Max Shachtman

Eleven CPers Guilty Under Gag Act –

A Blow at Democracy,
a Gift to the Kremlin

(24 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 43, 24 October 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed &anp; marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The trial and conviction of the eleven leaders of the Communist Party in New York is a first-class monstrosity.

If it a blow struck at the democratic rights and traditions in whose name the prosecution was conducted. It is a blow at the labor and socialist movements in particular. It is a gratuitous gift to the Stalinism it was designed to weaken. Any democrat, any worker, any socialist who allows his opposition to Stalinism to blind him to these facts and to their overwhelming importance is walking straight into a noose.

The trial was vicious in its foundation, its inception, its management, its conduct and its conclusion – vicious and hypocritical.

The prosecution was based upon the notorious Smith Act, a piece of reactionary and iniquitous legislation adopted by Congress for the purpose of depriving of their elementary democratic rights not only the Stalinists but any radical opposition to the present government and the capitalist system. It is an act under which beliefs, the mere advocacy of political opinions which are not popular in the government – not actions, but beliefs alone – are made a criminal offense. It is an act under which association with those who are responsible for such advocacy is likewise a criminal offense.

Decision Hits Beliefs, Not Acts

There is only one other country of importance in the world in which unpopular political beliefs and association with those who hold them are also a crime which the state punishes severely. That country is Stalinist Russia, where belief in “Trotskyism” or “Bukharinism” is punishable by a sentence of ten years – as the Smith Act provides – or by a virtual death sentence in the slave-labor camps.

The prosecution did not even bother to try to prove that the defendants had committed a single overt act to “overthrow the government by force and violence.” It confused itself to presenting evidence which, regardless of its intrinsic merit, was calculated only to show that the defendants believed In certain principles and views which they sought to teach others. Basically, the evidence of the prosecution centered around the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of the modern socialist movement, and the writings of Lenin and Stalin in so far as they derived, essentially, from those of Marx and Engels.

The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, after one hundred years, again becomes a criminal document. The United States government has made it one, and by this act it joins the ranks of those very few other governments in the world today, all ultra-reactionary, in which it is likewise criminal. The mildest and most conservative social-democratic organisation, which distributes the Communist Manifesto, is, formally, under the Smith Act, subject to the same prosecution.

The presiding judge sat with a straight face while the prosecution stood with a straight face and presented “evidence” of the “conspiracy” which would have been thrown out of the Court of any country in the world except those ruled by the most cynical totalitarian regimes. The prosecution proved to the hilt – mind you! – that the defendants had urged their followers to “concentrate” their activities among workers in the basic industries – steel, railroads, automobiles and the like. If such evidence were presented against the Stalinists, or any other political organization, in a trial in countries like, let us say, England or France, the whole population would be splitting its sides with laughter, which would not subside even after the prosecutor had been run out of public life. The same kind of evidence could easily be found to hang half a dozen socialist organizations in this country, and even many non-socialist labor organizations.

We cannot speak for all of them, but we can speak for the Independent Socialist League. And we call the attention of the prosecutor to the fact that the League concentrates its main attention upon recruiting and popularizing its views among the workers of this country, among the Negroes, among the most exploited and oppressed, and not among the members of the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the bankers and bosses of General Motors, DuPont, U.S. Steel. Is that surprising?

It Is Not They Who Can Fight Stalinism!

The prosecution of the Stalinists was and remains a piece of political hypocrisy, of political vindictiveness. The U.S. government worked hand in glove with the Stalinist party during the war. The President of the United States did not even hesitate to use the Stalinists – and with such glee, too! – to help him gag and subdue the labor movement. As for the collaboration between the government and the Russian owners of the Stalinist party – that is too notorious to need comment here. Now that the two governments are in conflict, Washington has undertaken a purely police action, conceived by a police mind, against the American Stalinists who remain, fundamentally, what they were during the war and before it; who believe arid advocate, fundamentally, what they believed and advocated during the War and before it. The only difference is this: during the war, the Stalinists were sub-leased by Moscow to the service of Washington; now the lease has been broken.

The American capitalist class knows no better way of dealing with the social and political problem of Stalinism than with police methods. What stupidity! What impotence! What a revealing sign of panic-mindedness!

If Stalinism is no danger to this great citadel of capitalism, why is the government so jittery? If it is a danger, if it progresses with its “concentration” upon the workers in the basic industries, why don’t the representatives of American capitalism also “concentrate” there and show the workers bow much superior to Stalinism they are in every social and political respect? Why don’t they fight this political movement politically – instead of with the end of a nightstick, the way a cop fights the social problem of prostitution or juvenile delinquency? Is it because it can’t – even in the United States?

The trial and conviction, including the unutterably stupid sentencing of the defense attorneys, is a free gift to Stalinism. Only a provincial American politician, with his head boxed in by impermeable metal, can fail to see this. Perhaps not in the United States, or not to the same degree as in the United States, but in virtually every other country of the world the Stalinists will have a Roman holiday in their propaganda against the rival of Russian imperialism – American imperialism. There is not a single democratic or half-democratic country in the world where people, including the mass of anti-Stalinists, can be convinced of the democracy or justice in. prosecuting, and imprisoning Stalinists for advocating their beliefs – not one! There is not a single democratic or half-democratic country in the world where Stalinists run such a risk for advocating their beliefs – not one! The American ruling class, its government and its courts, have given international Stalinism a new weapon. Messrs. Smith, Truman, Clark, McGohey and Medina may congratulate each other on their high degree of political cleverness. As for ourselves, we expected nothing more intelligent from our reactionary and bankrupt ruling class. We do not call upon it to fight Stalinism, we do not expect it to fight Stalinism in any way that would contribute to social progress, to the maintenance and expansion of democratic rights. The trial of the Stalinists is only the latest proof of its incapacity.

Smash the Smith Act – To Defend Democracy!

It goes without saying that we do not have the slightest solidarity or sympathy with the Stalinist leaders, and it is not they who are our concern. We know these gentlemen for what they really are.

We have not forgotten how these hounds bayed for the blood of the Minneapolis defendants who were tried in 1941 under the same Smith Act. We have not forgotten how they clamored their approval of the countless bloodbaths their Russian masters organized and still organize against working-class and revolutionary critics and opponents of the Moscow tyranny. We knew these professional exploiters of the labor movement, who are in it but not of it. We know that the life and progress of the working class and of socialism depends in large measure upon the death and destruction of Stalinist totalitarianism.

But that does not and cannot mean that we turn over the job of crushing Stalinism to the capitalist class, to its police agents and its police methods, or that we approve turning it over to them. The basis on which they deal with Stalinism, the way they deal with it – are a menace to the working class, its movement, its interests and hopes. And those are things we are concerned with.

In complete independence of the Stalinists and in opposition to them, it is the duty of every supporter of the working-class movement, of every socialist, even of every democrat who is not in the labor movement, to combat all that is so clearly reactionary in the prosecution of the Stalinists, all that is so clearly directed against our democratic rights, above all against the very basis of the prosecution – the infamous Smith Act.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 21 August 2021