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George Breitman

Your Stake in the Case
of the Legless Veteran

(17 January 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 14 No. 3, 17 January 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If you’re serious about participating in the fight for a better world, the case of James Kutcher concerns you directly and totally. For it is (1) a gauge to the state of civil liberties in the U.S.; (2) a test of the readiness and viability of the labor and liberal movements to preserve them; (3) a contest to decide if the administration can by decree outlaw the Socialist Workers Party and other political opponents

In the beginning there was a certain tendency, especially among iberal opponents of thought-control, to regard the Kutcher lismissal as a “blunder” or ‘hysterical excess” that would surely be corrected on second thought. The Truman administration for its own reasons encouraged this idea for a while, but today it can be given no credence whatever.

It is true that the government had ho idea when it started the persecution of Kutcher last August that it would meet any more resistance in his case than in the hundreds of others that are being handled behind the scenes and disposed of far from the public eye.

But they miscalculated. And they were visibly embarrassed when Kutcher decided to fight back, took the case to the public and set off a storm of outraged protest – right in the midle of the election campaign. The purgers could not help noticing, furthermore, that the protests came not only from the administration’s political opponents but also from some of its firmest political supporters, including a section of the union leadership.

They therefore proceeded cautiously. At the VA Branch Loyalty Board hearing in Philadelphia last September, Kutcher was told his membership in the SWP would not automatically dictate an adverse decision and that his case would be considered fairly on its own merits.

Attorney General Clark invited Kutcher to Washington for a conference. He as much as promised that if Kutcher refrained from making “political capital” out of the case, he himself would intervene to help restore Kutcher to his job. He explicitly promised to djseuss the eas.e with Gen. Carl R. Gray, VA Administrator. And, a few days before the election, he stopped off in Newark to tell reporters that Kutcher’s “war record is very much in his favor as far as I am concerned.”

From then until the election, rumors were circulated that the whole thing had been a mistake, Kutcher would surely get his job back, etc. After the elections, reporters even phoned Kutcher to check on the story they had heard that he was to get his job back any day.

All these pretenses Were blown sky-high last week when Gen. Gray confirmed the dismissal of Kutcher on the basis of a new Loyalty Board directive, Memorandum No. 32, dated Dec. 17. This document – the first change in the purge procedure since Truman’s election – makes it mandatory to dismiss from government employment all members of the Stalinist party, the SWP and the Workers Party.

From now on, the purgers won’t even pretend to consider each case on its individual merits;, from now on, mere membership in these organizations will be considered conclusive guilt of “disloyalty.” Kutcher will have another administrative hearing in the near future – before the trip Loyalty Review Board in Washington – but Memorandum No. 32 guarantees in advance that he’ll get no semblance of real consideration or justice there.

Why They’re Adamant

All this makes it perfectly clear now that the decision to purge Kutcher was not the accidental result of routine operations on the part of some secondary bureaucrat. It |is a question of policy, arrived at and executed by the highest officials in the administration. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it with a purpose.

The question that arises at this point is: Why is the administration following such a get-tough policy toward Kutcher? Why doesn’t it “make an exception” in this ease, restore Kutcher to his job and thus put an end to the furore the case has raised?

Because Kutcher’s fight has posed the problem of the blacklist as a matter of principle, and can now be settled only on that basis. Kutcher ha9 shown that it is not only a matter of individual injustice, but of political discrimination against his party and all the other groups on the list. He has proved that it is really impossible to separate these questions – a fact which the administration admits in its own Way and from its own viewpoint by the publication of Memorandum No. 32.

This memorandum indicates that the government cannot give way on the Kutcher case without further discrediting the whole purge system. To reinstate him now would be in effect to admit the discriminatory and arbitrary nature of Clark’s inclusion of the SWP on the blacklist, And that in turn would deal a moral blow to the blacklist system itself from which it might not recover. That is why the administration refuses to half its persecution of Kutcher, and why tlic importance of the ease transpefids hjs individual fate as well as the political rights of the SWP, vital as both of these are.

The administration’s toughness in this case may be puzzling to liberals, who expected the Democratic victory of Nov. 2 to stimulate a new flowering of capitalist democracy. But it will hardly come as a surprise to readers of The Militant, which has consistently emphasized the threat that the bi-partisan war policy holds for democratic rights. What it proves is that the workers can rely only on their own organized strength for the preservation of civil liberties.

Wide Support

That the struggle against thought-control cart be effective is already shown by the extent and diversity of the support enlisted on behalf of the veteran by the non partisan Kutcher Civil Rights Committee even before Memorandum No. 32 fully clarified the nature of the problem.

As was to be expected, the greatest help, has come from the labor movement, and above all the CIO, The greatest credit belongs to the New Jersey CIO for its initiative In helping to launch the defense movement. The national CIO through its Committee to Abolish Discrimination, also helped effectively in the early stage of the case. Two CIO internationals – auto and retail clerks – and several state and local councils are on record to help Kutcher, and some of them are quite active in winning moral, and financial support. Some AFL unions and leaders are doing the same.

Civil liberties groups, liberal bodies including a number of ADA branches, the national AVC and religious bodies embracing several denominations are also engaged in the defense campaign.

Press comment has been, extensive and syriipathetie. So far only one out of scores of editorials has been hostile (Newark Star Eagle). Columnists of assorted political views have denounced the government’s persecution of Kutcher. Virtually all the liberal journals have taken a stand; only the New Republic and Socialist Call have not yet found space to express their views. Editorials in even conservative papers have supported Kutcher’s demand for a public hearing for his party.

The leaders of the Communist Party further discredited themselves in progressive opinion by refusing to support the Kutcher fight against the blacklist. They thereby undermine the very principle of labor solidarity against reactionary attacks which alone can put an end to government repressions against them as well as other working class groups. The CP position on Kutcher has provoked considerable dissatisfaction among gome of their rank-and-file members.

Not all of the supporting groups take the same approach to the case. Some are concerned primarily with what happens to Kutcher as an individual; others stress the fact that the job he held was “non-sensitive” or that the SWP is “small and harmless” or that it is anti-Stalinist.

Fundamental Issue

On the other, hand, some recognize that fundamental civil liberties issues are at stake. The national CIO, for one, called at its last convention for the scrapping of the blacklist itself. And there are many other groups which, while not opposing the blacklist as such, condemn the way in which it was drawn up by one man, the Attorney General, and demand that each group accused should be given a fair and public hearing at which it could defend itself.

In one sense these very differences are an encouraging sign. They show that the Kutcher case can be the starting point for a genuinely broad movement of struggle against thought-control. They show that while the witchhunters have had some effect in confusing wide numbers of people, they have by no means extinguished the democratic traditions of the American people, and that there is a great reservoir of organized strength which can be drawn on to overcome the assaults against political freedom and reserve the trend to reaction.

The Kutcher ease is sure to go to the courts now that the Loyalty Review Board has tipped its hand on the kind of administrative “hearing” it is preparing for Kutcher. A great legal contest will ensue, but the real decision will not be made by the courts. It will be made by the working people and their organizations. And that depends in great part on the energy and intelligence with which the mobilization of national support around the Kutcher case is approached by the politically more advanced workers.

Our Duty

Much has already been accomplished, but it’s only a beginning. A liberal may be able to content himself by voting for a favorable resolution, donating a few dollars and wishing good luck to Kutcher. But that will never do for people who have a greater understanding than the liberals of the dangers of the witch hunt and the opportunities the Kutcher case gives us for combatting it.

James Kutcher has gone all-out in the fight for civil and political rights. Glass-conscious readers of The Militant and members of the SWP can do no less. If we don’t, we’ll be remiss in our duties not only to Kutcher but to ourselves and the rights of the workers as a whole, and we’ll be violating the high standards of working class morality. We must suit our deeds to our understanding of the necessities.

In its essence the Kutcher case is a fight to prevent the political party in power from outlawing its political opponents and thus paving the way for full-scale dictatorship. That means it is also a fight to prevent the outlawing of revolutionary socialism. In such a fight no half-way measures are permissible. We must give everything we’ve got to this fight. We’ve got to go out now and rouse the whole working class.

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