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American Fascism

Reva Craine

Third of a Series of Articles on American Fascism

Father Coughlin, Anti-Labor
Apostle of American Fascism

(June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 24, 12 June 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

After nearly two years of silence, Father Coughlin has once again come out of his hide-away and has begun his anti-Semitic, anti-labor rabble-rousing rantings at his Shrine of the Little Flower.

In the spring of 1942, Attorney-General Biddle announced that he intended to bring a charge of sedition against Coughlin’s Social Justice for its attacks upon the govern ment and the way it was prosecuting the war. After challenging the Department of Justice and even offering to appear as a witness, Coughlin suddenly decided to pull in his horns, and ceased publication of his hate-mongering weekly. He knew that a public trial would reveal who his backers and supporters were – something which might have proved very embarrassing to a number of people in high society and the upper brackets, and therefore he decided on a policy of underground existence, for a time at any rate. The Department of Justice assisted in this cover-up by abruptly dropping all talk of charges, indictment and trial.

It would, of course, be erroneous to believe that with this Coughlin and his organization ceased to exist. No, he was merely biding his time until circumstances had changed and he would once more be able to spew forth his fascist doctrines. At the present time, Coughlin is getting ready for the post-war period, which he knows will be filled With a great many economic and political issues.

A Post-War Program!

What, then, is Coughlin’s post-war program?

As has always been the case with him, he has not stated clearly and lucidly what he stands for. Like every fascist, he hides behind high-sounding, but often meaningless, words in order to attract a following without at the same time revealing to it exactly what his aims are. To such a manner of operation Coughlin seems to be exceptionally well suited. His biographer, Ruth Muggle-bee, reveals that as a youth in school he discovered how useful it was to cover up gaps in knowledge with brilliant oratory. This talent, which he has developed since then, has served him well in his fascist pursuits. What he lacks in clear thinking, in ideas, he compensates for by dazzling speeches and histrionics. That is why so many of his speeches are contradictory. His schemes for getting the country out of the depression, for example, were so faulty that any schoolboy could have torn them apart.

And yet, his are not simply the ravings of a madman. Just as Hitler’s speeches did not seem to pass the test of logic and reason, and yet had a logic and reason of their own, so it is with Coughlin. In spite of all the irrationality of Hitler’s oratory, the program which his movement, eventually evolved arid put into effect in Germany turned out to be very rational from the point of view of the German capitalist class. An examination of Coughlin’s past reveals that he follows the pattern of Hitler, not as his agent, but rather as his admirer and imitator.

Coughlin, an obscure, Canadian-born priest, began his career in 1926 in Detroit, when the Free Press (with which he later had a fall-out) helped him get radio time, ostensibly to preach religious sermons. A little later, when Coughlin turned from religion to politics, and the CBS and NBC networks refused to sell him time, the Free Press once again came to his assistance by helping him hire his own stations and connecting telephone service.

It was only in 1929, after the big crash, that Coughlin’s radio speeches began to appeal to larger audiences. He denounced the “international bankers” who had caused the depression, but urged his listeners to support Hoover. Soon he switched his allegiance to Roosevelt and the New Deal, making his famous. Roosevelt or Ruin speeches.

Anti-Union Program

In the early days of the New Deal, Coughlin spent his time attacking the banks and big business. He said he was for the “little man,” the small business man and the unemployed worker. He even declared himself in favor of a just annual living wage.

His program for getting the country out of the depression boiled itself down to the following points:

  1. Organization of a central bank.
  2. Raising the price of silver.
  3. Nationalization of the trade unions.
  4. Return to small-scale production.

Though still not the complete sixteen-point program which his National Union for Social Justice adopted in 1934, its fascist tendencies were already revealed. As for the first point, it was never made clear how a central bank, operated by a government in control of the bankers and industrialists, would abolish the power of these same bankers and industrialists. The second point was intended to take care of Coughlin’s own financial interests, for in 1934 Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau revealed that the largest holder of silver futures in the state of Michigan was none other than Amy Collins, Coughlin’s personal secretary.

By nationalization of the trade unions, Coughlin was really calling for their company unionization. He was trying to introduce into this country Hitler’s method of dealing with labor unions, namely, by having the government take them over and run them in the interests of big business.

Coughlin declared: “I believe not only in the right of the laboring man to organize in unions, but also in the duty of the government to facilitate and protect these organizations against the vested interests of wealth and intellect.”

Controlling Unions

Later, during the Detroit strikes of 1934, he told what he meant by “vested interests of intellect.” He was referring to the leaders of the trade unions, especially the more progressive and militant ones.

In the Detroit Times, on October 10, 1934, he stated:

“Make the Department of Labor a real power! Let it take over the functions of collective bargaining, the function which the AFL (the CIO was not yet a factor – R.C.) is now trying to fulfill. Let it supplant the AFL entirely. Why should the workers pay dues to a labor organization to protect a right which is guaranteed by law? The service of the federation should be a government service paid for by taxation.”

Every trade unionist today knows that the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively, remain rights on paper only unless the workers enforce them by actually organizing and actually engaging in collective bargaining. No government agency has ever enforced these rights for the workers. This they have had to do themselves through their own organizations. What Coughlin was proposing was the destruction of the free and independent trade union movement and the substitution for it of trade unions, if such they can be called, which exist today in fascist countries and in Stalin’s Russia. We can be sure that as he renews his activities, this will constitute one of the chief planks of his new platform.

In the past, Coughlin’s proposal was rejected by the entire labor movement, and denounced by every liberal as the fascist “solution to the labor problem.” Now Coughlin will at least be able to count on the support of one group, the most reactionary, INSIDE the labor movement, the Communist Party, whose leaders are already sending up trial balloons for the proposition that the government take over the trade unions which the American working class has built and fought to keep free from such interference for many years and in many bitter battles.

What’s Wrong with Industry

The last point in the above-mentioned program is really the most reactionary of all, since it seeks to turn back the wheels of history and progress. The United States today is among the most advanced countries in the world by virtue of its great industries, its huge factories and mills, its huge productive capacity. The trouble has been, and is today, that these industries, created by the toil of millions of workers, belong to a numerically small class of capitalists, who operate them for the purpose of extracting profits. It is not the industries, it is not the large sizeof the factories, which cause the impoverishment of the great majority of the American people. On the contrary, these very same industries make POSSIBLE a vast improvement in .the standard of living of all the people, PROVIDED they are owned and operated by the people, through a government owned and operated by the people. What is wrong in the United States today is the OWNERSHIP of these large-scale industries. Change that, by establishing a workers ‘ government which will take over these industries, and the problem is practically solved.

Coughlin’s “solution” to the problem of ownership of the big factories is to get rid of them and revert back to the outlived way of producing the necessities of life through small-scale production. With this plank he appeals to the small business man who dreams of successfully competing with the big capitalist by reducing the latter also to a small business man. Hitler too rallied the desperate middle classes behind him on such a program. Once in power, however, Hitler revealed how impossible it was to put such a program into effect and he ruthlessly crushed those of his followers who had taken him seriously and proceeded openly to operate as the agent of his real masters, the big industrialists and bankers.

The working men and women, naturally, have nothing to gain from such a course.

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