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Socialism on Trial


























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On the first day of April, 1920, the lower house of
the legislature of the State of New York by an over-
whelming vote adopted a resolution expelling the five
Socialists who had been elected members of that body.
The unprecedented action was the culmination of a
sensational political proceeding, which was followed with
tense interest by the whole country. It had its incep-
tion on the opening day of the legislative session, January
7th, 1920, when the Speaker of the Assembly, Thaddeus
C. Sweet, without preliminary debate or notice of any
kind, suddenly ordered the Socialist members to the
bar of the House and coolly informed them that they
would not be allowed to take their seats in the Assembly
on the ground that they had been elected "upon a plat-
form that is absolutely inimical to the best interests of
the State of New York and of the United States." The
Speaker was immediately followed by the majority leader
of the Assembly, who offered a resolution in substance
condemning the Socialist Party as a revolutionary and
unpatriotic organization, and directing that the seats of
the Socialist Assemblymen be declared vacant "pending
the determination of their qualifications and eligibility."
The resolution was passed with only six dissenting votes.
After thus convicting a whole political party without
trial, the entire matter was referred to the Judiciary
Committee of the Assembly "for investigation" — a sort
of post-mortem inquest. The hearings in the peculiar
proceeding resulted in a divided report, seven members



of the Committee recommending the expulsion of all the
Socialist Assemblymen, while five members upheld their
right to their seats and one favored the expulsion of
three and the seating of two of the defendants.

From a legal aspect the proceeding was a monstrosity.

The entire scheme of our political system is that the
people should govern through their elected representa-
tives. The right of the people to choose their own rep-
resentatives is supreme. The provisions of the New
York State constitution which had any bearing upon the
issue, are based upon this political axiom. The law
prescribes the qualifications of Members of the Assembly.
They are few in number and plain in meaning. A Mem-
ber of the Assembly must be of full age, a citizen of
the United States and a resident of the State. He
must, of course, also have been elected by a plurality of
the votes legally cast in his district at an election duly

Since the existence of these qualifications and the fact
of the election may be, and in practice often are, ques-
tioned, and an appropriate tribunal must exist to de-
termine such questions, the constitution of the State
ordains that each house shall be "the judge of the elec-
tions, returns and qualifications of its own members."

In passing upon the qualifications of its members, the
Assembly acts in a judicial capacity. It is legally and
morally bound by the provisions of the Constitution,
and the latter leaves no room for doubt as to the rights
of elected public officials.

After directing that all such officials take an oath to
support the Constitution of the United States and the
constitution of the State of New York, and prescribing
the form of such oath, it specifically and solemnly or-
dains that "no other oath, declaration or test shall be
required as a qualification for any ofiice of public trust."
To an unbiased mind it must be quite patent that the


intentions of this provision was to prohibit the exact
thing which the Assembly has done in the case of its
Socialist members.

Now that the proceeding has passed from the agitated
realm of controversy into the serene domain of history,
the full significance of the precedent set in Albany gradu-
ally begins to dawn upon thinking America. As time
goes on the irretrievable ravages which the reckless ac-
tion has wrought upon the precious fabric of popular
government will become more obvious. In the calm
retrospect of future years the lawless disfranchisement
of a whole political party will rank with the Dred Scott
decision as a national calamity.

The baneful precedent may never be applied again, or
it may be made the basis of an even more outrageous-
political crime in some future fit of emotional public
hysteria. It will always be with us. Like Banquo's
ghost, it will hover about the constitution — a sinister
reminder of the insecurity of representative govern-
ment and popular elections.

The action of the Assembly will not destroy the So-
cialist Party. Nor will it force it to modify its substan-
tial aims or character. The Socialist movement is too
strongly intrenched as a vital and organic part of the
modern political system to be annihilated by the edict
of a handful of naive politicians.

On the other hand, the action of the Assembly may
prove to be the making of the Socialist Party. The
plot for the ouster of the Socialist members of the As-
sembly undoubtedly originated with the Republican
machine in the Assembly. Had the Democratic members
of the Assembly or the Democratic Party as such pos-
sessed the political honesty, courage and wisdom to op-
pose the measure, the odium of the proceeding would
have fallen with its entire weight upon the Republican
Party. But the Democrats chose to make common cause


with their Republican rival in the perpetration of the

The Socialist Party thus becomes the only place of
refuge for the liberty-loving citizen. The irony of the
political game has decreed that at the very moment when
the Socialist Party has been barred from a legislative
body as a "foe of the constitution," it finds itself the
sole political guardian of popular constitutional rights.
Henceforward Socialism will have a double appeal to the
voters, a political as well as an economic.

The following pages represent a full stenographic
record of my closing address as counsel for the Socialist
Assemblymen before the Judiciary Committee of the
Assembly. The hearing, which began on the 20th day
of January and was concluded on the 9th day of March,
covered most of the important phases of modern So-
cialist thought and policy. It leaves behind it a record
of more than 2200 closely printed pages. The closing
address, which attempted to summarize the issues from
the Socialist point of view, thus resolved itself into an
attempt at a rather complete exposition of the present-
day philosophy, program and methods of the Socialist
Party and its attitude towards the late war and the
great world problems arising from it. This character of
the speech and the historic circumstances under which
it was made, will, I hope, justify its present publication.

New York, May 15th, 1920

Morris Hillquit


The Charges. — Before beginning my argument, I
wish to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the other mem-
bers of the Committee, for the great patience and for-
bearance which you have shown throughout this pro-
ceeding. I also wish to express my appreciation to counsel
on the other side for their conduct, which, on the
whole, has been courteous, and to say that if, in the
course of my remarks I should have occasion to criticize
some of their conduct in this proceeding it shall by no
means be taken as personal, but only as necessitated
by the exigencies of the case itself.

True to his promise, the Chairman has allowed a great
latitude to both sides in the introduction of evidence. We
have had an extraordinary wide range of testimony, some
relevant, some irrelevant; and today, when we come to
sum up the case, we are confronted by an unusual record,
I believe, of about 2,000 printed pages, covering every
conceivable historical, economic and sociological subject.

I believe it to be the object of a summing up to sepa-
rate the wheat from the chaff ; to come down to the actual
issues; to discuss the principal evidence on such issues,
and to give the view of counsel for the respective sides,
on the purport and meaning of such evidence; and I be-
lieve I can render no better service to the Committee in
their deliberations than to recall to them at the threshold
that after all is said and done, and after all the testi-
mony is sifted and weighed, we are here in a definite
proceeding and for a definite and concrete object. We
have gotten away from the facts of the case. We have
gotten away in some respects from the objects, and it may
be well to recall here the origin of this proceeding.

In the last general election of 1919, Louis Waldman,


August Claessens, Samuel A. deWitt, Samuel Orr and
Charles Solomon were duly elected by their respective
constituencies in the city of New York, to be members
of this body. They received a plurality, or majority
vote in each case. Their election was not contested. A
certificate of election was issued to each of them, and on
the 7th day of January, 1920, the opening day of the
first session of this Assembly, they duly presented them-
selves, took the constitutional oath of oflBce, participated
in the work of organizing this Chamber and in some other
preliminary work until such time as they were, upon the
motion of the Speaker of the House — upon his own
motion — called before the Bar of this House and, after
being lectured by the Speaker, a resolution was intro-
duced, submitted to a vote and adopted; and they
thereupon and under the terms of that resolution, were
suspended from their office pending this hearing.

This resolution is the authority under which your
Committee acts. It not only states the subject of your
inquiry, but it also defines and limits your authority in
the matter. It is the only legal warrant under which
you gentlemen of the Committee are here to-day ; and it,
therefore, becomes very important to have that resolu-
tion and its wording clearly before you. I shall take the
liberty of reading it now. It is as follows:

"Whereas, Louis Waldman, August Claessens,
Samuel A. deWitt, Samuel Orr and Charles Solomon
are members of the Socialist Party of America ; and

"Whereas, the said Socialist Party did, at its
official party convention, held in the city of Chicago,
Illinois, in the month of August, 1919, declare its
adherence and solidarity with the revolutionary
forces of Soviet Russia and did pledge itself and its
members to the furtherance of the International
Socialist Revolution; and

"Whereas, by such adherence and such declaration
made by the said party, the said party has endorsed
the principles of the Communist Internationale now
being held at Moscow, Russia, which Internationale


is pledged to the forcible and violent overthrow of
all organized government now existing; and

"Whereas, section 5 of article 2 of the Constitu-
tion of the Socialist party of America provides that
each member of the Socialist party of America must
subscribe to the following: 'In all my political ac-
tion, while a member of the Socialist party, I agree
to be guided by the Constitution and platform of
that party'; and

"Whereas, section 13, subdivision 8, of the State
Constitution of the Socialist party of the State of
New York provides: 'A member may be expelled
from the party, or may be suspended for a period
not exceeding one year, for the following offenses:
(f) for failing, or refusing when elected to a public
office, to abide and carry out such instructions as
he may have received from the dues-paying party
organization, or as prescribed by the State or
National Constitution'; and

"Whereas, such instructions may be given by an
executive committee made up in whole or in part of
alien enemies owing allegiance to governments or
organizations inimical to the interests of the United
States and the people of the State of New York ; and

"Whereas, the National Convention of the Social-
ist party of America, held at St. Louis, from April 7,
to about April 14, 1917, did duly adopt resolutions
that the only struggle which would justify taking up
arms is the class struggle against economic exploita-
tion and political oppression, and particularly
warned against the snare and delusion of so-called
defensive warfare ; and such resolutions further pro-
vided "as against the false doctrine of national
patriotism, we uphold the idea of international
working-class solidarity"; and

"Whereas, the Socialist party of America did urge
its members to refrain from taking part in any way,
shape or manner in the war, and did affirmatively
urge them to refuse to engage even in the production
of munitions of war and other necessaries used in


the prosecution of the said war, and did thereby
stamp the said party and all of its members with an
inimicable attitude to the best interests of the United
States and the State of New York; and

'^Whereas, the said Louis Waldman, August
Claessens, Samuel A. deWitt, Samuel Orr and
Charles Solomon, members of the Socialist party of
America, having been elected upon the platform of
the Socialist party of America, have thereby sub-
scribed to its principles and its aims and purposes,
against the organized government of the United
States and the State of New York, and have been
actively associated with and connected with an or-
ganization convicted of a violation of the Espionage
Act of the United States;

"Therefore, be it resolved, that the said Louis
Waldman, August Claessens, Samuel A. deWitt,
Samuel Orr and Charles Solomon, members of the
Socialist party, be and they hereby are denied seats
in this Assembly pending the determination of their
qualifications and eligibility to their respective seats,
and be it further

"Resolved, that the investigation of the qualifi-
cations and eligibility of the said persons to their
respective seats in this Assembly be and it hereby is
referred to the Committee on Judiciarj^ of the As-
sembly of the State of New York, to be hereafter
appointed, and that the said Conamittee be em-
powered to adopt such rules of procedure as in its
judgment it deems proper, and that said Committee
be further empowered to subpoena and examine wit-
nesses and docimientary evidence, and to report to
this body its determinations as to the qualifications
and eligibility of the said Louis Waldman, August
Claessens, Samuel A. deWitt, Samuel Orr and
Charles Solomon, and each of them respectively, to a
seat in this Assembly."

Now, Mr. Chairman, I call your attention, first of
all to the object for which this investigation has been


instituted, and which is stated twice in the resolution.
One is that the Assemblymen mentioned be denied their
seats "pending the determination of their qualifications
and eligibility to their respective seats"; and by the
other: you are asked to report finally your determination
as to "the qualifications and eligibility" of these five
men. So that the only question before you — the only
question upon which you have the power to take testi-
mony and to pass upon it — is the question of the eligi-
bility and qualification of these five men. You have no
other authority under this resolution. I say this for the
reason that the nature of this proceeding and its legal
status have never been made quite clear; and in fact,
when you go through the record, you will find several
conflicting allusions to the nature of this proceeding.

There is, as you well know, first of all, the constitu-
tional provision to the effect that each House — and, of
course, also this Assembly — shall be the judge of the
elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members ;
and that is the only provision which the Assembly had
in view in passing this resolution under which you are

You cannot adopt any other theory but that these five
men were denied seats not on account of their conduct
in the Assembly; but they were denied their seats at
the threshold of their terms, just upon a challenge of
their qualifications and eligibility.

The other provision which has been mentioned here
is the one of the Legislative Law, section 3, to the effect
that each House has the power to expel any of its mem-
bers after the report of a Committee to inquire into the
charges against him shall have been made. ^ Clearly,
this proceeding does not come within that provision ; first,
because the expulsion or suspension of these members
took place before any inquiry into charges; and also
because I think it has been held uniformly — and it is
quite clear from the context — that this section of the
Legislative Law deals only with conduct of members of
the Assembly in office. It could not be anything else.
For that matter I doubt that the Legislature would have


a right to go back to original qualifications by the enact-
ment of a similar provision.

Another provision which also has been referred to in
the course of this proceeding is that of the Public Officers
Law, section 35-a, reading: "A person holding any public
office shall be removable therefrom in the manner pro-
vided by law for the utterance of any treasonable word
or words, or the doing of any treasonable or seditious act
or acts during his term."

Now, it is perfectly clear that this provision has abso-
lutely no application to the case before you ; first, because
the offense here mentioned must be committed during
the term of oflfice; and, of course, the term of office of
these Assemblymen covered a period not beyond two
hours, during which time they are not charged with mis-
conduct in any shape, form or manner. Furthermore,
from the reading of this provision it is perfectly clear
that all that it meant to do was to specify one of the
offenses referred to in a general way in the Legislative
Laws, an offense for w^hich a member may be expelled,
because this provision — "a person holding any public
office shall be removed therefrom in the manner pro-
vided by law" — assumes and refers to a definite
procedure for such removal, mentioned elsewhere,

I do rLot suppose it will be seriously contended by
the other side or that any member of the committee
would entertain any serious doubts on the subject,
namely, that these five Assemblymen are tried here as
to their qualifications or eligibility for office under the
provisions of the Constitution of the State of New York,
article 3, section 10. That is one very important in-
ference we must draw from the reading of the resolution.

Thus you are asked to inquire into the eligibility and
qualifications of these men and to report your determina-
tion. Does that mean that you are given a general
roving commission? Does that mean that you are
limited in any way in the scope of your inquiry by the
provisions of that resolution? I hold it does not. What
I maintain, Mr. Chairman, is that the numerous pre-
ambles in the resolution in form charging these Assembly-


men with the commission of certain offenses or with the
possession of certain disqualifications are not meant to
be and could not have been meant to be conclusions in
the nature of a judgment. In other words, when the
Assembly, by its resolution said: "Whereas, the said
Socialist party did at its official party convention held at
the City of Chicago, Illinois, in the month of August,
1919, declare its adherence and solidarity with the revo-
lutionary forces of Soviet Russia, and did pledge itself
and its members to the furtherance of the International
Socialist Revolution," and when it further said, in the
next clause, "That Whereas, by such adherence and by
such declaration made by the said party, the said party
has endorsed the principles of the Communist Inter-
nationale now being held at Moscow, Russia, which
Internationale is pledged to the forcible and violent over-
throw of all organized governments now existing," the
Assembly did not mean to convey the impression that it
had investigated all these alleged facts, passed upon
them, and rendered judgment as therein set forth, for if
that had been the case there would be nothing to refer to
this committee. Also, it would be a perfectly novel pro-
cedure to render judgment without a trial, without a hear-
ing, without any evidence to support it. I take it, there-
fore, Mr. Chairman, that while the resolution is perhaps a
little unskillfully worded, the intention was to consider
these various recitals as charges, not as findings of facts,
somewhat analogous to the form of an indictment in which
the defendant is charged in positive and concrete terms
with the commission of certain offenses, but which does
not stand as the judgment of the court but merely as a
basis for trial and investigation. And I hold that these
various recitals do not intend to do more than that ; that
they merely represent charges against these Assembly-
men or their party in concrete form, and if my conten-
tion is correct, and I don't see how any other conclusion
could be held, it means that this resolution, other than its
first enacting clause, is an indictment. And you gentle-
men of the committee are limited to the investigation of
these charges. There is nothing else before you.


In other words, tlie Assembly has said to you as fol-
lows: "Whereas, it is chiimed that the party to which
these five Assemblymen belong is committed to certain
policies, and has committed certain acts, and whereas,
it is claimed that such policies and acts are inconsistent
with their holding office, disqualify them and render
them ineligible." Therefore you gentlemen of the Com-
mittee are directed by this Assembly, through this resolu-
tion, first to ascertain the facts. Are these charges upon
which the Assembly acted in the suspension of these
members, are these charges true or are they false, or are
they true in part and false in part? If so, in what par-
ticulars are they true, and in what particulars are they
false? And if your decision on the question of fact is
that these charges are supported by evidence, or any of
them are supported by evidence, then you must determine
a second question, as a question of law, whether
upon the existence of such facts as you have ascertained,
these men have been rendered disqualified or ineligible
to office by the Constitution or by law. So that your
task is a two-fold one. You must inquire into the facts,
and I repeat, the facts recited in the resolution, determine
the truth or falsity of the charges, and then determine as
a question of law, whether or not the existence of such
conditions render these five men eligible or qualified to
hold the office as members of the Assembly.

Curiously enough, at the very outset of this proceeding,
at the first session of this Committee, a statement was
read by the Chairman presumably in behalf of the Com-
mittee, giving a somewhat different version of the issues
before this Committee. A version not in all respects in
accord with the resolution. The source of the statement
has never been made clear in this proceeding. Whether
it was the individual opinion of the Chairman, a state-
ment of the Committee, or in the nature of an attempted
superseding indictment, we do not know, but the fact is
that this statement contained several additional charges
not found in the original resolution.

These were: First, that these five Assemblymen were
"members of a party or society whose platform or prin-


ciples and whose doctrines, as advocated today, call for
or demand, the complete destruction of our form of gov-
ernment by the fomentation of industrial unrest, the
bringing into play of force and violence and direct action
of the masses. That was not, the latter part, at least,
contained in the original resolution. Further, that these
men affiliated with that party or society, have subscribed
to and advocate such principles, and are in favor of abso-
lute substitution of minority for majority rule." That,
likewise, is a new charge, not embraced in the resolution.

Then, "that in 1917, when our country was at w^ar with

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