Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, July 1941


The Editors

The FBI-Gestapo Attack on the Socialist Workers Party


From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.6, July 1941, pp.163-166.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As we go to press, a Federal grand jury in St Paul, Minnesota, convened by order of Acting US Attorney General Francis Biddle, is preparing indictments against CIO unionists and leaders of the Socialist Workers Party on the crudely trumped-up charge of “seditious conspiracy” to “overthrow the government by force and violence.” The grand jury was convened in great haste, three days after FBI agents, on June 27, raided the Socialist Workers Party headquarters in St. Paul and Minneapolis, seizing as “evidence” material to be found in almost any library – books by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, copies of the party’s weekly newspaper, The Militant, copies of the monthly magazine, Fourth International, red flags bearing the insignia of the party, photographs of Trotsky and Lenin, etc. etc.

The haste of the FBI produced an extremely clumsy job. The real aim of the prosecution was glaringly evident The newspapers had been given no friendly tips on how to handle the story: for example, the first edition of the St. Paul Dispatch on June 28 came out with an eight column streamer: “US to Prosecute Local 544-CIO.” Nor was Acting Attorney General Biddle’s formal announcement much more clever; he was at some pains to claim that “the prosecution is not in any sense an attack on organized labor nor is it an effort to interfere in a dispute between labor organizations”; but this pious disclaimer was nullified by his very next words:

“The principal Socialist Workers Party leaders against whom prosecution is being brought are also leaders of Local 544-CIO in Minneapolis. This prosecution is brought under the criminal code of the United States against persons who have been engaged in criminal seditious activities, and who are leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and hare gained control of a legitimate labor union to use it for illegitimate purposes.”

That the FBI’s assault upon the Socialist Workers Party was but the red-herring to cover up the government’s attack upon the CIO was immediately pointed out by the ranking officer of the CIO in Minneapolis, Frank Barnhart, regional director of the United Construction Workers Organizing Committee. He stated:

“The demonstrative Friday raid by the FBI on the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party in the Twin Cities and the public announcement by the U. S. Department of Justice threatening Indictments and Inferring that leaden of Local 544-CIO are involved, is nothing but a smear campaign against the CIO.

“Unable to bend the workers to his will by the other vicious tactics which he has employed, Dan Tobin has persuaded Roosevelt to carry out this action in payment of his political debt to Tobin for past services rendered. It is deplorable that the functions of the US Department of Justice have been perverted in this reprehensible manner.”

The CIO could make so devastating a charge against Roosevelt because the record supports its charge to the hilt.

Why Local 544 Joined the CIO

By a well-nigh unanimous vote of nearly 4,000 members at a regular membership meeting on June 9, the Minneapolis truck drivers union, Local 544, voted to disaffiliate from Tobin’s reactionary AFL setup and to accept a charter from the United Construction Workers Organizing Committee of the CIO. In offering the charter, A.D. Lewis, president of the UCWOC and brother of John L. Lewis, declared it to be the first step in “a streamlined CIO organizing campaign among the motor transport and allied workers of the entire Midwest area,” to bring them “into a modern, progressive industrial union.”

The history of Local 544 makes clear why its membership so eagerly welcomed the invitation from the CIO. In the midst of the great strikes of 1934 which built this union, the strikers found themselves attacked in the employers’ press by Daniel J. Tobin, head of the International to which 544 was affiliated! Tobin did not like the militant methods whereby the union was being built A year later he expelled the union from his International and spent huge sums trying to smash it. He failed, and was compelled to permit its reaffiliaton to the Teamsters International under the same militant leadership which he had sworn would never again lead a union in his organization.

Shortly afterward, in 1936, came a new conflict between Local 544 and Tobin. The Minneapolis union had taken the initiative in organizing the hitherto-unorganized over-the-road drivers of the entire Midwest area. Tobin looked with suspicion upon this over-the-road driver, a real proletarian type very different from the driver-salesmen who then constituted the bulk of Tobin’s International.

Against stubborn resistance from Tobin, Local 544 led the movement which built the North Central Area Negotiating Committee covering over-the-road drivers in 12 states, and, after a few hard-fought strategic strikes, brought over 200,000 new members into the teamsters’ movement when the area committee signed a closed-shop area-wide contract in the Fall of 1937. Tobin reconciled himself sourly to this role of Local 544 – he had to appoint Farrell Dobbs, secretary-treasurer of Local 544 as International organizer in charge of this over-the-road area – only by his greed for the enormously enhanced revenue which came to him. From the first he was scheming to assume dictatorial control of the area arid to settle his long-standing accounts with Local 544.

As the country moved closer to war, Tobin felt his opportunity had come. In May 1941 he issued a blast at the union in his personal organ, the Teamsters Journal, denouncing the “Trotskyists” in the Minnesota teamsters’ movement. He followed that up by ordering the 544 leadership to stand trial before his International Executive Board at Washington the first week of June. There he demanded that the Local 544 leadership agree to his appointment of a dictator-receiver over the union, with absolute powers, including the power to expel anyone. When Local 544 refused to agree, Tobin proceeded to move in on the union, conniving with reactionary Republican Governor Stassen of Minnesota and the Minneapolis employers to hold up renewal of 544’s contracts.

In the light of this record of the relationship between Local 544 and Tobin, it is no wonder that the 544 membership so enthusiastically accepted the CIO’s invitation to become part of the progressive industrial union movement.

Roosevelt’s First Move to Aid Tobin

Four days after the Local 544 membership meeting voted to join the CIO, President Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of publicly rebuking the CIO for chartering Local 544. On June 13, upon receipt of a complaint from Tobin about the defection of Local 544, the President’s secretary, Stephen Early, made the following statement to the White House press conference:

“Mr. Tobin telegraphed from Indianapolis that it is apparent to him and to the other executives of his organization that because they have been and will continue to stand squarely behind the government, that all subversive organizations and all enemies of our government, including Bundists, Trotskyists and Stalinists, are opposed to them and seeking to destroy loyal trade unions which are supporting democracy.

“Mr. Tobin goes into considerable detail and states he is going to issue a statement from the Indianapolis office of the teamsters’ union. When I advised the President of Tobin’s representations this morning he asked me to immediately have the government departments and agencies interested in this matter notified and to point out to you that this is no time, in his opinion, for labor unions, local or national, to begin raiding one another for the purpose of getting memberships or for similar reasons.” (New York Times, June 14, 1941).

The Tobin statement to which Early referred was issued simultaneously with the President’s statement; it was a long diatribe against the Socialist Workers Party as being responsible for the withdrawal of Local 544 from the AFL. It said in part:

“The withdrawal from the international union by the Truck Drivers Union, Local 544, and one other small union, in Minneapolis, and their affiliation with the CIO is indeed a regrettable and dangerous condition. The officers of this local union . . . were requested to dissociate themselves from the radical Trotsky organization…We feel that while our country is in a dangerous position, those disturbers who believe in the policies of foreign, radical governments, or who are supporting the enemies of our government, must be in some way prevented from, pursuing this dangerous course ...” (New York Times, June 14, 1941).

Although Tobin’s statement admitted that he was confronted with nothing less than “the withdrawal from the international union by the Truck Drivers Union, Local 544,” he did not concede the union membership the right to withdraw. They “must be in some way prevented from pursuing this dangerous course,” Tobin had said – and he tried his way to prevent them. Three hundred Tobin hoodlums poured into Minneapolis and with knives, guns and clubs did their utmost to change the democratic vote of the 544 membership. These methods failed miserably. Local 544-CIO challenged Tobin to agree to Labor Board elections in every section of the industry to determine which union had the allegiance of the Minneapolis drivers. But elections would show Tobin in all his impotent nakedness; his imported agents refused to agree to elections. In panic and desperation Tobin again pressed Roosevelt to intervene – the raids and prosecution of Local 544-CIO and the Socialist Workers Party followed.

Why Roosevelt Sent the FBI Against 544

Why did Roosevelt go so far in aiding Tobin against the CIO? Roosevelt still seeks to parade as a friend of labor. The CIO was still reverberating with protests against Roosevelt’s strikebreaking use of the Army when Roosevelt hurried the FBI into the Twin Cities. Even more crudely than in the aviation strike, the assault upon 544 was an anti-CIO move. In Inglewood, Roosevelt could point to the condemnation of the aviation strike by UAW-CIO top officials and President Philip Murray of the CIO (who, however, condemned the use of troops to break the strike). But in Minneapolis Local 544-CIO is backed in this fight by its international leadership. Only a few days before the raids Local 544 was warmly welcomed into the CIO by President Murray. What weighty reasons caused Roosevelt to make this openly anti-CIO move under these conditions?

A favor to Tobin, his closest labor lieutenant, was one of Roosevelt’s motivations. Far more important, however, is the question of what kind of trade union movement Roosevelt wants. Under no circumstances does he want the docile, super-patriotic AFL to be still further weakened and the onrushing CIO to become the predominant trade union movement.

And in Minneapolis the AFL is in danger of being struck a mortal blow. The Teamsters is the biggest and most powerful unit in the AFL. Moreover it is the key to AFL control of the building trades field, as the CIO has ruefully discovered in its attempts, during the last two years, to enter that field.

If the CIO succeeds in maintaining Local 544-CIO against the employer-government-Tobin onslaught, it will be like a thread which will speedily unravel the fabric of Tobin’s entire setup. The prestige of Local 544 as the builder of the over-the-road drivers’ movement assures it, if it survives this onslaught, of the good-will of the 200,000 over-the-road drivers whom Local 544 brought into Tobin’s Teamsters. Furthermore it is no secret that the uneasy truce which has prevailed between the AFL Teamsters and the CIO in key industrial centers would end with the CIO assimilating the really proletarian elements in the drivers’ movement once a big break occurred anywhere in Tobin’s domain.

At bottom, then, Roosevelt’s Gestapo-FBI is defending the continued existence of the AFL against CIO hegemony of the labor movement, by this attack upon Local 544-CIO and the Socialist Workers Party.

Roosevelt Would Crush Militant Unionism

“Why,” asked a CIO spokesman when Roosevelt rebuked the CIO for “raiding” the AFL Teamsters, “didn’t the President come out against union-raiding when the AFL was actually raiding the CIO ranks at the Ford River Rouge plant?” The answer is obvious. At Ford’s the AFL was fighting against militant unionism; whereas in Minneapolis the CIO is backing a militant union. The craven, whipped-cur attitude of the AFL bureaucrats harmonizes with Roosevelt’s war policies, while the more militant, independent, progressive character of the CIO has brought it into constant conflict with the administration.

Green, Woll and Tobin freely offer their services to Roosevelt as strikebreakers, disorganizers and police to track down and purge militant workers. They hope thus to ingratiate themselves with the Administration and the big employers and to be rewarded by official recognition as the acknowledged directors of the trade union movement. This degenerate policy is the ultimate logic of craft unionism, which can only be the official labor movement on condition that the vast masses remain unorganized.

On the other hand the CIO can prevail only as the representative of the organized great masses. And, springing from the dynamic, proletarian composition of the CIO and its industrial form of organization, is a general tendency to show far less enthusiasm for Roosevelt’s war policies and to put up considerable opposition to his anti-labor measures and actions. The storm of CIO protest against Roosevelt’s strikebreaking use of the Army, and the CIO solidarity with Local 544 in Minneapolis, testify to the qualitatively superior class independence and integrity of the CIO.

Tomorrow, it may well be, Roosevelt will abandon the AFL altogether, for its moral authority over the workers is rapidly vanishing; Roosevelt will then seek to back collaborators in the CIO who will do their utmost to render the CIO as house-broken as the AFL is today. When that happens, however, the same struggle that goes on today between the AFL and CIO will then be transferred into the CIO. All the progressive forces in the CIO will then have to conduct the same battle for democratic rights against a combination of employers, government and labor bureaucrats that Local 544-CIO is waging so heroically today.

In attacking Local 544, Roosevelt is attacking militant unionism. The government is on the brink of imperialist war. To wage that war, the Roosevelt regime must whip the workers into line politically – to support the war or else be silent. They must be whipped into line economically – cajoled or coerced to accept lower real wages, longer hours, worsened working conditions and living standards. When these twin tasks cannot be executed by acquiescent top union leaders like Tobin, the government itself must step in. That’s what Roosevelt did in the North American Aviation strike; that’s what his Gestapo-FBI is doing in the prosecutions against Local 544-CIO and the Socialist Workers Party.

We of the Socialist Workers Party proudly plead guilty to standing for the type of militant unionism exemplified by Local 544-CIO. We have always supported the policy of industrial unionism represented by the CIO against the craft unionism typified by the AFL. We have always advocated a policy of militant struggle, of expanding the trade unions to take in the vast masses of the workers, as the CIO is now doing. We have always condemned the policy of depending upon the benevolence of the bosses, of reliance upon arbitration, government labor boards or any other form of class collaboration. We have done our best to .educate the workers in the spirit of independent class action to build their class organizations and gain their demands. Attorney General Biddle will not have to extort a confession from us to these “crimes.” We shall proclaim them before the bar of working class public opinion and see to it that every serious worker understands that we are being persecuted for thus having aided the growth of the power of the labor movement.

Yes, we hailed the service rendered to the entire labor movement by the Local 544 delegation to last year’s Teamsters convention (Tobin permits one to be held…every five years!). Tobin tried to push through a constitutional clause empowering him to enforce compulsory arbitration upon every local. The Local 544 delegation organized and led the opposition in the convention that defeated Tobin’s proposal. Had Tobin been victorious then, he would today be twice as useful to Roosevelt. Tobin and Roosevelt have good cause to hate Local 544.

We plead guilty to irreconcilable opposition to everything that Tobin stands for in the trade unions. What Roosevelt is now requiring of Tobin is indicated quite baldly in the June issue of the Teamsters Journal (as Tobin humorously entitles his personal organ). Tobin wrote:

“Business agents and salaried officers of unions are going to be held mainly responsible by the state and federal governments for the actions of their members as time goes on. In most instances paid representatives of local unions are in a position to stop trouble. In some few instances they are not strong enough to stop the rank and file, but in those instances where they fall or where they are unable to protect the rank and file from themselves, they should notify the International Office of such failure.”

To “protect the rank and file from themselves” – that means to prevent the rank and file from asking for higher wages and better working conditions. Tobin went -even further, at the Washington hearing, telling the Local 544 delegation that it might be necessary for the workers to give up their gains, “and possibly even their unions,” for the duration of the war! We of the Socialist Workers Party will go far indeed to halt Tobin from carrying out that union-wrecking policy.

Likewise we plead guilty to the fact that our Minneapolis branch gave its unreserved support to the policy of Local 544 in the recent municipal elections. We stand for an independent Labor Party, and Local 544 promoted such a party by backing a trade union ticket in the Minneapolis elections which took place shortly before the onslaught of Tobin and Roosevelt. That was another of Local 544’s “crimes” in the eyes of Tobin, who does his utmost to keep the trade unions chained to the boss political parties.

Our Struggle Against the Imperialist War

There are other “crimes” that we share with Local 544. Minneapolis, capital of the Northwest, is the traditional center of opposition to imperialist war, now as in 1917. More than any other part of the country it is an obstacle to Roosevelt’s war plans. And no more forthright voice has been raised there against those war plans than the Northwest Organiser, the widely-read weekly newspaper of Local 544. There, too, our party, campaigning unambiguously for our “Trotskyist Anti-War Candidate,” polled nearly 9,000 votes in the last state election. Those thousands are a vanguard who can under favorable conditions draw great masses into struggle against the imperialist war. By this prosecution the Gestapo-FBI is attempting to behead that struggle before the favorable conditions develop as they are certain to develop.

Perhaps the greatest “crime” which we share with Local 544, in the eyes of the Gestapo-FBI, is that our opposition to the imperialist war is not an impotent pacifist opposition. The Northwest Organiser has not merely recognized, but has urged the workers to understand, the necessity of mastering the military arts in this military epoch. It has raised the demand for military training, financed by the government, but under control of the trade unions – the only form of military training which will give the workers the necessary education in the military arts without placing them under the control of a reactionary officers’ caste and the imperialist war policies of the Roosevelt regime. The Socialist Workers Party unreservedly supports this demand. The bourgeoisie and its government, who treat pacifists with indulgent contempt because they know that pacifism is no threat to the class rule of the bourgeoisie, take an entirely different attitude toward the demand for military training under control of the trade unions. In it they recognize a demand which strikes at the very foundations of ruling class oppression.

Yes, there is a profound logic in the fact that these persecutions and prosecutions are instigated by the Gestapo-FBI at this time and in this place and against the specifically-designated victims. What we have said should make this plain. And this must be understood if the fight against these outrages is to be waged successfully.

One further important point must be made about the time. This is the time when Roosevelt’s war plans must be brutally carried forward several giant steps. Congressional authorization must be secured now for sending American soldiers abroad, and for violating the previous solemn pledge to keep conscripts only one year. A moment when Roosevelt must stifle opposition as much as possible. But this moment is something more. This is the time when the Communist Party, on behalf of its master, Stalin, has returned to support of Roosevelt. While the Communist Party is overnight transforming itself into an ultra-patriotic gang and showing its yellow colors, we Trotskyists remain true to our red banner, our revolutionary program, our fight against imperialist war, our struggle for socialism. Now it becomes crystal-clear to all militant workers that the only consistent opponents of the imperialist war are the Trotskyists. All the slanders of the Stalinists, all the Moscow frameups, have failed to confuse either the capitalist masters or the workers of the United States. Both know, especially at this moment, the real truth about the Trotskyists. They know that the followers of the martyred Trotsky are the banner-bearers of the revolutionary ideas and traditions of the great Bolshevik movement of Marx and Lenin. That is why Roosevelt wishes to outlaw our party as part of his war preparations.

The Trotskyists Hounded by All Tyrants

Only yesterday the government was still pretending that it would limit its prosecutions to “agents of foreign powers.” That was the pretext for the blows at the Communist Party during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact. On more than one occasion, Dies Committee spokesmen and others of similar stripe have been at pains to assert that no “genuine American radicals” were going to be prosecuted. Well, gentlemen! Are any of you brazen or ignorant enough to assert that we Trotskyists are agents of a foreign power? Every politically literate person knows how untrue that is!

We Trotskyists are hounded by every government on this earth. Our comrades have died under the executioner’s axe in Hitler’s domain. Franco has stood our co-thinkers up against the wall. Mussolini has tortured us to death in his concentration camps. The bonapartist regime of Petain is starving to death our comrades – refugees from Germany, Spain, Italy, etc., and imprisoning our French comrades; before Petain, the “democratic” French government outlawed and packed into concentration camps our comrades in France and Indo-China. Stalin, as the whole world knows, has murdered entire generations of our comrades. “Democratic” England has put our comrades, anti-fascist refugees, into concentration camps. The headman’s axe of Chiang Kai-shek falls upon the third generation of Trotskyists who are undergoing unbelievable suffering to win China’s independence from all imperialists.

So the United States is now to be added to this list! Such is the decision of Roosevelt, executed by his Gestapo-FBI. His name must not be missing, where the names of Hitler and Stalin are most outstanding.

As our tragically long list of martyrs throughout the world eloquently testifies, we Trotskyists cannot be terrorized by government prosecutions but will be tempered and tested in that fight. Our party has been built under the most adverse conditions over twelve years of struggle. We survived the terrible blows of world-wide working class defeats and the triumphs of reaction. We survived – and grew stronger. We survived the most terrible blow of all, Stalin’s murder of Leon Trotsky – and grew stronger. We answer Roosevelt’s persecution as we have answered Stalin’s persecution: You can put some of us out of the way, but you can never kill our party, for it is based on the unconquerable ideas of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and you can never kill those ideas.

We shall not retreat an inch. We shall recant nothing. We shall fight to the last ditch and with all our strength.

Ours Is the Fight of All Labor

In our fight against these monstrous prosecutions, these Washington versions of the Moscow Trials, we are confident that we shall have the support of the progressive sections of the trade union movement and of all those who still retain any respect for democratic rights and civil liberties. In bearing the brunt of this attack, we are defending dearly-won rights of the entire labor movement. No matter what their political differences with our party and its program and activities, all workers must recognize that in this battle we are defending principles which we hold in common with the entire working class: the independence of the trade unions from government domination; the democratic rights of labor; the right of a political party of workers to advocate its pro-labor views. These are the broad interests of the labor movement which we are defending against federal prosecution. We pledge our solemn word to the American working class to defend these interests to the very end.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 17.8.2008