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Fourth International, August 1948


World in Review

The Attack on Democratic Rights
Must Be Met by Labor Solidarity


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.6, August 1948, pp.164-166.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On July 28, Farrell Dobbs, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for President of the United States, sent a letter to Attorney General Tom Clark requesting a hearing on the listing of the SWP by the Department of Justice as a “subversive” organization.

The blacklisting of the SWP, Dobbs pointed out, “was gone without prior notification to our party, without a hearing, and without any specification of the grounds for such action.”

”Our party,” the SWP candidate continued, “objects not only to the arbitrary and unheard-of procedure by the Department of Justice in this matter but equally to the dictatorial principle of a political blacklist.”

This letter was written eight months after publication of the political blacklist. The American Civil Liberties Union had protested the procedure of listing agencies without hearings, and the Attorney General in response to this pressure assured the ACLU that a hearing would be granted any organization challenging its blacklisting.

Informed of this by the ACLU, the SWP immediately prepared to file its request for a hearing.

The reply of the Department of Justice came after more than two weeks’ deliberation. In an official letter dated August 16, Alex Campbell, Assistant Attorney General, speaking for Tom Clark, flatly declared that “the Department does not contemplate holding hearings in such matters, with or without specifications or charges.”

With this dictatorial refusal to grant a hearing, the Truman administration indicated where it really stands on the vital issue of civil rights in America. In his election propaganda, Truman attempts to pose as a champion of democracy. He has even paid lip-service to the struggle of the Negro people for equality, just as he has uttered critical remarks about the Taft-Hartley Law and promised to battle for its repeal. When it comes to action, however, this political representative of Big Business shows that he is no more liberal than Dewey.

Both Democrats and Republicans assure the voters they will defend civil liberties. But that is only campaign propaganda. As the reply of the Department of Justice to the SWP underlines, an election promise is one thing; carrying out that promise is quite another.

This contradiction between the propaganda of the capitalist politicians and their actions in regard to civil liberties is one of the many symptoms of the decay of capitalism. The contradiction stems from the incompatibility of the old revolutionary and democratic traditions of capitalism with the present-day utterly reactionary character of this economy. The struggle for democratic rights and civil liberties played a major role in the revolution that broke the chains of feudalism and freed the rising capitalist class from those fetters. The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights mark one of the highest points in the capitalist revolution.

This tradition became deeply imbedded in the United States. The workers and farmers of America not only still believe in these principles but they try to practice them and defend them from attack. That is why every capitalist politician who seeks office today finds himself compelled to tip his hat in their direction.

The progressive role of capitalism has long passed. Upon conquering power and clearing away the feudal rubbish, the capitalist class buried its revolutionary past, turned conservative and then arch-reactionary. The continued existence of democratic rights and civil liberties appears to the monopolists as a threat to their rule, for the practice of these principles opens the political arena to the working class as an independent force, thereby facilitating the rise of socialism, the coming new economic order destined to replace capitalism.

Consequently the world capitalist class tends to become more and more authoritarian arid dictatorial in its politics. The extreme expression of this tendency is fascism. In countries such as the United States where vestiges of democracy still exist, the growth of authoritarianism is expressed, among other things, in the shift of power away from the deliberative bodies such as Congress to the executive branch. During the Roosevelt administration, government by Executive Order increased alarmingly. The entrenchment and expansion of the military clique in America added a new and powerful force bolstering this sinister trend in American politics.

The ultimate victim of authoritarianism is the organized labor movement. Up to now this has been seen most clearly in Italy, Germany and Japan where the trade unions were crushed by the authoritarian state. The same pattern is now taking shape in America.

With the close of the war for “democracy” and “four freedoms,” Big Business opened up war on the domestic front against the labor movement. The first great victory the monopolists chalked up was passage of the Taft-Hartley Slave-Labor Law. This law is now being adjusted around labor’s neck like a hangman’s noose. Its full effects are yet to be felt, since the strategists of Big Business prefer to apply it step by step in order to undermine and disarm the opposition.

Having achieved this success, the next move was publication of the so-called “subversive” list of organizations who do not agree that the Democrats and Republicans provide the best type of government for America. This blacklist is a diabolical weapon in the hands of labor-hating politicians. It enables them to proscribe and persecute any organization which they consider even potentially dangerous to their monopoly of government office.

The organizations thus placed beyond the pale are denied their right to view the “evidence” on which the blacklist is based. They are denied the right to confront their accusers. They are denied their right to appear in court and argue their case. Now, as the case of the Socialist Workers Party reveals, they are even denied their right to a hearing by the combined prosecuting attorney, judge and jury that arbitrarily decreed them to be “subversive.”

The next step in this process of converting the United States into a military police state is the persecution of individuals courageous enough to hold opinions disagreeable to Big Business and its political flunkeys. Truman’s “loyalty” purge was the opening gun in the shameful witch-hunt that has since been waged.

At first the purge was confined to isolated individuals in government service who were “guilty” at one time or another of the “crime” of having read the Marxist literature that is available in any reasonably well-equipped library in the country, or of the “crime” of holding membership in an organization blacklisted by Attorney General Clark or of the “crime” of “associating” with individuals belonging to those organizations.

The objective of this purge is to terrorize militants and to lay the basis for more far-reaching measures. It is not a long step from making the reading of certain books a “crime” to the burning of those books. And it is an even shorter step from the purging of government employees to the purging of employees on any job in industry.

How far America has already traveled down this ominous road can be seen from the following two recent incidents, both of them of unusually dramatic character:

The first occurred at the South Philadelphia Works of the Westinghouse Corporation in Lester, Pennsylvania where Navy orders have been placed. On July 1 an engineer, Frank Carner, was informed that he was a “poor security risk” and at once escorted out of the plant. The company placed him on a forced leave of absence without pay. On July 12, a sheet-metal worker in the same plant, Herb Lewin, was treated in similar Hitler-like fashion. Neither worker was presented with accusations, charges or evidence by either the Westinghouse company or Navy Department officials.

Both men were well known militants of Local 107 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, CIO. Both men had worked during the war in plants handling government orders. No complaints had ever been lodged against them.

Local 107 reacted to these firings in exemplary fashion, if the company could get away with firing these two men, then no one was safe. At 2 p.m. on the day Lewin was ousted, the first shift held a meeting within the plant gates. After hearing complete details, the shift voted to stay out on grounds of the obvious violation of contract by the company. The second shift and third shift concurred in this action.

Local 107 mobilized to inform the entire labor movement of this outrageous violation of civil liberties and democratic rights. Telegrams were sent to the heads of the CIO and other union officials. News releases were issued to the papers. Paid spot announcements were placed on the radio.

The company took fright at this rousing demonstration of solidarity. On July 14, it reversed its position, reinstating the two men but transferring them to a “non-classified” section in agreement with the local union. Local 107 had won a heartening victory

This incident demonstrates that a militant defense by labor can push back the anti-labor drive. But the assumption of the company that it could get away with such firings reveals only too clearly what eventual victims Big Business had in mind when it inspired the “subversive” blacklist, the “loyalty” purge and the Washington witch-hunt.

The other incident is the case of James Kutcher, of Newark, New Jersey. This Purple Heart veteran of World War II lost both legs at San Pietro, Italy, after serving in the African and Sicilian campaigns. At the end of the war he took a job as a clerk with the Veterans Administration to help support his aged and sick parents.

On August 13, this disabled veteran was served official notice of “proposed removal from employment” within 30 days. The “charges” were membership in the Socialist Workers Party, making financial pledges to The Militant and associating with “persons, associations, movements, and groups designated by the Attorney General as subversive in nature.”

Kutcher did not deny these “crimes.” On the contrary, he proudly affirmed them and announced his intention to challenge this brutal invasion of his right to hold political views different from those of the Washington bureaucrats.

This sensational case reveals in the most dramatic way possible how far the government of Big Business will go in its drive against civil liberties and democratic rights.

What is needed today is a firm stand by the trade unions and all organizations and individuals interested in safeguarding these hard-won rights. If a vigorous defense is put up for Kutcher such as Local 107 put up for Lewin and Carner, the anti-labor drive can be dealt a heavy blow. The issue at stake is an important one. It begins with defense of the right of every working person to think and speak in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience. It involves the fate of all minority groups in America and their right to equality. And ultimately it affects the very existence of organized labor in the United States.

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