Fourth International 1992: The end of the Soviet Union

The Fraud of the Mark Curtis Campaign

This article first appeared in the Bulletin on April 3, 1992.

The Boston branch of the NAACP has publicly denounced the Mark Curtis defense campaign and called on all labor, civil rights and women’s rights groups to withdraw their support from it. On the basis of an extensive investigation into the facts of the case, the civil rights group has concluded that there is no truth to the claims by the Socialist Workers Party that Curtis is the victim of a frame-up.

A prominent member of the SWP and former chairman of the Young Socialist Alliance, Curtis was convicted in 1988 of the rape of a 15-year-old black working class girl in Des Moines, Iowa. He is now serving a 25-year prison term. The SWP has been promoting him as a victim of frame-up and police brutality, while vilifying the family of the victim, Demetria Morris.

A letter dated March 14, 1992, written by Mary Bertin, the chairperson of the civil rights committee of the Boston branch, and signed by Bertin and by Louis Elisa, president of the Boston branch, was sent to Boston-area endorsers of the Curtis defense campaign, asking them to withdraw their support.

Bertin declares: “I have thoroughly investigated the Mark Curtis matter on behalf of the Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I have found that the Defense Committee has won the endorsement of many important progressive leaders through its campaign of misinformation. The Defense Committee’s efforts both ignore the vile nature of the crime that Curtis committed and betray the mutual trust and respect among progressive groups that is critical in our movement.”

Bertin offers to supply endorsers with all the documents needed to make their own evaluation of the Curtis campaign, including a transcript of the trial. Accompanying her letter is a fact sheet and copies of correspondence and magazine articles on the Curtis case, as well as a brochure published by the Workers League which contains an open letter issued by the father of the rape victim, Keith Morris.

The fact sheet accompanying this cover letter provides a point-for-point rebuttal of some of the major SWP falsifications. In response to the claim that “Not a shred of evidence was presented that Mark Curtis committed any crime,” the fact sheet declares:

“According to this statement, the Curtis Defense Committee does not consider the word of an African-American girl as evidence. Her identification of Curtis at the scene of the crime as the man who had just raped her; her sworn statement at the May 1988 deposition at which she positively identified Curtis; her sworn testimony at the trial where she pointed to Curtis and said, ‘He’s exactly who did those things to me on the porch’—these constitute more than ‘a shred of evidence.’”

In response to the SWP claim that “Curtis did not have a jury of his peers,” the fact sheet distributed by the NAACP argues:

“As peers, the Defense Committee lists ‘Blacks, Hispanics, farm workers....’ Curtis, a college-educated white male from a middle class background, was tried by an all-white jury. The judge was white, as were both prosecuting and defense attorneys. For Curtis to identify himself with people of color, Latinos and farm workers, is condescending and arrogant. It is a cynical effort to co-opt the oppression of others in an attempt to save himself. If anyone has a right to complain about the composition of the jury in this case, it is the girl he assaulted.”

Bertin is a staff representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a 1988 coordinator of the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign in Massachusetts. She told the Bulletin that she had begun to look into the Curtis campaign after her advice was sought by friends in women’s rights and civil rights groups who had been approached by the SWP for support.

After reading the transcript of the trial and contacting the Morris family, the Des Moines NAACP and other groups familiar with the case, Bertin concluded that the evidence against Curtis was overwhelming. She was particularly offended, she said, as a black woman, by the SWP’s arrogant dismissal of the testimony of Demetria Morris, the victim of the violent sexual assault.

In response to Bertin’s inquiries, the Des Moines NAACP sent a letter to the Boston branch, signed by branch President Larry W. Carter and dated February 11, 1992. Carter wrote: “We feel that Mark Curtis is guilty and we do not support him. Irrespective of what you might hear in Massachusetts or on the east coast, the Des Moines Branch NAACP has never supported Mark Curtis by thought, word, or deed.”

Copies of the Des Moines NAACP letter were included in the Boston NAACP’s mailing, along with a letter from John Roberts, executive director of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, to the Mark Curtis Defense Committee, withdrawing his previous endorsement of the Curtis campaign.

Other endorsers have already replied to the Boston NAACP mailing, expressing outrage over the duplicity of the Mark Curtis Defense Committee and repudiating their support for the phony SWP campaign.

The executive committee of the Boston NAACP voted last month to cut off political collaboration with any organization which continues to support the Curtis defense campaign after it has been given the facts of the case. This included refusing to work with officials of the Massachusetts and Boston affiliates of the National Organization for Women in building the April 5 abortion rights demonstration in Washington, because these NOW officials continue to defend the rapist Mark Curtis.

In direct response to the pressure from the NAACP, the South Middlesex branch of NOW, in the western suburbs of Boston, recently voted to repudiate its endorsement of Curtis.

The denunciation of the Curtis campaign by the Boston NAACP is an important step in the smashing up of a longstanding political fraud and source of provocation within the workers movement. For years the Socialist Workers Party’s interventions in the working class have had a sinister and bizarre character.

The leaders of the SWP have repeatedly engaged in deliberate and brazen lying and cynical maneuvers to dupe those with whom they come into contact in the trade unions and civil rights and women’s rights groups. What is new in the Curtis campaign is that the SWP has been caught in lies so vicious that they take on a virtually criminal character.

Many of those who repudiated the Curtis campaign are deeply shocked at how cynically they have been used. People whom they thought were friends and allies have sought to implicate them in the defense of a horrible crime against a working class girl.

Moreover, it is increasingly clear to those who have studied the facts of the case and modus operandi of the Curtis campaign that the SWP leadership is not engaged in the mistaken defense of a party member whom they believe to be innocent. The SWP leadership is deliberately promoting as a martyr of the labor movement a man whom they know is guilty. There are two crimes involved in the Curtis campaign—the rape of Demetria Morris by Mark Curtis, and the tremendous injustice carried out against the Morris family by the Socialist Workers Party.

The Curtis campaign has become a political debacle for the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP’s weekly newspaper The Militant has admitted there is widespread opposition to the campaign in trade union, civil rights and women’s rights groups where the SWP was formerly able to get a hearing through systematic falsification of the facts of the case.

The Socialist Workers Party is well aware of the opposition to the Curtis campaign by the Boston NAACP. At one point in her investigation, Bertin told the Bulletin, she went into the SWP bookstore in Boston and began a discussion on the Curtis case. She became so enraged by the SWP members’ brazen lying about the facts of the case that she denounced them as being “worse than David Duke” and walked out.

The response of the SWP is to lash out wildly, suggesting that all those who are questioning the Curtis campaign are agents of a right-wing offensive against the SWP. The March 20 issue of The Militant declared that trade union officials and the leaders of civil rights and women’s rights groups who opposed the Curtis campaign were in the camp of the ultra-right Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan!

The Militant of April 3 contains a two-page article on the Curtis campaign, under the headline “Rightists step up attack on Curtis defense,” which portrays the Curtis campaign as the target of an offensive by right-wing forces allied with the Des Moines police.

This article speaks darkly about the stepped up activities of right-wing supporters of the supposed police frame-up of Mark Curtis, of an “antilabor and right-wing campaign” spearheaded by “the forces behind the frame-up,” even of efforts to “close down the political space” for the Socialist Workers Party.

But only “forces” whose activities The Militant describes are the father and mother of the rape victim, Demetria Morris! Her father, Keith Morris, is denounced because he has publicly defended his daughter against the SWP campaign of slander and provocation. Among his “crimes” was to intervene on a program at the black-oriented radio station KUCB, where an SWP spokesman was defending Mark Curtis.

The SWP attacks one KUCB announcer by name because, after the appearance of several Curtis supporters, she invited the Morris family to be her guests on a call-in and interview program. Especially devastating for the SWP was the decision of Demetria Morris, who is now 19 years old, to appear on the program and speak out in her own defense for the first time since the 1988 trial.

The action by the Boston NAACP completely vindicates the Workers League’s protracted struggle to expose the Curtis campaign as a political hoax. From the beginning the Workers League, the Trotskyist party in the United States, has approached the Mark Curtis defense campaign with political objectivity and a sense of responsibility to the working class. In its first statement on the case, published in August 1988, the Workers League made it clear that the workers movement had an obligation to consider the testimony of the victim, a black working class girl, and could under no conditions give a blanket endorsement to Curtis simply by virtue of his membership in an organization claiming to be socialist.

The Bulletin sent a correspondent to cover the trial in Des Moines and reported the massive evidence which was presented at the trial and which established without a shadow of doubt that Curtis was guilty of the vicious rape of a young girl. When the SWP subsequently continued and stepped up the Curtis defense campaign, perpetrating a deliberate fraud on the working class and socialist movement, the Workers League denounced the campaign as a political provocation. The party published a detailed analysis of the trial, making extensive use of the trial transcript, in the volume The Mark Curtis Hoax: How the SWP Tried to Dupe the Labor Movement.

The SWP has never attempted to reply to factual exposure of Curtis’s guilt. Instead, it has resorted to a campaign of slander, branding the Workers League as an “antilabor outfit” because of its opposition to the Curtis defense campaign. These crude smears had the support of a number of political organizations, falsely calling themselves Trotskyist, which backed the Curtis provocation in order to further their relations with the SWP. These organizations—including Socialist Action, the Spartacist League, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, the Revolutionary Workers League and Spark—are now the sole supporters of the Curtis campaign outside the SWP itself.

Despite the resources which the SWP has employed to spread the Curtis lie around the world, this fraudulent campaign is now breaking up. It has long been repudiated in the labor movement and among civil rights and women’s rights activists in the Des Moines area, where the facts are well known. The repudiation of the Curtis fraud by the Boston NAACP testifies to the discrediting of both the Curtis campaign and its SWP sponsors throughout the United States and internationally.

Among those who have gone through the experience of being swindled by the Curtis campaign, there is already considerable interest in the political exposure of the SWP which the Workers League has carried out for nearly two decades. They are asking the question: what kind of an organization could conduct such an abominable provocation against the workers movement?

There are already increasing requests for the book published by the Workers League, The Mark Curtis Hoax: How the SWP Tried to Dupe the Labor Movement. Further material on the background of the SWP’s provocative role can be found in the writings of the Workers League and the International Committee on Security and the Fourth International and in the documents of the lawsuit by Alan Gelfand against the massive government infiltration of the SWP, published in two volumes by the Workers League. These documents establish the origins of the present SWP leadership in the police disruption of the workers movement.

We urge all those in the labor and civil rights movement who now recognize the bogus and provocative character of the Mark Curtis campaign to make the exposure of this political fraud the beginning of a public inquest into all aspects of the Socialist Workers Party, a thoroughly dubious organization which has masqueraded for too long as a representative of socialism in the United States.