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Labor Action, 24 January 1949


Wyatt Lee

Trial of 12 CP Leaders Opens in N.Y.


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 4, 24 January 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Federal government unlimbered a new weapon in the home-front campaign against its imperialist rival, Russia, when the trial of eleven U.S. Communist Party leaders opened last week in a courtroom jammed with reporters and photographers and guarded by 400 New York policemen. Trial of the twelfth, William Z. Foster, may be held separately on motion of U.S. attorney John F.X. McGohey, because of the defendant’s ill health.

After two years of legal harassment, the Department of Justice for the second time invoked the infamous Smith Act to charge the defendants, all members of the CP central committee, with teaching and advocating overthrow of the government. This Act, under which 18 members of the Socialist Workers Party were convicted in Minneapolis in 1941, is a legislative evasion of the constitutional right that previously forbade conviction except on proof of an overt act.

“Loyalty” Campaign

The trial marks a new step in the government’s postwar activities against U.S. agents of its erstwhile allies in the Kremlin. By openly challenging the right of political existence for the CP the Federal authorities go beyond the legal subterfuges used in the immediate past and pose civil rights questions of prime importance to all minority parties.

Until now postwar efforts to suppress the CP and other minority parties have taken the form of intimidation through specific legal charges. Numerous CP members have been picked up by immigration officials on charges of illegal entry, false statements and other technicalities.

Others, either members or fellow travelers, have been convicted of contempt for refusal to answer questions put to them by Congressional and state investigating committees. Widest in scope is the “loyalty” check on 2,350,097 Federal employees and applicants conducted by the FBI on orders of President Truman. This purge, according to an FBI report recently released, resulted in the intensive investigation of some 7,000 cases with 103 cases receiving “unfavorable determinations.”

Percentagewise, these figures may seem small, but they do not reflect the terror unleashed in the ranks of the Civil Service. The slightest deviation from the political norm makes a Federal employee suspect and membership in any of a host of organizations, many of which are honest socialist groups that consider Stalinism their worst enemy, means loss of employment and perhaps criminal prosecution.

A more realistic appraisal of the effects of the “loyalty” investigations can be seen from the hysteria surrounding the Hiss-Chambers affair and the cases of such men as Dr. Frank P. Graham, president of the University of North Carolina and the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, whose only “crime” seems to be a willingness to sponsor liberal causes.

Clark’s New Proposal

This campaign will become further intensified if a bill submitted to Congress by Attorney General Tom C. Clark, becomes law. Ostensibly aimed at espionage, the proposed bill asks an end to the ban against wire-tapping, suspension of the statute of limitations, and stiff penalties for persons found negligent in the protection of secret documents, war industry areas and key shipping facilities. Last point in the bill calls for registration of all persons “schooled in espionage or sabotage in foreign countries.”

The overall pattern emerging from this proposed legislation and the activities of various governmental agencies since the end of the war shows a conscious trend towards a regimental control of the people in preparation for the next war. Just as the economy of the nation is geared more and more to a permanent war basis, so constitutional rights usually discarded only in time of war are being whittled away in peace.

The opening sessions of the trial of the 11 CP leaders does not augur well for the fight to defend civil liberties. So far the attorneys for the defense have tried to delay the trial on technicalities and have devoted their main energies to denouncing all aspects of the proceedings. Just what defense they will raise on the basic political questions is not clear at this time.

To anyone with any training in socialist theory the fundamental incongruity of both prosecution and defense will be readily apparent. U.S. Attorney John F.X. McGohey can be expected to attempt to prove the continuing link from Marx to Lenin through Stalin of classic revolutionary socialist theory. He will send a parade of witnesses to the chair whose abandonment and lack of understanding of true socialist principles can be matched only by the defendants themselves.

Nor will the accused be able to present an honest and forthright defense of their political principles. Theirs is a history of political treachery, not to the U.S. but to the working class they pretend to represent. Their role as slavish tools of their Kremlin masters should become crystal clear.


An interesting and instructive contrast in political defense can be found in reviewing the history of the first trial under the Smith Act, held in Minneapolis in 1941. Confronted with similar charges, the 18 members of the Socialist Workers Party, through their attorney and fellow-defendant, Albert Goldman, courageously and outspokenly defended their point of view. These proceedings are still available and to read them while following the press reports of the current trial will prove to be an illuminating experience.

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