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Farrell Dobbs

New Introduction to
Cannon Trial Pamphlet

(21 March 1949

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 2.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Socialism On Trial is the verbatim testimony of James P. Cannon, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1941 Minneapolis trial of the 18 Trotskyists under the thoughtcontrol Smith Act. The salient facts about the trial and convic-tioh are related in Joseph Hansen’s introduction to the second edition which is reprinted in this volume.

Dealing with the whole range of Marxism, Comrade Cannon’s testimony in that famous trial has become recognized as the simplest and best introduction to an understanding of the major questions of revolutionary socialist program and tactics. It is the most popular pamphlet ever published by our movement. Two large editions of Socialism on Trial have already been exhausted.

The re-publication of this testimony in the Minneapolis trial is given added timeliness by the coincidence that, as this third edition goes to ptess, 11 leaders of the Stalinist Communist Party are on trial in a federal court in New York City. This new prosecution is a striking confirmation of Comrade Cannon’s prediction, in the Minneapolis court, that the assault on civil liberties which began with the prosecution of the Trotskyists would be later directed against other organizations.

Stalinists On Trial

The Stalinists supported the government in its prosecution of the 18 Trotskyists and applauded their conviction and imprisonment. But this treacherous conduct did not save them when their own time came. It did not even save them from the truly ironical circumstance that the indictment brought against them alleges violation of the Smith Act – the very same law under which the Trotskyists were tried and convicted in Minneapolis.

The real aim of the capitalist government in these thoughtcontrol prosecutions is to outlaw Marxism. It is therefore extremely important to know exactly what true Marxism is. But that knowledge cannot be gained from the Stalinists who have twisted, distorted, perverted and betrayed the Marxist program in so many ways. Marxism has a right to be defended by its genuine exponents.

Under these circumstances, publication of this third edition of Socialism on Trial serves an especially vital need. Tn it will be found a true explanation of Marxism, set forth in clear and simple terms.

Imperialist War Aims

I wish to call attention particularly to the remarks about war and democracy. On pages 39 to 43 will be found Comrade Cannon’s answers on these vital questions during direct examination by defense counsel. He explains that imperialist wars to capture new markets, sources of raw materials and fields of investment are inevitable so long as capitalism continues in existence. The Socialist Workers Party is unalterably opposed to any and all imperialist wars.

“It is absolutely true that Hitler wants to dominate the world,” Comrade Cannon said, “but we think it is equally true that the ruling group of American capitalists has the same idea, and we are not in favor of either of them.

“We do not think that Sixty Families who own America want to wage this war for some sacred principle of democracy. We think they are the greatest enemies of democracy here at home. We think they would only use the opportunity of a war to eliminate all civil liberties at home, to get the best imitation of fascism they can possibly get.”

These significant words were spoken seven years ago, on the eve of the formal entry of the United States government into the second world war. (The 18 defendants in the Minneapolis Trial were sentenced to prison on December 8, 1941, at the same hour war was being declared by Congress.) These words gave an accurate forecast of the present campaign to crush civil rights in this country in preparation for a new war to conquer the world.

Attacks on Labor

The special prosecutor, who was later rewarded with a federal judgeship, sought on cross-examination to refute these predictions. The resulting clash brought a more precise spelling out of the war aims of American imperialism and the terrible consequences to the working people.

Listen to these quotations from page 80, for example.

“Once they have deprived the workers of the right to strike on so-called patriotic pretexts,” Comrade Cannon predicted, “then the capitalists will begin squeezing down wages and refusing concessions.” Truer words were never spoken, as every worker knows today after the wartime wage freeze in the face of a steeply-rising cost of living.

“The next thing that will probably appear on the horizon,” he continued, “is attempts of these Sixty Families and their supporters to stop the popularizing of ideas inimical to the capitalists, and to check by legislation the organization of the workers.”

When that prediction was made back in 1941 the capitalists were grinding out propaganda about a holy war to defend the “four freedoms.” Comrade Cannon’s warning was like a cry in the wilderness. Yet all he failed to give was the name the federal anti-labor law would bear – the Taft-Hartley Act.

His prediction of further attacks on freedom of thought has been confirmed many times over. The Truman administration has issued a Hitler-like decree blacklisting organizations alleged to be “subversive.” The demand of the Socialist Workers Party and other stigmatized organizations for a full public hearing on all charges has been disregarded by the, Department of Justice. James Kutcher, a legless war veteran, has been fired from his clerk’s job in a Veterans Administration field office as a result of that blacklist. An ominous thought-control purge of teachers has started at the University of Washington. Civil rights are under attack on many fronts, including the present witch-hunt trial of the Stalinists.

“All this sixty to one hundred billions of dollars that they are appropriating for the wasteful expenses of war has got to be paid for by somebody,” Comrade Cannon said, “and they will try to make the masses and the poor farmers pay it.” All that need be added here are the latest figures on the staggering amounts appropriated for war. The national debt stands at the fantastic sum of $260 billion, and' additional billions ofi the national wealth are still being poured into the maw of the war machine. The rich are coining unprecedented profits from war production, while the workers and working farmers pay the piper through high taxes and robber prices.

“Demands will grow in this country, among people who want freedom and a right to live, for some way out of this madhouse of war and unemployment and growing fascism,” he concluded.

Postwar Demonstrations

The vast post-war strike wave was a preliminary confirmation of his prediction that the masses would rise in struggle against the apitalist assault on their standard of living. The d’efeat of the Republicans in the 1948 elections – unexpected by all the political experts and prognosticators – was due in large measure to a political uprising of the workers against the Taft-Hartley Act. Their support of Truman as the “lesser evil” by no means signified a vote of confidence in his administration. These two post-war demonstrations, one on the economic field and the other on the political, already represent down-payments on Comrade Cannon’s prediction of a mighty upsurge of “the people who want freedom and a right to live.”

These remarkable 1941 forecasts of coming events bear eloquent testimony to the validity of the true Marxist method and program that is explained by Comrade Cannon. I commend his testimony to the careful attention of the reader.

The above is the introduction written for the third edition of Socialism On Trial, issued by Pioneer Publishers.

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