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The New International, September 1941


The Editor’s Comment

Lindbergh: Swastika Waver


From New International, Vol. VII No. 8 (Whole No. 57), September 1941, pp. 198–200.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AMONG THE MORE IMPORTANT events of the past month was the speech made by Charles A. Lindbergh at Des Moines – the first explicit anti-Semitic utterance of any authoritative isolationist “America First” spokesman. There is slight need here to consider the actual content of the Lindbergh speech. It contained the stock phrases about the Jewish bankers, Jewish war-mongering, Jewish influence in the press, movies, etc. It was a polite, polished version of the race hatred spread by the run-of-the-mill fascist or Coughlinite street agitators. What is important, however, is to assess the significance – if only in a preliminary manner – of the speech.

The America First Committee is a reactionary capitalist organization whose major social base is that section of the capitalist class which, for various reasons, does not want to go to war against Hitler at present. While it is correct to speak of basic interests which are common to the entire capitalist class, it is also true that within it there are various groupings and strata which have clashing interests, often of great momentary importance. Thus the basic differences between the “interventionists” and the “isolationists” stem essentially from the following facts: The basic section of the capitalist class, which has its main stake in the British Empire, the Far East and South America, supports the foreign policy of President Roosevelt and is in favor of aggressive war moves against Hitler today, because it sees its existence as a major imperialist force imperiled by a Hitler victory. The isolationist section of the capitalist class, which has its roots essentially in domestic economy, does not see in Hitler Germany such an immediate threat to its existence, although admitting it to be a general threat. It is this section, represented by the editorial policy of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, which desires a policy of semi-appeasement toward Germany. It is, of course, not to be supposed that the sole cause of the split between bourgeois interventionists and bourgeois isolationists is the difference in economic interest. While that is a decisive factor, that are numerous others, of varying importance, which motivate the isolationists: profound impression of the strength of Hitlerism and of the necessity for appeasing it; a belief, in some cases, that the interests of the capitalist class would best be served by a bloc with Hitler to carve up the world markets and the Soviet Union; a distrust of the Roosevelt Administration’s domestic policy, etc.

What Is the America First Committee?

It is this multiplicity of causal factors which has given the America First Committee its heterogeneous character and composition. While the committee represents the inter-class interests of a section of the American bourgeoisie, it has attracted to its banner a whole variety of elements. It has attracted, first of all, an entire group of Mid-Western senators, who have been in main spokesmen and figureheads.

These senators had their political origin, for the most part, in the reminiscent tradition of the middle class Populist movement; recently, a number of them have exhibited fascistic tendencies. They are characterized by their acceptance of the isolationist foreign policy and their lack of any domestic policy which is uniquely their own. It is this dilemma which makes them an unstable element in the America First combination – they must eventually adopt some form of fascist demagogy as their domestic program if they are actually to persist in opposition to the Roosevelt war program, or they will capitulate to the interventionists once the war begins in earnest. Both tendencies are already discernible.

The committee also has attracted to itself two fringes which are of no basic importance. First is the liberal-socialist bloc, led by John T. Flynn and Norman Thomas, who have thoroughly discredited themselves by association with the Lindberghs and the Nyes. And second is the foreign fascist and crackpot fringe – the Bundists and Joe McWilliams, neither of which are presently of great importance.

The Real Nature of the Isolationist Bloc

But the most consistent, important and sinister grouping in the America First Committee is that which is led and personified by Walter Castle. Castle is an extremely shrewd and reactionary former aide of Herbert Hoover, who, it is said, writes Lindbergh’s speeches. This group has a sufficiently thought-out program for a long range struggle against the interventionists, not merely or even primarily on the question of war entry but rather on a whole series of future problems. This group is playing with fascist or near-fascist ideas; it is responsible for the America First advertisements which ask that the country be kept out of war because Roosevelt fights for a “new order”; it fosters the line of appeasement of Hitler and a possible war against either or both Japan and Russia; it is responsible for the political line of Lindbergh’s speeches. While America First is not yet a fascist organization, it is definitely a breeding ground for a future fascist movement; and while the Castle group is not yet a fascist grouping, it is the intellectual precursor of one.

And it has been blessed with a spokesman whose name was a household word throughout the country. Lindbergh has every qualification for the American fascist leader. He is popular, appealing, mystical, solemn. While Wheeler may at most solicit cordial agreement from the America First audience, Lindbergh evokes fanatical, eye-shining demonstrations. In his absorption with the need for “discipline and order,” his respect for the technical and military achievements of the Hitler regime, his mystical and reactionary concept of race, Lindbergh shows his qualifications to serve as the American Führer of tomorrow.

Lindbergh’s Des Moines Speech

That Lindbergh did make his Des Moines speech and that the speech has been officially endorsed by the national committee of America First, should by now be a decisive indication that there is something more to America First than mere traditional isolationism. The breeding ground of American fascism – that is the America First Committee, or at least the most consistent and important section of its leadership. Flynn and Thomas may protest – may even threaten to resign – but the Lindbergh group determines the policy. It has even gotten a section of the senators to swing along (Nye, Holman).

It must have been clear to those who wrote Lindbergh’s speech that it would evoke a wave of protest and indignant reaction. It must likewise have been clear to the leaders who afterward endorsed his speech. The tongue-in-cheek denial of anti-Semitism by the committee officially and by Nye in a speech are merely the necessary tactical retreats to ward off the wave of counter-attacks. They are of a piece with Father Coughlin’s denials of anti-Semitism in which he stated he was merely against the bad Jews and didn’t want to molest the good ones.

If, as seems incontestable, the anti-Semitism of Lindbergh’s speech (or the endorsement of it) is the result of a deliberate policy, then it is obvious that it is part of a long range perspective for building a fascist movement in America. It is part of the preparation for tomorrow, when, during the war weariness and cynicism, anti-Semitism will be the common stock in trade of every reactionary demagogue. It is clear then that the Lindbergh section of America First has made the decisive step. It has decided to carve out an independent political destiny for itself, even if the pressure of events force it, once the war is formally entered by America, into either formal endorsement of the war or silencing of criticism against it. Regardless of defections or deviations, regardless of retreats or denials, its appears incontestable that American fascism has at last found its nesting place – and with a genuine Aryan type as the Führer!

Is it then, in view of the above paragraphs, necessary to say that the working class and revolutionary movements can have nothing in common with America Firstism or Lindbergh or his cronies? Is it not clear what terrible damage that arch confusionist, Norman Thomas, does to the socialist movement when he allows his muddle-headedness to be associated with America First?

Too Hot to Handle

The capitalist press, for the most part, has been extremely gingery in its treatment of the Des Moines speech. The august New York Times, for example, has paid little attention to it in its news columns and even less in its editorials. The bourgeois press is not exactly sure as to what attitude to take; the issue is too hot to handle.

Two responses to the speech, however, are worthy of comment. In her hysterical column, Dorothy Thompson has essayed to answer Lindbergh by pointing out that most of his specific charges of Jewish influence in the press, radio, movies, etc., are untrue. Most of them, she tells us, are run by good Christian gentlemen. But this method of argumentation proceeds on precisely Lindbergh’s premises that it does matter if these or the other capitalists are Jewish or not, that it does matter what percentage of the war-mongering committees are Jewish or not. Her argument clearly implies that if Lindbergh’s charges were true – that if there were, for one reason or another, a considerable number of Jewish capitalists in the “public opinion industries” – why, then there might be a point to what Lindbergh says. It is this type of racial nose-counting that is the most reactionary form of “reply” to Lindbergh and a very disturbing omen of things to come.

The second reply to Lindbergh which merits comment is that of the frantically pro-war and pro-Roosevelt newspaper, PM. Both for reasons of policy and circulation, PM has carried on a heated campaign attempting to smear the entire America First movement with anti-Semitism. It cleverly insinuates that there is some connection between isolationism and anti-Semitism. It is thereby, however, caught in this interesting dilemma: Some time ago, it printed sensational dispatches describing anti-Negro discrimination and terrorism in the army. These dispatches were so vivid that a number of Negro readers wrote in questioning the wisdom of supporting President Roosevelt’s crusade for the Four Freedoms, if this was a concrete example of any or all of them. PM answered by trying to deny that there was any integral connection between the interventionist capitalist government and Jim-Crowism in the army. Now that PM connects, not without considerable justification, anti-Semitism with the isolationist movement, we should be very interested in seeing how it would avoid noticing the very real connection that exists between the Jim-Crow deeds of the U.S. Army and the interventionist administration.

It Is Necessary to Prepare Now

While there is slight possibility of an immediate fascist mass movement (it waits for New Dealism to play out its historic role) there is every reason for the working class to maintain strict vigilance in relation to the Lindbergh movement. Its every action must be analyzed and attacked; the genuine anti-war masses must be convinced that not fascism or ultra-conservative capitalism, but socialism and socialism alone can satisfy their anti-war desires. Above all, we must not repeat the tragic error of so many European socialists of underestimating the fascist and incipient fascist movements, even though they have not yet assumed mass proportions. It is far better, that instead of lulling the militant workers with the idea that fascism is still a long way off in America and is no immediate threat, that we point out the poisonous growth at the very beginning, even when it is not yet completely formed, so that we may crush it all the more readily.

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