Sherman Labovitz is the only surviving defendant of the Philadelphia Smith Act, a former professor at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and author of the book, Being Red in Philadelphia, A Memoir of the McCarthy Act. He is helping me solve the mystery that is my grandfather and is illuminating for me the role of the Party in Philadelphia 56 years ago. This following quotation is excerpted from the statement Sherman prepared to deliver to Judge J. Cullen Ganey after the defendants were found guilty. Upon recommendation of the defense attorney’s, it was never given.
“I stand before you today because I am afraid. Afraid of war. Afraid that because of war I, my wife, my two sons, my mother and brohers and everyone I love dearly may die too soon. I stand before you today because this fear moved me again to speak to my neighbors who can halt the drive to atmoic destruction just as they helped to win the truce in Korea. I stand before you today because the real advocates of force and violence, the would-be war makers, who fear and hate the ability of my neighbors and others like them throughout this nation to impose their will, will today jail the advocates of peace…
…What have I done these past few years? My neighbors can tell you. That is, those who can speak freely, who do not fear for their jobs. Most, for the time being, watch these proceedings silently, confused. The politically ambitious prosecutors did not produce on of my neighbors to testify against me. Why not? These are the people with whom I live. These are the people with whose children I played. These are the people I have tried to influence. These are the people who know I am a communist. Some of my neighbors, I learned recently, addressed themselves to you, Your Honor. ‘Mr. Labovitz is a communist, but Mr. Labovitz is a good man,’ they said. I say to my neighbors and to you, Your Honor, I am a good man because I am a communist.”
In a conversation with Sherman over lunch this week, he described why he left the Party in 1957 and affirmed that despite the 56 years between the Smith Act trial and today, his politics haven’t changed. He said:
“I believe capitalism is an incurable sickness, in all of its manifestations. I continue to hope for a peaceful transition into a society that is concerned about the well-being of all its people and that shares resources in the world. In the late 1940s, during World War II and in the 1950s, despite the ugliness in the world, I believed that that society was just around the corner. I was optimistic that the world was changing and capitalism driven by profit and greed was dying.
I left the American Communist Party when I no longer felt that it could be the instrument to bring socialism to the United States. However, my politics remain the same today. The difference between 1953 and today is perhaps the existence–at least, in theory–of an alternative that we, as a people, can attach to and believe in.”