Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Harry Allen

The American Legion

It Is an Anti-Labor, Reactionary Organization

(December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 50, 14 December 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A fascist program is built primarily on a hostility to the labor movement. Evidence that the American Legion fulfills this requirement is to be found throughout its history.

The record shows that, beginning with the resolution on labor adopted at the first Legion convention in 1919 to the recent national convention at Kansas City in September 1942, the American Legion has favored throttling labor’s democratic and labor rights. It has fought against the use of the strike weapon in any form and at any time by labor.

Its attitude to strikes in wartime as expressed by Roane Waring at the recent AFL convention, and in a recent report adopted by the Legion’s National Executive Committee is only a dramatic extension of its fundamental attitude to militant action and labor unionism, as well as to civil rights. But that is not all ...

Preparedness Against Labor

The record shows that the Legion is always ready to “cooperate” with the authorities (police, FBI, Department of Justice, etc.) against all whom the Legion, or others, label as “radicals,” and it does so in the interests of maintaining so-called “law and order.” Indicative of its determination to be on the front lines against labor is the unanimous decision once passed, by the executive committee of Chicago Marine Post No. 273, calling for the formation of a citizens’ police force of 5,000 “carefully selected American Legion members” to assist the police “in riots, disasters or whenever needed.”

In the same way, vigilantes, Ku Klux Klanners and other anti-labor, Jim Crow and fascist bodies have “cooperated,” with or without the official authorities, in putting into practice their conception of “law and order.” Yes, the Legion “cooperates” and “aids”; and it is always with the masters of society – the bankers, industrialists and landlords.

So far as can be ascertained over a period of years, one cannot find a single case where the Legion has supported the workers in a dispute or conflict with the bosses. But, contrariwise, there are all too many cases where the Legion has openly aided the employers against the workers.

At this point it is well to take note that the American Legion has deep roots in the government itself, not only in the military bureaucracy and apparatus, but in the intimate councils of the Roosevelt Administration.

Especially today, the Legion’s military and conservative point of view carries unquestioned weight in the determination of military and labor policy.

At the recent national convention of the Legion, speakers included Secretary of the Navy Knox, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, War Manpower Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, former Assistant Secretary of War Louis Johnson, recent head of President Roosevelt’s mission to India; the hard-boiled disciplinarian, General (”Yoo Hoo”) Ben Lear; and such an outstanding “employer of labor as W.P. Witherow, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers. All these military and administrative officials of the government are prominent members of the American Legion and two of them (McNntt and Johnson) are former national commanders.

All these speakers directed their major remarks against labor and its demands. Strikes, “even for a day,” “cannot be tolerated.” Profits were also included in their remarks; the speakers called upon employers not to be “selfish” in this “national emergency” and not to “pirate” labor from war plants to ensure greater profits for themselves. But these remarks were delivered with the admonishment of a fond parent, and most certainly not with the harshness and vehemence of the threats against labor. For the Legion, the major task on the domestic front consists in “controlling labor” during the war and in peacetime.

It may be said that the attitude of the American Legion toward wealth is in inverse ratio to its attitude toward labor. The faith of the Legion in great wealth is something to behold. For years the American Legion Monthly has carried articles consistently friendly, for example, to bankers – articles generally written by bankers themselves.

Jingoist and Militarist

The Legion professes to believe that the cause of war is rooted in man – that is, in “human nature.” Greed, malice, jealousy, hate – these factors, says the Legion, make war inevitable. That these are manifestations of social, economic and political rivalries between imperialist powers, the Legion prefers not to see, at least, to say. The simple conclusion the Legion, draws is that between brief periods of war, the nation spends its time arming to the teeth for the next war. Hence the American Legion has always favored the largest army and navy armament proposals (they haven’t been enough till now); permanent universal conscription, etc.

Nevertheless, for two decades the American Legion bus been vehemently isolationist on foreign policy. That is, the Legion declared or hoped that the United States could best get along by itself, without being or becoming involved in European or world political-economic problems. Meanwhile, of course, America must arm itself to demonstrate it was ready to ward off any “attack.”

The Legion’s peculiar provincialism and lack of historical outlook are perhaps best shown in this combination of isolationism with an acceptance, as a matter of course, of the inevitability of a Second World Imperialist War. The latter acceptance has enabled them to function as the loudest bellowers for transforming America into a militarist-imperialist nation second to none and as the advocates of those domestic measures which in time produce a totalitarian-dictatorial regime alone fascist lines. Thus big business has been able to exploit the Legion’s, nationalist-militarigt spirit for its imperialist ends. (Later, fascist demagogues will try to utilise these Legion concepts toward the fascist goal itself.)

Therefore, it is no accident that Legion leaders now proclaim and propose the abandonment of its isolationist position. “Isolation is dead,” proclaims Lynn U. Stambaugh, recent national commander of the American Legion.

Moreover, the Legion, in addition to being ready to continue its normal role of (1) helping to keep “peace” at home – that is, helping to keep labor strapped; and (2) helping to whip up “100 per cent Americanism” sentiment, is (3) now ready to take on the duty of helping to police the world after the war. America today has the “role of destiny,” says the American Legion Magazine (September 1942).

1. Summing up, the American Legion is an incitement and provocation to organized labor and to the exploited masses generally. The working men who are ex-service men of the First World War recognized this by refusing to join the American Legion. For although there are four or more million ex-service men from World War I, only about 20 to 25 per cent have ever joined the Legion. At present the Legion claims its highest membership, over one million.

2. Imperialism looks ahead to the chaotic post-war period and the problem of “keeping labor in its place.” Thus, for example, an article by Ralph Robey, professor of economics at Columbia University (American Legion Magazine, August 1942), significantly entitled, Our Third Front, sums up the major task of the American Legion and the bourgeois ruling class:

“We must make certain that the collectivists don’t take us over.”

Clearly, the specter of revolution – of socialism – haunts the Legion, as it does the capitalist class. Therefore, the Legion has been given its orders, to wit: intensify your anti-labor campaign.

The American Legion was an “insurance policy” for capitalism against bolshevism and workers’ unrest and dissatisfaction in the period after the First World War. The American ruling class expects the Legion, once again; this time in the period after the Second World War, to be an “insurance policy” against a militant labor movement and a potentially revolutionary movement. That is why the government and the capitalists give every possible political and organizational support to the American Legion. That is why President Roosevelt recently authorized the American Legion to organize NOW the soldiers and sailors of the Second World War.

Interests of Service Men

3. The labor movement, on the other hand, must recognize the American Legion for what it is – an anti-labor, reactionary organization, bitterly hostile to the immediate and ultimate interests of workingmen.

The service men of today, together with the ex-service men of tomorrow, must not be drawn into the web of this tool of big business, to become a reservoir for prospective fascist demagogues and interests.

Since the overwhelming majority of the service men of yesterday, today and tomorrow are either workers, or men whose interests are linked to the workers, the mass of service men must look to the labor movement for the preservation of their rights and interests. Similarly, the labor movement must also look ahead and aim to integrate and reintegrate the workers now in the armed forces into the labor movement when the imperialist war is finally finished.

Martin Abern Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 September 2014