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Harry Allen

“War Threatens All Civil Rights” – Biddle

What Is Happening to Civil Liberties
in the United States?

(October 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 42, 19 October 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“War threatens all civil rights.” Such is the view of United States Attorney General A.D. Biddle. There, have been periods of gross abuse, when hysteria and hate and fear ran high and when minorities were unlawfully and cruelly abused. The present war is no exception. Inroads are being made on civil liberties – on the democratic and labor rights of the workers and people generally in this country.

While not in every instance uniform or national in their application, they are nevertheless sufficiently numerous to cause concern to labor TODAY, not to mention their implications for tomorrow. The illustrations given below are by no means all-inclusive, but indicate some of the more flagrant deviations from “normal” democratic procedure.

The Roosevelt Administration already finds it necessary to explain and defend its actions as inquiries and protests are made from liberal and labor sectors. But despite murmurings and protests from these quarters, the Administration continues its practices. It cannot do otherwise, since the government’s policy is rooted in historical circumstances, which increasingly compel a course toward authoritarian and dictatorial conceptions.

Ruthless Evacuation of Japanese Americans

1. Immediately after America’s direct entry into the imperialist war, the government evacuated thousands of Japanese on the Pacific Coast. These people had been living there all their lives or for many years. Yet they were ruthlessly uprooted and ejected from their homes, lands and work places.

Not even the elementary constitutional provisions or devices were invoked on their behalf; for example, no examination as to their “loyalty” or any distinctions between American-born (citizens) or aliens. Never before, either in war or peace has any such wholesale invasion of the rights of Americans taken place on the basis of national origin. The analogy to German’s wholesale persecution of non-Aryans is too stark to require comment. The American bourgeoisie is too desperately pursuing its war to be concerned with democratic and ordinary human rights. It is intent on creating wholesale hatred of the “slant-eyed, bespectacled” yellow Japanese “dwarfs.”

Denies Right of Asylum to Anti-Fascists

2. Recently, the Laval-Petain Vichy government of France promulgated plans to deport thousands of Jews from France to areas in Eastern Europe occupied by Hitler. Indignation and protest swept over this country. The United States Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, felt impelled to issue a statement expressing lamentation and shock at the Laval-Petain Decree against the Jews.

But Hull did not accompany his denunciation with a declaration invoking the right of asylum; that is, to admit these otherwise death-assigned Jews to the United States through the immediate mass issuance of visas to these victims of Laval-Petain-Hitler. And why not? Because the United States does not want anti-fascists of working class origin, especially if there are revolutionaries among them, admitted to this country. The “welcome” sign is hung out only for those of bourgeois and royalist origin and station.

The failure of the Roosevelt Administration to act in such a way as to relieve the plight of millions of refugees – not only the Jews of Germany, France, Austria and Rumania, etc., but also the Spanish working class victims of fascist France – is only a wholesale and more recent manifestation of a gradual reversal of policy of the United States government on the right of asylum.

Actually, in recent years, the right of immigration or asylum for “reds” – for revolutionaries, even if they are political refugees – has been a dead letter. The United States for them is impenetrable, except through accident. As the American Civil Liberties Union has correctly protested:

“No person should be refused admission to the United States on the ground of holding objectionable opinions. The present restrictions are wholly opposed to our traditional policy of political asylum.”

But democratic traditions notwithstanding, the American bourgeoisie waves its hands toward – Santo Domingo, Mexico, Patagonia. These places are for the refugees. For a declining capitalist order finds it necessary to set up barriers against “ideas” and determined militants and revolutionaries who give voice and organization to their views. To grant to these refugee masses the right of asylum might result in admitting opponents of capitalism and real fighters against fascism. Their suppression and exclusion are therefore not an accident, but part and parcel of the class interests of the American capitalist class.

This is the meaning, also, of the efforts of the Administration, through Attorney General Biddle, to extend the legal bases for revoking the citizenship of naturalized citizens.

3. The crass prosecution in the Minneapolis Case (Teamsters Local 544-CIO and Socialist Workers Party members), ordered by Roosevelt on the demand of the reactionary union official, Tobin, and carried out under the supervision of the great “liberal” Biddle, cannot be lightly passed over, occurring, as it did, even before America’s entry into the war.

One can also add such evidence as the revival of criminal syndicalism procedures in the states; the increasing number of arrests and trials on sedition charges; the arrests of thousands of aliens and the increasing and significant violations of free press. None of these can be passed over as only “wartime exigency measures.” Rather, they indicate and form a pattern of the future.

Dies Committee – An Invitation to Anti-Labor Smears

4. It seems to be the practice among some of the liberal and labor forces to laugh or sneer at the efforts of the Dies Committee. But one cannot ignore the Dies Committee, which, with continued congressional appropriations, pursues its anti-labor, anti-radical and red-baiting smearings. Thereby is laid the “ideological” and political groundwork for further legal and extra-legal attacks (vigilantism, etc.).

The propaganda of Dies and his co-workers is obviously receiving encouragement from higher bourgeois sources who look to the future. These elements recognize that sharper attacks on labor and its organizations in the future – accompanied by “legal” and illegal raids, searches and seizures; false jailings, singly and en masse; deportations if possible – require a long period of propaganda preparations, which are only apparently ineffective at present.

Moreover, it must not be overlooked that the efforts of the (supposedly ridiculous) Dies Committee have unquestionably already caused countless unknown numbers of liberals, radicals and ordinary workers to pull in their horns; to hesitate to speak out their opinions; to decline to join movements or organizations organized to carry out a specific or general objective of labor.

Indirect and highly publicised falsification thus achieves its ends in an important and typical bourgeois-democratic fashion. The organised labor movement particularly can and must not only demand the dissolution of the Dies Committee, but must continue to expose its role as a part of the blatantly reactionary trends of the ruling class. For instance, when the labor movement recently took a serious part in the agitation for the removal of the poll-tax as a voting requirement for soldiers of the poll-tax states, the effect was noticeably felt in Congress.

American capitalism is steadily moving to supplant in fact, if not yet entirely in form, the parliamentary machinery of the American capitalist government with a bureaucratic-military regime. Steadily, the powers of the executive (the President) supercede the legislative (Congress). The President in turn delegates decisive powers to members of the military, not only in relation to military but industrial manpower, and with respect to labor’s use of the strike weapon.

Does the judiciary (the Supreme Court), the third arm of American government, intervene to curb the growth of the President and to reinforce the legislative arm? No! The Supreme Court follows the executive, as once “it followed the election” in the era of the flowering bourgeois democracy. It is therefore significant that in the field of civil liberties, affecting the masses directly, the record of the Supreme Court for the past year has “constituted a set-back” (report of the American Civil Liberties Union).

The civil and democratic rights of the people, of the workers, are in any case always relative. Such rights as exist gradually developed during the expansion of capitalism, which brought universal suffrage and other civil rights. In the present period, the decline of capitalism has, contrariwise, brought gigantic inroads on the parliamentary system and methods as the political instrument of capitalist rule. This is noticeable in the classic countries of bourgeois democracy – Great Britain and the United States.

Where fascism and nazism dominate, the total elimination of democratic rights is a matter of course. The “democratic” countries exhibit the same signs and trends.

“War measures” are the excuse today for gradual curtailment of civil and economic rights of the working people. Tomorrow they will be the “necessary” measures of the imperialist order in the post-war periods, if imperialism is not destroyed during the war itself. Therefore, with the growth of American capitalism along bureaucratic-military lines, it becomes necessary for the American masses to be on guard to protect, to the greatest possible degree, their civil and economic rights.

The organization of labor’s forces, the strengthening of the labor unions, the understanding of the need to build workers’ instruments of defense (Workers Defense Guards) against legal and hoodlum attacks, the organization of an independent political party of labor – these are some of the measures for labor’s defense and offense in all respects against capitalist encroachments on its hard-won rights.

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