists especially those, who have broken from similar intrigues of Stalin and of Trotsky? The intolerable impudence of the reply of the Secretariat can be appreciated when one realizes that the signers of the letter. Brandt and Held represent that socialist centrism which everywhere runs away from the struggle against Fascism and which opposes the cleansing from the ranks of the working class all traces of yellow opportunism. A tiny emigre clique, having absolutely no youth following whatever, with no past and with no future, sets itself up to pass upon the youth work of every organization throughout the world and with typical German nationalism add insult to injury by pointing out that a socialistic organization in little Austria is more significant politically than our Communist organization in decisive United States.
The outrageous conduct of the Secretariat shows us very clearly the corruption and provincialism that has existed in the ranks of the old European “revolutionary” and “socialist” movement. Such elements as represented by Brandt and Held can prepare the way not for revolutionary Communism but for reaction. A new internationalist Communist center must be formed that will throw them into the ash heap.
Since the above letter, we received another bulletin from the Secretariat which pretends to give advice on the Belgian situation and which states that the following demands should be put up in Belgium: Remove the bourgeois ministers from the government for the realization of the whole Plan of De Man. Not a work as to the treachery of the Belgian Socialists and Trotskyites, who entered into the coalition government; not a word as to the necessity of smashing the belgian State; not a word exposing the whole utopian character of the De Man Plan. All the vices of yellow social democracy are here repeated in the most vulgar manner. And this is the new “revolutionary” Bureau!
Communist League of Struggle (Internationalist Communists of the United States)
**footnote on the expulsion of Fred Browner from the C.L.S.
We sent Browner to the youth conference, although he was not the best delegate, because of our great desire to participate in laying the basis for a new international and because it was only through him that we could raise the money. On the return of Browner to this country we found that he had become thoroughly demoralized: The detention for a day or so in the jails of Holland had evidently frightened him terribly, the rotten conditions of the Communist groups demoralized him, his bourgeois relations in England had softened him. We demanded that he throw himself into the work of building up an important youth movement. Browner steadily resisted. He refused even to be chairman at open air meetings and deliberately flouted the discipline of the organization. We demanded a statement from him or his expulsion.
In his statement Browner confessed, “On my return from Europe I was the first to state that I was very discouraged with the movement there.” He had plans to leave the class struggle movement and he took all pretexts to throw the blame on the C.L.S. in order to do this. He had made the acquaintance of the new Fascist, Marie Reese, and when the leadership of the C.L.S. intimated a skepticism about the unproven worth of Marie Reese, he opened violent charges against it. Marie Reese—who had importuned Browner so ardently to find a husband for her in the U.S., soon became an open renegade and a propagandist for the Nazis.
We demanded that this capitulator, Browner, either change his attitude or be expelled. Upon this, Browner sent us another statement which we quote: “4. The writer understands that whatever the shortcomings of the C.L.S. may be, there is no other organization nearly as politically correct. He also understands that to be out of the C.L.S. means the loss of any real political connection with the working class. 5. He realizes that whatever and in spite of the disagreements (which were not political) with the leadership, the work should have been continued. 6. Whatever the subjective reasons may be, the total amounts to weakness, lack of confidence in the proletariat and the inevitability of the proletarian revolution, rank cowardice and capitulation. 8. I realized during the last few months (despite certain subjective factors) the direction which I was going in.
“ The action which the organization takes should not be less severe because of the supplementary statement. The fact that it shows a conscious act, should make the tendency in the opposite direction.”
The date of this second statement was October 1st, 1934. No sooner was it given when Browner found a real excuse to quit. The Communist League of Struggle broke with Trotsky because of his re-entrance into the Socialist International. Now this self confessed coward Browner could “use” Trotsky to defend himself. The C.L.S. unceremoniously threw him out of the organization.
THE SCANDAL OF THE FRANCO-SOVIET PACT
by Albert Weisbord
On May 15th there was published the official communique issued by the representatives of France and the Soviet Union. So far as we are concerned the most important part of this Communique was that which the Daily worker suppressed and which read: “In this regard, M. Stalin understands and fully approves the national defense policy of France in keeping her armed forces at a level required for security.” This statement was supported by an article appearing the next day in “Izvestia”, official organization of the Soviet Union, which declared: “Until a system of collective security including countries governed by elements endangering peace, has been firmly established, France and the USSR will maintain their armaments at a level guaranteeing their safety. This, it is true, is a heavy burden for both countries. But to weaken these forces now would be to strengthen the hopes of the opponents of peace and to subject other peoples to the risk of having to pay dearly for negligence in preparing their defenses.” This, by the way, is precisely the thesis which the French militarists had maintained at all the disarmament and conferences and which the Soviet representatives, together with the Germans, had most vigorously challenged.
At the same time as the Communique was issued there was formed a military mutual aid pact between the USSR and France, and later between the USSR and Czechoslovakia—in which both sides pledge themselves to help whichever one is attacked by a third party. If the French bourgeoisie is attacked by Germany, the Red Army of the Soviets will spring to their aid. If the 3 1/2 million Germans in Czechoslovakia attempt to fuse their lot with the co-members of their race in Germany, the Soviet Union, should France give the signal, must declare war. Such is the present situation.
Evidently, Soviet diplomacy has evolved far since Lenin’s day. Under Lenin the Soviet State and the Communist International were one, but the first followed the lead of the latter and both fought for the world revolution. Under Stalin, however, and before the rise of Hitler to power, the Soviet State separated itself from the Third International and with the theory of Socialism in one country, definitely turns its back on the world revolution and crushes the internationalist communists in its ranks. The Soviet Union is rewarded by being recognized by capitalist countries. Finally, a new synthesis is established. The Soviet State and the Comintern are again united after the victory of Fascism in central Europe; but this time it is the Communist International, which is liquidated by Russian State policies. The world revolution is crushed and betrayed. Now unchecked by any decisive proletarian brake in Europe, Soviet diplomacy undergoes a further development. In the beginning Russia enters the League of Robbers, the League of Nations, and stands by the status quo in Europe. A little later Russia undertakes a series of mutual non-aggression pacts. Today, Russia has definitely entered into the whole network of imperialist brigandage by pledging the governments of France and Czechoslovakia (and perhaps others) that she will declare war on Germany or any other country that attacks her allies. Thus russia has definitely become a support to these governments and their militarism and must engage to strengthen their armed forces as much as possible. If the Riffs rebel in Africa and the Syrians in the Near East, if the Indo-Chinese fight in Annam, if the Sudanese flare up, if Ethiopia declares war against the allies of France (Italy) and thus indirectly against France, then it must be the duty of the Communist Parities to put down these colonial battles as quickly as possible, for other wise the French military machine will be weakened and France will not be able to help the U.S.S.R. France, you see, stands for “peace” and “national defense". Thus Stalinism, which already has to its credit the beheading of the Chinese Revolution now proves to be the executioner of all colonial revolts generally.
Nor is this all. Since Stalin, “himself”, has ordered “his” Communists to approve the strengthening of French militarism, how can the Communists conduct anti-military work among the French conscripts and thus demoralize the army? How can workers strike in factories that are producing supplies for the army or producing anything at all? How can the Communist Party delegates refuse to vote for the military budgets? How can the French proletarians fight their own bourgeoisie when the chief enemy becomes the Germans and when France suddenly becomes, in the eyes of Stalinism, a “peace loving” country, and aggressive imperialism of France becomes mere “national defense” of France? What is going to happen to the Leagues against War and Fascism, which Stalinism has set up , when Stalinism is now for supporting French militarism and when Fascism can be proved to be the most efficient handling of the capitalist resources in war time? Since Fascism is the best support of militarism in the present period, how can the Fascists be denounced? Thus international class struggle gives way to collaboration with the Fascists whose policy of strong militarism, no strikes, etc., must be preserved at all costs.
It was only a few years ago, in 1928, that the Soviet Union diplomats were trying to prove that the French bourgeoisie was the most murderous of all. The white Guard Russians were being trained in Paris for intervention and were organized by Poincare. The French were responsible for the murders of Voikeff and Verovsky, etc. At the same time the German workers were being told by Bucharia and Co., that they might have to fight side by side with the Reichswahr against the French if need be in order to prevent the execution of the Versailles Treaty. Now the French bourgeoisie suddenly becomes the veritable friend of the working girl and the Versailles Treaty maintaining the status quo in Europe must be preserved at all costs.
By making the German workers attack the Versailles Treaty rather than their own bourgeoisie, the Stalinists in Germany only paved the way for the “national revolution” of Fascism. With their alliance with the German bourgeoisie and their slogan of Socialism in one country, the Russian Stalinists would not lift one finger to help the German workers in their critical moments of 1932-1933 and definitely hastened the victory of Fascism. At a time when the German masses were ready for civil war and armed insurrection, the Stalinists refused to mobilize their Red Army to help, but instead called Pacifist congresses to stress universal disarmament. But now that the mass organizations of the workers have been crushed and the militarists are in the saddle, the Stalinists abandon their pacifist phrases and turn to make alliances with these same European militarists. The Stalinists could not mobilize their Red Army to help the German masses, but they can mobilize their Red Army to help the French bourgeoisie. When the working class of Europe called on the Stalinists for help, they raised the slogan of Socialism in one country and practically said: “To hell with you, we’ve got ours.” But when the French ruling classes cry for help, the Stalinists are Johnny on the spot.
And at what time do the Stalinists rush to help the French capitalist militarists? Precisely at the time when the French situation is developing into a revolutionary one and when the masses are taking to the streets. It is precisely at this time that Stalinism rushes to the aid of the French bourgeoisie to bolster them up and to stab the French revolutionary movement in the back. Not satisfied with having been direct accessory for the victory of Fascism in Germany. Stalinism aids the reactionaries in France and proves again that its present historic role is to kill every revolutionary movement in Europe as well as in Asia, (and as Stalinism is doing in Cuba, for example where its program calls for a struggle for the reduction of rent for Americans in Cuba and class collaboration with American imperialism there—See December, 1933 “Communist"). It is highly important for us to note that STALINISM ALLIED ITSELF PRECISELY WITH THAT SECTION OF THE EUROPEAN BOURGEOISIE WHICH IS MOST IN DANGER OF BEING OVERTHROWN BY THE WORKING CLASS AND WHICH STALINIST HELP THE MOST IN ORDER TO REACH FASCISM!
The Franco-Soviet Pact is a scandal of the first magnitude. It means that the French masses will be induced to yield to the Fascist-Militarist combination that is reaching for power and that there will be no insurrection against it. It means that the workers of the Soviet Union will be still further isolated and left undefended, since the defense of the workers in the Soviet Union can come only through the overthrow of the French, German and other militarists by the world revolution. It means that the French and world bourgeoisie will be able to wring still further concessions and compel still further retreats WITHIN RUSSIA and give new blows to the Soviet Union. When it was a question of helping the trade unions of Europe resist Fascism then Stalinism informed the Russian workers that the trade unions of Europe could not help them much, that the Soviet Union could defeat its enemies by its internal strength alone, its Red Army and its new factories. Now Stalinism is singing altogether a different tune and is pointing out to the workers, who the Soviet Union’s show safety and security depends upon the French bourgeoisie so as to lay the basis for the day when the Russian workers will be sent out to slaughter other European workers—for the benefit of the French and other sections of the world capitalist class!
There remains one further word to be said about the despicable role of the French Trotskyists. They are now part of the French Socialist Party, which is nationalist through and through and which has pledged its full aid to the defense of its fatherland. The Trotskyists bitterly attack the Communist Party for the pact. But they are completely silent on the treachery of Leon Blum and the other Socialist Party leaders, who are playing their own nationalist game. They are quite content to be in the Socialist Party, which is mobilizing the French workers for the next imperialist war. Here Trotsky only repeats the role of Plechanoff. A thousand times more necessary than ever is our complete separation from this bunch.
A new Communist International is necessary.
Read: “THE STRUGGLE FOR COMMUNISM”, General Theses of the C.L.S.
WAR AND CIVIL LIBERTIES (I)
BY Robert Barnett
It is one of the great American illusions that the United States is a country of outstanding democratic achievements. In fact there are few capitalist countries (with the exception of Fascist dictatorships) where the political fetters, which prevent working class expression are so well rivetted. It is partly for this reason that nowhere else in the world is the day to day struggle between capital and labor compelled to take the violent and ferocious form which it does in this country. Here, the mere organizations of a union in an important industry may assume the proportion of a minor civil war. Not only are government troops called into play and semi-martial law established, but concomitantly, there takes place the most revolutionary suppression of civil rights. Freedom of press, speech and assemblage becomes a mere phrase. Nevertheless, so powerful is the illusion of democracy that even working class parties have fallen under its spell.
How much greater must the oppression be when the nation goes to war? Then it no longer becomes a question of isolated transgressions upon the rights of the workers, but of a thorough and systematic suppression of all civil liberties through the most brutal clubbing and jailing. Under the heel of American militarism, every protest, every expression of disagreement, is ruthlessly eradicated. Every ordinary legal act undertaken by the proletariat in defense of its own interests is immediately characterized as seditious. While the magazines warn the workers that “labors’ sword—the strike—must remain in its sheath” . (Lit. Digest, Mar 2, 1918). the government does not stop with mere admonishment, but translates into direct action the current anathemas of the kept press. In the name of the war to end war, every militant labor leader is pounced upon by the government or the bloodhounds of the professional patriotic societies, slugged and kicked into rat infested jails, where the months grow into years before the men are brought to trial. During this time, they are again subjected to the most vicious treatment that sadistic police guards and their equally sadistic superiors can devise. Death, suicide, insanity and permanent illness are the usual result. Even the concentration camps of Hitler could be no worse. The Nazi dungeons may exceed America’s war time jails in the number incarcerated, but not in the quality of brutal treatment accorded their prisoners. Should one contrast the Germany of the Kaiser in the years 1917-18 with supposedly democratic America, one would be amazed at the unfavoritism of the comparison.
All this has been well illustrated by the last World War in which the frenzied conduct of the American bourgeoisie unleashed a reign of terror without previous parallel in the history of the country. Until then only the Negroes had received such brutal treatment. Now it embraced every section of the working class. The Preparedness Day Parade and the Mooney-Billings trial became the prelude to a long series of outrages aimed at the destruction of the political rights of the workers. The Constitution was honored more in the breach than in the observance. The first ten Amendments, which are popularly called the Bill of Rights, might not have existed for all the benefit which they conferred upon those whom the government felt to be the least bit dangerous. Mass arrests and terrorism against outspoken opponents of the war became the usual order of the day. In the key industries barbaric violence prevailed, elsewhere every equivocal action was looked upon with suspicion and punished as though it were treason. The common law principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty was converted into the travesty of giving him a mock trial and then hanging him. soon they dispensed with even the farce of a “fair” trial and resorted to lynching and similar methods as more expeditious. Trials were too expensive and time too valuable to permit of such democratic nonsense. Besides, the State frequently lacked even the bare minimum of evidence to get a conviction.
The world is now on the brink of another war. It is imperative, therefore, to understand what occurred in the last one for the same tactics on a high scale and with new improvisations must inevitably be repeated. Instead, however, of the comparative lack of preparation with which the United States rushed into the last war, we can anticipate the creation in advance of a carefully planned and comprehensive program to cope with the situation. Undoubtedly, much of it has been devised already and now awaits but the opportune moment for its enactment. This is precisely what happened in England in 1914. The “Defense of the Realm Act” was prepared by a committee of experts before the war began and in a few weeks after Britain entered the fray this legislation had received the sanction of Parliament. It vested executive powers in certain civil officials and contained an especially flexible code of substantive and administrative law which could be changed from month to month as the conditions warranted. Contrast this to America’s approach to the problem. Our government entered the war with practically no law on the statute books except the Treason Act, which the government found useless, since it could not be applied to cases involving mere speech, unless accompanied by overt action, and several criminal laws of Civil War vintage, which the government occasionally invoked in order to punish conspiracies to resist recruiting or to evade the draft. These antiquated acts, however, were too limited in scope to be of real value, for while they applied to speeches and publications , they covered neither attempts to persuade men against enlistment nor the successful acts of individuals. On several occasions, however, these obsolete statutes were dragged out of the closet of history and made to serve a useful purpose. Such was the case with the Logan Act of 1799, which forbade intercourse between an American citizen and any agent of a foreign country. Under the provisions of this law the Department of State refused passports to the American delegates to the Socialist Conference at Stockholm on the ground that Germany had given a quasi official status to Scheidemann and Co.
As far as alien enemies were concerned it was unnecessary to pass any new legislation since they were adequately taken care of by the Internment Law, the potentialities of which were unlimited save by the concrete situation. It was manifestly impossible, however, to imprison the half million Germans and the four million Austro-Hungarians, who were not naturalized. Furthermore, these aliens played a decisive role in many of the very indispensable industries. Notwithstanding, the government was able to make excellent use of the law and succeeded in ably accomplishing its purpose. No greater tribute can be paid to its effectiveness than the terse words of the Attorney General: “---The internment statute…has been a powerful weapon in putting down enemy activities.” For the other laws he could only say, “The treason statute, owing to the new conditions of warfare by propaganda and the strictness required in proof, has been of little value. The conspiracy statute relating mainly to crimes committed in times of peace were palpably inadequate.”
It is true that the “Threats against the President” Act had been passed on February 14, 1917, providing that: “Any person, who knowingly and wilfully deposits or causes to be deposited for conveyance in the mail or for delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, message or document containing any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, or who knowingly and wilfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, shall upon conviction be fined not exceeding $1000 or imprisoned not exceeding five years or both.”
This was not a very important statute, however, as can be very readily gathered from the fact that Walter Nelles of the National Civil Liberties Bureau reports that up to June 6, 1918, there were only 60 prosecutions commenced under this section. Out of this number 23 pleaded guilty and 18 were convicted after trial. The majority of these cases were really unintentional outbursts provoked by the hysterical conduct of the American public. Nevertheless, here as elsewhere, the courts endeavored to give the law as broad an interpretation as possible and so construed this section that the threat did not have to be communicated to the President. If it was contained in a letter it was sufficient that it be seen by the officials. Thus the usual legal test of “dangerous circumstances” was completely eliminated and it became possible to prevent the public from voicing the most harmless and spontaneous statements of discontent.
At the same time the law was also employed in cases involving the mere expression of political opinion albeit to a very insignificant extent since if the words were part of a leaflet or a speech, there was usually sufficient additional matter to bring it within the purview of the more stringent laws that were subsequently enacted. Where for special reasons this was impossible the defendant was punished under this Section and the court assisted in every conceivable way to make the conviction possible. When some one said, “I wish Wilson was in hell, and if I had the power I would put him there.” The Judges held that this was a threat against the President’s life, since he could not be put in hell unless he were dead. Evidently the court of justice was of the opinion that when the President died he would find his permanent abode in hell!
On April 20, 1918, a full year after its introduction in Congress, the Sabotage Law was enacted. Of ample character it could have served very successfully in the West against the I.W.W., where an intense animosity existed against them as a result of the widespread newspaper campaign, which had been expressly launched for that purpose. At that late date, however, the government had already disposed of most of the I.W.W.’s under the earlier Espionage Law. Nevertheless it is important to consider the possibilities of this law since its main function resides in the future.
Seemingly the Sabotage Act was intended for professional saboteurs since the title reads, “To punish wilful injury and destruction of war material, or of war premises or utilities used in connection with war materials and for other purposes.” Yet a reading of the content discloses the vast amount of dynamite, which is packed between its pages and the potent threat, which it constitutes to civil liberties. Under this Act, “war materials” include in addition to those articles commonly designated by that name, live stock, clothing, food, and “all other articles of whatever description, and any part or ingredient thereof intended for, adapted to or suitable for the use of the United States or any associate nation, in connection with the conduct of the war.” the words “war promises” include all places where war material is produced, repaired, stored, mined, loaded and the machinery contained therein. “War utilities” comprise railroads, canals, docks, bridges, machines, boats, automobiles, airplanes, on which the U.S. or ally troops are or may be transported, also electric light, gas lines, telephones, telegraph, etc., which the Army may use. If such property is injured or destroyed or wilfully made defective with the intent to obstruct the United States or allies in the war, or it is done with reason to believe that act may injure or interfere with prosecution of the war, then the wrongdoer can be imprisoned for 30 years or fined $10,000 or both.
This is indeed drastic legislation., Not only does the law embrace practically all major industries, but it makes punishable any destruction to such property even though it is merely the outcome of conduct, which the doer should reasonably have known might interfere with the war. Without elaborating too many illustrations, I would like to point out two probable situations. Suppose a strike occurs in a produce market and the picketing of the strikers prevents scabs from being employed. This causes the food to rot. Is this not an act injuring the war supplies with reason to believe that it might interfere with the conduct of the war? Or suppose all the workers of a steel mill, walk out simultaneously at an hour when the ore has been so placed in the furnace that unless immediately attended to, it will be ruined. Does anyone imagine that these acts would not be included under the Sabotage Law? Obviously the Department of Justice must have been of the same opinion for on April 25, 1918, the Attorney General wrote to his lieutenants: “Your attention is especially drawn to the sweeping and comprehensive scope of this act. The department recommends that you obtain through the local press of your district publicity regarding the provisions of this act and its comprehensive nature.” (Circular 819). Assuredly the Attorney General’s anxiety for publicity can be attributed only to his zeal in seeing it utilized by the capitalists in just such cases suggested.
But if there were few laws on the statute books the government had one very important piece of legislation up its sleeve, which the Department of Justice had prepared far in advance of the war and had recommended to congress in May, 1916--the Espionage Act. That it was not passed prior to the actual declaration of hostilities was not due to any neglect on the part of the Attorney General. The Espionage law passed the Senate on February 20th, but did not become a law until June 15, 1917. War had been declared on April 6th and with the receipt of the German Submarine Note of January 31, 1917, was almost a foregone conclusion. In the meantime the federal authorities were compelled to act. Although they had not received the official benediction of Congress, precautionary measures were imperative. On February 2nd, therefore, the Attorney General instructed all U.S. Attorneys by wire “to take prompt measures to locate and prosecute, so far as Federal Law can reach them, all persons, who may attempt to engage in activities, detrimental to the U.S. in connection with the foreign situation. If necessary, request active cooperation of state and local officials.” Ostensibly, this edict applied exclusively to alien enemies, but we must read this command in the light of the subsequent instructions, which issued from the Attorney General’s office. On March 27th (10 days before war was declared) the following message was sent:
“You are directed to make careful examination of the statutes of your state, with a view to having them invoked in cases not covered by the federal statutes, particularly statutes relating to the violations of the peace, destruction of property, conspiracy, vagrancy, binding over to keep the peace, etc., and TO THE APPLICATION OF THESE STATUTES IN A MANNER WHICH MIGHT NOT ORDINARILY AND READILY OCCUR TO THE AVERAGE PROSECUTOR. In the same connection you are requested to furnish as soon as possible to the department a brief statement of such statutes now in force in your state and the manner of their enforcement.”
On the very same day a letter was addressed to the police to which the Attorney General appealed to their patriotism, requested their cooperation, told them to keep the local representative of the United States informed and “to see that especially pernicious agitators are restrained in so far as the law will permit.” Now it is conceivable that the Attorney General had in mind only enemy aliens, but hardly possible since under the circumstance he had to speak cryptically and knew that he would not have been misunderstood. Certainly subsequent events testified eloquently to the intentions of the Attorney General. Could it have been a mere coincidence that on the 3rd of April, Stephen Kerr of the S.L.P. was sentenced to sit three months in jail for disorderly conduct merely because he made a speech in Madison Square and that on the following day, Henry Jager of the Socialist Party was also sentenced to a three month term for the same offense, while two other socialists were fined for activities growing out of the affair? This was only New York City. Similar occurrences took place throughout the country. In Minneapolis, for example, the Public Safety commission established by the Legislature to offset the election of a Socialist mayor in November, 1916, practically assumed control of the state with the outbreak of the war.
Presumptively, the Espionage Law was enacted to deal with the German Espionage and Intelligence Service in the United States. Incorporated within its body were many articles dealing with espionage, protection of military secrets, the enforcement of neutrality in future conflicts, etc. yet at the trial of Scott Nearing in 1919, he was able to testify, “Not a single enemy agent was convicted under the provisions of the so called Espionage Law, which was ostensibly enacted to cope with the operations of the German Spy System in the United States during the war, but more than a thousand persecutions were initiated under the act against radicals and pacifists.”
The most important division of this act is Title I, Section 3, which created three entirely new offenses, striking serious blows at civil rights. This law declared that whenever the United States is at war, it shall be unlawful to (1) wilfully make false statements of reports with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval operations or to promote the success of the enemy; (2) causing or attempting insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or refusal of duty in the military and naval forces; (3) to willfully obstruct enlistments and recruiting. The maximum penalty for the violation of any of these provisions was 20 years in jail, a fine of $10,000 or both and in practice the maximum was usually the minimum. In support of this section the Act also included the following four subsidiary provisions to reenforce its effectiveness. It made it a violation: (1) to do any act to affect the object of the conspiracy or (2) to conceal any person SUSPECTED of committing or ABOUT to commit any of the above offenses; (3) It authorized the issuance of search warrants for the seizure of property used to commit any of the above offenses and (4) it made non-mailable any matter violating the act, advocating treason, insurrection, or forcible resistance to any law of the United States and imposed heavy penalties for attempting to use the mails for this purpose.
Of the three major sections of the Act, the 2nd and 3rd are the most important. Nevertheless very few people have been convicted for openly and directly urging men to evade the draft or violate army discipline. Occasionally, it is true, such instances occurred. This was the case in U.S. vs Schenk, where the defendant’s act was to mail a leaflet to drafted men entitled “Long Live the Constitution of the United States. Wake Up America! Your Liberties are in Danger.” the leaflet which attacked the constitutionality of conscription and urged the men to resist, resulted in the summary conviction of the perpetrators. On appeal the sentence was promptly upheld. Similarly in Chicago, a father received a 10 year term for opposing his son’s ENLISTMENT in the army.
This type of case, however, was in the main comparatively rare, most of the prosecutions being for mere expressions of opinion that had only a remote connection to the particular men who were drafted. For the law, were it confined to such cases, would be of very little value to the bourgeoisie. It therefore became necessary to extend the interpretation of the law in practice to include every action, which conceivably might impair or jeopardize the efficiency of the war machine. In order to prevent any exposure of the imperialist nature of the war the government had to make the law into a bludgeon with which to suppress all freedom of opinion. It became equally criminal to indulge in the mildest complaint or the most caustic utterances. To advocate taxation in place of bond issues, to declare that conscription was unconstitutional at a time when the Supreme Court had not determined the issue, to state that a referendum should have been held before entering the war, any of these shockingly criminal opinions were sufficient to incur to official wrath of the government of the private agents.
It is important therefore to determine whether or not this Act is constitutional. The Supreme Court itself did not find time to do this until 1919, after the armistice was signed and most of the cases had been tried to the lower courts. In response the discussion now would be academic, were it not for the fact that it is essential to expose the undemocratic manner in which the courts function, and how they were in perfect accord with the dictates of the situation.
The Constitution of the United States provides “Congress shall make no law…bridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” From an intelligent reading of this section, it would seem that only one interpretation were possible that the right to freedom of speech is unlimited in scope no matter what its content and only action can be restrained or punished. Two other constructions, however, have been placed upon it. First that the Amendment is applicable only in peace time and can be abrogated in the event of war and second, that a happy medium must be struck since the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes. This is generally the position of the Liberals and is the policy pursued by the government in normal times of peace. While, in strict logic, it has no foundation, it is vigorously defended by the foremost Liberal professors of the country.
Z. Chaffee, one of the outstanding men of this group, contends: “The provisions of the Bill of Rights cannot be applied with absolute literalness (and why not?-- R.B.), but are subject to exceptions. For instance, the prohibition of involuntary servitude in the 13th Amendment does not prevent military conscription or the enforcement of a `Work or Fight’ Statute.” But this is merely proving the legality of one violation by the constitutionality of another. But even if we assume that Chaffed is correct in his analysis of the problem, the question still arises as to where the line should be drawn. This the Supreme Court has refused to do. Chaffee writes, “Justice Holmes in his Espionage Act decisions had a magnificent opportunity to make articulate for us that major premise under which judges ought to classify words as inside or outside the scope of the First Amendment. Instead, like the other judges, he has told us that certain plainly unlawful utterances are to be sure, unlawful.” But if the Liberal Holmes, who was in a position to be of Incalculable assistance in this sphere intentionally refused to clarify the issues involved, of what value are the petti-fogging distinctions of a Chaffee? They in no way help the lot of the prisoners, who are compelled to sit in jail. It is poor consolation to be told that, “Congress was punishing dangerous acts and such words as had all the effects of acts.” (Chaffee) These people can only cause others to fall into the same pitfalls as themselves. It is not an accident that it took the war and all that happened to make Chaffee see that, “…The simple language of the Espionage Act of 1917 was, little as we thought it at the time, the deadliest blow ever struck at a free press in the United States and the beginning of a series of encroachments on civil rights of every kind, whose full consequences we are dimly beginning to realize.”
Not until worker after worker paid with years of his life, did these men realize the enormous betrayal of democratic rights that had been taking place under their very noses. It would seem that from the very first batch of prosecutions that took place, they should have been awake to what was happening. But evidently these people have no capacity for learning even through experience. The next war will find them lost in the same bewilderment as the last one.
Two thousand prosecutions were commenced under the Espionage Law. Thus it is impossible within the confines of such a short article to do more than discuss briefly a few of the more outstanding cases.
In South Dakota, 27 German farmers, who had formed a Socialist group subsequent to the declaration of war, objected to the unfair administration of the draft and the inequitable quota, which had been imposed upon their district. They also openly attacked the war as capitalistic in origin and after a short trial were all convicted. While the sentences were comparatively light (1 to 2 years), the Attorney General was extremely gratified with the result. In his annual report for 1918 he states: “The conviction of the defendants was undoubtedly one of the greatest deterrents against the spread of hostile propaganda and particularly that class of propaganda, which advanced and played upon the theme that the war was a capitalists’ war brought by and for the benefit of the big financial interests.”
In 1918 Rose Pastor Stokes was convicted under the Espionage Law for writing a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star, to correct an erroneous despatch which had appeared in the paper. Here is the letter: “March 20, 1918. To the Star,—A headline in this evening’s issue of the Star reads: `Mrs. Stokes for government and against war at the same time’. I am not for the government. In the interview that follows I am quoted as having said: `I belive the government of the U.S. should have the unqualified support of every citizen in its war aims.’ I made no such statement and I belive no such thing. No government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers. I expect my working class point of view to receive no sympathy from your paper, but I do expect that the traditional courtesy of publication by the newspaper of a signed statement of correction, which even our most Bourbon papers grant, will be extended to this statement by yours.”
Anxious to dispose of Rose Pastor Stokes, the editor printed the letter and sent the original to the District Attorney’s office. Almost immediately the Grand Jury indicted Stokes for “unlawfully, wilfully, knowingly and feloniously…attempting to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the U.S.” To prove this charge, the State produced evidence that the Kansas City Star, which had a circulation of 400,000, was read by men between the ages of 18 and 45, as well as in some army camps. Acting upon the premise, that IF the men should believe what rose Pastor Stokes said, it would create a temper which would affect the success of the United States. Stokes was found guilty and the judge sentenced her to serve ten years in a federal penitentiary. Not until 1920 was the conviction set aside. In the meantime, Stokes was compelled to remain in jail, awaiting the leisurely disposition of the Supreme Court, since the Attorney General had instructed all of his assistants, “To oppose the release on bail pending appeal of persistent or professional propagandists.” Whether the government was successful in all cases or not, it is impossible to determine, but the Attorney General confidentially reports that, “In several conspicuous instances of this character, the courts refused bail to prominent propagandists of a manifestly dangerous type.”
Nor was the Rose Stokes case the only one in which the courts held that direct interference with enrolled men was unnecessary. When Abraham L. Sugarman, secretary of the S.P. of Minnesota, appealed from a conviction predicated upon a speech in which he advised disobedience to the draft, the court decided that the term “military and naval forces” included all those who registered. In other cases the courts proceeded to strengthen further the voice of this decision and held that it was sufficient if the remarks were addressed to those between the ages of 18 and 45. In United States vs Clinton R. Pierce, the court concluded that the offense may be shown without proof that any particular individual was so influenced by the propaganda to refuse or abstain from military service.
When Vincente Balbas, the editor of the leading anti- American paper in Puerto Rico, was tried for an article written to influence Puerto Ricans against participating in the war, it made no difference to the court that the Puerto Ricans were not American citizens. Nor did it matter in the case of Read that he in no way opposed the U.S., but directed his onslaught against the participation of Canadians in the service of the British Army. In Vermont, a minister, who told his parishioners that participation in the war, was contrary to Christianity and therefore urged them not to submit, was sentenced to 15 years, although not only was this a violation of the right of free speech but also an abridgement of religious liberty. Even criminal intent no longer became a necessary element of the crime, for when Fred Kraft, a prominent leader of the N.J.S.P. made an open address deriding the war and conscription, the court ruled that the necessary criminal intent might be deduced from the occasion, the character of the audience and other surrounding circumstances bearing upon the material and probable effects of the utterances. This is indeed a very erudite analysis since only a judge could infer intent from effect.
On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech at the Ohio State Socialist Convention held at Canton in which he reiterated the position of the S.P. on the war, commended the conduct of Rose Pastor Stokes, denounced the profiteers and praised the Bolsheviks of Russia. No soldiers were present and he did not urge anyone to resist the draft. On September 9th, however, he was tried in the Federal Court of Cleveland, found guilty and condemned to serve ten years in prison. In the case of the United States vs “The Spirit of “76”, the producer of the film “Spirit of “76” received a ten year sentence and was fined $5,000, because he dared to portray the Wyoming Massacre at a time when England had as one of her allies, the United States. Although it was never alleged that the objectionable scenes were false nor proven that any soldiers or sailors were in the audience which saw the picture, the conviction was nevertheless justified on the ground that the exhibition of the film was “calculated reasonably so to excite or inflame the passions of our people or some of them that they will be deterred from giving that full measure of cooperation, sympathy, assistance or sacrifice, which is due to Great Britain in this great catastrophe.” The Judge felt that, while “History is history and fact is fact”, the occasion was not suited to historical truthfulness since the picture MIGHT have the effect of sowing, “Dissension among our people and of creating animosity or want of confidence between us and our allies, because so to do weakens our efforts, weakens the chance of our success, impairs our solidarity and renders less useful the lives we are giving to the end that this war may be soon over and peace may soon become a thing substantial and permanent with us.” Amen.
This is indeed an excellent commentary on the diligence of the government in its control over the various educational agencies. While in most instances it is able to secure the effective cooperation of the great vested interests, which control the industries, where the government does encounter a recalcitrant or independent upstart, it makes short shift of him. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons subsequently advanced in defense of the conviction was that this scene had been omitted from the original presentation before the officials.
In Des Moines, a 20 year sentence for distributing circulars opposing the re-election of Congressmen who voted for conscription, was sustained. Certainly it would seem as though, one of the very first steps in securing the change of any law would be to defeat the re-election of these representatives, who were responsible for its passage. The case should also be contrasted to the Criminal Code of the U.S. which for an actual insurrection carried the penalty of imprisonment for only 10 years and a fine of $10,000, while this sentence was for 20 years.
Practically all of the above cases were prosecuted under the 2nd and 3rd subdivisions of the Espionage Law. Under the first subdivision punishing false statements, few cases were commenced. Two of these, however, are worthy of note. The “Philadelphia Tageblatt” was an impoverished German daily, which barely managed to keep itself alive. Like most papers of this type, it did not subscribe to a telegraphic service, but instead copied reports from other papers. Frequently it omitted parts of the release or condensed them. Sometimes it even added its own comment without indicating which portions were from the original. On one occasion, it quoted a dispatch from Amsterdam to the effect that the shortage of food in Holland was due primarily to the seizure of ships by the United States. Because it had added the additional sentence that the American proposal for sending food would be rejected, it was convicted of violating the espionage Law. This, however, was not the only count. In all there were nine. Some of the other terrible crimes of which they were guilty was using the word, “brot-riots (bread riots), instead of “brodreihen” (bread lines) in translating a speech of La Follette in which he predicted bread lines if we did not tax the profiteers. On another occasion the Tageblatt carried an account of the fall of Riga from which the editors omitted the sentence: “From this it can be concluded that the fall of Riga has united the opposing political factions in Russia.” Of course the Tagablatt’s real crime was its glorification of German strength and its aspersions upon American sincerity. The editors, however, were actually convicted under the section punishing the wilful making of false statements with intent to interfere with the success of American forces.
In the United States vs Preice, this same clause was again invoked and formed the principle ground for the conviction of the defendants, who circulated the Socialist pamphlet, “The Price We Pay”, denouncing the war and pointing to socialism as a remedy. These three statements culled from the entire document were alleged to be false: 1. “Into your homes the recruiting officers are coming. They will take your sons of military age and impress them into the army…” “And still the recruiting officers will come; seizing age after age, mounting up to the elder ones and taking the younger ones as they grow to soldier size.” 2. “The Attorney General of the United States is so busy sending to prison men who do not stand up when the Star Spangled Banner is played that he as no time to protect the food supply from gamblers.” 3. “Our entry into it was determined by the certainty that if the allies do not win, J.P. Morgan’s loan to the allies will be repudiated, and those American investors, who bit on his promises, would be hooked.”
All this time the Attorney General was complaining that the law as originally enacted, did not suffice and that he did not, therefore, have sufficient latitude to deal with the numerous acts of individuals, which were jeopardizing the safety of the government, although he admitted that it “…was an effective weapon against propaganda of a nature or intended, to obstruct the prosecution of the war.” The difficulty was in the fact that the conduct of individuals was not included within the Espionage Act and local law had to be relied upon to fill the gap. By an indiscriminate use of the disorderly conduct ordinances and other adaptable statutes, which the courts liberally construed, some help was given the prosecution. But this could be only a half-way measure. Had the war continued much longer the government would have been compelled to rely upon a more effective Federal Bill. Acutely conscious of the urgent need for such a law, the Attorney General wrote: “Although the Espionage Act proved an effective instrument against deliberate or organized disloyal propaganda, it was not intended to and did not reach the individual casual or impulsive disloyal utterances. These individual utterances, however, occurring with considerable frequency throughout the country, naturally irritated and angered the communities in which they occurred, resulting sometimes in unfortunate violence and lawlessness and everywhere in dissatisfaction with the inadequacies of the Federal Law to reach such cases.”
What the respectable Attorney General meant, which he found it impolite to say, was that due to the failure of the law to include the conduct specified it became necessary to deliberately forment or condone acts of individual violence, that this became a very dangerous practice fraught with grave consequences to the state, since the workers might decide to strike back with the same methods. Revolution after revolution was taking place in Europe. who could determine what would happen in this country? It was therefore considered best to prepare by delivering the final blow to civil liberties.
Accordingly, on May 16, 1918, 11 months after the passage of the original Espionage Act, the government saw fit to amend this Law by passing the Sedition Bill, which added nine new offenses: (1) Saying or doing anything with intent to obstruct the sale of U.S. bonds, save by way of bona-fide advice. (2) Uttering, printing, writing, or publishing any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language or language intended to cause contempt scorn, contemptuously or disrepute as regards the form of the government of the United States; (3) or the Constitution; (4) or the flag; (5) or the uniform of the army or navy; (6) or any language intended to incite resistance to the U.S. or to promote the cause of its enemies; (7) urging any curtailment of production of any of the things necessary to the prosecution of the war, with intent to hinder its prosecution; (8) advocating teaching, defending or suggesting the doing of any of these acts; (9) words or acts supporting or favoring the cause of any country at war with the U.S. or opposing the cause of the U.S. therein. Here, too, the maximum penalty was 20 years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both. At the same time the non-mailable section was augmented to give the Postmaster General the dictatorial power of preventing the sender from RECEIVING any mail if he finds that he is committing any of the offenses set forth in either of the acts. Nor could one avail himself of a jury trial or a hearing before a judge if he desired to protest against the infringement of his right on the part of the Postmaster General.
It is obvious that in spite of anything, which the Attorney General may have said to the contrary, this amendment was intended for post war and future war use as well as for use during the war being waged. In fact it came too late to be of service during the war and only one major prosecution was conducted under its provisions in contrast to the many cases under the Espionage Law. This is conceded even by Chaffee, who writes in his book, “Freedom of Speech”, “It must never be forgotten that the Espionage Law applies to all future wars…” (pg 64). “The Espionage Act of 1917 as interpreted by the Supreme Court suppresses free speech for all opponents of a war, but allows militant newspapers and politicians to block by unbounded abuse, the efforts of the President to end a war by a just settlement. Congress reached the same result by the 1918 Act, making it criminal to “oppose the cause of the U.S. in any war.” (pg 113) Chaffee is also of the opinion that under the Act of 1918, one cannot criticize the Constitution or advocate any change of it even during a minor affray between the United States and some country like Haiti. (Pg. 114).
Nor can we ignore the comment of the Attorney General upon the occasion of the passage of the above legislation. It was then proposed that the utterances prohibited in the Sedition Bill be exempt from any penalty if made with good motives and for justifiable ends. In his annual report for 1918, he states that, “The experience of the department had shown that some of the most dangerous types of propaganda were either made from good motives or else the traitorous motive was not provable.”
Under the Sedition Bill, only one outstanding prosecution took place. On August 23rd, 1918, some leaflets were dropped from a hat factory on the 4th floor of a building on Houston and Crosby Streets, protesting against the intervention by the United States in the affairs of Russia. Immediately the police investigated and found on the premises, one Rosansky, who had been responsible for throwing the circulars out of the window. Through diligent inquiry they located the printing press upon which the leaflets had been printed and arrested Jacob Abraham, Samuel Lippman, Hyman Lachowsky, Mollie Steinert and Schwartz. Schwartz, the author of the Yiddish leaflet died in prison as a result of the fearful beating, which he received at the hands of the police. When the defense endeavored to bring this out at the trial, Judge Clayton, who had been especially imported from Alabama, because some of the New York City judges were not sufficiently reactionary, assumed a very facetious attitude and dismissed this evidence with the comment, “Like the flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra, la, it has nothing to do with the case.” The other defendants were subsequently indicted on four counts under the sedition Law: (1) Disloyal and scurrilous language about the form of government of the U.S. (2) Language intended to bring the U.S. government into contempt. (3) Language intended to incite or encourage resistance to the U.S. (4) Language intended to incite the curtailment of production, e.g. ammunition necessary to conduct the war.
The first two charges can be dismissed without further discussion since the supreme court evaded deciding the question of their constitutionality preferring to sustain the conviction on the other two counts. Chaffee, however, thinks the first two counts are unconstitutional. Furthermore, the demand for the overthrow of capitalism is theoretically not inconsistant with reformist methods and so not necessarily opposed to the Constitution. Under the fourth count the U.S. had to prove the INTENT to hinder the prosecution of the war by the curtailment of production. similarly under the other count it was necessary to prove the intention to interfere with the war against Germany. Since the United States was not at war with russia, this could be a strategic blow at Germany or that the circular was intended to cause armed revolts, which would diminish the number of troops available for the struggle against Germany, would be a violation of neutrality and similar to the German invasion of Belgium. The government therefore proceeded on the second theory.
Nevertheless, the jury, which was indoctrinated by the press with numerous Bolshevik atrocity stories that made the russian Revolution a part of the German war, convicted the defendants on the first principle, theoretically untenable. In spite of the fact that the complexities of the case required an accurate knowledge of the Russian situation, the efforts of the defense to counter the lies of the newspapers met with no success. The judge refused to permit either Col. Robbins or Albert Rhys Williams, to testify since he himself was of the opinion that it was a crime to oppose the intervention of the United States, and that the only issue to be resolved was whether the defendants wilfully opposed it. The trial was conducted in an extremely prejudiced manner. As in all the trials, the defendants were questioned at great length concerning their political beliefs. Unflinchingly and defiantly, they espoused their viewpoint never hesitating for a moment as to what the future might hold for them. Held guilty on all four counts, the men were given 20 years in jail, while Mollie Steiner was given 15 years. On appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction on both the theory that the leaflet by means of calling for a general strike attempted to prevent interference with Russia and the successful operation of the war. Holmes, in a dissenting opinion, pointed out that if the general strike had taken place and were of short duration, it would have accelerated American victory since the loss of ammunition would be small in proportion to the additional troops, which would be freed for use against Germany.
Thus, in effect, the Sedition law as interpreted in the Abrams Case reaches the somewhat same result as that secured under the Sabotage Law. Every strike becomes unlawful because it obstructs the war and the intent is presumed from a knowledge of the consequences.
Superficially, it might seem as if the judicial temperament maintained the same even tenor through the frenzied period of war as during peace. But judges, like other human beings cannot experience the seething cauldron of war hysteria, without themselves being affected by it. Even if they wished to be as fair as their limitations of training permitted the ever vigilant watch dogs of the government would stand in the way. In his book, “Judicial Reform”, (1919), John D. Works, formerly Justice of the supreme Court of California and U.S. Senator from that state, disclosed the fact that the Attorney General secretly investigates through special agents the conduct of the Federal Judges without their knowledge, and all applications for judicial appointments are referred to him for investigation. Upon his report and recommendation, depends to a great extent, whether or not the applicant receives the position. This is the normal peace time procedure. During the World War, the judges were continually kept under surveillance and all actions not up to patriotic par were reported back to Washington. (See Chaffee: “Freedom of Speech"). With this knowledge, it is easy to understand, why, after the Liberal opinion of Judge Hand in the “Masses” Case, it became necessary to transfer Judge Clayton from Alabama to New York to try the Abrams Case.
With judges so carefully supervised, we are not amazed therefore to find Judge Aldrich of New Hampshire charge the jury in the case of the United States vs Tanbert: “Out West they are hanging men for saying such things as this man is accused of saying. They are feeling outraged by such expressions to such an extent that they are taking the law into their own hands. Now, that is a very bad thing to do. We do not want that in New Hampshire, but we do want a courageous enforcement of the law.” (Bulletin, Dept of Justice No. 106). And what was the heinous crime for which the defendant was sentenced to sit in prison for three years? He was indicted under the Espionage Law for obstructing the sale of Liberty Bonds by saying, “This is a Morgan war and not a war of the people.” The conviction was based on the theory that although no mention was made of bonds in the Espionage Law, nevertheless the Act covered them since an army could not be raised without their sale.
In the trial of Mrs. Kate Richard O"Hare, International Secretary of the S.P., Judge Wade in handing down the five year sentence quoted the following letter from the St. Louis office of the Department of Justice in order to vindicate his severity: “We have been unable to secure anything specific on her that would be violation of the Federal Law--nothing would please this office better than to hear that she got life.” Most of the witnesses, who testified against O"Hare, had not even heard her speech.
Concerning the composition of juries, Chaffee writes. “Federal juries in civil cases are considered by members of the bar to be superior in quality to state juries and this is accounted for by the practice of the officials to go through the lists carefully and exclude persons, who are considered undesirable.” (Freedom of Speech).
This is merely the usual and customary routine of day to day court practice. But under the special circumstances of war, these ordinary precautions are insufficient. The state must make certain that not a single political offender escapes its clutches. The government, therefore, carefully selects every juror who is impanelled. Illustrative of wartime juries in general is the one, which convicted Debs. The average age of the men was 72 years; their wealth between #50,000 and $60,000. With the exception of one juror, all were either retired farmers or merchants. Nor was this a matter of mere coincidence for of the entire venire of 100 men, the average age was 70 and the average wealth $50,000. ("Liberator”, November, 1918). In the trial of Scott Nearing somewhat the same experience was repeated. Out of the first 30 names drawn, not a single wage earner appeared. The typical occupations of the jurors were steel contractors, corporation official, diamond merchant, real estate agent, etc. The jury, as finally accepted by both sides, had only two men who had any knowledge of Socialism, while all of them favored both the war and conscription.
To those, who may feel inclined to attribute the unbalanced composition of these juries to the fact that all of the younger men were either conscripted or engaged in industrial work, which they could not leave, let me cite an absolutely conclusive example of the special care with which juries were chosen during the war. In the trial of the President of the Non-Partisan League under the Minnesota Espionage Act, the jury was picked from a panel of 144 chosen from voter lists. Not a single talesman on the panel was a member of the League, although that particular county was divided into league and anti-league supporters with politically no neutrals. In the previous election, the League candidate had missed securing a majority by a mere 31 votes. Did the State tamper with the jury lists to secure this result? No, they did not use such a crude method in this case. They merely formed their entire panel from a section of the county, where League organizers and speakers had been barred by force.
“Men believed during that period that the only verdict in a war case, which would show loyalty, was a verdict of guilty.” This is the pithy comment of Judge Amiden on juries of that time. (to be continued)
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