F. Forest

Palmer Raids

(23 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 34, 23 August 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This pamphlet [1] on the red hysteria following World War I is a timely, well-documented piece of work. Despite the “progressive” Popular Front-ish style the Stalinists use in presenting the facts, the facts themselves are indisputable. From these, many valuable lessons can be learned by us who live in the era of the Smith Gag Act and the Taft-Hartley Slave Law and are daily fed by spy scare stories, war mongering, red-baiting and government by injunction.

As is well known, the red hysteria after World War I culminated in the notorious Palmer raids. The raids carried out on the night of January 2, 1920 by the then Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer and his right-hand man, J. Edgar Hoover, in arresting without warrant, and throwing into jail, no less than 6,000 persons, are without precedent. But the general character of the present government-sponsored red hysteria is the same as the previous one. We need but state four instances to see the deadly parallel:

  1. The campaign against the trade union movement. The concerted drive against organized labor in 1919–1920 decimated the trade unions. It took no les& than 16 years before the steel workers could again organize and force the Steel Trust to recognize the union. It is true that the union movement today is too strong to be wiped out with one stroke. But the Government again rules by injunction and the labor movement is saddled with the Taft-Hartley Slave Law.
  2. The attacks upon the Negro people. Precisely because this most oppressed group forms a natural bulwark against capitalism, the Government is especially sensitive about its own crimes against this tenth of the nation and moves the more viciously against them. In the hearings of the infamous “Committee Investigating Seditious Activities” headed in 1920 by the New York state senator Clayton R. Lusk, an attempt was made to prove that The Messenger was the mouthpiece of the Soviet Government because it was “committed ... to the proposition of organizing Negroes for the class struggle.” (Revolutionary Radicalism, Part I, Revolutionary and Subversive Movements Abroad and at Home, p. 1477.) Interestingly enough, the editor of that radical Negro newspaper was A. Philip Randolph, who currently again figures in the news because of his courageous stand against a Jim Crow Army. No wonder that to those who remember the Palmer raids the present words of Senator Wayne Morse had a familiar ring when he shouted at Randolph: “It may very well lead to indictments for treason and very serious repercussions.”
  3. Moves against foreign-born. The present campaign against foreign-born is not far removed from the 1919–1920 deportation proceedings against “alien bomb throwers.” Although no arms of any kind were found in the illegal wrecking activities conducted by Attorney General Palmer, and the present head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, this did not prevent third-degree grillings and actual deportations.
  4. Finally, railroading of revolutionary socialists. Just as the Government in World War I moved against those who opposed the first imperialist slaughter and solidarized themselves with the Russian Revolution, so with the outbreak of World War II, the Government railroaded to jail 18 Trotskyists for their opposition to the Second World War.

The campaign of the World War I period to destroy the IWW is further paralleled by the present campaign to destroy the radical organizations as well as the concerted effort to wipe out the Stalinist movement.

The Palmer raids were so flagrantly unconstitutional that they provoked a mighty protest movement not only on the part of labor but also of many liberals. Thus Francis Fisher Kane, U.S. District Attorney in Philadelphia, resigned his office in protest against these illegal raids. Reminiscent of the “Worst 80th Congress” of our day, was the action of the Congress of 1920 when impeachment charges were brought against Assistant Secretary of Labor, L.F. Post, for his exposé of the raids and his freeing of hundreds who had been illegally held for deportation. Charles Evans Hughes best summed up that shameful page of American history. He said: “We may well wonder in view of the precedents now established whether constitutional government as heretofore maintained in this republic could survive another great war even victoriously waged.”



1. The Palmer Raids, Edited by Robert W. Dunn, International Pub., 30c.

Last updated on 18 October 2022