Victor S. Yarros | The Nation

Victor S. Yarros

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Victor S. Yarros


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The great and sensational case of the United States of America vs.
William D. Haywood et al. resulted in a verdict of "Guilty" against the
one hundred defendants who finally faced the court and jury. Although
the trial consumed over four months, and al-though the witnesses were
numerous and the record unprecedentedly voluminous, the jury deliberated
less than two hours. This circumstance was a great surprise to the
de-fendants as well as to many impartial observers. But the last phase
of the trial was marked by more than one surprise. Every one concerned
had been very patient all through the long and wearisome affair, yet the
closing hours of the trial produced an im-pression of the keenest desire
to get through on any terms, and let the jury do what it might without
proper and adequate help from the attorneys in the case. The defence
suddenly decided to dispense with argument and analytical review of the
evidence from its point of view. The prosecution was not unwilling to
acquiesce in this arrangement, although it deprived the Government
likewise of the opportunity of going over the evi-dence carefully, and
showing how each of the one hundred defendants had been duly connected
by it with the conspiracies charged in the indictment.

Lawyers who watched the proceedings are at a loss to account for the
action of the de-fence at the eleventh hour. Was it confident of an
acquittal of all the defendants? How could it afford to take so great a
risk as it took in waiving the right to argue the case elaborately? Or
was it so certain of an adverse verdict as to all of the accused that it
did not think it worth while to claim even so substantial a right as
that of analyzing and in-terpreting the evidence and disproving the
views and conclusions of the other aide?

The second hypothesis is positively negatived by the assertions which
some of the ablest of the defendants made privately and publicly on the
eve of the final day of the trial. There can be no doubt that many of
them expected that they would be acquitted. There can be no doubt that
most of them believed that their side had presented a pow-erful and
impressive defence. None of them had complained of the slightest
unfairness on the part of the court, while some had declared repeatedly
that Judge Landis, the pre-siding judge, was giving them an absolutely
"fair deal." Optimism and overconfidence on the part of the defence
would seem to be the likelier explanation of its action. But, in that
case, its course was unwise and unjust to the jury. Could the jury be
expected to re-member unaided all the evidence and to make up its mind
that each of the one hundred defendants was guilty of the several
conspiracies charged beyond a reasonable doubt? Be this as it may, the
verdict is before the country. The great trial ended in a practically
complete victory for the Government, and a vindication of the warnings
and demands of those persons and organizations in the Northwest and
elsewhere who had accused the I. W. W. of disloyalty, sedition, and
bitter hostility towards the Government and its war policies.

Whether the verdict is justified as to all the defendants by the
evidence in the record is a question which the highest court in the land
will doubtless answer in due time. Certain it is that to all outward
seeming the trial was fair.

None of the defendants has alleged that in the courtroom any appeal to
mere prejudice was permitted or tolerated. The prosecution was, of
course, technical, but by no means too technical. The court resolved
many a doubt in regard to the admissibility of the evi-dence in favor of
the defendants. No disposition was manifested to restrict them as to the
way or manner in which they should meet the charges against them. If
they were hampered -- and they say that they were it was outside of the
courtroom, by lack of funds, by alleged interference with their
witnesses, by the failure to deliver mail to and from the headquarters
of the I. W. W., and the suppression of public appeals for
contri-butions to the defence fund.

It is very difficult for the ordinary citizen or even the ordinary
lawyer to comprehend the case against the now convicted leaders,
editors, speakers, organizers, and officers of the I. W. W. Was the I.
W. W. organization as such on trial? Is that organization lawless and
criminal, and could the Government have indicted all of its members had
it wished to do so? Was it a crime to entertain the views held by the I.
W. W.? The Government's theory of the case must be gathered from the
five counts of the original indictment, al-though the fifth count was
finally quashed and withdrawn by the trial judge. Each of the counts
charged conspiracy to violate a certain section of the criminal code of
the United States. The Government contended, first, that each of the
defendants had conspired with some of the others, or with persons for
various reasons not under indictment, to commit the alleged violations,
and, in the second place, that each of the defendants had committed
certain overt acts in pursuance of the alleged conspiracy. Hence, under
the law of conspiracy, they were guilty irrespective of the motives
which had actuated them. If their acts had been lawful, it would have
been necessary to prove a criminal intent, but the Government contended
that the acts and methods of which the defendants were ac-cused were all
unlawful to begin with.

The position of the Government was thus outlined by Mr. Nebeker, special
assistant to the Attorney-General and senior counsel for the

In the first place, there are numerous elements of unlawfulness involved
in every I. W. W. strike from the beginning of the organization down to
the present time . . . . The whole proposition has been that the
ordinary American Federation of Labor strike, as they call it, the
ordinary folded-arm strike, the ordinary strike by which men either
indi-vidually or collectively cease to work, is not an I. W. W. strike.
So that the old-time, the old-fashioned, strike is not in this
controversy at all. In addition to that, they all said, and have said
all along the line, that they would practice sabotage, strike on the
job, violate the property rights of the man who owns the mine or the
lumber camp, deal with his property as if it were their own. Now there
will never be any way for the defendants to get away from that
proposition. In addition to that, I say that during the time that the
Government was in need of these basic industries for war purposes, they
had no right to conduct even a folded-arm strike . . . . When it cones
to a situation by which the country must have the product of these mines
and of these basic industries, men must govern themselves accordingly. .
. .They must cease; in other words, they must change their programme.
Now, they did not do that in this case.

Not having changed their programme or their conduct, continued Mr.
Nebeker, the de-fendants were chargeable with all the necessary and
direct consequences of their acts; and if one of the consequences was
interference with the operations of the Government, they were chargeable
with that consequence, the law presuming then to have intended that too.

In the light of these explanations, one may now turn to the indictment
itself. The first count charged that the defendants conspired with the
late Frank Little and others to pre-vent, hinder, and delay by force the
execution of several acts and resolutions of Con-gress having to do with
the war; that the defendants, as officers, agitators, editors, or
organizers of the I. W. W., had been engaged in propagating the ideas of
that body and in managing its affairs; that they had advocated and
brought about local strikes, indus-trial strikes, and general strikes in
utter disregard of the rights of other persons and es-pecially of the
United States; that they had regularly and systematically carried on the
work of the organization, which avowedly aimed at the abolition of the
existing industrial system, knowing and intending that their activities
would interfere with the production of munitions of war, supplies, etc.,
required for the military forces of the United States; and that the
defendants required members of-the organization to refuse to register or
to submit to the draft.

The second count charged the defendants with conspiring to oppress,
threaten, and in-timidate many persons engaged in furnishing, under
contract, munitions, fuel, ships, equipment, etc., to the United States.
The third count charged conspiracy to aid, coun-sel, command, and induce
thousands of persons to refuse to register, and other thou-sands to
desert the service of the United States. The fourth count charged
conspiracy to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in
the military and naval forces, as well as to obstruct recruiting and
enlistment. The fifth count charged conspiracy to vio-late the postal
laws of the country by depositing for mailing and delivery papers,
circu-lars, and "stickerettes" advocating the commission of fraudulent
acts against employers, such acts consisting of sabotage, secret
interference with efficient service, willful slack-ening of production,
and restriction of profits.

Sixteen pages of the bulky indictment are devoted to an enumeration of
"overt acts" of the defendants, said "acts" consisting of telegrams,
letters, circulars, articles, and pam-phlets in which the various
offences alleged in the counts were proposed, endorsed, or advocated.
Only a few of the citations given in this section of the indictment can
be re-produced here. The organ of the I. W. W., Solidarity, printed such
sentiments as these during the period covered by the indictment and
after the entry of the United States into the war:

Every war is for gain. How much of this gala do the workers get?
Nothing. Who does the dying? The workers. Then, if war is declared, lot
us, by all means, pull off the general strike to prevent it. What is
more simple?

It is needless to say that the I. W. W. is unalterably opposed to war
and conscription . . . . We consider the bombastic and far-fetched talk
about freedom and democracy simply so much bunk.

Any one with good sense now objects to being told that Czar Wilson is
working for the interests of the working class in trying to force them
against their wills into the bloody European slaughter-fest. The
treachery, duplicity, and hypocrisy of the present Admini-stration have
done more to remove the time-hallowed veneration for political
govern-ment from the minds of the slaves than anything that has happened
in decades . . . . The refusal of American workers to volunteer and
their determined opposition to being drafted into the army demonstrates
clearly that war is being recognized by the slave class as a cause of
class hatred.

A letter from one Phineas Eastman to Haywood referred to the uncertainty
of members of the I. W. W. in regard to conscription, and enclosed a
motion, unanimously adopted at Augusta, Kansas, by a branch of the
organization, for the purpose of "stopping all speculation." The motion
advised all members to resist conscription "by refusing to join any band
of potential murderers, or by any other effective method deemed
advisable." From Seattle, Washington, a certain strike committee wrote
to Haywood that patriotism was being preached there among the workers in
the mills and yards, and that the strik-ers had the good will of the
German people in the community. It added: "We are going to carry our
points if we have to stop every industry on the Pacific Coast. We did
not de-clare war, and have not consented to the workingman giving up his
liberties and being drafted." All of the foregoing quotations the
Government claimed to be typical.

The Government further contended at the trial that if the offices of
the I. W. W. had not been raided, correspondence seized, plans revealed,
and leaders arrested, the organi-zation would certainly have brought
about all manner of local and general strikes for the purpose of
paralyzing the hands of the Government and at the same time striking a
powerful blow at the present industrial system. It insisted that the
war, instead of caus-ing the I. W. W. to suspend its agitation and
warfare against capitalism, led it to make special efforts to increase
and intensify its activities. The attorneys for the Government claimed
that they could have offered evidence ad infinitum of the plots and
conspiracies charged in the indictment, but that they had stopped when
enough evidence had been introduced to prove the guilt of the defendants
beyond reasonable doubt.

Under the Government's theory of the case, the I. W. W. cannot continue
its normal ac-tivities without violating the criminal laws of the United
States and exposing itself to prosecution for conspiracy. It can
continue to exist only if it ceases to advocate strikes, direct action,
and sabotage, withdraws from circulation its typical literature, and
sus-pends all agitation against conscription, war, and the effective
mobilization of the na-tional resources, human and other, for the
prosecution of the war. The I. W. W. has not been formally "proclaimed"
or outlawed, but it must change its tactics and methods, de-clare a sort
of truce, and confine itself to theoretical criticism of the present
industrial system and theoretical advocacy of a cooperative system,
without the element of what it calls exploitation. This conclusion
manifestly follows from the position taken by the Gov-ernment at the
recent trial.

The defence of the I. W. W. leaders consisted of two distinct parts. The
several conspir-acy charges were flatly and unqualifiedly denied. That
is, the defendants denied that they, or any of them, had entered into
any sort of agreement or understanding, or had formed any common design,
to obstruct or hamper the Government in its military opera-tion or in
any other of its activities. They denied absolutely that there had been
any con-spiracy to resist the draft, or to advise such resistance, or to
encourage desertion in the army or navy.

Of course, if there was no conspiracy, the charges fell to the ground.
But what of the many "overt acts" alleged and proved by the Government?
The answer was that, if any of the defendants had written or spoken
against registration under the Draft act, or against enlistment, or
against the necessity or justice of the war policies of the Govern-ment,
they did so as individuals on their several personal accounts. Since
they held cer-tain views concerning war in general, and concerning
capitalism and the position of la-bor, there was nothing extraordinary
in the fact that several of the defendants should have expressed,
simultaneously, the same ideas concerning the present war. It would have
been strange if they had not done so. At any rate, the defence claimed,
such agreement regarding fundamentals like war, and capitalism as the
cause of war, offers little evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

The Government, the defence argued, might have indicted and tried some
of the same men for violation of the Espionage act and kindred offences;
but the theory of conspir-acy was declared to be utterly baseless.

Similarly, the charge that the defendants had, pursuant to the alleged
conspiracy, coun-selled and advocated sabotage, was unqualifiedly
denied. True, the defendants said, the I. W. W. believes in sabotage as
a permanent and effective weapon in the war on the capitalistic system;
but as a matter of fact, they insisted, none of the several acts of
sabotage attributed to their organization in the Government's bill of
particulars, or in the Government's testimony, had been committed by the
I. W. W., if committed at all.

Again, the defence denied unreservedly that the I. W. W., or its leaders
on trial, had as-sumed a position of positive hostility towards the
Government by reason of its war poli-cies. On the contrary, the defence
insisted, Haywood (the acknowledged intellectual head of the I. W. W.)
had repeatedly declined to commit the organization to such a posi-tion,
or to endorse suggestions to that end. Evidence was offered to show that
Haywood had written to fellow-members that an antiwar position might
"put them out of business," and, at another time, that the L W. W.
"intended to take part in the war." That certain of the defendants had
denounced the war and the Government's war policies and had even advised
drastic action to cripple the Government, was not denied. But, as in the
case of other alleged offences, it was urged the particular individuals
in question might have been indicted and tried. The error of the
prosecution, they averred, lay in assuming the existence of a common
design, or conspiracy, and placing responsibility for antiwar and
anti-Government utterances on many who had not been guilty of such
utterances, but who had, indeed, sought to prevent them.

The defence did not, however, limit itself to denials where the issue
was simply and plainly whether or not the defendants had done, or had
conspired to do, a certain thing. It undertook to prove by direct
testimony that the I. W. W. were taking part in the war, were giving and
risking their lives for the Government, were making, loading, and
trans-porting munitions of war, were raising food for the men in
uniform; were, in short, ren-dering cheerfully and willingly a vital
service to the Government. I. W. W. members in uniform took the stand
and testified that they were loyal soldiers of the United States despite
their affiliation with that organization. Other witnesses were placed on
the stand to testify that I. W. W. men had proved to be faithful and
industrious workers on farms.

This whole line of testimony and argument was forcibly presented to the
jury and the court by the senior counsel for the defence, George F.
Vanderveer, in his opening statement. The following is a quotation from
this statement:

We are going to bring before you men in the service, men from the
various [military] camps, to tell you about their fellow-workers who are
with them in uniform, and about the ones who have already gone to
France, and about the kind of service they are ren-dering. We are going
to show you plenty of men from this organization who volunteered, who
did not wait to be drafted. We are going to show you that a lumbermen's
regiment and a loggers' regiment recruited at Spokane and at Missoula
were recruited largely from our members.

Wherever, continued Mr. Vanderveer, the I. W. W. are found, they may
have controver-sies with their employers, but wherever you find them
free from a fight with the boss, you find them fighting in the ranks of
the workingmen for their Government. Counsel re-ferred specifically to
the Mesaba Range, where there was not a single strike in 1917; to the
textile industry at Lawrence and Paterson, where there was not a single
strike of any kind in that year; to the northern Minnesota woods, where
there was not a single strike; to the copper-producing sections of
Michigan; to the biggest submarine-building yards at Fore River, Mass.;
to the Philadelphia docks and navy yard, and other important "war
industries" on which I. W. W. are employed in large numbers, and which
they could eas-ily have tied up had they cared to do so, or had their
principles required them to do so.

So much for the first part of the defence. The second part consisted of
interpretations and explications of facts that were not, or could not
be, denied. The Government had offered testimony covering several
important strikes and threatened extensions of these strikes. There had
been strikes at Butte, in the Arizona woods, in Michigan, and
else-where. There had been correspondence in regard to these strikes and
confident expec-tations or boasts of their extension. The Government
pointed to these things as weighty proofs of the conspiracies charged.
The defence, on the other hand, contended that each of the strikes or
threatened strikes had resulted from grievances and wrongs in the
industry affected; that the war had nothing whatever to do with any of
them; that the in-tent of such defendants as were connected with the
strikes was not to resist or obstruct the Government, but to improve
local conditions and make the lives of the workers en-durable. Moreover,
argued the defence, some of these strikes were not even I. W. W.
affairs, but were "regular" trade-union strikes in which I. W. W.
members participated merely as individuals.

If neither the intent in calling or advocating the strikes complained of
by the Government nor the methods of the strikers were unlawful, then,
of course, the strikers and their leaders were not responsible, in the
eye of the law, for such interference with the pro-duction of materials
necessary to the prosecution of the war. If the intent was lawful, and
the methods were also unobjectionable, then an I. W. W. strike did not
differ in any way from an "ordinary," old-fashioned strike. Hundreds of
strikes have taken place since our entry into the war, and hundreds of
thousands of workers have taken part in them. Had they been charged with
conspiracy to hamper the Government and interfere with its war
activities? They had not; then why impute to the I. W. W. unlawful,
sinister, and disloyal designs when they called or encouraged perfectly
just, reasonable, and lawful strikes?

In accordance with this reasoning, the defence essayed to justify and
explain the vari-ous strikes of which the Government complained. The
defence sought to convince the court and the jury that the intent of
these strikes was lawful, that the strikes themselves were lawful, and
that the methods advocated and adopted in these situations were not

Judge Landis ruled that while such general literature on economic and
social conditions as the Report of the Industrial Relations Commission
could not be admitted as evi-dence, "the whole situation about the
mines, about the lumber forests and the mills in which these activities
occurred, might be put in evidence." This ruling opened the door to much
testimony concerning "intent" in calling strikes, concerning the
agitation that had been carried on, the speeches delivered by
defendants, the exact significance of the advice they had given, the
terms they had used, etc. Much testimony which, when summarized in the
press, puzzled even lawyers, who could not perceive its relevance or
competence, was admitted under this very broad ruling.

For example, several of the defendants, lecturers and organizers, were
permitted to make long speeches to the jury, in which they were supposed
to say exactly the things they had habitually said to workmen or
strikers in explanation of particular controversies with employers or of
the general I. W. W. position towards such controversies. In these
speeches and in other testimony the defendants placed before the jury
and court the whole philosophy of the I. W. W. movement -- the reason
for opposing political action, the meaning of the phrase "direct
action," the exact function and limits of sabotage, the attitude of the
organization towards the Government, etc. All this was done for the
pur-pose of refuting the conspiracy charge as well as for the purpose of
demonstrating the inherent improbability of that charge. The effort was
to show that the Government had mistaken the objects and misinterpreted
the aims and methods of the I. W. W. in spe-cific cases as well as in a
general way.

In brief, the position of the defendants was described as follows: The
I. W. W. is not making war, by its strikes and sabotage, on the
democratic form of government; it is not opposed to the Government of
the United States. It holds that what is called the capital-istic system
has grown up within and in spite of political democracy because forms of
government are not sufficient to do away with the exploitation of labor
and all the evils that result from such exploitation. The remedy for
these evils lies in the education and organization of the wage-workers.
Industrial unionism aims at the pacific and perfectly legal abolition of
capitalism. All the workmen have to do is to refuse to work on unjust
terms. As free men, they have the right to say on what terms and
conditions they will continue to work. When these terms are such that
exploitation is impossible, the capital-istic system will come to an
end. There need be no disorder, no violence, no oppression of the
capitalists. Indeed, the I. W. W. do not believe in violence, in
revolution, in crimi-nal tactics. They alone have openly and
emphatically proclaimed the futility and folly of violence. Hence,
neither their ultimate aim nor their methods are unlawful per se. The
Government can afford to remain neutral in their fight with capitalism.
They are not at-tacking the foundations of democracy; rather are they
striving to carry democracy from the political into the industrial

As to sabotage, that term has been totally misunderstood by the
Government and by society. Sabotage does not mean wanton, malicious,
unlawful destruction of property. Why should labor destroy the products
of labor? Sabotage is a means of drying up the sources of illegitimate
profits, of exploitation. Sabotage is intended to prevent adultera-tion
and to compel the capitalist to be honest with, labor and the public.
Sabotage means giving no more in return for a wage than that wage fairly
commands. Sabotage is needed to make strikes effective and to render
resort to them unnecessary. Sabotage is a modern, humane, civilized
substitute for violence and destruction, precisely as the in-dustrial
form of organization and the education of labor are the substitutes for
the reac-tionary idea of a physical revolution.

In view of these facts, argued the defendants, the Government's
bitterness and hostility towards the I. W. W. are unwarranted. The
allegation of a deliberate conspiracy to crip-ple the Government and
take advantage of the war to overthrow capitalism is un-founded. Foolish
things were no doubt said by some I. W. W. editors -- especially in
for-eign-language papers which the American leaders of the organization
could not read or properly direct -- prior to and after the entry of the
United States into the war. For some of these things, anarchists,
Socialists, and pro-German agitators were responsible. Oth-ers were said
in haste and ignorance, rashly and impulsively. The Government, alarmed
by some of these utterances, had connected them with certain perfectly
legal strikes caused by revolting local conditions. Finally, acts done
and matter circulated by ele-ments alien to the I. W. W. were
erroneously attributed to that organization. The prose-cution, in short,
originated in misunderstanding, fear, distrust, and dislike of the I. W.
W. At bottom, the I. W. W. had not been unpatriotic. It has not made the
slightest advances towards the pro-Germans. It has not attempted in a
single instance to obtain their money or their support. Not a dollar of
German money was found in the I. W. W. treas-ury. Its books and accounts
admittedly cleared it of any such suspicion as that. If it was not
pro-German, or anti-United States, or anti-war; if it did not instigate
strikes to para-lyze the Government; if it did not directly or
indirectly oppose the draft or voluntary en-listments ; if its members
have been allowed to work and fight for the Government -- if all these
things are true, then, declared the I. W. W. leaders, they are the
victims of prejudice and injustice. Will not the higher courts, they
asked, perceive this and set aside the verdict? Will not the record,
when earnestly and judicially examined, vindicate them?

Time alone can answer these questions. Meanwhile, it is certain that the
great majority of the people of Chicago, including lawyers and judges
and other men of influence, are disposed to give the defendants further
opportunity to present their case and establish the truth of their
denials and disclaimers. The community has not been intolerant, or
vindictive, or impatient. The local atmosphere was wholly favorable to
an absolutely fair trial of the case.

It is in every way to be hoped that a rehearing of the case on appeal,
if such rehearing is had, will be neither delayed nor impeded. If the I.
W. W. lacks funds, the Government, which has won so great a victory in
the first instance, might well disarm all criticism by permitting the
persons who wish to do so to contribute freely to a fund for its
benefit. In any event, it is a happy augury that a controversy involving
so much popular feeling should thus far have been dealt with by the
Federal Court in so impartial and judicial a manner, and that those who
have been condemned have all along admitted the fairness of the
procedure. The spectacle of a great state trial of this sort is a
reminder that the courts are still open and that justice may be had.