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Final Argument

Albert Goldman

Goldman Analyzes Real Aim of the Prosecution

Chief Defense Counsel Ends Final Argument to Jury
by Clarifying Issues in Minneapolis ‘Sedition’ Trial

(November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 4, 24 January 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Committee of 99 covered up its real motives in the fight against the leadership of 544 by claiming to fight socialism. The prosecution likewise conceals its real motives.

Since January 1938 when the party was organized, we have been issuing a weekly paper, a monthly magazine and many pamphlets, I am sure that the all-powerful Federal Bureau of Investigation must have been aware of these facts known to many thousands of people. It was not, however, until July 15, 1941 that the Federal Government indicted the conspirators.

On June 9, 1941 the members of 544 decided to disaffiliate from the AFL and join the CIO. A little over a month after that the indictment in this case was voted. The nearness of the two dates is a mere coincidence, the government claims, but it is certainly a very peculiar coincidence.

And why, pray, was the prosecution started in Minneapolis? The party headquarters is in New York. But the indictment was voted in Minneapolis and the government brought four of us from New York in order to cover up its real motives.

Was this case started in Minneapolis because a Union Defense Guard was organized in Minneapolis? The fact is that in New York the party organized a Workers Defense Guard which actually fought with the fascists and Bundists on the streets. The conclusion is inevitable: the indictment was brought in Minneapolis where the activities of the leadership of Local 544 incurred the enmity of powerful persons with influence in Washington, especially the enmity of one person whose name I am not permitted to mention.

Grace Carlson was a candidate for Senator in the fall of 1940. She spoke on the same platform with candidates from other parties. She spoke over the radio. Everyone heard her and not a single complaint was registered. Could it be presumed that the FBI and the whole government were asleep? No, that is not the explanation. The indictment came after the decision of Local 544 to secede from the AFL Teamsters International.

MR. SCHWEINHAUT: Are you willing to have me tell you why it was brought up, Mr. Goldman? [1]

MR. GOLDMAN: Sure, try to explain it. You cannot convince reasonable people, who know that for three and a half years the party carried on its activities openly and with its headquarters in New York, that there is any other explanation for bringing the prosecution in Minneapolis and at this time, except as a result of the fight in Local 544.

How the Courts Function

One piece of evidence I must mention because it was introduced by the government only for the purpose of prejudicing the jury. It was my article on the federal courts. Perhaps the government will contend that because I do not think the courts have as their purpose the protection of working class interests, I am therefore to be considered as one who would want to overthrow the government by force and violence.

I said in that article that under the present system the courts could not possibly give as fair a trial to a poor man as to a wealthy man. I didn’t blame the situation: on the individual judge; I placed the blame upon the system. A judge may be as fair as any human being can possibly be and yet when he fines a wealthy man $200 and a poor man $200, there can in reality be no equality between these two fines. It is not a question of the intention of a judge but of the operation of a system. I think that in the article introduced in evidence I gave an example of a case where some oil companies indicted under the Anti-Trust Laws were fined $5,000 and some workers participating in a strike fined $500. It was no difficulty for an oil company to pay $5,000 but imagine how difficult it was for a worker to raise $500. The injustice lies in the social system which the courts mirror. Real justice cannot exist in a world that permits such vast differences between human beings.

We proclaim that men are born equal but can it be said that the child born in a wealthy family, with all advantages assured him, is equal to the child born in poverty, deprived of the possibility of getting proper food and a decent education?

The Rank-and-File Defendants

I do not intend to consider in detail the evidence against the individual defendants. You already know that I did not try the case on the basis that some defendants may be more guilty than others. Still, as a lawyer not only for myself but for all the defendants, I wish to point put that the evidence against some of the defendants could not possibly justify a verdict of guilty, even if you should consider that the party is guilty of conspiring to overthrow or to advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence. The government is obligated to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that each one of the defendants not only joined the so-called conspiracy but knew the nature and object of the conspiracy. As far as I am concerned, as far as Jim Cannon and Farrell Dobbs and others who rightly can be considered as leaders of the party, we stand on the proposition that there could not possibly have been any conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence or to advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence. We stand on the proposition that our program, if rightly interpreted and correctly construed, does not and cannot mean that we are guilty of this kind of a conspiracy.

But who knows. Perhaps all that I said about our program will not avail us and I must therefore try to save from the clutches of the government those people who cannot be considered as leaders of the party, who joined not because they read the literature of our party but because from bitter experience they learned the truth of our fundamental principles, that in this world there is a class that produces the wealth of society and a class that gets all the benefit of that wealth. These members are not acquainted with all the theories of Marx but they are, as we call them, class-conscious. The government has not proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that every defendant knew and understood the nature of our program or the nature of the so-called conspiracy.

The fact that the government witnesses testified about certain defendants – that they said this or that about armed revolution – does not prove that those defendants knew the program. You must consider all the evidence from this angle: Did the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants were members of the conspiracy and knew the object and nature of the conspiracy?

The second count in the indictment is based on a statute which was passed June 28, 1940. Did the government succeed in proving that all of the defendants were members of the conspiracy subsequent to that date?

This, of course, is a minor matter but after all, if you believe the preposterous contention of the government that we advocated the overthrow of the government by force and violence, then you must make the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that all the defendants were members of the party subsequent to June 28, 1940. And the government must also prove that all the defendants had knowledge of the nature and object of the conspiracy. The government undoubtedly proved that the leaders knew what the party stood for, but in a legal sense they did not prove that all the defendants knew and understood the principles of the party.

SWP Members Denied Rights of Ordinary Citizens

If you accept the theory of the government with reference to the activities of the defendants, then you have this peculiar situation, that a person who becomes a member of the Socialist Workers Party has no right to do anything at all which every other citizen has a right to do.

A person living in the United States has a right to join a union and to participate in the activities of the union. A member of the Socialist Workers Party cannot join a union and participate in its activities because if he does, it will be used against him as evidence that he was a member of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Other people have a right to oppose the country’s entry into the war now raging in Europe, but if a member of the Socialist Workers Party opposes the war, he is immediately subject to the charge of conspiring to overthrow the government by force and violence.

The government has introduced evidence covering a great many activities of the defendants. What follows from this? A member of the Socialist Workers Party cannot be active in a trade union; he cannot oppose the war; he cannot propose the creation of a Workers Defense Guard to defend unions’ against fascist bands; he cannot possibly go hunting because he would have to purchase a rifle and that would be evidence of conspiracy.

Reporters, journalists, politicians, authors, could go to Mexico for the purpose of seeing Trotsky, but not a member of the Socialist Workers Party because his visit to Trotsky would be introduced into evidence against him.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party cannot advise people to read Marx or Engels or Lenin. Professors at the universities can do so but not members of the Socialist Workers Party. A member of the Socialist Workers Party cannot go to a New Year’s affair, organized by the Socialist Workers Party. Everyone else can attend such affairs but not members of the Socialist Workers Party, for that constitutes evidence against members.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party went to Mexico and attended a bull fight, and it is introduced here as evidence against him. Perhaps, because he may have learned the art of handling a sword and that would be evidence of a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence.

A member of the Socialist Workers Party has therefore only one right and that is to sit in jail and I presume even in jail he could be charged with a conspiracy to destroy the jail and the government. When Mr. Anderson, in his argument, made a statement that the Socialist Workers Party could do nothing that is right, he practically said what I am contending at present: That a member of our party has no rights except to be in jail.

Concrete Proof of Our Prediction

I must for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, go back to the question of whether we advocate the violent overthrow of the government, or simply predict that the social revolution will be accompanied by violence exercised by the minority. I want to give you an example taken from the evidence, proving that our prediction will undoubtedly be fulfilled and also proving that they who want to put us in jail because of our ideas are the very ones who use violence.

You heard Sidney Brennan testify that he is Secretary-Treasurer of Local 544. He admitted that he was not elected to that office, that he was appointed by Neal, Tobin’s Receiver. He admitted that the defendants were elected to office in Local 544 in the elections of January of this year. There was a fair election, a secret ballot and no one contested that election.

Who, ladies and gentlemen, practiced democracy in 544? Who used the ballot in order to get power in 544? The defendants.

Who are now in office in 544, ladies and gentlemen? The defendants who were elected? No, Sid Brennan, Bartlett and the other witnesses who could never get elected to office but who were appointed by Tobin’s Receiver.

Who practiced violence, ladies and gentlemen? Tobin’s goon squads. Who took defendants Roy Orgon and Jake Cooper off their jobs and beat up Jake Cooper? The minority who couldn’t and didn’t get elected to office in 544 organized their forces and exercised violence against the defendants who were elected to office and against the rank and file who elected the defendants to. office.

And we make the same prediction with reference to the change of the social order. The defendants will get a majority to accept their ideas and the minority, determined to retain their power and their privileges, will be the ones to use violence.

In the case of Local 544 there was no possibility of answering violence with violence. Against the State government, against the federal government, against the goon squads, the defendants were helpless. We had to submit, but if there is. anything that proves our contention that violence will come from a minority, it is this very example of what occurred in Local 544.

Where is this democracy that some people are willing to light for in Germany? Why didn’t the government give, the truck drivers of 544 a little democracy? Why didn’t the government suppress the violence of the minority? Why didn’t the government see to it that the truck drivers obtained the right of having the union of their choice? Hypocrisy and nothing else characterizes the case for the government! Frame-up and nothing else! The government is part of the Committee of 99 and belongs to the faction led by one whom I am not permitted to mention.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the heart and the essence of this case.

THE COURT: I think, Mr. Goldman, that we will have a short recess.


Defendants Seek Better Society, Not Personal Gain

MR. GOLDMAN: Before you, ladies and gentlemen, are people who are in this court room because they are dissatisfied. Dissatisfied not with their personal fortunes, but with the social system, with the evils that exist under the present social order.

I presume that by and large the defendants could, if they wanted to, solve their own problems in a very satisfactory manner. And perhaps we ought to be in jail because we have spent our lives defending what we thought to be ideas that could solve the problems of mankind. As for myself, who knows, maybe I could be a district attorney, perhaps even a judge. Perhaps Jim Cannon would be far better off personally if he thought and acted the way most people think and act. But we represent that type of person who does not think very much about his personal fortunes but thinks of mankind, of society in general.

The agony, the death of millions of human beings are not abstractions to us. We feel them keenly and we react to them and we try to create a world where destruction, and war and poverty and disease would not be the lot of man.

We have studied and our studies have led us to certain conclusions and we have banded together to propagate those conclusions. We proclaim to the world that if is possible to build a new social order guaranteeing every human being a decent livelihood and a chance to develop his individuality, free from economic worries, free from the dangers of war. We say that we have reached an epoch where mankind must go forward to socialism or else back to barbarism.

With great effort and amidst tremendous suffering, man has traveled throughout the centuries in the direction of a better world. Men have laid down their lives by the millions in order to permit future generations to cross over their bodies to achieve a world of greater freedom and more happiness. And throughout all history there have been men and women a little ahead of the procession telling the masses to proceed in a certain direction and to struggle for a larger share of the things that they create. And these men who have led the procession have had to pay for it – the prophets, Christ, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky – these are the men who fought for a new world and against them have always been arrayed the powers that be, the priests and Pharisees.

Yes, We Stir Up the People

When Pilate said, “I found no fault in this man,” the priests became more furious and said, “He stirreth up the people throughout all Judea.”

“He stirreth up the people” – almost the exact words that Mr. Anderson used against us when he said we stir up the people. And we cannot deny that we tried to stir up the people. We try to bring them a message of hope that a new world is possible and can easily be created if only they take their fight into their own hands, a new world where war and destruction will be unknown. But as I have indicated to you all our stirrings, all our messages, will be in vain unless we are correct in our general analysis, unless we are correct in our theory that the social system has reached a point of decline where no road other than the road to socialism will lead mankind into a peaceful world. All our pamphlets, all our papers, all our speeches will be for naught unless we are correct in our fundamental theory, and if we are correct in our fundamental theory, all the efforts of the prosecution to silence our voice will not avail.

The prosecutors, and those that give them orders, do not understand that to thwart our agitation it is only necessary for them to solve the problems of mankind. Do they think that by silencing the voices of a few agitators they can satisfy the people who will suffer the agonies of war and hunger that will come with economic dislocation after the war? In our place there will be thousands and tens of thousands who will follow our ideas.

Mr. Anderson, in his opening speech, referred to the attempts of the defendants to destroy organized society. Imagine calling a society “organized” that permits millions of human beings to be slaughtered, that permits poverty in the midst of plenty, that permits the spiritual and physical violence that exists throughout the universe! Chaos and destruction and death are not characteristics of an “organized” society.

Strength of Ideas Lies in Our Belief in Socialism

The strength of our ideas lies in the very fact that we are living in a thoroughly unorganized society. The strength of our ideas lies in the fact that our general predictions, based upon the laws operating in society, inevitably come true. At the beginning of the first World War we said that it would not solve any of the problems confronting the peoples. Who can deny that we were right? And now we say to the people of this country, “This war which your leaders claim is a war for democracy against fascism will not solve any of your problems because if the capitalist system is permitted to endure, the inevitable result will be fascism and more wars.”

We base our activities upon a theory that has withstood the test of time and events. In the midst of a catastrophic war that will necessarily envelop the whole world, in the midst of the roar of cannons and the shrieking of shells, amidst the sobs and the wailing of mothers, amidst tears and blood, we still have hopes that the people will come to accept the ideas of socialism. The darkness that surrounds us can be destroyed only by the sun of socialism.

What Your Verdict Will Mean

No matter what your verdict will be, it will be an historic one. Should it be guilty, then it will be an aid to reaction. It will, to that extent, aid the powers that are interested in preventing a change in the social order. It will not bring to a stop the struggle that is going on in society because, as I have indicated to you many times before, that struggle is a result of social conditions and not of our agitation.

A verdict of not guilty will mean that to that extent you are unwilling to lend your aid to the forces of reaction, that you are determined to live up to the Bill of Rights guaranteeing every minority in this country the right to free speech and free press.

We do not ask you to agree with our ideas. We have not asked you to do so once throughout this trial. We ask you only to understand these ideas and therefore to understand that we are not guilty of the charges leveled against us by the government. By a verdict of not guilty you will not only guard the constitutional rights of all minorities but you will help transform this chaotic world in a peaceful way.

The more democracy that exists, the greater the chances for a peaceful transformation. Do away with democracy, and violence will surely accompany the social revolution. What more can I ask of you than by your verdict to guard the Bill of Rights and help prevent the plague which is threatening to destroy civilization, the plague of fascism.



1. Assistant Attorney-General Schweinhaut, who followed Goldman in the final argument, never tried to explain it.

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