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T. Stamm

Scottsboro Verdict Must Be Smashed

(April 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 14, 2 April 1932, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The six-to-one decision of the Alabama Supreme Court upholding the death sentences of seven of the nine Scottsboro prisoners is a class verdict. It is necessary only briefly to review the case to prove this and to give the lie to the N.A.A.C.P. sabotagers, the socialists and their liberal supporters like the New Republic, all of whom have claimed that the verdict of guilty and sentence of death were the result of the hatred stirred up by the agitation of the Communists.

The nine Negro boys on their way to look for work were taken off a freight train and charged with stealing a ride. But, upon the subsequent discovery on the train of two white girls, the charge was changed forthwith to rape, which, in Alabama, is a capital crime.

The intention of the Southern bourbons to dispatch the boys with all possible expedition was clearly revealed by the arrangements made for and conduct of the trial. It was held on fair day in a court house surrounded by a lynch mob, held in check by promises from the militia that verdicts of guilty would be speedily forthcoming. The task of the prosecution was made easier by the collaboration of the N.A.A.C.P. “defense” lawyer who produced no witnesses and refused to ask for an acquittal. The trial required only three days. The verdict was guilty. The sentence was death by electrocution. The entire elapsed time between arrest and conviction was only fifteen days.

The decision of the Supreme Court upholds this verdict and sentence. It affirms that the trial was fair and impartial. It says that the militia which fraternized with the mob while it marched around the court house singing the Star Spangled Banner and stopping only to cheer the verdict of guilty “... was notice to everybody that the strong arm of the State was there to assure the accused of a lawful trial.”

The six robed and dignified justices found no ground for reversal in the speed of the trial, basing themselves on the precedent created in the speedy trial and execution of Czolgosz, the assassin of McKinley. It is true, they argue, that in the Scottsboro case, no one was assassinated (they intend to accomplish this en masse on May 13th); but, they say, “... we are of the opinion that some things may happen to one worse than death and if the evidence is to be believed one of these things happened to this defenseless woman, Victoria Price ...”

The verdict of the Supreme Court speaks the intention of the capitalist class to make a significant example of these boys: to warn the super-exploited, suppressed Negro masses of a similar fate for all who aspire to political, economic and social equality, and dare to struggle for it. It is the familiar answer of the capitalist class to all working class protest – the frame-up. The verdict is a class verdict. The case is a working class issue.

To this class verdict the working class must reply by a united, fighting, mass movement. The working class must close its ranks. It must say to the capitalist class that it will not permit nine of its members to be electrocuted. Through this case the white and black masses must begin to achieve the unity indispensable for the overthrow of capitalism.

The class verdict must be answered by a class fight.

For this the I.L.D. and C.P. must break through the shell of their isolation They must go to the masses with the proposal to unite on this one issue.

The logic of the situation leads with irresistible force to the tactic of the united front of working class organizations. Who refuses to see this understands nothing. The I.L.D. must appeal to all working class organizations regardless of political tendency for a united front on the one issue of the fight for the Scottsboro boys. Concretely, at the present stage. This should take the form of conferences, to work out systematic plans collectively.

The conferences, to serve this aim, cannot be replicas of the “united front” of the familiar Stalinist variety. They cannot be mechanically controlled. Presidiums and committees must be freely elected. Freedom of discussion and criticism must be the rule, not the exception.

Neither the prisoners nor the Communists, who alone can lead their fight, have anything to lose in such a united front. On the contrary, they have everything to gain. The cause of the prisoners, and with it the influence of the Communists, will reach masses of workers now inaccessible. In the fight the superiority of the Communist program will be demonstrated. The workers will see this for themselves: that is the only way they can learn it.

On the other hand, should the socialist and progressive leaders and their brethren of all shades and hues refuse to enter such a united front, they will stand exposed before their own rank and file, for what they are. In this way they can be made to reveal their true nature as misleaders who live on the division of the working class. In either case the Communists have nothing to lose, everything to gain.

Unfortunately the Centrist opportunists who have the leadership of the I.L.D. and the C.P. in their hands do not see this, do not understand anything. They are still obstinately playing with united fronts from “below”. At the time of this writing (Tuesday) they have not made any move to build a united working class movement. They have issued no call for conferences.

They have limited themselves to a call for a demonstration on April 6th. By all means let us have the demonstration. But also let us begin to build the working class movement without delay.

The execution has been set for May 13th. It may be postponed for a time because of the legal appeals. But even so there is not too much time. Mass pressure must be brought to bear on the Alabama Supreme Court, and, failing there, later on the U.S. Supreme Court. Mass pressure can give a weight to the legal appeal not contemplated by the judicial fossils of the juridical system.

Mass pressure can prevent a second Sacco-Vanzetti case, a second Mooney case. It must be organized. To this end we must work. The Stalinist policy of fulmination in the press, without a serious mobilization of the masses, will not avail. The comrades in the party should add their voices to that of the Left Opposition for the policy of a fighting united front.

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