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T. Stamm

Convict Patterson

United Mass Protest Must Save Scottsboro Boys

(April 1933

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 23, 15 April 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A viciously prejudiced jury composed of twelve representatives of the poisoned ideology of the reactionary, capitalist South brought in a verdict of guilty against Haywood Patterson, the first of the Scottsboro boys to be tried in the new trials ordered by the United States Supreme Curt. According to Alabama law the jury is charged with the duty of fixing the penalty. This jury decided on death in the electric chair.

With this verdict the blood-lust ridden, southern capitalists have reaffirmed their intention to snuff out the lives of all who dare to resent and struggle against the intolerable conditions to which capitalism reduces the workers and share croppers in the South in its ruthless scramble for profit. That is the significance of the verdict for our class and our cause. As far as the Scottsboro boys themselves are concerned, it is not at all a verdict arrived at after due process of law. There is no such thing for workers in capitalist courts. It is murder done according to the niceties of the law and with due regard for the devious course of “justice” in the higher courts. It is class murder.

From the legal point of view the state had no case. Its witnesses were the usual social riff-raff sharked up by the prosecution in frame-up cases. A notorious prostitute was its chief witness. And her testimony was flatly contradicted by Ruby Bates’ sensational repudiation of her former evidence. Other evidence introduced by the defense left no doubt that the state’s chief witness was a perjuror. The weakness of the state’s legal case was compensated for by extra-legal “arguments”. Fiery crosses flamed against the night sky from the hills surrounding the town. Armed mobs threatened to storm the jail, lynch the boys, the witnesses and the defense lawyers. Armed militiamen were on duty in the court-room. The prosecution appealed to local prejudice throughout. But in its summation it reached the depths of narrow-minded provincialism and medieval bigotry. To read it is to make the blood boil. All of this, inevitable and to be foreseen from the beginning, outweighed the legal evidence or lack of it.

That is how it was in the Mooney and the Sacco and Vanzetti trials: the same frame-up, perjury, intimidation, corruption and inflaming of ignorance and vicious prejudice In these monuments to capitalist bestiality are lessons which have been burned into the consciousness of the workers the world over. Large sections of the workers know what these trials are worth. Their experience teaches them daily what capitalist justice is. In their understanding it is all inseparable part of the capitalist system.

The capitalist press, the handmaiden of these brutal orgies, has not been slow to discharge its duty to its masters. It pretends to be astonished by the verdict. The New York World Telegram feigns astonishment. It is sure that the verdict will be overthrown in the higher courts. By this perfidious hypocrisy it strives to keep alive the illusion that justice is impartial, above the classes. The Times also bemoans the sad miscarriage of justice. But it cannot see what remains to be done. Perhaps the Governor of Alabama will pardon the victims or commute their sentence to a term of imprisonment! That is the Times’ way of saying that the case is a legal one, a matter of “justice”, not to be taken out of the channels of bourgeois democracy.

The N.A.A.C.P. says the same thing but says it more openly. The attack on the I.L.D. and the Communist Party for organizing a mass protest movement, which the Times only implies, the N.A.A.C.P. makes explicit. The record of this reformist organization in Scottsboro Case is a foul blot on the pages of the struggle of the Negroes for economic, political and social equality. From the very beginning of the case it assisted the prosecution to the best of its ability. It strove with all its resources to hamstring the defense organized by the I.L.D. All through the fight it rabidly attacked the I.L.D. and the Communist Party. Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfleld Hays of its legal staff, and prominent in its executive councils, offered to enter the case on condition that all the lawyers in the defense would agree to disassociate themselves from all organizations. This was equivalent to a demand that the I.L.D. retire from the case.

The black thread of treachery runs through the policy of the N.A.A.C.P. and its white, liberal supporters and executives: John Haynes Holmes, Oswald Garrison Villard, Clarence Darrow, Arthur Garfield Hays, etc., etc. And it runs through it today. At the last meeting of its directors they adopted a resolution on the Scottsboro Case. It was reported in the Times of April 11. The Times says:

“The board commended the ‘firmness and fairness in which Judge Horton conducted the trial’ ...”


“... adopted a resolution at the meeting – expressing the belief that a different verdict would have been obtained had not the Communist Party entered the case ...”

“‘It feels that the only remaining hope for the boys is to remove from the already overwhelming prejudices which militate against them the additional burden of Communism’.”

“It called for the organisation of a ‘new defense committee’ ...”

The capitalist press and the N.A.A.C.P. and all the other agencies of capitalism are working overtime to counteract the spontaneous mass protest that is arising against this monstrous verdict. They are hammering on all keys the theme of justice. That is their function in capitalist society.

But it is no part of the I.L.D.’s role or policy to conduct a course which lends support to such illusions. Yet this is what it has done. We want our criticism to be clearly understood. The fight of the I.L.D. from the first day of its courageous entry into this case has been an inspiring struggle against some of the most reactionary practise of a predatory capitalist South. It has held aloft the banner of mass struggle on behalf of nine innocent Negro class brothers in the face of a reign of terror. It lit the spark which kindled a blaze of protest on four continents. It took a long step forward on the road to the unity of the white and black workers by showing the black workers that white workers were leading the struggle in which they were vitally involved.

But some time last summer the I.L.D. allowed the mass movement here to lag. Following the decision of the United States Supreme Court it did nothing to organize the workers’ into a gigantic protest movement behind its legal defense. It did not call the united front conferences to set the workers in motion.

Instead it made the mistake of riding the wave of protest. And it retained as its chief defense lawyer, a notorious gangster lawyer, a Democrat, a patriot. Moreover, it allowed him to attack the Communist party in the capitalist press without reply. It allowed him to repeat his attacks on the mass movement which had saved the boys from the electric chair with out making any public reply.

Worse than this, it allowed Liebowitz to dictate the line of the defense. It permitted him to confine the defense to legal lines essentially. It permitted him to order a National Students’ League delegation out of town. It permitted him to say in the capitalist press that he would not tolerate any demonstrations by radical and Communist organizations.

The capitalists took pains to give the impression of a fair trial. It chose an “objective” jurist to try the case. Horton was careful to avoid any appearance of hostility to the defense. He unquestionably favored the prosecution in his denials of motions for mistrials motivated on the outrageous speeches of the prosecution. But he made it possible for the entire capitalist press to laud him to the skies. And Liebowitz – at the conclusion of the trial – Liebowitz, according to the New York Times:

“... ‘I walked to the bench and grasped Judge Horton’s hand. The judge shook it warmly.’ Mr. Liebowitz, who had undertaken the defense of the penniless Negro without a fee, was trembling. He said: ‘I am taking back to New York with me a picture of one of the finest jurists I have ever met.’”

Mr. Liebowitz, the I. L.D. chief defense lawyer has done his bit to nurture the illusions of the masses in the class institutions of capitalism.

The I.L.D. has not yet uttered a word of criticism of this gross perversion of its principles. On the contrary it is playing up its white elephant. It permits Liebowitz to be hailed as a hero.

But if the I.L.D. is silent about its hero it went out of its way to attack the Left Opposition. On April 7, Patterson, National Secretary of the I.L.D., fired a broadside against the Militant in the Daily Worker. The Militant of March 25 warned the party and the I.L.D. that it was making a mistake in allowing Liebowitz to dictate the line in the Scottsboro Case. It said:

“He (Liebowitz) is getting a free hand to attack that defense from a platform given him by the I.L.D. He attacks the mass struggle which has saved the Scottsboro boys four times ... When one considers these facts in relation to the equally regrettable fact that the mass movement has died down in recent weeks almost to the vanishing point, it begins to look as though the I.L.D. were teetering on the brink of a rotten and dangerous piece of opportunism.”

The verdict, the events leading up to it, and particularly the role of Liebowitz and the criminal silence of the I.L.D. about him confirm the analysis of the Militant up to the hilt. Patterson rushes to Liebowitz’s defense. “The Militant – hurls a bouquet of slander and invective at the I.L.D. because of its utilization of the services of S. Liebowitz, prominent attorney in the Scottsboro Case.” So! And: “Mr. Liebowitz is carrying out the line of the I.L.D. in the court room in this particular case.” Mr. Liebowitz closed his appeal to the jury by intoning the Lord’s Prayer! “He was not asked to nor could be engaged in the political defense of the accused, but his legal defense is political!” There is more of the same. And now, Patterson, and, with him, the whole I.L.D., is silent.

But if Patterson is silent one of his masters has a word to say. In the Daily Worker of April 12, there appears a note from Foster to Stachel. Foster says:

“That statement of Liebowitz was tragic, endorsing the chief lyncher, Horton and condemning the southern masses indiscriminately as morons, lantern-jawed, etc., etc. These statements will be used against us in the gigantic struggle ahead, both in the courts and among the masses. Surely our party statements will disassociate us from that trash and put all these matters in their true light.”

Against whom is this directed? Surely not against us. We warned against it in time.

Whether the party and the I.L.D. will disassociate themselves from this trash remains to be seen. We hope they will. And the sooner the better. Much time has been lost and much damage done. The first step to repair it is to repudiate Liebowitz’s statements and tell him to confine himself to the purely legal aspects of the case.

But that is not enough. The central and most immediate task is to organize the protest movement of the workers. If that is not done the protest movement will find other leaders and be directed into reformist channels. There are signs of this already. Upon receiving news of! the verdict the Amsterdam News, a petty bourgeois Negro newspaper in Harlem, began a petition campaign against the death sentence. Plans are already under way to organize a march, from all parts of the country on Washington to protest the verdict.

The party says that the struggle must rise to a higher stage. But it has not given the signal to organize it. This it must do without delay. The masses are burning with a sense of outrage. They are eager to fight. They seek leadership. Only the Communist party can give correct leadership and direction to the struggle and save the movement from being diverted into channels harmless to the capitalists. That is its duty in the situation.

Call the united front conferences! Organize the protest movement: of the workers! Let their indignation mount to the skies! United, they can smash the Scottsboro frame-up! The Scottsboro boys shall not die!

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