Joseph Hansen

Stop Fascism in America!

Will Father Coughlin Become Dictator of the United States?

(August 1939)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 61, 22 August 1939, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2016 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2016; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

(Fourth Installment)
“It Can’t Happen Here”

After the tragedy to the working class in Italy believers in the democratic and liberal form of capitalist government considered it impossible that it could happen elsewhere. They pointed to the “immaturity” of the Italian working class, the lack of a “democratic” tradition. In none of the “modern” countries, they proclaimed, could anyone be so gullible as to be taken in by a demagogue who did no more than salute, frown, shove out his jaw, orate, and march his followers around in black shirts.

This attitude was particularly true of the leaders of the most powerful labor movement in the world – Germany. Fascism take over power in Germany? Fantastic! There can be only one Mussolini, they proclaimed.

In response to this light-minded and irresponsible attitude toward Fascism, Mussolini himself sneered:

“Fascism is a purely Italian phenomenon in its historical expression, but its doctrinal postulates have a universal character ... the fact that Fascism possesses a specific and original Italian stamp does not prevent its principles having an application in other countries, in other forms ...” (Preface by Mussolini to The Universal Aspects of Fascism, 1927)

The terrible capitalist contradiction of scarcity in the midst of plenty continued to deepen relentlessly in Germany.

The Powerful German Labor Movement

Before January 30, 1933, when President Hindenburg invited a man who called himself Der Fuehrer to become Chancellor of Germany and to form a new government, the German labor movement was considered as the most advanced section of the international working class in the capitalist world.

Out of a working population of approximately 16,000,000, more than 6,000,000 belonged to trade unions. Two of their political parties, the Social-Democratic Party of the Second International and the Communist Party of the Third International controlled between them approximately 12,000,000 votes. Many representatives of the workers were successfully elected to the legislature.

Not only had the workers succeeded in gaining union wages and union hours throughout the greater part of industry, but they owned “innumerable houses, manifold institutions, libraries, medical clinics, hospitals, convalescent homes, labor secretariats, legal consulting agencies, labor universities, and vocational training schools ...” (Labor Under Hitler, a pamphlet attacking Hitler, printed under the auspices of the American Federation of Labor, p. 7)

Well-printed magazines, newspapers and books were produced in great quantities by the workers. They enjoyed vacations at lodges and cultural centers owned by themselves. They had built up huge reserves for group insurance. They exerted a powerful influence not only through legislative representation but through wage commissions, labor courts, social administration, and workers’ factory councils.

Twice – in 1919 and again in 1923 – the workers had come within a handspan of establishing their own government in power. So powerful was the political drive of the working class that the capitalists were able to retain their position only because of the perfidy of certain key leaders of the workers. The might of the German labor movement shook the capitalist clutch on political power and national wealth again and again.

Union wages, union hours and the other important concessions which the workers had gained through militant struggles seemed as impervious to grasping capitalist fingers as a wall of polished granite.

Yet within twelve months of that fateful day on which President Hindenburg called Der Fuehrer to form a new government, this powerful labor movement was completely annihilated.

Those working class leaders who had not succeeded in utilizing their passports and airplane tickets suffered indescribable tortures behind the barbed wire of concentration camps. Many were killed outright, victims of the Brown Shirt followers of Der Fuehrer.

How was it possible for an obscure individual, starting with a “party” composed of only seven “crackpot agitators” who gained their livelihood as professional bar-flies, to sweep a modern powerful labor movement of millions with fire and murder unchecked and reduce it to bondage as miserable and horrible as that prevailing in the darkest days of the Middle Ages?

Depression Sweeps Germany

When the capitalist lords of industry in Germany saw the plants they controlled for their private benefit taken over by the workers in 1919, they thought it was the end of plush cushions and champagne parties for them. When the cowardly or shortsighted leaders of the workers handed the plants and the government back, the capitalists wiped beads of cold sweat from their brows and resolved that such a hairline escape should never occur again. What if the great masses of working people had actually put their own government in power!

At first they attempted rather gingerly to chisel back a few of the concessions they had been forced to give up.

They added a few labor spies and strikebreakers to their payrolls. But the unions faced this threat with an iron front and the capitalists saw that it was impossible to get anywhere with such antiquated tactics.

The great landholding barons in East Germany silently bit their lips and let the poor farmers remain on the marginal lands where they had squatted. The big industrialists got busy reconditioning their giant factories and mills for another bid at selling for private profit on the world market.

Despite the mountainous burden of the war debt and the mountainous burden of the reparations payments heaped upon the backs of the workers and poor farmers of Germany, the period of prosperity that culminated in 1929 made it possible to get by without too much danger of economic collapse.

American dollars poured into Germany in hope of a big return from reconditioned German industry and the period of eternal expansion, eternal progress, and endless vistas of profit kept the German capitalists from grumbling too much.

Wondrous improvements were made in the factory machines, embodying the latest developments of scientific inventive genius and super-efficient plant organization.

But the enormous taxes needed to pay the staggering war debt kept the pocket books of the workers, the poor farmers, and the small merchants drained. No matter how they attempted to wriggle out of it, taxes continued to eat into their income. And the wild inflation that struck the German currency during the early twenties ate like a cancer into the savings of the poor. Bankruptcies increased. Young people coming from the schools faced a blank and forbidding future. The heightened efficiency of the factories threw increasing numbers of workers into the ranks of the starving unemployed.

The world-wide depression of the capitalist system which began in 1929 heightened this process to the point of frenzy. Germany had a total voting population of only 36,000,000 in 1930, but 6,000,000 were unemployed.

In this same year it was estimated by an American newspaper correspondent after a careful survey that there were possibly 15,000,000 Germans on the verge of starvation.

To make matters worse the democratic capitalist government cut down on relief allowances and made it much more difficult to obtain help from relief officials, alleging that this would force the unemployed to get jobs and be absorbed by private industry.

The entire market dropped into a bottomless well. The German capitalists found themselves with the most modern and well-equipped factories in the world, but nowhere to sell products at a profit. The interest which they demanded for their investment reached almost zero. Goods clogged warehouses to the rafters.

The capitalists looked with hungry eyes at the union wages and union hours enjoyed by the workers. Nor did these men trained in the bandit warfare of imperialist competition fail to try out, in a scientific and experimental way on their electric adding machines, what totals could be estimated in the reserves of the trade union group insurance plans and savings accounts.

The more clear-sighted of the workers saw that the unendurable suffering from the crisis in the economic system could be ended in only one way – establishing a socialist state which would kick out the small handful of wealthy families who blocked the wheels of production, and start distributing goods to the ragged and hungry millions.

The capitalists decided to do something and to do it quick.

(Continued in next issue)


Last updated on: 12 March 2016