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Farrell Dobbs

Trial of C.P. Threatens
All Labor’s Rights

Atmosphere of Police Terror
Marks Thought-Control Case

(19 January 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 4, 24 January 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK, Jan. 19 – Foley Square, scene of the government’s thought-control trial of 11 Stalinists in this city, is like an armed camp. Over 400 mounted and foot, police, plainclothes men, FBI agents and uniformed special guards swarm in and around the Federal Court House. Eight bailiffs ride herd on the handful of spectators who manage to crowd into the two-by-four court room where the trial is going on.

Inside the courtroom spectators are told, “Sit down and keep your mouth shut.” In the court house corridors and on the streets outside, anyone who pauses for a moment receives the curt order, “Keep moving.”

About half the seating space in the courtroom is reserved for the press. Another score or so of seats are set aside for relatives of the defendants. People stand in line for hours, under heavy police guard, hoping to get one of the seats available to the general public.

Press coverage is complete, with all the trimmings. Top-notch reporters are present for the wire services, many of the major daily newspapers, weeklies and feature magazines, radio, television, the newsreels and foreign press services, including Tass, the Soviet news agency.

The 11 defendants, all officers of the Communist Party, are Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., Carl Winter, John Williamson, Eugene Dennis, Henry Winston, Jack Stachel, Robert Thompson, Irving Potash, Gilbert Greed, Gus Hall and John Gates.

Two Charges

They are charged with conspiracy to “teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence,” under the Smith Act of 1940. If convicted, they will face a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and a 810,000 fine. Following trial on the “conspiracy” charge, each may be tried separately on charges of individual violation of the Smith Act.

Trial of William Z. Foster, Stalinist National Chairman, also named in the conspiracy indictment, has been postponed because of his poor health.

Five Stalinist lawyers, each representing two or three of the; defendants, are actively arguing the case. A secondary battery of defense lawyers sits at their elbows.

Two lawyers from the Department of Justice in Washington sit with the staff of the federal prosecutor.

Federal Judge Harold R. Medina, presiding over the trial, has so far done most of the arguing against defense counsel, while the federal prosecutor has rarely spoken.

The first three days have been devoted entirely to legal argument over defense motions to postpone the trial. Although the argument is still going on, it appears certain that the prosecutor and judge are determined to go right through the trial without delay.

Trial By Prejudice

The defense opened with a protest against the manner in which the trial has begun. The government propaganda against the defendants has led to an all-out smear campaign in the press and over the radio. Prospective jurors are subjected to this atmosphere of hysteria which becomes still thicker as they pass through the heavy police lines to enter the court house. An attitude of prejudice against the defendants is thereby implanted in the minds of the jurors, depriving the defendants of their constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Judge Medina overruled the protest, as he did the request for a bill of particulars to clarify the vague indictment and enable preparation of a defense against the government’s charges.

Now under debate is a defense challenge of the anti-democratic system of hand-picking federal grand juries and trial juries. Evidence is introduced to show that jury panels are predominantly composed of people from the silk-stocking districts, with only token representation from working class neighborhoods and from among racial minorities.

To make sure the “right people” are picked, a special type of telephone directory is used. It is indexed according to addresses, instead of the usual alphabetical listing of names, facilitating selection of persons from “suitable” neighborhoods. Also used are Who’s Who, the Social Register, lists of college graduates and Poor’s Directory of business men. Nobody seems to doubt that the challenge will be overruled and the jury selected from the hand-picked panel.

Another Falsity

Still another frameup is perpetrated by the government where it accuses the Stalinists in the indictment of “advocating the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” They are not and cannot be Marxists-Leninists precisely because they are Stalinists.

The Stalinists betray the interests of the working people to serve the gang of murderers in the Kremlin who have usurped power in the Soviet Union. Marxism-Leninism teaches unswerving loyalty to the working class.

The Stalinists betrayed the struggle to defend civil rights in America by cheering the conviction and imprisonment during the war of 18 Trotskyists under the same Smith Act that is now used against them, and they sought by every foul means to sabotage efforts to secure a presidential pardon for the imprisoned Trotskyists. Marxism-Leninism teaches solidarity of the labor movement in united front struggle to defend democratic rights from attack by the capitalist government.

Why They Waited

In the present trial, the Stalinists, for unprincipled and treacherous factional reasons, seek to conceal the fact of the Trotskyist conviction under the Smith Act. They do so when broad public knowledge of the true history of that infamous thought-control law would serve as a powerful means to arouse the American workers to the need for solidarity in defense of their democratic rights. Marxism-Leninism teaches honesty and truthfulness in talking to the workers.

By their treachery, lies, slanders, deceptions and repeated betrayals of the workers, the Stalinists have aroused the wholly justified hatred of millions of workers and have thereby aided the government in whipping up a lynch spirit against them. Thus the government is able to obtain worker-support for their witch hunt against the Stalinists and then use the precedents so established for an attack on the rights of the whole working class.

This deception of the workers by the government is further proven by the language of the indictment. The question might be asked, “Since the Smith Act became law in 1940, and the Trotskyists were convicted under it in 1941, why did the government wait until 1948 to indict the Stalinists?”

The government got around that question by dating the charges against the Stalinists “from on or about April 1, 1945.” That is, coincident with the expulsion of Browder and the reorganization of the Communist Party. What happened before that date?

Shortly after the Smith Act was passed, the Stalinists, on instructions from the Kremlin, went all-out for support to American imperialism in World War II. Their first dirty chore was to support the government attack on the Trotskyists, who as true Marxists-Leninists, denounced the war as an imperialist campaign of plunder which would not bring peace to the world and would undermine the living standards and civil rights of the working people just as it has done.

Then the Stalinists went to work as recruiting sergeants for Wall Street. They became vicious strike-breakers and cynical advocates of the speedup in industry. No task in the service of the capitalist government was too filthy for them, and the government naturally had no desire to use the Smith Act against them.

Today the Kremlin is in a “cold war” with the American imperialists, and the Stalinists are for the moment in opposition to the government. Hence the government now wants to use the Smith Act against them. The pretext of a change in regime in the Communist Party is used in the indictment as a government alibi to cover up for its wartime collaboration with the Stalinists.

For all these reasons, we have a situation where the government is making headway, by subterfuge combined with brazen propaganda, in its campaign to rally the support of the working people for a thought-control attack on the discredited Stalinists. If the government succeeds, a dangerous blow will have been struck at the rights of the entire working population.

That is why the Socialist Workers Party, despite its irreconcilable political hostility toward the treacherous Stalinists, has offered to make a united front with the Communist Party to fight for repeal of the Smith Act and in defense of its latest victims.

That is why the Socialist Workers Party calls upon all true believers in the protection of democratic rights against governmental usurpation to join in this fight.

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