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The Militant, 24 January 1949

SWP Case – Precedent for Stalinist Trial!

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


NEW YORK, Jan. 19 – Farrell Dobbs, National Chairman of the Socialist Workers Party and its candidate for President in the last elections, today issued the following statement on the trial of the 12 Communist Party leaders:

Federal Judge Harold R. Medina, presiding over the trial of the 12 Communist Party leaders, denied the defendants’ charge that their trial is a “political trial;” and asked what evidence they have for this contention.

The attorneys for the defendants offered various supporting arguments. But both they and the Stalinist press, notably the Daily Worker, have deliberately passed over the outstanding mid conclusive piece of evidence that the trial of the CP leaders is strictly political.

I am one of the 18 people in this country best qualified to give that evidence, was one of the 18 leaders and members of the Socialist Workers Party – the Trotskyists – who were indicted, tried, convicted and imprisoned for our political views under the Smith Act of 1910. This is the identical law Under which the CP leaders are now being tried. Our case is the sole precedent under this law for the present prosecution.

The Worker, CP publication, on Jan. 16 published the lie that the present trial “is the first time in America’s century and a half that a political party is put on trial." Whatever the motives for this falsification – and I shall expose them presently – the Stalinists are playing directly into the hands of the prosecution by aiding in the concealment of the most relevant facts concerning the political nature of the CP trial.

The Indictments

The indictment under which the SWP leaders were sentenced on Dec. 8, 1941, after a two-months’ trial, charged us with “conspiring to commit certain acts prohibited by certain statues of the United States, namely, Section 9 and 40 of Title 18 of the United States Code ... and especially contrary to section 11 of Title 18 of the United States Code.”

The indictment of the CP leaders charges them with acts “prohibited by Section 2 of the Act of June 28, 1940 (Section 10, Title 18, United States Code), commonly known as the Smith Act” and “in violation of Sections 3 and 5 of the Act of June 28, 1940 (Sections 11 and 13, Title 18, United States Code), commonly known as the Smith Act.”

The specific charges listed in both indictments arc virtually identical. Our indictment read that we “would, and did, accept ns the ideal formula for the carrying out of said objectives the Russian Revolution of 1917, whereby the then existing Government of Russia was overthrown by force and violence, and the principles, teachings, writings, counsel and advice of the leaders of that revolution, chiefly of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky” and that we “did knowingly and willfully advocate, abet, advise and teach ... and did print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute and publicly display written and printed matter advocating, advising and teaching the duty, necessity, desirability and propriety of overthrowing and destroying the Government of the United States by force and violence” and did “organise and help to organize societies, groups and assemblies” for that purpose.

“Evidence” in Our Trial

The heart of the CP indictment reads’ that they “did conspire ... to organize ... a society, group and assembly of persons who teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence” and that “it was further a part of said conspiracy that said defendants would publish and circulate, and cause to be published and circulated, books, articles, magazines, and newspapers advocating the principles of Marxism and Leninism.”

In brief, except for the omission of the name of Leon Trotsky, this is conclusive proof that the Minneapolis Labor Case of the I8 Trotskyists is the forerunner of the indictment of the CP under the identical sections of the Smith “Gag” Act of 1940.

The chief “evidence” introduced against us in the Minneapolis Labor Trial of 1941 consisted of 150 pieces of printed and publicly circulated literature, including the Communist Manifesto written in 1848 by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; the chief writings of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky; the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Workers Party; and numerous articles in The Militant and Fourth International. From the wording of the indictment in the CP case, and the precedent in our case, it is likely that writings of the revolutionary socialist teachers, Marx, Engels and Lenin, will constitute the major “evidence” in the present trial.

We were tried under two counts, the first under an old Civil War emergency law for alleged “overt” acts to accomplish the “crimes” alleged. The jury threw the first count out. On Dec. 5, 1941 the jury found 18 of 28 defendants “guilty” of violating the Smith Act which makes mere “advocacy” of certain ideas a “felony.” On Dec. 8, 1941 – the day after Pearl Harbor – the judge sentenced us to federal imprisonment for terms ranging from 12 to 16 months.

Labor’s Opinion

On. Nov. 22, 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review onr case, thereby denying, in effect, that any constitutional issues of free speech, press and assembly were involved. The Supreme Court repeated its refusal to review on two further occasions. On Jan. 1, 1944, after two years of appeals, we were incarcerated in prison and served our sentences.

That the trial of the 18 Trotskyists was a “political trial” was the publicly-voiced opinion of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Civil Rights Defense Committee. and of labor and liberal organizations representing more than five million members, which adopted resolutions to President Roosevelt urging repeal of the Smith Act and the immediate unconditional pardon of the imprisoned SWP leaders. Roosevelt refused the pardon. Last year the appeal for a presidential pardon, so that the defendants might have their civil rights restored, was renewed. President Truman has failed to act on this latest appeal.

Many liberals along with a section, of the daily press are mistakenly spreading the idea that the CP trial is the first of its kind under the Smith Act and that if the Stalinists are convicted the higher courts will eventually rule out the convictions on the grounds of the unconstitutionality of the Smith Act. That’s exactly what many liberals said previously in our ease. We have cited the public record in some detail to demonstrate that the Smith. Act has been used before; that the previous convictions under this Act were in the case of the 18 Trotskyists; and that the Supreme Court has already three times refused to rule against the Smith Act.

Yet the Stalinists, knowing full well that our case is the precedent fof their prosecution under the Smith Act, are maintaining silence about the case of the 18. They are even attempting to rewrite history and expunge the records of the federal courts to make it appear as though this precedent did not even exist.

They are also trying to hide the despicable role played by the Communist Party when it attempted to sabotage the labor movement’s fight against the Smith Act and to secure a pardon for us. A typical example of Stalinist propaganda at that period is an editorial, titled Abysmal Spectacle, in the Daily Worker of June 16, 1944. This editorial attacked by name George Baldanzi, Executive Vice President of the CIO Textile Workers, Samuel Wolchok, then President of the CIO Retail Clerks, Thomas De Lorenzo, President of Brewster Local 365, CIO United Auto Workers, Roger Baldwin of the ACLU, and Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party for speaking on behalf of the Minneapolis defendants at a New York mass meeting of the CRDC.

A Political Weapon

“Any labor leader who defends them (the imprisoned Trotskyists) ought to be made to answer to his membership. By defending Trotskyists ... such a labor leader abuses and misrepresents his membership. It is time to put a swift stop to that sort of thing,” says the Daily Worker editorial. This was repeated in numerous articles in the Stalinist press and was stated by Stalinist leaders in the unions in trying to block resolutions of support for the Minneapolis victims.

The indictment of the SWP leaders clearly demonstrates that the Democratic administration from the beginning has used the Smith Act solely as a political weapon to silence opponents of its foreign and domestic policies. We voiced a socialist opposition to American imperialist entry into the Second World War. The Stalinists – for entirely different reasons than ours – are now voicing opposition to the present U.S. foreign policy.

As the first victims of the Smith “Gag” Act, we warned time and again that our case would be a precedent for victimizing others whose views the Administration did not approve. The Stalinist leaders, betraying the most elementary principles of labor solidarity and even opposing the defense of elementary rights of free press. speech and assembly, refused to heed our warning.

For our part, despite the stab-in-the-back the CP dealt us and the civil rights of labor generally, we now warn the labor movement and liberal public opinion hot to be blinded by hatred of the notorious Stalinist policies to the danger their prosecution represents to the civil rights of all. The facts are that the CP leaders are being framed up for their opinions, in a politically motivated trial under an unconstitutional law that would establish thought-control in the United States. We must fight against this frame-up not for the sake of the defendants, but for the sake of democratic rights.

We therefore urge the entire labor movement to organize in defense of the CP leaders and against a frame-up that will set a precedent for future frame-ups and suppression of opposition political views.

And further, as National Chairman of the Socialist Workers Party, I publicly renew our offer to the Communist Party, originally made July 28, 1948, at the time of the filing of the indictment, for a united front to fight for repeal of the Smith Act and in defense of its latest victims.

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