Felix Morrow

Albert Goldman, Labor Defender

He Made History in the Trial of the Twenty-Eight

(20 December 1941)

Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 51, 20 December 1941, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2019. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Let me try to convey in a few words the conditions under which Albert Goldman delivered this final argument to the jury.

He had been preceded by a day-long speech by U.S. District Attorney Victor Anderson and that was undoubtedly the blackest day of the trial for the defendants. When Anderson got through, I believe that not one of the defendants had any hope left of anything but a blanket verdict of guilty on both counts of the indictment and maximum sentences.

Anderson’s was an utterly brutal speech, devoid of any hint of concession to the rights of labor; a speech aimed at evoking the most reactionary sentiments; not appealing to the jury but authoritatively demanding of it that it bring in a verdict of guilty for the sake of God and country. Either it shared his sentiments or bowed to his authority; in any event the jury was visibly affected by Anderson’s demand. What words could remove that jury from under Anderson’s shadow, we wondered?

What made Albert Goldman’s task appear so insuperable was that the impact of Anderson’s final argument upon the jury was but one of the many odds against us.

The procedure for choosing the jury, laid down by the Federal District Court, militated against us. The jury venire was selected, not from the general population, but by the court clerk and the jury commissioner upon recommendations from friends and acquaintances of theirs in the district. The venire was chosen almost entirely from the rural sections of the district. And these prospective jurors could not be questioned by defense counsel. All questions were asked by the judge. In a word, the procedure made inevitable a jury predominantly of small-town businessmen, and that’s what we got.

Unions were necessarily strange and alien to them. Even more so proletarian revolutionists. The habits and prejudices of a lifetime stood like a Chinese wall between them and us. Could we possibly make them understand, if only dimly, what we are really like, what we really stand for?

With all due respect for his judicial uprightness, and his manifest efforts to give us our formal rights in court, Judge Matthew M. Joyce scarcely made easier our task of acquainting the jury with our real ideas. The prosecution insisted on introducing as evidence against us Wintringham’s New Ways of War, replete with pictures and diagrams of how to make bombs, grenades and other weapons; actually the book is written for Britain’s Home Guards as a defense against Nazi invasion; but we had written a book review of it – and the judge admitted it in evidence. We had visions of the jurors deliberating their verdict and poring over those diagrams! Judge Joyce also admitted into evidence Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto of 1848; what its words, written about the Europe of 93 years ago, could conjure up in the jurors’ minds, we could only conjecture.

On the other hand, we were not permitted to tell the jury the whole story behind, the trial – the long series of governmental actions siding with AFL Teamsters President Daniel J. Tobin against Local 544-CIO, culminating with the indictment drawn up by the Department of Justice. Whenever Goldman approached this question, the prosecution jumped up to object and was sustained by the judge.

We imagined that the atmosphere in the jury box lightened in our favor when our main defense witness, James P. Cannon, was on the stand for two days, outlining in the simplest and most graphic terms our socialist ideas.

But then came Anderson pouring down upon the jury, and it seemed as if the defense testimony of Cannon, V.R. Dunne, Farrell Dobbs, Grace Carlson and the Minneapolis truck drivers who came to speak for us, were so many matchsticks swept away by the torrent let loose by Anderson. And whatever Goldman could do in his final argument, he would be followed by Assistant Attorney-General Schweinhaut: the prosecution has the privilege of both preceding and following the defense in final argument.

Such were the onerous conditions under which Albert Goldman spoke for two days, for a total of ten hours.

The speech, as those who will read it can see for themselves, is austerely simple in its construction. There are no tricks in it, nor flights of rhetoric. The secret of its great power is that it is an unadorned but carefully clarified explanation of what socialism is, what the defendants really stand for, in contrast to the dime-novel tale elaborated by the prosecution. Such was the task Albert Goldman set for himself: to try to make those twelve jurors understand who we defendants are, what we believe, why we believe it, and why we have a moral and legal right to our beliefs.

In a sense, Albert Goldman set out to make socialist sympathizers or half-sympathizers out of those jurors. The perfect civil libertarian may say: “I abhor to the death what you believe in but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” But the ordinary mortal, sitting as a juror, if he abhors to the death what you stand for, is fairly certain to vote guilty. Albert Goldman set out to get those jurors to cease abhorring socialism and, if not to embrace it, at least to recognize the sincerity, sanity and seriousness of the defendants and their ideas.

At no time did any of us hope for an acquittal. In the face of the capitalist court system, the jury-choosing procedure and the enormous advantage on the side of the prosecution, an acquittal was too much to expect. The most we could hope for was to convince one or two jurors sufficiently to get them to hold out against conviction – a hung jury, it is called.

We now know how near Albert Goldman came to that greatest possible victory. Information from jurors has now confirmed what the verdict itself made clear – it was a “compromise” between those who wanted to find all defendants guilty on both counts and several jurors who wanted to acquit us.

Why did jurors who believed us innocent finally agree to the verdict which acquitted all of us on the count charging conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence: acquitted five of 23 on both counts; but, in return for the acquittals and a recommendation of leniency, voted guilty on the second count charging conspiracy to advocate such overthrow? It must be said for these jurors that they felt the enormous pressure of the capitalist world upon them. One juror, the day after the verdict, told a friend he was "taking plenty heat” because the jury had acquitted Miles Dunne. How much more “heat” the jurors would have taken had they acquitted all of us!

In the few days that we had in that courtroom, we could not transform those jurors, who had never heard of our ideas before, into heroic martyrs ready to brave the vicious anger of the capitalist world. Especially on the very threshold of the declaration of war! If men and women who have been sworn socialists all their lives now succumb, how could we expect more from these bewildered jurors?

The plain truth is that these jurors, who wanted to acquit us picked up from their daily routine and suddenly confronted with this case, could ordinarily have been moved not an inch in our favor. It took the extraordinary capacities of an Albert Goldman to move them, not inches, but worlds, from their capitalist-dominated world into seeing distance of our socialist world.

Thereby Albert Goldman won acquittal for five of us; won acquittal for all of us on the serious charge of conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence; and won us a verdict of leniency which the judge announced guided him in setting the terms of our sentences on the day Congress declared war.

That was what Goldman did, and the fruitful consequences of that partial victory will be recorded in the glorious history of the socialist revolution.

Meanwhile, and for the education of future generations to come, there is this “by-product”: Albert Goldman’s great speech.


Last updated on: 26 March 2019