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National Affairs: Anniversary

5 minute read

Twenty years ago last week Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer smashed into the U. S. radical movement. On Jan. 2, 1920, Department of Justice agents con verged on radical hangouts and hideouts, rounded up 3,000 suspects the first day, blackened the administration of Woodrow Wilson as charges of injustice, of viola tions of civil liberties, of sluggings, thirddegrees, left a heritage of suspicion of U. S. laws and U. S. courts. The radical movement recovered, but not the political fortunes of wavy-haired, square-jawed A. Mitchell Palmer.

Last week the Dies Committee chose the anniversary of the Palmer raids to make public its report of its 18-month investigation of un-American activities. Boiled down out of some 7,000 pages of testimony (3,773,600 words) taken from 205 witnesses, it was a document that no radical could have expected from the Dies Committee. Loudly critics have cried that Martin Dies was leading a witch hunt, that he was emulating A. Mitchell Palmer, that he was a Fascist, that he relied on hearsay and innuendo and accused individuals of Communist activities without giving them a chance to reply. As the parade of disgruntled ex-Communists to the witness stand continued, and as Chairman Dies muttered darkly about masquerading liberals up to no good, the Dies Committee looked for a time like as big a scandal as any it unearthed.

Report. Evenly divided between discussion of Fascists and Communists, made up of 15,000 well-chosen words, the report had not a line to justify the hell & damnation that preceded it. It began: “Every modern democratic nation is confronted by two pressing problems. The first is the preservation of the constitutional liberties which their people have gained through the years of struggle, the second is the problem of adjusting their economic life to the difficulties of the machine age. . . .” Although rival groups seek power and influence by exploiting economic distress, attempting to undermine democracy, main problem in combating them is to avoid taking action “which would undermine the fundamental structure of constitutional liberty itself.”

Report high lights: » The German-Russian pact crippled U. S. Communist and Nazi groups, just as the Communist Party was gaining its greatest influence as an anti-Fascist force, the Fascists as an anti-Communist force.

» Not more than 1,000.000 U. S. citizens haye been seriously affected by essentially foreign or un-American activities.

» The Communist Party is a “border patrol” of Russia, led, financed, dominated and directed by Russia for the benefit of Russia. U. S. workmen “have borne the brunt of the Communist efforts” and suffer most from them, but have resisted so successfully that only ten or twelve of some 48 C. I. O. unions are “more than tinged” with Communism.

» “We believe that the committee would render a disservice to the Nation if it left the impression in its report that there is anything in the present situation to cause anyone to lose faith in the American people as a whole or their devotion to their basic institution.”

Mystery. How did it happen that the belligerent Dies Committee that ranted, raved, hurled such wild charges, spread so much alarm, could produce such a measured document? New Dealers last week had a ready answer: It was because the New Dealers on the Dies Committee took the report away from die-hard Martin Dies.

Under extremely inadequate cover, fighting has gone on in the Dies Committee for a long time; at many a hearing observers were more struck by threshings and heavings under the blankets than by the testimony. Opposed to Chairman Dies were California’s Voorhis, New Mexico’s Dempsey, Massachusetts Casey. Basically the fight was theoretical—to Martin Dies U. S. liberals were akin to Communists and Fascists in so far as they believed in Marxism and tried to create a “bureaucratic capitalism” that would be for the U. S. what Communism is in Russia, Fascism is in Italy.

To Dies, all who tried to undermine confidence in the existing social system, promoted the idea that it is a governmental duty to support the people, advocated regimentation of industry, agriculture, labor, were equally subjects of inquiry along with Communists. Nobody confused this argument quite so badly as excitable, suspicious Martin Dies. To New Dealers this was just part of a “smear Roosevelt” campaign, dangerous in campaigns like the one in Michigan, where the Dies inquiry into sit-down strikes helped defeat Governor Murphy for reelection.

Last week Chairman Dies, ill in Orange, Texas, turned in an initial report that one New Dealer called as vicious a document as he had ever seen. Hurriedly New Dealers Voorhis, et al. rushed into action, supplanted their own toned-down version.

Story was that, unless Chairman Dies agreed, a minority report would be issued that would make more difficult another appropriation from Congress to continue the Committee’s work. Chairman Dies’s secretary signed for him. Popular was the final version; general was the belief that the money would be forthcoming. But it was no triumph for Chairman Dies* (although Father Coughlin’s Social Justice mentioned him for President), no triumph for Mr. Voorhis. If Chairman Dies could write no such report, neither could idealistic Mr. Voorhis battle through such an investigation. Triumph was for democratic government that synthesized opposing contributions, and looked particularly bright on the anniversary of the Palmer Raids.

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