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T. Stamm

The Annual Heresy Trial

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 7 (Whole No. 103), 13 February 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Almost a year ago, the party held a mass trial here in New York to show the workers – that “the Communist party will not tolerate any trace of white chauvinism within its ranks――”

The sacrificial lamb in that case was August Yokinen, a Finn, who had uttered expressions of anti-Negro bias. In a lynching atmosphere, the high priests, Hathaway and Moore, the prosecuting and defense attorneys, together offered up Yokinen to cover the failure of the party leadership to educate the party rank and file against anti-Negro prejudices. Yokinen was expelled. Immediately afterwards he was arrested by the vultures of the labor department and held for deportation. The party was forced to launch a movement to demand his release. Contrary to the expectations of Hathaway et al., this spectacle did not eradicate white chauvinism from the revolutionary movement. From time to time the Daily Worker has reported its manifestations.

The latest took place in N.T.W.I.U. A worker in the needle trades, Burns, has been accused of white chauvinism. A mass trial was ordered. It took place on Feb. 7th in the same hall in which Yokinen was read out of the party. In place of Hathaway as prosecuting attorney we had the notorious bureaucrat Ben Gold; in place of Moore, Alexander. The faces, the actors were different but the farce was the same. Gold spoke first. He made two points: he admitted, in anticipating the argument of the defense, that the leadership of the union was at fault in “not fighting insistently against white chauvinism”, but held it necessary to make an example of Burns to prove to the Negro masses that the union really means to unite the masses and wipe out white chauvinism. He asked for Burns’ expulsion from the union.

Alexander jesuitically argued that Burns was guilty but that his guilt was not as enormous nor as horrendous as Shylock-Gold had made it out to be. Alexander, following Moore’s line of a year before almost word for word, described Burns as a victim of capitalist class, ideology and of the leadership of the union which should have fought in the ranks of the union against “this poison”. He proposed in place of expulsion a period of probation in which Burns was to be assigned special work: in the coming strike he is to be in the forefront of the workers’ defense corps against the gangster attacks; he is to bring into the union an unstated number of Negro workers, and he is to sell a certain number of Liberators.

Then Burns took the floor to make a statement of denouncement. In Yokinen they had a meek lamb who agreed that he was all they said about him. But in Burns they caught a Tartar. Until he spoke, it was not clear what the specific charges against him were. It appears that Burns and a Negro organizer got into a personal dispute over a typewriter in the office of the union; that they had heated words, freely insulting each other which, by a process familiar to Stalinists, passed into blows!

With unconscious poetic justice Burns called Gold, Mr. Gold, accused him of discrimination in bringing only him to trial, criticized him and his fellow bureaucrats for not instructing him in what was white chauvinism and race hatred He also accused the Daily Worker of exaggerating his statements. It was remarkable that the hundreds of party members and sympathizers in the hall took this last charge as a matter of course. It was obvious that they were aware of the Daily’s policy of exaggeration.

Burns’ statement was really, though not intentionally, a terrific indictment of the bureaucracy in the union. Not all of Gold’s demagogy in rebuttal could cover this up. The blows Burns dealt were too telling. The workers’ jury brought in a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of probation with assigned tasks. Gold’s plea for expulsion was refused.

This is a good sign. It demonstrated that the Stalinists can’t always get away with such raw frame-ups. In our opinion, they should have brought in a recommendation to expel Gold from the union and along with him his fellow bureaucrats. Spectacles such as this do not and cannot eradicate racial prejudices. What is needed is, as the Militant remarked on March 1st, 1931, apropos of the Yokinen trial, “Education – an atmosphere free from demagogy, hypocrisy and incitement; an atmosphere created by teachers of the proletariat, not by terrorizers.”

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