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Harry Strang

Wrong on Mass Pressure Reader Says

(May 1935)

Letters to the Editor, The New Militant, Vol. I No. 23, 25 May 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Editor, New Militant:

When the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the verdict in the Scottsboro case, you published an article which, while it mildly reproved the International Labor Defense for not having organized “sufficient” mass pressure, gave it credit for having forced a reversal on the Supreme Court. Aside from the fact that the article failed to mention that Samuel S. Leibowitz played a leading role in the hearing before the Supreme Court (which the New Militant had predicted repeatedly was going to happen while the I.L.D, and the Daily Worker swore up and down that this one-time favorite of theirs was out of the case), the article misconstrued the real forces at work in the Supreme Court’s reversal.

Last week the New York Times announced that the Supreme Court had reversed sentence in the case of Jess Hollins, Oklahoma Negro youth sentenced to death on a rape charge after he was tried by a jury whose panel included no Negroes. The Times and the Daily Worker report that the Court cited its decision on Scottsboro “as precedent” for the Hollins case.

If one took literally the remarks in the New Militant article on the Scottsboro case one would believe that the Court had reversed because of the I.L.D.’s “mass” pressure. If one took literally the remarks in the Times and the Daily Worker on the Hollins case, one would believe that the Court is governed by “precedent” and then one could be confident that henceforth and forever all sentences will be no good unless there were Negroes on the panel. Neither of these conclusions is true.

The fact that the Hollins case was almost unknown until the Supreme Court acted, the fact that there was no organized mass pressure behind Hollins (not even the organized “masses” of the I.L.D.,) gives the clue to the truth about both cases.

Traditional economic oppression of the southern Negro masses has been trebled and quadrupled by the crises since 1929. There is profound discontent among them. The discontent has not yet been organized, except in isolated cases such as the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.

But any additional provocation would ease the task of serious forces seeking to organize the deep discontent already prevailing. And the Supreme Court, which views social problems from the viewpoint not of this or that capitalist clique or group, but from the broad viewpoint of the capitalist class as a whole, does not desire at. this time to give such provocation. Even where there is no organized mass pressure as in the Hollins case, it reacts to the threat of potential mass protest.

And this applies also to Scottsboro. Despite all the bungling and disruption of the I.L.D., despite the isolation of the Scottsboro boys from the Negro masses (not even the influential Father Divine who has replaced the gangster-lawyer Leibowitz as the I.L.D.’s current matinee idol, can swing more than a limited section of the Negro mass behind him), despite the pitiful isolation of the Scottsboro boys from organized labor which should espouse their cause, despite all negative factors, the Supreme Court set aside the verdict because it does not want at this time to precipitate a serious conflict with the oppressed millions of Negroes.

In the Hollins and Scottsboro cases, we have really the fruits of unexpressed, of potential protest ... of spontaneity, you might say. Think what a harvest we might have if every defense case coming before the courts had the backing of a united labor movement – if spontaneity were translated into organized protest. We will never get that through the I.L.D. and it is a misfortune that the New Militant, even for a moment, should have given substance to the illusion that the I.L.D. is not without its virtues.

The I.L.D. is the defense arm of the Communist Party, and that speaks worlds for its character. Whole sections of the labor movement, political and economic, which have no defense arm should long ago have united to create a joint defense body including many party and non-party viewpoints. This is the object of the Non-Partisan Labor Defense which is moving steadily toward that goal.


With fraternal greetings,
Harry Strang

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