The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 21      June 3, 2013

Victory in disclosure fight strengthens
workers’ ability to organize
independent working-class political action
‘Injury to one is injury to all’ guides Socialist Workers Party
in battles against government attacks
(feature article)
In 2009 Lisa Potash, a garment worker for FellFab Corp., was the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Atlanta. After the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an opinion column slamming the SWP campaign, the paper printed a letter to the editor by Potash headlined, “Socialists back workers.”

“Our campaign,” the socialist candidate wrote, “explains the working class worldwide is facing an increasingly devastating crisis of capitalism.” As part of organizing to resist the consequences of this crisis, working people must fight together for “a federally funded crash program to put millions to work at union scale building schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and public transportation.”

Not long after that, Potash found herself pounding the pavement looking for another job.

Potash wrote up the political firing, and the Socialist Workers Party last October submitted her signed declaration to the Federal Election Commission in support of extending the SWP’s exemption from having to turn over names of campaign contributors to the government for public disclosure. In doing so, she joined some 70 other campaign supporters, Militant readers and defenders of democratic rights who also sent in reports over the past four years of firings, physical threats, government spying and harassment by cops and rightist thugs.

Despite indications from the FEC that it was weighing curtailing or even rejecting the party’s exemption, on April 25 the FEC voted 4-1 in favor of the SWP’s request, adopting another four-year extension.

In articles in the last three issues, we’ve described what it is about the Socialist Workers Party and its ongoing record as a revolutionary workers party in labor and political struggles that made it possible to turn back this probe by the capitalist government to further erode political rights. This victory, unique in recent years, strengthens workers’ ability to carry out working-class political activity free from cop or right-wing disruption.

We’ve also recounted how the FBI was forged over decades as the rulers’ political police to spy on, harass, and attack the working class and its vanguard.

In the late 1930s, as the U.S. capitalists prepared to drag workers and farmers into the bloodbath of World War II, the Democratic administration of Franklin Roosevelt issued secret executive orders to single out militants in the industrial union movement organizing anti-war opposition in the working class. In 1941 the government used the recently enacted thought-control Smith Act to railroad to prison 18 leaders of the SWP and class-struggle Teamsters union leadership in the Midwest. The charge was “conspiracy to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government.”

In 1945, coming out of the war, a strike wave rolled across the U.S. Struggles for national independence spread throughout Asia, Africa and elsewhere. U.S. troops stationed in the Pacific organized actions of tens of thousands demanding to be brought home rather than sent to suppress anticolonial uprisings. African-Americans at home demanded an end to Jim Crow segregation.

The rulers responded by enacting and wielding “loyalty” programs and other witch-hunt measures to try to isolate labor militants, housebreak the unions and victimize communist workers.

In face of these attacks, the SWP in 1948 fielded its first national election campaign, running Farrell Dobbs for president and Grace Carlson for vice president. Dobbs was one of the leaders of the Midwest Teamsters and SWP imprisoned during the war. To cite just one example of the hearing the socialists received, when Dobbs spoke at the SWP’s state convention in Hartford, Conn., his talk was broadcast live over seven radio stations. The SWP has run a presidential ticket in every election since.

Washington’s “national security” measures enacted during this period included the March 1948 announcement of an Attorney General’s list of “subversive” organizations. The list included the Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party and nearly 200 others.

On behalf of the SWP, Dobbs wrote President Harry Truman demanding “that he tear up his infamous blacklist.” Dobbs denounced it “as an attempt to intimidate and victimize” opponents of the government, the Militant said. The list was an assault on constitutional rights — of the SWP, every group on it, and the working class — and should be abolished.

In July 1948 the government also indicted 12 Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act provisions it had used seven years earlier against Teamster and SWP leaders. “Dobbs Denounces Smith-Act Arrests,” said the Militant in a front-page headline.

The next week, in the same issue reporting the SWP’s demand to abolish the Attorney General’s list, the Militant featured a letter from Dobbs to the Communist Party denouncing the Smith Act as a weapon of the capitalist rulers “whose barb is aimed at the working class political and trade union movement.” Pledging SWP support to defense of the CP leaders, Dobbs said, “Only the solidarity of the whole labor movement, and of all tendencies within it, can defeat the Smith Act which threatens all sections of labor.”

In 1949 Dobbs covered the trial of the CP leaders for the Militant from the courtroom in New York’s Foley Square. Eleven were convicted and sentenced to prison, most for five years.

(As part of the Communist Party’s all-out support to Washington’s war effort in World War II, the CP not only refused to defend the SWP and Teamster leaders, but submitted a “dossier” to the attorney general in 1941 to assist the prosecution. The CP leadership has never disavowed this betrayal of the working-class principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” Its longtime general counsel John Abt, himself a CP cadre, did so, however, in a 1993 memoir. Abt said it wasn’t until the CP leaders were indicted that he read the 1941 trial record “and saw that the cases against the two organizations were virtually identical. The Communists had made a terrible mistake in not defending the SWP.”)

In 1948 the U.S. government fired James Kutcher from his job with the Veterans Administration for “disloyalty” due to his membership in the SWP. Kutcher, who lost both legs during the war, won back his job and pension after an eight-year defense campaign that gained support from unions, veterans organizations, NAACP chapters, Black churches and civil liberties groups.

The SWP threw itself into the deepening battle to bring down Jim Crow segregation in the South. When thousands of Blacks in Montgomery, Ala., launched a boycott of city buses to protest segregated seating, Dobbs — again the SWP’s presidential candidate in 1956 — helped organize the Station Wagons for Montgomery Campaign. He drove a vehicle donated by unionists in Detroit to Montgomery and covered the fight there for the Militant.

This and other struggles against racist discrimination in Alabama led to a milestone victory against use of disclosure laws to destroy the NAACP by demanding it turn over membership lists to the state (and to the Ku Klux Klan and other nightriders). Protesting this assault on the right to privacy and political association, the group refused and was fined $100,000. The NAACP took the case to the Supreme Court in 1958 and won. This victory was a precedent that helped the SWP win exemption from disclosure 16 years later.

These mighty proletarian battles for Black rights inspired a generation of youth in the 1960s and ’70s who were attracted by the Cuban Revolution, organized massive protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam and campaigned for a woman’s right to choose abortion. Through such fights, many were won to the course of building a mass revolutionary working-class party able to conquer power from the capitalist class and establish a workers and farmers government. They got involved in socialist election campaigns and joined the SWP and Young Socialist Alliance.

In response to this shift in the political situation, the SWP in 1973 launched a campaign to challenge government spying and disruption and strengthen workers rights. As part of this political effort, the party filed suit against the FBI and other cop agencies, charging them with violating its rights and those of its supporters.

Among many secret cop operations brought to light by this campaign, it forced the release of a government document reporting a 1956 White House meeting of the National Security Council to hear proposals by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. That meeting, attended by President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, approved disruption operations by informers, break-ins, wiretaps and bugs against government opponents. Six months later the FBI began its Cointelpro operations against the SWP, CP, Black groups and others.

In 1988, after a 15-year battle, the Socialist Workers Party won the case in federal court and the government announced it would not appeal. The facts about government spying and harassment unearthed during that fight have been important ever since in the SWP’s battle to win and maintain exemption from FEC-enforced financial disclosure laws.

In an October 2012 letter to the FEC petitioning to extend the SWP exemption, the party’s attorneys, Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank, reported that the FBI had amassed over 8 million documents on the SWP. Between 1960 and 1976, they wrote, “the FBI employed approximately 1,300 informers,” paid them over $1.6 million, and “conducted at least 204 ‘surreptitious entries,’ or black bag jobs,” of SWP offices.

The decades-long revolutionary working-class course and political record of the Socialist Workers Party from its founding were at the heart of the fight. And the federal court ruled that these activities are protected by the Bill of Rights.

The extension won by the SWP this year of an exemption from having to turn over names to the FEC is the first successful push-back in some time by working-class forces against deepening attacks by the bosses and their government.

And as we said at the opening of this four-part series, the bedrock of that victory was the effort by “the many readers of the Militant, supporters of Socialist Workers Party campaigns and other defenders of political rights who didn’t let any incident of harassment, threats or attacks on SWP candidates or their backers go by in recent years without writing them up” for use by the Socialist Workers Party in this ongoing battle.
Related articles:
White House targets political opponents and reporters
Defend campaign disclosure victory!
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