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Fourth International, February 1945


An Editorial

The Minneapolis Labor Case


From Fourth International, vol.6 No.2, February 1945, pp.35-36.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Last October, 6 of the 18 Minneapolis labor prisoners were released from Danbury and Sandstone penitentiaries. On January 24, the remaining 12 in Sandstone and Alderson were paroled. They have returned home after serving 13 months as America’s outstanding class-war prisoners in the Second World War. Fourth International welcomes them back to their posts and salutes them for the exemplary way in which they upheld the best traditions of revolutionary socialism.

Fourth International likewise hails the many individuals and the 600 labor organizations, representing more than four and a half million workers,who supported the case. The contributions of these workers and liberals tided over the families of the 18, made more endurable the time the prisoners spent behind bars, and dove all demonstrated to Roosevelt. and his aides that they cannot deprive labor militants of their civil liberties with impunity. The solidarity of labor in fighting this frame-up was one of the bright spots in a year marked otherwise by the further entrenchment of reaction.

The prosecution of the 18 Trotskyist leaders arose out of the struggle between the Trotskyist trade union leadership of Minneapolis and the Northwest with its program of militant labor action and the Tobin bureaucracy, determined to swing the union movement behind the Roosevelt war machine. When Tobin appealed to Roosevelt for aid, the latter immediately ordered Attorney General Biddle to launch the prosecution against the Trotskyists.

There was, however, a more fundamental reason for the prosecution. The Minneapolis labor trial was an indispensable part of Roosevelt’s preparations for the second world war. His political objective was to behead the only serious opposition to his war program. In this, Roosevelt was simply following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, who framed up during the first world war Eugene V. Debs, the great Socialist agitator and “Big Bill” Haywood and the other leaders of the IWW. Wilson’s aim was to behead working class opposition to his imperialist program and to strengthen the hand of his faithful “labor” lieutenant, Gompers. Such were also Roosevelt’s objectives, on the eve of plunging the country into the second more terrible world slaughter. Roosevelt wanted to do away with the Trotskyist leaders because they constituted the only possible polarizing center for working class opposition to his criminal war plans and aims. And he wanted to strengthen the hand of his loyal “labor” servitors, the Tobins, Greens, Murrays and Hillmans against all possible anti-war repercussions inside labor’s own ranks.

While Roosevelt persecuted the Trotskyists in America, Churchill persecuted their co-thinkers in England, India and Ceylon. At the same time, on the continent, Hitler was shooting every Trotskyist who fell into his clutches; while Stalin, even before the outbreak of the war, was “purging” Trotskyists by the thousands. Thus world reaction formed an unholy combination to exorcise the spectre of working class revolution. For despite their tremendous power and the enormous resources at their disposal, these criminal rulers of mankind know on what a volcano their regimes rest. They fear above all the crystallization of an authoritative leadership capable of welding the working masses and organizing them for revolutionary action.

The Minneapolis case became in the United States the starting point for a whole series of repressive measures against the labor movement. The Minneapolis labor prisoners were sentenced on the very day that the United States declared war. Immediately afterwards, repressive laws, decrees and rulings followed thick and fast: wage freezing, job-freezing, work-or-fight orders, the Smith-Connally anti-strike Act, etc. The Smith “Gag” Act of 1940 under which the Trotskyists were convicted has since been utilized by the Roosevelt administration in other cases, It has even been used against Harry Bridges, the rabid Stalinist patriot who advocates continuation of the no-strike pledge after the war. The struggle to free the 18 became from the beginning a struggle against the whole reactionary drive of the war dictatorship which aimed to throttle the labor movement. It involved defense of all the basic rights of labor won over generations of hard struggle.

The Civil Rights Defense Committee performed a magnificent job in mobilizing the working class against the Minneapolis frame-up. It carried the fight right up to Roosevelt’s Supreme Court. The CRDC gathered thousands of signatures for a petition to the President demanding an unconditional pardon for the 18 prisoners. It brought the true facts and the significance of the Minneapolis case to millions of workers. It enlisted ever growing support, It broke the conspiracy of silence of the capitalist press. The widespread activity of the CRDC incurred the enmity and aroused the fears of Tobin and the Stalinists. They joined forces in a vicious campaign to slander the labor prisoners and turn the labor movement against them. Their campaign, however, failed ignominiously in its main purpose of disrupting labor’s solidarity in the case.

The CRDC now announces that the fight goes on to remove the Smith “Gag” Act from the statute books and to restore the civil rights of the 18 Minneapolis labor prisoners. If labor were to mobilize its million-numbered ranks and force Congress to repeal the Smith “Gag” Act, all talk of placing the working class in the straitjacket of a national service act would vanish overnight. The Congressional time-servers of Wall Street would begin speaking more softly and acting less brazenly against the working class. As from its inception, the fight of the Minneapolis labor prisoners is the fight of all labor.

Today Roosevelt appears as a master of destiny, with the fate of millions in his hands. Like his junior partner, Churchill, he feelsfree to arrest the Trotskyist leaders, slander them and throw them in prison. Roosevelt is riding the wave of imperialist war. But the sheer fact that he selects Trotskyists for persecution is evidence of his innate fear of the program of revolutionary socialism. Even from the heights he sees a tidal wave rising angrily and ominously, a tidal wave that in the end will sweep over and smash to bits all the flotsam and jetsam of imperialism. This tidal wave is the socialist revolution now already visible in Europe.

Tomorrow, the masses, disillusioned by the war, will remember the Trotskyist leaders who told the truth in the face, of jails, concentration camps and firing squads. They will come to the program of Trotskyism by the millions. The names of the persecuted Trotskyists will then shine in history beside the names of labor’s brightest champions. But the names of Roosevelt and his bootlickers will become a curse and a by-word. They will appear only on those dark pages reserved for the sinister and frightful butchers who turned against their fellow men and drove them into the slaughter pens of imperialist war.

Our people, our movement will come into its own.

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Last updated on 12.9.2008