World War I and the Rise of Totalitarianism 1917-1940
excerpted from the book
The Tree of Liberty
A Documentary History of Rebellion
and Political Crime in America
edited by Nicholas N. Kittrie and Eldon D. Wedlock,
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998
The steady political pressure from women to secure the right
to vote finally resulted in the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution. Success did not come without
dramatic confrontations between suffragists and the forces of
law and order, which resulted in the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment
of women activists for the zealous pursuit of their cause.
The second and more central focus of this chapter is on)America's
response to World War I, a war in which the Old World nations
had a vested interest. Pacifists, socialists, partisans of the
various European camps, and America Firsters strongly opposed
the New World's involvement in this conflagration. The resistance
to America's involvement gave rise to a new class of political
The wartime and postwar fears and anxieties also gave rise
to a movement for the purification of the American melting pot
by eliminating "un-American" influences. United States
entry into World War I and the success of the Russian Revolution
had a dramatic effect upon the American public. Socialism and
communism were not mere idle notions expounded by foreign philosophers
but could provide a stimulus for conspiracies on American soil.
In addition, the call to arms, which previously had been resisted
in instances of domestic conflict, was likely to encounter even
greater opposition in cases of foreign wars. In short, the suspicion
grew that the nation's pluralistic population was not as committed
to the American Way as had been assumed and could be manipulated
by foreign agitators.
The criminal law was invoked directly to punish war and draft
resisters, as well as those who advocated the forceful overthrow
of government. Other quasi-criminal methods for purging the country
of the disloyal, such as the exclusion and deportation of politically
suspect aliens-often associated with the labor movement-were also
utilized. Ideological dissidents were subject to punishment for
political associations, and several documents reflect less a concern
with the enforcement of traditional justice than the desire of
the authorities to convey a symbolic message to left-leaning aliens
to watch their step...
Although it was at the height of World War I and shortly thereafter
that the movement toward enforcing American homogeneity reached
its peak, its legacies lingered on for several decades and are
still evident today.
... In its quest for legitimacy, labor finally achieved its
long-sought goal of preventing federal power, in the form of the
labor injunction, from playing a partisan role in the contest
between labor and capital. It ultimately succeeded in having the
federal government cast as an impartial referee of labor disputes,
and several long-standing management techniques for curbing labor's
power were determined to be illegal. The changing relations between
capital and labor are reflected further in the increased sophistication
of labor tactics, including the sit-down strike, which led to
many violent confrontations with local police.
Greatly diminished from the labor scene, federal force was
evident, nevertheless, in Washington, D.C., during the Depression,
as the encampment of the Bonus Marchers was dispersed by military
force. But tensions continued between state and federal authorities
in several other arenas of political and civil rights. The power
of the state to resort to martial law in order to avoid the command
of a federal injunction was tested and denied. But federal involvement
in protecting blacks in the South from terrorist attacks was as
passive as before. Also, the failure of the assimilationist policies
toward Native Americans accounted in large part for the new grant
of limited powers of self-determination to them.
... with the blowing winds of World War II, one can observe
the beginning of the government's renewed attempts to curb political
and related activities motivated by sympathy to various foreign
causes. With mounting tensions overseas, the authorities set out
once again, as they had done a quarter-century earlier, to enforce
the American Way.
How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty? (1917)
The suffragist movement contributed to Woodrow Wilson's continuing
political education. Before he secured reelection in 1916, Wilson
had decided that women's right to vote could be denied no longer.
Yet he was reluctant to assume an active role in securing suffrage
The militant suffragists were convinced that only a strong
exercise of presidential power could overcome congressional resistance,
and they set out to spur Wilson into action. They picketed the
White House throughout 1917. After the United States declared
war on Germany, banners continued to point out to "Kaiser
Wilson!" that "20,000,000 American women are not self-governed."
After six months of picketing, the authorities stepped in
to suppress the embarrassing demonstrations. The following contemporaneous
account of the events reported the escalation of government response
from toleration to arrest and release to the filing of charges,
fines, and imprisonment. Those arrested received sentences of
up to sixty days. The prosecutions only served to stiffen the
resolve of the suffragists. They engaged in more alarming tactics:
hunger strikes, public burnings of Wilson's lofty speeches on
democracy, and the burning of the president in effigy.
It was not until September 1918 that Wilson directly urged
Congress to pass the National Suffrage Amendment. Though gravely
ill, Wilson worked hard to ensure that women could vote in the
presidential election of 1920.
Suffragists as Political Prisoners (1917)
The country's preoccupation with winning World War I did not
deter the suffragists. Arrested for their persistent picketing,
the suffragists carried their struggle to the jails. Although
segregated from each other, they collectively managed to frame
and sign the earliest known claim in the United States for special
treatment, in the European tradition, as political prisoners.
Refusal of the authorities to accede to the demands led to hunger
strikes and forced feeding.
Suffragists, Letters from Prison
Reprinted in D. Steven's, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni
& Live right, 1920),175.
TO THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:
As political prisoners, we, the undersigned, refuse to work
while in prison. We have taken this stand as a matter of principle
after careful consideration, and from it we shall not recede.
This action is a necessary protest against an unjust sentence.
In reminding President Wilson of his pre-election promises toward
woman suffrage we were exercising the right of peaceful petition,
guaranteed by the Constitution....
Conscious, therefore, of having acted in accordance with the
highest standards of citizenship, we ask the Commissioners of
the District to grant us the rights due political prisoners. We
ask that we no longer be segregated and confined under locks and
bars in small groups, but permitted to see each other, and that
Miss Lucy Burns, who is in full sympathy with this letter, be
released from solitary confinement in another building and given
back to us.
We ask exemption from prison work, that our legal right to
consult counsel be recognized, to have food sent to us from outside,
to supply ourselves with writing material for as much correspondence
as we may need, to receive books, letters, newspapers, our relatives
Our united demand for political treatment has been delayed,
because on entering the workhouse we found conditions so very
bad that before we could ask that the suffragists be treated as
political prisoners, it was necessary to make a stand for the
ordinary rights of human beings for all the inmates. Although
this has not been accomplished we now wish to bring the important
question of the status of political prisoners to the attention
of the commissioners, who, we are informed, have full authority
to make what regulations they please for the District prison and
The Commissioners are requested to send us a written reply
so that we may be sure this protest has reached them.
PAULINE F. ADAMS
ELEANOR A. CALNAN
DOROTHY J. BARTLETT
The Commissioners' only answer to this was a hasty transfer
of the signers and the leader, Miss Burns, to the District Jail,
where they were put in solitary confinement. The women were not
only refused the privileges asked but were denied some of the
usual privileges allowed to ordinary criminals.
"false reports or false statements" (1917) (Espionage
On June 15, 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act giving
the United States broad powers to punish acts of gathering, transmitting,
or negligently handling information that would be injurious to
the defense of the United States if in the hands of a foreign
nation or enemy. The act also imposed penalties for certain antiwar
commentary and opinions. Congress enacted the law in large part
to check enemy sympathizers residing in the United States. A widespread
propaganda campaign had stirred up Germanophobia, and German immigrants
throughout the country were accused of supporting the Kaiser and
spying for him.
President Woodrow Wilson, apparently recognizing the potential
for abuse, approved the Espionage Act with the statement that
"I shall not permit . . . any part of this law to apply to
me ... as a shield against criticism."
The Espionage Act
40 Stat. 217 (1917i.
CHAP. 30-An Act to punish acts of interference with the foreign
relations, the neutrality, and the foreign commerce of the United
States, to punish espionage, and better to enforce the criminal
laws of the United States, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America in Congress assembled:
SEC. 3. Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully
make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to
interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval
forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies
and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully
cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny,
or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United
States, or shall willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment
service of the United States, to the injury of the service or
of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more
than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or
SEC. 4. If two or more persons conspire to violate the provisions
of sections two or three of this title, and one or more of such
persons does any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each
of the parties to such conspiracy shall be punished as in said
SEC. 5. Whoever harbors or conceals any person who he knows,
or has reasonable grounds to believe or suspect, has committed,
or is about to commit, an offense under this title shall be punished
by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not
more than two years, or both.
"I do not believe that I am seeking martyrdom" (1917-1918)
Some conscientious objectors declined to register for the
draft and were prosecuted in regular civilian courts. But in 1917
and 1918 the army inducted more than twenty thousand men who previously
had filed claims to be classified as objectors. Of these, some
four thousand declined to perform military service. The conscription
bill made liberal provisions for members of recognized religious
sects to choose a noncombatant corps. In addition, conscientious
objectors whom a presidential board of inquiry deemed to be "sincere"
were eligible for noncombatant service or for agricultural furloughs.
But some men refused all forms of alternative service. The military
court-martialed several hundred such men, together with the "insincere"
objectors who professed no religious or moral antipathy to war.
The statements of three objectors illustrate the variety of
motives for refusing conscription. Carl Haessler, a Rhodes Scholar
and a professor of philosophy, objected on political grounds.
Maurice Hess, voicing religious objections, also later became
a college professor. Roger Baldwin, who founded the American Civil
Liberties Union, articulated moral grounds. These men and the
others were punished for refusing to accommodate their political,
religious, or moral beliefs to the duties of allegiance owed to
their government. Their criminality lay not in any affirmative
deed against the government but rather in refusing to act in accordance
with the demands of the authorities.
"any profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form
of government" (1918)
(Espionage Act - strengthened)
The Espionage Act of 1917 proved unable to curtail all criticism
of the war effort. Attorney General Gregory requested amendments
prohibiting attempts to obstruct recruitment and efforts to discredit
war loans. The Senate Judiciary Committee responded by revamping
Section Three provisions in order to eliminate all disloyal utterances.
There were nearly two thousand prosecutions and nine hundred convictions
under the combined espionage acts, including that of motion picture
producer Robert Goldstein, sentenced to ten years in prison for
his unbecoming portrayal of the British, now United States allies,
in a film about the American Revolution. Socialist leader Eugene
V. Debs was convicted as the result of a speech at a Socialist
party state convention in which he criticized former president
Theodore Roosevelt's support of the war and praised the moral
courage of our revolutionary forefathers who "opposed the
social system of their time."
The Espionage Act (as Amended)
40 Stat. 555 (1918).
Sec. 3. Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully
make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to
interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval
forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its
enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false
statements, or say or do anything except by way of bona fide and
not disloyal advice to an investor or investors, with intent to
obstruct the sale by the United States of bonds or other securities
of the United States or the making of loans by or to the United
States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully
cause or attempt to cause, or incite or attempt to incite, insubordination,
disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval
forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct or attempt
to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United
States [to the injury of the service or of the United States],
and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully
utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal profane, scurrilous,
or abusive language about the form of government of the United
States, or the Constitution of the United States or the military
or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United
States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States,
or any language intended to bring the form of government of the
United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the
military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of
the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United
States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall
willfully utter, print, write or publish any language intended
to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States,
or to promote the cause of its enemies, or shall willfully display
the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully by utterance,
writing, printing, publication, or language spoken, urge, incite,
or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any
thing or things, product or products, necessary or essential to
the prosecution of the war in which the United States may be engaged,
with intent by such curtailment to cripple or hinder the United
States in the prosecution of the war, and whoever shall willfully
advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts
or things in this section enumerated, and whoever shall by word
or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the
United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of
the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not
more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years,
or both: provided that any employee or official of the United
States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic
or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner
criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall
be at once dismissed by the head of the department in which the
employee may be engaged, and any such official shall be dismissed
by the authority having power to appoint a successor to the dismissed
"any unlawful method of terrorism" (1919) (anti-sedition
law) (California antisedition law)
In essence, California's antisedition law, similar to laws
passed by some two-thirds of the states, was directed not against
overt acts but against seditious doctrines and their advocacy.
The law was enacted against the background of the Red Scare. Communists
had succeeded in Russia, and Germany and other industrialized
countries seemed in danger.
The California law defined criminal syndicalism as a doctrine
that advocated resort to force and violence for effectuating changes
in the political arena or in industrial ownership. Syndicalism,
an anticapitalist, working class ideology, held that any form
of the state was an instrument of oppression. In a syndicalist
society, a universal union, in which membership would entitle
one to vote regardless of age, sex, race, property, or residence,
would make all social and political decisions. Until its demise
in the 1920s, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the
chief syndicalist-oriented organization in the United States.
The sense of urgency regarding communist and syndicalist infiltration
and power led to the anti-Red "Palmer Raids" (named
after U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, assisted by a
twenty-four-year-old lawyer, J. Edgar Hoover) against political
and labor activists. Arrested aliens, including Emma Goldman and
Alexander Berkman, were deported summarily. On January 2,1920,
twenty-seven hundred people in thirty-three cities were seized.
The raids, which ceased in May 1920, were a major impetus for
the organization of the American Civil Liberties Union.
California Criminal Syndicalism Law
An act defining criminal syndicalism and sabotage, proscribing
certain acts and methods in connection therewith and in pursuance
thereof and providing penalties and punishments therefor.
[Approved, April 30, I9l9.]
The people of the State of California do enact as follows:
SECTION 1. The term "criminal syndicalism as used in
this act is hereby defined as any doctrine or precept advocating,
teaching or aiding and abetting the commission of crime, sabotage
(which word is hereby defined as meaning willful and malicious
physical damage or injury to physical property), or unlawful acts
of force and violence or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means
of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control,
or effecting any political change.
SECTION 2. Any person who:
1. By spoken or written words or personal conduct advocates,
teaches or aids and abets criminal syndicalism or the duty, necessity
or propriety of committing crime, sabotage, ... violence or any
unlawful method of terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change
in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political
2. Willfully and deliberately by spoken or written words justifies
or attempts to justify criminal syndicalism or the commission
or attempt to commit crime, sabotage, violence or unlawful methods
of terrorism with intent to approve, advocate or further the doctrine
of criminal syndicalism; or
3. Prints, publishes, edits, issues or circulates or publicly
displays any book, paper, pamphlet, document, poster or written
or printed matter in any other form, containing or carrying written
or printed advocacy, teaching, or aid and abetment of, or advising,
criminal syndicalism; or
4. Organizes or assists in organizing, or is or knowingly
becomes a member of, any organization, society, group or assemblage
of persons organized or assembled to advocate, teach or aid and
abet criminal syndicalism; or
5. Willfully by personal act or conduct, practices or commits
any act advised, advocated, taught or aided and abetted by the
doctrine or precept of criminal syndicalism, with intent to accomplish
a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any
political change; is guilty of a felony and punishable by imprisonment
in the state prison not less than one nor more than fourteen years...
SECTION 4. Inasmuch as this act concerns and is necessary
to the immediate preservation of the public peace and safety,
for the reason that at the present time large numbers of persons
are going from place to place in this state advocating, teaching
and practicing criminal syndicalism, this act shall take effect
upon approval by the governor.
"falsely shouting fire" (1919)
In Schenck v. United States, a convicted draft resistance
organizer attacked the constitutionality of the 1917 Espionage
Act on First Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court reviewed this
wartime law in an opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
in which he enunciated the famous "clear and present danger"
doctrine. Justice Holmes pronounced, "The question in every
case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances
and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger
that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress
has a right to prevent." The Supreme Court upheld Schenck's
"There can be no peace" (1919) (Industrial Workers of
the World - IWW)
In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World organized in
Chicago as an industrial union uniting skilled and unskilled workers
for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist
society. Committed to total class warfare, the IWW opposed arbitration
and collective bargaining. IWW members, nicknamed "Wobblies,"
were vocally antimilitaristic during World War I, and their union's
uncompromising rhetoric led to zealous federal and state suppression
during the postwar era. The IWW led a total of 150 strikes, including
the 1919 general strike in Seattle, before internal rifts and
a loss of members to the Communist Party accounted for its demise.
Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World
Reprinted in S. Lynd, ed., Nonviolence in America A Documentary
History (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), 240-41.
The working class and the employing class have nothing in
There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found
among millions of the working people, and the few who make up
the employing class have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the
workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the
earth, and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.
We find that the centering of the management of industries
into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade-unions unable to cope
with the ever-growing power of the employing class.
The trade-unions foster a state of affairs which allows one
set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in
the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage
Moreover the trade-unions aid the employing class to mislead
the workers into the belief that the working class have interests
in common with their employers.
These conditions can be changed and the interests of the working
class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that
all its members in any one industry, or in all industries, if
necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any
department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage
for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the
revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away
The army of production must be organized, not only for the
everyday struggle with the capitalists, but also to carry on production
when capitalism shall have been overthrown.
By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of
a new society within the shell of the old.
"violence ... impelled by persecution and self-defense"
(1923-1927) (Sacco and Vanzetti)
The 1920s were a period of widespread anti-alien and anti-radical
hysteria. Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti,
a fish peddler, were tried and convicted in connection with the
murders of Alessandro Berardelli, a guard, and F. A. Parmenter,
paymaster of a shoe factory, in South Braintree, Massachusetts.
Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian-born members of the Galleani anarchist
group. The alleged motive for the crime was the robbery of the
shoe factory payroll. To distribute some radical literature, they
had borrowed a car identified as the vehicle used in the earlier
hold-up and murder. The worldwide popular interest in the case
stemmed from a belief that the men were denied a fair trial because
of their political and social views. Many petitions were filed
for clemency after Judge Webster Thayer imposed the death sentence
on April 9,1927. Governor Alvan T. Fuller appointed a committee
to investigate charges of prejudice against the defendants. The
committee characterized the judge's hostile private statements
as "a grave breach of decorum" but decided they had
not affected his conduct or influenced the jury. The defendants
were executed on August 23,1927.
"Government cannot be coerced by mob rule" (1932) (Bonus
At the end of World War I, each veteran of military service
received sixty dollars as a special gratuity. The veterans lobbied
and demanded an additional bonus for the difference between military
and civilian salaries during their service time. On May 19, 1924,
President Coolidge signed the "adjusted compensation"
bill under which each veteran received a certificate that would
entitle him and his family to about five hundred dollars in 1945.
In May 1932, somewhere between fifteen thousand and twenty-five
thousand unemployed veterans formed the "Bonus Expeditionary
Force," which encamped in Washington, D.C., demanding that
Congress immediately honor the certificates. In mid-June, Congress
failed to pass the necessary appropriation but authorized transportation
funds for the men. About two thirds left the city. On July 28
an uneasy President Hoover, fearing a communist-led insurrection,
ordered federal troops to remove the remaining bonus marchers
from federal property after the District of Columbia police failed
in their attempt to do so. Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur ordered
an attack, led by Majors Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton
and employing tanks, tear gas, machine guns, cavalry, and fixed
bayonets. The demonstrators were routed; two veterans and two
policemen were left dead. On January 24,1936, Congress, over President
Franklin D. Roosevelt's veto, passed a law providing for the exchange
of the bonus certificates for cashable bonds.
"the right to organize for its common welfare" (1934)
(The Indian Reorganization Act)
Both the individual and the communal political rights of the
Native Americans finally stabilized during the post-World War
I era as the earlier policies of ethnocide through assimilation
proved ineffective in eliminating their culture. In 1924, Congress
granted United States citizenship to all Native Americans in the
United States, whether they wanted it or not. Congress had long
wavered between policies encouraging tribalism and those supporting
assimilation. In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act reestablished
the Native Americans' right to limited self-determination, permitting
the tribes to reorganize as corporate entities for their collective
"strikes and other forms of industrial strife" (1935)
(The National Labor Relations Act - Wagner Act)
With the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA)
which, among other things, legalized union organization and collective
bargaining, labor disputes increased dramatically. The Bureau
of Labor Statistics reported a fivefold increase from 1932 to
1933. The 1933-34 New Deal strikers were concerned primarily with
union recognition rather than disputes over wages, hours, and
working conditions. The wave of unrest which began in 1933 continued
into 1935. That year the NIRA was held unconstitutional. Congress
reacted by passing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), popularly
known as the Wagner Act after its chief sponsor. The NLRA was
designed to guarantee workers' rights to associate, organize,
and choose representatives to negotiate with management. To this
end, it defined employer actions hindering organization as unfair
labor practices and created an independent agency, the National
Labor Relations Board, to conduct secret ballot elections by employees,
settle controversies regarding union representation, oversee collective
bargaining, investigate unfair labor practices, and issue cease
and desist orders to restrain them. The selected sections of the
act convey the flavor of the legislation placing governmental
authority behind the rights of workers. The Supreme Court upheld
the NLRA as constitutional in NLRB u Jones & Laughlin Steel
Corp., 301 U.S. 1(1937).
Whereas previously only the acts of workers were subject to
government sanction, this act positions the federal government
as an overseer of management tactics as well. Importantly, these
new declarations of public authority were placed largely outside
the reach of a judiciary that was still perceived by many as pro-management.
Altogether, the government was now viewed as a referee rather
than a participant in labor-management conflicts.
Those Inherent and Fundamental Rights That Distinguish This Country
from All Foreign Nations (1938-1940) (The Dies Committee on Un-American
Activities) (in 1945 became the House Un-American Activities Committee)
The economic recovery promised to America by the New Deal
was not a speedy process. In 1934, over a year after Franklin
D. Roosevelt's inauguration, more than eleven million Americans
were still out of work and between sixteen and eighteen million
were on the relief rolls. By the end of 1937, the unemployed continued
to number nine million, and the economy's new downswing gave rise
to the term "recession."
By 1938 tensions in Europe mounted as Hitler's Germany annexed
Austria and occupied the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The spread
of racism in Europe and the organization of domestic fascist organizations
seemingly adherent to their overseas counterparts caused growing
concern in the late 1930s. Several congressional committees had
investigated these organizations, but in 1938 a new special committee
formed. Popularly known as the Dies Committee after its chairman,
Martin Dies of Texas, its activities and tactics received much
criticism. Dies seemed more interested in the exposure of communist
and socialist activities than fascist ones and complained that
the federal government contained "hundreds of left-wingers
and radicals who do not believe in our system of private enterprise"
and that there were "two thousand outright Communists and
Partyliners ... in the government in Washington."
Although the Dies Committee had the duty to investigate "the
extent, character, and objects of un-American propaganda activities
in the United States," the congressional debate reflected
the difficulty of defining the meaning of "un-American."
In 1945, the Dies Committee became the standing House Committee
on Un-American Activities.
Report of the Dies Committee: H.R. Rep. No. 1476, 76th Cong.,
3d Sess. (1940)
There is at present taking place in the world a struggle between
democracy on the one hand and dictatorship on the other, upon
the outcome of which the future of human liberties in the next
few centuries may well depend.
... It is of primary importance to prevent the growth or spread
of influence of . . . dictatorship of whatever sort.... But it
is at least equally important that ... nothing be done which would
undermine the fundamental structure of constitutional liberty
One method which can and should from time to time be used
is the method of investigation to inform the American people of
the activities of [subversive] organizations in their nation.
This is the real purpose of the House Committee to Investigate
un-American Activities. By un-American activities we mean organizations
or groups existing in the United States which are directed, controlled
or subsidized by foreign governments or agencies and which seek
to change the policies and form of government of the United States
in accordance with the wishes of such foreign governments...
... The committee finds that the danger to American democracy
lies not only in the rather remote possibility that Communists,
Nazis, or Fascists will succeed in a frontal attack on our Constitutional
government and overthrow it, but also in the much greater chance
that each extreme totalitarian group seeking by deception to advance
its own cause and pad its ranks will succeed in convincing a really
substantial number of people that the* only defense against violence
from the opposite extreme is to accept the violence of the one
they find least objectionable...
The committee's work should result in freeing the progressive
and labor movements from Communist control or domination and in
preventing sincere conservatives from temporizing with essentially
Fascist or Nazi groups or philosophies.... The committee wishes
to state emphatically that the only proper and democratic method
whereby un-American activities can be effectively combated is
by the duly constituted law-enforcing bodies of America operating
under our Constitution and with the support of an informed public
THE PROBLEM OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT
... In  ... the attempt was made by Communists to bore
from within the American Federation of Labor. On the whole this
effort met with but slight success.
With the formation of the C.I.O. the principal efforts of
the Communists were turned in the direction of that organization.
It is unmistakably clear that the overwhelming majority of the
members of the C.I.O. as well as its president are not Communists
or Communist sympathizers.... The evidence before the committee
indicates, however, that the leadership of some 10 or 12 of the
constituent unions of the C.I.O. out of a total of some 48 unions
is more than tinged with communism. The evidence shows that some
of their leaders are either card-holding members of the Communist
Party or subservient followers of that party's "line."
In the rank and file membership of these unions, on the contrary,
the proportion of Communists and Communist sympathizers is very
small indeed. There is encouraging evidence of an attempt on the
part of the C.I.O. Ieadership to remove this Communist influence
and it is a matter of record that most of its largest organizations
are free of any Communist control, domination, or even serious
... [T]he Communist Party is interested in trade unions primarily
for the purpose of attempting to utilize those labor organizations
for the benefit of the Russian dictatorship and its foreign policies.
... These groups and organizations make the* chief appeal
to the basest forms of religious and racial hatred. They promise
to deliver this country from the menace of communism; they heap
scorn upon the institutions of democracy; and they urge the short
cuts of force and violence.
THE GERMAN-AMERICAN BUND
... [T]he German-American Bund receives its inspiration, program,
and direction from the Nazi Government of Germany through the
various propaganda organizations which have been set up by that
Government and which function under the control and supervision
of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment.
.. . Fritz Kuhn ["fuehrer" of the Bund] testified
that the bund has a membership of approximately 20,000 to 25,000.
(A Department of Justice investigation made of the bund in 1937
placed the membership at 6,500.) In addition to the regular membership,
it has what is known as the sympathizer or "fellow traveler"
group, consisting of those who are sympathetic to the bund but
do not actively participate in its proceedings. He testified that
the sympathizer group is composed of approximately 80,000 to 100,000
It was established . . . that the bund had worked sympathetically
with other organizations throughout the United States and cooperates
with them. Kuhn testified that some of these groups are the Christian
Front, the Christian Mobilizers, the Christian Crusaders, the
Social Justice Society, the Silver Shirt Legion of America, the
Knights of the White Camelia and various Italian Fascist, White
Russian and Ukrainian organizations.
Tree of Liberty