‘We Accuse’: The Communist Party USA’s answer to 1948 conspiracy charges
Left to right: Some of the top leaders of the Communist Party USA swept up in the 1948 Red Scare dragnet descend the steps of the Federal Courthouse in New York: William Z. Foster, Benjamin J. Davis, Eugene Dennis, Henry Winston, John Williamson, and Jack Stachel. | People's World Archives

On Feb. 3, 2021, CNN published an article by Eliott C. McLaughlin that placed the Communist Party USA alongside Trump’s Jan. 6 Capitol mob and a neo-Nazi organization as the only groups to have “attempted to stage a coup against the United States of America.” CNN and McLaughlin have their history wrong, very wrong.

In July 1948, the U.S. government indicted the national leaders of the Communist Party USA on frame-up charges of “conspiring to teach or advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence” under the Smith Act. The accusations and subsequent trials were based not on any actions of U.S. Communists, but only on their political beliefs. There was never any coup attempt or plot by the members or leaders of the Communist Party USA.

Instead, the Smith Act trials of the late 1940s and 1950s were actually an attack on the CPUSA and the labor and peace movements—the worst of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Many of the accused spent years behind bars in connection with their effort to defend the Constitution and democracy.

On Aug. 2, 1948, just days after the original arrests of Communist Party leaders, General Secretary Eugene Dennis addressed a crowd 20,000 strong at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In his speech, he defended the CPUSA, turned the tables on prosecutors, and unsealed an indictment of capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. We reprint excerpts of his speech here, which first appeared in the Daily Worker and were later published as part of the book “Ideas They Cannot Jail” from International Publishers.

CPUSA General Secretary Eugene Dennis. | People’s World Archives

I come before you tonight not only to defend the twelve leaders of our Communist Party who have been indicted on frame-up charges of “advocating force and violence” and of “conspiring forcibly to overthrow the United States government.”

I also come here to prosecute the men of the trusts and their government—the advocates and practitioners of imperialist force and violence against the American people and all progressive humanity. In the name of the American working class and its vanguard Communist Party, I charge that for some time prior to the end of the anti-Axis war, the forces of monopoly reaction were conspiring to launch a postwar offensive against the common people of America and the world.

I charge that soon after Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, the Truman Administration joined the GOP and the NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) as a full partner in this criminal conspiracy.

I charge, further, that in the period between April 1945 and July 1948, these bipartisan conspirators did repeatedly advocate the use of force; that they did commit many overt acts of violence to promote their reactionary aims at home and abroad.

I charge that their monstrous frame-up of our National Board is an integral part of this criminal conspiracy. It attempts to use legalized force to smash the Communist Party, the trade unions, the growing people’s peace movement, and the new Progressive Party.

I charge that this latest crime was plotted to advance the preparation of still more hideous crimes. And that chief among these is the crime of subjecting the American people to the force and violence of fascist dictatorship, and the peoples of the world to the force and violence of atomic warfare.

I charge that the sinister frame-up of our National Board is a cover for the grand larceny of the monopoly profiteers and the giant swindles of the food gamblers.

I also charge that this frame-up is an…election fraud, to save the Democratic Party from defeat in November, from taking the rap for its betrayals, and to bail out reaction’s two-party system.

These are some of the charges on which we Communists will rest our case. We are prepared to prove them to the hilt, through a host of witnesses and authentic documents.

We will submit a Bill of Particulars. We will enumerate the overt acts of the economic royalists attempting to overthrow the trade unions through the Taft-Hartley Law. We will detail their repeated efforts to subvert the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We will point out their criminal acts against the peace and sovereignty of other nations, committed under Wall Street’s Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan.

We will prove that these separate acts are component parts of a single reactionary design. We will show that they were done with criminal intent to extract enormous profits from the labor of American workers and to amass huge super-profits from the exploitation of foreign nations.

We will place in evidence the incendiary statements of warmongers like William Bullitt, James Byrnes, William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover, and John Foster Dulles. Their incitement to drop atom bombs on the Soviet Union brands them as advocating the use of force and violence for the most hideous and criminal imperialist ends.

We will amply document our charge that both the Truman Administration and the GOP are party to this criminal advocacy of a “preventive” war. We will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the bipartisan policy-makers are already guilty of the crime of genocide—of mass murder—in Greece, in China, in Israel.

There is no courtroom big enough to hold the witnesses who will testify that reaction uses the most brutal force and violence against the Negro people. They will speak for us across the land—in trade unions and churches, in giant meetings, at shop-gates, and on street corners. …

We will call spokesmen for the Jewish people to tell how the anti-Semitism of American reaction breeds crimes of force and violence.

We will call the widows of coal miners to tell how greed for profit commits murder underground. We will call the mothers and sisters of strikers slain on the picket line to identify those guilty of anti-labor force and violence.

And we will call Communists and non-Communists to testify that monopoly’s red-baiting incites mob violence against private homes and public assemblies of the people, as well as government persecution and employer blacklisting.

The anti-communist Red Scare campaign came amidst an upsurge of labor activism and strikes. Though the official target was the Communist Party, the attacks were aimed at crippling unions and denying them their best organizers and leaders. Here, police attack striking workers at the General Electric Plant in Philadelphia, Feb. 28, 1946. | AP

From this platform, I issue our summons. You who have felt the force and violence of capitalist oppression, you who hate the force and violence of fascism and imperialist war—the Communist Pw now summons each and all of you to come forward, and bear true witness in the case of the people against the trusts.

We, the accusers, come into court with clean hands. A whole century of Marxist theory and practices refutes every moth-eaten anti-communist slander of reaction.

We will put in evidence all that we have written and said since the July 1945 Emergency Convention reconstituted our Communist Party. Above all, we will let our deeds tell how for nearly 30 years our Party has given devoted service to the American working class and people.

Yes, we helped lead the unemployed millions in the 1930s when they overthrew the Hoovervilles and laid the groundwork for Social Security. Does learned counsel for the Wall Sheet firm of Boom & Bust want to make something of that—now, when the symptoms of an impending new economic crisis drive the monopolists to try the poison-cure of fascism and war?

Yes, we played a major part in the struggle to tear down the open shop and labor spy system and build the great American labor movement. Does learned counsel for Injunction Harry want to make something of that—now, when the trade unions fight for life against the force and violence of the NAM’s Taft-Hartley Act?

We Communists have always been in the forefront of the struggle to drive Jim Crow from our land. Yes, we mean to abolish white supremacy in the South and smash its slave institutions—the share-cropping system and the poll-tax.

Let Attorney General Clark tell the Negro people what the FBI was doing on East 12th Street in New York City (CPUSA headquarters) on the afternoon of July 20, when most of us were arrested, while in Stone Mountain and in Birmingham those who practice lynch violence were advocating the subversion of the Bill of Rights, and conspiring to block its enforcement by mob terror. Why wasn’t the FBI breaking up the KKK and the Dixiecrat conspiracy?

People’s World Archives

We Communists come into court with the clean bands of anti-fascists, anti-imperialists. Yes, we Communists have drawn fascist blood in Spain and on every battlefront of World War II. But our hands are not stained with the blood of war profits. We have never shaken hands with a fascist nor closed a deal with cartelists.

We come into court with a matchless record in the fight for national security and peace. In peace and in war, we have ever defended, defend now, and will always defend the true interests of our people and of America. In solidarity with the working people of all lands, we support all movements of national liberation and defend the national independence and sovereignty of all nations…. We uphold the United Nations and seek to build it on the firm foundation of American-Soviet cooperation.

The bipartisan conspirators who overthrew Roosevelt’s peace policies now attempt to overthrow peace itself. We Communists advocate that the American people unite in effective mass action to thwart their evil design.

We Communists come into court with the clean hands of anti-capitalists, refusing to give aid and comfort to the enemies of labor and the people. The infamous Smith Act under which our National Board was indicted has been on the statute books since 1940. It was put there to cripple the trade unions and force on them a no-strike policy.

Why was there no effort made at any time during the past eight years to invoke the Smith Act against our Communist Party? Because—as even the Attorney General admitted to the House Un-American Committee in April 1948—there is no shred of evidence to warrant such a prosecution.

We Communists advocate peace, democracy, and social progress. We advocate mass organization, mass action, and mass struggle as the instruments for achieving the aims of labor and the people. We place a high value on political action. That is why we support the new independent Progressive Party and fight the poll-tax and other restrictions of the people’s right to vote. We place an equally high value on the economic action of the working class. That is why we support the trade unions and advocate working-class unity.

Despite all fables and falsehoods, we Communists do not advocate force and violence. As Marxists, we are opposed in principle to adventurism, terror, assassination, conspiracies, and coups d’état.

As Marxists, we know that no social system, and least of all the capitalist system, can be overthrown by a conspiracy or by a minority. As Lenin emphasized: The organization of a society can be changed only after it has outlived its social usefulness. And it can be changed only when the human beings who live under its system find it no longer endurable, and decide to create a new social order. This always requires that a majority of the new and rising class, in the interests of the immense majority of the people, lead the struggle for social progress and basic change.

Always and everywhere it is the old and dying class which advocates and practices force and violence to preserve its obsolete rule. This did the British monarchists seek to put down the revolutionary American mercantile class. Thus did the slavocracy seek to prevent the revolutionary rise of the American industrial bourgeoisie. Thus does monopoly capitalism turn to fascism and imperialist war in an equally vain attempt to halt the advance of the American working class and its popular allies and the social progress of all peoples.

In exercising our right to defend the immediate and vital interests of the American working class and people, we Communists also exercise our inalienable right to advocate social change—socialism.

We do not advocate the forceful overthrow of the United States government. But we do uphold the cardinal principle on which it was founded—the indefeasible right of the American people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We uphold the Declaration of Independence which states that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms to them shall seem most likely to affect their happiness.”

I charge that monopoly capitalism and its state power are conspiring to deny the life, liberty, and happiness of the American people. I charge that to this end they now seek to nullify and overthrow the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

Anti-communism at home was matched with imperialist war abroad. In this Jan. 18, 1951, file photo, Bomber Command planes of the U.S. Air Force rain tons of high demolition bombs on North Korea. During the war, approximately 400,000 bombs were dropped on Pyongyang alone, roughly one bomb for every resident at the time, and only two modern buildings in the capital were left standing by the time of the 1953 ceasefire. All told, the U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea during the war, most of it in the North, including with 32,500 tons of napalm. | U.S. Air Force via AP

This, in brief outline, is the case we Communists bring before the jury of our American working-class peers.

No matter how what reaction digs up from the dregs of capitalist society, no matter what “espionage” provocations and other new frame-ups the bipartisan monopolists invent to bolster their miserable defense, we intend to press our indictment against the men of the trusts—and make it stick.

We remind the American people that those who tried to frame the German Communists for Hitler’s Reichstag Fire were hanged for their crimes by the Nuremberg Tribunal. But before that happened, millions of lives were consumed in the hell-fires of World War II. If the trade unions and the other mass organizations of the American people pour their united wrath upon Truman’s bipartisan Reichstag Fire, they can put it out—now.

In the name of peace, democracy, and social progress, we Communists call on labor and all progressive Americans to join with us in accomplishing this great task now—before it is too late.

Also, read Tony Pecinovsky’s reply to Eliott C. McLaughlin:

Is CNN jumping on the red-baiting bandwagon?


Eugene Dennis
Eugene Dennis

Eugene Dennis (1905-61) was a union organizer and longtime leader of the Communist Party USA. He served as the party's General Secretary during the height of the Cold War anti-communist repression. His name was associated with the Supreme Court case of Dennis v. United States, a major McCarthy era legal fight to defend free speech and the First Amendment.