From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.9, November 1941, pp.260-262.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.
On October 27th in the Federal courtroom at Minneapolis there began the most important American political trial in 20 years. According to the N.Y. newspaper, PM, this trial “threatens to become labor’s first cause celebré of the second World War.” The 28 defendants include the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the outstanding members of Local 544-CIO. They are charged with conspiring to overthrow the government by force and violence and with fomenting insubordination in the armed forces of the US.
A certain section of liberal opinion views the prosecution as a “blunder” accidentally committed by Roosevelt’s administration. The indictment so clearly infringes upon civil liberties; the terms of the charges so patently conflict with the Bill of Rights; the attempt to depict 544’s Union Defense Guard as an insurrectionary army is so preposterous and easy to disprove that Roosevelt’s liberal friends try to explain away the frame-up in this fashion. They are victims of self-deception.
This trial is no accident. It is an essential step in Roosevelt’s drive to drag the American people into the war for world domination by US capitalism. The indictments are as much a part of Roosevelt’s preparations for war as his call for guns, tanks and planes. This is evident in the circumstances leading up to the indictment. The war-mongering team of Roosevelt and Tobin worked together to eliminate the militant leaders of Local 544-CIO from the trade union movement because of their anti-war stand, their militancy- and their outspoken opposition to the President’s anti-labor policies.
When, in order to save their union, 544’s membership voted to leave the AFL for the CIO, Tobin called upon Roosevelt for help. Roosevelt obliged by instigating the present prosecution. The mechanism of collaboration between the President of the US and the President of the Teamsters International is crystal-clear. Roosevelt repays Tobin’s aid to his war plans by instituting criminal proceedings against the leaders of 544-CIO and the SWP. Together they seek to shackle independent unionism and trade union democracy and to gag the strongest voices of protest against the war in the ranks of American labor.
Attorney-General Biddle and Assistant Attorney-General Schweinhaut have made it plain in statements to the press that the 28 under indictment are only the first to be attacked. This is a test case. If Roosevelt’s Department of ustice succeeds in obtaining convictions in this case, the entire’ labor movement and all progressive organizations will soon feel the blows of the FBI. This precedent will set in motion an unbridled witch-hunt against all working class opponents of the war and the capitalist system. Persecutions will mount in number and in fury. One by one every democratic right will be wrested from the people by the Roosevelt reaction.
As it stands, the indictment virtually outlaws all progressive union activities and working class political actions and utterances. Section 4 of the first count of the indictment actually makes it a crime to criticize prevailing economic and social conditions. Under the indictment it is not only illegal to characterize the incumbent rulers of the US as imperialistic and capitalistic, but any other government as well, including Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
According to Roosevelt’s plans, as revealed by the indictment, every act of union self-defense against finks and fascists is henceforth overtly “seditious” and aims at the overthrow of the government. Any attempt by the unions to protect their brothers in the armed forces, every opposition to Jim Crowism in the army, all criticism of the military forces is “inciting to insubordination.”
But, their liberal apologists object, “Roosevelt will not crush civil liberties like his predecessor, Wilson; Biddle is not like A. Mitchell Palmer.” The necessities of imperialist politics, however, are stronger than pious wishes. The greater severity of the class struggle in the US today compels Roosevelt and his Attorney-General to conduct savage witchhunts against working class opponents of their policies even before formal entrance into the war. They will attempt to expand their persecutions on an unprecedented scale as the war develops. Only by gagging the American people, terrorizing them, taking away their remaining democratic rights can the Roosevelt regime impose their war policies upon the masses.
When they expect to silence or intimidate the Trotskyists by means of persecutions and jailings, Roosevelt and Biddle are suffering from that peculiar form of dementia which afflicts all decadent classes. If the lessons of history were not beyond their comprehension, they might have learned from the fate of Charles I, Louis XVI, Jefferson Davis and the Czar of all the Russias. Trotskyism is the most persecuted movement in history. Roosevelt will not succeed in destroying our movement where the fierce persecutions of Stalin, Hitler and Petain have already failed. No power on earth can destroy the Trotskyist movement from the outside. Blows which shatter glass forge steel!
This was demonstrated anew by the Plenum-Conference of the SWP which was held in Chicago on October 10-12, two weeks before the trial. Our party showed its revolutionary calibre by the reaction of its ranks to Roosevelt’s persecution. Revolutionists show their mettle not only in periods when successes are registered but even more when they are subjected to the blows of a temporarily ascendant reaction. The fact that our party was first singled out for attack was taken by the members as evidence of the party’s revolutionary integrity. They answered the indictment by swinging into the most intense period of activity the organization has yet seen.
The indicted leaders, the foremost trade unionists and active workers in the party marched into Chicago from all parts of the country. They came to the Plenum-Conference to equip the party with the necessary weapons to meet and beat back the assaults of the reactionary imperialists and their retinue of labor lieutenants.
The sessions were marked by determination and aggressiveness. It was the most successful gathering in the 13 years of the Trotskyist movement in the US. The line approved and. adopted by the Plenum-Conference is expressed in the resolution: The Federal Prosecution and the Present Tasks of the Party. The Conference stated that the conduct of the party members on trial should be an unwavering affirmation and defense of our party’s revolutionary principles and program. There will be no watering down of the program. The trial provides an opportunity to build for the party – to broadcast its message far and wide. We shall transform the witness stand into a tribunal for our party’s program.
Inside and outside the courtroom our party will continue to fight for the elementary right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to publicly advocate our ideas. We brand as a lie the charge that the Trotskyist movement is a conspiracy. The Trotskyist movement, a movement of the masses for their own liberation, is the most democratic movement the world has ever known. Previously, social revolutions were made in the interests of a new exploiting class against the ruling exploiters. The Trotskyist movement is a world wide struggle against all forms of human exploitation and oppression. It employs democratic and popular means to reach its revolutionary goal. It requires the widest circulation of its views for success.
Wherever tyranny reigns, Marxists have always been in the forefront of the struggle for democratic rights, so in the limited bourgeois democracy of the US our party fights for the preservation and extension of democratic rights. As Marx and Engels pointed out, the bourgeois democratic republic is the most favorable arena for the development of the class struggle. We fight for every bit of democracy under capitalist rule not only because we appreciate these liberties in themselves but also because democracy offers the best opportunities and possibilities to educate and organize the masses for the transition to socialism. On this account the party resolved to resist every attempt to force it into illegality.
The Conference was not only a council of war but also a school in Marxist tactics for the party. The Conference sought to forestall any possible tendency within the party ranks which, because of timidity or romanticism, would easily surrender open and public activity for an underground existence. Roosevelt’s reaction aims to push the party down into cellars and corners and to impose weight of illegality upon it. We do not propose to make that attempt easier for them. On the contrary, we shall struggle to maintain our public functioning which offers the widest arena for our activity and propaganda until all possibilities are exhausted. We will accept any other status only under compulsion and protest.
The Conference voted to give full support to the Civil Rights Defense Committee which has undertaken the general defense of the 28 and which has already attracted broad support from liberal and labor circles. The wide-spread condemnation of the Government’s action by the most progressive forces in the labor movement and in progressive circles signifies that our party’s fight for its democratic rights is a popular fight which can rally broad masses of the population around it.
Instead of shrinking and scurrying for cover, the New York organization of the party responded to the prosecution by mobilizing its forces to secure 15,000 signatures to nominate James P. Cannon, the National Secretary of the party, who is under indictment, as its candidate for mayor of New York City. The New York membership went out into the streets, contacting over 100,000 workers with their nominating petitions, and succeeded in placing James P. Cannon on the ballot. The New York organization is now engaged in mustering the largest possible vote for its candidate who is conducting his campaign from the Minneapolis courtroom.
The initiative of the New York comrades was held up as a model for the future conduct of the party. The Conference decided to participate more vigorously and extensively in electoral campaigns under the party’s own name, candidate and program. Electoral activity enables the party to reach workers with its message while they are especially concerned with political questions. It also renders more difficult the government’s attempts to outlaw the party.
To take full advantage of the present situation for the advancement of the revolutionary movement and the propagation of socialist ideas, it is essential to know how to work. The Conference laid great stress on the fact, “that the only people who can stand up under this kind of governmental pressure are people who have a historical. outlook and a profound understanding of what they are fighting for. Mere activism, sometimes sufficient for day-to-day work, is not enough to stand up under the blows of prosecution.”
Marxism, its method, is the conquest of over 2,000 years of intellectual endeavor. This scientific doctrine is the indispensable instrument to keep the proletarian party on its class course through the tremendous shocks, convulsions and upheavals of our generation. The Conference insisted thai not only the leaders but the ranks of the party must make the most serious study of Trotsky’s teachings. The comprehensive world outlook and the understanding of the historical forces, inexorably at work, alone can equip the revolutionist with the ability to resist the pressure and terror of the imperialists. With a conviction born of knowledge and theory tested by the fire of events, the Trotskyist understands the temporary and episodic character of the present wave of world reaction, one of whose manifestations is the trial.
By emphasizing the assimilation of its doctrines as one of the central and pressing tasks of the party, the Conference followed in the great traditions of Bolshevism.
Previous conferences and conventions have set as the party’s first task the integration of its members within the organized labor movement, under the slogan of “90% of all party work inside the unions.” Reports at this Conference indicated that this task had been fulfilled. The average party member is now a trade unionist. The immediate task at the Conference was to raise the political level of the party’s trade union work, through a proper functioning of the fractions, the wider and bolder presentation of our ideas to the workers in the shops, and the intensive recruitment of workers into the party.
The major field of activity for the party, today as before, remains the trade union movement, which now numbers more than 10,000,000 members and which is the greatest potential force in American society.
There are three major forces now competing for the leadership of this movement:, the imperialist bourgeoisie, the Stalinists and the Trotskyists. Today the Stalinists are openly revealing themselves as the most subservient agents of the war-mongering administration. Aided and abetted by the Stalinists, the Roosevelt administration is working overtime through the union bureaucracy to harness organized labor to its imperialist war-machine. The Trotskyists are the only consistent fighters for the complete independence of the unions from the capitalist government, and for trade union democracy, which the labor bureaucrats are forced to suppress. The American trade unions can avoid the fate of the German, French and Italian trade union movement only by inscribing on their banner Marx’s slogan, “the abolition of the wage system.”
The Conference met with the full consciousness of its responsibilities before the international working class. It met during the hour of the greatest crisis of the Soviet Union, and presented a program which can still snatch victory out of the jaws of disaster. The Trotskyists alone bear not the slightest taint for the catastrophic defeats suffered by the heroic defenders of the USSR, the full responsibility for which falls upon the shoulders of the greatest criminal in history – Stalin.
The problem of winning the Stalinist workers to the revolutionary program of the SWP occupied the attention of the Conference. For years, Stalinism has been able to hypnotize thousands of sincere revolutionists by its fraudulent claim that the rule of the Kremlin usurpers was identical with the conquest of the October revolution. Moreover, many who were inclined to doubt the Stalinist leadership and its policies were afraid to combat them openly lest the class enemy profit thereby to overthrow the first workers’ state. The hammer blows of events are now dispelling these delusions. We must seek out these revolutionists and bring to them the Trotskyist explanation for the defeats of the Red Army and the Soviet masses. We must show them that these defeats flow not from Bolshevism but from Stalinism. If we fail, many sincere and active militants will sink first into despair and then into apathy.
The Conference was held on the eve of Roosevelt’s entry into “shooting war.” Formal entrance by United States imperialism into the war will not change our line. We shall oppose the war after its declaration. We shall continue our struggle against fascism. Our Military Policy is the only class policy, and therefore the only practical and effective method of fighting against fascism at home and abroad. The resolution adopted by the Conference states:
“Our Proletarian Military Policy, adopted by our last Plenum-Conference (September 25-27, 1940) will provide the practical basis for agitation when ‘shooting war’ begins. To the demand of the chauvinists in the labor movement that the country must be defended against fascism, we an ewer that the best way to defend the working class against both foreign and domestic fascists is through military training under control of the trade unions. We do not place any trust in the anti-fascist pretensions of the capitalist government. Only the working class can smash fascism. We do not trust the reactionary officer caste. We demand federal appropriations for military training camps to be operated under the control of the trade unions, and special officers’ training camps operated under the control of the trade unions where workers can be trained as officers. Our Proletarian Military Policy serves to educate the workers, to bridge the gap between their present confused but anti-fasclst sentiments and our program for the extirpation of fascism and its capitalist roots.”
The Conference launched an Organization-Press Fund to maintain the most intensive program of activity in all fields of party work that our movement has ever undertaken. There has never been an organization in this country for which its members sacrificed to the extent that our comrades do. This is additional proof that the party membership feels that this is the organization which has the program for victory. Every class conscious worker gives willingly and freely to such a party.
The SWP has shown that it has confidence in itself and its future. The program of Trotskyism alone expresses the hope and the historic inevitability of social progress. In our ranks there is no pessimism for we alone have the right, as Leon Trotsky said, to revolutionary optimism. There is assurance in our ranks-from the leaders in the courtroom to the rank and file fighters who are arousing the workers to the meaning and importance of the party’s uncompromising fight against the imperialist war, against the Roosevelt-Biddle-FBI frame-up and for the establishment of the Workers’ and Farmers’ Government in the United States.
The class struggle of the proletariat against the imperialist butchers continues in various forms and on many fronts throughout the world. The struggle of the Soviet masses and the Red Army against German imperialism and the struggle of our party against U. S. imperialism are integral parts of the same conflict. The war of the working class against the imperialist oppressors is our war. The Chicago Plenum-Conference by its deliberations and decisions demonstrated that the S.WP. remains at its post in the hour of greatest difficulty and danger under the banner of Lenin and Trotsky, fighting for the cause of the world revolution.
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Last updated on 17.8.2008