Dennis Case

    History, as you know, only teaches that it does not teach anyone.

    The past few years have been marked by active attempts by the state (not only Russian, but also many foreign ones) to judge its citizens for objectionable beliefs - thought crimes, as Orwell would say - when abstract phrases and judgments (for example, “Down with autocracy and succession to the throne”) are attributed to an incitement to violent action. I think the practice of applying Art. 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation worries many Khabrovites, as well as American citizens are concerned about the laws on countering terrorism.

    Meanwhile, nothing is new under the moon, and similar processes have occurred repeatedly. In this topic, I would like to talk about the events of 40 years ago, associated with the name of Eugene Dennis. These events are noteworthy in that they remarkably correlate with what is happening in Russia today - let's hope that the denouement too.

    Smith Act

    The United States has its own law on countering extremism - 18 USC §2385 , better known as the Smith Act or the Alien Registration Act. Compared with him, Art. 282 - sheer mischief:
    Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession consequence, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; ... Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both ...

    Which roughly means the following:

    Anyone who knowingly or intentionally promotes, encourages, advises, or teaches the necessity, desirability, or legitimacy of changing or forcibly destroying the government of the United States or the government of any state, territory, county or possession or government of any political unit, or killing any official of such a government; ... Must be fined and / or imprisoned for up to 20 years ...

    Office English is hellish tin.

    It should be noted that in the years 1918-1920 the United States also had the Sedition Act , which imposed the same punishment on the fact that it dared simply criticize the government or the armed forces of the United States.


    This may seem strange to some, but in the United States there is a Communist Party - the Communist Party of the United States of America, proud of, among other things, that it stood at the base of most large American trade unions.

    The history of this party is quite solid, rooted in the 19th century. In 1944, the number of CPUSA reached 80 thousand people, and in 1945 it was headed by the hero of our story - Eugene Dennis.

    Thunder struck in 1948, with the beginning of the so-called "McCarthy era" - a period of witch-hunts and the fight against the red threat. The entire party leadership - more than 140 people - was arrested on charges of violating the Smith Act. It should be borne in mind that CPUSA has always declared coming to power in a constitutional way!

    The Basmanny Court seems to be a model of gentleness and justice compared to the Dennis v. United States trial, the first of the CPUSA leaders' trials, where 11 were in the dock. As mentioned above, the US Communist Party in general and Eugene Dennis in particular did not put forward any revolutionary slogans, but the prosecution was not embarrassed. As evidence of a violation of the Smith Act, Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” - extremist literature, as they would say today - published and distributed by American Communists, was brought to trial. Indeed, Marx, after all, affirmed the inevitability of a communist revolution! In addition, the court took into account the testimonies of witnesses - former members of the Communist Party - who showed under oath that Dennis and other accused in private conversationscalled for the overthrow of the government!

    As a result, 10 defendants were sentenced to 5 years in prison and fined 10 thousand dollars, another - a war hero - to three years. In addition, all five defendants' lawyers were accused of contempt of court and spent several months in prison. In 1951, the US Supreme Court upheld this sentence. The materials of this wonderful process can be found here:

    Yates case

    The point in this story was set in 1957 during the trial of Yeats v. The United States . The wording given in the court decision fully and comprehensively reveals the essence of the issue and, it would seem, should have become a guide to action in all such matters. Alas, this did not happen, and such a remarkable decision has already been completely forgotten in the USA itself, and nobody knew about it with us.
    After telling the jury that it could not convict the defendants for holding or expressing mere opinions, beliefs, or predictions relating to violent overthrow, the trial court defined the content of the proscribed advocacy or teaching in the following terms, which are crucial here:

    " Any advocacy or teaching which does not include the urging of force and violence as the means of overthrowing and destroying the Government of the United States is not within the issue of the indictment here, and can constitute no basis for any finding against the defendants. ” ... The statute was aimed at the advocacy and teaching of concrete action for the forcible overthrow of the Government, and not of principles divorced from action.

    Which roughly can be translated as follows:
    After the jury indicated that the defendants could not be convicted of sharing or expressing opinions, confidence or predictions related to a violent coup, the court determined the content of the prohibited propaganda or training in the following terms, which are key here:

    “Any propaganda or training that do not include incitement to use force and violence as a means of changing and destroying the United States government, cannot be blamed, and cannot be grounds for OVOR. "... The law is aimed primarily at promoting and teaching concrete actions on violent change of the US government, not against the principles apart from the action .

    In its clarification, the Supreme Court clearly indicated that propaganda of principles that did not imply specific violent acts could not be considered extremism, nor could anyone be convicted of their beliefs, even if they involve a violent change of government.

    Unfortunately, this remarkable judgment has recently become increasingly foreign to both our and foreign justice. We can only hope that history will be repeated again.

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