A Universal Struggle
Williams in a member of the Spartacus Youth League
ON NOVEMBER 30 of last year the Spartacist League successfully challenged for the first time the 1983 Attorney General Guidelines for Domestic Security/Terrorism Investigations. The plaintiffs called the suit "an important victory for everyone who fights to defend democratic rights." Indeed it was, and one such triumph is not enough to protect the right of free speech from attacks by the Reagan Administration.
Under Reagan and the 1983 FBI guidelines, the government has tried to equate political opposition with criminal conspiracy and terrorism, thus mandating police infiltration and harassment of political groups.
The agreement, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, settled a lawsuit begun a year ago by the SL and the Spartacus Youth League (SYL), its youth group. The organizations challenged the FBI on the grounds that it falsely recast the organizations as terrorist groups. The suit forced the FBI to redefine the organization exactly as it is--a Marxist political organization--instead of attributing to the group a conspiratorial commitment to violent overthrow of the government.
It is unlikely a simple change in definitions will initiate any change in FBI motives and, of course, no one could pretend to know what importance or interpretation the FBI attaches to its agreement. Said Spartacist League General Counsel Rachel Wolkenstein, "we have no illusions that the government's secret police have stopped or will stop their harassment, infiltration or disruption of Marxist political organizations and other political opponents of the government." Nevertheless, Wolkenstein added, the "settlement strikes a modest but genuine blow against that deadly equation of opposition with conspiracy."
"In agreeing to change its definition of the Spartacist League," Wolkenstein said, "the FBI conceded the central claim of our lawsuit--that Marxist political principles and advocacy cannot be equated with violence, terrorism or a criminal enterprise."
NOTHING, IN FACT, is less conspiratorial than a Marxist working class organization whose success is entirely dependent upon the open and widest dissemination of its views. The FBI's agreement to change its definition of the Spartacist League implicitly but clearly spikes the government's deadly definition--that all political opponents are de facto terrorists. It is a modest but genuine blow to the new McCarthyism.
Moreover, the change in definition undermines the FBI's premise that Marxist political organizations are equated with violence, which has been the pretext for over 60 years of surveillance, harassment and repression of the American left and the workers movement. From the persecution of Eugene V. Debs under the Espionage Act during World War I through the Smith Act attack on Trotskyists in the 1940s and the Communist Party in the 1950s, the drive for imperialist war abroad has always has always justified a war at home against all opposition. Under the guise of combatting "terrorism", FBI guidelines, presidential directives, Supreme Court rulings and Congressional measures have granted sweeping powers to military and secret police agencies for actual state-supported terrorism against the American people.
The New McCarthyism has risen to accompany the growth of Cold War II, incorporating the direct-hit military methods of the infamous COIN-TELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) with the ideological criteria of the last Cold War.
Ask Black Panther survivors of the COINTELPRO operation frame-up and murder what it means to be targeted as terrorist by the government. Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a Black Panther incarcerated for 15 years, for a murder he did not commit, is only now having his case reopened.
The SL's latest successful legal challenge to the new McCarthyism has gained support at the Law School, inspiring an open forum presentation by Wolkenstein which will occur later in February. Sandra Ruffin, President of the Black Law Students Association, wrote in support of the victory and called it "a structured outrage" that should "serve as a signpost, a warning of the dangers to freedom which still threaten us!"
The SL and SYL's legal victory is an important win for everyone who values democratic rights. In the absence of open social struggle, it is highly admirable that at least one organization continues to launch successful opposition on both political and legal fronts. Our willingness to fight ensures that everyone--not only Marxists--has the right to organize political opposition.