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Fourth International, March-April 1950


National Committee of the SWP

The Capitalist Witch-Hunt – And How to Fight It


From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.2, March-April 1950, pp.56-60.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


(Note: The following resolution was unanimously adopted by the February 1950 Plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party.)

Since the close of the war for “the four freedoms” the American people have been subjected to unparalleled attacks upon their democratic rights. These attacks testify to the ever-sharpening conflict between the monopolist masters of the United States and the interests of the great majority. Determined a»t all costs to maintain their privileges, powers and profits against the unsatisfied demands of the masses for peace, security, equality and liberty, the representatives of Big Business are compelled to deprive the people of their hard-won rights, destroy democratic institutions and head toward transforming the nation into a police state.

These capitalist-inspired assaults upon civil rights directly threaten the very existence of democracy and the labor movement in the United States. They provide daily proof that the American people cannot preserve, enjoy or enhance their freedoms unless they replace the dictatorship of the plutocracy with their own Workers and Farmers government.

The witch-hunt was planned and initiated by the highest agencies of the capitalist regime. It was unleashed in connection with the cold war under the pretext of eliminating the Stalinists as agents of a foreign power. This maneuver was facilitated by the fact that the Communist Party is so widely discredited, distrusted and detested as an apologist and tool of the counter-revolutionary Kremlin oligarchy.

But subsequent developments have unmistakably shown that the hue-and-cry against the CP was a prelude and cover for an all-out offensive against the basic rights of the entire American people. By’now the thought-control system issuing from Washington has invaded almost every important department of American activity and affected the lives and liberties of the most diverse categories of citizens.

Public and private workers alike, teachers and students, scientists and writers, clergymen and lawyers, unemployed and foreign-born have already been caught in the widening net of the witch-hunt.

Totalitarian Methods Used

The witch-hunters resort to a wide variety of reactionary methods and totalitarian techniques. They have instituted purges for opinion, political blacklists and frameup trials. They have done away with traditional safeguards of legal procedure by introducing the practices of conviction without hearings or trial; acceptance of the doctrine of “guilt by association”; presumption of guilt in the absence of proved innocence; and punishment of attorneys for the defense. They have developed the FBI into a far-flung secret political police, relying on stool-pigeons and paid informers.

They have pressed every branch of the government into their service. The administration conducts its purge by usurping unconstitutional powers by decree. Congress enacts anti-labor legislation like the Taft-Hartley Law and subsidizes odious investigating bodies like the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The courts levy fines and issue injunctions against labor organizations like the miners. Posing as champions of “law and order,” the Attorney-General and FBI do not hesitate to flout the law by wiretapping, perjury, etc.

The two principal weapons of the witch-hunters have been Truman’s loyalty program and the Smith “Gag” Act. The first proscribes organizations solely because of their views and penalizes their members and supporters by arbitrary administrative action. Organizations are placed on the Attorney-General’s blacklist without notification, hearings, or specification of charges. There is no precedent in American history for such an official political blacklist which is borrowed from the “thought-control” arsenal of totalitarian states.

The government purge with its subversive blacklist has provided the inspiration, model and sanction for the entire campaign against civil rights.

The Smith “Gag” Act, first invoked in 1941 to imprison the 18 Trotskyists, has now been employed to stage a political trial and convict 11 leaders of the Communist Party. The upholding of the Stalinist convictions by the higher courts would considerably promote the government’s aim to outlaw and suppress all minority political parties to its left.

The Aim – War and Fascism

All these measures serve to pave the way for still harsher legal and extra-legal moves against the rights and liberties of the American people. The monopolists and militarists are deliberately working with a twofold end in view.

First, they are perfecting plans to impose a totalitarian military dictatorship in the event of war. The drive of American imperialism toward world domination and its preparations for war against the Soviet Union require regimentation of American labor, militarization of the country, and the suppression of tendencies and voices critical of imperialist policies and practices.

Second, the witch-hunters are provoking mass hysteria against “reds” and against labor to create a political and psychological climate in which the most vicious ultra-reactionary ideals, forces and activities can operate with impunity. A series of incidents over the past year indicates how the atmosphere generated by the witch-hunt encourages and incites mob violence against blacklisted groups, Negroes, Jews and union leaders. Most spectacular were the attacks on two Robeson concerts near Peekskill where the local press, police and officials collaborated with hoodlums and legionnaires to beat up hundreds of people peacefully exercising their right to assembly.

The North witnessed an attack upon a white union organizer in Chicago who had invited Negro fellow unionists to his home; the South saw a reign of terror in Groveland, Florida, where the entire Negro community was driven out in fear of their lives.

This atmosphere has contributed to the renewal of murderous attempts on labor leaders, including the shooting of Victor Reuther, the placing of dynamite in the UAW headquarters in Detroit, the assassination of ILGWU organizer William Lurye in New York, etc.

The ultimate aim of the capitalist forces behind the witch-hunt is to stamp out all organized opposition to their autocratic rule. This means, above all, to cripple and crush the mighty labor organizations. The anti-union provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act are interwoven with its anti-communist clauses. The destruction of the unions cannot be decisively effected without eventual resort to fascism. Taft-Hartleyism, red-baiting, political blacklisting, thought-control, the instigation and protection of mob violence, race-hate are typical pre-fascist phenomena. They serve warning that the present witch-hunt is ploughing the ground and sowing the seeds for the future sprouting of outright fascist movements in the United States.

Role of the Union Bureaucracy

Only in the light of these circumstances is it possible to gauge the real role of the top union leaders and the full measure of their betrayal of the cause of democratic rights. Organized labor leagued with the Negro people and other minority groups can summon more than enough power and pressure to halt the onslaught of reaction. But the union officialdom has been unwilling and unable to mobilize these forces in a mighty protest movement.

The union bureaucrats cannot combat the enemies of civil rights because they support the main foreign and domestic policies which have produced the witch-hunt as well as the Truman administration which is its prime author and promoter. Moreover, they have themselves become indispensable cogs in the witch-hunting apparatus.

With rare exceptions, the union leaders either enthusiastically endorse the prosecution of the CP under the Smith Act or take a non-committal attitude toward it. Although formally on record against the Truman purge of government employees, they do not offer any vigorous opposition to its operations. They do not even put up a principled fight against the penetration of the purge system into private industry through political blacklisting, restricting and firings of union members in the plants.

Because of their commitment to State Department policy and tolerance of Truman’s purge they are compelled to make one concession after another to the witch-hunters. Their resistance is actually reduced to occasional ineffective, halfhearted complaints against the most flagrant abuses and worst excesses of the drive against civil rights.

Far from heading a mass movement against the witch-hunters, the AFL and CIO officialdom is busy carrying out parallel purges of their opponents within the unions. Here the concern of the union bureaucracy for self-preservation meshes into the “cold-war” plans of US imperialism and its political executives. The union leaders seek to cover up for their lack of fighting spirit against labor’s foes and the failure of their policies to improve the workers’ condition by an orgy of red-baiting, not simply against the Stalinists, but against Trotskyists and other militants. They hope to forestall and stamp out all criticism in the ranks by a wild hue-and-cry against the “Commies,” by penalties, intimidation and expulsions of union members and their spokesmen.

The AFL leadership has long been notorious for red-baiting. The new factor is the involvement of the CIO and the unrestrained participation of its top officials in the anti-red crusade. This came to a climax in the 1949 National CIO Convention where the Murray machine voted itself unprecedented centralized authority over all CIO affiliates; established discriminatory political conditions for full membership rights by barring “communists” from CIO national offices; ousted the the United Electrical Workers and moved to expel other Stalinist-controlled unions.

The purge begun against the Stalinists is being extended to other individuals andi groups disagreeing with the Murray machine or the anti-democratic actions bound up with its “CIO National Policy.” The crudest application of this purge is taking place in the National Maritime Union where Curran’s machine has instituted loyalty pledges, resorted to large-scale expulsions, trampled on the elementary rights of the members and even called in the cops to suppress the majority opposition in New York. Similar, purges and unconstitutional expulsions have occurred in the AFL maritime unions, the SUP on the West Coast and the SIU on the East Coast.

The bureaucrats are abusing their complete control of the union apparatus, the hiring hall and the closed-shop, not only to deprive critical union members of their democratic rights, but also of their jobs.

Thus the struggle to maintain democracy inside the trade unions against the bureaucracy is directly linked with the struggle against the witch-hunters on a national scale.

Treachery of the Stalinist Leaders

Although the main target of the anti-red drive, the Stalinist leaders have followed a no less perfidious policy in the field of civil rights’ than have the AFL and CIO officialdom. In 1941 the CP applauded the prosecution of the 18 Trotskyists in Minneapolis under the Smith Act which provided the precedent for their own trial and conviction in 1949. This conduct in turn has given union officials a precedent and plausible pretext for turning their backs upon Stalinist victims of the witch-hunt. Where the Stalinists have sought support beyond their own circles they have found themselves confronted with their rotten record of civil rights, and especially their denial of support to the Trotskyists.

The apologists for the totalitarian rule and countless crimes of the Kremlin find it difficult to come forward as exponents of democracy either in foreign affairs or in the trade unions. The Stalinist controlled unions are notorious for their lack of democracy, bureaucratic practices, and suppression of free speech.

Even now while under severe repression, the Stalinist leaders continue their criminal behavior, although it harms their own defense and enormously discredits them before public opinion. They try to sabotage aid for James Kutcher and oppose a presidential pardon and restoration of civil rights to the 18 Trotskyists. They demonstrated at the national Bill of Rights Conference in New York in July 1949 that they preferred to blow up a promising united-front defense movement rather than support any demand for civil rights to their political opponents.

The American agents of the Kremlin have amply shown that they cherish as little regard for the elementary duty of class solidarity and united action against the witch-hunt as the union leaders who folJow the line of the State Department. Their symmetrical policies of denying support to political opponents reinforce each other, helps the forces of repression, and weakens the fight against them.

Growing Resistance to the Witch-Hunt

The American people have a firm attachment to democratic principles and glorious traditions of fighting for them. Over the past year there have been multiplying signs of resentment against the witch-hunters and a growing resistance to their attacks on civil; rights.

The disclosures in connection with the Coplon trial that J. Edgar Hoover’s secret political police was operating a huge network of paid informers and stoolpigeons, invading the private lives of many citizens and breaking the law by widespread wiretapping have called forth protests from prominent public figures, metropolitan newspapers, and even US Senators.

Numerous leading educators, learned societies and professional groups have criticized the encroachments on academic freedom arising from loyalty tests, red-hunts, and the drive for ideological conformity. Presidents and faculties of universities in California, Illinois, New York and elsewhere have vigorously spoken out for free thought and free expression in the face of attempts to saddle their institutions with loyalty tests. This opposition stopped the textbook-burning plans of the House Un-American Committee.

The National Conference of the NAACP took a strong stand against the entire witch-hunt as an instrument of racial as well as political discrimination. The National Civil Rights Mobilization conference at Washington this January grew out of the distrust and impatience of the Negro people at the failure to enact civil rights legislation.

Among the most encouraging manifestations of the determination to combat the loyalty purge has been the broad range of backing behind James Kutcher’s case. Outstanding representatives of almost every section of the American people menaced by the thought-controllers have come forward to support his campaign, including hundreds of national, state and local unions.

The volume of protest has become so loud and the alarm among many of his liberal supporters so acute that Truman has had to issue soothing hypocritical assurances that the “hysteria” his administration fosters will soon die out.

“Critical” Supporters and Opponents

Two different attitudes toward the witch-hunt can be observed among the liberals. On the right, the Social Democrats inspired by the New Leader philosophy and other Trumanites have eagerly participated in the anti-communist campaign, although now and then deprecating certain “excesses” of its overzealous executors. These elements prefer a purge limited for the present to the Stalinists.

But the direct agents of the monopolists and militarists pay no heed to such reservations but take advantage of the red-scare and cold war propaganda to proceed against all opponents of their policies. They are even using the Hiss verdict to smear highly placed figures in the witch-hunting administration itself as dupes or tools of the “reds.”

Against these collaborators with the witch-hunters stands another group of more militant and consistent liberals, a number of them associated with the Wallace movement, who are genuinely concerned over the drive toward a police-state and have proved willing to defend the rights of all victims of the repression, regardless of their political ideas or affiliations. It was these non-Stalinist liberals and Wallaceites who opposed the Stalinists and joined with SWP representatves at the national Bill of Rights Conference and elsewhere to uphold the principled position of defending civil rights for all.

Moreover, numerous members, unionists and sympathizers of the CP have balked against accepting the shameful and suicidal Stalinist line.

All these forces rising to resist the imposition of thought control upon America provide the basis for building a powerful united front mass movement dedicated to the preservation and extension of civil liberties.

Capitalism, Stalinism and Democracy

Pointing to Stalinism as the horrible example, the propagandists of Big Business assert that socialism means slavery and that maintenance of the so-called “free-enterprise” capitalist system is the sole guarantee for preserving liberty in America. They are guilty of a double lie. First of all, the capitalist rulers and their henchmen who are carrying on the witch-hunt are the chief enemies of civil liberties and labor’s rights today in the United States.

In the second place, Stalinism is not only anti-democratic but anti-socialist to the core. Stalinist totalitarianism flows from the irreconcilable hostility of the Soviet bureaucracy and its agents to the program and advocates of socialism.

The real situation is quite different. From the standpoints of both democracy and socialism, there are many bonds of identity between imperialism and Stalinism. Despite their different social bases, the destruction of democracy, either through the witch-hunts of the capitalists or the police-state methods of the Stalinists, have a common source in the concern for the perpetuation of the powers and interests of privileged groupings and their fear of the masses. That is why the imperialists and Stalinists can so often and easily join hands and align themselves against the interests of the people.

On the other hand, a movement which defends the welfare of the people and has no interests separate or apart from them, has no reason either to fear the masses or hesitate to submit everything to their judgment and decision. The struggle for emancipation from capitalist domination and all forms of servitude can be most easily and effectively conducted under conditions of the greatest freedom for the masses. That is why, while recognizing the inherent limitations of freedom under capitalist rule and in class society, revolutionary socialists have always demanded the widest possible democracy and have everywhere been in the forefront of all struggles for the defense and extension of the liberties of the people.

Today the intensified reactionary offensive against civil rights and the free functioning of the trade unions makes the struggle against the capitalist witch-hunters the urgent task of every worker and every individual concerned with the advancement of American society.

Unconditional Defense of All Victims

The cardinal rule of this struggle must be the unconditional defense of all victims of reactionary repression and united opposition to every restriction upon democratic rights. “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Toleration or support to the infringement of the rights of any group or individual emboldens the witch-hunters and opens the way for further assaults upon others.

The Stalinists have provided a memorable lesson of the dangers arising from violating working class democracy and the principle of class solidarity. They began by breaking up meetings of political opponents; then refused to defend their opponents against persecution; and finally called upon capitalist authorities, including the FBI, to act against their opponents. These disreputable deeds have not only boomeranged against them but inflicted great damage in the entire field of labor defense by nullifying unity of action and handing the union bureaucracy an excuse for a parallel line of conduct.

Despite our irreconcilable differences, despite the crimes committed against our movement and the interests of labor by the Stalinists, we Trotskyists have invariably supported Stalinist victims of repression and called upon the rest of the working class to do the same. We follow this policy, not out of agreement with the Stalinists or in remission of their crimes, but solely because of our unwavering adherence to the principle of class solidarity.

SWP Champions Solidarity Policy

Our party has become the banner-bearer and outstanding practitioner of this policy in the United States. We have consistently come to the aid of all victims of reaction, not only here but abroad. We have defended conscientious objectors, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Puerto Rican Nationalists, foreign-born workers, Anarchists, liberal clergymen, teachers, scientists, writers and magazines threatened by censorship, civil service employees and many others. We have initiated and participated in many significant struggles to protect persecuted minorities like the Negroes, Mexicans and Jews, as in the Fontana, California case, the Hickman defense in Chicago, the Freeport case in New York, In Minneapolis, Los Angeles and elsewhere we have taken the lead in mobilizing labor and its allies to defend themselves against the threatened fascist violence of Gerald L.K. Smith.

In Detroit and other industrial centers our members and sympathizers helped set in motion imposing union protest demonstrations against the Taft-Hartley Law. Within the unions the Trotskyists have been steadfast fighters against any restrictions upon internal democracy and the rights of the membership, whether they emanated from the official bureaucracy or the Stalinists.

Notably around the Minneapolis Trial and the Kutcher case we have participated in and supported powerful national movements against the Smith Gag Act and Truman’s loyalty purge.

This proud record has attracted many militants toward our party and won it a growing reputation as a sincere and principled defender of democratic rights.

Liberals, labor officials and the Stalinists often call upon the government and its agencies for action against ultra-reactionary elements. Jewish groups, for example, request the Post Office Department to ban anti-Semitic literature from the mails. Defaming the Trotskyists as agents of fascism, the Stalinists during the war demanded the suppression of The Militant, etc.

No Dependence on Capitalist State

The working class and the minorities must vigorously oppose every transgression upon their civil and constitutional rights, from whatever quarter they come, and utilize every safeguard provided by law. But they cannot entrust the protection of their liberties to the capitalist regime or expect the powers-that-be to stop or eradicate the menace of fascism.

First, the government itself today spearheads the assault upon the people’s rights. The President orders the loyalty purge; Congress passes anti-labor legislation; the courts levy fines and issue injunctions against the unions. Second, the capitalist parties work hand in glove with white supremacists in the South and the Big Business enemies of labor in the North who are behind the witch-hunt.

Third, the authorities have time and again demonstrated by their action and inaction their lack of interest in punishing or removing the perpetrators of violence against the Negroes, the unions and the liberties of the people. Neither the Federal or State governments convict any lynchers in the South. Nor have the officials displayed much zeal in uncovering the murderous assailants of Carlo Tresca, William Lurye, the Reuthers, and other labor figures.

Government Shields Fascist Elements

On the contrary, the capitalist state apparatus screens and shields fascist forces and collaborates closely with them. In Peekskill the local authorities and police connived in the attacks by the mobsters and hoodlums; Governor Dewey’s investigators whitewashed their role; and the entire paid press tried to unload responsibility for the violence upon the “reds.”

Even when, under pressure, government officials pretend to move against mobsters and Ku Kluxers, they only make theatrical gestures to appease outraged public opinion without actually punishing the real criminals. For every slight tap the capitalist agencies offer the right, they deliver a hundred harsh blows, against the left. This has been illustrated by the Smith Act. While the 30 Fascists indicted under this Act in wartime were left off scot-free, the Trotskyists and Stalinists were convicted and given heavy jail sentences.

The same procedure has been followed in the loyalty purge. While the Attorney-General’s blacklist includes a few fascist groups, in practice it is almost entirely applied against members of leftist organizations. The US Department of Defense has given away the whole game by omitting the Ku Klux Klan, Silver Shirts and similar fascist outfits from its own subversive list applied to draftees.

“Under conditions of a capitalist regime,” Trotsky once wrote, “all curtailment of political rights and freedoms, no matter against whom they may be originally directed, in the end inevitably fall with all their weight on the working class – especially on its most advanced elements.”

How to Fight Fascism

Class-conscious workers should not fall into the trap of demanding infringements of anyone’s civil rights, including those of the fascists. At the same time they should recognize the real situation and make it plain to others. The civil rights of fascist elements are not being threatened; the authorities are in league with them. They are in no danger of persecution or need of defense. They are not the victims but the sponsors and beneficiaries of the current repressions.

The menace of fascism does not arise from their propaganda but from their gangsterism, their mob attacks upon advanced workers, Negroes, and labor organizations. With tacit acquiescence of the authorities, the fascists operate as extra-legal agencies of repression against the institutions and freedoms of the working class and minorities. Consequently, the real situation is that the labor organizations and minorities are obliged to act in self-defense to protect themselves against reactionary violence.

The history of Italy and Germany conclusively proves the folly and futility of relying upon the capitalist government, its police, or its parties in the fight against the fascists. The masses can safeguard their rights, their lives and their organizations only by mobilizing the full strength of their own forces in the most vigorous united and independent defensive actions against the race-bigots, anti-Semites, union-busters and mobsters who threaten them.

Organized labor has the ability as well as the duty to assume the leadership in this struggle. The trade unions are not only the chief bulwarks of democracy and, the centers of proletarian power; they are likewise the main target of the capitalist authors of the witch-hunt whose ultimate objective is the destruction of the labor movement. The anti-labor campaign and anti-red hysteria are inseparable aspects of the monopolist drive toward the establishment of a police state in this country. Thus the defense of civil liberties is a life-and-death matter for American labor.

Without full democracy and freedom of expression inside the unions, they cannot effectively fulfill their tasks of defending the welfare of the workers and leading the struggle against reaction. Thus the fight for union democracy is directly interlinked with the general struggle for civil liberties.

Program and Perspective

The objective of our party is the creation of a broad nationwide defense movement, composed of all forces menaced by repression and devoted to the defense of all victims of reaction. Such a movement would revive on a higher level the spirit of class solidarity characterizing the pre-World War I Socialist and labor movements.

It is both possible and necessary to join together extensive forces on a national and local scale in common defense actions around specific issues and cases, as the experience in the Kutcher case and the demonstrations against Gerald Smith indicate. The militants should be on the alert to propose and initiate such united front actions, participate in them with all available resources, guide them along correct lines and imbue them with the maximum strength.

The Truman administration and its liberal spokesmen spread the illusion that the present wave of repression is the result of a temporary hysteria which will soon run its course and automatically exhaust itself. The workers should not permit themselves to be duped by this deliberate lie.

The trends toward thought-control and the police state spring from the most profound and urgent needs of the monopolist and militarist rulers of US capitalism. Washington has organized and carried forward the loyalty purge and its associated prosecutions in the most planned and methodical manner. The witch-hunters do not intend to relax their persecutions but to intensify and extend them, if they can get away with it.

The repressive measures are not an episodic phase or transitory phenomenon but a permanent feature of decaying capitalism. The only way to stop the witch-hunters and their assaults is to create and set into motion a mighty mass opposition to them and to carry through the struggle againsl capitalist reaction to its logical conclusion in the establishment of a Workers’ and Farmers’ government, genuinely representing the people’s interests.

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