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Fascism in America

George Clarke

Fascism in America

Pelley’s Silver Shirts

(January 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 2, 20 January 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Ed. Note: This is the first of a series of articles devoted to a study and exposure of the budding fascist movement known as the Silver Shirts of America.)

There is a Fascist movement in America. It is small. It is inconspicuous. It lacks popular protagonists. It has no spokesmen in the accredited capitalist press. It is unknown to most American workers. It does not possess state power and is not represented in any governmental office. BUT IT IS GROWING AND IT DISPOSES OF FINANCES, FREELY GIVEN FROM SOME UNDIVULGED SOURCE.

Fascism in the U.S.

To our knowledge, the outstanding Fascist organization in the United States is the Silver Shirts of America with headquarters at Ashville, North Carolina. The literature and form of organization of this outfit, the men in the leadership and the people in back of it, give us the impression that the Silver Shirts are no fly-by-night gathering like the late but unlamented Khaki Shirts of Philadelphia. If not handled in time, and handled properly, they may become a gruesome menace to the labor and revolutionary movement, to the working class fortresses yet to come.

American Fascism, in the guise of the Silver Shirts, has borrowed its stock-in-trade of propaganda, vituperation, sulphur-and-brimstone damnation from the Fascism that goose-steps on German streets in Brown Shirts. Its creed is not a new one; rabidly anti-semitic, arch-reactionary Communist baiters, violently nationalistic, they have been aptly termed “hill-billy Hitlerites.”

The Silver Shirts claim to be a national organization. In Liberation, their weekly organ they publish an organization chart which divides the country into “nine incorporated units” and claim, pretend or boast to have tens of thousands of members. Liberation is a twelve page magazine printed on expensive paper. Beneath the masthead of the magazine is the ostentatious statement, printed in large type, “Edited by William Dudley Pelley.”

“The Chief”

Hitler is known as der Fuehrer, Mussolini as Il Duce and our own William Dudley Pelley ... the “Chief” The chief, who is the organizer, inspirer and leader, who is endowed, according to his own admission, with magical, psychical powers to communicate with the dead and the “beyond” by means of “clairvoyance” and “clairaudience”, came to his present pre-eminence by a peculiar yet quite logical road.

Up till May 1928, Pelley tells us, he was a “newspaperman”, which is only a more euphemistic name for the paid agents of the kept press. In that year and month in the state of California – take note of the state – he made two discoveries which he makes known to us in the December 1930-March 1931 number of his magazine the New Liberator, the forerunner of Liberation, and incidentally published by the same institution.

Truly “Miraculous”

Under the headline, “The Dead are Alive and Organized”, he recounts his “miraculous” discoveries:

“First, I have become convinced by my own investigations and experiences that there is no such thing as Death – that life once created cannot die to extinction, that there is one continuous stream of consciousness using many lives for expression, of which physical bodies in a mortal world are the lowest and clumsiest.

“Second, I have become convinced through the training of my psychical faculties, confirmed by messages received by other psychical persons and steadfastly proven by current events, that the outstanding master-brains of the ages – the leaders in religion, statecraft, science and art who have ennobled human society by living in it – have not ceased contact with this earthly sphere ... More than this, they have banded themselves together in a vast sublime Lodge of Supernatural Wisdom for a concrete and benevolent earthly purpose. Under the dynamic generalship of Christ, they are contributing their massed intelligence toward the early establishment of an entirely new social order, that shall permanently abolish Ignorance, Depression, Poverty and War.” (Pelley’s emphasis).

A New Pope

As can be seen from this superstitious clap-trap, refurbished from the childish idiocy of the dark ages, Mr. Pelley was no ordinary sky-pilot. At one blow Pelley became a pope in his own rights, the direct agent of God and the intermediary

between the world of the “light” and the “shade”. He lectured to nice gullible Christian ladies and gentlemen on the results of the clairvoyant and clairaudient communications, undoubtedly thrilling them to their toe nails, hoodwinking them out of all rationality and providing them with a convenient escape from the harsh realities of life. Possibly Pelley also received returns which were ... not so spiritual.

We have every reason to believe that the Chief-to-be was likewise the master of ceremonies in the great sucker game known as seances. Dozens of mimeographed bulletins, called “readings”, packed with this psychical hocus-pocus, were manufactured by Pelley and his associates and retailed at twenty-five cents a throw. The New Liberator is jammed from cover to cover with this metaphysical buncombe.

It seems that somewhere in the year 1932 Mr. Pelley had a new “revelation” in one of his not uncommon trances – to change his field of operations to the social world. Whether this was caused by a falling off of receipts in the old racket, a lust for power at any price, or possibly a sincere belief, after the manner of General Goering, who spent about one year in the Stockholm insane asylum as a dope addict, is not easy to say ...

It is not illogical that an American Fascist movement should be started by a religious freak, a spiritualist crank. Pelley says he heard the “word” in California, a state which is known for its Aimee McPhersons, Holy-Rollers, Yogi men and a hundred other kinds and descriptions of religious nuts who are patronized by degenerated middle class elements, retired farmers of Kansas and Iowa, etc., etc. Not only California. Billy Sunday claims to have made 65,492 converts and collected (ahem!) $120,000 in cosmopolitan New York alone in 1917. Just think of the fortune he made in the provinces, the backwoods and the hinterland.

But the Silver Shirts were started in the post-depression year, 1932, and a social platform was needed, so the Fascist jargon was taken lock, stock and barrel from the German Minister of Enlightenment. The Jews, Jewish bankers, Jewish Communists, Jewish journalists, etc., ad nauseam are responsible for all the ailments of society from the time of Adam, and especially at the present time. Unless this pest is wiped out root and branch the world will go to the dogs. We will deal with this “philosophy” in all its ramifications in the next article. For the present let us see what happened to Mr. Pelley’s spiritualism.

The Psychic Transformed

The transformation was: Mr. Pelley, the Psychic became Mr. Pelley, the Fascist ... “Chief”. Psychicism became the underlying philosophy, just as Aryanism and Teuton Gods are for Hitler and his Hitlerites. It serves a very useful purpose for ... the Chief. One page or more of every issue of Liberation is devoted to this psychic-seance-medium buncombe. We wish we had space to reprint some of these revelations, for they are indeed, revelations of the depths to which man’s ignorance can sink, in this late day and age, to say nothing of their unconscious humor. Above each of these “revelations” appears this gem which should give some indication of its content:

“Out of the vastness of Cosmos the Psychic Antennae tune in on a Voice. If the Word was made flesh and spoke once to men, how much stronger may be its pronouncements when the handicaps of the flesh are perished? If we cannot believe this to Whom or What shall we look for authority of commitments like the following? ...”

Omnipotent, Infallible

The Fascist movement needs the myth of the impeccability of its leader, the unassailability of his ideas, the unquestioning of his instructions (leaving aside terror for the moment). Pelley has or is trying to attain this end through his psychism, which gives him the power to prophecy, through his communion with the dead, and therefore to give the right instructions at the right time. Thus, for instance, in an editorial called “A Caution to the Restless ...” (Liberation, Vol. V No. 20) which is a warning to the impatient Silver Shirts who want to go into action against Jews, bankers and Communists immediately, he makes the solemn statement:

“But no matter how this declaration is interpreted, from either foe or supporter, there is a Higher Import, a Deeper Voice that has faithfully in the past instructed the Chief just when, and where, and how to move. He has learned to trust that Voice and act upon it, and when he has so acted in the past he has committed few blunders. But when he has allowed himself to be swept out of step with the Infinite, so to speak, he has had to retrace his steps at great cost and sacrifice to the whole great Silver movement.”

“The Higher Import”

“The Chief” admits, for the present, that others may learn to feel this “Higher Import” and hear this “Deeper Voice”. But he reserves to himself the right to judge whether the new prophet has heard correctly or has been adviced by a false spirit. That’s as far as the game has gone up till now – it needs a little “democracy”. If and when this movement of ignorance and superstition attains some power and influence, then heaven help any Silver Shirt that dares challenge the inspired orders of the Chief.

* * * *

Who backs the Silver Shirts, where do they get finances? The inscription on the back side of Liberation says that the Silver Shirts of America are the active civic organization of the League for Liberation and that both Liberation and the Galahad Press, Incorporated, which publishes the magazine, are subsidiaries of the Foundation for Christian Economics, Incorporated. It should be quite obvious that these are only dummy corporations shielding some big financier or industrialist. In more than one issue of the modern alchemists’ Silver sheet “The Chief” talks of prominent men in the business and lay world who consort with him and tell him state secrets but who dare not reveal their names for fear of retaliation intimidation and blackmail from the “Jewish Press” and the “Jewish bankers”.

Pelley Praises Ford

The March 1931 issue of The New Liberator has high praise for Henry Ford who, according to Pelley, “is doing, without maudlin sentiment, ... the highest type of constructive spirituality deploying throughout society by way of mass production industry”. And further, “If every employer in America, England and Germany adopted the Ford principles this afternoon, and remained there, the world’s economic depression would be ended tomorrow morning to stay ended.”

It is well know that Henry Ford is a vicious anti-Semite and a no less vicious hater of organized labor ...

Time, events will bring the real backers of this mystical, incipient but barbarian Fascist movement to the fore. Yes, and possibly more ...

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