First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 5, No. 3, March-April 1966
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Recently we were amused when we received a statement from the Communist Party of the United States protesting the conviction of Bill Epton, leader of the Progressive Labor Party. The CPUSA said: “To convict Bill Epton is a travesty of justice...”
Apparently the CPUSA is attempting to come out more militantly lately, or at least is trying to identify with those who oppose imperialism. Perhaps they feel this may overcome their just-deserved image of collusion with or covering up for U.S. rulers. This is fully in line with what the revisionists are doing in the international movement (see above); they act so as to be in a better position to obstruct serious political action against imperialism and to betray revolutionaries. However, the local carbon copies have left too dirty a trail behind them to be able to fool any but the most naive.
This is what they said about the events in Harlem and with regard to Bill Epton and the PLP when the line was not so “open” and when supporting the black masses meant attacks from the government:
Disavowing the battling masses in Harlem in the Summer of 1964 CPUSA “spokesmen” Gus Hall, Benjamin J. Davis, Henry Winston and William L. Patterson “denounced the Progressive Labor Movement and denied that the party was instigating rioters anywhere”(New York Times, July 31, 1964). In the same article they said: “the movement’s (PL–Ed.) leaders were expelled (from the CPUSA–Ed.) for cowardice and adventurism...they (the CPUSA ’spokesmen’–Ed) contended that the movement was small and that it existed only as ’parasites on the Negro freedom movement.’” In a front-page statement issued by the CPUSA “spokesmen” under the heading CP Condemns Adventurers of ’Progressive Labor’ they said: “...their (PL–Ed.) rantings have nothing in common with Communism or the position of the Communist Party... They exist only as parasites on the body of the Negro freedom movement working to sap its strength and divert its energies.”
And, in another front-page editorial statement by James Jackson in their bi-weekly rag The Worker, these erstwhile “communists,” under the heading The PLM in Harlem Are Salesmen of Shoddy Wares, said: “...Epton turned up (at the march held July 18, 1964–Ed) and was cordially arrested according to plan...Epton’s indication that the Progressive Labor Movement makes practical alliance with the anti-white, anti-working class Black Nationalist cults at home and ideological alliance with the adventuristic line of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party abroad helps explain the crazy gait of the PLM ...The conscientious community leaders waging the fight in league with the masses of Negro and fair-minded white people for a genuine solution to the...needs of the Harlems of our cities will certainly give such adventurers as the PLM’s top brass a wide berth...”
And, again, in their editorial statement “...they (those responsible for the existence of such police brutality) seek to insult the Negro people by labelling them mere dupes of some sort of mysterious Communist plotters...And behold! As if in response to a summons, this gang of adventurers appears, declaring that they are in fact ’Communists’ and that they do indeed advocate violence and terror against the people and others...”
And, in reference to Progressive Labor in a larger article on the American left (an article which “damns” the Editors of the journal Monthly Review), the CPUSA “spokesmen” said: “...the Progressive Labor Movement, whose provocative role in the recent Harlem riots caused such harm to the Negro people’s struggle...”
Utilizing the organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, then Chairman of the CPUSA said in Pravda: “During the recent activities of residents of Harlem, the Progressive Labor Movement resorted to adventuristic and provocative acts. Their views coincide with the Chinese leaders. And even though they are only a small group of splitters, they get enough money from some secret source to travel and publish newspapers and magazines.” (Pravda, September 1, 1964)
This planted story in the opportunist Pravda was naturally picked up on by the editors of the New York Times to create the illusion that Mao Tse-tung, through paid agents, provoked the rebellion. Of course, during the “investigation” and the “trial” (when the CPUSA leaders said nothing in support of the members and friends of the PLP ready to go to prison–and some who have already gone–for refusing to inform on their comrades and friends), the District Attorney made a great deal about the “Chinese” line and “secret” money from the Cubans and the Chinese.
Now, within their larger scope of gaining a foothold among the militant sections of the people– at a time when they issue their new “American Road to Socialism”–reminiscent of “spokesmen” Hall’s Peaceful Co-Existence, an open door that must only be opened and walked though to be achieved–the leaders of the CPUSA are peddling their old garbage in new bags: “Standing on the shoulders of a pyramid of stool pigeons and police agents,” they said in their statement Frame-up of Epton (printed as an editorial in The Worker), “the State of New York is trying to put the brand of ’bloody insurrectionist’ upon the 33-year old Harlem militant, William Epton... Epton, who was arrested...during the height of the police hysteria over Harlem’s blazing protest against life in the suffocating slum ...Epton is in the dock threatened with the loss of the best years of his life...We are opposed to Epton’s views...but this question of principled differences has no bearing...”
And in the statement Communist Party of NY Raps Epton Conviction, also printed in The Worker as an editorial “supporting” William Epton: “If the authorities want to find the culprit responsible for the Harlem riots, they need but look in their own mirrors...To convict William Epton is a travesty of justice...”
One has but to question the “principles” of “Communists” who, when a “militant” is under attack by “those responsible for the conditions” and mouth the slanders of the ruling class in their own and “other party’s” organs; and, when mounting support for the militant grows, they do a 360 degree turn–without any self-criticism or change in their original line–and come out in his “support.” If William Epton and the PLM were in fact “Salesmen of Shoddy Wares in Harlem,” and worthy of the CPUSA’s condemnation, if they were “adventurers” and “cowards,” the agents of the police and the ruling class, etc., what is the CPUSA doing in supporting them and one of their leaders?
Recently, various attempts have been made by these finger men to make a “comeback” off the backs of revolutionary fighters. The Aptheker junket to Vietnam coincided with the “peace offensive” of the Johnson gang. The State Department made a special point of saying that they did not yank the passports of the travelers to northern Vietnam until they were certain that the “peace offensive” was a flop. (What big-mouthed allies, they can’t keep anything to themselves!)
This phony move by the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States is really lower than their “Epton bit” in as much as the Vietnamese are fighting for their lives, and it was only recently that Herbert Aptheker–who is being groomed by the CPUSA “spokesmen” for an election campaign during this new wave of “openness”–and Company were singing platitudes about the “sane, sober and reasonable men in the White House” as opposed to the “hot heads in the Pentagon.”
All we can say is that we reject such shame-faced “support” by the leaders of the CPUSA. We reject their entire line of collusion and capitulation to their U.S. ruling class masters and we do not feel that their pious statements at this juncture aids, in any way, the defense of Comrade Bill Epton. We, and you, our readers, need them like a hole in the head!