Free Sobell; Vindicate the Rosenbergs – (Against “Grave Doubts” which Lead to the Grave)

First Published: Turning Point Vol. VII, No. 2, April 1954
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

”Together, we hunted down the answers to all the seemingly insoluble riddles which a complex, and callous society presented. Those answers have withstood, the test of time and change, and still stand for all those who are not afraid to look and see and examine as we did in that far away time. It is because we didn’t hesitate to blazon forth those answers that we sit within the walls of Sing Sing.” (“Death House Letters” of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, May 27, 1951)

I – Sobell Has Been Deserted – As the Rosenbergs Were

How can we free Sobell and vindicate the Rosenbergs as quickly as possible? These two responsibilities are inseparable from one another; together they are inseparable from the unavoidable task of fighting against the war government of the U. S. Any tiptoe position which avoids this realization reflects a wishfully thought conscious-salve – not a realistic determination to free Sobell and vindicate the Rosenbergs.

Isn’t this obvious? Isn’t it obvious that the bipartisan U. S. Government (from the fishing administration of Truman to the golfing administration of Eisenhower) manufactured the Rosenberg-Sobell Case as an attack on peace and democracy via an attack on Communism, liberalism, friendship for the Soviet Union – everything which the warmongers and fascists wanted attacked? Can anyone seriously imagine that the Rosenbergs and Sobell would consider true vindication anything less than a complete expose of these government “necessities”?

We should, have learned from the Rosenberg-Sobell case that if our old style continues, Sobell will rot in Alcatraz while a mutual admiration circle of “defenders” collects compliments at banquets and luncheons. Therefore, although we address this article to all who wish to Free Sobell and vindicate the Rosenbergs, we address ourselves primarily to the “delinquent” left. Because we are concerned with a realistic campaign, we must ignore the etiquette of the banquet and the luncheon and prove for the record the desertion of the Rosenbergs and Sobell by the alleged “vanguard” in the U.S. We look toward a campaign built on the correction of fatal mistakes made during the Rosenberg-Sobell case– in and out of court. To some good people who will inevitably be troubled or angered by facts herein recorded, we say: don’t mutter, don’t evasively state in your outrage, “Tsk! Tsk!” Either prove the contrary or decide with some painful honesty to start remodeling the defense movement. If we want to, we can learn a lot from the Rosenberg Case. If we want to... (Learning can be uncomfortable – especially for those who soak their dignity in the chronic hypocrisy which oozes from uncorrected mistakes.)

We say to “all those who are not afraid to look and see and examine” (as the Rosenbergs said) that they should have learned by now how ridiculous some attitudes are. Endless and hopeless appeals based on truth, justice, and decency will earn us only “pie in the sky”. The cute neatness of the legally-split hair will not impress courts and rulers who understand only the imminent danger of organized mass anger. Obsession with the collection of a few magic “big names” tends to cover up for the absence of the hard practical collection of countless little names. (And nothing pulls “big names” so effectively as the magnetism set up by a lot of little names.) The fancy luncheons stressing food will soothe our stomachs, and the fancy luncheons stressing testimonials will soothe our vanity, but 30 years for Sobell will not appropriately shrink in awe as a result.

In the future let us avoid “broad” respectable fantasies. For a long time the defense committee considered the case one of anti-Semitism because the victims were Jewish. This is as profound as the anti-Semitism inherent in the persecution of Dennis and Flynn. In this article we will attempt to subdue a few such fantasies so that Sobell may serve the minimum number of broad fantastic years.

We are counseled; let no one use the word “avenge”. “Avenge” is provocative. Merely warm your conscience with “grave doubts” and we will get a good character to lead you, one who believes in the mercy of the Lord and is anti-Communist to boot. Let no one get excited. These are troubled times, but let us proceed business as usual without anyone getting his dander up. (After all, we have Sobell’s 30 years in which to defend him!) Don’t bypass Emily Post’s etiquette by bringing up old mistakes, don’t challenge the police department’s law and. order, and – above all don’t irritate the allergy of the Communist Party’s leadership to political initiative (alias “adventurism”).

People who honor such injunctions may rest peacefully, in the security that American fascism may not necessarily execute them on the Sabbath; it may rush their heads off before sundown on Friday night.

Our defense leaders had “grave doubts” in the beginning and they have them now. These “grave doubts” will not save bottle caps – let alone lives. Therefore – this article will fail to offer any crocodile-tear-loosened manure for the cultivation of “GRAVE DOUBTS” about the guilt of the Rosenbergs and Sobell.

We will free Sobell and vindicate the Rosenbergs only by a mass campaign – person added to person until the total is imposing. We will fail if we, continue to rely on the foolish legal dream demanding that the ingenious Attorney-General’s office be investigated for fooling 2 ingenuous Presidents about the Rosenberg Case. And who should investigate Brownell-McCarthy? Who investigates whom in the U.S. government these days?

Insofar as the legal aspect is concerned, we will concentrate on the most revealing point – the impounded exhibit. Exposing the impounded exhibit means X-raying the total government fraud. Why putter around with legal subtleties while we shy away from a valid legal bomb shell.

In a reconsideration of the impounding of the main, exhibit lies the foundation for a real public emergency and a new trial. There are those who see no emergency in the case now. We believe that every day of 30 years is an emergency and that every day without vindication for the Rosenbergs is an emergency. The tackling of these emergencies will help dissolve the emergency in the lives of Michael and Robbie.

We suggest to the leaders of the Rosenberg-Sobell defense that a campaign be started on the opening of the impounded exhibit – a strong legal point integrated with political dynamite. We suggest that petitions for the opening of the Impounded exhibit and for a new trial based on this be circulated with a new type of literature door-to-door, house- to-house, all over the country. When such a campaign starts, many will see the emergency because we will have given people a few facts which so far we have soft-pedaled.

The impounded exhibit (which, strangely enough, both government and defense counsel, fear) will not be opened very easily. It will take a great mass movement with demonstrations and new vigils in Washington. Sooner or later, the U. S. will witness such an emergency. Why not soon? Why not with our help? Why must we help the government keep the hoax? When this idea is tried, we will witness, the first real gains toward freeing Sobell and vindicating the Rosenbergs. We will then have a concentration point which demands emergency activity.

And what is emergency, activity? On Friday night, just before the Jewish sabbath starts, the Rosenbergs were rushed to their death. Let’s memorialize that night every week – that’s a true emergency. On that night, let us tour every neighborhood until there is no one who does not have the facts and documents in the case. We should carry with us not only the general facts of the case but the specific facts of the impounding of the main, exhibit. We. should carry petitions for the transfer of Sobell and petitions for a new trial. And as we talk about the Rosenbergs, let us not retouch the original. Let us allow the Rosenbergs to speak. They didn’t whisper as their defenders did and do. In court they were prevented by defense from speaking out as much as they would have liked. They attempted to make up for this in their letters which they knew they were writing for posterity. In their Death House Letters they roared defiance and attempted to project their own advanced ideas.

Crimes have been perpetrated against the Rosenbergs and Sobell – but not just by the U. S. Government. Their friends have also crimes to their credit. For a long time the Rosenbergs and Sobell were left derelict; for a long time their children were left derelict. The Rosenbergs were restrained by counsel from counterattacking in court; Sobell was silenced. We impounded the main exhibit for the government. We accomplished the government’s main hoax for it. All through the case, the defense movement behaved well for the cops and badly for the Rosenbergs. When it was over, the Rosenbergs were entered in history with a few belated poems and Sobell became one of many cases.

And – the “grave doubts” continue.

II – The Dead Awake the Sleeping

That which failed to materialize all through the three years since the Rosenbergs’ arrest did so, at least to a limited degree, with their death. For once a counterattack broke free of the “orderly” injunctions of our leaders. On Saturday night and Sunday (June 20-21, 1953) the neighborhood of the Morris Funeral Parlor in Brooklyn became the center of the world – saturated with the Rosenberg Case. During this, weekend, perhaps up to 50,000 people were involved. There were 300 cars and three chartered buses in the procession, and countless other cars were in part prevented from reaching the cemetery by police interference.

At last, the Rosenbergs (having been killed by America’s post-war plague) were not avoided like the plague! For two years, the dignified leaders of the Rosenberg defense had studiously forced all support to be “orderly and disciplined”. We had to “cooperate with the police”– while the police chloroformed all the strength out of our demonstrations. We had to be impotent before the weasel press and fascist counter-pickets. A Rosenberg picket line or demonstration was allowed to groan – but not grumble. The outraged picket who, in frustration, would open his mouth for one split second, had the famous “Alman Act” recited to him in a whisper: “Are you trying to ruin two years of good, work without trouble?” What a shameful formulation! What could better leave the Rosenbergs derelict be fore American justice (style 1953) than two years of “cooperation” with the police!

The Daily Worker delighted in reporting good behavior. On June 19, (the day the Rosenbergs were murdered) Worker reporter Virginia Gardner, was delighted that a representative of the capitalist press had “to admit that the orderliness of the people on the line is impressive.” Gardner gloried in the fact that the picket line failed to react to “crude and obscene remarks” or to “anti-Semitic cops” who “called us ’dirty Jews’.” While the Supreme Court was deciding the fate of the Rosenbergs, the carefully chaperoned pickets sat impotently on the grass in Liberty Park (to which they had been withdrawn from the White House) “looking (said, the National Guardian, 6-29-53) like a sad, silent picnic.”

But on the day of the funeral, June 21, 1953, the etiquette imposed by the D.W., the Almans, and the Brainins burst; the people were awakened by the corpses of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg into a dangerous anger. The capitalist press suffered along overdue counterattack (which shocked it into some bits of more or less accurate reporting). Photographers who forgot their manners were handled roughly. At Wellwood Cemetery, Pinelawn, L. I., they were frightened and ordered about by the angry mourners. A cop who got fancy with his billy-club had it taken away from him; a cop who arrested a Rosenberg defender had his prisoner snatched out of his arms. That is the correct manner of “cooperating’ with cops. The rank and file defenders of the Rosenbergs had finally found some self-respect. Within a few hours, the capitalist press, had rushed out the headline, “Battles Mark Spies’ Funeral.” Daily Mirror, 6-22-53)

Most of the leaders of the Rosenberg defense didn’t find their self-respect. To the very end the Almans and Brainin kept to their carefully formulated declarations about the “uncertainties and the doubts which have plagued the Rosenberg Case from the first.”

We have much to criticize Bloch for, but with the execution of the Rosenbergs he was shocked, into calling a spade a spade – the spade that dug the Rosenbergs’ grave. Bloch, at least for the moment, learned from the nobility of the Rosenbergs and the degeneracy of the U.S. government, unlike many, others, he broke some fastidious “rules” and said:

“The American people should know, as the rest of the world knows, that America today, by virtue of the execution of the Rosenbergs, is living under the heel of a military dictatorship garbed in civilian attire. The men who are running our country have no hearts. They have stones for hearts. They have the souls of murderers... I place the murder of the Rosenbergs at the door of Pres. Eisenhower, Atty. Gen. Brownell and J. Edgar Hoover... Tens of millions are in sorrow – but they are in anger. We must be angry today, to resist Nazism – for this is the face of Nazism. They have killed two of us, but the people are still here. Let us never forget that it was Nazism that killed the Rosenbergs – for if we do, we will cringe, we will be on our knees and be afraid. Insanity, irrationality, barbarism, and murder seem to be part of the feeling of those who rule us.” (From Bloch’s remarks at the funeral service.)

When Bloch heard that the government had decided to execute the Rosenbergs before sundown in order to avoid the Sabbath, he said:

“I don’t know what animals I’m dealing with, but I’m convinced I’m dealing with animals. That’s my personal opinion, and I want the whole world to knew it. I believe that I’m talking for all decent people the length and breadth of the world.”

When there was nothing more he could do, Bloch phoned his last message to the warden of Sing Sing for the Rosenbergs. His last words were, “today I am ashamed to be an American.”

It is fortunate that Bloch finally ’spoke out so sharply; the leaders of the Rosenberg Committee did not, nor did the Daily Worker. But the people who respect the Rosenbergs agree with Bloch’s words.

Bloch was shocked into the truth.[1] The capitalist press was shocked into reporting the true spirit of the funeral crowd. The Daily Worker could not be shocked into anything. It toned down the facts of the funeral. The D.W. was glad to report the hypocritical milk-and-honey speech of Rabbi Cronbach in the funeral parlor[2] but it could not, at the time report the commotion in the funeral parlor caused by such a craven speech.

Later, however, the D.W. (7-1-53) was eager to report that, back in Cincinnati, Rabbi Cronbach stated: “When the press reports speak of hissing and heckling it is not accurate. There was a commotion in the audience, but somebody, seemed to repress it. The services were reverent. (Our emphasis – TP) We are not interested in debating the varied noises of “commotion.” “Commotion” is a good enough generalization. It was about time that commotion replaced pious cringing.

Cronbach, inadvertently, has done history a service in this statement. He has admitted the “commotion”, and he has given us a clear example of official repression of the stronger feelings of the Rosenberg defenders.

The Rosenbergs, from their still-open coffins, taught their TONGUE-TIED defenders a little anger – even in a funeral parlor!

Some things didn’t change. The office of Alman, Alman, and Brainin carried on business-as-usual right through to the end. These three were passionate only about pleas to control one’s passions. They feared demonstrations and leaned toward “prayer meetings.” Their theory was that prayer is respectable and immune to government attack. They might ponder the words of Ethel who wrote in the Death House:

“We must not use prayer to an Omnipotent Being as a pretext for evading our responsibility to our fellow beings in the daily struggle for the establishment of social justice.”

The night of the execution our leaders called another prayer meeting. They offered no resistance to the police when the meeting was barred from Union Square and sandwiched into 17th Street. And when the police decided that enough had been said and ordered the cutting off of the P.A. system, the leaders said, “Meeting adjourned” and complied. After all, our leaders had no quarrel with “law and order”. The people cried, “Long live the Rosenbergs.” When someone dared add the slogan “Down with Fascism”, she was admonished. (Note: Ethel’s last words in a letter to Bloch were, “We are the first victims of American fascism.”)

As the police edged the people away from 17th Street, prayer was forgotten. A group formed into a spontaneous parade down Fifth Avenue and across to the East Side and Knickerbocker Village where the Rosenbergs had lived. The Rosenbergs had earned the respect of the whole world. Now their heroism had begun to register even on their American defenders.

The nobility of the Rosenbergs illuminated the ugly mug of the American ruling class for the whole world to wonder at:

“Don’t be too hasty, gentlemen, in pulling the switch. Remember, it Is a two way affair. The world is watching our government’s action in this case and the conscience of men of goodwill is outraged by the brutal sentence and the miscarriage of justice in the Rosenberg case.”

The most backward American and the most “advanced” learned something about cringing. Try as it might to besmirch the Rosenbergs, the besmirched press found itself standing in awe and reflecting the dignity of the Rosenbergs to the nation and the world. The Rosenbergs foresaw this:

“If we must suffer through this nightmare, then the very manner in which we conduct ourselves will contribute to the general welfare of the people. For we are serving notice that we don’t scare easy. The working men and women in our country don’t either, when they know the facts.”

Also – the Rosenberg Case grabbed the progressive movement in America by the scruff of its weak neck and made it take a deep look at real life. It knocked out a few illusions. It made every American progressive ashamed (at least for the moment) of the defense of the Rosenbergs.

American progressive leadership has scraped along on its knees down the road of retreat for years now. Every so often, the rank and file gets out of hand and fights back. This was the story, of Peekskill 1950, this was the story of the Union Square peace demonstration of 1950 (which the mounted police could not break up despite the absence of leadership), and this is the story of the Rosenberg funeral. These are the episodes we should learn to multiply. If American progressives of all shades would only compare their own paralysis in this Case with the stamina of the deserted Rosenbergs, they might become better defenders of peace and democracy. They might say with the Rosenbergs: “We were never wallflowers, and we intend to make our weight felt.”

The Rosenberg Case is not over – by a long shot. It continues until Sobell is freed and the Rosenbergs vindicated. What would be the best way to thrust forward the Rosenberg issue as alive as it was the day of the execution? The answer lies in a new type of campaign for Sobell –not the kind that cursed the Rosenbergs.

We can get Sobell out of Alcatraz, win a new trial and free him if we adopt the attitude of an emergency. Let us not accept for him his 30-year fate. In order to plan an effective fight for him, let us find out what was wrong with our fight for the Rosenbergs and correct our shameful mistakes.

III – The Belated Defense Movement

At the start we stated the reason for the Rosenberg-Sobell Case. Now, in order to understand the paralysis of the defense, we must add the basic technique used by the government.

The government, aware of the tenderness of American radicals on the question of loyalty to the U.s. vs. friendship with the Soviet Union, threw in a special weapon designed to frighten the left out of an open fight. That weapon was the Atom Bomb. Just as the ingredients of loyalty, “atom bomb and Soviet “sneak attack” frightened the CPUSA out of any fight against the planned hysteria of Civil Defense (to date there is no organization fighting it), so the government chose a weapon in the Rosenberg Case which would chase the most aware and vocal opposition into a sound-proofed hole. It selected, atomic espionage as a subject too hot to handle. And, sure enough, the Daily Worker obliged.

The Rosenbergs were picked as the victims, not just because they were Jews (although that fitted in well with fascism’s desires), but because they were the kind of people, who had helped the Spanish Loyalists, who had acted friendly to the Soviet Union, the kind of people who had signed petitions for Councilman Peter Cacchione – a Communist. To boot, they happened to be relatives of David Greenglass, a pulp of a man whose mind the government balanced, on a blackmail finger.

The government deliberately chose an attack which would frighten progressives and Communists out of a counterattack. It loaded the Case with what Eisenhower (in “denying” clemency) called “frightful implications.” It must be admitted that for a long time the government succeeded – and that’s why the Rosenbergs are dead.

Let us examine the facts of this crime closely so that we may do more than pretend to fight for Sobell. Remember, we state not mere opinions but facts which the reader can and should check.

At first, there was NO defense of the Rosenbergs. And, please note, “at first” turns out to be a long time. For this the leadership of the CPUSA must take the complete blame. If Communist leaders in America do not dare come forward to protect victims of fascist frame-ups, how can we direct the main blame against anyone else who failed to fill the vacuum. Let us memorize these dates – to help plague our consciences, to help look at alleged leaders with clear eyes, to help us free our brains from the lethargy of unthinking loyalty. Let nothing obscure the cowardice, dishonesty, and political bankruptcy of the American Communist Party leadership, which – by default – did a better job of murdering the Rosenbergs than the depraved government of the U.S.

Julius Rosenberg was arrested on July 17, 1950. This was proclaimed in headlines the next day (“Fourth American Held As Atom Spy” – New York Times, 7-18-50). The Daily Worker had no headline, no article, no reference. The name Rosenberg was not mentioned. NOT ONE WORD!

This was the beginning of a great “act of omission”. Two days later, the D.W. published a poem unconnected – unfortunately – with the Rosenberg Case. We quote the end:

“Silence is golden. Reaction’s commission
To brass-check hirelings for the act of omission.”

Let us study an “act of omission” for nine months.

Ethel Rosenberg was arrested, on August 11, 1950. More headlines (“Plot to Have G.I. Give Atom Bomb Data to Soviet Is Laid to Sister Here”– NY Times, 8-12-50). The D.W. had no headline, no article, no reference! The name Rosenberg was not mentioned. NOT ONE WORD!

The “left” did not even muster up enough courage to pity the two derelict children of the Rosenbergs. After a few days with Mrs. Greenglass (Ethel’s mother but David Greenglass’ ally), the children were removed to a City Welfare Shelter where they remained for nearly a year. During this period, progressive people took it for granted that friends of the Rosenbergs and responsible “leaders” would of course place the children in proper hands. This turned, out to be an idle hope.

On March 6, 1951, the trial began. More headlines (“3 Go to Trial Here As Atom Spies. War Crime Guilt Can Mean Death” – N.Y. Times, 3-7-51). But – in the D.W. we found NOT ONE WORD!

From March 6 to March 29, 1951, the duration of the trial – NOT ONE WORD IN THE Daily Worker!

On March 29, 1951, the jury found the Rosenbergs guilty. (“3 in atom Spy Case Are Found Guilty. Maximum Is Death” – N.Y. Times, 3-30-51.) Guilty? Death? Nobody could accuse the D.W. of being involved–or even interested The Daily Worker carried NOT ONE WORD!

But we must be lying. The D.W. must have said something – it’s the organ of the vanguard,[3] etc., etc. It M-U-S-T have mentioned the word. Rosenberg. Hell no! The D.W. was completely silent from July 17, 1950 to April 2, 1951 – a period, of NINE, LOUSY MONTHS!!

Nine months without the word Rosenberg. Let us memorize that for our self-respect.

Just to emphasize the complete cowardice of the CPUSA leadership and the D.W., we will be super-accurate and state that on August 22, 1950 the D.W. carried an article by Art Shields on the death of Sacco and Vanzetti “Just 23 Years Ago Today”. Shields tells us indignantly that “The New York Times gave only seven inches to the conviction of the men...” Shields neglects to tell us that this is exactly seven inches mere space than the D.W. had given to the Rosenberg Case. Perhaps Shields reads only the D.W. and must therefore be forgiven for not knowing that the Rosenbergs had even been arrested??? But Shields tells us, “And the people who remember the case of Sacco and Vanzetti recognize the same ruthless methods at work again in 1950.” Brave Shields! He had the nerve to hint at repetition of the Sacco and Vanzetti case in 1950. But he did not have the nerve to name the victims – to say those explosive words: Rosenberg and Sobell.

And after nine months, although the D.W. still did not dare organize some defense for the victims of American fascism, it simply had to start saving face. Therefore, on April 2, 1951, the D.W. carried an editorial called “The Aim Is Hysteria” which made passing reference to the “SPY TRIAL just finished.” Nine months of silence – and then this:

“IN THE SPY TRIAL [emphasis in original] just finished, the Court avowed the political aims of the procedure when he thanked the jury as follows: ’This case is important to the government of the United States.’ Important for what? To foment the pretense that espionage and the political platform of the CP for a better America have something in common. The propaganda is that to believe in Socialism, to advocate peace with the Soviet Union, is to be predisposed to acting as a ’spy’.”

Consider this gem. The D.W. implies that a frame-up is taking place against people who believe in peace, in Socialism, and in friendship with the Soviet Union. But the D.W. is not concerned “IN THE SPY TRIAL just finished” with defending the unnamed victims. It is only interested in clearing itself. It wants no associations with the unnamed victims. It continues, therefore:

“The Communist Party Constitution specifically calls for the expulsion of anyone engaged in espionage (Section 8, part 3).

“It is a conscious fraud to link its organizational and educational work with alleged espionage...”

It was cringing in the first place for the CPUSA to include that clause in its constitution (WE PROMISE WALL STREET TO BE GOOD BOYS AND GIRLS); it was double–jointed cringing to quote that constitution at this point in order to disassociate itself from the unnamed defendants “IN THE SPY TRIAL.”

The D.W.’s “answer to this anti-democratic maneuver should he a greater peace movement,” etc. etc. But nowhere is there the desire to answer the framers by helping the framed. After nine months, the D.W. had finally spoken – in a whimper and about its own loyalty. And still the D.W. could not mention the word Rosenberg.

Finally, on April 6, 1951, the D.W. carried the headline: “Rosenbergs Sentenced to Death. Made Scapegoats for Korean War.” In this issue the D.W. inadvertently damns itself for having deliberately refused to counteract a hysteria of which it was fully aware when it says: “Sentencing of the Rosenbergs climaxed a trial into which the commercial press and prosecuting attorneys pumped the fullest measure of war hysteria.” Well, really? Where, then, was the D.W. during all this pumping – hiding in a hole? (And note: in this same issue of the D.W. was printed a program for May Day which didn’t dare mention the Rosenberg case!)

Again, on April 9, 1951 the D.W. whined about its constitution and the expulsion of anyone engaged in espionage. In this manner, the CPUSA entered, the fight against hysteria – on its knees.

After Judge Kaufman’s death sentence, the D.W. started to print bits of information, mainly comment from other sources on the harsh sentence. It still did not defend the Rosenbergs. One could read in the D.W. that the Jewish Day cried out in horror, but one heard no cry from the D.W.

As late as Oct. 2, 1952, Joseph Brainin, Rosenberg Committee leader, was forced to write to the D.W. about an article on the Rosenbergs by Jane Goodman (D.W. 9-28-52):

“The article could have been of constructive value... were it not for one unfortunate omission. The writer neglected to mention that there are thousands of American men and women who... are doing everything in their power to save the Rosenbergs and Morton Sobell...

“That is why it is regrettable that you omitted to mention the fact that a National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case is working day and night to arouse American public opinion... We need, manpower and funds...”

It wasn’t until October 1952 that the Rosenberg Case received any real coverage in the D.W. It wasn’t until then that the D.W. reader could gather that he was supposed to defend the Rosenbergs. The loyal followers had to wait about two years and three months before they could act. However, it wasn’t until June 1953, the last weeks of the Rosenberg’s lives that the CP members were given the signal to enter the fight in earnest.

9 months without a word!
2 years and 3 months without a real call to action!

These are the facts! If a loyal Party member wants to stand on his unthinking head to avoid the facts, we are willing to hold the fact sheet upside down for him so that he can still read, while the blood rushes to his head.

Why was the D.W. silent for so long? Why did the CP apparatus refuse to send its members into work to save the Rosenbergs’ lives? Obviously, because it had no shame, because it had no principles on which to lean, because it was desperately trying to steer clear of the anger of the Department of Justice; because it succumbed to the government tactic of “frightful implications.” A fine disgrace for a Communist paper.[4]

If the reader is in doubt let him treat himself to educational shock by looking up (in the Public Library if the Jefferson School won’t cooperate) the early issues of the D.W., printed on milquetoast while the capitalist press hollered murder. Then he will understand the facts of life – that the Communist Party leadership murdered the Rosenbergs with its own cowardice – by refusing to defend them. And, these leaders expect the people to defend them when they’re attacked?

Meanwhile, the Rosenbergs were hoping. On April 18, 1951, as the May Day Parade was being planned, Julius wrote to Ethel:

“The monstrous sentence passed upon us, which at first stunned people will result as time goes on in an avalanche of protest, and this, coupled with our legal fight, will set us free.”

And again, on April 25, 1951 (a few days before May Day), Julius wrote to Ethel:

“Our personal fight is linked to the general movement for peace. We see it, and somewhere, somehow, everyone must be made aware of it.”

But there was no mention of the Rosenbergs in the May Day Parade of 1951. There was not even a defense committee.

One year later, the almost complete exclusion of the Rosenberg issue from the May Day Parade indicates that our May Day leaders were still not enthused over an “avalanche of protest” on such an unrespectable issue. The CP, which controlled the political base of the Parade, ruled out the Rosenberg issue as “sectarian”. The many people who tried to raise this issue found themselves maneuvered away from it.[5]

When the May Day Committee issued its list of suggested slogans for May Day there was no mention of the Rosenberg case in the basic slogans. There was an added list of miscellaneous slogans which buried the Rosenberg issue as No. 131 (!) of a total of 141. When this indecent subtlety was not enough to make people forget the Rosenberg issue, Louis Weinstock (leaded of the CP and of the May Day Committee) showed up to remind all concerned that the issue was the high cost of living, etc.

As this is being written, New York’s May Day 1954 is holding tight to its NEW traditions. At its April 3rd Conference, no mention was made of the Rosenberg-Sobell Case – until one rank and filer forced it on the attention of the assembly. And what was the noble result? No one followed up this thought with a word. This is all in keeping with the absence of the case from the May Day Conference Call.

May we state for the bloody record that the “Proposed Slogans” for May Day 1954, distributed at this conference, offered 10 slogans on ̶Labor’s Rights – Jobs and Security”, 10 slogans “For World Peace” and 10 slogans “For Civil Rights” – but nowhere was the Rosenberg Case or Sobell mentioned. It should be obvious that just as 3 times 10 equals 30, so does Sobell remain a 30-year victim – one year for every May Day slogan which failed to mention his name.

But the time came when the CP leadership decided it was necessary to get into the act. If you look at the come-lately issues of the D.W., the ones of the last weeks before the execution, you will notice a different quality – an emergency quality, an indignation that not everyone is helping. Then you will understand, the hypocrite’s science of timing. Now it was respectable (humanitarian – not leftist) to get into the worldwide fight for the Rosenbergs. The Ureys and the Einsteins and conservatives all over the world had entered the fight. Now all the D.W. writers waxed flowery and got into the act – the Platts, the Howards, the Fosters, Flynns and Perrys.

The “theoretician”, Milton Howard, spoke of “the miracle of reality, of true saints of history, and of the people’s battle and sacrifice” (D.W., 6-28-53) Where was this hypocrite with his miracles a while back when Rosenberg Committee members were evicted from the lobby of the Jefferson School (the CPUSA’s Browder-Kautsky training school) by Director Howard Selsam for soliciting funds and. signatures for the Rosenbergs’ “Amicus Brief”? The first night Selsam halted the collection of signatures but allowed the collection of funds; the second night Selsam halted the collection of funds also, hypocritically whining that it was the doing of the school board of directors (of which Selsam is a member!).

The Jefferson School made other contributions. When the Rosenberg Committee first approached Selsam to allow Mrs. Sobell to make, an appeal during a Jewish History Week Forum, he refused. Only later was he to give her a few moments at that forum – and even then, only after haggling over the number of minutes she could have.

Belatedly, the editors of Jewish Life, a left publication, shed a tear for the Rosenbergs. They should be reminded that they themselves could not allow the Rosenberg issue to be brought into a meeting they sponsored in memory of the hundreds of thousands of Jews destroyed by Nazism in the Warsaw Ghetto. During the intermission of this meeting, members of the Rosenberg Committee appealed to speakers Louis Harap and Morris Schappes to raise the Rosenberg issue. This they refused. Evidently, they did not want to taint a meeting opposing German fascism with remarks opposing American fascism. (If Schappes ever wants to improve his “History of the Jews in the U.S.” with a little rewriting, we suggest that he give himself a least a footnote on the desertion of the Rosenbergs during the “pre-respectable” period.[6]

For the CPUSA, there is a time and place for responsibility – not just any old time and place. Now Howard can declare: “Why is it a certainty that the Rosenberg Case will not end, will never end, but will become – in fact has already become – an immediate part of our nation’s struggle to save its soul, its liberties and its peace?” Once upon a time, the Rosenberg Case was not an “immediate part” of Howard’s soul; it was then inexpedient for his soul. Now it looks to Howard and to his paper, which appointed him to cover the last days of the Rosenbergs that the Rosenberg defense “will never end”; once it looked like it would never start. And how quickly have the Howards subsided in their emergency about the other victim, Sobell, rotting away in Alcatraz.

When it’s all over, when the dirty deed is done, the National Committee of the CPUSA comes out of its hole to analyze. Now it sees the Rosenberg Case as a “political plot to assist in advancing the McCarthyite pro-fascist reign of fear in the United States, to brutalize the population, and get it to accept the further fascization of the U.S. without resistance.” If this was the plot and we think it was – it certainly worked. It frightened the CP. leaders, and brutalized them into accepting “the further fascization of the U.S. without resistance”. For nine months this plot completely silenced the D.W. And it is important to point out that it wasn’t just McCarthy and the Republicans, as the D.W. loves to insist (because it is preparing an evacuation into the Democratic and Liberal Parties). All this happened, under Truman, under a Democratic Administration. It’s scandalous that the CPUSA has to look for the lesser evil even in the Rosenberg Case. The lesser evil among murderers!

“But”, continues the National Committee of the CPUSA, “the Rosenbergs would not play this Benedict Arnold role...” True, it was the National Committee members who were and are playing the Benedict Arnold role. While the Rosenbergs were subjected to the latest in American torture, the National Committee, with “hearts of stone”, watched and kept silent in the hope of escaping attention.

In its attack on peace and democracy, the U.S. Government needed scapegoats, and the Rosenbergs and Sobell were picked. In covering up its betrayal of the Rosenbergs and the American people, the CPUSA needed a scapegoat, and it chose (as it has in the past) LABOR. It bawled out the leaders of labor for refusing to do what the CPUSA was afraid to do. What a horselaugh must have echoed in the bowels of Reuther and the whole gang.

The National Committee always ends a chapter of betrayal by passing the buck of blame. The N.C. thinks “it is a tragic fact that the organized labor movement was deceived by the colossal frame-up propaganda in this case; that it fell victim to the stupid and criminal myth that there existed an ’atom bomb secret’...” This is ridiculous. Labor leaders were not “deceived”. They were simply craven – like the CPUSA leaders; they decided, to steer clear of spy stories. What gall for the CPUSA to expect Labor to defy the atom bomb hysteria in this case when the same hysteria got the CPUSA.

The CPUSA believed in complete silence for itself – but not for others. It’s the old hypocrisy of DO NOT DO WHAT I DO; DO WHAT I SAY. Foster, Perry and Flynn, the leaders who signed this statement, in effect criticize labor for imitating the its own behavior. That must be the meaning of the following whorehouse innocence: “But in maintaining an almost complete silence on this fascist conspiracy of labor’s worst enemies, great harm was done to labor’s most immediate interests, no less than to democracy in general.” True. (Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who was the most silent of all?)

In the D.W. of 6-11-53, one week before the execution, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn chirps unashamedly: “Little has been heard from the unions yet – even the most progressive ones – on behalf of the Rosenbergs.” It seems everybody was getting into the act to blame labor. But how would Flynn explain the defection of all the Communist trade union leaders? And why didn’t she expose these traitors? That is impossible; if she did, they might turn on her in a rage, call her hypocrite, and ask her to explain her silence. (Therefore, let’s not fight boys; I keep mum about you, and you keep mum about me. And MUM was the word in the Rosenberg Case.) It was a Rosenberg Committee leader, who stated in rebuttal to our insistence on pressuring left union leaders into the Rosenberg defense that “you can’t even get the right time from them.”

The D.W. always likes to add a few exceptions for the record – to save its soul. On June 15, 1953, 4 days before the execution, it was finally able to reprint an appeal to the President from Ben Gold (leader of the Fur Workers who resigned from the CPUSA in order to sign the T-H affidavit). This was sort of late in the day to pressure Gold into this; we wonder if this atones for the refusal of Gold and Leon Straus (another Fur leader and sponsor of the Rosenberg Committee) to lend the Committee the union’s P.A. system during a campaign in the Fur district.

In the same D.W., Morris grew very indignant and very ingenious. In his article, “The Miracle to Save the Rosenbergs Is In Labor’s Hands” he was angry because the “great majority of the leaders of labor remain paralyzed. Or they have grown so callous that neither the frightful injustice to two human beings nor the meaning of the Case to the labor movement moves them.” Morris, through some breach of memory, failed to denounce labor for taking its lead from his column in the Rosenberg Case. Anyway, this may go down in history as the easiest solution ever designed for a political problem: to declare a miracle is possible, to abstain oneself, and then to appoint someone else as guardian for the materialization of the miracle. (Note the affinity of Morris and Howard for miracles.)

Of course, with death moving in close, the D.W. cried out “with every fibre of our being”. The only hitch was that every editorial fibre of the D.W. was rotten or paralyzed with hypocrisy. Since labor disappointed the CPUSA leaders, the D.W. found that “it was left to other splendid forces in America to stand up to save the honor of the nation...” Who were these mysterious “splendid forces”?

It’s interesting that the D.W. failed to name them. Of course it could have named the leaders of the Rosenberg Committee. It could have named the Ureys and the Einsteins. It could have named some rabbis and ministers. But there were certain other more important forces the D.W. preferred not naming. It preferred not to have to name the Guardian. It preferred not to have to name Irwin Edelman and other persistent workers for the Rosenberg defense, whom it expelled from its own ranks. Certainly, it could, not, at the moment, with a straight face include itself among the splendid, forces. It will, however, do this as soon as it thinks that the early facts of the case have rubbed a little dim.

What is the great tragedy behind the CPUSA’s abstinence from the Rosenberg fight? Despite its weakened state and despite all its faults, it is still true that the CPUSA organizationally can set in motion more “advanced” people to fight a cause than any other organization in the country. It may not be much – but it’s the most! This is proven by the last days of the Rosenbergs when the CP leadership found it advisable to give the go-ahead signal to its followers to get into the fight. When this happened, the support for the Rosenbergs took on a new look. If 13,000 people hit the White House in these last days, it only proves that even more could have been done immediately three years before with less effort – because the CP had more left then than it does now. What was produced, until recently was produced despite the CPUSA leadership and due to the efforts of the Guardian and the Rosenberg Defense Committee. The fact is that one week after Julius Rosenberg’s arrest, a little CP support could have delivered an explosion of public opinion that would have given the Rosenbergs a head start. It would have avoided two years of nothing! This is the betrayal of the CPUSA leaders. Their early abstinence and their late zeal prove that they held back good people.

What can the CPUSA leaders plead against the obvious facts in their record? Can they plead that they did mot realize the full significance of the plot? Of course not. Can they plead that they were trying to help the Rosenbergs by staying clear of the case? Of course not. When the CPUSA abstained, it did not leave the defense to others, It left it to no one. And worse – when it abstained, it prevented its own people from participating. The dirty press seized this obvious opportunity to use the CP’s abstinence against the Rosenbergs. When our enemies of the press holler in glee that the Communist Party didn’t dare defend the Rosenbergs, they are trying to prove – they make quite clear – that the “Reds” were caught with the goods. This is a special aspect of the betrayal by the Daily Worker. This silence helped many people, including Communists, misinterpret the reasons for the D.W. silence. It planted the bug in some confused minds that the Rosenbergs had done something wrong and were, perhaps, guilty. These people were confused, their confusion bred fear, and they abstained – just like the D.W.

The capitalist press rejoiced in the D.W.’s silence: the Rosenbergs died from that silence. A saboteur running the D.W. could have done no better than to allow the capitalist press that notorious advantage in the Rosenberg-Sobell Case.

There Is only one honest answer to the silence of the D.W. and the CP. leadership (and, therefore the D.W. won’t give it) – that, just as the government had planned, the issue was too hot for the CP to handle. The CP continued daydreaming that it could run away and hide from trouble. It continued to think that a counterattack, at this point in American history, is adventurist. This sellout will not be forgotten as part of a long list of sellouts by the CPUSA leadership in the fight for Peace, Democracy, and . Socialism. And it should not be forgotten that not one leader of the CPUSA – even as an individual – felt forced to take an open position in the years before the official go-ahead signal was given.

It made no difference to “hearts of stone” that Julius pleaded:

“Please, good people, do right by yourselves and us, and make an end to this brutal frame-up. I’m confident and know we’ll be set free, but for the sake of the kids I hope it’s fast.”

It made no difference that Ethel could write in bitterness:

“...for while it is no easy matter to contemplate one’s own imminent death, it is far more horrifying to watch the cauldron boiling and the plot thickening right out in broad daylight, while the people flee down the path to their own destruction, and the liberals flounder about pathetically atop their synthetic fences.”

The D.W. played deaf to the Rosenbergs’ appeal that:

“We must soberly realize that our only hope rests with the people. The stark terror of the impending death sentence does not change that. Only they can stop this legal lynching.”

To the D.W., worried over “repressions”, it did not matter that the fight had not started. The brave Rosenbergs hoped.

“The fight is not over, because the people still have to be heard from.”

And so, the Rosenbergs hoped on and on:

“Of course, I realize our path becomes more difficult where each succeeding avenue of legal action is denied, us, but we are realists and we know other factors play a most important part in political cases such as ours.”

The CP leadership, the Rosenberg Committee, and the left generally played dumb to these “other factors.”

The loyal, unthinking CP member has had many opportunities to look facts in the face and recognize the self-destruction of the American CP. He has never had a clearer case than the abandonment of the Rosenbergs and Sobell. At the dangerous risk of insulting his mind! – he should think. A Communist who does not think is a real danger to himself and to his principles. His good intentions can roll up some awful momentum in the wrong direction.

We want to emphasize one point before we analyze the Rosenberg defense: “the real culprits were the leaders of the CPUSA. The worst errors committed by the defense committee leaders would not, in most cases, have occurred if the CPUSA leadership had not paved the way by default.

(continued in the next issue)


[1] Later, as we shall see, Bloch “recovered.”

[2] “...we must eschew hatred and forsake rancour…Let us not vituperate those who pronounced the verdict. Let us at least give them credit for this much – they did what they thought was right.”

[3] Actually, the CPUSA denies that the D.W. is its official organ!

[4] But even in disgrace, the D.W. may be proud of its consistency. Wasn’t it afraid to “cover” the Hiss Case and the Coplon Case? Someday, an editor of the D.W. will discover his soul and write a wow called “Frame-ups We Have Watched From Afar!”

[5] One artist in the May Day Workshop who prepared a float on the Rosenberg case was ostracized. Nevertheless, with a few fellow artists braving the “cold”, he finished it. Originally, a few cars were eagerly volunteered for the float. But one by one their owners, having been briefed, by “responsible” May Day Committee people, had to excuse themselves and withdraw their cars – which had suddenly broken down (or had their souls broken down?). Nevertheless, the float was entered and carried by the artist and some eager marchers. Most of the “left” artists gave the “adventurer” the “works”. Beside this one float, only a few placards appeared – in each case forced in by the insistence of an individual.

[6] One can divide the Rosenberg defense activity into three periods: (l) the “verboten” period during which there was no activity from any source; (2) the “pre-respectable” period during which we had some activity but with the CP still abstaining; and (3) the “respectable” period during which the CP forces were allowed to operate – including the Schappes!)