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Susan Green

Protest Ehrlich-Alter Murder

(5 April 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 14, 5 April 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The assassination of Henryk Ehrlich and Victor Alter by Stalin’s murderous GPU was protested at Mecca Temple in New York City on March 30 by some 3,000 trade unionists, socialists, liberals – and a sprinkling of capitalist politicians grinding their own axes.

Among the speakers at the meeting was William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, to whom Ambassador Litvinov had sent his letter of “explanation” of the murder of the two leaders of the Jewish and socialist movements of Poland.

The tone of the meeting had been set in a statement by David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and head of the committee which organized the protest meeting. Mr. Dubinsky said:

“The lives of Henryk Ehrlich and Victor Alter are shining examples of sterling and fervent devotion to the cause of their people. We dismiss categorically the absurd and wild charge that they were working for a separate peace with the Nazis. The effort to besmirch the character of these two martyrs, to cast black shadows on their fealty to the ideals of progress and humanity, is shameful and vile.”

James A. Carey, secretary-treasurer of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, who spoke at the Mecca Temple meeting against the violent opposition of the Stalinist contingent in the CIO leadership, struck a note of international solidarity of labor.

“I know of no men of independent though who have been persuaded that Alter and Ehrlich were guilty,” said Carey. “I have read and re-read the ‘explanation’ submitted by Ambassador Litvinov, and each time the explanation appears less convincing. Those who seek to defend these executions are reduced to the grim self-deception practiced recently by one columnist in the Daily Worker, who wrote: ‘These men were guilty or they would not have been executed.’ No apologist for any tyranny ever spoke more frankly. The Alter-Ehrlich case extends far beyond national boundaries. It cuts deep into the whole future of world labor. The Russian workers in the past have often joined with us in protesting injustices and persecutions in our own country. We have welcomed such demonstrations – in the cases of Mooney and Billings and of Sacco and Vanzetti. We ask them to see our protest tonight in a similar light. As a gesture not of hostility to Soviet labor but of concern for the future of world labor organization.”

Other speakers were Mayor La Guardia of New York, United States Senator James M. Mead and United States Representative Voorhis of California. It would have been in better grace and in the spirit of the sincere socialists in whose memory the meeting was called, if the meeting had been made strictly labor’s affair – excluding representatives of the capitalist class.

Professor Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological Seminary was the only speaker who even made mention of the scandalous Moscow trials. “Cynical defiance of the labor movement of the Western world which pleaded for the lives of these two labor men, refusal to give any plausible reason for their execution, all remind us of the Moscow trials years ago,” said Professor Niebuhr.

In justice to the labor movement of the whole world, the leaders of labor organizations speaking at the Ehrlich-Alter protest meeting should have taken it as an opportunity to denounce also those Moscow trials, the exile, torture and assassination of tens of thousands of revolutionary Bolsheviks by bloody Stalin and the murder of Trotsky by Stalin’s hatchet men. We must, however, note that most of these were disgracefully silent when Stalin was murdering Russian revolutionaries.

Green rightly said: “We do know this – that the lives and records and characters of Ehrlich and Alter thoroughly belie these charges.” But the lives and records and characters of Trotsky and the old Bolsheviks “liquidated” by Stalin for their revolutionary intransigence, speak far more loudly for themselves.

The Daily Worker and the Stalinist misleaders of labor have been getting high blood pressure over the mounting protest against the assassinations. These super-patriots who only recently were calling this an imperialist war out of no communist convictions but in line with the Hitler-Stalin pact, now condemn the Dubinsky committee for “deliberate efforts at corruption of the United Nations.”

In the crowd on the street around the meeting hall, arguments developed between Stalinists who seemed to have been planted there for the purpose of reminding people (who came to protest the assassination) that Ehrlich and Alter were just “a couple of Nazi spies.’’ These arguments did not go so well for the stooges.

In the course of the street arguments the Moscow trials were mentioned, Trotsky’s innocence was acclaimed again and again, and he was referred to as the organizer of the Red Army – which, of course, is NOT Stalin’s army of today.

This reporter left the scene as one good sized defender of Trotsky, using every restraint to keep his anger in check, shouted: “Without Lenin and Trotsky there would never have been a Soviet Union.” From the crowd came murmurs: “The man is right.”

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