The last installment of excerpts from Magil and Stevens' 1938 antifascist polemic, "The Peril of Fascism," focused on some of the fascistic characteristics of the early New Deal, particularly the National Recovery Administration ("We do our part"). This was a particularly interesting observation to me because the hagiography of FDR and the New Deal doesn't allow for these sorts criticisms of the Roosevelt efforts to tame if not end the Great Depression.
It was interesting to me partly because from the time I first learned about the New Deal, I was aware that it was at least partially based on fascist models, and the N. R. A. was among its most fascistic elements. It might be hard to imagine now, but at the time, there were only two activist models for dealing with the recurring Crisis of Capitalism: Communism and Fascism. The Standard Model for dealing with economic downturn and the suffering it caused was for government to do nothing, the theory being that the downturn would be rectified shortly by usual economic means and forces, bugger the sufferers (the herd could always benefit from a good cull, after all. Haw. Haw.)
But the Standard Model was tried during Hoover's Administration -- he was much more of an economic activist than he is usually given credit for, but he (like Obama) delivered almost all of his activism at the top of the economic pyramid and left those in the middle and those on the bottom to fend for themselves -- and get severely punished if they got out of line.
This installment of Magil and Stevens looks into some of the characteristics of the pre-Depression "boom" and the Hooverite acts against the People:
Revealing the whole character of the "prosperity" era are the estimates of the distribution of income in 1929 published by the Brookings Institution, in a study, America's Capacity to Consume. According to these figures, 36,000 of the wealthiest families -- or one-tenth of one percent of all the families in the United States -- received an aggregate income of 9.8 billion dollars. At the other end of the social scale were 11,653,000 families, 42 per cent of the total receiving an aggregation of about 10 billion dollars -- or approximately the same as that of the 36,000 families at the top of the heap.
In the period of apparent prosperity, the weaknesses and contradictions of capitalism, not only in the United States but throughout the world, were combining to make inevitable the crash of 1929. These weaknesses in the New Era were discernable to all who cred to see, but there were not many who were willing to look. Marxists who attempted to call them to the attention of the country were denounced as crackpots too demented to glance at the soaring lines on the stock market charts for confirmation of the New Era of permanent prosperity. The loudest denunciation of these sour prophets of collapse came from the gentry in high offices of the American Federation of Labor, who assured the workers that those who doubted the New Capitalism and the benefits of collaboration with employers were troublemakers in the pay of Moscow.
In November of 1928, workers, farmers, and lower middle class people went to the polls and in overwhelming numbers cast their votes for Herbert Hoover or Alfred Smith -- the tweedledum and tweedledee of capitalism, both closely connected with the most powerful groups on Wall Street. The combined vote of the Socialist and Communist parties was less than half a million.
The 1929 crash came as a profound and bewildering shock to a country which had been fed the New Era buncombe. All classes shared in the bewilderment and incredulity, unable to believe that the rosy promise of the New Capitalism could end in the wreckage which they saw accumulating around them.
The great majority of workers were desperate and confused; they had been forced by the crisis to abandon the New Era philosophy and they had not yet acquired a clear conception of the source of their difficulties or of the method of solving them. But life, rather than formulated doctrine, dictated militant struggle. Gigantic unemployment demonstrations and hunger marches swept the country, striking panic in the "well-stocked clubs" where bankers and businessmen fearfully discussed the possibility of imminent revolution. The more clear-sighted and progressive sections of the labor movement demanded that the capitalist class shoulder the burden of the crisis, for which it was responsible, and they succeeded in mobilizing large mass movements behind demands such as adequate unemployment relief, social insurance, and a shorter working week without a reduction in pay. In these movements, the Communist Party played a leading and the most dynamic role.
Gradually, under the pressure of its membership, even the top leadership of the A. F. of L. was compelled to revise its position. During three years of acute crisis, Green, Woll, and other chieftains of the A. F. of L. stubbornly opposed unemployment insurance, echoing Hoover's pronouncement that the "dole" was un-American and more degrading than picking scraps of refuse from garbage pails.
Hunger and destitution were rampant among those who grew the nation's foodstuffs.
Stubbornly, the farmers resisted foreclosures and fought for farm relief. Farm strikes broke out throughout the rural middle west. Farmers, who had been bullwarks of "law and order," picketed highways with clubs and pitchforks and dragged foreclosing judges from the bench. Throughout the great corn and hog belt, where private property rights had been regarded as sacred , there arose a cry: "Human rights above property rights" -- a slogan which revealed the profound changes among the farmers of the middle west.
The profound unrest of these vast masses of people expressed itself in growing demonstrations for unemployment relief and unemployment insurance, in the farm strikes, in resistance to foreclosures of small homes, in student strikes and demonstrations, in war veterans bonus marches, in the leftward movement of intellectuals. Everywhere there was ferment. Millions began to question the fundamentals of the existing order, vaguely realizing there was something basically wrong with a system which condemned men and women to die of hunger next to warehouses bulging with food and to gather decaying food from garbage heaps while wheat was burned in the fields and vegetables and milk were dumped into rivers.
As growing numbers of workers and farmers demonstrated their refusal to starve quietly and loudly voiced their demand for relief, the capitalist class, and the government authorities representing it, increasingly resorted to force. In scores of cities, unemployment demonstrations were broken up with police bullets and tear gas; troops were sent out against strikers; Negro sharecroppers attempting to organize unions were hunted down and lynched; a wave of deportations swept the country; states revived old criminal syndicalism and sedition statutes and professional patriots clamored for new repressive laws.
As the lines on business charts dropped, the number of violations of civil liberties rose. By 1930 the wave of suppression had reached the highest crest since the post-war hysteria of 1921. One survey of civil liberties in 1930 says:
There was a marked increase in 1930 in official and mob violence, a continued and a greater violation of the rights of labor, a larger number of deportations, and increased official interference with the expression of civil liberties... The year brought 25 lynchings, compared with 12 in 1929; 27 cases of mob violence, compared with 5 in 1929; 121 meetings and demonstrations forbidden, contrasted with 52 in 1929; a nation-wide drive against Communists; denial in 6 cases of citizenship to aliens for pacifist or radical views; a large number of deportations, mainly of Communists...
Not since 1921 has official interference with freedom of speech reached such proportions as in 1930... The 1930 cases are exclusive of the police attacks on the Communist-led demonstrations of February, March, May Day, August and Labor Day. Hundreds of arrests took place at these demonstrations all over the country, accompanied by brutal police tactics, resulting in the injury of scores of persons.
An incomplete compilation by the International Labor Defense listed the arrest of 5,851 persons in civil liberties cases -- including 1,137 in strikes, 860 for distributing leaflets and other literature, and 1,703 in unemployment and other demonstrations.
Police raided headquarters of workers' organizations in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Buffalo, Portland, and other cities, destroying property, seizing private correspondence, and arresting hundreds... in California, where the criminal syndicalism law was invoked for the first time since 1924, eleven organizers of an agricultural workers strike were railroaded to long jail sentences...
Official and mob violence further increased in 1931. The most acute terror prevailed in the Harlan, Kentucky, coal fields where a local regime of fascist terror was established by coal operators in an effort to suppress a walkout by 18,000 mountaineer miners. Twelve miners were killed in the Harlan fields by deputy sheriffs and gunmen imported from the slums of Chicago; scores were wounded; several kidnapped and beaten; workers' headquarters [were] destroyed. In Texas, Iowa and South Carolina, labor organizers were seized in the dead of night by armed mobs (some of them acting with police connivance) and brutally beaten. At Pontiac, Michigan, a "vigilante" mob seized and flogged fiver men who had participated in an unemployment demonstration, and (parroting the methods of the Italian fascists) compelled one of the victims to drink castor oil. The year 1931 also witnessed an intensification of the terror against Negroes in the South, exemplified by the arrest and frame-up of the nine Scottsboro Boys in the spring.
In 1932, suppression and murder of demonstrations and demonstrators intensified, culminating with the violent eviction of the Bonus Army from Washington, DC.
That's just a taste of how the official and its allied suppression worked in those days. Surely we can see stark echoes of those tactics in the suppression of the Occupy Movement nowadays. And of course the reasons why are very similar. Those who sponsor and own the government were the same forces then as they are now, and they demand the silencing of all but "approved" dissent, and the crushing of any movement which might threaten their hegemony.
We are right back where we were -- except for the fact that there is no Communist vanguard any more -- despite the chattering of some "progressives" who are so fearful one will re-emerge from somewhere in the shadows and take over the pleasant and secure movements for (eventual) change that have long been underway, though more as academic exercises than as real movements for fundamental changes to a failed economic and political system.