Fourth International, December 1942


The Attack on The Militant

They Collaborate with Fascists Abroad and Attack Freedom of the Press at Home

By James P. Cannon
National Secretary, Socialist Workers Party

Source: Fourth International, Vol.3 No.12, December 1942, pp.355-356. (Reprinted from The Militant of November 28, 1942.)
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.

During the same week that the American authorities clasped hands with the French Quisling, Darlan, in Africa and sought collaboration with the fascist Franco in Spain, here in the United States they took the first steps to suppress a bona-fide anti-fascist workers’ paper – The Militant.

As reported last week, the issues of November 7 and November 14 were held up by the Post Office authorities. Since then the November 7 issue has been destroyed at the Post Office on orders from Washington, and the issue of November 21, which carried a report and protest against these arbitrary actions has likewise been held up. We have learned from attorneys of the Post Office Department that The Militant has been subjected to these persecutions because of its editorial policies and criticisms of the Administration.

The Militant thus has the honor of being the first workers’ paper to suffer a reactionary attack on the freedom of the press, just as the Trotskyist movement was singled out for the first prosecution under the notorious anti-labor Smith Act. But the Trotskyists are hit first only because they are the spear-head of militant resistance to the developing reaction. These attacks against the Trotskyists are, in essence, aimed at all workers’ rights and against the labor movement as a whole. The entrenched reactionaries are feeling their way toward a general assault on the constitutional rights of free speech and free press. They want to silence all criticism.

The arbitrary, bureaucratic violation of The Militant’s mailing rights is only the latest in a series of actions against the Trotskyist movement in the United States during the past year. They all fit into the same pattern.

  1. In June 1941 FBI agents raided the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party in Minneapolis and St. Paul, seizing literature which was on public sale there. Three weeks later the Department of Justice secured indictments against 29 members of the Socialist Workers Party and leaders of Local 544-CIO. After a five-weeks’ trial before a jury which did not contain a single trade unionist, in Minneapolis in October-November, 18 defendants were found guilty of violating the Smith Act of 1940. These were sentenced to prison terms of one year to 16 months. Appeal of these convictions has just been heard in the Circuit Court at St. Louis, and will be carried, if necessary, to the Supreme Court.
  2. Several weeks ago the Department of Justice apparently sought to lay the basis of a new frame-up against us, when two FBI agents questioned me about a train wreck that occurred over a year and a half ago. The obvious implication of the inquisition was that Trotskyists engage in such acts of violence and sabotage, although the whole record of our movement, and its literature, prove the contrary.
  3. The inquisition about the train wreck fits in with the announcement that a motion picture of ex-Ambassador Davies’ Mission to Moscow – a brazen whitewash of the monstrous Moscow Trials of 1936-37 – is soon to be released with the obvious design to prejudice public opinion in favor of the hangman, Stalin, and against the victims of his frame-ups. The quasi-governmental auspices of this motion picture of the ex-Ambassador’s doctored book present a most sinister aspect of this affair.
  4. In the November elections this year the Socialist Workers Party ran as its candidate for US Senator from Minnesota, Grace Carlson, who had received almost 9,000 votes in the previous election. Although other candidates received their returns, the vote given the SWP candidate was uncounted and unrecorded by the election authorities.
  5. Now the Post Office authorities have struck at the mailing rights of The Militant without even specifying which articles or editorials are objected to.

To cap these crimes, news of these suppressions has itself been suppressed. The managers of the paper were not notified of the suppressions and were informed of them only after they had inquired concerning the non-delivery of the paper. None of the big capitalist papers has published reports of this blow against the freedom of the press.

Thus Trotskyists have been the first to be indicted and tried under the infamous and unconstitutional “gag” act of Poll-Tax Representative Howard Smith. The Department of Justice is apparently trying to devise a “train wreck” frame-up against us. A “propaganda” frame-up is soon to be unreeled on the motion picture screen. The SWP candidate in Minnesota is the first to be deprived of electoral rights. The Militant is the first labor paper to suffer suppression since this war began. Finally, the authorities have tried to suppress news of this suppression.

Such are the facts in the sustained campaign of prosecution directed by the Roosevelt administration against our movement.

In a featured article in the New York Times, Sunday, September 21, 1941, Roosevelt’s Attorney-General Biddle was quoted as saying: “Insofar as I can, by the use of the authority and influence of my office, I intend to see that civil liberties in this country are protected; that we do not again fall into the disgraceful hysteria of witch-hunts, strike-breakings and minority persecutions which were such a dark chapter in our record of the last world war.”

We could quote similar declarations of intent from President Roosevelt and other high officials of his administration.

These declarations flagrantly contradict the policy of persecution initiated by Roosevelt’s administration against our movement. Despite their promises Roosevelt and his aides have set their feet upon the path of persecution blazed by the Wilson administration in the last war. President Roosevelt takes up where Wilson left off: Attorney-General Biddle, with his raids and prosecutions, imitates Attorney-General Palmer; Postmaster General Walker suppresses socialist and labor papers like his Democratic predecessor Burleson; OWI head Davis suppresses the news of our suppression like propaganda minister Creel during the last war. They “use the authority and influence” of their offices, not to protect civil liberties, but to abridge them. Persecutions speak louder than promises.

The Administration claims that it is waging this war to defend democracy against the fascists and to preserve the four freedoms, among them the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But what are they actually doing? They attack free speech. They attack the free press. While dealing with Quislings and fascists abroad, they strike at genuine antifascists at home.

The uncompromising anti-fascist policy of the Trotskyists is known to every informed person. The Trotskyists of Spain fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco’s fascist dictatorship; they are fighting against him today while Washington seeks an alliance with him. Under terrible persecution the Trotskyists of France fought against Darlan and all the other men of Vichy. Jean Meichler, a Trotskyist leader, was executed by a Nazi firing squad in France. Leon Lesoil, leader of the Belgian Trotskyists, has just died in a German prison for fighting against the Nazis. The Trotskyists in Germany fight under the most adverse illegal conditions for the overthrow of Hitlerite imperialism.

Roosevelt’s Department of Justice knows precisely what we stand for. The leaders of our party explained our program and policies in full detail to the judge, prosecutors and jury at the Minneapolis Trial. This testimony has been published and distributed in thousands of copies to workers all over the country, all over the world in fact.

Our program and our record demonstrate that we Trotskyists are anti-fascist to the core. We are unremitting fighters in the interests of labor. We fight for the preservation of all democratic rights and civil liberties, against every form of inequality and injustice. As revolutionary socialists, we are principled opponents of the Roosevelt administration and criticize it from the standpoint of the socialist and labor movement.

These are our crimes in the eyes of the Administration, and they add to their crimes in attacking, us for them. The Roosevelt regime claims to oppose fascism but it collaborates, when expedient, with the fascists. It claims to be defending the four freedoms while trying to deny these freedoms to its political opponents. We Trotskyists, however, are defending democratic rights here at home against Roosevelt’s assault upon them. We are fighting for the freedom he hypocritically pretends to be safeguarding.

Warning to the Labor Movement

But we are not defending these rights for ourselves alone. We are fighting on behalf of the entire labor movement in the United States. We are only the first to be attacked. If the government can put through these initial moves without a wide protest, prosecution of others will surely follow.

If The Militant can be suppressed, any CIO or AFL paper can be likewise suppressed. If our party’s candidates are not given their electoral rights, other parties can be similarly disfranchised. If the leaders of Local 544-CIO can be convicted under the Smith “Gag” Act, this law will be used against other militant trade union leaders. If the FBI can succeed in their frame-ups against us, they will extend the frame-up system to others.

The persecution against the Trotskyist movement is simply the first step toward an all-out campaign against the militants in the trade unions and the civil liberties of all working-class critics of the Administration. The workers have already been denied the right of collective bargaining and the right to strike. Are they now to be deprived (by the powers that be) of the elementary right to express their convictions, to criticize the acts of the government and the reactionary plots of the profiteers, to defend their interests even in words? Wages have been frozen. Are civil liberties also to be frozen? The cost of living is mounting daily. Is the wave of reaction to be permitted to rise along with it?

These are the issues involved in our fight against the persecution of our party and the suppression of The Militant.

These are the reasons why our fight should be supported by the whole labor movement and every sincere believer in democratic rights and civil liberties.

Over 100 years ago, when William Lloyd Garrison started his famous abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, he wrote in its first issue; “I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I WILL BE HEARD.”

With this same spirit, we intend to wage our struggle against the censorship of today’s reactionaries. It is with this call that we summon to action every individual and organization determined to fight for the preservation of genuine democracy here in the United States.

Last updated on: 17.6.2006