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American Fascism

Reva Craine

Second of a Series of Articles on American Fascism

An Exposé of Gerald K. Smith
and the America First Party

(May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 21, 22 May 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As stated in a previous article, the American fascist movement is not yet organized into one unified and cohesive organization or party. It is composed today of many groups and grouplets, which, though frequently rivalling each other for leadership, are nevertheless bound together by common aims and find it possible to co-operate with each other.

In many instances they are run by interlocking directorates, with key people serving as sponsors or financial backers in practically all the groups, or at least the most important ones. Their form of contact is that of a network, with lines crossing and intertwining, so that information and propaganda material passes on from one group to another with comparative ease. Their common hatred of the same things, and their common long-run goals would make it very possible and, under certain circumstances, very simple, to unify these groups into one strong and menacing fascist organization.

Among these groups, one of the loudest and most active sections is that known as the “Mothers” group. They exist in numerous cities and states under a variety of names, and they seek to utilize the anguish of mothers whose sons are serving on far-flung battlefields of the world. These organizations see to it, however, that the real culprit, the real source of the war, goes unnamed, and instead divert the attention of their feminine followers along channels of anti-Semitism, anti-New Dealism and extreme nationalism.

There are the groups which specialize in anti-Semitism; those which concentrate on anti-Negro propaganda; the anti-foreigners; the religious groups. What binds them together is their common opposition to labor and unionism.

The more serious fascists, however, realize that in the long run, if their propaganda and work are to be effective, it will be necessary to organize a strong, highly centralized fascist party, which will be able to reach out and control the smaller specialized groups now in existence and which will be able to rally all the reactionary, anti-labor, anti-Negro and anti-Jewish forces behind it.

What is especially disquieting is the fact that the fascist leaders realize the need for a fascist political party much more keenly than the labor leaders today recognize the need for an independent political party of the working class. And yet it is only such a party, with a bold program of action, that will be able to combat and beat back the fascists.

Gerald Smith’s Background

Among those most actively engaged in the attempt to build a fascist party is Gerald K. Smith, father of the America First Party. If he succeeds in his plans, he will head a movement which could become the greatest threat to the American working class and which will seek to install a fascist dictatorship. His entire past history has prepared him for this role.

Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith started his political career as a member of Pelley’s Silver Shirts and devoted his energies to speaking on subjects like: Why I Left the Conventional Pulpit to Joint the Christian Militia of the Silver Shirts. That was in 1933.

He soon dropped Pelley and moved to Louisiana, where he established himself as pastor of the King’s Highway Church, one of the wealthiest in the country. It was in Shreveport that he met Huey Long, the late “Kingfish,” dictator of Louisiana. This time Smith left the pulpit for good to join the corrupt political machine which was running the state. Here he got his real training, for his job was to tour the state speaking on the Share the Wealth Plan, by which every man was to become a king. Smith turned out to be a rabble-rousing orator who had learned all the tricks of holding and swaying a crowd while saying nothing.

Smith was with the Kingfish when the latter was killed. The squabble for power among Long’s boys after his death found Smith left out in the cold, without a job and without a machine. Smith had opposed any “deals” which the Long boys were making with the national Democratic Party, by which Roosevelt and Farley succeeded in buying up Long’s heirs, later dubbed the “Second Louisiana Purchase.”

For the next period of time, Smith devoted himself to propagandizing for the Townsend Plan. This was in the midst of the great crisis and depression when the masses of unemployed, particularly those faced with insecure old age, were looking about for some solution to their situations.

Smith Joins with Coughlin

In 1936 Smith found a new job. He became the promoter of the Coughlin-sponsored candidate for President, William Lemke, of the National Union for Social Justice, and of William Townsend and his panacea. Smith declared himself to be “contact man for the Union Party, director of the Townsend organization, a keynote speaker for Father Coughlin and supporter of Lemke for President.” Not a very attractive combination.

Not satisfied with the job of mere “promoter,” Smith set out to organize his “Committee of One Million,” which program included a number of pseudo-patriotic planks, but emphasized its intention to “issue a call to farmers and laborers to resist what is now known to be an international plot to make them part of a world revolution.”

Actually, this plank had only one purpose – to smash, if possible, the .growing influence and power of the CIO, which in 1936 was beginning to draw thousands and hundreds of thousands of hitherto unorganized workers into the union movement for the first time.

In Detroit, especially, the workers in the auto industry flocked into the unions in great masses. The industrialists looked about them for means of stopping this influx into the unions for they well knew that once the workers built up their own organizations, the days of open shopism were numbered.

The Union-Buster Emerges

Gerald K. Smith was just the man they were looking for. His committee was actually financed by Horace Dodge of Detroit, Henry Ford and others. He was aided by Representative Woodruff of Michigan, Senator Nye and Congressman Day, who spoke for him. At first, Smith’s job consisted of descending upon communities “plagued” with strikes, and through the preaching of the gospel of Americanism and old-time religion trying to get the men back to work. He toured through Akron, Flint, Toledo, Chicago Detroit – the big sit-down centers of those days.

In 1939, Smith settled in Detroit, the heart of America’s militant trade unionism. Here he works well for the men who pay him, most notably, Henry Ford, of whom he said in a radio address:

“I defend Henry Ford tonight, not because he needs defense, not because he needs anything I possess, but because America needs Henry Ford and other Henry Fords ... I use the name of Henry Ford not as the name of a man, but as the symbol of American opportunity that was and the American opportunity, pray God, that should be kept alive for the generations yet unborn.”

Every union man knows what Henry Ford symbolizes: open shop, terror, speed-up, anti-labor espionage. And it is this system which Smith seeks to spread and keep “alive for the generations yet unborn.”

In 1942, during the great strike at River Rouge, which finally broke the open shopism at Ford’s and established collective bargaining for the Ford workers, Smith declared: “Naturally, the first thing that should have been done by the Governor was to call out the militia.”

Today Smith cooperates with the National Workers League, an organization which is attempting to disrupt the labor movement. (The National Workers League will be the subject of a future article.) He was endorsed by this organization in his fight for the Republican nomination as senatorial candidate in 1942 in Michigan. It constantly urges attendance at his meetings and exchanges mailing lists and other material with him. His magazine, Cross and Flag, carries on where Coughlin’s Social Justice left off.

Smith’s Politics

In 1943, Smith launched the America First Party. While this organization (read: Smith) has not yet decided its course in the coming presidential election, it has made clear its attitude on what kind of a man it would chose as its standard bearer. If Huey Long had not been slain – “the America First Party would not now be rummaging around for a presidential candidate who would stand for none of this globaloney.”

On his list of possible candidates, he would support Smith names: General MacArthur, Senators Taft, Nye, O’Daniel, Johnson, Brooks, Reynolds, Congressmen Fish, Hoffman, Short, Sumners – and Charles Lindbergh. Actually, Smith is waiting to see whether the Republican Party will nominate a man reactionary enough to suit his taste.

The platform of his party fits the above list. Its first calls for “free speech for all good Americans [to be defined by Smith, of course], including Coughlin.”

“A farm program based on Genesis, 46th Chapter, 46th to 57th Verses, inclusive.” How this will bring the farmer a better standard of living is not revealed.

“Support all patriotic labor movements which are kept in the hands of patriotic American leadership.” Read: Company unionism.

Gerald K. Smith, servant of big business, is flinging the challenge to the labor movement. He is well protected by the powers that be – a recent investigation by the FBI declared him “not subversive.” His weapons are demagogy, fake patriotism, promises. But his past actions in decisive moments show where he stands with regard to labor. Today Smith’s fascist America First Party is in its infancy, but it is being carefully nurtured by those who intend to use it against the labor movement in the days to come. Will the American workers be ready to meet the challenge?

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