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Vol. 81/No. 16      April 24 2017

(Books of the Month column)

SWP fights against FBI ‘Cointelpro’ spying, disruption

Below is an excerpt from COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for April. It provides an in-depth look at the covert and illegal FBI counterintelligence program code-named COINTELPRO. Much of what is known about the decadeslong political disruption program is the result of evidence forced to light through a federal lawsuit brought by the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance against FBI spying, harassment and disruption. Filed in 1973 at the height of the Watergate crisis, the SWP and YSA won the landmark case 13 years later. Copyright © 1975 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
On June 17, 1972, five men were discovered breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The story that eventually unraveled — including spying and political sabotage — had an unprecedented impact on American political life. It eventually forced the resignation of the president of the United States.

The Cointelpro documents reveal that none of the Watergate crimes were original. The FBI has for years been doing the same thing — and worse — to the Socialist Workers party. Every one of the plumbers’ “dirty tricks” had been used for years by the FBI against the SWP, civil rights leaders, and others on the government’s “enemies list.”

As this country’s political police, the FBI has been assigned the role of determining what ideas are fit for the American people to hear and what ideas are not. Socialism, in their opinion, is not fit.

The ruling class, which runs the government, is convinced that it would be better for them if socialism were considered illegitimate or “subversive.” The idea that the working people of this country should take over its wealth and resources and use them for their own welfare is a subversive idea — if you are a capitalist.

In the early 1960s the witch-hunt that had dominated American politics during the 1950s was giving way to a greater openness to radical ideas. Socialists began winning a place on the ballot — and were more and more being treated as legitimate candidates with a particular point of view. The FBI decided that they had a problem. Cointelpro was their solution.

The Cointelpro plot to disrupt socialist election campaigns was concocted not because of any illegal activities by the SWP, but because, as J. Edgar Hoover said, socialist candidates were “openly” talking to people about their ideas.

The documents at the end of this chapter show that the FBI attempted to wreck the 1961 campaign of a Black socialist for Manhattan borough president, waged a sustained drive against Clifton DeBerry, the SWP’s 1964 presidential candidate, tried to get socialists excluded from supporting an independent Black candidate in San Francisco in 1964, and incited an attack on Fred Halstead when he was the SWP presidential candidate in 1968.

These actions are only part of the record of FBI sabotage against socialist candidates. And there are operations that remain hidden in files the FBI is refusing to disclose.

One Cointelpro operation that has come to light through the socialists’ suit concerns the 1966 campaign of Judy White for governor of New York. This was during the period when the antiwar movement was beginning to have a major impact on the thinking of the American people. White was a leader of the antiwar movement.

A broad layer of opponents of the war — including many radicals who were not particularly close to the SWP — had endorsed White as the only antiwar candidate in the race.

Campaign supporters worked hard to get the signatures necessary to obtain ballot status, which brought a significant amount of attention from the media.

The FBI looked for a way to sabotage this campaign. They noticed that according to New York law White was formally not old enough to hold the office of governor. The FBI tried to get this fact reported in the media in an attempt to discredit the campaign.

According to the documents, the FBI decided to rely on the Daily News to do the job for them, but the New York City CBS television affiliate did it instead. A copy of the transcript of the editorial broadcast by the station immediately following the election is reproduced in the files.

White recently read the Cointelpro papers relating to her campaign. “It was the CBS editorial that started the whole controversy that led to the passage of what was called the ‘anti–Judy White law,’” she recalled.

As the documents show, the state legislature soon passed a law altering the election code to require that a candidate be old enough to assume an office in order to run for it. …

The next set of documents concerns an FBI undercover plot implemented the previous year. The city was Denver, where the Socialist Workers party was fielding candidates in the elections for school board.

“In an effort to prevent these people from being elected,” the Denver office proposed to FBI headquarters that a letter be sent to the president of the Denver school board to “alert” him to the fact that socialists were running for positions on the board.

The Denver FBI included in its proposal to Washington an article about the SWP that had appeared in the Denver Post the previous year. That article branded the SWP “as both subversive and on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations.” The FBI likes the media to refer to the SWP in this fashion, and there is every reason to believe that the FBI was involved in writing that story. …

One of the main lessons of both Watergate and the Cointelpro papers is that the use of such illegal methods against political opponents cannot remain limited to socialists. If tolerated, they will inevitably be aimed at other forces in this society who run into conflict with the powers that be. This is an important conclusion to be drawn by the labor movement and others.  
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