The Third International after Lenin

Friday, September 9, 2011

Their rights and ours


Below is an excerpt from Workers' Rights versus the Secret Police by Larry Seigle, one of Pathfinder's Books of the Month for September. The booklet discusses a lawsuit and campaign launched in 1973 by the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance against spying and harassment by the FBI and other government agencies and officials, going back to the late 1930s as Washington prepared to enter World War II. In 1986 that fight won a federal court ruling in favor of the SWP and YSA. See FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party Suit against Government Spying published by Pathfinder. Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

As the U.S. capitalists got ready for war against their rivals abroad, they also prepared their offensive against the working class and against Blacks and Chicanos at home. Their aims were to silence all opponents of the war drive, to channel all motion toward a labor party back into the two capitalist parties, and to make working people accept the necessity of sacrifice. All struggles for improvements in wages and working conditions, or for an end to racial discrimination and segregation, had to be subordinated to the needs of the imperialist war.

Because they knew there would be opposition to this course, the employers decided on a big expansion of the FBI. Before this period the FBI was not primarily a political police force. For five years or so after World War I it had assumed this function. But by the mid-twenties, after widespread protests over FBI actions and with the decline of the labor radicalization, the capitalist government decided against a federal secret police agency. They relied instead on city and state cops, who had set up "bomb squads" and "radical divisions," and who had intimate connections with the network of private detective agencies… .

But with the rise of the CIO and the deepgoing labor radicalization, the rulers knew that their war drive would require this whole operation to be centralized, upgraded, and brought directly under federal government control… .

On September 6, 1939, Roosevelt issued a public statement instructing "all police officers, sheriffs, and other law enforcement officers in the United States promptly to turn over to the nearest representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation any information obtained by them relating to espionage, counterespionage, sabotage, subversive activities and violations of the neutrality laws." The FBI established a General Intelligence Division in Washington, hired more agents, and began expanding its political informer network. The next year, FBI field offices were instructed to recruit or place informers in each of the nation's "war plants." By 1942, 23,476 federal finks were reporting on labor and radical activities in 4,000 factories and mills… .

The use of secret police, informers, agents provocateurs, frame-ups, disruption efforts, and all the other things, are not incidental to capitalist rule. They are not secondary, not optional. They are permanent, basic, and essential.

This does not depend on the form of the capitalist state or the type of regime. We often say in popular explanations that the FBI uses police-state methods. This is true, of course. But the FBI methods are also the necessary methods of the political police under a bourgeois democracy. Think about this—the United States is not under fascist rule. It is not a police state. It is a bourgeois democracy. Among the most democratic of capitalist regimes anywhere in the world. Yet we have here this massive undercover repressive machine, an army of secret political police.

This undemocratic, repressive mechanism is part of the real content of capitalist democracy. That is why the workers' movement must constantly fight for its rights against this mechanism, fight to uncover it and get out the truth about it… .

Bourgeois democracy, like the capitalist economy, is built on formal equality between workers and capitalists. You are free to be exploited and the capitalist is equally free to exploit you. You and Rockefeller have equal rights to go to the free market and sell what you possess in order to make your fortune. You each have the same right to sell the commodities you possess. You have only your labor power; Rockefeller has "his" oil, "his" coal, and a few other things that he has acquired from your unpaid labor.

The same inequality in content exists in the protection of basic rights such as free speech, free press, freedom of association, equality of opportunity, and the right to privacy. These rights are, in form, guaranteed to everyone under the Constitution.

Free elections exist—for the Democrats and Republicans; workers' parties often can't get on the ballot.

Free press is guaranteed—to the owners of the capitalist media; others can't afford the price to make their views known to tens of millions.

Freedom of association is guaranteed—but for the working class it is only to the extent that the labor movement fights for and wins the right to assemble and to organize unions and political parties.

Equality of opportunity exists—for those with money, education, and training. For Blacks and Latinos, for women, equality of opportunity is a hoax.

The right to privacy is guaranteed—to the capitalists. Their financial records, true earnings, real holdings, and speed-up plans are shielded from public examination by laws protecting business secrets and corporate records. But the workers know no privacy from the bosses and their government, who amass files on our personal lives, our jobs and incomes, our political activities, even our opinions.

Beneath the forms of freedom and equality, the reality is that under capitalism all the social, economic, and political questions are decided by a tiny minority, with total contempt and disregard for the rights and needs of the great majority.  

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