|Spanish Civil War Poster: "¡No pasarán!" c. 1936|
No, we are nowhere near the point of an armed rebellion or civil war, though the United States was not as far from it as we may like to believe during the Great Depression. Some of the factors that mitigated against it in the 1930's were the size of the country, always an impediment to popular uprisings, and the generally beat down condition of the People. There was no social safety net in those days, except to the extent that individuals and private institutions were able to provide one for some of those who were suffering from economic hardship. That began to change toward the end of the 1930's, but getting to that point was difficult and dangerous. Fascism was abroad in the land, as it was all over the world, and there was remarkably little resistance to it at home as was the case abroad. Spain was a singular exception, and Spain's valiant resistance to Franco's fascism was ultimately unsuccessful. As the Generalissimo was wont to say: ""Hemos pasado."
We've been considering "The Peril of Fascism" by Magil and Stevens, published in 1938 by International Publishers (the American publishing wing of the Communist Party of the United States if anyone was wondering). The book is subtitled, "The Crisis of American Democracy," and it was, I believe, prescient.
The Crusade Against Civil Liberties
To the Chamber of Commerce fell the task of more openly and directly assaulting civil liberties under the guise of a crusade against Communism. In 1934, the Chamber set up a Committee Combating Subversive activities under the chairmanship of Felix Marcus McWhirter, president of the People's State Bank of Indianapolis. Other members were James A. Farrell, former president and still a director of United States Steel Corporation; Walter C. Teagle, president of Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company of New Jersey; Lewis E. Pierson, chairman of the board of the Morgan-influenced Irving Trust Company of New York and a former president of the Chamber of Commerce; Silas Strawn, former president of the Chamber, chairman of the executive committee of Morgan's Montgomery Ward & Company, and counsel for Morgan's Pullman Company; Fred Clausen chairman of Holeproof Hosiery and at the time vice-president of the National Founders Association; Phillip Fay of the aggressively anti-union San francisco Industrial Association; and Adolph Schleicher of Los Angeles, a supporter of the Better America Foundation, an organization of the most strident West Coast professional patriots.
The Chamber's vendetta against "subversive activities" was another indication that the anti-democratic practices of big business had entered a new stage. Prior to the war, employer-inspired attacks on civil liberties and legislative proposals for restricting the rights of labor and radical organizations were by no means rare. But it was in the wartime Espionage and Sedition Acts, in the state criminal syndicalism and sedition laws, and in the Palmer Red raids after the war that the drive against civil liberties for the first time achieved as highly organized and concentrated character. The Chamber of Commerce crusade in 1934, conducted on a nationwide basis, with the co-operation of the Hearst press, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and other organizations, marked a new expression of essentially the same trend toward imposing nationally and in every state fascist methods of government. And this campaign was no longer directed merely against labor and radical groups, but against liberal teachers and students, peace organizations, and in fact every expression of progressive thought.
The character of the investigation made by the Committee Combatting Subversive Activities may be judged from the following statement by one who was employed as its publicity man, but soon resigned in disgust:
Mrs. Elizabeth Dilling's The Red Network was the accepted guide in appraising the degree of radicalism in men and organizations. That book, and the Lusk, Fish, and McCormack committee reports, formed the four gospels of the Red-baiters. But a strange discrimination was exercised in the case of the McCormack report. Much of that report deals with anti-Semitic and fascist organizations, in addition to the sections dealing with Communists. In the Chamber's work these parts were ignored.
The report of the Committe on Combating Subversive Activities was embodied in a pamphlet which the Chamber issued in November, 1934. Its recommendations were: enactment of a federal sedition law making it a criminal offense to advocate or be a member of an organization advocating the violent overthrow of government; denial of the use of the mails to "subversive" literature; tightening of the alien deportation and naturalization laws; enactment of federal legislation making it a criminal offense "to incite disaffection or insubordination among the armed forces of the United States"; and establishment of a special espionage agency under the Department of Justice "to investigate subversive activities, with particular attention to the Communist Party and its members and their domestic and foreign relationships."
These recommendations were adopted in full by the 23rd annual convention of the Chamber of Commerce in May, 1935. And the Chamber became the chief organizer of the campaign for suppressive state and federal legislation....
The major aim of this plethora of patriotism was laconically stated by L. L. Baleisen, industrial secretary of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce:
What we want to do is to destroy the whole A. F. of L. It's a racket from top to bottom... Oh, we're not against unions. In fact, we help to organize lots of them.
From the destruction of the trade unions (this would today include, of course, the C. I. O. as well as the A. F. of L.) to the destruction of the rights of all citizens save a few at the top is not such a long step as Hitler and Mussolini have shown. And the Chamber of Commerce patriots have not contented themselves with seeking to save the country through legislative means but have in city after city taken a hand in the organization of anti-labor violence.
One of the chief collaborators in the Chamber's crusade against civil liberties has been its kid brother, the Junior Chamber of Commerce. At its 15th annual convention in June, 1934, the Junior Chamber adopted a program that was even more raucously reactionary than its elder brother's. Announcing that it was "absolutely proven that the United States is even now in the midst of an incipient Communist revolution," it called for what would be tantamount to a clear sweep of every vestige of democratic liberties. Among the proposals was:
We think a federal law should be passed under the terms of which an individual convicted of revolutionary activities should be incarcerated, and continually held in a concentration camp, and that, in the case of an alien so convicted, he should be kept in confinement until such time as laws may be passed and deportation treaties entered into providing for his return to his native land.
Apart from its subversive syntax, the above statement is obviously one which the founding fathers would find difficulty in recognizing as the offspring of the revolutionary traditions of 1776.
Oh my yes, we've been down very similar pathways lately -- at least since the advent of the Great and Glorious (oh, and BTW Endless) War on Terror. Our Betters never shy from such opportunities.
NOTE: Of course, I'm old enough to remember the House Un-American Activities Committee -- one of the successors to the Chamber of Commerce Committee on Combating Subversive Activities of 1934.
The fusion of government and corporate/"business"/finance interest in this country is nothing new.It has been a feature -- not a bug -- of our government pretty much from Day One.
Nor is the notion new that "subversion" is entirely a matter of the underclass and Communists (and now Socialists) acting against the interests of the United States of America. (Inc.) What would be new, in my view, would be to turn that around, to assert that "subversion" and "subversives" are in actuality to be found in the present day neo-con, neo-lib, neo-colonial, neo-fascist sectors that seek to permanently overthrow the tattered remnants of what's left of the Republic and substitute a New Model Imperial Autocracy, a project that has been under way for the last 40 years in earnest, though we can see the earlier kernel of it in the reports in "The Peril of Fascism" documenting the rise of fascism in America in the 1930's.