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Masses & Mainstream
July, 1950, pp 23-28

Howard Fast:


NOW that the Board of Directors of the Joint Anti-fascist Refugee Committee have finally been committed to prison, it becomes most pertinent to review the events of the past four years which have led to this mass jailing. Not only have these facts a peculiar historical meaning for the times in which we live, but it is urgently necessary to state and restate the truth. For the monopoly press of America is wholly devoted to obscuring the truth, a devotion matched only by its vicious and unprincipled propaganda for war. Nor are these two matters unconnected, as you will see.
This case history begins shortly after the end of the war, when the Joint Anti-fascist Refugee Committee invited the late Harold J. Laski to be its guest speaker at a Madison Square Garden meeting. Speaking of Franco Spain, Mr. Laski made certain statements concerning the Vatican and its role during the Spanish War. As a result of this speech, the Catholic hierarchy in New York City brought pressure to bear on the House Committee on Un-American Activities - which pressure resulted in the subpoenaing of the Board of Directors of the Joint Anti-fascist Refugee Committee.
We were instructed to appear before the Un-American Committee with our books and records, and particularly with two lists. One was a list of Republican Spaniards to whom we had dispensed help, many of whom were then back in Spain and a part of the Spanish underground; the second was a list of some thirty-thousand Americans, who at one time or another had contributed to our work.
This was a request with which we could not comply. We had every reason to believe - from the former record of the Un-American Committee, from its composition, including thieves and racists, and from its general attitude toward decent people - that one of these lists would speedily find its way to Franco and that the other would be put at the disposal of the Justice Department's secret police, not to mention the Un-American Committee itself. We held that American citizens could not be forced to become hangmen and informers, and therefore we were cited for contempt of Congress, and in time brought to trial in the Federal Court of the District of Columbia.
Our trial lasted three weeks. We were tried on two counts, contempt and conspiracy to commit contempt. As the trial progressed, the conspiracy count became so patently ridiculous and so obviously a frame-up, that the judge threw it out. But in spite of the fact the no evidence could be brought to show that we had been guilty of anything more than a profoundly logical contempt for a committee which has done more than any other body in our government to disgrace and defile our land, we were found guilty. We were not allowed to present to the jury any facts concerning our work, or the situation of the Spanish Republicans, or even the implications of the subpoenas served upon us. The jury, which found us guilty in forty-five minutes after a three week trial - a Washington pattern, by the way - could have learned about our case only from reading the papers.
Once we were found guilty, an even stranger factor emerged; for when we were brought before the judge to be sentenced, we were asked whether any of us desired to "purge" - that is, to express willingness to comply with the desires of the Un-American Committee.
Eleven of the sixteen members originally concerned refused to change their position in any way. The five who "purged" resigned from our board and were released. The eleven of us who remained were taken into custody and then released on bail, pending appeal before the higher reviewing courts.
On March 18, 1948, the United States Court of Appeals handed down its two-to-one decision, affirming the conviction. But Justice Edgerton, dissenting, stated clearly and unequivocally: "In my opinion the House Committee's investigation abridges freedom of speech and inflicts punishment without trial; and the statute appellants are convicted of violating provides no ascertainable standard of guilt. It follows that the conviction should be reversed on Constitutional grounds."
Even though the cold war had been in process for a number of years by now, the facts in our case were so obviously clear, the conviction so baldly unjust, that the Supreme Court - to whom we appealed for a hearing - played dead. For more than two years, our petition confronted the Supreme Court before they decided to reject it and send us to prison.
That is an important fact, that even our present-day, far from liberal Supreme Court refused to hear argument in this case. It is easier to allow eleven men and women to go to prison on false charges than to have to do a legal handstand for the pages of history. So when the cold war had ripened sufficiently, when enough "spies" and "atom plots" had been dug up, and, especially, when Trygve Lie's trip to Moscow had increased the "danger" of peace, it was decided by the Truman-Acheson government to end all pretense of leading a democracy and to throw us, along with many others, into prison.
When you read this, in all likelihood, I and the other members of the Joint Anti-fascist Refugee Committee will be serving our prison terms. It is important that you know, not only why we are in prison, but what sort of people represent you there; for I cannot look upon it as anything but the most basic representation of the purest and best currents in our land. My own daughter made this point very simply and clearly, after I had explained to her why the father of her playmate, Riki Marzani, was serving a three year sentence in the Federal Penitentiary. I told her that he was in prison because he was a good man, because he fought for the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the Negro people and the working people.
Though she is a very little girl, she had no difficulty in comprehending this; what she could not comprehend was why, when Carl Marzani was in jail, her own father still had his freedom.
"Aren't you a good man?" she asked.

I TELL this only to underline the factor of representation. More truly than most of the miserable creatures in Congress does Carl Marzani represent the best in America; more truly than most of the miserable creatures in Congress do Gene Dennis and George Marshall and John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo represent the best and firmest sections of our people; and more truly than those miserable men in Congress will the members of the Joint Anti-fascist Committee represent you. So you should know about them, for they are good, brave people of great quality.
There is first and foremost, Dr. Edward K. Barsky, a great surgeon, perhaps one of the greatest alive, a giant of a man, tempered of steel, yet quiet and humble. Early in the Spanish war, he went to Spain, where he became the head of the International Medical Service. There, he perfected new techniques of operating under fire. The whole world paid tribute to his role in Spain. And since Spain, he has labored tirelessly and consistently in the cause of freedom and against fascism. A legion of men are alive today who owe their lives to Edward K. Barsky.
Fewer of you, perhaps, have heard of Ruth Leider, an immigration lawyer, a brave woman with two children, whose office is a rock for the terrorized, the oppressed, the frightened - for those who came here seeking freedom and got a taste of J. Edgar Hoover instead.
Let me tell you of two labor leaders, James Lustig and Charlotte Stern, the first from the United Electrical Workers, the second from the Hotel and Restaurant Workers. They sat on our board because the working class has an incalculable stake in the struggle against fascism. They were like two rocks through the trial. They never wavered, never doubted, never hesitated. They were a store of strength, and we had only to look at them to draw on it.
It is less easy to understand the strength of Marjorie Chodorov, a neat, pretty woman, the mother of two children, a very average American suburban housewife. Her life was comfortable, secure, in a sense aloof; but she did away with the aloofness. She reacted to the whole filthy frame-up as a competent housewife reacts to a new variety of household pest, and she had no more doubts about the nature and intentions of the men who comprise the Un-American Committee than she would have about an invasion of roaches. One does not remake one's life and tradition to the standards of a roach.
Manuel Mangana is a naturalized Spaniard, a small businessman a quiet man who models in clay for relaxation. For years, he sat on our board, a Spaniard in Spain's struggle, an American in the struggle of all mankind. So did he take the trial and the sentence. These things come, they go with other forms of vileness; and in the end men will be free.
Professor Lyman R. Bradley you should know, a gentle scholar who has the kind of iron in him that Emerson and Thoreau had, and which is so notably lacking in so many of our scholars today. I will never forget the objective and scientific curiosity with which Professor Bradley observed the whole proceeding. The men of the Un-American Committee, the thieves, bigots and racists, the stupid evil men of reaction and intolerance, were sitting in judgment on a scholar and a scientist; such is the history of fascism - and as always, the civilized man was beyond the understanding of the Rankins, the Woods, the Thomases. As with so many of our people, the inner strength was beyond the comprehension of cheap politicians and petty thieves.
Harry Justis, a lawyer, a small, round, solid man, another who labored in behalf of the immigrant, the hounded and the terrorized, an unruffled, humorous man, who shared the professor's scientific and somewhat zoological interest in "the company of beasts."
And two more physicians, Dr. Louis Miller and Dr. Jacob Auslander. There is much that I could say of these two men, and little enough space in which to say it. As a general thing, a physician who joins the people's movement is a wonderful man; for who knows better what plain folk suffer from the men who rule our society? And in that way, these two are a little more wonderful - or perhaps it is because I know them better. Neither of them is a young man in years, but they are young in heart and brave in spirit, and their youth is a part of the youth of the world - the youth of the new world, where there will be an end to injustice, to suffering and oppression.
So there is our Committee, and there is our story; and now you know a little bit about each. It is not a very unusual story in today's America, it is not too different from the story of Leon Josephson, of Gene Dennis, of George Marshall, of Lawson, Trumbo, Maltz, Biberman - and all the others of the Hollywood Ten. Nor is the blatant and unprincipled setting aside of the Bill of Rights and of due process of law a new thing in America. This is the "justice" which any member of the Negro people meets when he enters an American court; this is the "justice" which the working class knows of old. This is the "justice" which sent the Haymarket martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti to the executioners. This is the "justice" which the eleven leaders of the Communist Party U.S.A. received at Foley Square.
But now something has been added. Today, we and others are being sent to prison primarily to help clear the ground for a new world war. You set your sights too short, if you see this only in terms of the men and women I have mentioned. Already, the Department of Justice has made plain its plan to try 12,000 new cases in 1951 - and how many in 1952, no one knows. This is a new stage, a new level; this is, in all actuality, the last moment before fascism. The madmen who rule America today are determined that the "danger" of peace must be met. Then how can you help asking yourself a very simple question: so long as they are in jail, am I, myself, free? You must ask that question now, of yourself and of all those you know. There was a time when the people put their faith in the Supreme Court, but when our President appointed that cruel and bigoted man, Tom Clark, to the bench of the highest court in the land, we began to understand the role this court would play. And indeed it has played a role of incredible double-talk, intellectual acrobatics and sheer cowardice. The Supreme Court is still the bulwark of the trusts, but no longer is it even a slender reed for the people to lean upon.
Now just a few words in summing up: we are not criminals. That must be underlined now and again and again. We have broken no law. Quite the contrary, we have obeyed the simple injunction of American democracy - to keep faith with those fighters for freedom who trusted us. I know full well that we did not do a very extraordinary or difficult thing. In other times, it would be a thing taken for granted and hardly worth mentioning; but in today's America, where all virtue is being put on sale, where such wicked and immoral men as Louis Budenz are held up as standards for our youth to emulate, the thing we did becomes a very proud matter indeed. And as we are proud, we want you to be proud.
We leave our Committee in the best of hands, in the hands of Helen Bryan and Ernestina Fleishman, indomitable fighters for freedom - facing jail themselves in the near future - and in the hands of the people who work with them. The anti-Franco cause will not go by the wayside; rather will the work of our Committee increase and flourish, and no threat, no action by the Truman-Acheson government can force us to give up that work. Even as the peace forces of the whole world grow, so do the days of these frightened apostles of fascism shorten.