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Farrell Dobbs

Jury Selected in Trial
of 11 Stalinist Leaders

(16 March 1949)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

FROM THE FEDERAL COURTROOM, NEW YORK, March 16 – The verdict in the thought-control trial, of the Stalinists will be rendered by a jury of four housewives, two women clerks, an unemployed clerk, a theatrical writer-producer, a salesman dealing in real estate and fur coats, an unemployed industrial engineer, a telephone wireman and a retired beer salesman.

The real estate salesman and two of the housewives are Negroes, one of whom is jury foreman by virtue of having been the first juror chosen. Both Negro housewives work part time. One is a dressmaker; her husband leads his own six-piece orchestra. The other is a beauty operator whose husband is a taxi driver.

The husbands of the two white housewives are salesmen in the wholesale clothing and woolen goods fields.

The only union niember on the jury is the telephone wireman who belongs to the Communications Workers of America, an independent union.

16 Challenged

In choosing the jury, the prosecutor removed by peremptory challenge an unemployed veteran; a member of a Stalinist-led union; and the wives of a woolen salesman and a taxi driver.

The defendants challenged three members of the American Legion; two retired employees of an insurance company which Jim-Crows Negroes in its housing projects; a member of the fascist Tool Owners Union; a former subordinate of Gen. Robert Eichelberger who is identified with the reactionary Common Cause, Inc.; and the wife of a postal examiner.

Also challenged by the defense were an insurance executive who is seeking a job with the Veterans Administration; a retired corporation executive; the wife of a prospective grand juror; a retired stock broker and former naval intelligence man; a juror who had read Out of the Night by Jan Valtin; the wife of a big real estate operator; and a public utility serviceman belonging to an anti-Stalinist AFL union.

The judge dismissed for bias a member of the American Legion; a friend of the defendant Benjamin Davis, Jr.; a member of the Catholic Holy Name Society; a friend of two, of the indicting grand jurors; the father of a New York cop; and a juror who proclaimed “absolute contempt” for the Stalinists.

The composition of the trial jury indicates that the challenge of the jury system led to some changes in selecting the panel from which the jury was drawn.

Next step is the selection of four alternate jurors to replace any regular juror who might become ill.

First Smith Act Trial

As the time approaches for the government to present its case against the Stalinists, it is instructive to review the evidence used in 1941 against the Socialist Workers Party (Troskyist) in the first thought-control prosecution under the Smith Act.

The 18 Trotskyists were imprisoned because the SWP seeks to convince a majority of the people that capitalism must be abolished and a socialist society created before mankind can have peace, freedom and security. On trial with the 18 were the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

“This party [the SWP] is like the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky,” the prosecutor told the jury. “Lenin and Trotsky based their philosophy on the Marxist philosophy. Not only are these defendants Trotskyists, but their basic belief is based on Marx, so they are Marxists.”

Included in the government’s evidence were the 100-year-old Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels, State and Revolution by Lenin, and Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.

Attempts by the SWP to obtain asylum in this country for Leon Trotsky and our tragically unsuccessful efforts to prevent his assassination by Stalin’s hired killers were likewise part of the evidence against the 18.

The Accusations

Attacking the SWP’s opposition to imperialist war, the prosecutor denounced our proposal that the question of war or peace be decided by a vote of the people.

He accused the SWP of “fomenting strikes for unreasonable demands in times of national emergency” and of “urging reliance on mass action rather than arbitration;” The prosecutor showed the jury an SWP banquet program and solemnly read from it the words of the famous union song Solidarity Forever.

The SWP predicts that, when a majority becomes convinced of the burning need to abolish capitalism and create a socialist society, the capitalist minority will seek by force and violence to defeat the will of the majority.

The prosecutor tried to twist that prediction into evidence that the SWP advocates the violent overthrow of the capitalist government by a minority. He claimed to have proof of his fantastic, charge.

Some time before the 1941 trial, a gang of fascist hoodlums, called the Silver Shirts, became active in Minneapolis and hurled threats at the union movement. SWP members holding office in the General Drivers Union Local 544 helped organize a Union Defense Guard to protect the union hall against the Silver Shirts.

Result of Trial

The prosecutor described to the jury this act of self-defense carried out by a few dozen union meiribers and branded it – “a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence.”

Many other wild assertions Were made by the government, but it could prove only that the Socialist Workers Party advocates the abolition of the capitalist system and the creation of a socialist society and that the SWP is striving to win a majority in support of its program. These facts were frankly stated by the defendants at the beginning of the trial.

In his final argument to the jury, the prosecutor wrapped himself in the flag and called for a conviction in the name of the sanctity of family, home, church, school and nation.

The jury of four small businessmen, two farmers, two clerks, a banker, salesmanager, newspaper publisher and housewife voted to convict.

This crude thought-control prosecution of the Trotskyists was supported by the treacherous Stalinists. They spread the lie that the Trotskyists were “agents of Hitler” who had been imprisoited for “treason.” Today the Stalinists are victims of the same Smith Act.

Despite our irreconcilable political opposition to the Stalinists, the Trotskyists defend them against the present thought-control prosecution because the democratic rights of the whole labor movement are at stake.

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