Posted October 21, 2004
Socialism is American:

The Americanism of Socialism

The Americanism of Socialism

by Eric Hass

1967 - Socialist Labor Party


Nearly a decade has passed since the articles in this pamphlet were written. To say that it has been a decade of profound and portentous changes would be to state an obvious truth. It has witnessed a concentration of economic power greater than in any other period in the nation's history. In 1940 there were thirty corporations with assets of a billion dollars or more; by 1950 there were fifty-six. These gigantic concerns, veritable economic empires, have swallowed up thousands of smaller companies, thereby acquiring for themselves an ever larger proportionate control of the economy., In 1948, the Federal Trade Commission said in a report on "The Merger Movement" that "if nothing is done to check the growth in concentration, either the giant corporations will ultimately take over the country, or the government will be impelled to step in and impose some form of direct regulation in the public interest."

Suffice it to say that nothing has been done to check the growth of concentration. Nor has government "regulation" altered the trend, inherent in the capitalist system, that has given a handful of billion-dollar corporations virtual control of the economy.

Meanwhile the concentration of economic power has been paralleled by the growth in the political power and influence of the plutocratic or top-capitalist class. This ominous development is reflected in the prodigious rise of militarism, on the one hand, and in the legislation of the postwar period, on the other--especially in the Taft-Hartley Act and the Internal Security Act of 1950, known popularly as the McCarran Act.
Militarism always allies itself with property and those who own property, and American militarism is no exception. The plutocracy supports the militarists in their attempts to Prussianize the nation, enact a system of peacetime conscription and, by means of huge subsidies, to dominate science and education. And the militarists reciprocate by exalting "bigness" and "efficiency," and by placing stupendous orders for weapons and supplies with the giant corporations. This unwholesome alliance has given a tremendous impetus to the military spirit in America and is gradually transforming a nation that is traditionally anti-militarist into one of the world's most militaristic powers.

As for the class-dictated legislation of the postwar period, the Taft-Hartley Act, with its strikebreaking injunction club and its harsh restrictive clauses, stands out as one of the most vicious. The potentialities of this law as an instrument to straitjacket the workers are virtually limitless. Business Week, December 18, 1946, said in an editorial that the Taft-Hartley Act "crossed the narrow line separating a law which aims only to regulate from one which could destroy. Given a few million unemployed in America, given an administration in Washington which was not pro-union--and the Taft-Hartley Act conceivably could wreck the labor movement."

It is an open secret that the Taft-Hartley Act was drafted with the aid of lawyers in the pay of the National Association of Manufacturers. Its purpose is to weaken and ultimately to break the backbone of the workers' resistance to intensified exploitation.

The McCarran Act is another consequence of the growth of plutocratic power in America. Ostensibly aimed at the Communists, its real object is to establish a reign of fear under which the spirit of dissent will die and unresisting orthodoxy will be enthroned. "What is disturbing and, in the literal meaning of the word, un-American," said the New York Times, September 9, 1950, in an editorial comment on the McCarran legislation, "is a cringing anxiety to avoid controversy, even though matters of principle as well as fact are involved."

The McCarran Act, with its threats of concentration camps and its provision empowering a "Subversive Activities Control Board" to brand virtually any dissenting group as "Communist," is intended to inculcate this cringing un-American attitude.

The passage of this subversive and Nazi-like legislation by an overwhelming majority of both houses was dramatic evidence of the fragility of American constitutional freedom in the period of capitalist decadence. With two or three honorable exceptions, the so-called liberals in Congress either supported the measure or opposed it on the ground that it wasn't tough enough!

Many of the legislators who participated in this shameful rape of the Constitution were undoubtedly swayed by the hysteria that swept the country and reached a peak during the first weeks of the Korean war. Others were thinking with cold and cynical deliberation of the elections the following November. Still others--men like Senators Mundt, Ferguson and McCarran--were just as coldly intent upon accomplishing the subversion of American constitutional freedom, especially of the right of the American people to abolish or alter present property relationships.

In this connection it is noteworthy that Senator Karl E. Mundt, who was the author of some of the most fascistic passages of the law, once requested Mr. John W. Davis, chief counsel of the House of Morgan, to define "un-Americanism" for the guidance of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. "If any one man in America has set the standards for this committee," Mundt said in a speech in the House, May 17, 1946, "it is Mr. John W. Davis of New York."

Mr. Davis's reply to Mundt's request was printed in the Congressional Record, May 17, 1946, and in Liberty magazine, September 22, 1945. In part, it said: "....to advocate....the abolition of the right of private property....would be deeply un-American."

This is the definition of plutocracy; it is not the definition of history. Indeed, twice the American people have overthrown species of property. The first time was when they took the thirteen colonies from King George III. The second time was when they abolished chattel slavery in the South, thereby, in effect, destroying about two billion dollars worth of slave property. These are precedents for the Socialist demand that private ownership of the socially operated means of production be abolished. They are proof that American tradition rejects the plutocratic theory that property, especially plutocratic property, is sacred.

In this period of rampant reaction, the Socialist Labor Party is setting an example in firmness and fortitude for the American working class. Unfazed by the hysteria, its resolution hardened by the initial successes of the reaction, the Party carries on its supremely important work of education, patiently explaining to the workers the historical and economic forces that are taking the country down the road to war and plutocratic feudalism, showing them the program whereby they themselves can end this capitalist nightmare and bring to birth a society of peace and freedom.

Speed the day!

Eric Hass

October, 1950

"You see, my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags--that is a loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented by monarchy, let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have AT ALL TIMES an undeniable and indefeasible right ALTER THEIR FORM OF GOVERNMENT in such a manner as they may think expedient." Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he see that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does."


("A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court.")

[Chapters I through VII]

Spurious vs. Genuine Americanism

You've been told that Socialism is un-American. The politicians say so. Your employer is emphatic on the point. The labor fakers rarely miss an opportunity to brand Socialism "un-American." If your are like most workers, you're sceptical. First of all, you can't quite swallow the "Americanism" of the super-patriots who peddle this yarn--super-patriots like the American Legion Commander-in-Chief [Alvin Owsley, former Commander-in-Chief of the American Legion in an interview copyrighted by the N.E.A., January, 1923] who said several years ago that his organization would be used to smash Socialism.

"Do not forget," he said, "that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States."

Because such people are the loudest in traducing Socialism, you smell something fishy in their attacks. Moreover, your native sense of fair play prompts you to give the Socialists a hearing. It is up to them to prove their case.

That's precisely what we aim to do. We aim to prove that there are two kinds of "Americanism"; that one is spurious and is a reflection of property interests; that the other has its roots deeply embedded in American tradition and is in harmony with the loftiest aspirations of the Founding Fathers.

It is an ancient device of despotism to cloak itself in virtue. When it is attacked, it cries to high heaven that virtue is outraged. In this manner it sows doubt among the enemies of despotism and divides them against themselves. Justice Brandeis made the point neatly when he said:

"Despotism, be it financial or political, is vulnerable unless it is believed to rest upon moral sanction. The longing for freedom is ineradicable. It will express itself in protest against servitude and inaction unless the striving for freedom be made to seem immoral. Long ago monarchs invented, as a preservative for absolutism, the fiction of 'The divine right of Kings.'" ["Other People's Money," by L. Brandeis.]

Here is a modern example of the employment of this device: When capitalist apologists speak of capitalism they do not say "capitalism," they say "democracy" or "Americanism." They use "democracy" and "Americanism" as synonyms for "capitalism." They know the workers cherish American traditions and treasure the Bill of Rights. If the workers can be made to believe that capitalism and democracy, or capitalism and Americanism, are one and the same, capitalist tyranny is saved. Just as the rogues of the Middle Ages sought sanctuary in a church, the exploiters of modern times seek safety in the folds of the American flag.

The capitalist class and its sycophants and servitors may pay lip-service to democracy but, whenever democracy and their material; interests clash, they are ever ready to strangle the former to preserve the latter. It was the big industrialists and financiers who financed the rise of Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy, and who applauded the strangulation of free speech, free press and popular elections in those unhappy [capitalist] countries. And it is the capitalist class in America which applauds every liberty-throttling measure that is proposed, which clamors for anti-strike laws and other curbs on human freedom. Like the slave-owning class of the old South, they are blinded by their property interests. This proper-blindness, characteristic of all propertied classes, caused the truly great American, Abraham Lincoln, to remark:

"The love of property and consciousness of right or wrong have conflicting places in organization, which often make a man's course seem crooked, his conduct a riddle." (Hartford, Conn., March 5, 1860.)

In contrast to the spurious, spread-eagle variety of Americanism is the Americanism embodied in the Declaration of Independence. That immortal document declares that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to the ends of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the people to abolish it--nay, "it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security." It utters an admonition against complacently suffering evil conditions because of a mistaken reverence for ancient forms. "....all experience hath shewn," it says, "that mankind are more disposed to suffer when evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

When a certain judge was called upon to read the Declaration of Independence at a Fourth of July celebration in New Jersey a few years ago, he mopped his forehead when he had finished and remarked: "Phew! I didn't realize that that was such an incendiary document!"

It is not incendiary but it is revolutionary. Its authors believed that liberty should be a living thing, not a dead abstraction with which to cloak slavery. But what is liberty? Is it liberty to be able to quit one master only to be compelled to seek another? Is it liberty for one class to be in economic bondage to another? The Declaration of Independence does not define liberty. Abraham Lincoln, the son of toil and champion of the oppressed, did, He said:

"With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and with other men's labor. Here are two not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names--liberty and tyranny." [Address delivered at Baltimore, April 18, 1864]

So it is with the Socialists and capitalists. The capitalists regard as tyranny the proposal that the workers should appropriate and dispose of the product of their labor; the Socialists conceive as the essence of liberty a social system under which the useful producers receive the full social product of their toil. This is the nub of the social question of our age. Around it such questions as war, unemployment, civil liberty, dictatorship, and many others, revolve.


Hamiltonism vs. Jeffersonism.

Spurious Americanism, the Americanism which reflects property interests, is distrustful of the workers. Its definition of democracy is:

"Democracy--a government of the masses.....Result is mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic--negating property rights."

This was the definition given in Army Training Manual No. 2000-2025, adopted in 1929 by the War Department but withdrawn in 1932 after protests were made against it. It bespeaks the fears and apprehensions of the property-owning class. Such an attitude was in evidence among a few aristocrats when our nation was born. They believed, and argued, that the government should be free of all pressure from the people and it should have "unlimited power" over them. Alexander Hamilton was the most distinguished exponent of the idea that the "elite" should rule. For the judgment of the people he had supreme contempt.

"The voice of the people," Hamilton told the Constitutional Assembly, "has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right."

He feared that a "democratic assembly" would be dangerous to the interest of the wealthier citizens and he argued for giving the "first class" (aristocracy) disproportionate power and for the election of its representatives for life. "Nothing but a permanent body," he contended, "can check the imprudence of democracy." [From the notes on the secret proceedings of the Constitutional Convention by Robert Yates, Esq., "United States; Formation of the Union," Library of Congress, p. 781]

Among those who vigorously opposed rule by the "elite" was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had boundless faith in the people's sagacity and judgment. "I am not one of those who fear the people," he wrote. "They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom."

He did not believe the people were wither stupid or turbulent as did Hamilton, and he considered it to be a primary duty of government to educate and inform them and withhold no secrets from them. "Educate and inform the whole mass of people," he wrote in a letter to James Madison. "Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order and they will preserve them. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

Among those who vigorously opposed rule by the "elite" was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had boundless faith in the people's sagacity and judgment. "I am not one of those who fear the people," he wrote. "They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom."

He did not believe the people were wither stupid or turbulent as did Hamilton, and he considered it to be a primary duty of government to educate and inform them and withhold no secrets from them. "Educate and inform the whole mass of people," he wrote in a letter to James Madison. "Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order and they will preserve them. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

Hamiltonism, the theory that the elite should rule, did not die with Hamilton. It is in evidence today even among those who feign to embrace Jeffersonian principle. Hamiltonism is especially virulent as the conflict of class interests sharpens, and never more so than when the interest of the capitalist class demand war and the overwhelming mass of workers demand peace. It is then that the most celebrated "democrats" advance the specious argument that the people are incapable of making the right decisions and should defer to those who are allegedly, "better informed."

Among those who have advanced this argument is the ardent Roosevelt supporter, the Most Rev. Joseph P. Hurley, Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Augustine, Florida. In a nation-wide radio address [Address delivered over the Columbia Broadcasting System network, July 6, 1941.] urging that America emulate the Nazis and allow the President to plunge the nation into an undeclared war because "the constitutional prerogative of the Congress [to declare war] is no longer the style," Bishop Hurley posed the question of who should decide on war or peace:

"Since....we are confronted with a conflict between aid to the Allies and avoidance of war, who shall decide? Certainly not the people, for they have neither the experience, nor access to the facts, nor in many cases the understanding which are required."!

"The people....seldom judge or determine right," said Alexander Hamilton.

Bishop Hurley, the "democrat," is in perfect accord with Alexander Hamilton, the advocate of undisguised oligarchy. They differ only in this: Hamilton was without the base alloy of hypocrisy. The politician-priest who in one breath contemptuously derides the judgment of the people, in another piously exclaims: "I have an abiding faith in government by the people...." And he proceeds to confirm his "abiding faith" with the impudent and baseless implication that "the people" were responsible for the chaotic pre-war state of affairs with the words:

"Nor is the record of democratic peoples in the pre-war period such as would inspire much confidence."

This cunning and contemptible aspersion on the victims of capitalist dissolution and mismanagement is not unlike the more direct assaults on the principles of popular rule which are daily being made in "authoritarian" France. For in France, under the rule of the Ultramontane absolutist, Marshal Petain, the lips of the "sovereign people" are sealed, the "elite" rule, and all the evils which have befallen the nation as a result of capitalist chaos and decay are openly blamed on the people who, in the words of the Chief of State, exercised their rights "in total irresponsibility." [New York "Herald Tribune," July 9, 1941.]

Bishop Hurley's speech, abounding in sophistries and slurs upon the anti-war majority of American workers, was promptly endorsed by nearly every war-mongering capitalist newspaper in America. Cabinet members and Administration whips in Congress commented on it enthusiastically. The President remained eloquently silent.

Attempts have been made to justify Mr. Roosevelt's usurpation of the power to make war by citing the actions taken by Abraham Lincoln against the Confederacy in the first days of his Administration. But, apart from the fact that Lincoln initiated no hostile action, he was dealing with a rebellion, while the action that was urged upon President Roosevelt was aimed at a foreign Power. In edging the nation into an undeclared was against the opposition of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, the President responded to the interests of the owning class whose foreign markets were imperiled by Nazi capitalist rivals.

When it is understood that the issues of the Second World War are not ideological, but economic, it becomes perfectly clear why the ruling class cannot "educate and inform the whole mass of people," as Thomas Jefferson urged. The "mass of people," i.e., the working class, would not fight a war for venal ends. Hence they are treated to spread-eagle oratory and exhorted to defer to the decisions of the President and the "elite" who surround him.

Spurious Americanism distrusts the workers and believes "they seldom judge or determine right, i.e., "right" for the interests of the exploiting few.

Genuine Americanism, of which Socialism is the highest expression, has unswerving faith in the working class, and in it ability, once it is informed and educated concerning its class interest, to regenerate society, preserve the liberties wrested from tyranny in the past and augment them with the freedom of freedoms--freedom from exploitation and wage slavery. To those workers who, bewildered by the contradictions of decadent capitalism, are inclined to invest the "elite" with autocratic powers, we recall the signal warning of Abraham Lincoln:

"Let them [the workingmen] beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon till all of liberty shall be lost." (First annual message, Dec. 3, 1861.)


Free Speech--Weapon of Truth.

"Come say and publish all one knows
And go on gladly thus--
BUT--let nobody blow his nose
Unless he thinks like us!

No one sings louder praises for freedom of speech, freedom of press and the right of peaceful assembly--in the abstract--than the self-styled "100 per cent American." In times when the class struggle simmers, comparatively few attempts are made by the ruling class and their sycophants to infringe on the liberties nominally guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Perhaps we should add that this holds for the greater part of the nation. There are communities such as the states of the deep South and certain industrial feudal communities in the North too, where Goethe's clever satirical verse expresses the rule.

It is the common experience of workers in steel towns, or coal mining communities, for example, to be stripped of all their nominal liberties the moment the class struggle begins to boil. Especially when martial law is invoked to break strikes are the workers confronted with a series of "verbotens" forbidding them free speech and even the right to assemble in groups. Many a toiler will take with him to the grave scars he received from plug-uglies and minions of the law for insisting on the exercise of his constitutional rights.

As capitalism feels the cold hand of death upon it, ever bolder assaults are made upon those liberties which afford Socialism the opportunity of freely presenting to the workers a program for their emancipation. As Karl Marx pointed out long ago:

"The bourgeoisie [that is, the employing class] perceives correctly that all the weapons, which it forged against feudalism [free speech, free press, etc.], turn their edges against itself; that all the means of education, which it brought forth, rebel against its own civilization; that all the gods, which it made, have fallen away from it. It understands that all its so-called citizens' rights and progressive organs assail and menace its class rule, both in its social foundation and its political superstructure--consequently, have become 'socialistic.'" ("Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," 1852)

One has only too look back into American history to the era preceding the Civil War, to the mob spirit invoked against the Abolitionists, to the tar-and-feather "parties," to the shameful murder of Lovejoy and the persecution of the brave William Lloyd Garrison. The Abolitionists were attacking a form of property, the institution of chattel slavery. The owners of that property and their supporters in the North, though they mouthed praises to the Bill of Rights, argued that there was a "limit" on free speech, free press, and other liberties through the exercise of which their "peculiar" institution was attacked. The Bourbon slave-holders "loved democracy"--in the abstract, or until it was used against their system. They answered sharply by the devastating logic of the brilliant Abolitionist leader, Wendell Phillips:

"He does not really believe his opinions, who dares not give free scope to his opponent." (Phi Beta Kappa Centennial Address, Harvard University, June 30, 1881.)

So we say to the latter-day Bourbons, [The list of those who demand limitations on the right of free speech is much longer today than when this was written none years ago. Then only the most blatant reactionaries such as Westbrook Pegler and George U. (Rubber-Hose) Harvey, showed their contempt for the Constitution openly. Today they are joined by scores of representatives of the more "respectable" element of the ruling class. The latter see in the Communist hysteria an opportunity to silence all criticism of their system and to suppress all demands for social changes.

Among contemporary capitalist spokesmen who have urged that dissenter be gagged is New York's Lieutenant Governor Joe E. Hanley. Mr. Hanley was quoted by the New York "Times," July 12, 1949, as saying that "when you get to the point of using free speech to destroy this nation you should be treated like any traitor and shut up."

But it is not the destruction of the nation that Mr. Hanley fears; it is the destruction of the property rights and class privileges of the capitalist class. And it is utterances calling for the abolition of private property that he would silence. In this connection, Mr. Hanley's reference to traitors and treason recalls the following memorable statement made by Thomas Jefferson on this point:

"Most codes extend their definition of treason to acts not really against one's country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government, and acts against oppressions of the government. The latter are virtues, yet have furnished more victims to the executioner than the former. Real treasons are rare; oppressions frequent. The unsuccessful strugglers against tyranny have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in all countries." (E.H., September 13, 1950.)]
who speciously argue today that free speech is a "privilege" and should not be extended to those who oppose the present social order and the institution of private property. This is a far cry from the Americanism of the Founding Fathers. To them the Bill of Rights was no set of glittering generalities to be dragged out as tinsel for Fourth of July orations and honored in the breach. They believed implicitly that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market." [Supreme Court Justice Holmes in a dissenting opinion the case of Abrams et al v. U.S.] This was the theory of the Constitution. Its authors knew that many fighting faiths were proved by time and experience to be obsolete, and that if new faiths were not permitted to arise and flourish society would surely retrogress. Perhaps none among the Revolutionary Fathers reflected more profoundly upon this subject than Thomas Jefferson, whose words of wisdom come echoing down the aisles of American history as a warning to our own generation. Said Jefferson:

"Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself. She is the proper and sufficient antagonist of error and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition, disarmed of her natural weapons--free argument and debate; error ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them."

The numerous infringements of Constitutional liberties reported in the capitalist press, the new ordinances intimidating aliens and workers, fingerprinting, the invocation of discredited anti-sedition and anti-syndicalist laws, all bear witness that the modern capitalist class is shaking in its stolen boots and that, unlike the founders of the republic, it fears the natural weapons of truth--"free argument and debate."