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George Breitman

Weinstock Letters Show CP
Sabotaged Fight on Smith Act

(3 January 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the eve of the trial of 12 Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act, The Militant has come into possession of a file of correspondence that clearly proves: 1. That the indictment of the Stalinists under this reactionary law is due in great part of their sabotage of the labor movement’s fight against this law during the war. 2. And that the Stalinists, who now are advocating, labor solidarity against the coining trial, themselves were the grossest violators of this fundamental principle, materially contributing by their example to the workers’ present lack of response to the appeals for united protest against the government’s persecution of the CP.

This file of correspondence consists of letters from and to Louis Weinstock in the months of May and June, 1944. They were written by him in his capacity as secretary-treasurer of New York District Council 9 of the AFL Brotherhood of Painters. At the same time Weinstock was a member of the National Board of the Communist Party, which means that he was carrying out the Stalinist line.

At the beginning of 1944, the 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Teamsters Union Local 544-CIO were imprisoned because they exercised free speech in opposing the 2nd world war and fought for democracy inside the union movement. The indictment against them was based on the Smith “Gag” Act – the first time this witch-hunt legislation was used. The U.S. Supreme Court three times refused to review the case.

The CRDC Campaign

The Minneapolis case was the most flagrant attack on American political liberties in World War II. and as such aroused a storm of protest from most sections of lhe labor and liberal movements. The Civil Rights Defense Committee, which was organized to aid the defendants, carried on an aggressive campaign for the pardon of the defendants and against the Sniith Act. In the course of time it asked the Painters District Council 9 for formal support of its objectives.

A number of delegates to the Council from locals which had already endorsed the CRDC’s campaign urged the Council to do likewise. The Stalinists, who then controlled the Council, opposed this action and set up a committee to “investigate” the matter. Weinstock took the lead in securing the “evidence” on the case.

On May 11, 1944 he sent off three letters, copies of which The Militant now has.

Scabby Letters

The first was to Daniel J. Tobin, czar of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, at whose request Roosevelt had instructed the Department of Justice to prepare the indictment of the Trotskyists. In this letter Weinstock complains about some of the Council delegates who “were almost ready to give these people a helping hand” and urges Tobin to send him “a brief history of the case” that could be used to prevent aid to the CRDC.

The second letter was to Sidney Hillman, chairman of the CIO Political Action Committee, falsely charging the CRDC with using the name of the PAC and asking for a prompt reply that would accuse the CRDC of misrepresenting facts.

“I know that this is not the case,” wrote Weinstock, “but a lot of other people are misled by this subterfuge. We know that the Political Action Committee of the CIO is doing everything for the re-election of President Roosevelt. We also know that these eighteen (18) Trotskyites convicted in Minneapolis were everything but supporters of our President ...”

It is true that the Trotskyists had serious political differences with those elements in the labor movement who were supporting Roosevelt. But Weinstock’s point was that since such differences existed, the pro-Roosevclt unionists should not give any support to the Trotskyists in their resistance to persecution. It is precisely this approach which many labor leaders today use in opposing support to the Stalinist victims of the witch-hunt!

There is no evidence in the file to show that Hillman ever answered this letter. He knew that although the PAC had never acted on the Minneapolis case, most of the important CIO leaders had expressed support for the 18 defendants. Hillman’s own paper, The Advance, did the same.

Ironical Aspects

The third of Weinstock’s letters dated May 11 was addressed to Attorney General Francis Biddle, whose department had engineered the trial and conviction of the 18. Weinstock told Biddle he was anxious to get information demonstrating that the 18 were convicted for “sedition” rather than “activities in behalf of the labor movement.”

The first reply Weinstock got to these letters was from Biddle’s office on May 17. “You may be assured,” it said, “that the basis of the prosecution in this case had nothing to do with activities on behalf of the labor movement.”

An ironical aspect to this letter was that it was written for Biddle and signed by an assistant attorney general – Tom C. Clark, who is now attorney general and spearheading the persecution of the Stalinists under the same Smith Act.

Equally ironical is the fact that Weinstock himself would now be among the 12 CP National Board members under indictment except for the fact that in 1946 the painters revolted against Stalinist domination and kicked him out of office, which led to his demotion from the National Board.

On June 2 Weinstock got his answer from Tobin, who offered “information” that he hoped would be helpful to Weinstock, including a letter Tobin had solicited from Victor E. Anderson, prosecuting attorney in the Minneapolis trial. In this letter, dated. May 21, Anderson tried to justify the persecution of the 18 by asserting that the Supreme Court while refusing to review the case had found the Smith Act was “not unconstitutional.”

Govt. Interpretation

Anderson’s letter to Tobin interested Weinstock so much that he entered into direct correspondence with Anderson. In a letter dated June 5, he praised Tobin for supplying him with “a proper and satisfactory explanation concerning these defendants” and asked Anderson for additional help to “satisfy some of these doubting Thomases whom we have around here.”

On June 7 Anderson replied with an offer to supply any additional information “if it is within our power to do so.” Again he referred to the Supreme Court’s refusal to act on the defendants’ appeal because “the law under which the prosecution was had was not unconstitutional in violating free speech or for being indefinite.”

With this “evidence” the Stalinist majority in the District Council voted down the motion to support the 18. Weinstock, on June 12 then issued a press statement denouncing the Trotskyists as “fascist minded disrupters ... who are trying to break up the unity that exists today in the American nation.” In substantiation, he reprinted in full Anderson’s remarks on the constitutionality of the Smith Act.

An examination of the press at that time demonstrates that Weinstock’s frenzied activity against support to the Trotskyists was not at all an isolated phenomenon. All the other Stalinists in leading union positions did the same, and issue after issue of the Daily Worker read like a summons to the workers to lynch the. Trotskyists and other of tneir political opponents who did anything that might in any way interfere with “national unity.”

Undermined Solidarity

Thus the campaign to mobilize the labor movement to smash the Smith Act was undermined in part by the Stalinists in collaboration with reactionary union bureaucrats like Tobin and Department of Justice officials like Biddle and Clark. Although the CRDC won the support of organizations representing millions of people, it was unsuccessful in its challenge to this gag law, and it remained on the books where the Department of Justice last year picked it up again, this time for use against the Stalinists.

It used to be a recognized principle in the labor movement that all sections must unite in defense of any individual or section within its ranks that was subjected to reactionary attack by the employers or government. The Stalinists, by their behavior in the Minneapolis case as in many others, did more than any other group to disrupt and destroy the practice of labor solidarity.

By withholding support from victims of reactionary persecution merely because they had political differences with these victims, the Stalinists helped to create a new approach to the problem and a precedent which the labor leaders are today employing with full force against the Stalinists themselves.

(See Page 3 for editorial on The Stalinists and the Smith Act.)

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