1919 November 8

Benjamin Gitlow Arrested – Case Makes Civil Liberties History in 1925


Benjamin Gitlow, a Socialist and later founder of the Communist Party in the U.S., was arrested on this day and charged with violating the 1902 New York Criminal Anarchy law (enacted on April 3, 1902).Gitlow had distributed the “Left Wing Manifesto,” a publication of the radical Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party. The arrest occurred on the second day of the first series of anti-radical Palmer Raids, which began on November 7, 1919.

The Supreme Court upheld his conviction in Gitlow v. New York on June 8, 1925; but in a landmark departure, the Court held that the 14th Amendment incorporated the protections of free speech free press in the First Amendment and made them applicable to the states. The incorporation doctrine subsequently became the basis for the civil liberties and civil rights revolution in the decades ahead.

Gitlow later became a leading Communist, but in 1939 he recanted, denounced the Communist Party, and became an active anti-communist, providing names of communists he had known to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and other anti-communist groups.

Conclusion to the “Left Wing Manifesto”: “The old order is in decay. Civilization is in collapse. The proletarian revolution and the Communist reconstruction of society — the struggle for these — is now indispensable. This is the message of the Communist International to the workers of the world. The Communist International calls the proletariat of the world to the final struggle!”

Read “The Left Wing Manifesto”: http://www.marxisthistory.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1919/0705-lwnc-leftwingmanifesto.pdf

Read Gitlow’s own story: Benjamin Gitlow, I Confess: The Truth About Communism (1940), and The Whole of Their Lives (1948)

Learn more: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)

Learn more about Gitlow here.

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