Felix Morrow

Federal Criminal Syndicalism Law
Would Foist Military Rule on Labor

(April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 27, 25 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Representatives of the War and Navy Departments appeared before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on April 12 to lend their weighty support to what has become known as the Smith Omnibus Bill – even the New York Times calls it “a composite of the anti-alien and anti-radical legislation offered in the last twenty years.”

Last month Charles Edison, assistant secretary of the Navy, secured the introduction of a bill outlawing “subversive” propaganda in the armed forces; it appears now, however, that the Army and Navy prefer the Smith Bill (H.R. 5138) which includes not only provisions referring to the armed forces, but is practically universal in its scope.

As we analyse this bill, do not forget that Roosevelt is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces which have endorsed it!

A Criminal Syndicalism Law

Title I of the bill begins:

“It shall be unlawful for any person by word of mouth or in writing, or by transmission by radio, to advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the Government of the United States, or the government of any State of the United States, or the government of any subdivision thereof, by force or violence ...”

Section 4 of this Title says:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to organize or help to organize or become a member of, or affiliate with any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of the government ...”

Punishes Beliefs

The American Civil Liberties Union accurately describes this as “a Federal criminal syndicalism law.” In complete violation of the fundamental legal concept traditional to democratic government, that only overt acts shall be punishable, the actual history of state criminal syndicalism laws has demonstrated that they are used to punish ideas and beliefs only.

There has never been a prosecution under a criminal syndicalism law involving actual or attempted violence or incitement to violence; for such a prosecution would have to prove facts, whereas the criminal syndicalism law, as used, simply proves that the victim is against capitalist exploitation!

The principle distinction between overt acts and free discussion has been recognized “in principle” by the United States Supreme Court, but nevertheless criminal syndicalism laws still function in many states, and the principle involved troubles not at all the Congressional and Administration proponents of the Smith Bill.

Joker Against Unions

Title II of the bill, requiring licensing of civilian military organizations, conceals a joker: among organizations which must be licensed are those which by “economic coercion” advocate the denial to any citizen of constitutional immunities. A labor union’s “economic coercion” of a boss could be interpreted under this provision to be violation of his constitutional right to his property!

The War and Navy Departments are specifically endorsing Section 9 of Title II, which says:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to advise, counsel, urge, or solicit any member of the Army or the Navy of the United States to disobey the laws or regulations governing the Army or the Navy or to disobey the lawful order of a superior, or to publish or distribute any book, pamphlet, paper, print, article, letter or other writing which advises, counsels, urges, or solicits any member of the Army or the Navy of the United States to disobey the laws or regulations governing such military or naval forces, or to disobey the lawful orders of a superior.”

Section 10 says: “Any book, etc., may be taken from any house or other place in which it may be found, or from any person in whose possession it may be found, or from any person in whose possession it may be” – by search warrants to be issued under the war-time 1917 law governing treason and espionage cases.

Rule By Military

Just realize what the Army and Navy authorities are advocating:

  1. Any anti-militarist, antiwar, or pacifist literature which may fall into the hands of a soldier or sailor would be outlawed right now, in peacetime.
  2. Army and Navy regulations are, in large part, not laws passed by Congress but rules handed down by the military authorities. The Smith Bill would therefore make it a law, in advance, that to violate any regulation heretofore or hereafter decreed by the generals or admirals is a crime. This ends all distinction between civil authority and the military authority which is traditionally presumed to be subordinate to the civil authority. It means rule by the military in peacetime.

Dared Less in Wartime

  1. The wartime treason and espionage law of June 1917 provides for issuance of search-warrants to civil or military officials on presentation of affidavits that in the official’s belief, a search of some given house will aid in securing a conviction for treason or espionage.

In the midst of the last war, the government dared apply this procedure only to cases involving treason or espionage. Now, in peacetime, the government’s military authorities dare to propose to apply this procedure immediately to any and all opponents of war!

Aliens Made Criminals

Title III of the bill is directed against aliens. It prohibits naturalization for those aliens who advocate “any form of government for the U.S. contrary to that now existing.” A believer in peaceful transition to socialism or, for that matter, a believer in non-violence who wanted the government also to be non-violent, would be ineligible to become a citizen.

It provides a whole series of new reasons for deporting aliens, and for the registration of all aliens. Since it is obvious that registration cards for aliens are wholly ineffectual unless citizens also have identification cards, this provision is really a step toward compulsory registration of the whole population.

Concentration Camps

Title IV sets up restrictions against immigration from those countries which refuse to accept for deportation aliens now in this country, while Title V sets up a concentration camp for aliens who are now in this country and who cannot be deported.

Such are the main outlined of this vicious bill – warmly endorsed by Roosevelt’s military subordinates.

Last updated on 17 January 2016