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Fourth International, February 1943



Biddle’s New Attack on The Militant


From Fourth International, vol.4 No.2, February 1943, pp.35-36.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The Post Office burned our December issues as “non-mailable”, and our January issue was held up for examination for two weeks before the postal authorities released it to subscribers. The same procedure will follow with this and succeeding issues – or, more likely, as happened to The Militant after the Post Office burned four issues of it, we shall shortly be called to a Washington hearing to show cause why our mailing rights should not be cancelled altogether. Loss of mailing rights is tantamount to outright suppression of papers of national circulation. The Postmaster-General’s decision on The Militant is now pending. We fear the worst since we learned that this is no proceeding initiated by a minor flunkey, but was directly instigated by Attorney-General Francis Biddle. As in the now famous Minneapolis “sedition” trial of the 28 Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO members, when the indictment was preceded by Daniel J. Tobin’s appeal to the White House for aid against the Trotskyists and that aid was promised, this time too we can be sure that Biddle did not move without the approval of the highest summits of the government.

At the Washington hearing on The Militant in the Postmaster-General’s office on January 21, Biddle’s letter to the Postmaster-General initiating the action was read into the record. Dated December 28, it states:

“I am transmitting for your consideration information relating to The Militant ...

“Since December 7, 1941 this publication has openly discouraged participation in the war by the masses of the people. It is permeated with the thesis that the war is being fought solely for the benefit of the ruling groups and will serve merely to continue the enslavement of the working classes. It is urged that this war is only an imperialistic clash for spoils at the expense of the lives and living standards of the people who should, therefore, not support it. The lines in the publication also include derision of democracy and the ‘four freedoms’ as hypocritical shams, anti-British attacks, charges of Fascist collaboration by the United States, stimulation of race issues and other material deemed divisionary in character and appearing to be calculated to engender opposition to the war efforts as well as to interfere with the morale of the armed forces. I am enclosing a memorandum consisting solely of excerpts taken from The Militant since December 7, 1941.

“I suggest that you may wish to consider the issuance of an order to show cause why The Militant should not be denied the second-class mailing privilege ...”

The peculiar emphases of Biddle’s letter can best be understood if one recalls the line laid down by Biddle for the prosecution in the Minneapolis trial. Biddle used to be a liberal, a financial contributor to the American Civil Liberties Union. He would go far to pretend he is not attacking civil liberties; he went very far, indeed, to do so in the Minneapolis trial; in fact, he preferred to organize a frameup rather than an open attack on civil liberties. His motivation was indicated in his letter of September 4, 1941, answering a protest from the American Civil Liberties Union, in which he said:

“You state from your examination of the ‘character of the evidence on which the indictment rests’ that the charges [of the government] attack utter anew or publications and include only one overt act – the organization of the workers in a defense corps. This overt act, however – arming workers to carry out the purpose to which the utterances are addressed – is clearly sufficient to remove the case from one involving expression of opinion ... You suggest that the facts show that the intent [of the Union Defense Guard] was merely to protect union property against threats of violence. But the indictment specifically alleges otherwise, and I am confident that it will be supported in the evidence.”

Biddle proved too confident. Precisely the manufactured evidence on which Biddle depended to “remove the case from one involving expression of opinion” – Count 1 of the indictment and its supporting “witnesses,” charging that the defendants had “procured certain explosives,” and armed Local 544 CIO’s Defense Guard for the purpose of overthrowing the government – was rejected by the jury, which convicted 18 of the defendants solely on Count 2, based on the notorious Smith Act of 1940 which outlaws advocacy of revolutionary doctrine. In addition the jury recommended leniency, further underlining the fact that the jury was aware that it was convicting men for their beliefs and not for acts against the government. The jury’s verdict in the Minneapolis trial was a moral defeat for Biddle in two ways: its rejection of Count 1 showed the charges about arms and explosives to be a crude frameup; and it left Biddle clearly responsible for a prosecution obviously aimed against the civil liberties of the defendants and the militant labor movement.

Now Biddle attempts essentially the same kind of frameup. Although basing himself on legal precedents created by Wilson’s Attorney-Generals who made no bones about the fact that they were limiting free speech in barring labor papers from the mails, Biddle must still pretend that he is not assaulting civil liberties. Hence the phrases in his letter about The Militant having “discouraged participation in the war,” and interfering “with the morale of the armed forces.” In line with Biddle’s needs, Post Office Attorney William C. O’Brien insisted at the hearing that no issue of free speech was involved. He even insisted that the truth or falsity of the statements made by The Militant was not at issue. The sole question at issue, he declared, was that, although conscription is now the principal means of manning the armed forces, nevertheless enlistments are still sought for certain specialist services, and the “effect” of The Militant was to discourage enlistments. Since he made no attempt to introduce evidence showing that The Militant had actually discouraged anyone from enlisting, he could only mean the “possible effect” of The Militant on potential enlistments.

In thus attempting to get away from a free-speech issue, Biddle has actually instigated a formula which, if logically applied, would outlaw every criticism of the government, as the attorney for The Militant, Albert Goldman, pointed out. On the ground of possible effect, a frameup could be organized against every labor criticism of war profiteering, discrimination in taxation, government favoritism to Big Business, etc., etc. No wonder that the distinguished attorney, Osmond K. Fraenkel, representing the American Civil Liberties Union at the hearing, characterized the action against The Militant as “the gravest threat to civil liberties which has arisen out of this war.” For this is a threat not merely against The Militant and Fourth International, but against the entire labor movement. No trade union which defends the interests of its members will be safe from prosecution if Biddle’s frameup formula prevails. Every labor organization is in duty bound to protest to the Postmaster-General, Democratic National Chairman Frank C. Walker, with whom the final decision rests.

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Last updated on 25.8.2008