From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 4, 15 February 1931, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Two men have been in the prisons of California for some fifteen years now, as innocent of the crime for which they were convicted as any man who walks the streets. Their names are known to the working class in every part of the world. Around them, at various times, have been created movements of thousands, of hundreds of thousands and more, who have marched the streets, who have raised their voices in militant protest at their imprisonment, who have demanded in unmistakable language that the two be released immediately. Their names have become a banner of working class struggle. For “Mooney and Billings” have for more than a decade symbolized the crime of American capitalism against our class, the abyss of bourgeois class justice.
This has been known to every progressive-minded worker in the country: Mooney and Billings alone are a sufficient revelation of the cynical hypocrisy of all those who prate of “justice” for “rich as well as poor” under capitalism. Mooney and Billings were sent to prison and have been kept there only because of their activity in the labor movement and in spite of the fact that not one year has passed since their trial without new evidence being piled up to prove their guiltlessness and the fact that the whole case was a vile frame-up of the master class.
But what has not been so widely known about the case is a feature of it which exceeds all others in shamelessness, duplicity and crime against labor: the treachery of the American labor leadership. The revolutionary vanguard has known of this black page in working class annals; others have felt it indistinctly but without much proof at hand; the bulk of the workers has not realized it at all. Yet the facts are there as large and real as life: from the very beginning of the historic case, the overwhelming majority of the American labor leaders have worked hand in hand with the capitalists and the capitalist politicians, not only to keep Mooney and Billings in prison, but to put them there in the first place.
Rarely has DeLeon’s classic phrase, “the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class”, been invested with more eloquent significance than by the whole record of the Gompers and Green school of labor chieftains in the Mooney-Billings case. The defense of the latter, at every stage of the struggle, has been confined to a small section of devoted, courageous militant workers who encountered the direct sabotage of the labor bureaucracy at every turn. How many have known of this great betrayal? Very few, we have said. And this ignorance has been caused not only by the conspiracy of the labor leaders, but to a certain extent by so many of those false “liberal friends” of the prisoners, who feared to “antagonize influential authorities”. But this recedes into the background in the face of the revelations finally made in full by Tom Mooney himself and by his Defense Committee in a pamphlet just made public under the title: Labor Leaders Betray Tom Mooney.
It takes your breath away, this document does! As relentlessly as the judicial bloodhounds of California capital ran down. Mooney and Billings, so does Mooney implacably pursue the record of misdeeds of the reactionary bureaucracy which American capital has foisted upon the labor movement. With fact heaped upon document, and document upon fact, he erects a crushing tombstone to any claims the labor skates may make to defending the interests of the working man. He marshalls and parades them before our view: Paul Scharrenberg, of the California State Federation of Labor; P.H. Carthy, czar of the building trades; A.W. Brouillet, who was finally run out of the leadership of the ’Frisco Labor Council for his treachery; the camarilla of the Teamsters’ Unions: Michael Casey, James Wilson, William Conboy, Walter Dryer and Co.; and from them to the national hierarchy, the Greens and Wolls, he takes us in the final step.
“They are scabs at heart,” H.L. Mencken wrote to Mooney once; and the latter adds: “They are scabs in action.” Mooney’s jailers, those who framed him, received the constant support of these labor leaders; Mooney’s defenders received their constant fire. The sentiment of the mass of American labor was deliberately ignored by labor fakerdom, and all activities in the defendants’ behalf undermined, because Mooney and Billings had been “trouble-makers”, “agitators” and “Reds” in the trade unions – and a thorn in the side of the businessmen. “Why, if you let his kind go about”, John O’Connell, secretary of the ’Frisco Labor Council and chum of the Chamber of Commerce president, declared at one time, “no one would be safe ... there is only one thing to do – to put him away for life – where he can’t do any harm.” This has been the attitude of nine out of ten of the A.F. of L. leaders, from O’Connell up to Green!
That is why Mooney is a hundred times right when he says in his letter to his fellow-prisoner, Billings: “Our struggle for freedom is inextricably bound up with the whole question of the future of the American workers. Our victory will be a guarantee that they too must win if there is a leadership capable of strengthening the A.F. of L., and not keeping it stagnant or weakening it. Out of the present leadership, which is thoroughly corrupted, no fundamental progress can be expected ... Those lieutenants of capital masquerading as labor leaders should be exposed; they are the worst enemies of a real organized labor movement. It is our duty to help expose their culpability. They are our worst foes. They are the foes of all militant workers.”
A hundred times right: For the battle to liberate Mooney and Billings is not, as their liberal “friends” believe, a fight to vindicate “American justice”, but a class struggle against “American justice” and its beneficiaries, the capitalist class and its labor agents. Each one of the latter run out of the labor movement means another bar wrenched out of the sockets of the prisoners’ cells; every new fortification of the Left wing in the working class is another stone crushed in the walls of the penitentiary.
The latest declaration of Mooney, following upon the recent Supreme Court decision, is an invaluable document. It was tardy in publication, because what it says held true from the very beginning, and its expression would surely have advanced the cause of the frame-up victims to greater success than it has hitherto attained. But it is not too late. The workers’ movement in this country has also been tardy, in letting two of its best sons rot in prison for fifteen years without compelling their release. But that also is not irremediable, it is not yet too late to act.
With this new turn in its struggle as a point of new departure, to which added weight is being given daily by new arrests of militants workers, new imprisonments, the burning need of the moment is a broad, national defense movement to free all the class war prisoners, a movement that must break down the treacherous barriers of the labor bureaucracy, that must reach into every labor organization, to the workers in every city and town, until it has gathered such power and momentum that it can break through the walls that hold our class war fighters. The initiative and spirit must necessarily be furnished principally by the Left wing and Communist forces. They are under command and obligation. With intelligent boldness, a power can be created in the labor movement reaching beyond the confines of the struggle for the class war prisoners, and accomplishing successes of gigantic dimensions.
The International Labor Defense, which remains the only militant workers’ defense organization on a national and international scale, must set about its task immediately. It can and will be done, but the prerequisite for success is to throw overboard the disastrously sectarian chart by which the ship of the Left wing is now being steered. That in turn is the task of the more conscious and farsighted militants. They must proceed to solve this task so that Mooney, Billings, McNamara, the Centralia boys, the dozens upon dozens of Communists and their prisoners of our class are liberated. Our aid is pledged in advance.
Last updated on 5.12.2012