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George Breitman

CP Launches Public Attack
on James Kutcher

(7 March 1947)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 10, 7 March 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

After six months of criminal silence on the case of James Kutcher, the Stalinist press has launched a poisonous attack on the legless veteran and the supporters of his fight against the government’s “subversive” blacklist and witch-hunt purge of federal employees.

Unwilling to support this struggle for civil liberties because it involves their firmest political opponents in the labor movement, and yet unable to maintain their silence because the case is winning ever-broader support, the Stalinists have been forced out into the open. The assignment to do a hatchet job on Kutcher was given to Adam Lapin, associate editor of the West Coast Stalinist paper, Daily People’s World, and he carried it out to the best of his ability in the Feb. 18 issue of that paper.

Lapin begins by pretending to examine the question of why Kutcher has the active backing of many “right-wing CIO leaders who have long since abandoned any real fight to preserve civil liberties.” As proof of such abandonment he refers to the failure of non-Stalinist union leaders to support the case of Irving Potash, a CIO offficial among the 12 Stalinists on trial in New York, and of the 15 people jailed and persecuted in Los Angeles.

Lapin Warms Up

“But,” he says, “the case of James Kutcher is apparently in a separate and favored category. Indeed, it has received the same kind of favored treatment from liberal publications like The Nation and The New Republic which have treated gingerly, if at all, the intensive national witch-hunt against the Communists.”

Here Lapin is just warming up for the bigger lies to come. He knows as well as we do that the Nation has run only one short editorial on Kutcher, that the New Republic has had a total of six lines on the case, and that both, in the usual liberal fashion, have protested the CP trials on many occasions.

“Needless to say, Kutcher is not a Communist,” he continues. “He is rather a member of a group called the Socialist Workers Party which was aptly described by Carey McWilliams as ‘a sort of international conspiracy for the assassination of Joseph Stalin.’”

This “quotation” is no more honest than the customary Stalinist brand. McWilliams is a member of the Kutcher Civil Rights Committee; everywhere, on his recent lecture tour, he protested against Kutcher’s dismissal. It is ridiculous to think he would lend his support to a member of what he considered an international assassination conspiracy. Nevertheless, it is true that in his speech in Seattle last month he employed an expression similar to the one quoted by Lapin.

But it is also true – as Lapin knows and “aptly” conceals – that in the question and answer period McWilliams explicitly stated the remark had been facetious and did not represent his views. What he was trying to say, as many other civil libertarians have done, was that Kutcher could not be regarded as an “agent of a foreign power” because the Trotskyists are such bitter foes of Stalinism, and that this fact showed how’ far-reaching the current witch-hunt was.

“An Oddity”

The Trotskyist party, Lapin declares, “has not cavilled to cooperate with the most reactionary and anti-labor forces ... It has been praised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and has been useful to the FBI. As McWilliams indicated, it is an oddity that he should lose his job.”

An oddity? It would be the eighth wonder of the world if the present administration, with the aid of the FBI, would fire a member of a party that cooperates with anti-labor forces, is praised by the Chamber of Commerce and is useful to the FBI! Wouldn’t such a man get promoted and rewarded instead of fired and stigmatized?

In an effort to explain this contradiction, Lapin proves himself a real master of the poisonpen:

“Perhaps Kutcher’s dismissal was a product of overenthusiasm or of sheer ignorance on the part of hard-working FBI officials. If those who espouse his case seek merely to get him his job back, a friendly hint to the Department of Justice that it committed a boner would no doubt be sufficient.”

Lapin and his Stalinist masters know how foul this slander is, and so will everyone else who takes the care to examine the following facts:

  1. Kutcher was fired because the Attorney General placed the Socialist Workers Party on his “subversive” blacklist along with the Communist Party and other organizations. The over-enthusiastic, ignorant, hard-working FBI officials did not initiate the case; they executed the policy set down by Truman and Clark.
  2. The Department of Justice is not in need of a hint, gentle or otherwise, to learn the facts about the case. Clark has heard about them in far-from-gentle terms from scores of organizations. Kutcher himself met with Clark to protest both his dismissal and the entire blacklist system. Clark doesn’t think the case was a “boner.” Despite mounting criticism from unionists and liberals, he persists in upholding Kutcher’s dismissal; in keeping the SWP on his blacklist; and in refusing it a public hearing.
  3. In fact, long after all the facts in the case were printed in the press of all groups except the Stalinists, the Truman administration last December issued through its Loyalty Review Board the infamous Memorandum No. 32, which makes it mandatory to dismiss from government service all members of the SWP, CP and Workers Party, regardless of the circumstances surrounding individual cases. This was the administration’s direct answer to the Kutcher protest.

What They Conceal

As always, the facts not only refute the Stalinist slanders but bring to the surface the truths about their own record which they are trying to hide. For example:

  1. It was the Stalinists who cooperated with reactionary and anti-labor forces in policing the no-strike pledge and the speed-up during the war. The Trotskyists never have collaborated with these forces in war or peace.
  2. It was the Stalinists who held out the hand of comradeship to the Chamber of Commerce and the NAM during the war. The Trotskyists never did, and the Chamber of Commerce never in its entire history “praised” the Trotskyists.
  3. It was the Stalinists who collaborated with the Department of Justice in upholding the conviction of the 18 Trotskyists in the Minneapolis trial under the same Smith Act now used to persecute the Stalinists. The Trotskyists were inot only persecuted by the Department of Justice and the FBI during the war, but ever since, as the “subversive” list proves.

“But in any event,” Lapin continues, “it [the Kutcher dismissal] was outside the mainstream of the current attack on civil liberties. And by the same token the defense of Kutcher is outside the mainstream of the defense of civil liberties.”

Lapin would like people to believe that this is so, but Truman and his witch-hunters think differently. As Memorandum No. 32 shows, they recognize the Kutcher case to be the most direct as well as most dramatic assault on their blacklist system that has yet been made. They know a victory for Kutcher will discredit the whole purge set-up. That’s why they stubbornly refuse to listen to “hints” and insist on standing by their admittedly unpopular victimization of the legless veteran.

The ones who are really “outside the mainstream of the defense of civil liberties” are those who openly approve the Kutcher dismissal – Truman and Co. – and those who seek to deny its significance or prevent the mobilization of mass support for Kutcher – notably, the Stalinists above all others. This isn’t the first time that the Stalinists have seen eye to eye with a reactionary capitalist government, nor will it be the last time that they give objective aid to the policies of such a government.

Lapin then finishes his article by returning to his first point: “The best that can be said for some of his advocates is that they seek here a convenient escape from the battle, a safe eivil liberties case on which they can speak up without fear of being tagjged as Communists themselves.

“But others of his backers have less innocent motives, and see in the case a possibility for diverting attention from the Los Angeles and New York cases, for disrupting the fight for civil liberties.

“There can be no other explanation for the deliberate attempt of right-wing labor leaders and some liberal publications to play up the Kutcher case while ignoring or apologizing for the persecution of Communists whose defense is now the first line of defense of all civil liberties.”

But how does support of Kutcher “disrupt” support of Stalinist victims of persecution? Everywhere that Kutcher himself speaks on the case, he urges support for the civil rights of the Stalinists as well, despite the unbridgeable political differences that separate them and despite their sabotage of his case. The Militant has also consistently tied the two together, and has printed as much on the CP trial since it began as it has on Kutcher.

Why They’re Isolated

Now there is one grain of truth to be found in Lapin’s final distortions – namely, that certain labor and liberal leaders, including some of Kutcher’s supporters, refuse to extend any aid to the Stalinists, despite our repeated warnings and appeals to them. One reason is that they are buckling under the pressure of the government’s “cold war.” But there is another reason:

And that is the CP’s own attacks on the principles of labor solidarity and united labor defense against attacks on civil liberties!

During the war the Stalinists worked themselves to the bone opposing support for the Minneapolis defendants on the ground that the Trotskyists were against supporting the war, the re-election of Roosevelt, etc. In short, the Stalinists preached that civil liberties should be denied to minority parties holding unpopular views. Many unionists and liberals today accept that argument – and use it against the Stalinists. This approach is as false and short-sighted today as when it was employed by the Stalinists during the war, and will have the same disastrous effects later on. But it is one of the explanations for the Stalinist isolation today.

Another is the stand of the CP on the Kutcher case itself. If the Stalinists won’t support his case because they disagree with his politics, then why – many people ask – should we support the Stalinists when- we disagree with their politics?

Lapin’s own article – allegedly designed to prevent diversion of support from the Stalinist defense – is actually the most powerful kind of blow that could be dealt to the CP’s defense. For every ounce of support it may detract from Kutcher’s support, it adds a ton of damage to the CP’s fight for its own civil rights.

The rank-and-file members of the CP should now be approached with these questions: Wouldn’t they be far better off in mobilizing Support against the witchhunt if the CP would grant support. to Kutcher, even while differentiating itself from his political views, just as the labor leaders and liberals have done? Why doesn’t the CP leadership accept the SWP’s offer of united front action ont behalf of all victims of the witch-hunt? Why does it persist in its suicidal policy? Isn’t it the duty of rank-and-file CP members to reverse this dangerous course which is further isolating them from working class support?

And non-Stalinists who hesitate to come to the CP’s defense should be acquainted with the CP’s line on Kutcher, as an object lesson of what the violation op disregard of labor solidarity leads to. There is a certain logic in these developments, and it should be driven home to everyone: If today you fail to defend the civil rights of a working class group because you don’t agree with its policies, the result tomorrow can be fatal to yourself as well as the general cause of civil liberties.

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