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Minneapolis Case and
the CP Indictments

(2 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 31, 2 August 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Truman’s Department of Justice will cite the Minneapolis Labor Case, in which 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyist) were railroaded to prison under the notorious Smith “Gag” Act, as the precedent for prosecution of 12 leaders of the Communist Party (Stalinist) under the same Act, it was revealed by the July 23 N.Y. Times.

Trotskyists Jailed

Among the Trotskyists imprisoned in 1944 for their socialist anti-war stand were Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson, now running as SWP candidates for President and Vice President, and Vincent R. Dunne, SWP candidate for Senator from Minnesota. Dobbs last week denounced the latest use of the Smith Act as “a monstrous blow against civil liberties, another step in the direction of establishing a police state and thought control in this country.”

Although the Stalinists were vociferous supporters of Wall Street’s war and. publicly hailed the persecution of the Trotskyists, the N.Y. Times discloses that one of the government’s chief legal weapons against the CP leaders, how slated as the second victims of the Smith Act, will be the conviction of the Trotskyists.

Frank H. Gordon, U.S. special assistant attorney general, and Irving Shypohl, chief assistant to U.S. Attorney John F.X. McGohey, who obtained the indictments against the CP leaders, “seemed certain yesterday that there was definite precedent for these true bills” against the CP defendants, reports the Times.

“It was understood, unofficially,” says the Times, “that they would probably cite one group conviction under the Smith Act that has stood up in the Supreme Court of the United States – the conviction of 18 members of the Socialist Workers Party in Minneapolis, a Trotskyite unit, in 1941.” The SWP convictions are the only ones ever obtained under the Smith “Gag” Act of 1940.

Issue Was Free Speech

The Times further reports that “Mr. McGohey’s staff said yesterday that the convictions (of the Trotskyists) held up in the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1943 and that the Supreme Court of the United States has thrice denied motions for review.” The Times especially emphasizes that, according to members of McGohey’s staff, the “defense attorneys in the case of the Minneapolis Trotskyites argued in vain that their clients’ constitutional right to free speech had been abridged. This was overruled.”

The Democratic administration is again using the Smith Act charge of “advocacy of the overthrow of the government by force and violence” as the chief indictment. The Minneapolis Case defendants pointed out in their 1941 trial that this was the first federal law since repeal of the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 to make mere “advocacy” of anything a crime in the United States.

It was on these grounds that they appealed their cases three times to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unprecedented ruling, the Court refused to review the case, although it clearly involved the constitutional question of free speech and free press.

The Minneapolis Labor Case became the “cause celèbre” of civil liberties during World War II. It was compared most frequently to the famous case of the great Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, who was similarly railroaded to prison for his anti-war stand in World War I.

Labor Supported Case

Labor, Negro and civil rights organizations representing more than five million members protested the conviction of the Trotskyists and the subsequent cowardly and unheard-of refusal of the Supreme Court to take a position on this vital civil rights case.

Six months later, in May 1944, the Supreme Court decided to review the case of 24 officials of the German-American Bund, convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. This time – for avowed Nazis – the Court found their “rights of free speech” had been violated and all were freed.

During the four years when the Minneapolis Labor Case was the outstanding civil liberties issue in the country, the Militant and SWP warned that the Smith “Gag” Act was being sharpened on the Trotskyists in preparation for use against other working-class parties and finally the whole labor movement. The Militant of Feb. 26, 1944, repeated this warning in front page headlines when Stalinist Harry Bridges was cited under the Smith Act for deportation. Bridges at that time was giving wholehearted support to the government’s strikebreaking program and his case was finally quashed.

The revelation that the Minneapolis Case will be the legal basis for the CP prosecutions doubly emphasizes Farrell Dobbs’ statement last week: “Despite the hypocrisy, deceit and treachery of the Stalinist leaders, we have no intention of imitating their unprincipled abandonment of civil rights and outrageous treachery toward us during the war. We consider it our duty to fight, the present prosecution to the limit and to alert the entire labor movement to oppose it.”

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