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Farrell Dobbs

Our Civil Rights Are in Danger!

(24 July 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 31, 2 August 1948, p. 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Farrell Dobbs, SWP candidate for President, delivered an important radio talk over Station WPEN, Philadelphia, on Saturday, July 24, at 10:05 p.m. Full text follows:

Friends of the radio audience:

A burning issue of this election campaign is civil rights – the precious civil rights of the American people.

Freedom of speech, freedom of press, the right to think and to speak your thoughts are under attack today. Powerful forces against democracy are at work within America. They seek to undermine the precious freedoms won by the bitter struggles of generations of American working people.

The native tyranny which threatens America finds its precedents in the book-burning of Adolph Hitler and the thought-control of the Japanese Mikado.

If these sinister forces were to succeed, they would not stop until a cop stands at every workbench, until the unions are under police supervision and police spies are snooping in every workers’ home.

This is the philosophy of the Thomas-Rankin committee. This is the aim of their proposed Mundt Bill. This is the philosophy behind the firing of government employees by the Truman administration. This is the aim of the so-called subversive list published by Attorney General Clark. This is the philosophy behind the Republican-led Congressional committees which have been conducting witchhunting investigations in the unions. This is the aim of the Taft-Hartley Act.

These are the realities of American politics today. Use these realities to test the lavish promises to defend civil rights made by the Republican and Democratic Conventions here in this city. That analysis will reveal a compound of lies, deceit and hypocrisy.

While these lies were being concocted by the Republicans and Democrats, their real policy was being carried out behind closed doors in New York. The results have been in the headlines all week. I refer to the indictment of the leaders of the Communist Party under the Smith Act.

This is a subject 1 feel fully qualified to discuss. I didn’t learn about it in books.

I learned about the Smith Act in a courtroom and a prison cell in Sandstone, Minnesota. Everything about this law – though it was enacted eight year ago – is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

The author of this law was Howard W. Smith, a poll-tax Congressman from Virginia, a defender of the Jim Crow system and an outspoken foe of the organized labor movement.

The law was passed as part of the preparations for entry into the Second World War long before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This law directly violates the Constitution of the United States. It tramples on the Bill of Rights. It makes the teaching and advocacy of the principles of socialism and the 100 year-old doctrines of Marx and Engels a crime punishable by prison sentences up to 10 years.

Labor and liberal opinion was outraged by the introduction of this bill. The CIO, the AFL, the American Civil Liberties Union and outstanding personalities from all walks of life protested the passage of this gag act.

Within one year after its adoption, I was indicted and convicted under the Smith Act.

My running mate, Dr. Grace Carlson, the vice-presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, was sentenced alone with me to serve 16 months in a federal penitentiary. Sixteen other leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the CIO General Drivers Union of Minneapolis shared this same fate. This was the outcome of the now famous Minneapolis Labor Trial of 1941.

What was our crime?

We opposed the militarization of the American youth.

We denounced the conspiracy of American monopoly capitalism to drag the country into war.

We exposed the lie that it would be a war against totalitarianism.

We predicted that the American capitalists would use their victory to prop up kings and military dictators abroad and to undermine the freedom of the working people here in America

We said that this war would not bring peace to the world. We predicted that monopoly capitalism would plunge the American people into one war after another in their insane drive to dominate the world.

And that was not all.

We opposed discrimination in the armed forces and demanded democratic rights for the rank and file soldiers and sailors. Was that too much to ask for an army supposedly fighting for democracy?

And we committed still another crime.

We defended the democratic right of rank and file union members to have a leadership of their own choosing which would fight for their interests.

In brief, our crime was that we told the truth.

But under the Smith Act, the truth is subversive. And so we were convicted.

We challenged the constitutionality of the Smith Act. But the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear our appeal and we were railroaded to the penitentiary on New Year’s Day, 1944.

From our prison cells we demanded a presidential pardon. Trade unions representing more than 5,000,000 workers supported our demand. But the White House turned a deaf ear. to this mighty cry for justice and we rotted in jail until our sentences expired.

That is the story of the Smith Act as I know it from bitter experience.

Tonight, speaking as the presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, I propose to bring the perpetrators of this injustice – and their agents – before the bar of public opinion.

Who was responsible for the trial and conviction of the 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the CIO General Drivers Union?

The groundwork was prepared by Republican and Democratic Congressmen who joined together to pass the Smith Act.

Former President Roosevelt speeded the conspiracy on its way when he personally ordered the Department of Justice and the FBI to bring us to trial.

The conspiracy was rounded out by the refusal of the Supreme Court to hear our appeal from the conviction.

There was a silent partner to this conspiracy who is going to follow me on the radio tonight, probably to talk about civil rights.

His name is Henry Wallace. He was a member of the presidential cabinet when the Smith Act was passed and signed. He uttered not one word of protest.

Wallace was Vice President of the United States when we were tried, convicted and jailed.

Wallace held his tongue though justice was trampled underfoot.

This is the way with Wallace. Just as he failed while holding public office to raise his voice against the Minneapolis witch hunt, so he failed to lift a finger against Jim Crow practises right under his eyes in Washington.

This week Wallace issued a statement denouncing the persecution of the Communist Party under the Smith Act. We agree with Wallace that this action must be opposed and fought as a threat to the civil rights of the American people.

But we notice a strange omission in his statement. Wallace steers clear of the first prosecution under the Smith Act – directed against the Socialist Workers Party – carried out while he held high public office.

Can it be that Wallace has two policies on civil rights? One while he is in office and another while he is trying to get .elected to office?

And now comes the most ironical part of this whole episode, fhe leaders of the Communist Party, who have just been indicted under the Smith Act, cheered the conviction of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party under this same anti-democratic ‘aw. Then, adding infamy to treachery, the Stalinist leaders demanded that the government suppress our weekly newspaper, The Militant.

Such disloyalty is in the nature of Stalinism. But it is. contrary to the finest traditions of the working class movement and the principles of socialism. It is therefore a matter of course for us to defend the Stalinist leaders against this new witchhunt under the Smith Act. We do this despite our well-known opposition to the Communist Party because of its long record in betraying the working class – despite their stab-in-the-back when we were being prosecuted.

Let no one be deceived into thinking that this is only an attack upon the Communist Party. Read the long list of organizations listed, without trial or hearing, as subversive by Attorney-General Clark. And a flick of the pen can add organizations that consider themselves safe today.

I want to serve public notice here and now that the Socialist Workers Party is going to fight this government blacklist to the limit.

Two weeks ago President Truman came here to Philadelphia to profess his great devotion to civil rights. But while he was holding forth, the Navy Department, which is under his command, used the Truman-Clark blacklist to fire two CIO members from the Westinghouse plant in this city.

No doubt you have read about this incident in your local paper. The CIO workers at Westinghouse rose in indignation against this government interference in its internal affairs. They recognized that if the government and the corporation succeeded, the road would be opened to the complete destruction of their union.

By a splendid strike demonstration, the union forced the government and the corporation o retreat. The two victimized workers were reinstated.

I hope some of these Westinghouse unionists are listening tonight. I want to congratulate you and your fellow workers for your vigilance and militancy. You acted not only for yourself but for the entire labor movement. You have revived a great tradition and a great slogan:

“An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”

That is the way to repel attacks on the labor movement. And that is the way to safeguard civil rights.

The events at Westinghouse symbolize the sweeping character of the march of reaction which we foretold from the courtroom in Minneapolis seven years ago.

We predicted that monopoly capitalism would use the power gained through the war to try to strangle the trade unions. The Taft-Hartley Law is the first step towards that objective.

We predicted that the capitalists would try to load fhe costs of the war on to the working people. Billions in profits on one side and the staggering rise in living costs on the other bears out our prediction.

We said that native fascism with its brutal persecution of the Negro people would be an inevitable consequence of the war. And now the new “White Supremacy” party, spawned by the Democratic Party, shows as ominous drift in that direction.

We predicted endless wars until capitalism was abolished. This week the whole world held its breath expecting an explosion in Berlin.

We predicted that the power-drunk Wall Street gang would seek to introduce permanent Prussianization of the American Youth. Next month registration begins for the conscript army of World War III.

We have no reason to change our mind. We recant not one single word of what we said in 1941.

We are more confident today than seven years ago of the coming victory of the working class.

As a result of those events, millions are listening to our message today where only a few listened before.

The great masses were jarred out of their rut by the war. Everybody was touched if not by tragedy, at least by hardship. The few moorings that remain to hold life together are now being torn away by dread prospects of insecurity, depression and atomic catastrophe.

Powerful forces of thought and action are being set in motion. The will of the people to act in their self-defense will not be harnessed by a Smith Gag Act or a Mundt police state bill.

A mighty upheaval of the oppressed and the exploited of the whole world is in the making.

Their instinctive striving for a solution to their grave problems must lead them to our program.

We say to the working people of America:

You can secure peace only by abolishing the capitalist system which breeds war and profits from it.

You can spread abundance to all by nationalizing the industries and resources of the country and operating them under the control of the workers.

You can bring into being the only truly democratic form of government by taking the road to independent political action to establish a Workers and Farmers Government.

Vote for Civil Rights!

Vote for Peace!

Vote for Socialism! – by voting for the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party.

Join the Socialist Workers Party!

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