FREE SOBELL; VINDICATE THE ROSENBERGS – (Against “Grave Doubts” which Lead to the Grave)

(Continued from the previous issue)

First Published: Turning Point Vol. VII, No. 3, June 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.

IV – Defenders with “Grave Doubts”

We have shown in the preceding chapters that the Communist Party leadership, which should have taken the initiative in the Rosenberg-Sobell Defense, made its first protest nine months late and called for action over two years late. Who then, started the defense movement? Serious defense errors should not obscure the fact that Emanuel and Alexander Bloch, Harold M. Phillips, Edward Kuntz, etc. were principled enough to associate themselves with the most “frightful implications” of modern American times. It takes a good measure of principle today to refuse to scurry with alleged Communist leaders for the shelter area every time American justice blows its out-of-tune horn. The defense lawyers were not political leaders of the American people; they could well have leaned on some political understanding – if it had been provided by expected sources. Very simply – the defense lawyers had the problem of grabbing with both hands what the whole Communist Party leadership would not touch with that famous ten-foot pole.

It is to the credit of the defense lawyers that the “clear and present danger” to their professional careers did not frighten them away from the case. It is in this light that one can understand the Rosenbergs’ deep love for the Blochs.

Out of court, there was only a faint rumble. A few individuals understood the government plot well enough to feel the responsibility of talking up the Rosenberg-Sobell defense. Even fewer understood that our brave Communist leaders had dug themselves another hole and were unavailable. The rumble was so faint that it was easy to believe that there was no rumble at all. Only one organized source of any strength decided to allow its cars to hoar or its nerves to feel any rumble. That of course, was the National Guardian.[1]

The Guardian modestly submits that it is supposed to be a newspaper and not an organizer, that it attempts to produce facts and not organizations. Be that as it may (we take it that all newspapers organize – for better or for worse), the dereliction of the Rosenbergs and Sobell was so complete that the Guardian bypassed its rule and laid the foundation for the first defense organization. It assigned William Reuben to assemble the facts. The Reuben series for the Guardian materialized as the first fact-arsenal in the case, “To Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case.”

From a few alert, responsible people and the National Guardian came the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case. The CPUSA and the D.W. watched in silent horror. Since we have much criticism of the Committee to offer, we would like to make one thing clear. Although we disagreed continually (and do today) with the tactics of the leaders of the Committee, and although we firmly believe that out of caution and respectability they sapped the defense movement of many potential powers, we also know that they did what the “expected” leaders did not do; they started a defense committee.

It would be comfortable to be part of a mutual admiration circle but this comfort is dangerous in a political fight. We prefer to forego such distinction in favor of stating bluntly what we consider serious errors committed in defense of the Rosenbergs – in and out of court. The non-legal errors are the more serious and we will consider them first.

The basic error of the defense (both in and out of court) was that from the very beginning it ruled out all politics but anti-Semitism – and then campaigned for mercy. Many specific errors stemmed from this general error.

As we have said before, the technique of the government was to throw the defense off-balance by firing “frightful implications” at it. Atomic sabotage! The case was clearly a political frame-up. (Even part of the Rosenberg Committee literature recognizes this!) How, then, could the Rosenberg-Sobell defenders decide to eliminate all politics? They shut their eyes against the blinding political questions which arose and groped in the bliss of darkness for a “broad base” in which to cultivate exclusively “grave doubts” and mercy pleas.

The defense wan maneuvered by the government into arguing whether or not the Rosenbergs were guilty of endangering the U.S. by giving the Atom Bomb secret to the Soviet Union. The government said the Rosenbergs did; the defense said they didn’t. But nowhere did the very pertinent point come up: In the first place, is the Soviet Union a threat to the U.S.? We realize our point here will horrify some people who have not thought this out or who are afraid to think this out. But is it not logical that if the Soviet Union is not a threat to the U.S., that the whole case loses its “frightful implications.”

Wouldn’t it have been better to have exposed the whole government frame-up by contrasting the peaceful role of the Soviet government to the warlike role of the U.S. government? True, this would have angered the prosecution, Judge, & Co., but how much angrier than murder can the U.S. government get? A careful reading of the transcript will show that Julius Rosenberg during the trial attempted to throw a sympathetic light on the S.U. despite E. H. Bloch.

Wouldn’t it have been better to have stated over and over until the American people began to understand that the greatest protection for peace in the world today is the fact that there is no Atomic monopoly. If there were such an American monopoly today, our government would be at war with the S.U. trying to destroy it as it has planned ever since the Russian Revolution. Remember Churchill’s speech at Fulton, Missouri in 1946 in which he taught the American State Department that the capitalist world had a brief ”breathing space” in which to destroy the S.U. The ”breathing space” equaled the duration of America’s atomic monopoly.

Everywhere in the world, ordinary people are happy (sometimes openly, sometimes secretly) that the Soviet Union has the Atom bomb because this means that military use of the Atom bomb is in fact outlawed even before the UN can formulate such a law. This objective ban consists of two facts:

1. America cannot use the A or H bomb because the S.U. also has it.
2. And since the S.U. won’t use it, there is no possibility of its use.

Since people want peace, whenever they reach an understanding of this indirect ban, they bless the non-existence of atomic monopoly. Churchill himself now prefers peace, not because he grows more angelic, but because without the gimmick of atomic monopoly, he has lost the possibility of waging war against the S.U.

Where did all this belong in the Rosenberg-Sobell defense? Nowhere – if their defense was supposed to be non-political. But if the frame-up was political with an anti-red spotlight, it certainly did belong. The inability of the defense to tackle the real facts of life made it easy for the prosecution. The question was allowed to remain: DID THEY OR DIDN’T THEY ENDANGER THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THE U.S. – when there was no danger to our national security in the first place.

A unified defense, in court and on the street, should have said to the American people: The prosecution is not proving a case against traitors. It is again whipping up the great anti-Soviet lie and it is again whipping us into acceptance of that lie. A couple of radicals are being murdered to teach all radicals a lesson.

And what was the answer of the radicals? First the radicals didn’t hear. Then the radicals contributed to the confusion by proving that the Rosenbergs who were being murdered for being radicals were not radicals at all. If the Rosenbergs had not been so stout and determined, their defenders would have perverted their very martyrdom.

Because the Rosenbergs were radicals, we could have defended them better by allowing then to throw their real ideas into the face of the government. It is tougher to tackle a radical on the offensive than one whose counsel is refusing to meet an argument.

The Rosenbergs knew for what ideas they were being framed. Witness the quote at the beginning of this article.[2] The Rosenbergs spoke out as best they could – despite their counsel. But – their defenders looked the other way.

Dr. Dubois squeezed a lot of truth into a little space when he said, “Under such circumstances, in this case, as in many other cases in the past, accusation itself spelled conviction.” (Our emphasis.) Consider those last four words. True or false? If the Rosenberg-Sobell defense had understood the deep meaning of these words, it would have directed all its force at the basic lie – the myth of the government’s frame-up. It would have forced the prosecution to fight on territory chosen by the defense.

Instead, as we shall see in the next chapter, the defense acted as if this were interscholastic volley ball with an honest referee. For the defense, accusation did not spell conviction; the Judge, jury – the whole show was not considered a fraud until the curtain fell.

Let us tackle a bit of the basic lie. Let us see how hot this subject can get. Dubois could say bluntly:

“How fortunate it would have been for us and for the world if at time the Rosenbergs were accused we had in fact freely given to the Soviet Union and to the whole world the secret of the Atom Bomb.”

This sounds awful to the U.S. Government, but it doesn’t sound so bad to the peace-loving people. Well, then, let us go another “subversive” step and ask: Since our kind of government would never give such a secret to the S.U., would it be the greatest crime if a scientist fortunate enough to have so much knowledge helped world peace by passing out information? Now, suddenly, the thought is frightening. Is it espionage – or is it the moral responsibility of any man who loves peace? Of course only a few men in the world had such knowledge.

The Rosenbergs swore that they were uninvolved, and there was no proof that they were in any way involved. But wouldn’t it have helped the defendants if we had dug deeper than “did they or didn’t they?” Isn’t this problem worthy of an answer: Does passing atomic information to another country – for the purpose of insuring peace& #8211; deserve death? We shall see that the answer is not so simply yes – as all the mincing defenders of the Rosenbergs supposed.

There was one brave man, devoted to peace, who did consider it his moral responsibility to pass information – who did admit passing information to the S.U. His name is Alan Nunn May. We digress for a moment here to indicate a very simple point. If May was defended by his fellow scientists, if he was not murdered for his pains, if he is today highly respected by everyone in England – even begrudgingly by the government – wasn’t it possible to have given a more intelligent penetrating defense in the Rosenberg case – where there was no involvement?

In the Alan Nunn May case in England, not everyone was thrown for a hysterical loop by the “frightful implications”. In fact May was understood, respected and defended by many of his fellow scientists. We make this point to prove that the American reaction in the Rosenberg case was not such a normal thing! It was caused in the first place by the hysteria of the leaders of the CPUSA. A few points on the hay case are very much in order – not to prove a parallel between May and the Rosenbergs, but to underline the disparity between the English defenders of May and the American defenders of the Rosenbergs.

Let us start by going back to the Canadian case in 1946. The NYT (2-18-46) reports:

“Prof. J.D. Bernal, one of Britain’s most eminent physicists, said... that the espionage conspiracy uncovered in Canada was a direct result of reluctance to share atomic secrets and scientific information generally.”

The next day, the NYT reported under the lead “Davies (ex-ambassador to S.U.) Says Soviet has the Right to Spy”

“Russia in self-defence has every moral right to seek atomic bomb secrets through military espionage if excluded from such information by her former fighting allies.

“Such exclusion is by inference hostile.

“If Russia had developed the atomic bomb and the United States were in her shoes, we certainly would try to obtain such information – especially if we faced a potentially hostile world.”

Also, at this time (see NYT, 3-5-46) Harold Urey made a fierce attack on the farce of the “secret of the atomic bomb.” He did not think one could blame Russia for spying because “as the world is organized, all nations will spy, including our own.”

Soon afterward the May case broke in England, May made the following statement, and in so doing proved himself to be a man of the highest principle:

“The whole affair was extremely painful to me. I only embarked on it because I thought this was a contribution I could make for the safety of mankind. I certainly did not do it for gain.” (London Times, 3-2-46. Our emphasis)

On 5-15-46, the New York Times reported:

“A reduction of the ’extremely harsh’ sentence of ten years on Dr. Alan Nunn May... was called for today by the executive committee of the British Association of Scientific Workers...’ It is noteworthy ...that the maximum sentence under the proposed atomic energy bill is penal servitude for...five years. It is clear that no account was taken of Dr. May’s positive contribution to winning the war by his scientific work and that the sentence is out of all proportion to the magnitude of the offence committed.”

We find a little more of the same quote from the British Association of Scientific Workers in the Manchester Guardian of the same date:

“Dr. May’s offence was to pass to a representative of the Soviet Union...certain information concerning atomic energy developments...

“We are convinced that his action was determined only by the principle that fundamental scientific data should have been shared with a country that was not only friendly but a fighting ally.

”We believe, further, that there is a widespread public opinion shared by many scientists, that the original decision to undertake the development of Atomic energy without the closest cooperation of our Soviet ally was a hindrance to and has largely contributed to the present unfortunate position in international relations...”(Manchester Guardian, 3-13-46) This attitude of defending a fearless scientist devoted to all peoples (not just his own people) found no parallel in the U.S. One would think that the CPUSA leaders would have made a point on the internationalist principle involved.

The London Times (5-20-46) reports the following in the cross-examination of May’s superior, Sir Wallace Akins, by Gardiner, May’s attorney:

“Q. Is there a strong feeling among scientists, rightly or wrongly that contributions to knowledge made by them with respect to the benefits of atomic research ought not to be the secrets of any one country? A. Yes.”

That “yes” is quite an admission! So this “strong feeling” is not unique – not unknown to scientists beside May? And May’s superior had to make this great admission. As a matter of fact, many people are against secrets in atomic research; only a few people are well enough informed to do anything about it; and fewer are inclined to do so even if they are able. The D.W. may feel bad about the hoarding of atomic research secrets, but it is MUCH TOO PATRIOTIC to say a good word for a May whose principles forced him to act.

When Dr. May was released in December 1952, he stated, “I myself think I acted rightly and I believe that many others think so too...I was wholeheartedly concerned with securing victory over Nazi Germany and Japan and with the furtherance of the development of the peaceful uses of atomic energy in this country.”

The dignified courage of May and his defenders forced at least an iota of consideration from an imperialist government. When May was released, the government shielding him from inappropriate publicity, declared through a Home Office spokesman: “It would not be right and it would not be civilized to let him be hounded by the press. Once he has served his sentence he is a free man like anybody else” (NYT 12-30-52)

This is not so generous as revealing on the part of the British government. (Perhaps it was more worried over May’s probable comments than over his persecution by the press.)

May had a generous attorney. A generous attorney is one who grants his client the right to retain his sense of principle. May’s attorney, Gardiner, stated the essence of the case as follows:

“Doctors take the view that if they discover something of benefit to mankind, they are under obligation to see that it is used for mankind and not kept for any country or people...There are scientists who take substantially the same view, and Dr. May held that view strongly.”

And that noble thought is supposed to be treachery? There are some people in this world so treacherous in their own quiet way that they will even try to save millions of lives – or even the very existence of this planet – at the risk of having their action temporarily distorted as “helping the enemy.” Americans who do not wish to slander May are nevertheless too frightened to defend him – let alone applaud him. The brave guardians of freedom in the United States have considered it inadvisable to mention his name.

What May did was not a crime; it was a highly principled act. We repeat, the Rosenbergs and Sobell denied any involvement, and there was no proof of any involvement. But wasn’t there a need for something more than the cry: they did not commit this horrible crime.

If accusation itself spells conviction the problem cannot so easily be reduced to guilt or innocence. It follows that accusation spells conviction for the innocent. But there is another problem: guilty or innocent of what – of May’s crime? Then it is important to prove something more basic than innocence – whether or not there was a crime in the first place.

We believe that the victims could have been defended more intelligently on the following basis: (l) the defendants denied the charge; (2) the government proved nothing; (3) there is no A-bomb secret in any case; (4) the Soviet Union is not our enemy and does not threaten us; and (5) if anyone did pass information of any kind it could have been done for the noble motive of peace and not as a treacherous act. There was no reason for murdering the Rosenbergs; there was not even a good reason for punishing them.

But look at the leaders of the Rosenberg defense committee. Unlike the lawyers, they could not even bear to consider the Rosenbergs innocent. To protect themselves, they were always repeating that “there exist grave doubts as to their guilt”. As a matter of fact, the first “Statement of Purpose” of the Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case starts out with the phrase: “Grave Doubt exists as to the guilt of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg...” Late in the campaign, in April 1953, the Committee allowed itself to be so brave as to state “The Doubts Mount in the Rosenberg Case”. (Our emphasis TP) Even at the end, David Alman was still whining: “he who has read the record over and over so carefully entertain grave doubts as to the guilt of the Rosenbergs...” How could such a mincing position be a foundation for a successful counterattack?

With the execution, the Rosenberg Committee leaders momentarily forgot themselves and spoke of vindication, but they quickly recovered from this extravagance. The first post-execution news from the Rosenberg Committee indicated that the Sobell campaign would be kept on the same low level as the Rosenberg campaign was: “Our Committee reiterates the position it took two years ago. We have grave doubts in the Rosenberg-Sobell Case.” From the outset the Committee wanted everybody to understand that it has no more advanced than Rabbi Cronbach who caused the revulsion at the Rosenberg funeral. It therefore stated: “With you we are prepared to abjure all motives of partisanship or vengeance. What we seek is justice.” We don’t know exactly what “partisanship” there exists that the Committee can “abjure” but we see nothing wrong with vengeance against fascism. Vengeance materializes as the vindication of the Rosenbergs and the freeing of Sobell. Vengeance means stopping the war which played such a part in the hysteria. Vengeance means preventing American fascism. The truth is that muscular words like “vengeance” frighten the respectable Almans whereas paralytic phrases like “grave doubts” and “abjure all motives” lull them into comfort. Evidently, the Committee is incapable of seeing that its position is a “mincing” one which does not inspire confidence in the very people it seeks to attract. In fact, the Committee’s own lack of conviction tends to enervate its supporters.

The result of this orientation was that politics was ruled out of the Rosenberg Case as inexpedient right to the end. At the great White House demonstration on Sunday, June l4th, mimeographed instructions were passed out to the pickets which stated:

“WE ARE HERE ONLY TO PRESS FOR CLEMENCY FOR THE ROSENBERGS AND TAKE NO POSITION ON ANY OTHER ISSUES. The eyes of the National and International Press will be upon us. Please refer all questions to an authorized spokesman for the Committee.”

In this innocent little injunction we have a bird’s-eye-view of the worm’s-eye-view of apologetic politics. And for all the people who wanted to help the Rosenbergs and Sobell a little more vigorously – “please refer all questions to an authorized spokesman” who undoubtedly will chloroform every living issue and leave only clemency in a situation where clemency is unlikely. Clemency was too much the campaign – but that was half bad. A good part of the time it was worse than this – it was MERCY. The Rosenbergs finally objected to Bloch that there was too much mercy, that they were not interested in mercy, that they wanted justice. Like other things, we suspect, this message of the Rosenbergs was not immediately made public. The Rosenbergs later included this thought in the body of their appeal to the President.

There was nothing wrong in clemency campaigns as such. There is a great difference between mercy and clemency. Nothing ever forces mercy out of fascist-minded people. Clemency is only a legal safety valve which opens under mass pressure. It covers the possibility of error in the legal sphere and allows the President a face-saver to prevent a miscarriage of justice sealed by death. Enough pressure could have forced clemency out of the President. But what pressure there was came late and then the Government hurried the dirty deed. The fight for clemency can be a dignified and politically correct one, but the excessive talk about mercy on the Committee’s part was on a low level. It may be understandable for a Rabbi or Minister to ask for mercy – if that is the limit of his understanding, but that is no reason for the Committee to reduce itself to that level and misrepresent the character of the Rosenbergs and of the Case.

After all politics was ruled out, what remained beside the words clemency and mercy? Only one countercharge – anti-Semitism. The fight against anti-Semitism is, of course, political, but within the orthodox mentality of the Committee leadership, it is “broad” and “respectable”. Even if the Rosenbergs in Sing Sing were counseled to control their political messages, they certainly tried to express themselves anyway. And, though they knew anti-Semitism was involved, they spoke about more than anti-Semitism.

Of course, anti-Semitism was involved, but not so much in the selection of the Rosenbergs and Sobell as in the selection of the Judenrat company of Judge Kaufman, prosecutors Saypol and Cohn. Concentration on the Jewish issue was on the part of the defense committee simply an evasion of other more basic political problems bothering the defenders of the Rosenbergs. While it is true that an occasional speaker for the Rosenbergs would point out the Cold War aspects of the Rosenberg Case or the McCarthyite atmosphere of America, there was a studied evasion of the hotpoint, the role of the Soviet Union. There should have been more denunciation of the Korean war, of anti-Soviet slander, of the growing fascisation of our government. But the Committee felt that with such a campaign, it wouldn’t have been so easy to gain mercy from the government.

The Rosenbergs did not want mercy pleas; they wanted a fight for justice and made themselves clear about that. The Rosenberg Committee simply ignored this basic request of the victims they were defending.

If politics had to be avoided, it follows that the leadership needed a substitute and found it in a purely legal campaign. Aside from mercy, any expressions of a mass campaign were channeled into fund-raising for the legal campaign. It is true that our leaders sometimes warned against the pitfalls of a purely legal campaign. They knew enough to say that, but they went right ahead and ignored their own words of advice. As a logical result of this attitude, our demonstrations lost what vitality they could have had. We were plagued right up to the last with prayer meetings instead of angry demonstrations. The Government was quite aware of the fact that the Rosenberg Committee did not want to make trouble. If the people in the last demonstrations had not been fettered with frantic injunctions from the Committee to behave, they would have behaved well. There would have been explosive demonstrations. Does any sane man believe that explosive demonstrations would have harmed the Rosenbergs? The rest of the world exploded. Frenchmen spilled their blood to try to save the Rosenbergs. Englishmen broke laws about where they might demonstrate. Everywhere but in America the Rosenberg defenders exploded. We were dignified – or was it scared impotence?

The leaders of the defense Committee didn’t want trouble. They repeated ad nauseam that the police were cooperating with us. What this really meant was that we were cooperating with the police – not with the Rosenbergs.

And as we sat in Liberty Park, Washington, D. C., waiting for the Supreme Court to kill the Rosenbergs (“watchfully waiting,” as David Alman put it) and one of us objected to Alman that we should do something – that we should go back to the White House. He replied (and this is worthy of history books): “This is the way we’ve saved the Rosenbergs and this is the way we’re going to save the Rosenbergs.” And when a young man objected to Aaron Schneider that he felt we could do more to save the Rosenbergs than sit around waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court, he was informed that anything else on the part of the Committee and the demonstrators “would be an admission of defeat”! What desperate rationalization to cover up the fear of recognizing the willingness of the people to demonstrate before the Supreme Court.

The prevention of strong demonstrations was, in effect, sabotage of the Rosenberg defense. The worst example is the Committee’s opposition to the Clemency Train to Ossining organized by the Civil Rights Congress. This turned out to be the most important demonstration for the Rosenbergs up to that point – and yet it was fought by the Rosenberg Committee. The Rosenberg Committee considered it a provocation to dare go to Ossining. (There could have been trouble with the police!)

One of us, on the way to address a fraternal organization shortly before this demonstration stepped at the Rosenberg Committee headquarters for material on Ossining to distribute at the meeting. To his surprise, he found no material. When he asked Alman about taking some “calls” with him he was told that the Committee had none. Then he was told that the Ossining trip was not yet definite and that he shouldn’t urge the people to go! He was finally allowed to see a copy of the call. All this was highly suspicious, but it wasn’t until after his return from Ossining that he was openly told by Emily Alman that the Committee had fought and tried to stop the Ossining trip, that they considered it a provocation. This attitude was disgusting, considering that the Ossining demonstration rang around the world. As time goes by, the leaders of the Rosenberg Defense will feign surprise at this criticism and deny their fight against militant actions. But the Ossining case is too much a part of the record to rewrite.

It seems that after that, the CRC didn’t “figure in things”. This is horrible when one remembers that the Ossining Clemency train was the one time that the Rosenbergs’ friends were able, in an organized way, to actually approach them in the general area of their imprisonment. And how much that meant to them comes out in one of Ethel’s letters to Julius:

“And on Sunday, December 21, 1952, I sat quietly in my cell, ’listening’ to the songs that close to 1,000 people were singing in a heavy rain at Ossining Station, (although I couldn’t actually hear them) and feeling a calm and a safety and a spiritual bond that no deprivation, no loneliness, no danger, could shatter!”

A demonstration which meant for the Rosenbergs such hope, meant for the Almans only the danger of antagonizing the police.

The allergy of the Committee to political explanations and actions can be best explained with another kind of story. Although the Committee wanted everybody’s help (supposedly), and although mighty few professionals came through, and although no artists until recently thought it advisable to paint about the Rosenberg subject, when one talented artist did devote himself to three serious canvasses on the Rosenberg question and offered them free to the Rosenberg Committee to sell to the best bidder for the Rosenberg Defense fund, the Rosenberg Committee looked the other way. The paintings were very good – but too political, too hot.

As the death of the Rosenbergs approached, one of us broached the suggestion to David Alman that it would be fitting and proper for any eventuality if it were arranged to have a small private plane, equipped with a Public Address system, glide over Sing Sing with a recorded message of solidarity for the Rosenbergs. How wonderful this would have been for two people who never really got the support they deserved. But Alman is a legal man – above reproach. His comment was, “It’s not legal. Do you want a pilot to lose his license?” It would have been worth the loss of a license or a lot more.

We always avoided casualties. Perhaps one reason for the Rosenberg-Sobell casualty was the inability of their defenders to take chances on casualties in their own ranks.

The Rosenbergs and Sobell were (and still are) defended obliquely. The real issues were avoided; the great political lies were left covered. The defenders chose to defend the victims on the moat respectable basis possible, a basis which would leave the defenders in the clear just in case the defended broke down in one way or another.

The victims of the greatest political frame-up of our time were defended by people with “grave doubts” (WHAT COULD BE WORSE!), by people who refused to fight back politically. In a sense, the Rosenbergs were killed by the hypocrisy of their friends. The Deathhouse Letters indicate that the Rosenbergs understood this and were not bitter as a result. They felt that through their own example they could help make better fighters out of some fair weather friends.

V – The Impounded Exhibit

We believe that in court the Rosenbergs and Sobell were incorrectly restricted to defensive tactics and to minimum expression. They were prevented from carrying the fight to the government; they were prevented from denouncing the frame-up in their own words, and they were prevented from avowing their ideas openly, from telling the world what they tried afterward to tell it from the Death House at Sing Sing.

Bloch, knowing that the government was trying to paint the Rosenbergs red in order to take advantage of the current hysteria, tried to prevent the spotlighting of the Rosenberg beliefs. Bloch’s intentions may have been good, but his understanding was not. He had the typical failing of the lawyer who thinks that, even in political cases, he has to carry the fight alone. The Rosenbergs proved over and over that they were capable of driving the government into the open on the question: IS IT CRIMINAL TO BE A FRIEND OF THE SOVIET UNION, A FRIEND OF DEMOCRATIC SPAIN, OR EVEN A SUPPORTER OF PETER CACCHIONE?

This idea, however unorthodox in America, is the ABC of the counterattack against reaction all over the world. Once, in fact, before American Communism became respectable (and dragged the whole progressive movement after it into respectability), this idea was taken for granted here also.

Not only did Bloch confuse the real ideas at the bottom of the Rosenberg frame-up, but on occasion, he played along with the prosecution by himself putting the Rosenbergs on the spot with ingratiating “patriotic” questions. Here is one typical example:

During Bloch’s questioning of Julius Rosenberg, Judge Kaufman interrupted to pressure the defendant about “respective preferences of economic systems between Russia and the United States.” Evidently, to counter this, E. Bloch jumped back in with his own “patriotic” contribution:

“By Mr. E. Bloch:
“Q. DO you owe allegiance to any other country? ”A. No, I do not.
“Q. Have you any divided allegiance?
“A. I do not.
“Q. Would you fight for this country –
“A. Yes, I will.
“Q. –if it were engaged in a war with any other country?
“A. Yes, I will, and in discussing the merits of other forms of governments, I discussed that with, my friends on the basis of the performance of what they accomplished, and I felt that the Soviet government has improved the lot of the underdog there, has made a lot of progress in eliminating illiteracy, has done a lot of reconstruction work and built up a lot of resources, and at the same time I felt that they contributed a major share in destroying the Hitler beast who killed six million of my co-religionists, and I felt emotional about that-thing.” (p. 1079 Transcript)

The first question, above, asked by Bloch is one that is asked either by a witch-hunter or by a fool trying to ingratiate his patriotic self into “hearts of stone”. So cringing was Bloch, that he used the phrase “engaged in war with any other country”; the least one could expect, even of a cringing Block, was that he could have said, “if it were attacked by any other country.” It is to Julius’ credit that he tried to inject into this low discussion a statement of praise for the Soviet Union, thereby attempting to counteract the glossy patriotism of Bloch.

We feel that if the Rosenbergs had been allowed to throw into the face of the prosecution the very maximum of their political philosophy, it would have made it harder for the prosecution to cloak this frame-up in spy stories. The Rosenbergs attempted to do this very thing – without the benefit of counsel – afterwards from the Death house.

Let the skeptical face one simple question. Will the Rosenbergs go down in history for what their lawyer had them say in court or for what they wrote on their own in the Death House as people who were changing the world, as people who had no excuses to make but plenty of accusations to make? The answer is obvious in their letters. In fact, the conduct of the leaders of the Rosenberg defense forces one to wonder whether certain important thoughts were “inadvertently” omitted from the published letters.

The Rosenbergs were wonderful, brave and intelligent people. One wonders whether the Rosenbergs may have preferred to have spoken differently in court. It is clear that even in the Death House, the Rosenbergs could not write with a completely free hand. It seems to us that one should not read only literally what the Rosenbergs wrote from the Death House. To do this would be giving the Rosenbergs very stingy credit. One should also try to grasp what couldn’t be written. We cannot attempt to go into such subtle matters here, but a reading of their letters contain several mysteries, not the least among them:

“And nobody, not even you, (Bloch) whom we continue to love as our own true brother, can dictate terms to the Rosenbergs (our emphasis – TP) who follow only the dictates of heart and soul, truth and conscience, and the God-blessed love we bear our fellows.” (Ethel to Manny Bloch, 1-30-53)

If there is any doubt regarding the political impact of the Rosenbergs’ own ideas as expressed through their letters and not through counsel, we need only offer as testimony the horror and fearful respect of Murray Kempton, the red baiting Post columnist:

“It is precisely because the Rosenbergs are the kind of people they are that electrocution is so inadequate an appeal against the kind of thing they represent. Any potential spy (in Kempton’s terminology that means Communist – TP) reading those letters could well see in them a shining example; to the dedicated Bolshevik there are no terrors in the distant prospect of a death like this one.”

Kempton, the worst kind of redbaiter (but not the dumbest) who ever whored for a byline, says that the Rosenbergs won, that such people can’t lose, that their very death inspires new gains. Nothing is more important to an understanding of the Rosenberg case than a reading of their letters. The people of America have various impressions of the Rosenbergs, but there is basically only one justifiable impression to be drawn from their own words.

In these letters the Rosenbergs took pains to try to project their philosophical identity. Speaking of the friendliness of “every inmate”, Julius writes: “They respect us for the people we are, admire our courage, and wish us luck.” And what kind of people were the Rosenbergs? When he walks interminably in his prison, Julius says with courageous humor, “It looks as if I’m practicing for picketing.” When he tells Ethel about the songs he sings in prison, he deliberately includes “folk music, workers songs, people’s songs...Peat Bog Soldiers... Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony...” Julius looks at his prison and thinks “Sufficient for me to say I could write a book on its evils and another on recommendations.” They wrote about the criminal execution of Willie McGee and understood the attempt “as in our case, to apply this to political prisoners.” Because things were tough, Ethel could spit on persecution: “here shall we roar defiance too, and give battle.” They wrote of sweatshops, strikes, blacklists, the Smith Act and political arrests, deals with Fascist Spain, etc. As they looked back, they saw how “As man and wife we courageously assaulted life’s hurdles,” and as they looked forward, they vowed, “All that is happening we see clearly, and we shall, never bend a knee to this tyranny.”

The closer they came to their deadline the more clearly they wanted to throw their identity into the faces of their prosecutors. There is a beautiful letter from Julius to Bloch which traces his radical involvement from his youth on, from his support for the Tom Mooney case, to anti-fascist activity at City College, to the Scottsboro Case, etc.

Their last words to Bloch in their last letters did not simply remind us of a personal injustice, but of a collective calamity – that they were the first victims of American fascism. It makes one shudder to realize that the Rosenbergs had to approach death knowing that so many of their friends were guilty of dereliction of duty, but the Rosenbergs understood that their own example would help make this dereliction of duty pass. And we think that it is true that despite all the gruesome irresponsibility in the Rosenberg case, that because of the conduct of the Rosenbergs, Americans have learned something.

So, the Rosenbergs were defended on the defensive – a fatal error. But even in this defense, colossal blunders were pulled by Bloch. Such blunders could have been born, not from stupidity as such, but more deeply, from the very unbalance that stems from the substitution of defensive tactics for counterattack.

In “Freedom’s Electrocution”,[3] a pamphlet published near the end of 1952, Edelman exposed the sealing of the A-bomb “secret” during the Rosenberg trial. Since Edelman’s contribution in the Rosenberg Case was a major one, and since his reward was defamation of character, we prefer to quote the following important sections directly from his own pamphlet:

“The sealing of the replica, on defense initiative, is the most significant event in the Rosenberg trial. That it could not have failed to make an impression upon the jury, is obvious. But, important as this is, it is dwarfed by the consideration that, through this move, the defense conceded the existence of an atom-bomb secret. (original emphasis)

“The prosecution can now afford to disband most of the forces it had mobilized for battle. Without a shot being fired, the defense moved away from a highly strategic, strongly fortified position which the prosecution had planned to spend months battling for. That is the explanation for the fact that the Government closed its case in a few days instead of months, with 20 witnesses instead of 118.

“Since the defense has not challenged but actually sponsored the replica sealing, no higher court is likely to yield to any demand questioning its contents. No scientist can get near it to show it up for the blend of fraud and brainstorm that it is. Sealed it will thus remain in the so-called interest of American-national security, exactly as that infamous ’bordereau’ was sealed by the Military Court in the Dreyfus case, in the interest of “French national security.” In the latter case, an aroused public opinion compelled its unsealing.”

Edelman points out that when Cohn begins to question Greenglass about the “descriptive material” which he allegedly gave to Rosenberg, Bloch “becomes panic-stricken lest the Russians overhear a secret or two. Up he comes to the bench and the following takes place out of hearing of the jury: (Transcript, pp. 500-01)

“Mr. E. H. Bloch: Let me say by way of explanation, Mr. Saypol, that despite the fact that the Atomic Energy Commission may have declassified this, I was not at all sure in my own mind...whether or not even at this late date, this information may not be used to the advantage of a foreign power. Remember, I am talking personally. And since you said something which might be implied criticism of me, and said that in front of the jury...I want to say to the Court as far as this descriptive material is concerned, I am perfectly satisfied that this also be kept secret.
“The Court: Do you want it to be done...without the spectators being present?
“Mr. Saypol: In fact, if Mr. Bloch will state that this is his request...we obviously have been proceeding on the assumption...If Mr. Bloch will state in the presence of the jury that he requests it that way.
“The Court: Requests what?
“Mr., Saypol: Requests the courtroom to be cleared.
“The Court: He doesn’t have to request it. I can state it. As long as we have right here Mr. Bloch’s statement that he has no objection to clearing the courtroom.”

Edelman continues:

“Mr. Saypol seems to be content with the idea of clearing the courtroom. Sponsored by the defense, the move is bound to improve the replica build-up. But something seems to be troubling his Honor. Apparently with a hunch of danger, he suddenly gets a bright idea: ’Perhaps,’ he suggests, ’we can even avoid this matter of clearing the courtroom if counsel stipulate right now that the matters that were described... were of a secret and confidential nature.’

“A bright idea! That sort of a stipulation would give the replica its needed build-up and at the same time beautifully sew it up in such a way that not a soul could see its emptiness.

“The defense lawyers now get into a huddle and come up with – a disagreement. The Blochs are prepared to stipulate that the words about to roll off the lips of Greenglass are too world-shaking to be released. Mr. A. Bloch will do it ’as an American citizen and as a person who owes his allegiance to this country.’ Also, he calculates, such a stipulation would save the Government a pile of money it might otherwise have to spend in bringing witnesses to support David’s story.

“The Sobell lawyers object to the stipulation. Mr. Phillips and Mr. Kuntz do not feel ’that an attorney for a defendant in a criminal case should make concessions which will serve the people from the necessity of proving things, which in the course of the proof we may be able to refute.’

“The Transcript (pages 503-06) portrays Kaufman’s valiant effort to get the defense to agree to the stipulation and thus avoid the clearing of the courtroom. At last he sadly resigns himself. Within hearing of the jury now, the judge explains that ’Mr. Cohn was about to take detailed proof on certain descriptive matters concerning the atom bomb which the witness contends was turned over to the defendant Julius Rosenberg...’

“To make sure that jury and public are suitably impressed, he asks: ’Mr. Bloch, I understand that you are willing to concede the testimony concerning the particular phase of it, is that correct?’ “Mr. Bloch readily corroborates: ’I was willing to do this, your Honor....I thought that in the interest of national security, any testimony that this witness may give of a descriptive nature concerning the last Government exhibit might reveal matters which should not be revealed to the public.’

When the press objected to being cleared from the courtroom along with the others, the Judge cunningly gave in with Bloch dissenting. Even then Bloch wanted the press enjoined to secrecy. Judge Kaufman’s answer was to make a fool of Bloch with: “No, they won’t be enjoined to secrecy. They will be enjoined to good taste.”

Edelman notes:

Time said that ’some of his testimony made little scientific sense.’ The science editor of Life thought that his ’implosion bomb appears illogical, if not downright unworkable.’ Scientific American commented that ’What the newspapers failed to note was that without quantitative data and other necessary accompanying information the Greenglass bomb was not much of a secret.’

“Corroborating the above is Dr. Harold C. Urey’s comment that ’Detailed data on the atomic bomb would require eight to nine volumes of close print which only a scientist or engineer would be able to understand.’”

Luckily the press spilled the beans about this ridiculous Greenglass vaudeville act. Bloch’s actions would have made the whole farce a secret from the public.

May we quote another important point from Edelman’s pamphlet:

“In opening his Summation, he said that ’it is usual when you come into a house to say good evening, and it has sprung up in court that there are certain social amenities... one goes through before one gets into the facts of the case, and I would like to say to the Court on behalf of all defense counsel that we feel that you have treated us with the utmost courtesy, that ...despite any disagreements we may have had with the Court on questions of law, we feel that the trial has been conducted… with that dignity and decorum that befits an American trial.’

“Later, when Mr. Bloch complained to the U. S. Court of Appeals, detailing the many instances of Kaufman’s ’judicial misconduct,’ that Court read back to him from his own Summation, shrewdly adding: ’These remarks, by a highly competent and experienced lawyer, are not compatible with the complaints ’now made.’

“A reflection, probably, of the same spirit of courtroom politeness is the profound bow Mr. Bloch made in the direction of the prosecutor, whose cross-examination methods he correctly characterized in his appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court as ’shabbiest and most inflammatory.’ In his Summation, he assured the jury that ’even though Mr. Saypol and I have engaged in a certain amount of repartee, it doesn’t mean anything; it happens in every trial; and we feel, as we come here in the closing stages of this case, that as much has been done both by the prosecution and by the defense to present you the respective sides of the controversy.

We suggest that the reader get Edelman’s pamphlet, and look at the trial in a fresh light. And for his pains, what happened to Edelman? In his next pamphlet, “The Suppressed Facts in the Rosenberg Case”, Edelman points out that he was EXPELLED by the L.A. Rosenberg Committee, that the National Guardian – for shame – refused to publish an ad for his pamphlet. Belfrage wrote to an objecting reader, “I would not argue with Edelman’s point that lawyer Bloch made serious mistakes in the Rosenberg trial. Bloch himself does not deny it.” (Quoted in the above pamphlet.)

We can state that if Bloch knew his mistakes and admitted them, he certainly didn’t admit them where they could have done the most good for the Rosenbergs. We think that Edelman is correct when he says:

“This writer is not an attorney but, with his layman’s perception, he feels that the higher courts would have found it much more difficult to brush aside the appeal if it had included a frank admission that counsel for the defense erred in assisting the judge in the scandalous courtroom sealing of a non-existent or given-away ’secret.’ This writer does not know but he suspects that prominent lawyers might have been found to lend their skill, and prestige in appealing the case if such frank admission of error could have been included.”

Certainly this does not make Bloch very attractive. But there are even uglier notes. In December 1952, Fyke Farmer wrote Edelman from New York City:

“...A funny thing about all these people that have been connected with the case is that they seem not to want any outside comment or help... I am convinced that a terrible injustice has been done the Rosenbergs... I am still thinking about what can be done. If anything’s possible, it will have to be done outside of and independent of the Rosenberg committee, Bloch and the National Guardian.” [4](Our emphasis – TP) (P.12, “The Suppressed Facts in the Rosenberg Case”)

“The true lawyer (in the worst sense) shows in Bloch in the ultimatum sent by him to Farmer on May 19, 1953. This, note, is the apotheosis of unprincipled, self-protecting prestige fighting against principled selfless help:

“Dear Mr. Farmer:

“...Counsel of record object as sharply as words can convey thought to your filing this petition on behalf of Mr. Edelman. We consider that any such filing would constitute an unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion into the case and a breach of legal ethics. If you persist in adopting this course, we will take corrective measures to right the situation.”

“Counsel of record are fully aware of their duties and responsibilities and expect to discharge them with the utmost fidelity and for the best interests of their clients. They are also aware of their prerogatives which they will yield to no one despite direct or covert pressures.”

“Very truly yours,
Emanuel H. Bloch”

It should be added for the record that up to the last days, Bloch fought Edelman’s lawyers Farmer and Marshall in court where they entered the case as “next friend”. In front of their common foe, Bloch boycotted the “interloping” attorneys and gave ammunition to members of the Supreme Court in discountenancing the interference by two lawyers who had discovered an ingenious legal loophole in the government’s argument. The Supreme Court was so glad to have Bloch fighting Farmer, that in its final decision condemning the Rosenbergs to inevitable death, they had to “discountenance” such a precedent.

Douglas, however, used the argument of Farmer to grant that last famous stay to the Rosenbergs. And when this happened, Bloch had to hang his head in shame and give all credit to Farmer and Marshall. If a miracle of ingenuity could have saved the Rosenbergs, Farmer and Marshall molded that miracle, but (despite George Morris and the D.W.[5]) there are no miracles. There was not enough aroused and organized opinion, and the Rosenbergs were rushed to their death.

Farmer’s discovery that the Rosenberg case came under the jurisdiction of the Atomic Espionage Act was produced to save the Rosenbergs from the death penalty. This as far as we know has no bearing on Sobell except as it reflects the crime against the Rosenbergs. But the other arguments of Edelman have an important bearing on the fight to free Sobell.

Although we do not agree with everything that Edelman has to say on the case, one point is quite obvious. Edelman did better by the Rosenbergs than their own lawyers. To this very moment, the lawyers in the case and the new counsel for Sobell refuse to be interested in the most powerful lever for the vindication of the Rosenbergs and the freeing of Sobell. A bleak picture – rosy for the murderers.

What magic is it that marks the impounded exhibit taboo? The government is happy enough about it because its hoax is sealed forever – they think. They did not and do not have to prove the most improbable aspect of the whole, brutal frame-up. But, how does the magic frighten our side? Is it that some of us really think that there is meat in the impounded skull of Greenglasss? Or – horrors – can it be that it is necessary to forcibly embalm Bloch’s reputation at the risk of failure to vindicate the Rosenbergs and free Sobell. Curious! – how fearless people and fearless journals face almost all facts but falter in the vicinity of a few taboos.

Sometimes we have been roughly slandered for bringing up the impounded exhibit, and sometimes we have been politely requested to discontinue the discussion. Why? Why not let it stand on a “true or false” basis. We have been limited in our space and, for the moment, we have offered only the main facts, but these we have taken directly from the transcript itself. In the end the truth will out – as even fools know.

Look at it this way. The Rosenbergs and Sobell were framed. Every gang-up has a basic revealer. In this case, the basic revealer points politically to the fact that the Soviet Union is not a threat to the United States and legally to the hoax of the impounded exhibit. The two are the same – a politically, legally integrated hoax. Will the sentries guarding the taboo zone please tell us why we cannot pass. Are there, perhaps, reputations buried in off-limits sanctuaries?

Those who would really free Sobell and who find that they may not pass should decide to trespass. They might find entombed among the taboos a deep understanding of the whole case, an understanding that could penetrate the consciousness of the whole American people. They might even come upon the keys to Alcatraz in this gloomy zone. He who would open the gates of Alcatraz will have to brave the spooks licensed by our own worn-out warriors.

What makes the picture so bleak? If the defenders of Sobell decide to tear open the impounded exhibit, they will have a tremendous job ahead. It takes a powerful mass movement to force the impounded exhibit out of the government’s chamber of horrors. But how much harder is Sobell’s fate – if we don’t even want to tear the hoax apart?

A May Day Footnote to Our Last Issue

On page 12 and 13 of the April issue of Turning Point, we showed that the Rosenberg-Sobell campaign was deliberately ignored from one May Day to another. We showed that it was again censored out of the plans for this May Day, just passed. Now, may we add this footnote to page thirteen.

Our criticism of the 1954 May Day Provisional Committee has borne a small bit of fruit – rather bitter fruit. The May Day Committee decided that they had better pay a little lip service to the Sobell case, so Helen Sobell was placed as one of the May Day speakers.

However, Turning Point understood how shallow this pretense was. We noticed that the May Day Conference issued a sheet of 16 additional slogans for May Day – without mention of the Rosenbergs or Sobell! Therefore, we prepared 30 placards for May Day and distributed them among the demonstrators. The placards read: “Free Morton Sobell, Vindicate the Rosenbergs, Protect their Children.” It is fortunate that we did this because aside from these 30 identical placards (black letters on yellow cards) there was not one other Rosenberg or Sobell placard or slogan.

Let the reader ponder our first chapter-heading in the April Issue: “Sobell Has Been Deserted As the Rosenbergs Were.” Why did it take the Communist League, publishers of TP, to introduce the only placards on the Rosenbergs and Sobell on May Day? Where was the CPUSA? Where, in fact, was the Rosenberg-Sobell Committee? A weak petition to transfer Sobell from Alcatraz was circulated slightly in the demonstration; active Committee people were at the demonstration. Why didn’t the Committee produce one placard – officially or unofficially? After all, if Mrs. Sobell could address the meeting – and correctly so – can the Committee argue that it could not associate itself in any way with a May Day demonstration? Is the case still too hot for the defenders?

Each year the political level of May Day gets lower. This year was the lowest. It was an anti-McCarthy, anti-Republican day. The May Day Committee was too involved passing out armfuls of American flags to remember the Rosenberg-Sobell case.


[1] It is not inconceivable that the Guardian could be smeared with such circumstantial evidence as the good opinion of it held by such a dissident micro-gruff sheet as this. May we state for the record, therefore, that we fully realize that the Guardian will disapprove of much of this issue? Amen! The Guardian is still the best non-Communist paper and the Daily Worker the worst non-Communist, paper in the American peace movement.

[2] April issue of Turning Point.

[3] Available from Irwin Edelman, P.O. Box 2505, Los Angeles 53 California.

[4] And although the Guardian later printed Edelman’s picture and mentioned his name, it still failed to criticize itself in the interest of promoting a better fight for Sobell. This is unfortunate in the case of the paper that did the most for the Rosenbergs and Sobell.

[5] See April Turning Point.