Felix Morrow

The Minneapolis ‘Sedition’ Trial

(January 1942)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 3 No.1, January 1942, pp. 4–9.
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Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

I. The Verdict

The Minneapolis “sedition” trial was an unprecedented development in the class struggle in the United States. Never before has the federal government ordered a trial which was so nakedly a political trial, a persecution of the workers’ political movement. The political trials of the last World War were the most significant prior to Minneapolis; but they were limited formally in their scope; they were brought under the wartime Espionage Act and ostensibly were merely aimed at persons allegedly obstructing the war. In Minneapolis, however, the government directly characterized as criminal the doctrines of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, in the indictment and the prosecution arguments. In this assault upon the Socialist Workers Party the government stood out more plainly than ever before as a government of the capitalist class, persecuting proletarian politics.

As the capitalist prosecution marked a new stage in the class struggle, so too did the conduct of the proletarian defense. Never before in a labor trial in this country have defendants so deliberately, so systematically, defended their revolutionary doctrines, using the courtroom as a forum from which to proclaim their ideas; but simultaneously demonstrating that the defense of their doctrines was the most effective way to defend themselves against the charges, not only outside the courtroom but also in the courtroom. By this method the defense won from the jury important concessions, partial victories which enormously facilitate the task of rallying working class and liberal public opinion to support the Civil Rights Defense Committee’s appeal to the higher courts.

An analysis of the jury’s verdict will show how much the Socialist Workers Party has bettered the position of labor’s rights in this battle in contrast to where we stood when the indictment drawn up by the Department of Justice was handed down by a federal grand jury on July 15, 1941, and we went on trial on October 27, 1941.

The jury found all 23 defendants not guilty on Count 1 of the indictment. (Five of the 28 defendants who originally went on trial were acquitted on both counts by directed verdict by the judge for lack of evidence, at the conclusion of the prosecution’s presentation of the case.) Three important consequences resulted from rejecting Count I.

1. The jury thwarted the government’s attempt to use against the labor movement a statute enacted by Congress in 1861, aimed against the southern slaveholders.

Count 1 charged violation of this statute; the section of the statute adduced against us – used, incidentally, for the first time since its adoption! – makes it a crime to conspire to overthrow the government by force and violence. In argument prior to the trial (for dismissal of the indictment) our chief counsel, Albert Goldman, showed that the statute obviously was designed against attempts to overthrow the government in the immediate present, such as the 1861 rebellion of the southern states. Government counsel, however, stated that it was the position of the government that the statute applied also to any movement whose doctrines could be charged to indicate an attempt to overthrow the government at some time in the remote future. The full meaning of this extension of the application of the statute became clear in final argument, when Assistant Attorney-General Henry A. Schweinhaut called upon the jury to convict us because, although the Socialist Workers Party is a tiny party now, its avowal of the doctrines of the Russian revolution make it possible that, like the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, it could eventually grow to become the leader of a similar revolution here!

In acquitting us on Count 1, the jury, in effect, rejected the government’s attempt to transform the 1861 statute into a ban against revolutionary doctrines. The importance of this as a precedent is that the constitutionality of the 1861 statute as a whole is firmly established by Supreme Court decisions; a conviction under it would be much more likely to remain untouched by the higher courts than one under the hitherto untested Smith Act of 1940. In his final argument, Albert Goldman carefully explained to the jury the important distinction between conspiring to overthrow the government (Count 1) and conspiring to advocate overthrow of the government (Count 2), a distinction which the government, in extending the meaning of the 1861 statute, had refused to recognize. On this important question the jury aligned itself with the defense.

2. Furthermore, by acquitting us on this count, the jury, in effect, characterized the main section of the government’s case as a frame-up. The main purpose of the parade of government witnesses had been to secure a conviction on Count 1. These witnesses were to show the existence of an actual conspiracy to forcibly overthrow the government. This was particularly so in their testimony on the Union Defense Guard of Minneapolis, which the government attempted to depict as an armed force organized with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the government. It was under Count 1 that the indictment brought in the Union Defense Guard. Likewise under this count it was charged that we did “procure certain explosives” for the same purpose.

It is one thing to charge that the doctrines of the Socialist Workers Party constitute “seditious conspiracy”; that is a political persecution. It is something very different, it is a crude police frame-up, to charge that we obtained explosives and armed the Union Defense Guard to assault the government. “If the government persists in its attempt to make of the Union Defense Guard an organization aimed at destroying the government, then this whole case is nothing but a frame-up,” Albert Goldman told the jury in his opening statement; the government did persist; and the jury’s acquittal of the defendants on that count upheld Albert Goldman’s charge of frame-up.

Now Clearly a Civil Liberties Issue

3. The third and most important result of acquittal on Count 1 is that it left the case squarely an issue of civil liberties. The introduction of the charge of violating the 1861 statute, the “evidence” about the Union Defense Guard, the blood-curdling references in Count 1 of the indictment to procuring “explosives,” to soldiers under our influence who would “turn their weapons against their officers,” etcetera – all this had as its aim to picture the defendants as desperados and criminals and not as political prisoners. The liberal Attorney-General wanted at all costs to deny that the case was a civil liberties issue. Biddle, answering a protest from the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in his letter of September 4, 1941:

“You state from your examination of the ‘character of the evidence on which the indictment rests’ that the charges attack utterances or publications and include only one overt act – the organization of the workers in a defense corps. This overt act, however – arming workers to carry out the purpose to which the utterances are addressed – is clearly sufficient to remove the case from one involving expression of opinion ... You suggest that the facts show that the intent (of the Union Defense Guard) was merely to protect union property against threats of violence. But the indictment specifically alleges otherwise, and I am confident that it will be supported in the evidence.” So unconvincing was the evidence, however, that the jury aligned itself with the defense on this question and left Biddle in the extremely embarrassing position of having lost his chief prop for his claim that the case was not one “involving expression of opinion.” Let us note in passing that the liberal Attorney-General’s chief prop was an attempted frame-up. Even if we concede he was deceived by subordinates on the Union Defense Guard, Biddle avidly seized upon it – to show his liberalism!

As a clear-cut issue of civil liberties, the appeal to the higher courts will receive far broader support than we could have hoped for had we been convicted on Count 1. Unquestionably it was the jury’s absolving us of the charges of “procuring explosives” and arming guards which has encouraged The Nation and other liberal spokesmen to give their unqualified endorsement to the movement to appeal the case to the higher courts.

The Recommendation of Leniency

On Count 2 the jury found 18 of the 23 defendants guilty, but with a recommendation of leniency. That recommendation undermines the moral validity of the guilty verdict. What does leniency imply here? This was no case of crime committed by a young boy or girl under extenuating circumstances. The defendants were obviously in full possession of their faculties, and not a bit remorseful; indignant against their accusers; clearly determined to go on with their revolutionary work. Under these conditions what could a recommendation of leniency mean, except a formal registration by the jury of its disagreement with the ideas of the defendants rather than a condemnation of the defendants as criminals.

Such a guilty verdict is robbed of all moral validity. No wonder that Mr. Biddle and his associates – it is no secret – are chagrined by such a victory!

An examination of Count 2 renders the verdict still less defensible. Of what were the defendants convicted? Count 2 charged violation of the Smith Act of 1940, popularly known, during the fight against enactment of it, as the Omnibus Gag Bill; the justice of that nickname becomes apparent by describing Count 2. It lists five numbered acts which the defendants allegedly conspired to commit: 1. “Advise, counsel, urge” and “distribute written and printed matter” to cause insubordination in the armed forces. 2. “Advocate, abet, advise and teach the duty, necessity, desirability and propriety of overthrowing the government by force and violence.” 3. “Print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute and publicly display written and printed matter advocating” such overthrow. 4. “Organize societies, groups and assemblies of persons to teach” the same. 5. Become members of such groups.

The last three of these charges played no role. Count 2 was considered, by both prosecution and defense, as if it consisted of the first two charges – causing insubordination and advocating violence.

The jury could vote guilty or not guilty on Count 2 as a whole and could not indicate whether it held the defendants guilty on one, or the other, or both charges in the count. The recommendation of leniency tends to indicate that the jury did not consider the defendants guilty of both.

One of these two charges was so unsubstantiated that it should never have been submitted to the jury at all – that on insubordination in the armed forces. Albert Goldman pointed this out to Judge Joyce in argument for a new trial. For the only “evidence” on this point was some oral testimony by two government witnesses to the effect that one or two defendants had told them that soldiers should be induced to “kick” about food and living conditions. Judge Joyce’s answer was that, since “some” evidence had been offered in this point, he had been bound to submit the question to the jury. Federal judges may dismiss all or any part of any count in an indictment when in the judge’s opinion no substantial evidence has been introduced warranting the submission of the point in question to the jury.

Certainly it is hard to believe that a jury recommended leniency if it held the defendants guilty of such a serious charge as conspiring to cause insubordination in the army.

What Happened in the Jury Room

So far we have discussed the verdict and its logical implications. Perhaps even more devastating to the moral validity of the verdict of guilty on Count 2 is the story of what actually happened in the jury room, which has now been told by some of the jurors. There were three jurors who were ready to vote not guilty on both counts. Had they withstood the pressure, there would have been no verdict, but a hung jury, with a new trial – if the government had decided to go through with a second one.

Instead the jurors compromised. Those who believed us not guilty secured acquittal on the first count, acquittal of five on the second count, and a recommendation of leniency, and in return voted guilty on Count 2.

All in all, the jury’s verdict is scarcely one which the government can point to as a vindication of the government charges on which the trial took place. On the contrary, the defendants are in a strong moral position on the basis of which, even in wartime, great sections of the labor and liberal movement can be united in the appeal against the convictions


II. The Jury

No one connected with the defense, I believe, thought it possible to win from a jury a verdict of not guilty on both counts. With the prestige of the federal government backing the charges, with charges of such a character, with the given procedure in the federal courts, with the trial taking place on the eve of war, it was inconceivable that a jury could be found hardy enough to go against bourgeois public opinion and declare us not guilty. The defendants were not the only ones who held this view. Roger Baldwin, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, just before the case went to the jury, sent out an urgent appeal for funds for the defense in which he assumed that a conviction was coming.

A disagreement in the jury – no verdict – seemed more conceivable than a blanket verdict of not guilty. But those who believed us innocent accepted a compromise, instead of insisting upon a hung jury. Shall we criticize then for that? Perhaps. But let us also examine the real situation of the jury.

Here were jurors chosen by a procedure which made certain that no one sympathetic to labor would be on the venire. They were called upon to pass on a case which, they well understood, had been initiated by the highest circles of the United States Government; an Assistant Attorney-General, sent from Washington, was present in the courtroom to demand of them a guilty verdict. The defendants were revolutionaries committed to the overthrow of the existing order, that is to say, members of a small unpopular movement anathematized by respectable society. Over the courtroom was the shadow of the impending war – the defendants were sentenced the day Congress declared war against Japan. Under those conditions, it would have taken men and women of extraordinary calibre to stand up in the jury room on behalf of the defendants to the point of a hung jury. In truth it is more surprising that those who believed us innocent were not finally beaten down to submit to a blanket verdict of guilty against all defendants, on both counts, and with no recommendation of leniency.

The really significant fact is not that the three jurors compromised, but that the other nine were ready to agree to a compromise favorable to the defendants. A significant fact, for when the trial began these jurors were unquestionably steeped in hostility and prejudice against the revolutionary Marxists they were called upon to judge. That the jurors ended ready to show leniency toward the defendants is a tribute to the character of the defense conducted by Albert Goldman.

Consider who these jurors were and how they were chosen. The venire for a federal jury in this district is constituted as follows: The court clerk and a jury commissioner write to their friends and acquaintances in all the counties of this predominantly rural federal district, asking them to send in the names of persons likely to make good jurors. The court clerk and jury commissioner naturally write to “solid” citizens who, in turn, name the same type. Those named receive routine questionnaires which they fill in and return to the court clerk, who files them. When a court term is about to open and a venire is needed, the clerk gets out of the files the required number distributed almost equally among the counties, which means an overwhelmingly rural venire. In this case the judge called for a venire drawn from 33 counties, predominantly rural.

Nor was Albert Goldman permitted to question prospective jurors, as defense counsel are traditionally allowed to do. The procedure permitted questioning of prospective jurors only by the judge. Defense counsel could submit questions to the judge, who put some of them, rejected the rest. Thus defense counsel could not, by skillful, probing questioning, ferret out prejudiced jurors.

The defense was limited to ten peremptory challenges. After using up the first few, Albert Goldman could not but ask himself: “If I use up the rest, isn’t it almost certain, from such a venire, that I shall get worse than I already have in the jury box?”

And so this jury was chosen: a grain elevator owner; a small town newspaper publisher; a bank executive; a garage owner; a farmer; a farm laborer; a general store owner a general store clerk; a plumbing contractor; a hardware clerk; the wife of a courthouse janitor; a lumber company sales manager. Most of them from rural counties, and not a single person who is or ever has been a member of a trade union.

Visualize that jury and you will begin to understand Albert Goldman’s achievement in conducting the defense!


III. The Method of the Defense

The method of the defense will perhaps be best understood if we contrast it with the method which liberals and civil libertarians advised us to employ.

Retain eminent and respectable attorneys. Leave the strategy of the defense entirely in their hands, without “politically motivated” interference by the defendants. How would such counsel picture the defendants to the jury? As “harmless, theoretical ‘revolutionists’ innocent enough, foolish enough, to talk about overthrowing the government of the United States. To pretend that these people are a danger to this country is simply fantastic.” These words from a New Leader (December 20, 1941) editorial, protesting the prosecution, typify what such counsel would say to the jury: try to laugh it off at the expense of the defendants, plus an appeal to civil liberties.

This approach would include systematic objections by defense counsel to acceptance into evidence of any and all government exhibits from the literature of the Socialist Workers Party – objections designed to limit as far as possible the number of government exhibits, so that there would be as few as possible to explain away. Similar objections would be made to testimony of government witnesses. Each exhibit and item of oral testimony, at least the most damaging, would then be separately “interpreted” to persuade the jury that it isn’t as bad as it is painted. Government witnesses would be cross-examined on the same basis. Defendants would be called as witnesses only primarily to refute specific charges made by government witnesses.

The liberal method of trying the case would eschew any systematic exposition in the case, or in final argument, of the socialist theories of the defendants. Proposals by defendants to defend their doctrines would be frowned upon by the liberal attorneys as having no other purpose than to use the court for propaganda purposes. It might make good propaganda for socialism but would prejudice the jury against the defendants.

This, I think, is a fair presentation of the method that the liberals would use in the Minneapolis and similar cases.

Fallacies of the Liberal Method

There are two fundamental flaws in this strategy.

1. It does not cope with the fact that there are laws on the statute books making it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government by violence. When the New Leader, impliedly conceding the main contention of the government indictment, calls us “foolish enough to talk about overthrowing the government of the United States,” it leaves us with no defense in a jury trial against the Smith Act so long as that is law. When The Nation, while outspokenly calling for support to our appeal, condemns the prosecution as similar to Japan’s prosecutions of “dangerous thoughts,” it is in reality assuming that we, as charged in the indictment, advocate overthrow of the government by violence.

These liberal organs prove to their own satisfaction that the Socialist Workers Party is no danger to the government; and that argument may conceivably be accepted by the United States Supreme Court, for reversing the conviction by adopting the Holmes-Brandeis theory of “clear and present danger.” But that argument is in point only in appellate courts and on a motion to dismiss the indictment, prior to trial. Albert Goldman made that motion on our behalf. Judge Joyce rejected that motion – finding that there was a clear and present danger of the evils which the statutes cited in the indictment sought to prevent and therefore the statutes were applicable! We were then faced with the necessity of convincing a jury that we were not guilty of violating those statutes. The liberal argument that it is unjust to convict “foolish, unpopular, tiny grouplets” for advocating overthrow of the government by violence would get nowhere with a jury which is sworn to take the law as it is handed to them by the judge.

2. The liberals’ appeal to the jury to uphold civil liberties is not likely to sway a jury which has heard such a defense as the liberals would present. The jurors, as we have seen, came into the courtroom with the habits and prejudices of a lifetime standing like a Chinese wall between them and us. Unions were strange and alien to them – a hundredfold more so were proletarian revolutionists. The liberal method of presenting the case would not have broken down those prejudices against the defendants and their socialist doctrines. The perfect civil libertarian may say, with Voltaire: “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 in a doctrinal case, if he abhors to the death what you stand for, is fairly certain to vote guilty.

These reasons would have been sufficient to decide us to reject the liberal strategy. But even had the liberal method been efficacious enough to win us an acquittal, we could not have agreed to that kind of a defense.

To have defense counsel deride the potency of our doctrines, urge the jury to laugh at us as foolish doctrinaires and to let us go because we could never achieve our goal – such a defense would be little better than abandoning our principles for the sake of a possible acquittal.

Instead we employed a principled method which may justly be said to have been used for the first time in this country – certainly for the first time systematically and consciously.

We set out to get those jurors to cease abhorring socialism and to recognize and respect the sincerity, sanity and seriousness of the defendants and their ideas. It might even be said that, in a sense, we set out to make socialist sympathizers or half-sympathizers out of those jurors. The defense had as its main object to make those jurors understand what we are really like and what we really stand for. That could be done only by explaining to them, in the simplest and most persuasive terms, our beliefs and our hopes for the socialist future of humanity.

The Kind of Attorney We Needed

That method of defense necessitated a chief counsel learned in socialist theory; no other could skillfully guide defense witnesses in expounding the doctrines of the Socialist Workers Party, decide what questions to ask government witnesses, which government exhibits were satisfactory to the defense, and make an exhaustive final argument in defense of socialism. Indeed it would be impossible to carry out such a method of defense except under the leadership of an attorney thoroughly trained in Marxism.

There was one man above all in the country who had those qualifications: Albert Goldman. Friendly liberals pointed out to us that he was seriously handicapped by the fact that he was himself one of the defendants in the case; moreover he was a Jew facing a rural jury which might harbor anti-Semitic prejudices. These were facts which we had to take into account. Were Albert Goldman not a Jew and a defendant, perhaps he would have been still more effective with a jury. But for those reasons replace him with another lawyer? Yes – if the other lawyer were Goldman’s equal as a lawyer, as a speaker, as a Marxist. But in those qualities there is no lawyer alive who measures up to Albert Goldman. And by the time he had concluded his final argument all serious observers were agreed that the handicaps had paled away and disappeared as Albert Goldman established his moral authority in that courtroom.

The trial began with opening statements by both sides. After US District Attorney Anderson made his statement, Goldman incisively called the attention of the jury to the heart of the case:

“We shall show to you, by the very evidence introduced by the prosecution, that the Socialist Workers Party’s aim is to win a majority of the people for its ideas. And Mr. Anderson will have to convince you that that is criminal...

“The evidence will show that we were very, very interested in the question of trade unionism. We will not deny it. We instructed our members to be active in all organizations, particularly trade unions. Where people congregate, there should we be, to show the majority of the people that they, in order to solve their problems, must accept those ideas ...

“The defense will prove Mr. Anderson’s contention that we are opposed to this war, and the evidence will prove further Mr. Anderson’s contention that the defendants consider this war on the part of England and Germany and Italy, and the United States as an imperialistic war, fought for the economic interests of the small group of financiers and capitalists who control the destinies of these countries ...

“Those are ideas of ours with which the jurors may agree or not, but the evidence will show that every statement made by Mr. Anderson to the effect that we believe in sabotage is absolutely false. The evidence will show that so long as we are in a minority, so long as we cannot convince the majority of the people that our ideas are correct, we shall submit and we have nothing else to do but to submit to the government.

“Essentially the question boils itself down to this: Did we advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence? ...

“The evidence will show that we prefer a peaceful transition to socialism; but that we analyze all the conditions in society, we analyze history, and on the basis of this analysis we predict, we predict that the reactionary minority, by violence, will not permit the majority its right to establish socialism. That is the heart of the question!”

The rest of the trial consisted, so far as the defense was concerned, in proving these propositions.

Our Attitude to Prosecution Evidence

Goldman made clear to the jury that he welcomed all exhibits introduced by the government which were programmatic documents of the Socialist Workers Party, articles on policy in our press written by authoritative leaders of the party, resolutions of the party conventions or the National Committee, etc. He explained to the jury that the defense would introduce few exhibits since it would prove its case from the exhibits of the government.

The comparatively few objections he made to exhibits submitted by the government were clearly in protest against irrelevant or unfair items: a floorplan of the Minneapolis party branch offices, red flags and pictures of Lenin and Trotsky seized in an FBI raid on the Twin City branch offices; unsigned articles from our press which had no bearing on the issues, etc. Goldman also objected to the introduction of works by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky on the ground that, while we accept the fundamental doctrines of these founders of our movement, we are not idol-worshippers who accept every single word they wrote; hence their doctrines should be considered in the form in which they appear in the official literature and resolutions of the Socialist Workers Party.

Goldman followed a similar procedure toward government witnesses. He made no objections to their descriptions of the structure and history of the party, their recital of events at party meetings, their account of party activities in the trade unions, etc. As the reader of Goldman’s final argument will note, he made effective use of this hostile testimony in clinching important points, notably on the question of the party’s aims in the unions. Only where the prosecutors led their witnesses into fabulous tales of private conversations allegedly had between witnesses and defendants in barrooms, automobiles and house-parties, or government testimony was completely irrelevant to the issues, did Goldman object.

Likewise his extremely effective cross-examination carefully avoided any appearance of hammering witnesses merely for the sake of tripping them up. Much of their testimony he did not cross-examine at all, dealing only with crucial points such as their allegations about the Union Defense Guard and about statements by defendants advocating violence against the government. Goldman’s activities during the three weeks that the prosecution was presenting its side of the case clearly indicated his willingness to have everything brought in which would give the jury a complete picture of the doctrines and activities of the Socialist Workers Party.

The defense took only four day’s to presents its case. The party’s National Secretary, James P. Cannon, was on the stand for two days. Under Goldman’s questioning he gave the jury an effectively simple description of our ideas; under cross-examination he defended those ideas against prosecution attempts to pervert their meaning.

This was supplemented by the testimony of Farrell Dobbs and Vincent Dunne on the policy and activities of the party in the trade unions. Short but convincing testimony by six Union Defense Guard members on the nature of the organization, and testimony by Grace Carlson rebutting government testimony about statements allegedly made by her were other important items in the defense presentation.

The effect of the whole was not so much to deny specific government allegations as to describe to the jury the ideas of the Socialist Workers Party.

Whatever may have been the effect of the defense witnesses on the jury, in the end everything depended upon Albert Goldman’s final argument. For after the defense witnesses came the prosecution’s final argument, a day-long speech by US District Attorney Victor Anderson.


IV. The Final Arguments

On the eve of the trial, Attorney-General Biddle had issued a statement, presumably to conciliate protesting liberals, promising that the trial would be conducted in “a low key.” But Anderson’s final argument was an utterly brutal thing, 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’s sense of justice but demanding, in the name of constituted authority, that it bring in a verdict of guilty for the sake of God and country. The jury appeared to us to be visibly affected by Anderson’s demand, either because it shared his sentiments or bowed to his authority.

One felt that all the previous handicaps against us were revived in full force by Anderson’s vicious assault. I have not yet mentioned the handicaps imposed by Judge Matthew M. Joyce; he had scarcely made easier our task of acquainting the jury with our real ideas. I cite but a few examples. The prosecution insisted on introducing as evidence against us Wintringham’s book, New Ways of War, replete with diagrams of how to make bombs, grenades and other weapons; it is a book written to train Britain’s Home Guards to resist Nazi invasion; but we had written a book review of it and the judge admitted the book in evidence. We had visions of the jurors deliberating their verdict and poring over those diagrams! Judge Joyce had 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 Judge Joyce would not permit the defense witnesses to tell the jury the whole story behind the trial – the struggle between AFL Teamsters President Daniel J. Tobin and the Trotskyist leadership of the Motor Transport Workers Union, Local 544-CIO, and the series of governmental actions siding with Tobin, culminating in the indictment of the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO. Whenever defense witnesses approached this question, the prosecutors jumped up to object and were sustained by the judge.

Such were the onerous conditions under which Albert Goldman delivered his final argument, speaking for two days, for a total of ten hours.

His speech, as the reader can see for himself, 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 clear and persuasive explanation of what socialism is. The task Albert Goldman set for himself was to try to make those 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. He set out to move those jurors, not inches, but worlds, from their capitalist-dominated world into seeing distance of the socialist world of the future.

The obstacles in the way were well-nigh insuperable. But hour after hour, with an eloquence which lent restrained passion to his words, Goldman labored upon that jury, And, finally, his labors were not in vain. He won from them a partial victory, partial but rich with fruitful consequences for the preservation and building of the revolutionary movement.

Not the least of the fruitful consequences of this trial is the text of Goldman’s speech. It provides something which the American revolutionary movement has long lacked – an elementary exposition of the socialist outlook. Now we have it, not in a dry textbook, but in the dramatic form of a defense of revolutionists against the government’s attempt to imprison them for their ideas. Let us see to it that the new generation of youth, in whose hands is the power to put an end to capitalist slaughter, is given the opportunity to read Albert Goldman’s great speech. [1]



1. This article is the introduction to Albert Goldman’s In Defense of Socialism, the text of the first argument in the Minneapolis “sedition” trial, which will shortly appear in pamphlet form. A companion pamphlet is Socialism on Trial, by James P. Cannon, consisting of the official court record of Cannon’s testimony.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015