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T. Stamm

Scottsboro – What Now?

Supreme Court Evades Issue – Workers Must Unite Forces

(November 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 47, 19 November 1932, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The decision of the United States Supreme Court reversing the decision of the lower courts and ordering new trials for seven of the Scottsboro boys has been justly hailed throughout the world as a victory for the victims, the entire working class and the fighting methods and prestige of Communism. What did the Supreme Court actually decide and what is the significance of its decision for the working class?

It must be remembered that the nine Scottsboro boys were framed on the fake charge of raping two notorious prostitutes, rushed through a farcical court procedure surrounded by a howling lynch mob and condemned to death before they had time to draw their breaths, so to speak. This legal burlesque is not unusual in the South. It is the “justice” meted out to our Negro class brothers. That is their share of democracy in the Republic, when the tiger deigns to play with its victims. Let a Negro farm laborer demand his wages – he is physically assaulted by his white boss; if he resists he is accused of rape and he is lynched. In its more merciful moments capitalism puts him through the paces of a masque which it calls a trial – before disposing of him.

Communists Prevented Lynching

Only the prompt and courageous action of the I.L.D. and the Communist party, in the face of a hurricane of vented a routine legal lynching. But the I.L.D. and the C.P. did more than merely provide a legal defense. They began to mobilize tens of thousands of workers, black and white, to demand the unconditional freedom of the nine boys. The Communists succeeded on the scale of the demonstrations and within the limits of this issue, in uniting the black and white workers. That is one of the happiest aspects of this struggle for the lives of nine members of our class. It is a long step forward toward the unity of the two races which is indispensable to the successful rising of the American proletariat.

The movement set afoot in this country found its echo abroad under the stimulus of the International Red Aid. Thousands of workers in the capitals of Europe demonstrated outside the consulates of the American capitalist colossus. In Chemnitz workers were shot down. Elsewhere police batons conducted an orchestra of capitalist repression against the international proletariat. The mother of one of the boys was hounded from France’s vassal states. Meetings arranged to hear her story of the Republic’s savage democracy were forbidden. The secretary of state stretched forth a long hand to stay the tide of working class protest. Like King Canute of old who tried to stay the tide he failed.

The Supreme Court decision is a recognition of this fact. It is a concession to the mass protest. In this sense it is a first victory. But at the same time it is a warning. The Supreme Court did not decide that the boys are innocent. It carefully avoided taking up this aspect of the case.

The Supreme Court Decision

The text of the decision states three grounds on which the lower courts’ verdicts were appealed; they were not given a fair, impartial and deliberate trial! (2) they were denied the right of counsel, with the accustomed incidents of consultation and opportunity of preparation for trial, and (3) they were tried before juries from which qualified members of their own race were systematically excluded.”

The text goes on to say: “The only one of the assignments which we shall consider is the second –; and it becomes unnecessary to discuss the facts of the case or the circumstances surrounding the prosecution –”. Cowardly decision!! To deal with the other two would bring these judicial fossils face to face with the real issues in the case. They would have to commit the Supreme Court and through it the capitalist class to an outright reactionary position resulting in the discreditment of this most sacred of the institutions of the capitalist class before the working class.

Or it would have had to decide in favor of the victims which would tremendously increase the prestige of Communism and working class activity generally. The only road it could “safely” take at the moment was the middle road of quibbling over legal technicalities. This it does most elegantly. It makes a parade of the learned justices’ erudition; it traces a devious course through certain aspects of the history of American law; it juggles with definitions in and amendments to the U.S. Constitution. And it arrives at the conclusion so obvious to all that the boys were not represented by counsel in the courtroom at Scottsboro.

The liberals are singing a hymn of praise to American institutions. They say that the Court has redeemed the prestige of capitalism. They prate eloquently of justice and fairness and fair play. They are confused to the roots of their thinking. And they are sowing contusion with a prodigal hand. The capitalist press is open wide to them now for this purpose. They are serving capitalism well.

Unfortunately a great many workers fall for this stuff. They have seen Hoover in action. They are familiar with the peaceful nature of their local capitalist institutions. But they still have faith in that solemn and august body of men who are chosen solely for their merit to sit in judgment on the laws enacted by congress and the states. To the extent that they believe this they will turn a deaf ear to the Communist analysis of this decision and reject the party’s call to action.

There is a growing number of class conscious workers who will not be fooled by this dubious maneuver of a capitalist class made cautious by a rising tide of working class protest. They will understand that the Supremo Court is a bulwark against any “left” deviations by legislative and executive branches of the government. They will see clearly that the battle must still be fought to its conclusion by the same fighting methods which have already resulted in one victory. Encouraged by this victory they will nevertheless see clearly the danger points ahead. They will remember that the retrial is scheduled for the same court under the same judge who first sentenced them to death. This will signify to them the necessity for an even greater protest movement on the part of a united working class.

For a Broad Movement!

These workers will look to the party to build and organize this movement. In this orientation they will be correct. The victory the party has already won gives it this right. Upon the basis of the movement already built the party will have to build a broad protest movement embracing the entire working class. The party must issue the call to build this movement. To date the party press confines itself to agitation. This is correct. But it is not enough.

The party must issue a call for united front conferences. The prestige it has won will give it the entry into organizations and a hearing before strata of the class which would otherwise be indifferent to its appeal. Workers imbued with confidence in the party because of its fight and its first victory will answer this call.

The united fronts must be genuine. They must be permeated with the spirit of working class democracy. No mechanical control! The workers suffering from the stifling control of the A.F. of L. bureaucracy will not stand for it here. And conversely this is the opportunity par excellence for the Communists to teach the workers what working class democracy really is. Let all participate and have freedom of discussion. What should the party fear? Time and the class struggle has given it the firmest position. To work!

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