From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 52, 29 December 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Consider the case of one Edward A. Loss:
“Edward A. Loss, Jr., 23, who booed a sound movie of President Roosevelt in a newsreel theater, was find $200, the maximum, on a disorderly conduct charge in Municipal Court today.” – AP dispatch
Now we don’t know why Edward was peeved at the President. But neither did the police when they arrested him on this grave charge. There is only the act itself to go by, and it raises some interesting questions.
The first one is the charge. Booing, it is well known, is the American way of expressing disapproval, like the German habit of stamping feet or the British practice of whistling. For Roosevelt’s supporters at Willkie meetings during last year’s campaign, it was a form of participation in the election discussion. We presume that young Loss’s $200 boo was also a statement of opinion on Roosevelt’s policies.
One thing is certain: the maximum fine was not imposed in this case because of “disorderly conduct” – like rolling drunk in a gutter or littering the streets.
It was imposed because the judge could NOT find a law which said: “Any person who wilfully expresses disagreement with, or disapproval of, the President of the United States shall be guilty of sedition, treason and fifth-columnism.” The judge might just as well have picked on the anti-noise ordinance for the legal excuse.
But the philosophy behind this little case goes further than a war-whooping judge. The judge was putting into practice what the government and the boss press MEAN by “national unity.”
This philosophy goes as follows: In this war emergency, we must present a united front to the enemy. It would be fine if there were actually no differences among us. But since there are, we must pretend they don’t exist. The President represents the nation. We must therefore gag anybody who criticizes the President, This is so because discontent and criticism are infectious. The way to prevent a lot of dissenters is to knock the first little one on the head. So slap a fine on him if he as much as dares to say boo ...
This phonograph record is labeled “Defense of Democracy,” but the music is that of Hitlerite TOTALITARIANISM.
The trouble with democracy, on this showing, is that the right to free speech MEANS “the right to disagree,” and somebody’s likely to take it up. That breaks your “national unity,” so off go democratic rights to a place of honor – in a museum.
We got started on this subject as the result of a little boo and a little judge. Take a real expert in “national unity” and wartime “democracy,” no less a person than the man in charge of government propaganda and press control during the war emergency of 1917 – Herbert Bayard Swope. Here’s how he described the “next war” before a congressional commission about ten years ago:
“Just as other constitutional provisions are ignored in time of war, so, too, must there be an abridgement of free speech, free press, free assembly, and even free thought. In no other way can a nation save itself ...
“Enlightened and informed public opinion in war is ideal, but the plan is dangerous. We must have a stencil. If we take the muzzle off the dogs of war, we must put the muzzles on the people and the press ... Thinking along independent lines must be stopped ... free speech and free press become empty words. This is brutal but expedient, for when men are not permitted to give expression to their thoughts usually they stop thinking them.”
You can print these words alongside of Hitler’s Mein Kampf; or together with the story of the missionary who set out to cure cannibals of their detestable habit – by eating a couple of them, to teach them a lesson. A United States in which an anti-Roosevelt boo is fined $200 in the name of “national unity” is that kind of missionary for democracy.
Now there are three possible ways for getting something like national unity. Unfortunately, only two of them are possible. The third one is the idea that we work out some scheme to “reconcile the interests of capital and labor.”
If this were possible, the clever schemers would not have had to wait for a war to discover it. If workers want to raise their wages to meet the higher cost of living, and their bosses refuse to cut down on their war profits, no mediation or arbitration board on earth is going to “reconcile their differences.” The only question is: Who’s going to knuckle under?
If the price of meat rises so. high that you have to clip coupons to buy a pork chop, the working class housewife is going to have to get along with soup bones while Park Avenue struggles along with a smaller sirloin. What does “national unity” mean when the housewife starts getting a trifle discontented?
The bosses and the government consider “national, unity” to be achieved when labor quits striking and squawking and when it takes speed-up, higher prices and swollen war profits lying down. The anti-boo judge and H.B. Swope, for instance, think it’s “national unity” when no one dares open his mouth.
This is the “national unity” of the Hitler Reichstag yelling “Heil” on signal or the unity of a Georgia chain gang. It is the unity of a horse and rider, with the capitalist horseman in the saddle. This is the kind of unity that Germany “enjoys” today and of which our own bosses are so envious.
As for us, we don’t want any part of it. Deep down below, there can’t be any national unity in a real sense as long as one-tenth of the population lives off the fat of the land because they OWN the machines, while nine-tenths do all the useful WORK of society. And you certainly don’t have national unity when the government speaks and acts as lawyer for the ONE-TENTH.
When the laboring NINE-TENTHS get together to get a WORKERS government, that’ll be enough unity for us.
Last updated on 25.2.2013