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Final Argument

Albert Goldman Explains to the Jury

The Conditions Under Which
the Unionists Organized Defense Guard

Everyone Knew that Fascist and Vigilante Groups
Were Preparing to Attack Union and Its Leaders

(November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 1, 3 January 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is the third installment of the historic final argument delivered at tlie Minneapolis “sedition” trial by Albert Goldman, chief defense counsel and one of the leading defendants.


I shall now deal, with the question of the Union Defense Guard of Local 544. What relationship did the existence of this Union Defense Guard of the Minneapolis truck drivers have to our proposal for a Workers Defense Guard? The idea of a Workers Defense Guard, as has been explained to you, is not something new. It has not only been propagated by us, but we have actually, on certain occasions, created a defense guard to defend our meetings against Stalinist and fascist hoodlums. As a matter of fact, there have been defense guards ever since the socialist movement began, because there have always been elements who wanted to use violence against socialists.

And when a situation arose in Minneapolis which demanded the formation of some kind of defense organization to defend the right of union men to hold their meetings undisturbed and to protect the halls and property of the union, our members, trained in the idea of having defense guards, naturally thought of creating such a guard to protect the interests of Local 544.

Members of out party are superior to the average worker, if they are superior at all, because they have a certain theory as to the basis of their activities, and this theory enables them to predict and act upon their predictions. The average worker lives from day to day – he works, earns his living, is thrown out of his job, goes on relief, has children and tries to feed them. He is unable as yet to generalize the reasons for his difficulties. A member of the Socialist Workers Party thinks in general terms about the situation of the workers in society. He is trained to understand that his life is bound up with the life of his class.

As I said, we have a theory of society, and on the basis of that theory, we are able to predict that certain people will act in a certain way. We know, for instance, that the fascists will at one time or another make an attempt to destroy the unions. When our members saw in the Minneapolis newspapers in 1938 reports that the Silver Shirts were organizing, they also understood that the Silver Shirts were not organizing to benefit the trade unions, but to destroy them. Our members immediately considered what to do to defend the union hall, the union property and the union meetings against the attacks of the Silver Shirts. Whereas the average worker does not think of the future, our members do.

Yesterday, in his argument, Mr. Anderson made a very peculiar remark. “What business,” he asked, “is it of theirs to bring the history of the Russian Revolution into the United States?” I am sorry that Mr. Anderson is puzzled by that, but our party members are taught to study everything that happens in the world. What happens in Russia, in England, in Africa, is our business. We do not believe that the United States can be separated from the rest of the world. It is part of the world, and whatever happens in any section of the world affects us. We studied what the fascists did in Germany and in Italy, and because we studied the activities of the fascists there, we know what the activities of the American fascists will be here. And we teach the workers not to wait until the fascists succeed here, as they succeeded in Germany and Italy. We teach workers to organize their Workers Defense Guards and prevent the fascists from doing here what they did in other countries.

Why Local 544 Formed a Union Defense Guard

Why did Local 544 and not any other union in Minneapolis organize a Union Defense Guard? Everyone knows that Local 544 is the most important union in Minneapolis. It was considered the arch-enemy of the reactionary employers and of the fascists, and everyone with any common sense understood that when fascists were organizing in Minneapolis, they would attack 544 first of all. Our members understood that and that is why Local 544 took the initiative and organized the Union Defense Guard. But it must be remembered that they invited the members of other unions to participate in this defense guard.

The Undisputed Fact About the Guard

The government witnesses practically proved everything we wanted to prove to the jury on the question of the Union Defense Guard. The evidence on that question was the greatest dud that the government produced. I am only amazed that the prosecutors still insist on injecting the question of the Union Defense Guard into this case. Were they really fair-minded, they would openly state to the jury that the Union Defense Guard is not to be considered by the jury as evidence against the defendants. Their failure to do so is another indication to me that the prosecutors are unable to act independently in this case, and must follow orders of people higher up.

By the testimony of the government witnesses it has been proved that the Union Defense Guard was organized at the time the Silver Shirts became active in Minneapolis late in the summer of 1938. Our evidence that the Minneapolis newspapers carried news items describing the activities of the Silver Shirts has not and cannot be denied. All the government witnesses, with the exception of one, testified that at the Union Defense Guard meetings Vincent Dunne and other defendants explained the necessity of organizing the Guard against the possible attacks of the Silver Shirts.

The only one who testified that Vincent Dunne told 150 members of the Union Defense Guard that the purpose of the organization was to overthrow the government was Elmer Buckingham. If you remember that witness, you remember that he was slouching and constantly looking at the floor. He testified that he did not remember anything about the ... Silver Shirts, but that he remembered Vincent Dunne, in the presence of about 150 men, state that the purpose of the Defense Guard was to overthrow, the Government of the United States.

All I ask is that the jurors ask themselves one question: Is it credible that Vincent Dunne, an intelligent individual, if he actually organized the Union Defense Guard to overthrow the government, would state this purpose, at an open meeting in the presence of 150 men? When one takes that factor into consideration and in addition remembers that no other government witness heard Vincent Dunne say anything of the kind, then it becomes clear how much credence can be placed in the testimony of Buckingham.

It is not denied by us that the Union Defense Guard had target practice. One government witness testified that target practice was decided upon as a form of entertainment. I do not even deny that there is a possibility that the members of the Guard wanted target practice with the idea in mind of training the members to shoot so that they could defend themselves against any armed attack. They had a perfect right to have target practice even if the intention was to learn how to shoot so that they could defend themselves against any armed attack.

Was the Guard Necessary?

Mr. Anderson asks why the leaders of Local 544 did not ask the government authorities for protection. Why was it necessary to organize the Guard? In the first place, even if a person notifies the authorities and asks for protection against a possible attack, he is not thereby prevented from preparing to defend himself. Local 544 could have notified the authorities and then proceeded to organize a Union Defense Guard. There was no attempt to conceal the fact that a Union Defense Guard was organized. The organization met openly. Many people in Minneapolis knew about the existence of the Guard. The Northwest Organiser, official organ of all the Minneapolis Teamsters unions, was full of news about it. And there can be no question but that the police knew about it.

Indeed the leaders of Local 544 did not have very great confidence in the authorities and did not rely upon them very greatly for protection against the Silver Shirts. It is evident to everyone that neither the city, nor the state, nor the federal government was favorably inclined to Local 544. Under such conditions the leaders of Local 544 would have been derelict in their duty had they not taken steps to organize a Guard to protect the members and their tinion.

That the Guard was organized, not for the purpose of overthrowing the government but to defend the union against the Silver Shirts, is proved conclusively by the fact that it was organized when first the Silver Shirts came to Minneapolis, and that it ceased to exist as a functioning organization in the spring of 1939 when the Silver Shirts no longer held meetings in Minneapolis. After 1939 the Union Defense Guard was called together only for the purpose of policing picnics or Christmas parties. Only the prosecuting attorneys can draw from that fact the conclusions that the Union Defense Guard still exists as a functioning guard organization.

Undoubtedly the members of our party in Local 544 took the initiative in organizing the Union Defense Guard. They prepared for any eventuality; and the fact that the Silver Shirts did not attack does not prove Mr. Anderson’s point that the Union Defense Guard was not organized to defend the union against the Silver Shirts, but simply proves that “an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” As a result of the readiness of the members of Local 544 to defend themselves, the Silver Shirts did not dare launch any attack.

The Union Defense Guard, the one issue which the government announced with great fanfare before the trial as indicating that there was a real conspiracy to overthrow the government by force, has been completely shattered, and by the government’s own witnesses. That the government has not honestly and frankly admitted its mistake is an indication, as I said before, that in this case the government wants a conviction regardless of the evidence.

What Is Our Stand on the Russian Revolution?

The prosecution was very anxious to prove two things about the Russian Revolution – one, that we consider it a great event and were consequently interested in it and, two, that we studied it in order to imitate here the tactics that were used by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.

I simply want to emphasize the one fact that should by this time be clear, even to the prosecution. The Russian Revolution was not the result of a conspiracy organized by a minority. It was the work of the immense majority of the workers and peasants supporting the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin and Trotsky.

Conclusive evidence of the fact that the vast majority of the people of Russia supported the Bolshevik Party is the successful struggle of the Red Army, organized by Leon Trotsky, against a powerful combination of forces consisting of Russian White Guards, the Czecho-Slovak army, Japanese, English and even American soldiers. Had the Bolshevik Party not been supported by 95 per cent of the Russian people, it could never have withstood such a powerful attack.

The second lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution, as far as this case is concerned, is that it was a minority of capitalists and landlords who began the civil war in order to prevent the majority from trying to establish the foundations of a new social order.

For us, the Russian Revolution is all-important because for the first time in history the masses of people actually took the productive wealth away from the capitalists and landlords. The foundations of socialism were created by the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately, historic conditions, which I am unable to discuss because they are not germane to the case, permitted a bureaucratic clique under the leadership of Stalin to usurp power and to crush every form of democracy in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Anderson advises the defendants to go to Russia if we are so interested in that country. It should be known, even to Mr. Anderson, that Trotskyists have no chance at all to live in the Soviet Union; thousands of them have been executed. The best army and naval officers have been executed and this is why the Russian soldiers, in spite of the most heroic resistance, have sustained defeats at the hands of the Nazi army.

MR. SCHWE1NHAUT: Is that evidence?

MR. GOLDMAN: No, that is not part of the evidence in this case. It may be disregarded by the jury. It is in evidence, however, that the Trotskyists in the Soviet Union struggled for democratic rights in that country just as we struggle for democratic rights here. Mr. Anderson should know that most of the defendants were born in this country and he above all should know that this country was built by so-called foreigners, by the Irish, Swedes, the Russians, the Hungarians, the Italians, by the foreign workers who slaved in the mines, who built the railroads, who created the most powerful country in the world, now in the hands of the Sixty Families and their satellites. He should know that the Swedes and Norwegians were the ones who settled in Minnesota and helped build up this state. It is indeed a shame that people who were born here or who were raised here and who worked here should be told to get out of this country by the prosecution.

The defendants, of course, as I indicated yesterday, are internationalists. We make no distinctions between races and nationalities. Wherever we are, there we fight to the best of our abilities for liberty and democracy.

“History repeats itself” is a phrase that is frequently heard. But that is true to only a very limited extent. History actually never repeats itself. We do not know what the conditions will be under which the masses of this country will decide to establish a socialist regime. We do know that they can never be exactly the same that existed in Russia in November 1917. Russia was largely an agricultural country with 80 per cent of the people illiterate, without any tradition of democracy. The farmers in the United States are not the same as the peasants of Russia. We have a right to hope that the higher standards of education in this country and the democratic traditions of the people will prevent the great tragedy that occurred in the Soviet Union subsequent to the revolution – I refer to the usurpation of power by the Stalinist clique that has crushed every form of democracy.

We Will Do What The Bolsheviks Did

What did the prosecution succeed in doing by introducing our articles dealing with the Russian Revolution? Has it succeeded in proving a conspiracy on our part to overthrow the government by force and violence? It has succeeded only in proving that we, like the Bolsheviks in Russia, aim to win a majority of the people of this country to our ideas. If that is a “conspiracy”, it will be a conspiracy of the vast majority of the people to change the present social order and to organize a government that will best protect their economic, political and social interests..

And should the minority attempt to use violence to thwart the will of the majority, then I hope that the masses will organize their Workers Defense Guard, just as the Russian workers organized their Red Army and just as the workers of 544 organized their Defense Guard to put down the violence of a minority.

It may be of some interest to note that this indictment was written subsequent to June 22, 1941, the date when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Since then there has been a very close and friendly relationship between the present administration and Stalin’s government. It so happens that the former American ambassadoj to the Soviet Union, Mr. Davies, wrote an article recently in a popular magazine wherein he claims that the Trotskyists were fascists and that Stalin did well to have them executed. It is indeed peculiar that, whereas Stalin accused the Trotskyists of being fascists, we here are accused of being revolutionists. Different governments have different ways of framing the Trotskyists.

Prosecution Is Forerunner of Fascism

I did not know whether to laugh or to weep when Mr. Anderson, in his opening address, accused us of being Marxists. I was tempted to laugh because throughout this country in every institution of learning there are people teaching history, sociology and even the physical sciences who consider themselves Marxists.

There are many people who claim to be Marxists. We may not agree that they are but at least they claim to be. And for Mr. Anderson to get up in a court of law in the United States and accuse people of being Marxists as if that were a crime is, to say the least, somewhat absurd.

But that accusation also had a very serious connotation. For it is in Germany and Italy that Marxism is considered a crime and where Marxists are exterminated.

I wonder if counsel for the government understood the full significance of their introduction into evidence of the Communist Manifesto. Their purpose in introducing the Communist Manifesto was, of course, to get the jury to convict the defendants. But that means practically banning a book which is being sold in every good bookstore in the United States, which is on the library shelves of every decent library, and which is studied in every university. For if we can be convicted for circulating the Communist Manifesto then, in effect, a ban is placed upon it. Hitler started the practice of burning books distasteful to him; and among the first books that he ordered burned were the books of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, including the Communist Manifesto. I do not mean Mr. Schweinhaut actually wants the Communist Manifesto burned but, in effect, by introducing the book into evidence, he condemns it and warns the world not to read or circulate it.

We Are Followers of Marx and Lenin

We, of course, must plead guilty to the charge of being Marxists. We are Marxists because we believe that the economic structure of society is the determining factor in social development and that man is a product of his social environment. We are Marxists because we believe that the productive forces of society have reached a stage where it is possible to produce everything necessary to satisfy the reasonable needs of the people; because we believe that capitalist society has reached a point when the people must either progress with Socialism or perish through Fascist barbarism. In essence this is now the meaning of Marxism and to this charge we plead guilty.

Lenin as well as Marx was dragged into the case by the prosecution. And again we must admit that we consider Lenin as one of the great men of all times. His greatness lies in that fact that he was willing to stand alone with a few people supporting him in his opposition to the first World War when the vast majority of the Socialists betrayed their principles and supported their own imperialist governments. Lenin in Switzerland and Trotsky in Vienna, in Paris and New York (he was expelled from Vienna and Paris during the war) both raised their voices against the first World War which they designated as imperialistic. Lenin predicted that the war would result in, a revolutionary situation in Russia. His prediction came true and when that revolutionary situation actually came into existence, Lenin and Trotsky took advantage of it and led the masses in the revolution that destroyed capitalism in Russia.

The Prosecution on Leon Trotsky

The arch conspirator in this case, according, to the government, is Leon Trotsky.

How absurd is the idea of designating Leon Trotsky as a conspirator! He has written three thick volumes on the history of the Russian Revolution; he has written innumerable books and pamphlets explaining his ideas about society and current events. Critics have recognized his history of the Russian Revolution as the greatest history penned by any man at any time. He is the type of man who, in addition to being a great theoretician and writer, could arid did also organize and lead a great army.

We guarded his life because he meant so much to the movement that the defendants represent. Five or six secretaries gave their lives to guard him. We spent thousands of dollars in an effort to shield him from an attempt on his life that we were certain would some day be made by the Kremlin dictator. We do not deny that he was the one who guided our movement in its general aspects. Many of us visited him in Mexico many times. We asked for his advice and he gave it to us, not on minor questions such as the organization of a Union Defense Guard in Local 544, but on major questions of world importance. He discussed with us the role that the United States is playing and will play in world affairs. His analysis of evidence and his predictions on the basis of that analysis will always remain as evidence of his remarkable intellect. To call him a conspirator is an insult to human intelligence.

Yes, We Are Internationalists

The prosecution charges us with being internationalists and, of course, we must plead guilty to that charge. For us internationalism is the very heart of socialism. We conceive of the world as an economic unit. No nation, no matter how wealthy or powerful, can separate itself from the rest of the world. We are not isolationists. We do not believe that it is possible to isolate this country from the rest of the world.

As I indicated to you before, socialism is a world system under which all nations and all peoples will cooperate to produce enough goods to satisfy the reasonable needs of every human being. Every country will produce that which it is best fitted to produce. If a country can produce good machinery then let it not busy itself with producing agricultural products. Let some other country best fitted for the production of agricultural products produce those products and exchange its products for the machines produced by another country. Peace will come to a world cooperating in this way, which will be made possible only by socialism, which will do away with imperialist cliques fighting for colonies and markets.

We reject the idea that one nation or one people is superior to any other nation or any other people. To us all human beings are equal. The prejudices that exist are a product of the social system and not inherent in human nature. The brotherhood of man will be made possible and real under a socialist society which will do away with economic conflicts.

Our party belonged to the Fourth International. But when the Voorhis Act was enacted making it illegal for any organization in this country to belong to an international organization, we obeyed the law and severed our connection with the Fourth International. We did not like the law; we were opposed to it, but as a minority there was nothing for us to do except to obey it and try to have it repealed.

Next Week – Goldman on the Trade Union Question

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