|IWW Poster c. 1934|
The San Francisco Waterfront Strike of 1934 was really what put the fear into the Overclass. From then on, the gloves came off. Our Betters figured they had little more to lose than what they'd already lost in the Depression, so why not take their fears and frustrations out on Labor?
From "The Peril of Fascism," Magil and Stevens, 1938; International Publishers.
A ... reign of terror prevailed ... in the coal and iron mines of the Birmingham (AL) region. In the spring of 1934, five strikers were shot and killed and many wounded in a strike of iron ore miners against the Unite States Steel and the Republic Steel companies. Assisted by the Birmingham police, a terrorist band called the White Legion was organized with the avowed purpose of "driving Communism out of Alabama." By Communism, the White Legion meant not only workers' political organizations but even A. F. of L. unions.
In Florida, fascist gangs organized by employers kidnapped, tarred, feathered and beat trade union organizers and in many cases murdered them and buried their bodies in swamps or abandoned mines. Describing the reign of terror conducted by Florida citrus and tobacco interests against trade unionists, the veteran newspaper columnist Junius Wood wrote:
Flogging, tar and feathering, and even death are not unusual as a means of disposing of persons who are disturbing to certain interests or what is vaguely called "social order." They are not carried out under any law in the Florida statutes, but by persons who believe such methods are for their own public good, and their political influence is so great that court trials, or even arrests, rarely follow.
... Supplementing this terrorist campaign, reactionaries launched a drive for legislation to outlaw militant working class parties, to restrict the rights of trad unions and to limit free speech, press and assemblage. ...Significantly, most of the bills [in Congress] were introduced by politicians from Southern states where an embryonic form of fascism was already in the saddle.
In four states --Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana and Tennessee -- the reactionaries succeeded in pushing through laws excluding from the ballot political parties advocating "sedition," "treason," or th "forcible overthrow of the government." These laws are so worded that, in the hands of zealous reactionary officials, they can be effectively used against any people's party which questions the beneficence of duPont-Hearst rule.
Even more sinister than this drive for repressive legislation was the secret underground campaign of the large corporations to strengthen their private armies and place them on a firmer military basis.
Sometimes, as we have indicated, these armed forces were organized as "vigilantes," or armed "patriotic" and "law and order" groups, recruited from business circles, professional jingoes and riff-raff from the underworld. Such groups began to appear in nearly every center where large corporations or plantation owners felt themselves menaced by strikes or trade union organization campaigns. In some cases, these groups had only a temporary existence and disappeared after termination of an industrial crisis. In other cases, they were orgaized on a more permanent basis. In Cleveland, Cincinnati, Hollywood and other centers, local posts of the American Legion or local officials began organizing and drilling armed contingents. The government encouraged this process by giving the American Legion 75,000 allegedly "obsolete" army rifles.
More frequently, however, these employers' armies took the form of company police or of trained bodies of professional gangsters, spies and strike breakers supplied by national detective agencies. Both the company police and the detective agencies are comparatively old American institutions, born in the formative years of monopoly capitalism; but during the anti-labor drive of 1934-36, they assumed vaster proportions than ever before, vesting new powers in the hands of the industrial titans and constituting a grave menace to the remaining liberties of the American workers.
Within the army there was a steady growth of fascist sentiment among high officers who clamored for a stronger military machine, not only to support the foreign policy of the United States, but to quell more effectively what they euphemistically called "domestic disturbances." At the end of 1933, in his annual report to the President, Army Chief of Staff General MacArthur (who led the troops in Hoover's famous victory over the bonus marchers at Anacostia) lengthily discussed the state of general social unrest in the country and concluded:
In the obvious state of unrest now prevailing throughout the world, evidences of which are plainly visible even in our own country, an efficient and dependable military establishment constantly responsive to the will of the government, constitutes a rock of stability and one of the nation's most priceless possessions.
Assistant Secretary of War Harry Woodring was even more explicit than the hero of Anacostia. In an article in Bernarr MacFadden's Liberty, Woodring. with all the zeal of an amateur soldier wrote:
Let me speak frankly! If this country should be threatened with foreign war, economic chaos or social revolution, the army has the training, the experience, the organization and the men to support the government and direct the country in the national interests... Our army happens to be the only branch of the government which is already organized and available not only to defend our territory, but also to cope with the social and economic problems in an emergency.
A "basic field manual" distributed to the army contained detailed tactical instructions for use against "mobs" and "crowds." The most effective methods for shooting, gassing, and bombing unarmed workers were discussed with fine scientific precision. "Blank cartridges should never be used against a mob, nor should a volley be fired over the heads of a mob even if there is little danger of hurting persons in the rear..." "Airplanes may be used for the purpose of keeping rioters off roofs by means of machine gun fire and, in conjunction with other arms, by dropping tear gas and high explosives..." "Hand grenades, especially those filled with chemicals, will be quite an essential part of the equipment." These and other bits of military wisdom were carefully set down for tje guidance of strike-breaking troops. Following the classic pattern of Italian fascism, the manual also instructed commanders in "disturbed areas" to establish contact with the American Legion and "other local organizations of law and order."
The fascist leanings of the army hierarchy responsible for these instructions is reflected in the following definition of democracy contained in the army's Training Manual No. 2000-25, distributed from 1928 to 1932 to youths taking military instruction:
Democracy: A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meetings or any other form of "direct" expression. Results in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic -- negating property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it is based on deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse without restraint or regard for consequences. Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.
Finally, the most ominous symptom of the growing fascist tendencies among the rulers of America was the appearance of a large crop of fascist and semi-fascist organizations, some openly controlled and directed by big business, others indirectly controlled, and still others, starting out as "independent" middle class movements of protest, but diverted by unscrupulous and corrupt leaders into fascist channels.
The largest and most influential of the new host of reactionary organizations were either openly controlled or directed by prominent financiers and industrialists, or disguised so thinly that they were soon exposed. Among the organizations of this type were the American Liberty League, the Farmers Independence Council, the Sentinels of the Republic and the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution. This whole network of organizations, controlled by the most reactionary financial groups, uniformly operated under the slogans of "liberty" and "democracy, attempting to utilize America's strong democratic traditions to rally popular support for their anti-democratic program.
History, said Marx, repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. So with the Liberty League and its host of affiliates. The spectacle of the duPonts and the Hearsts, clothed in the cloaks and cocked hats of the revolutionaries of 1776, was political farce so broad that only those blinded by hatred for democracy and progress could miss it; so broad that it defeated the purposes of its authors. The Liberty League and its affiliates -- in spite of their vast financial resources -- failed to win popular support because they were openly controlled by the most hated men in America, by men whose ruthless exploitation and suppression of the people, in the daily course of their affairs, belied their professed belief in liberty and democracy.
So we see, everything old is new again, and if we think about it, we realize that the rightists and fascists are repeating themselves (as farce if you like) under the rigid tutelege of the oligarchs and plutocrats -- many of whom are the descendants of the same class sponsoring fascists in the 1930's. (The name Bush comes to mind, but we won't go there for now.)
What is different is that the "left" so called no longer exists as a political and/or proto-revolutionary force. All politics in this country these days is more or less rightist and much is clearly on a fascist pathway. "The Peril of Fascism" is a frankly Communist polemic from the era when Communists and Socialists and Leftists actually had a political structure and their agitation and demonstrations could and did have a political influence. Nowadays no such thing can occur. The opposition to the fascist tendendices in this country today is almost entirely confined under the Occupy rubric. While there are some elements of Marxist thought and economic analysis within the Occupy framework, from a political standpoint, Occupy is revolutionary but not "leftist." Nor is it "rightist." It consciously stands outside those categories and presses for something better than either.
At the moment, Our Rulers do not feel particularly threatened by the Occupy Movement cum Revolution, largely because it doesn't seem to be "doing anything" overtly to cause more than minor disrution of the looting and pillaging underway.
But we can see in Magil and Stevens' reports that there are more than a few seriously disabling and disrupting tactics the Overclass can easily bring to bear if need be to preserve their power and position.
We haven't seen anything yet...