Sunday, July 15, 2012

From the AntiFa Trenches, c. 1938 (contd)

Antifascist poster, Spanish Civil War, c. 1938. "The foreign fascist hordes are trying to invade our territory. Antifascists! Block their road, bar them forever from our soil!"

There are so many parallels and similarities between the situation we face now and the situation faced by Americans during the 1930's and the rise of fascism at home and abroad, but there are also many profound differences. Perhaps the most troubling is the absence of any political ideology to counter a revived fascism that has been taking over the world.

One can say what one will about the merits of Communism, or the lack of them, but it was a coherent ideology opposed to fascism, and at the time the example of the Soviet Union could be and was held up as a model antifascist society. It was deeply -- and ultimately fatally -- flawed, of course, but it was something.

 Now? What is there?

Occupy is self-consciously non-ideological and apolitical. It operates in a space outside the framework of routine civil society -- which is one reason why it has been significantly successful, despite repression by authorities and more than a little internal dissension.

But unless something can stand as a counter to the modern neo-fascists, the fascists win. And hands down, they are winning, spectacularly and consistently. They have been doing so for decades, to the point where their victories are taken pretty much for granted as the way things are, the baseline from which any opposition is expected to arise. In other words, the neo-fascist reality is the one we all live in now.

In 1938, fascism was the political reality through much of Europe -- we forget that most of Europe was, by 1938 or 1939, ruled by fascists and what Magil and Stevens call "semi-fascists." Fascism was the reality in much of Asia and Latin America as well. Colonial Africa could not escape the fascist march.

The United States, as Magil and Stevens amply document, was riddled with overt and covert fascist elements and organizations, found in every aspect of government and throughout what passed for civil society, especially but not exclusively in the South.

I would argue that part of the reason for the pervasiveness of fascism at the time was "fashion." Fascism was new and energized, revolutionary in much the same way that Soviet Communism was, but with the key difference that fascism was the modern mass movement, the modern revolution if you will, that provided crucial support for the very sort of hypercapitalism that had so recently been responsible for crashing economies all over the world.

Fascism is the response of late-stage capitalism to existential crisis. The World War, the Russian Revolution(s), the financial collapse of 1929, and the mortal blow to the peoples of the capitalist democracies delivered by the Great (and at the time seemingly Endless) Depression, was perceived by many, inside and outside the system, as the quintessential Crisis of Capitalism that would quite likely lead to its ultimate demise.

Fascism was demonstrated as a functional alternative to both Communism and Capitalism in Extremis. There are many reasons why it was so successful at the time, chief among them that fascists gave people a common national purpose and it put people back to work. Global Capitalism on its own, as we've seen since the Crash of 2008, cannot do that. "Nations" are simply in the way, and keeping substantial numbers of people unemployed indefinitely is a necessity to ensure profits continue to rise (unemployment works by driving down wages and benefit costs).

Fascism was highly regimented and militarized in the 1930's, aspects which we note are largely absent from the neo-fascism of today.

Imperialism is still very much apparent, but no longer are vast armies assembled to undertake the conquest of foreign lands. According to modern military doctrine, mass armies are no longer necessary for conquest of desirable foreign territory or control of resources. Bribery works very well, and what can't be bought can be rather easily seized and held by a small, mobile, technologically advanced army together with a sufficient number of mercenaries to handle extraneous matters and occasional wet work. And of course remote controlled Death From Above machines take the place of thousands of military personnel.

As targets soon discover, there is no adequate defense against modern warfare.

Civil society and civilian life are largely neglected by the neo-fascist cabal of global rulers we see today. Apart from constant surveillance and sporadic repression of nascent uprisings, the ruling class essentially ignores most of what's going on in "The Street." There is an incessant barrage of propaganda from every corporate outlet.

 Everything the common people are allowed to  have is due to the "gifts" of the elites, and everyone is supposed to be grateful for what little -- or much -- they are given. But nothing comes without a cost.

Because taxes are seen as punishment for failure, only the "lesser people," who by definition are failures, are forced to pay taxes.

 Rent seeking, extraction, gambling, plunder and pillage now constitute the elite "economy" -- if you want to call it that. For man of the rest of us, subsistence has become the New Normal.

This is about where global fascists would have been by now if the unpleasantness of World War II hadn't intervened.

And so we continue with excerpts from "The Peril of Fascism" by A.B. Magil and Henry Stevens, published in 1938 by International Publishers, the American publisher for the Communist Party of the United States.

The Bonus March of 1932 was undoubtedly one of the epoch-making mass struggles in American history. It was initiated in a very modest form by a small, militant veterans' organization, the Workers' Ex-Servicemen's League (later renamed the League of American Ex-Servicemen [Note: the League disbanded in 1935, its members joining the American Legion and other veterans' organizations.] but it grew far beyond the plans of its original sponsors. Members of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans disregarded the instructions of their national officialdom and joined with the members of the Workers' Ex-Servicemen's League and with unaffiliated veterans in the great trek to the nation's capitol. All told, about 20,000 of them gathered in Washington and camped for nearly two months in Anacostia Flats.

Hoover blasted the ex-soldiers out of Anacostia with the gun-fire, tear gas and bayonets of the United States Army. But he also helped blast himself out of the Presidency. Bloody Thursday, July 28 [1932], aroused the entire country. The great veterans' struggle broke through the anti-bonus policy of the Legion chiefs and won from the Portland, Oregon, convention in October, 1932, the first endorsement of immediate payment. [Note: the "bonus" was legislation passed in 1924 providing per-capita payment of $1 a day for those engaged in domestic military service during WWI and $1.25 per day for service overseas, payable in 1945. The Bonus March was organized in 1932 to demand immediate payment so as to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the Depression.]

The army of bonus marchers that staggered out of Washington in rout and apparent defeat became the nucleus of a movement which, gathering ever wider popular support, marched forward irresistibly until it culminated in 1936 in the passage by the 74th Congress of the bonus bill over President Roosevelt's veto.

The Bonus March revealed not only the strength of the veterans' movement, but also its weakness. It was only natural that among men who had little experience with rank and file organization and who only yesterday have been ardent patrioteers there should exist considerable political confusion. And there were not lacking at Anacostia Flats buzzard of reaction on the hunt for prey. We have already mentioned the Key Men of America. It was the Key Men, with the collaboration of General Pelham D. Glassford, at the time Washington police chief, that foisted on the marchers the Oregon adventurer, W. W. Waters, as commander-in-chief of the Bonus Expeditionary Forces. Waters surrounded himself with a host of shady characters, among them Harold B. Foulkrod, former manager of the Philadelphia branch of the Burns Detective Agency, who was named "legislative representative." These individuals sedulously used the  Red scare to divide the veterans. They were helped along by Father Coughlin who sent a $5,000 check to the B.E.F. "with absolute instructions that they who benefit by this donation be clear of all Communist leaders and Communist suggestions."

Out of the Bonus March emerged what was one of the country's first openly fascist terrorist organizations, the Khaki Shirts, also known later as the U. S. Fascists. It was launched by Waters, with himself as leader. The shirt idea spread rapidly, and Father J. R. Cox of Pittsburgh attempted to entice veterans into the Blue Shirts.

The passage of the Bonus resolution by the 1932 Legion convention marked the first step toward directing the organization away from the reactionary policies which it had hitherto pursued. But economic issues are inseparably bound up with questions of civil liberties, with the preservation of democracy itself. The leaders of the American Legion had early shown a decidedly pro-fascis bent and a special affection for Mussolini. In January, 1923, only two months after Il Duce has established the world's first fascist dictatorship, National Commander Alvin Owlsley, in an interview with the Newspaper Enterprise Association, expounded on the philosophy of the Legion's royal family in the following candid words:

If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country's institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy... Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.

The history of the Legion during most of the years since its inception certainly indicates that its leaders have attempted to live up to these "ideals." They have sought to suppress meetings of labor and liberal groups through the Legion's well-financed National Americanism Commission, directed by Homer Chaillaux, have incited red-hunts in the colleges and distributed large quantities of red-baiting literature, including that richly imaginative work, Mrs. Elizabeth Dilling's The Red Network, which lists among the country's dangerous Reds Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mayor La Guardia of New York City. In 1934-35 the Legion chiefs actively cooperated in the Chamber of Commerce-Hearst crusade against democracy. At the same time these super-nationalists have not neglected their international contacts. A Paris dispatch of Hearst's Universal Service published in the New York American as of June 25, 1935, stated:

Reports that the Prince of Wales, Colonel de la Rocque, head of French war veterans, and American Legion chiefs are cooperating to unite veterans to force their respective government to present a united front against Communism impressed delegates to the International Chamber of Commerce meeting. [The Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VIII and now the Duke of Winsor) at the time was making overtures to the German fascist war veterans' organization in line with the British Tory government's policy of rapprochement with the Nazi regime.]

But the membership of the Legion were beginning to move in a different direction. Many posts were adopting resolutions condemning strike-breaking and attacks on democratic rights. In San Francisco and Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Legion posts officially participated in parades for slain strikers.The Blissville Post of Queens, Long Island, after placing Paul Crosbie, an avowed Communist, on trial, ruled that "Communist membership is not sufficient reason for expulsion." In New Jersey the state organization of the Legion in 1936 opposed compulsory saluting of the flag for school children. In the same year, the Americanism Committee of the New York County Posts of the Legion adopted and circulated a pamphlet called: "Americanism, What Is It?" which advocated an Americanism that was a far cry from the Hearstized brand that the Legion chiefs had been propounding. In June, 1936, the convention of the New York County Legion voted opposition to teachers' loyalty oaths and urged higher relief allowances.


Let it be remembered that ex-servicemen have played an all-important role in the development of fascism in other countries. In Germany, the National Socialist Party was organized in 1919 by army officers who won their first successes among returned soldiers. In Italy, Mussolini formed his first terrorist bands from among former soldiers. In France, the core of the fascist forces has been the veterans' organization, Croix de Feu (now the Social Party) led by Colonel de la Rocque. In the United States, as we have seen, the Legion was groomed by its founders and early leaders to play a similar role. That their dreams are farther from realization today than at any time in the Legion's history is a tribute to the strength of the democratic sentiment among the World War veterans and the American people as a whole and their growing awareness of the social and political forces that are shaping the world today. The fight against professional patriotism and fascism in the American Legion has not yet been won, but recent developments offer hope that the men who went through the blood and muck of the war may yet avoid the tragic mistakes of their comrades in Germany, Italy, and France.


  1. A memorable line in "Angels in America," which I was lucky enough to see in 1992 at the Mark Taper Forum on its opening night, comes back to me as I read this post.
    An old Commie lady laments the vacuity surrounding Communism's demise (I paraphrase) "We were a movement, an idea for which people gave their lives. Will people die for something called market reforms?"
    She was skeptical as I was, and remain.
    (Nice to hear li'l ol' Portland was so prominent in a movement I had previously mostly associated with Seattle and SF......)

  2. Indeed, Portland figured prominently in the strikes and other festivities of the era.

    Nice to hear about the Commie Lady at the Taper and her query. Indeed, people are dying for something called "market reform," but not by their choice...

    But wait. Commies attend the Theatre??? In LA???? At the Mark Taper Forum????

    Who'd A Thunk? (But Angels in America there must have been grand!)