The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 24      June 23, 2014

New books ‘draw lessons from decades of
US class struggle, help prepare for battles ahead’
Havana book fair presentation discusses how revolutionaries defend
themselves in rulers’ courts, use dock to expose hypocrisy
of ‘capitalist justice’ and bring political program to working class
(feature article)
Two new books — Fifty Years of Covert Operations in the U.S. and a new edition of Socialism on Trial — have just been released by Pathfinder Press in both English and Spanish. Spanish translations of the titles were first introduced by a panel presentation at the Havana International Book Fair in February. Speakers included Luis “Lucio” Martínez Menocal, a retired general of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior; Elier Ramírez, a historian at Cuba’s Council of State; and Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee and president of Pathfinder. Rodolfo Zamora, assistant director of the Cuban publisher Ciencias Sociales, chaired the event. Printed below is Waters’ talk. Copyright © 2014 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Let me introduce our discussion with a few words about the importance of these books in the United States and why Pathfinder has kept them in print for decades. One of them, Socialism on Trial, has been in print for more than seventy years.

These two titles are in fact part of a trilogy that Pathfinder is presenting at this book fair. The third book is Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five. It will be presented here on Thursday, with the participation of René González, and I hope that many of you will be present.

Why a trilogy? Because all three books are about the same truth.

Neither the “capitalist justice” meted out to the Cuban Five over three US administrations — that of Clinton, of Bush, and of Obama — nor the exemplary way the five revolutionaries have acted in face of it, are something new for the workers movement in the US or around the world. As these three books amply demonstrate, the courtroom is not where innocence and guilt are decided. It is not where justice will be found.

No verdict or sentence, however, could prevent any of the Five from being who they are, yesterday, today and tomorrow, fighting for the same things, believing the same deeply held convictions, proclaiming them openly to the entire world, no matter where they find themselves, no matter for how long.

That is the truth that runs through each of these books.

They are about the way revolutionary fighters and communists go to prison.

How we prepare ourselves for something that is not unusual in the life of any working-class fighter. Not unusual in the life of anyone who believes in something important enough to go to jail for.

How we defend ourselves in the judicial proceedings that are instruments of bourgeois repression.

How we fight in that arena too, even if the ground is not of our choosing. How we use those legal proceedings to expose the hypocrisy of the capitalist rulers and the class character of the “democracy” and “rule of law” they profess to believe in.

How we take advantage of our time in the dock to speak to the working class, to openly proclaim our political program and our goals — as communists have done from the time of Marx and Engels and the famous trial in Cologne, Germany, following the defeat of the revolutions of 1848; to Fidel’s [Castro] defense of the road taken at Moncada in History Will Absolve Me; to Nelson Mandela’s “I am prepared to die” statement from the dock at the 1964 trial that condemned him to prison for life1; to the trial and sentencing of the Five Heroes of the Cuban Revolution in Miami some fourteen years ago.2

Everything the Five have done is in the finest tradition of revolutionary working-class fighters over more than a century and a half of struggle — the steadfastness and dignity with which they defended their revolutionary principles and rebutted the charges fabricated by US authorities, their refusal to cop a plea, their insistence before the court that they would take the same course again if it would save even a single life in Cuba.

As we see in the pages of Voices From Prison, the way they have acted in prison, and the respect they have won from fellow inmates, is but one more proof of their revolutionary caliber.

Taken together, the three books we’re talking about today span nearly a century of class struggle in the US.

But they are not about the past. They are tools that help us to understand what is happening today and prepare us for the battles that are ahead.

Fifty Years of Covert Operations in the US traces the expansion of Washington’s political police starting in the years following the first imperialist World War and the victory of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. During those years the US capitalist class sought to crush not only the newborn communist organizations in the US but also carried out a witch hunt against anarcho-syndicalist militants and the foreign born.3 This marked the rise of what by the mid-1930s became the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with J. Edgar Hoover at the center of cop operations by the FBI and its forerunners from 1919 until his death in 1972.

The new book focuses on the years between the late 1930s, as the Democratic administration of President Franklin Roosevelt prepared to drag the US working class into the imperialist slaughter of World War II, and the 1970s, when the “Watergate” crisis that led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon exploded.

At the end of the 1930s, the great concern of the US capitalist class was the expanding strength and rising political consciousness of a component of the industrial union movement, centered in the upper Midwest, and led by the truck drivers union in Minneapolis. The class-struggle leadership of those union forces, with members of our party — the Socialist Workers Party — at the center, had not only won significant hard-fought battles to unite and organize workers, small farmers, and the unemployed throughout the entire central states and southwest regions of the United States — a territory larger than India. They had also organized a workers defense guard of hundreds that drove the fascist bands, backed by the employers, out of the city, and had begun moving toward political action independent of the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties.

Of greatest concern to Washington, however, they were effectively organizing political opposition within the unions to the US rulers’ drive to war.

Labor opposition to World War II

During the trial that is at the center of Socialism on Trial, James P. Cannon, the national secretary of the SWP, stated this in the clearest terms:

“It is absolutely true that Hitler wants to dominate the world,” he told the court. “But we think it is equally true that the ruling group of American capitalists has the same idea, and we are not in favor of either of them. We do not think that the Sixty Families who own America want to wage this war for some sacred principle of democracy.

“And we think they are the greatest enemies of democracy here at home,” in the United States.

On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, at the very hour that the US congress was declaring war on Japan, eighteen leaders of Local 544-CIO and the Midwest Teamsters battles and of the Socialist Workers Party, including Cannon, were sentenced to prison on fabricated charges of conspiring “to teach, advocate and encourage” the overthrow of the US government by force and violence.

Socialism on Trial contains Cannon’s testimony under direct and cross-examination at the trial, clearly and forcefully presenting the communist program of the fighting vanguard of the working class.

The conviction and imprisonment of the eighteen registered a new turning point in the buildup of Washington’s political police. World War II brought a vast expansion of US government informers and agents operating in the unions and factories. It brought stepped-up assaults on organizations fighting for Black rights that refused to subordinate the struggle against racism and segregation to the war aims of the US ruling class — a course paralleled by other national liberation struggles, from Ireland and Quebec and Puerto Rico to India, Indonesia, Algeria and beyond.

‘National security state’

Fifty Years of Covert Operations in the US describes the rapid growth and consolidation of US imperialism’s “national security” apparatus in the years following the military, political, and economic victory over its capitalist rivals — both “foes” and “allies” alike — in World War II.

The postwar anticommunist witch hunt, often referred to as McCarthyism, was not directed first and foremost at artists and writers or communist “spies,” although I’ve discovered that is a popular perception here in Cuba. Its first objective was halting and then rolling back the gains of the powerful labor upsurge of the 1930s and integrating the labor bureaucracy more seamlessly into the imperialist state apparatus.

The US rulers succeeded in accomplishing that objective with relatively minor resistance from the ranks of the labor movement — in large part because of the nefarious role played by the Communist Party-led unions in industry during the war. The officialdom of these unions had earned the well-deserved hatred of millions of workers by spearheading the imperialist government’s wartime wage freeze, speedup, strike breaking, and by their determination to subordinate antiracist struggles to the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.

When their former wartime allies in the liberal wing of the US ruling class turned on the Communist Party and its leadership, they discovered their isolation and paid a heavy price for it.

Socialist Workers Party lawsuit

Fifty Years of Covert Operations in the US contains a wealth of information about the US class struggle that we hope will be of interest and of use to readers here in Cuba as elsewhere. Some of the enlightening documentation it presents, especially testimony by ranking officials of the US Justice Department about government policies, is the product of a suit brought by the Socialist Workers Party against the US government and its various secret police agencies, including the FBI, CIA, Military Intelligence, and what today is well known as the National Security Agency.

The suit was filed in 1973 and went to trial in 1981. The final rulings by a federal court judge in 1986 and 1987 rejected the arguments put forward by the government attorneys in defense of decades of disruption and spying. He issued an injunction saying that no document obtained by the government in ways that violate the US Constitution and Bill of Rights can be “used, released, or disclosed” by the FBI or other federal police agencies.

It is a ruling that stands to this day, one that helps keep open political space for working people to speak, organize, and act outside the electoral and judicial arenas — to fight on our own terrain, in the factories, on the picket lines, and in the streets.

Much of the documentation of the decades of Cointelpro operations by US police agencies came to light as a result of initiatives given impetus by the SWP suit. Cointelpro, a term many of you are familiar with, is the name of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program of spying and disruption directed at the labor, Black, and antiwar movements, as well as the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and other political organizations opposed to government policies.

The SWP suit was filed at the height of what is known as the Watergate crisis. The entire liberal and left political spectrum was calling for Nixon’s impeachment. The SWP said, “It will be no advance to replace one chief executive of the ruling class with another of their choosing. It will change nothing. Let’s use their crisis instead to bring into the open their decades of covert operations, to educate the working class and our allies and fight to open political space to fight to defend our class interests.”

The Watergate scandal exploded when it came to light that the Nixon White House had orchestrated rampant wiretapping, burglaries, and other illegal measures against its domestic rivals in capitalist politics. The roots of the Watergate crisis lay elsewhere, however.

Above all the conflict revealed the deep divisions — the birth of fear — within the US ruling class in face of two powerful developments: the mass Black proletarian-led movement that had brought down the system of Jim Crow segregation in the US (a genuine social revolution) and the way that it was accelerating in tandem with the growing actions in the streets by millions against the US war in Vietnam. The repercussions that began to disintegrate military discipline within the armed forces made the US imperialist rulers tremble in their boots.

Here in Cuba it was a moment when Fidel — once again — accurately sized up the weaknesses of the enemy. Angola needs our help, he said. Washington is in no shape to stop us. Our African blood will again soak the lands from which it came. And we will together strike a blow that will end with the fall of the apartheid regime of South Africa.4

And he was correct.

All this is a taste of what these books contain. For us they are part of the basic arsenal with which we educate ourselves. We hope they will prove useful to you as they are to us.

1. Fidel Castro and other revolutionary combatants were taken prisoner after carrying out an assault on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba July 26, 1953. “History Will Absolve Me” was Castro’s courtroom speech during his trial in October 1953 where he laid out the program of the revolutionary struggle that triumphed in 1959. In South Africa in June 1964, Mandela and seven other leaders of the African National Congress were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

2. See page 4: “Who Are the Cuban Five?”

3. During the Palmer Raids of 1919-20, the FBI arrested more than 3,000 working-class militants, deporting 750 of them.

4. Between 1975 and 1991, some 425,000 Cuban volunteers took part in the country’s internationalist mission to Angola in response to requests from the Angolan government to help repel military invasions by the apartheid regime in South Africa.  
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