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Harry Allen

The American Legion

As Labor-Baiters, They Are 100 Per-Centers

(December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 49, 7 December 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Legion, declaring itself to be “100 per cent American,” might be expected to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; and to stand for the democratic and civil rights of all the people. Moreover, the Legion says it is “for the Constitution” AS IS, emphatically proclaiming (American Legion Magazine, editorial, October 1942): “This nation is going to remain a constitutional democracy.”

But just exactly how does the American Legion believe in upholding the constitutional and civil rights of Mr. John Doe, Mr. Common Citizen or Mr. Bill Workingman?

100 Per Cent Labor-Baiting

The first thing you learn is that to be a “100 per cent American” you have to agree 100 per cent with all the Legion stands for and to combat the “insidious program of bolshevism, radicalism, etc.” To be specific, the American Legion’s definition and advocacy of civil rights means the following:

1. Barring all “subversive” publications from the mails. It would also forbid the passage of such publications in interstate commerce.

The Legion not only would, IT DOES, “discourage” newsstands and stores from carrying and selling labor publications.

2. Free Speech? Certainly. But then, says a Legion convention resolution, “Free speech stops where treason begins” – and the Legion sets the standards and limits.

3. The American Legion was two decades ahead of the Rapp-Condert Committee in shouting about “disloyalty in schools,” in advocating teachers’ “loyalty oaths.” As ex-National Commander Hayes plainly put it: “Check (spy) on the teachers in your schools.”

The Cry Against “Aliens”

4. “Aliens!” – that, too, has always been the alarm signal of the American Legion. So the Legion has stood for the deportation of aliens; has sought to stop immigration for ten years; and opposes employment of any aliens by the government! But actually the American Legion has never cared two raps about “aliens” as long as the millions of foreign-born workers who were employed in the coal, iron ore and copper mines, the steel mills, railroads and other basic industries, slaved uncomplainingly for long hours, miserable wages and bad working conditions.

The “alien” problem begins for the Legion, as it does with all the capitalists and their apologists, when the foreign-born workers go militantly on strike for their interests, help to organize strong labor unions and insist on their economic and political rights.

In the Legion’s eyes, such people, even if they are Mayflower descendants, are “aliens” who, if they can’t be deported, ought at least “to be shot.” That is what the Warings and other Legionnaire spokesmen really believe and advocate.

5. For years, moreover, these “100 per cent Americans” have stood for so-called “European” customs. For instance, the Legion has always advocated compulsory finger-printing for all, with an eye primarily on its utilization for spying on and blacklisting militant workers.

The Legion knows how to improve on the anti-labor techniques of employers; and, gradually, Legion ideas have made their way in all too many respects.

6. Though it professes to believe in the Bill of Rights – for instance, in “free assembly” – the American Legion has gone about trying to prevent labor and radical meetings by “discouraging” landlords from renting halls to such groups or organizations. It began this noble work as early as Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, when Centralia, Wash., Legionnaires made a premeditated attack on the IWW headquarters, resulting in injuries and deaths. Although, Legionnaires invaded the hall, it was several IWW defenders who were sentenced to long prison terms. A repenting Legionnaire, Edward Patrick Coli, later exposed the Legion’s plot and worked for the release of the Centralia victims from prison.

Against Free Ballot

7. Respecting voting rights, the Legion’s opposition to permitting “communists” on the ballot is well known.

Thus, for example, when the Communist Party in the State of New York (for which we hold no brief, as LABOR ACTION readers know) presented petitions this year containing 50,000 signatures to place their party and ticket on the ballot, the American Legion, in line with its entire past course toward labor and “radicals,” challenged the petitions and did its utmost to prevent the Communist Party from appearing on the ballot.

Moreover, if the American Legion had its way, such organizations as the Workers Party, SWP, SLP – in fact, any organization advocating in some form the abolition of capitalism would be proscribed as “un-American” and, hence, not entitled to the rights of the Constitution and Bill Bill of Rights. The Legion’s similarity to Hitler’s concepts are quite marked on all these scores.

8. In the First World War, war hysteria resulted in the persecution and jailing of thousands of men and women. A large number were sentenced to long prison terms. Even long after the war ended, the American Legion, true to its character, strongly opposed the release of the political prisoners. Today its position remains the same, as is indicated by its opposition to the release from prison of Earl Browder, Communist Party secretary (even after the latter was out-percenting the American Legion itself in his support of the imperialist war and on his phobia, opposition to and hatred of genuine working class militancy).

A Menace to Democratic Rights

All this and more the American Legion has stood for and continues to advocate. Therefore, one can only describe the “100 per cent American” Legion as a MENACE TO THE CIVIL AND DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE, AND THE WORKERS IN PARTICULAR.

Roosevelt’s authorization to the American Legion to organize the present members of the armed forces only serves as a spur to the Legion to continue without hindrance, indeed with permissions its reactionary program among the young generation of soldiers and sailors.

9. The American Legion officialdom waxes angry and indignant when it is charged with being fascist in its outlook and practices. But an examination of its record of intolerance, opposition and persecution of labor and liberal elements through the years demonstrates its fascist characteristics in many significant aspects. An editorial from a Southern newspaper, the Roanoke, Va., World-News, expressed itself as follows on the character of the American Legion:

“The American Legion program has marked similitude to the fascists and Nazis ... It is intensely nationalistic ... In prating of Americanism, it speaks the language of Hitler and Mussolini.

“With their soldier caps add uniforms, they assemble in the same manner that characterized Hitler’s Storm Troops in the days that Hitler was waging his struggle for power.

“In their concern for self, rather than the body of people, they resemble the Brown and Black Shirts.

“Like the Nazis and fascists, they are intolerant of all thought that is not like theirs. They are aroused to a fury by any concept not fitting into their smug scheme of things.”

They are ready “to squelch, by strong-arm ways individuals and groups who do not agree with them. And in this, again, they agree perfectly with Il Duce and Der Fuehrer.”

Later-day developments, since the time of this editorial, attest to its accuracy to describing the fascist characteristics and potentialities of the American Legion. For a knowledge of its leadership, its composition, its interests, its association with big business, it is, moreover, not difficult to see how such an organization could be used by demagogues in the coming period for definitely reactionary ends; and, ultimately, to put over a fascistic program.

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