Principles of defense work for revolutionaries


“The cardinal rule of this struggle must be the unconditional defense of all victims of reactionary repression and united opposition to every restriction upon democratic rights. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ — George Novack

In recent months, Workers’ Voice has spoken out against the repression of other political organizations and movement activists. Our December article, Solidarity with the Atlanta forest defenders!, explains why we defend democratic rights and the increasing willingness of the U.S. state to use naked repression against dissidents and protesters:

“The U.S. ruling class has been doubling down on anti-protest legislation at the federal and state levels since the mass uprisings sparked by the Ferguson and Standing Rock protests. That trend accelerated further during and after the Justice for George Floyd movement in 2020. After giving nominal concessions in various areas and showing rhetorical support for racial justice, a bipartisan shift toward ‘law and order’ has been sweeping the country. We have previously shown local variants of these attacks, including by Democrat-controlled cities and states—for example, in Albany, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn.

“There is an ongoing crackdown against protest rights as U.S. capitalism proves itself increasingly incapable of providing basic economic and political stability for the vast majority of working people. In the face of historic inflation, ongoing pandemic, and ecological catastrophe, the response of big capitalists is to increase tensions with all other countries, attack the living standards of workers, expand policing and fossil fuel production, and drive up unemployment.”

Following the police murder of forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, 19, Stop Cop City activists have been charged with “domestic terrorism.” More recently, it was revealed by Unicorn Riot that activists expect indictments under the Georgia state RICO Act. RICO or The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, was originally designed in the 1970s as a prosecutorial tool against the Mafia. Unicorn Riot quoted Kamau Franklin, of Community Movement Builders as saying, “The city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia are working together to repress the Stop Cop City movement. Just as historically, the state has always tried to repress movements to fight for people’s rights and liberties. Just as in the past, it was the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement that was targeted by the state. Now we have movements today which are fighting against police violence and police militarization, which are also being targeted by the state. We must stand strong and stand together and fight against these efforts to repress our movement.”

Prosecutors may also target the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which raises money to provide resources and aid to those who are victims of state repression. All defenders of democratic rights must rise to oppose this judicial overreach and effort to chill free speech by threatening activists with the seizure of assets and prison sentences ranging up to 20 years.

A statement from the Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center states: “Whenever political movements are successful, particularly when you are fighting against a massive police training facility that will train cops to maraud civilians and quell dissent, you should expect the state to utilize its power of repression against your growing movement. One way the state thinks it can crush environmental and social justice movements is by threatening, or attempting, to prosecute activists’ organizations and campaigns for racketeering.”

Unconditional solidarity

After the July 29, 2022, FBI raids on the African People’s Socialist Party, the People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (Uhuru), and the African Peoples Solidarity Committee, we issued a statement, “No FBI raids! Defend free speech and the right to organize!

In our statement, we made the case for unconditional solidarity against state repression: “It is necessary to unconditionally defend political victims against any and all attacks on civil liberties and the right to organize. For Workers’ Voice, this includes defending forces with which we have political differences, including on the question of Russian imperialism’s invasion of Ukraine. State repression against the APSP today can easily become state repression against others tomorrow.”

Workers’ Voice extends our solidarity to victims of state repression and censorship without conditions. This is nothing new. For example, when some WV members were still in Socialist Action, we offered a swift and unequivocal statement of solidarity following the 2010 FBI raids against the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and other antiwar activists, saying: “All people who support civil liberties and the rights of free speech and political assembly must speak with one voice. We must say no to political intimation by police and federal agents. We must say no to McCarthy-style witch hunting of antiwar and socialist activists. … We call on the entire antiwar and social justice movement to unite in defense of these activists. It’s at the core of our values as a movement to say: ‘An attack on one is an attack on all.’”

If members of any organization or social movement—from Black Lives Matter, to the labor movement, to anti-fascists, to left political organizations—are targeted for repression, violence, or spying, we must stand together in solidarity regardless of any political or tactical differences.

Historical examples

The need for such solidarity was clearly demonstrated at the outbreak of the Second World War. Below are some excerpts from George Novack’s article, “Traditions and Guiding Ideas of the SWP in Defense Activities,” published in the book, “Socialism on Trial,” by James P. Cannon. “Socialism on Trial” is the record of the sedition trial of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. At the time, the Stalinist Communist Party (CP) cheered on the government’s repression of the SWP. Later, when the CP was faced with similar repression at the outset of the McCarthyite Red Scare, the SWP stood against state repression.

Novack wrote, “Let me summarize the fundamental features of defense policy which the pioneers of our movement worked out and which have guided all our subsequent activities and achievements.

“The democratic, constitutional and legal rights of the American people are the most valuable political acquisitions of their past struggles. Socialists must staunchly uphold these indispensable instruments of the workers’ struggle for emancipation against any encroachment, assault or erosion by the forces of reaction. A strong defense of existing rights is the best way of extending them.

“The right of legality is a crucial democratic right. It has taken tremendous sacrifice to secure the legality of trade unions and their right to strike, and of socialist parties and their right to advocate revolutionary views. These and similar conquests must not be taken lightly. The free and legal functioning of all progressive organizations and causes should be safeguarded at all costs by the revolutionary vanguard.

“At the same time it must be recognized that the capitalists run the machinery of state and control its repressive agencies. They will honor the rights of the individual citizen and the people only so long as these do not cut deeply into their vital interests. None of the agents of the plutocracy can be relied upon to adhere even to their own legality.

“Regardless of their claims to the contrary, the ruling class of the capitalist state and their servitors are the inveterate enemies of democracy. They fear its application and resist its expansion. This imposes the obligation upon the forces of socialism and spokesmen for the working class to be the most vigorous and consistent champions of democratic liberties. They must defend all victims of reactionary persecution, no matter what their special beliefs. This injunction is summed up in the solidarity slogan of the IWW: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’

“Whatever illusions liberals and others may have, Marxists should repose no confidence in the capacity or will of the capitalist regime, its courts, officials or politicians to grant democratic rights. The best way to balk their frame-ups and insure a modicum of justice within class society is to develop a broad defense movement based upon those sections of the population which will lend an ear to the issues and respond to appeals on behalf of the defendants. Thus the counter-pressure of aroused public opinion can be brought to bear upon the authorities to frustrate, or make more difficult, their attacks upon democratic rights.

“It is crippling and self-defeating for a defense case, committee and campaign to be conducted in a sectarian or exclusive manner. Appeals for support should be based, not upon agreement with the ideas or approval of the real or alleged acts of the defendants, but upon general civil liberties grounds. Care should be taken to point out how the issues at stake concern and affect the rights of others. Support should be solicited and welcomed from anyone willing to aid the defense on such a broad basis, regardless of their positions on other matters. The defense committee should stand ready to collaborate with other groups which have similar purposes in opposing violations of legal or human rights.

“If we compare the defense policies and procedures we follow with those of rival tendencies, our superiority is incontestable. Let me cite a few examples.

”When the Communist party was hit by the Smith Act prosecutions from 1949 on, they were unable to rally a sizable popular protest movement which went much beyond their own supporters. Some of the reasons for this narrowness were rooted in the Cold War conflict and beyond their responsibility or control. However, their isolation in time of need was partially self-created by their previous refusal to support the Minneapolis Case and the Trotskyists.

”They persisted in this suicidal course even while they were themselves under prosecution. In July 1949 they staged a Civil Rights Congress in New York to mobilize support for their defendants. There our spokesmen headed by Farrell Dobbs publicly proclaimed our solidarity with them, asking that the Congress also approve a pardon for the 18 Minneapolis defendants and back James Kutcher. The Stalinist refusal to defend the civil rights of their political opponents created a scandal and lost them much sympathy and support for their own cause. In fairness, it must be said that they have since revised that attitude of hostility and non-support to the Trotskyists, although their defense policy remains very defective in other respects.

”The current offspring of the CP, who have had the misfortune to be educated, miseducated, or uneducated in the school of Stalinism, have committed a series of blunders which could fill a handbook on how not to behave in defense work.

“The cardinal rule of this struggle must be the unconditional defense of all victims of reactionary repression and united opposition to every restriction upon democratic rights. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ Toleration or support to the infringement of the rights of any group or individual emboldens the witch-hunters and opens the way for further assaults upon others.”

No illusions

It is increasingly clear that the ruling class has no solutions to the multiple crises faced by their system—climate catastrophe, economic instability, and pandemics. It is also evident that the working class and oppressed people of this country are becoming more dissatisfied with the status quo and are more willing to fight back. This can be seen in the uptick in union organizing and activity, fightbacks against police violence, and in resistance to environmentally destructive projects. The capitalists’ answer is more police and less democracy.

Revolutionaries defend the democratic rights of all victims of the U.S. capitalist system and its state apparatus. Simply put, it is a core principle of our movement to offer unconditional solidarity to victims of government repression. This does not mean that we have illusions in their constitution or the capitalists’ rhetoric about democracy and freedom. We know that their concept of freedom does not really extend to the working class and oppressed. However, we have to use whatever scant protections the veneer of democratic rights in the U.S. offers us to defend our right to speak, organize and fight. This is why we must defend one another against repression regardless of political differences. Once again we raise the old labor slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Top photo: Vincent R. Dunne is arrested during 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike. In 1941, Dunne was one of 18 Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters union members who were indicted under the Smith Act and sent to prison.

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