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by James P. Cannnon


[First printed in The Militant,  April 9, 1932. Copied from ]


The Scottsboro case reveals American capitalism in one of its most hideous aspects, and offers to the Communists an exceptional opportunity to deal the whole system a mighty, world-resounding blow. The deliberately planned assassination of the unfortunate Negro children is notice to the entire world that imperialist America, this pretended pacifist and friend of justice, is in fact a monster. The endeavor to thwart its bloody designs in the present case calls out the deepest and best human instincts.


The words solidarity and justice acquire fresh values, they become new again in the struggle for the liberation of the helpless young Negro boys who await their fate in the Alabama jail. It is hard to think of a cause that could appeal more strongly to the hearts of the workers and all the oppressed than that of these obscure and friendless symbols of a doubly persecuted race and class.


From the revolutionary standpoint, the struggle, of course, goes far beyond the immediate objectives of the court appeals. To save the lives of the intended victims and restore their liberty is indeed our aim; but the only hope of accomplishing this is to set a really immense movement into motion. And such an achievement could have great implications for the strengthening of the Communist influence over the workers and the Negro masses. All of this is bound up together with the concrete fight for the freedom of the prisoners. To separate the one from the other, as the liberal and Socialist snivelers try to do, would only make the sacrifice of the prisoners doubly certain.


The problem consists primarily in the mobilization of the white workers for the fight. In our opinion it is incorrect to view the Scottsboro case as a “Negro issue”; it is wrong to direct the main agitation toward the Negro people and concrete organizational work around them, including their churches and lodges. Such a tactic will not be able to arouse a movement of the necessary breadth and power. And, moreover, it will fail even to make the desired impression on the Negro people.


There is no doubt that the Negro masses burn with indignation at the Scottsboro outrage and suffer their own thousandfold wrongs again in sympathy with the prisoners. But along with that, they cannot help being conscious of their position as a hopeless racial minority. What they need to inspire them for struggle is the prospect, or at least the hope, of victory. Direct agitation alone will never suffice for this. The sight of a significant movement of white workers fighting on their side is the agitator that will really move the Negroes and make them accessible to the Communist organizers of that movement.


The central problem of the Scottsboro defense movement is the organization of the white workers for the fight. Once a good start is made along this line, the enlistment of huge Negro contingents in the common struggle will be a comparatively simple matter. In this question, as in every important undertaking in the class struggle, the trade union movement exhibits its decisive importance. The trade unions ought to be alive at this moment with Communist agitation on the Scottsboro case. Here is an unexampled opportunity to explain to the organized workers the necessity of solidarity with their Black brothers, and to dramatize the argument with the monstrous story of Scottsboro.


Assuming a Communist Party that knows how to work in the trade unions, a big response can be expected from this agitation. The sympathies of the organized workers can be quickly crystallized into a network of conferences. The movement of the unions in this direction will give a tremendous impetus to the propaganda among the Negroes; they will join in the movement with enthusiasm and hope. The concrete demonstrations of white and Negro solidarity, ominously foreshadowing their coming union in the revolution, will impress the judicial hirelings more than a thousand lawyer’s briefs; will make them pause and weigh the possible consequences of their murders. The Communists, as the organizers and leaders of the unprecedented demonstration, as the loyal and capable champions of the most oppressed and persecuted, will gain an enormous prestige.


In such a perspective there is nothing fantastic. It assumes merely an active Communist Party which understands the essence of the Negro question, which applies the tactic of the united front, and which has not isolated itself from the trade union movement. Even in the present situation the deficiencies can be made up by a timely correction of policy. The best way to serve the Scottsboro case is to press for this





Darrow and the Scottsboro Case


by James P. Cannon


[First printed in The Militant, January 16, 1932. Copied from ]



The withdrawal of Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays from all participation in the legal side of the Scottsboro case has called forth a chorus of praise from the bourgeois press. Darrow didn’t like the agi tational methods of the International Labor Defense. “You can’t mix politics with a law case,” he said. He would take pan in the legal defense only on the condition that the ILD keep out. The withdrawal of the fa mous lawyer on these grounds affords the brass-check newspapers -whose attention was drawn to the Scottsboro case by the stormy agita tion of the ILD—another occasion to point a moral about the harmful effects of “Communist interference” on behalf of any victim of bourgeois justice. Liberal snivellers and muddleheaded workers, whose thinking is done for them by the ruling class, are echoing this judgment.


Such arguments are not worthy of a moment’s consideration. The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom.


There are people, of course—and too many of them—who hold a contrary view. But they are the credulous ones, who have faith in the justice and fairness of the class courts. We rejoice at the blow that has been dealt to this servile and treacherous philosophy. It is true that the lawyers in question are celebrated in their trade. But from our point of view, that fact only invests the calling of their bluff with a greater sig nificance and merits for it a warm approval.


“You can’t mix politics with a law case”—that is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal re lation between the lawyer and client and the court. It was under that sign with the same Darrow in the leading role that the McNamaras and Schmidt and Kaplan were sacrificed, and the labor movement was dealt a blow from which it has not yet recovered. It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice. The affair of Darrow, the Scottsboro prisoners, and the ILD will help to inculcate this lesson.