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H. Allen

The American Legion

It Was Organized to Preserve Capitalism

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When Roane Waring, national commander of the American Legion, declared at the recent American Federation of Labor convention that, if he had the power, he “would shoot” a worker who goes on strike now, his statement doubtless surprised and shocked many people. But to those who know the record of the American Legion, Waring was merely taking advantage of the imperialist war to announce more publicly than before an anti-labor policy which the American Legion has always itched to carry out. In view of that statement and its long-standing anti-labor policy, a meager news dispatch of the Associated Press (October 30) takes on special significance. The dispatch reads:

“President Roosevelt signed legislation today making members of the armed forces serving in the present World War eligible for membership in the American Legion. American citizens serving with any country allied with the United States also would be eligible.”

Quite conceivably there are today many workingmen who do not know about the anti-labor role that the American Legion has performed through the years, and in whom such an endorsement by President Roosevelt (”labor’s friend”) of the American Legion may occasion no surprise. Recent events and utterances by Legion spokesmen may have helped to awaken them. Even so, the entire labor movement must establish a clear knowledge of and attitude toward the American Legion, so that neither the appearance nor shameful utterances of Roane Waring and others can ever again find a place on a labor platform or convention. The history of the American Legion bears looking into, in order that labor may better understand that here is one of its potent enemies – today and tomorrow.

The basis for the formation of the American Legion was laid at a conference held in Paris, France, March 15–17, 1919, a few months after the armistice ending the First World War. This preliminary gathering was called upon the initiative of Lieut.-Col. Franklin D’Olier of the general staff of the Army; Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and other National Guard and Army officers. The first convention was held on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, at Minneapolis, Minn. An official report states that it was necessary to “round up delegates,” one of the problems being “to find men who had the railroad fare to attend the convention.”

Army Ranks Distrust Legion

A petition of the Private Soldiers and Sailors Legion of the United States, presented to Congress on August 15, 1921, demanded that Congress repeal the Legion’s charter because it had been formed with “unlimited funds” received “from sources which have never been revealed.” This petition showed with what suspicion and doubt the ranks of the soldiers looked upon this hastily-formed ex-servicemen’s organization. Their suspicions were well founded. The record finally shows that big business interests and top military men organized and backed the formation at the outset to the tune of $257,000.

Why? Let Lieut.-Col. D’Olier explain:

“After the armistice, bolshevism was the bogey. Disgruntled soldiers had provided the manpower for the cataclysm in Russia.”

The purpose of that ex-servicemen’s organization, its leaders have made clear, was to fight bolshevism and the newly formed republic of workers, peasants and soldiers of Soviet Russia. The task and aim of the American Legion today are essentially the same: to fight all progressive labor and radical movements on the ground that they are “subversive.”

Red-Baiting – Their Weapon

To the Legion, “subversive” means any form of radicalism or labor militancy: bolshevism, communism, socialism, pacifism, liberals, aliens, labor organizers, militant labor unions, and even the American Civil Liberties Union. It has red-baiting and anti-labor propaganda down to a fine art, conducting it today under the cover of “national unity” for the imperialist war.

The American Legion is controlled and directed by a handful of men at the top: by the national commander and national committee. Conservative, middle-aged men with a military background, plus business interests – firm believers in and beneficiaries of capitalism (for instance, Waring, the national commander, is president of the Memphis, Tenn., Street Railway Co.) – being anti-union is second nature to these Legionnaires. Fully 80 per cent of the rank and file of the veterans of the First World War have steered clear of the American Legion, realizing in some degree the anti-progressive role of the American Legion through the years.

But what, about the remaining 20 per cent Who have joined the American Legion? They have a fundamental economic and social outlook which can be described as 100 per cent for capitalism. The Legion’s membership, and not only its ruling group, is largely middle class: independent farmers, business men, professional people, lawyers especially, and also skilled workers. In a more exaggerated and crudely reactionary form, the Legion represents the views and aims of the upper and medium middle classes. It is, therefore, ruthless in its hatred and opposition to anyone or any organization that advocates any change in private property relations. The Legion, therefore, regards itself as the “best insurance policy” for capitalism.

Pillar of Big Business

Big business has always realized the value to it of a permanent servicemen’s organization of former soldiers, sailors, marines, etc. For 23 years the capitalists have given the American Legion unstinting support as a pillar of conservatism and reaction.

Today the big bourgeoisie are looking far ahead – to the post-war period – even while the Second Imperialist World War still rages and indicates no end. Valuable as have been the services of the American Legion in the past decades, the imperialist ruling class sees in this organization an even more valuable instrument and ally in the future, That is why President Roosevelt has signed this important measure enabling and authorizing the American Legion to undertake immediately, NOW, campaign to organize the men serving in the armed forces today.

The bankers, the big industrialists, the military caste, who were instrumental in the first instance in organizing the American Legion, understand clearly that their post-war political and economic perspectives include an ex-servicemen’s organization that can be depended upon to serve their ends.

(Continued in next week’s issue)

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