Americanism of Socialism (Continued)
Throttle Minorities at Your Peril!
Civil liberties are always safe as long as their
exercise doesn't bother anyone--New York Times
editorial, January 3, 1941
"Freedom of speech," said Mr. Roosevelt in a speech on the eve of the 1940 elections, "is of no use if a man has nothing to say." To this we might add: Freedom of speech is of little use if a political party cannot also submit for the decision of the majority its proposals. Mr. Roosevelt has eloquently saluted "free elections," but there is a conspicuous contrast between his words and the actual conditions which prevail. The Socialist Labor Party can speak with authority on this question, for, only a few weeks before Mr. Roosevelt said that "Americans are determined to retain for themselves the right of free speech, free religion, free assembly and the right which lies at the basis of all of--the right to choose the officers of their own government in free elections"--only a few weeks before the President thus declaimed on free elections, the Socialist Labor Party had been prevented by illegal and violent means from placing it ticket on the ballot in some of the important industrial states. [Illegal interference with the political activity of minority parties was reported in 23 states in 1940]
The experience of the Socialist Labor Party in Illinois alone reveals the hollow mockery of such declamations as those of the President. There members of the Party were systematically harassed and assaulted, and one was kidnapped, to prevent them from circulating nominating petitions and otherwise to deprive them of opportunities to reach the electorate with the Socialist message. Illegal interference with a federal election was clearly a federal offense and called for an investigation by the Department of Justice and the apprehension and arraignment of the guilty parties. Instead, the Department of Justice hemmed and hawed and finally dropped the matter--without even a serious pretense at investigating.
Illinois is by no means the only state where hoodlum tactics are employed against the Socialist Labor Party, by the self-styled "super-patriotic" organizations. But crude and violent though, these flagrant assaults on "free elections" are, they are less damaging to the principles Mr. Roosevelt declaimed for than the obstacles raised in the path of minority parties by state legislatures in the form of prohibitive election laws. In some states election barriers have been raised so high that minority parties are ruled out and new parties haven't a "Chinaman's chance" of challenging the monopoly of the capitalist Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Republican and Democratic parties. These capitalist politicians forget that monkeying with the thermometer cannot change the social temperature.
To grasp the sinister import of this, one has only to recall that the Republican party could not have been organized if these laws had operated in the days of its formation, and it predecessor, the Free Soil party, would have been suppressed in 1848 for its failure to poll for Martin Van Buren a sufficient number of votes. Like the Republican party in 1856, the Socialist Labor Party could muster only a minority support in the past. But to those who charge that lack of voting strength in the past is a denial of the imperative necessity for a Socialist reconstruction of society today, we reply in the measured words of Abraham Lincoln:
"The fact that we get no votes in your section is a fact of your making, and not of ours," he told a New Haven Connecticut, audience March 6, 1860. "And if there be fault in that, that fault is primarily yours, and remains so until you show that we repel you by any wrong principle or practice. If we do repel you by any wrong principle or practice, that fault is ours; but this brings you to where you ought to have started--to a discussion of the right or wrong of our principle."
The moment you consider the right or wrong of our Socialist principles, you are compelled to admit the gross evils inherent in capitalism. You are compelled to admit that they are aggravated as the system decays. You are driven to fact squarely the fact that every liberty-throttling measure capitalism concocts to prolong its rule will ultimately throttle your liberties and your rights. "Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage," warned Lincoln, "and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, and you have lost the genius of your own independence." Finally you cannot escape the conviction that Socialism, in its struggle to make real and enduring the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, harmonizes with the best and noblest precepts of Americanism, and that it foe, though it appears draped in the national colors, is subverting Americanism and introducing despotism in the folds of the flag. With James Russell Lowell we say:
"Let us speak plain; there is more force in names
Than most men dream of, and a lie may keep
Its throne a whole age longer if it skulk
Behind the shield of some fair-seeming name."
Bona fide Americanism and militarism cannot be reconciled. They are as hostile to one another as freedom and tyranny, as democracy and absolutism. Anti-militarism is written in our Declaration of Independence and all over the pages of our history. If there was one thing that the majority of the Founding Fathers were agreed upon it was that, having overthrown one military autocracy (that of King George III), they would not permit another to gain a foothold in this republic. This anti-militaristic sentiment was so strong, and the reaction against the main in uniform--whether royal or hireling--was so profound that for a few years after the defeat of the British, the Unite State Army consisted of 80 men and officer! Not until 1790 did Congress create a small army consisting of 1,283 men and officers and this it jealously kept in the background and under its strict control.
Why this fear and detestation of military power among the Founding Fathers? That it was deeply rooted is beyond dispute. The notes and papers on the secret sessions of the Constitutional Convention record the strong anti-military sentiments which prevailed. Said George Mason: "....when once a standing army is established in any country the people lose their liber." And James Madison, who is known to posterity as the Father of the Constitution, replied: "I most cordially agree with the honorable member last, that a standing army is one of the greatest mischiefs that can happen." These men were not speculating. They were men of high moral and intellectual caliber, men learned in history and in the philosophy of government. Their deep and exhaustive study of history had taught them that just as war invites and feeds militarism, militarism invites and feeds war. This the James Madison put it:
"In time of war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the executive magistrate [the President]. Constant apprehension of war has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force with an overgrown executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. THE MEANS OF DEFENSE AGAINST FOREIGN DANGER HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THE INSTRUMENTS OF TYRANNY AT HOME. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite war, whenever a revolt is apprehended. Throughout all Europe the armies kept up under the pretext of defending have enslaved the people. It is perhaps questionable whether the best concerted system of absolute power in Europe could maintain itself, in a situation where no alarms of external danger could tame the people to the domestic yoke." (Madison's "Notes on Constitutional Convention," May-September, 1787.)
Madison's words should be reread, should be committed to memory. "The means of defense against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home." It is worth reflecting on this as we observe the rise in America of a monstrous military power, as we witness the intense training given our conscript army in the "art" of breaking strikes, handling "mobs" and suppressing civil "disturbances." Speaking for spurious Americanism, the Boston Daily Globe, after describing strikebreaking maneuvers at Camp Edwards, piously observed: "Such work....is a typical duty of troops, and the practice is necessary as a party of the nation's preparedness program."!
Militarism implies conscription, for not nation can maintain a huge army in peacetime without employing compulsion. Known to be the very foundation of totalitarianism, conscription in time of peace has always been as repugnant to Americans as dictatorship itself. On May 16, 1777, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams:
"[The draft] ever was the most unpopular and impracticable thing that could be attempted. Our people, even under the monarchial government, had learnt to consider it as the last of all oppressions."
Thirty-four years later, the celebrated orator, Daniel Webster delivered a ringing speech against conscription. "....what would have been more absurd," he said, "than for this Constitution to have said that to secure the great blessings of liberty it gave to government an uncontrolled power of military conscription." He held that, if it could be proved that Congress had the power under the Constitution to deprive men of their civil liberty by thrusting them into military service against their will, the same arguments or pretext of an "emergency" could be used to prove "that Congress has power to create a dictator." Then, summing up his contempt for this view:
"A free government with arbitrary means to administer it is a contradiction; a free government without adequate provision for personal security is an absurdity; a free government, with an uncontrolled power of military conscription, is a solecism [incongruity], at once the most ridiculous and abominable that ever entered into the head of man."
The American tradition against militarism and peacetime conscription was the envy of military-ridden peoples throughout the world. For more than a century it was not seriously challenged. Then, after the outbreak of the first World War, a small and powerful minority of the American ruling class raised an imperious demand in the public press for conscription as a "national defense" measure. This attack on one of the noblest American traditions failed. It was scotched in harsh terms by President Woodrow Wilson who, in his second annual message to Congress, December 8, 1914, said:
"It [national defense] cannot be discussed without first answering some very searching questions. It is said in some quarters that we are not prepared for war. What is meant by being prepared? Is it meant that we are not ready upon brief notice to put a nation in the field, a nation of men trained in arms? Of course we are not ready to do that; and we shall never be in time of peace so long as we retain our present political principles and institutions. And what is it that it is suggested we should be prepared for? To defend ourselves against attack? We have always found means to do that, and shall find them whenever it is necessary without calling our people away from their necessary tasks to render compulsory military service in time of peace."
Then in words recalling the warning of the Founding Fathers Woodrow Wilson proceeded:
"We never have had, and while we retain our present principles and ideals we never shall have, a large standing army....we shall not turn America into a military camp. We will not ask our young men to spend the best years of their lives making soldiers of themselves.... And especially when half the world is on fire we shall be careful to make our moral insurance against the spread of the conflagration very definite and certain and adequate indeed." [Senator George W. Norris, who was one of that group of "willful men" who voted against a declaration of war in 1917, agreed with Wilson that militarism means death to democracy. While the conscription bill was being debated, on August 22, 1940, he said:
"I am afraid of building up a society based on compulsory military training in time of peace, for that leads to dictatorship and ultimately to the downfall of such a government as ours, at least, to the ending of democracy, just as surely as the rises in the east."]
Wilson's denunciation of militarism is direct and unequivocal. Try as you will, you cannot twist it to mean anything else than that militarism and peacetime conscription are repugnant and hostile to our principles and ideals of personal liberty. As a student and teacher of history, Wilson knew that the officers of the Army and Navy represent a system which is the very antithesis of democracy, a system dependent upon a multitude of ranks in which each station adulates its superiors and despises those below. He knew that the military caste are, by nature, ambitious for power and rank and that they can enhance these only by adding more humble privates to their commands. Finally he knew that militarism brings about an unhealthy alliance between the military hierarchy and the war traffickers and munitions makers and that this, in turn, brings into being a self-interested political power which operates in the names of patriotism. "....such associations," said a Senate Munitions Committee report, "are an inevitable part of militarism, and are to be avoided in peace-time at all cost."
Socialism, being anti-militaristic, is in complete harmony with this fine and noble American tradition. It raises its voice now against those propertied interests which, in the name of "Americanism" and "patriotism," would scuttle the anti-military tradition and duplicate in our nation the monstrous instrument of force which has cursed Europe for so many centuries. With Abraham Lincoln, Socialism holds that "our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant army....are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our land." And again with Lincoln, Socialism holds that "all of them may be turned against our liberties without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle."
Yet, if militarism is not to become a fixture in American life, and if the immense war machine now abuilding is not to be "turned against our liberties," those who cherish the American tradition of anti-militarism must learn that all their protests are futile and all their energy wasted unless they are directed against the cause of militarism. Modern militarism is the product of predatory capitalist society. It flourishes in the measure that capitalism decays. It cannot be uprooted unless and until capitalism is uprooted. The American scholar and social scientist, Daniel De Leon, succinctly expressed the viewpoint of Socialism:
"The attitude of the Socialist Labor Party toward anti-militarism--'Organize the working class integrally-industrially!' Only then can the revolt against militarism result in a Waterloo to the class of sponge, instead of a massacre to the class of labor."
The Constitution and the Right to Revolution.
One of the darkest and most disgraceful chapters of American history was written in the months which followed the Armistice of 1918. Spurious Americanism, the "Americanism" which reflects the interests and fears of the ruling class, sought victims for its anti-Bolshevik crusade. It brazenly incited the mob spirit, and, aided and abetted by the police, the courts and the Department of Justice itself, it deprived hundreds of their liberty on the flimsiest of pretexts. Among them were many members of the Socialist Labor Party, but these the Department of Justice was compellled--reluctantly--to release. The Socialist Labor Party could not be legally suppressed and its members could not be legally jailed for the very simple reason that it planted itself squarely upon the Constitution of the United States.
To those who are unacquainted with the unique character of our basic charter it may seem contradictory that a political party of revolution can plant itself squarely upon the Constitution. It is not contradictory; it is logical. The American Constitution is, itself, a revolutionary document. It was the first ever adopted which provided ways and means for its own amendment. Its authors, being men of vision and foresight, believed that, as conditions changed, the Constitution would have to be altered to fit the changed conditions. In inserting the amendment clause (Article V.), they afforded "We, the People," of succeeding generations the means whereby to make any alteration in our society and government which we deem essential to our welfare and happiness. Article V, in effect, legalizes revolution.
The celebrated American humorist, Artemus Ward, tells an amusing story of a man who was in prison fifteen years. Then one day a bright thought struck him. He recalled that the door was not locked, opened it and walked out a free man. Article V of the American Constitution is the open door to liberty for the American workers. It gives them the Constitutional right to unite their majority and demand that private ownership, with its evil brood of war and poverty, give way to collective property and progress.
Spurious Americanism, speaking through the lips of professors, priests, politicians and their masters, the economic overlords, strives to conceal the revolutionary implications of the Constitution. "Undoubtedly," said the aristocratic-minded president of the capitalist-endowed Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, "the weakest link in the chain of the Constitution is Article V...." (Speech delivered in 1927.) From the capitalist point of view he is right, for reasons to which we have already alluded, but only from the capitalist point of view.
Because of the revolutionary implications of Article V, spurious Americanism is making a prodigious effort to implant the idea in our youth that the Constitution is "sacred" and that any attempt to alter it radically would be "sacrilegious," therefore immoral. Fortunately, the view was explicitly repudiated by some of the most celebrated of the Revolutionary Fathers. In a letter to Samuel Kercheval, dated July 12, 1816, Thomas Jefferson made it plain beyond peradventure that amendments were anticipated and that a peaceful method of altering the Constitution was provided to render unnecessary bloodshed and violence. Wrote Jefferson:
"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with....We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their....ancestors. ....This corporeal globe, and everything upon it, belong to its present corporeal inhabitants, during their generation. They alone have a right to direct what is the concern of themselves alone, and to declare the law of that direction, and this declaration can only be made by their majority.... If this avenue be shut to the call of sufferance, it will make itself heard through that of force, and we shall go on, as other nations are doing, in the endless circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation; and oppression, rebellion, reformation, again; and so on forever."
Thomas Jefferson's reasoning was sound, and his words stand as a sharp rebuke to those who, today, would deny the right of the majority so "provide new Guards for their future security." Jefferson expressed the philosophy upon which the nation was built, a philosophy summed up succinctly by George Washington when he said: "The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to alter their constitutions of government.: (Farewell Address," 1776)
If the people did not possess this right, if the Dr. Butlers had their way and Article V were qualified to exclude fundamental changes in our society, is it not glaringly apparent that all hope of the impoverished masses' rising above their present condition of servitude through peaceful and civilized means would be gone? For surely it is fatuous to conceive of the ruling class's voluntarily relinquishing its rule. There is not a vestige of a basis in history for such a hope. "I challenge you to cite me an instance in all the history of the world where liberty was handed down from above!" wrote the World War President and historian, Woodrow Wilson. "Liberty always is attained by forces working below, underneath, by the great movement of the people."
The immortal utterances of Abraham Lincoln on the right of the people to throw off their oppressors likewise constitute a blistering refutation of the narrow, restrictive construction put upon the Constitution by spurious Americanism. In his arraignment of President Polk for that executive's unprovoked attack on Mexico (January 12, 1848), Lincoln said:
"Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right--aright which we hope and believe is to liberate the world."
And in his first Inaugural Address the Great Emancipator repeated this fundamental philosophy--philosophy which finds expression in the amendment clause of our Constitution:
"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it."
How often have the traducers of Socialism winced when Lincoln's unequivocal words have been flung into their teeth. How often have they wished fervently he had never spoken them? But whether Lincoln had given expression to this fundamental principle of Americanism, or not, the right would still be ours. It would be for the same reason that it was the right of the Revolutionary Fathers to rise up and throw off the military autocracy of George III, for the same reason that it was the right of all people at all times to wrest what measure of liberty they were capable of wresting from the reluctant hands of tyranny.
We are fortunate, indeed, that this right is embodied in the Constitution, fortunate, indeed, that the founders of the Socialist Labor Party possessed the wisdom to build this great movement on that right. Their foresight, like the foresight of the Founding Fathers, provides our generation with the means for a peaceful Socialist reconstruction of society. The A. Mitchell Palmers of decadent capitalism may fret and fume as they please. To "get at" the Socialist Labor Party they must repudiate the Constitution, they must acknowledge that their Americanism is spurious.