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Final Argument

Albert Goldman

Goldman Discusses the Government Witnesses

Defense Counsel Analyzes Testimony of Government
Witnesses in the Minneapolis “Sedition” Trial

(November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 3, 17 January 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We must proceed now to analyze the testimony of some of the witnesses for the prosecution but I shall confine myself primarily, ladies and gentlemen, to only one witness. I confine myself largely to the witness who, in the words of Mr. Anderson, “continuously rose in stature during the trial until he reached way beyond the limit of the ceiling.” Maybe I didn’t understand Mr. Anderson correctly. Maybe he was really sarcastic.

There obviously are times in a man’s life when he changes his opinions about important questions. I would be the last man in the world to attack anyone who, after spending a certain number of years in the socialist movement, would finally reach the conclusion that the movement is based on a wrong philosophy.

James Bartlett, Chief Witness

If James Bartlett were that type of man, I would, of course, regret his leaving the movement. But I would not attack him. If he were that type of man, he would never testify against us. He could not possibly be an honest man and testify as he did.

From his testimony Bartlett can be designated as a careerist – a man only interested in carving out a career for himself. He goes from one party to another, always with the idea in the back of his mind of assuring for himself a comfortable living.

Why does he claim he left the Socialist Workers Party? Because he found out that we were advocating force and violence. On the face of it, that is unbelievable.

Bartlett is a smart man – he is not an intelligent man – but he is a smart fellow, there is no question about it. Under certain circumstances he would make a good business agent – better perhaps than most business agents. He can read. He testified that he wrote articles for the Daily Worker. Hie admitted that he read the Communist Manifesto before he joined the Communist Party. He admitted that he read State and Revolution by Lenin before he joined the Communist Party. When I asked him whether he knew that these two books advocated an armed overthrow of the government, he answered in the affirmative; that is, he knew that before he joined the Communist Party. He also admitted that he read a great deal of literature after he joined the Communist Party. He said he joined the Communist Party in 1932 and left it in the middle of 1933; and during this year and a half he read the literature of the party, he made speeches and wrote articles for the Daily Worker.

And then he states that he left the Communist Party because he found out that it advocated the violent overthrow of the government. So, after reading the Communist Manifesto and State and Revolution, the two documents which, in his opinion, advocated the violent overthrow of the government, it took him another year and a half to find out that the Communist Party advocated that doctrine!

Witness for Prosecution Proved a Perjurer

Then in 1936 he comes to Mr. Vincent Dunne, and according to Bartlett’s testimony, Mr. Dunne asks him to join the Socialist Workers Party. At that point I very quietly asked him: “Did Mr. Dunne tell you or give you to understand that the Trotskyists claimed to be the real Marxists as against the Stalinists?” Bartlett’s answer was yes. Consider Mr. Bartlett’s testimony! He says he left the Communist Party because he found out that it advocated the violent overthrow of the government. He comes to our party and knows, before joining our party, that we claim to be the real Marxists and he also testified that he read books by Marx and Lenin which, in his opinion, advocated the overthrow of the government by force and violence. It must follow, then, from Bartlett’s testimony that he should have known before he joined our party that we also advocated the violent overthrow of the government. But according to his testimony, it took him three years to find that out. He found that out early in 1940 when he left our party. He joined our party in 1936 or 1937 so it took Mr. Bartlett all these years to find that out.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, the dumb government witnesses who followed Bartlett – Novack, Harris and others whose names I don’t remember – testified that at every party meeting they attended there was a discussion in which the violent overthrow of the government was advocated. Violet Williams testified that she attended many meetings, heard many lectures, did not remember the subject of the lectures or the contents of the lectures, but she remembered in general that we advocated the violent overthrow of the government. So we have people like Novack and Harris and Violet Williams – not very smart – and they find out that we advocate the violent overthrow of the government after attending two or three meetings.

Bartlett – the smart fellow who read the Communist Manifesto and the State and Revolution before he joined the Communist Party in 1932, who, while in the Communist Party read all of the Communist Party literature and spoke for that party and wrote in the Daily Worker, who read many pamphlets while he was in our party – took three years before he found out that we advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

Mr. Anderson, for you to stand up now and say that you believe every word that Bartlett testified to would convict you of something more than sarcasm.

Let us go on. When, on cross-examination, I introduced certain statements made by Mr. Bartlett, I think that Mr. Schweinhaut and Mr. Anderson were overjoyed. It seemed that I had made a terrible blunder. I introduced the statement that Bartlett made when he joined the Socialist Workers Party; also the statement that he made when he campaigned in his own union against an opposition; and also the letter that he had written to the Star-Journal. The gentlemen of the prosecution did not catch the significance of those statements that I introduced. I did not care what Bartlett said about himself in those statements. But what 1 was interested in was one assertion that he didn’t make in any of these statements.

Bartlett claims, ladies and gentlemen, that he left the Communist Party because it advocated force and violence. Now, wouldn’t it be natural to expect that if that were the truth, he would say so in the statement giving the reasons why he left the Communist Party? The only reason that he mentions now for his leaving the Communist Party, he never mentioned in the statement in which he explained why he left the Communist Party. Is there any sense in that?

When Bartlett issued the statement against some of our members who were running in opposition to him in the warehouse union elections, he had already left the Socialist Workers Party. And according to his testimony here he left the party because he found out that it advocated force and violence. Where, in the statement he wrote in 1940, is there any assertion of that kind? It isn’t in that statement!

In the early part of this year Bartlett wrote a letter to the Star-Journal, a letter that I introduced in evidence. In it he claims that he left the Communist Party in the summer of 1934 and not in 1933 as he testified to on the xyitness stand. It is obvious that he was lying on the witness stand. It is obvious that he wanted to justify his statement from the witness stand that during the 1934 strike he told Dunne that he was out of the Communist Party. A liar, no matter how clever or how intelligent, finds it impossible to remember all the lies that he utters.

Why did he not, in the letter that he wrote to the Star-Journal, give as his reason for leaving the Socialist Workers Party that it advocated the violent overthrow of the government? There is not a single mention of that. He never mentioned his alleged real reason Tor leaving the party in any of the statements that he made before the trial. In the parade of perjury represented by the government witnesses, Bartlett “rose to the ceiling” and way above it.

Mr. Anderson did not know that yesterday or the day before yesterday he, himself, convicted Bartlett of perjury. 1 shall show you how. Mr. Anderson was examining Mr. Dobbs. He had in his hand either the ABC of Marxism or What is Trotskyism and he gleefully asked Mr. Dobbs: “Well, this was written in 1941, wasn’t it?” Mr. Dobbs answered: “That is right.”

When did Bartlett last visit the party headquarters? I asked him: “Was it March, was it February, was it April?” And finally he said that “It could not have been later than April 1940.”

Then 1 had to maneuver carefully – because Bartlett is a smart fellow – to get hint to admit that he bought “What is Trotskyism” and the “ABC of Marxism” in the party headquarters. He stated definitely that he bought them in the headquarters.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if the last time that Bartlett was at the headquarters was in April, 1940 and if the pamphlets – as is proved by.their internal context – were written after Trotsky’s death, were published in February or March 1941, how could Bartlett get those two books in the headquarters? Try to solve that riddle, Mr. Anderson.

Is there any question but that Bartlett is a perjurer? Would any witness for the defense guilty of such perjury be permitted to be free at the present time? There would be an indictment out against him, but Bartlett is a government witness and the government wants to prove its case regardless of the evidence and Bartlett, the greatest perjurer and the greatest liar that ever sat in the federal court, is permitted to go free.

AFTERNOON SESSION Friday, November 28, 1941

THE COURT: You may proceed.

MR. GOLDMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, by this time you know enough about our theory to understand that jt is difficult for me to speak with bitterness against any individual. By and large we hold that social conditions are responsible for the character of an individual and it is almost impossible for me as a Marxist to be bitter towards a government witness regardless of the depths of perjury which he reaches. That does not, of> course, prevent me from pointing out the false testimony which the government witnesses gave.

Most of the important government Witnesses – whose names 1 enumerated and who are directly or indirectly connected with the Tobin administration of Local 544-AFL – are helpless people who were motivated by a desire to get’ jobs in the local and they could only do so if the defendants were pushed out of their positions.

The One Thing That All the Witnesses Remembered

Those of the government witnesses who were former members of our party could testify to nothing about our program, with the exception, of course, that they testified that we advocated the armed overthrow of the government. I mentioned before that these people never remembered the subject or contents of a single pamphlet or party discussion, but always remembered that the defendants advocated the violent overthrow of the government. Mr. Eugene Williams, for instance, on direct examination remembered that Farrell Dobbs spoke at the first meeting he attended and naturally he also remembered that Farrell Dobbs advocated the armed overthrow of the government. On cross-examination he forgot that it was Farrell Dobbs and said that it was Felix Morrow, but still he remembered that, no matter who it was, the speaker advocated the armed overthrow of the government. And that’s all he remembered.

Another significant point. A great many of the witnesses claimed that Vincent Ray Dunne who, as the outstanding leader of Local 544-CIO, is more or less of a chief devil in this picture, discussed with them the question of what our party wanted to do after the passing of the Selective Serviee Act. They testified that they had conversations with Dunne about this matter long after they were, out of the party, even after they had fought in the union against our party members.

It looked peculiar, did it not, that Dunne who, you will all agree, is a highly intelligent person, should talk to people who were no longer members of the party and who were enemies of the party, about such delicate questions as inciting insurrection in the army. I think the jury must have seen the absurdity of that testimony.

Then something occurred which gave the whole show away. Sidney Brennan got on the stand and of course testified that he also had a conversation with V.R. Dunne, subsequent to the passing of the Selective Service Act, in which conversation Dunne told him that the party was trying to stir up trouble in the army. Assistant Attorney-General Schweinhaut asked Brennan the following question: “Were you on good terms with Mr. Dunne at the time of the conversation?” and Mr. Brennan obediently answered in the affirmative. It was so glaringly obvious that Bartlett or someone else realized the absurdity of the claim that Dunne spoke to these, people after they had ceased to be members and after they had ceased to be on good terms with him. It was therefore necessary to say that Brennan was still on good terms with V.R. Dunne. A minor point but very significant!

Another piece of testimony that shows how much perjury the government witnesses really committed was their story that the executive board of the union paid Emil Hansen’s weekly salary at the time he was acting as a guard for Leon Trotsky. This evidence, of course, could not possibly help the jury arrive at a decision as to whether or not the Socialist Workers Party conspired to overthrow the government by force and violence, but I presume the prosecution used it for some effect on the jury. But somebody had forgotten to coach Miss Hanifan, the bookkeeper of Local 544-AFL, and when I asked her: “Did you issue checks for Mr. Hansen when he was in Mexico?” she answered, “No.” This admission came from a government witness and now I suppose the government will be forced to contend that Mr. Hansen was paid out of the cash box.

In and by itself a minor point like this is not worth much but tvhen you take all the little and big falsehoods testified to by the goyerptnent witnesses, you have before you a case based on “witnesses whose testimony indicated one thing, and one thing only – they were not afraid of a possible prosecution for perjury.

Yesterday I argued that even if you would consider the witnesses for the government as absolutely honest, you should disregard their testimony concerning statements allegedly made by the defendants two or three years ago because you have far more reliable, documentary, evidence on which to base your decision. . But you are not confronted with honest witnesses. On the contrary, you are confronted by witnesses who are now officially connected with Local 544-AFL – some of them paid organizers, most of them having taken the positions of the men who are now in the prisoners’ dock – who were opposed to and fought the leadership of the defendants in 544 and whose testimony is shot through with falsehoods and perjury. There is nothing else for you to do but to give no credence whatever to this testimony.

The Documentary Evidence Must Decide

Mr. Anderson made much of the fact that most of the testimony of these witnesses stood uncontradicted and undenied. This is a common trick used by lawyers. If a witness for one side makes 500 statements and the witness for the other side denies only 450 of them; then the other 50, undenied, prove the case. Suppose I had put all the defendants on the stand and all the defendants had denied all the statements which the government witnesses claimed they had made; wherpin would that be of any help to you?

In this case, ladies and gentlemen, we are confronted with this situation: Either our program and our documents advocate the armed overthrow of the government by force a!nd violence, in which case we are guilty; or else they do not advocate such a doctrine, in which case we are not guilty. The individual oral statements alleged to have been made by defendants a year or two or three years ago should play no role. I do not try cases simply by denying statements attributed’to defendants. I prefer to get to the very heart of the issue.

The charge in this case is conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence. Was there or was there not such a conspiracy? The government has introduced more than 150 exhibits consisting of articles, pamphlets and official declarations. Let the jurors determine their decision by those and not by isolated statements alleged to have been uttered by some of the defendants two or three years ago.

Goldman Shows Real Motives of the Witnesses

The government witnesses organized a Committee of 99 to fight socialism in Local 544. That is what they claim. Samuel Johnson said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and if ever this phrase applied, it applies to the government witnesses. These perjurers wrapped themselves in the American flag, not because they cared a tinker’s damn about patriotism, but because in this way they think they can succeed in gaining a victory over the defendants. Their real motive was not to fight socialism but to get a few more dollars and get positions to which they could not be elected.

With great difficulty I succeeded in presenting the true motives of the government witnesses. It was the situation in the Minneapolis Brewery that gave the jury a clue as to their real motives. I do not intend to examine the evidence on that point in detail. You remember what the situation was there, the struggle between the executive board of the local composed largely of the defendants on the one hand, and government witnesses Holstein, Eugene Williams, Al Williams and Buckingham, on the other hand. You realized from the testimony of the government witnesses themselves that these people were participating in a racket. The government witness, Blixt, who worked in the market, was in the same boat. When I asked him whether, contrary to the orders of the executive board, he stopped farmers’ trucks from coming into the market, he tried to excuse himself by saying that he stopped only the “wildcat” operators.

It was a great racket for these witnesses until the Executive Board of Local 544 stepped in and compelled them to give up their racket of charging small distributors, who wanted a load from the Minneapolis Brewery, a minimum of four hours’ pay regardless of the time that it actually took to load the truck – whether it was 15 minutes or 20 minutes. You noticed that it was after the executive board compelled these witnesses to give up the racket that the Committee of 99 was organized to oppose the leadership of the union.

And this Committee of 99 could not convince the membership of 544, so the Committee invited the FBI to participate in the meetings of the Committee. The FBI, in fact, became part of the Committee of 99. This testimony comes from the government’s own witness and is uncontradicted.

Do not misunderstand me, ladies and gentlemen, I do not claim that the Committee of 99 was powerful enough to initiate and set into motion this prosecution – not Bartlett, not Tommy Williams, not these witnesses, oh no, men higher up, men who appointed a Receiver to take the defendants out of their jobs – these are the people who had the power to initiate and set into motion –

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: That is absolutely not true, if your Honor please.

THE COURT: I don’t think that is appropriate argument, Mr. Goldman; I don’t think it is appropriate argument in the face of the state of this record, and I don’t think you should pursue it.

MR. GOLDMAN: The Committee of 99 could not convince the members of Local 544 through argument. Is that in the record? Witness after witness testified that they had a chance to run opposition candidates. That is in the record. Members of the Committee of 99 testified here one after another to this effect.

The Defendants Built the Union

“Under whose leadership was Local 544 organized?” I asked some of the government witnesses. They had to admit that the union was built by the Dunnes, Dobbs, Carl Skoglund, Harry DeBoer and everyone else who is a defendant and connected with Local 544. From a membership of 200, the defendants raised the local to 6,000. Do you think any of the government witnesses were capable of creating this powerful union that exerted tremendous influence throughout the northwest area? Who built the Over-the-Road Committee? Farrell Dobbs. And these government witnesses, members of the Committee of 99, some of them unfortunate halfwits, are now in the offices that the defendants had prior to Tobin’s appointment of the Receiver.

“Were you elected to office?” I asked Sidney Brennan, who testified that he is now Secretary-Treasurer of 544-AFL. “No,” he answered.

“Who appointed you?” “Neal,” was the answer.

“You mean the Receiver for Tobin?” “Yes,” was the answer.

Why the Government Witnesses Joined the Party

Some of the government witnesses were at one time members of the Socialist Workers Party. What made these people join the party?

In commenting on the testimony of defendants Rainbolt and Orgon, Mr. Anderson said that had these defendants testified that they joined the party in order to get jobs, then he would have more consideration for them. Mr. Anderson doesn’t see the significance of his remarks. He seems to think that the government witnesses who testified that they joined the party to get jobs have thereby cleansed themselves of any possible sin they committed by joining the party, while Mr. Rainbolt and Mr. Orgon are still criminals. The conclusion is: If people join the party because of idealistic reasons, because they are convinced that the party represents a cause worth fighting and dying for, then they belong in jail; but if they join the party, in order to get a job, they should be released.

The defendants Rainbolt and Orgon did not know all the principles of the party when they joined. They joined because they knew the Dunnes; they knew Farrell Dobbs and Carl Skoglund and knew how honest these men were. Had there been, by the way, the slightest question of the honesty of the defendants in the leadership of 544, it would have surely been brought out in the evidence. No one dares impute any dishonest motives to any of the defendants –

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: Now, just a moment. I wish your Honor would instruct the jury that we could not have proved in evidence here that these men were dishonest except by criminal records, if any.

THE COURT: That is true. The jury will so heed that statement. Until a man proves his own character in evidence, it can’t be impeached or criticized by the government.

MR. GOLDMAN: It is in evidence that the union executive board did not permit racketeering. It is in evidence that all these government witnesses who testified that they joined the party in order to get jobs in the union, didn’t get jobs; that all the government witnesses who testified that they joined the party to hold their jobs, didn’t hold their jobs. The government witnesses finally succeeded in getting jobs in the union, only when the defendants, who built the union by their blood and their sacrifices in the course of many strike struggles, were pushed out and are now threatened with deprivation of their liberties. Take the testimony of all the members of the Committee of 99 and everything that I say will be borne out.

The government witnesses told the truth when they testified that they joined the Socialist Workers Party in order to get jobs. They probably thought that the Socialist Workers Party was like the Republican or Democratic parties. They saw the defendants in charge of a union and they thought they could get jobs by joining the party of which the defendants were members. Quickly, however, they were disillusioned. They didn’t get any jobs because men like the defendants don’t put people into jobs in a union unless these people are capable.

(To be concluded next week)

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