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Vol. 78/No. 8      March 3, 2014

 
(feature article)
‘Socialism on Trial’ – A clear
presentation of communist program
for workers’ struggles
Cannon’s 1941 testimony ‘lays out course of communist
politics and propaganda necessary for mobilization of
workers throughout all stages of development of
proletarian revolution in US’

A new, expanded edition of Socialism on Trial is being published by Pathfinder Press this spring. It will include a new preface by Steve Clark, a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee, and the introduction from the 1944 edition by Joseph Hansen, a longtime central leader of the party until his death in 1979. Also added are numerous photos and illustrations along with a glossary of names and events to aid the reader. Advance copies were produced in Spanish for presentation at the Havana International Book Fair in February. Printed below is the preface by Clark. Starting on the facing page is the introduction by Hansen. Copyright © 2014 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

BY STEVE CLARK  
Socialism on Trial
presents the full testimony by James P. Cannon given from the witness stand of a federal courtroom in Minneapolis over three days in November 1941.

Cannon was national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. He was also one of eighteen communist and Teamster leaders framed up and convicted that year on federal “conspiracy” charges under the thought-control Smith Act. That new club against workers organizations, making it illegal “to teach, advocate and encourage” revolutionary ideas, had been adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.

Roosevelt had a weighty “political reason for initiating prosecution,” wrote Joseph Hansen in his introduction to Socialism on Trial. “The administration, expecting momentarily to plunge the United States into the catastrophe of World War II, wished to isolate and silence the advocates of socialism so that their ideas might be prevented from gaining a hearing among the masses driven into the slaughter.”

In this expanded edition, we are including the 1944 introduction by Hansen, who was thirty-three at the time. Hansen was for several decades a central leader of the Socialist Workers Party, serving as editor of the Militant newsweekly and other publications until his death in 1979. His introduction tells the story of the Smith Act frame-up that led to the Minneapolis trial, as well as the broad political fight against it initiated and organized by the SWP in the labor movement and among other supporters of civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution.

“Never before in a labor trial in this country,” Hansen writes, “have defendants so unswervingly, so consciously, and so systematically defended their revolutionary program, utilizing the courtroom as a forum from which to proclaim it.”

That is what readers will find in Cannon’s testimony — a clear and forthright presentation of the communist program of the fighting vanguard of the working class.

On November 30, 1941, at the end of the twenty-three-day-long trial, the jury handed down its verdicts. Eighteen of the twenty-eight defendants, spanning the ages of twenty five to nearly sixty, were convicted. In mid-February 1944, as Hansen was completing the introduction, they had already spent a month and half in prison, jailed since New Year’s Eve. The six defendants who were given one-year terms served ten months and were released in October 1944. The remaining twelve, each sentenced to sixteen months, served a few days less than thirteen before walking out of prison on January 24, 1945.

A new Spanish edition of Socialism on Trial, published earlier this year makes available, for the first time ever in that language, “Communist Policy in the Minneapolis Trial: James P. Cannon Answers His Ultraleft Critics.” Originally published in English in the United States in 1942, it contains a sweeping criticism of the Socialist Workers Party leadership by Grandizo Munis, as well as Cannon’s response. Munis was a revolutionary socialist living in Mexico at the time, in exile from his native Spain since the defeat of republican forces there by Francisco Franco’s fascist movement in the late 1930s.

“Cannon discusses how revolutionaries defend themselves against attacks, inside the courtroom and outside,” writes George Novack in the introductory note to this exchange. Novack served as national secretary of the Civil Rights Defense Committee, which organized the defense campaign that reached out to unionists, Black rights organizations, farmers and farmworkers, and others to combat the frame-up and then to demand freedom and a pardon for the eighteen.

The communist policy carried out by the SWP leadership, Cannon writes in his answer to Munis, was an effective and uncompromising response to US government efforts “designed to outlaw the party and deprive it, perhaps for a long time, of the active services of a number of its most experienced leaders.”

But the response to Munis represents something much more than that, Cannon says. It lays out the course of communist politics and propaganda that is necessary “for the mobilization of the workers for mass action throughout all stages of the development of the proletarian revolution in the United States.”

January 2014

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