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Gordon Haskell

Loyalty Purge Gets Out of Hand
FBI Plots Mass Political Arrests

(27 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 13, 27 March 1950, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The political atmosphere in America is getting stickier day by day. The “loyalty purge” is rapidly turning into an avalanche which threatens to engulf the very men who started it rolling.

Last week the American people were treated to an astonishing spectacle – at least one which should astonish those who believe this is the “land of the free.” It was the kind of thing one has come to expect in the totalitarian lands of Stalinism. It was the spectacle of one of the foremost citizens of the land, Ambassador-at-Large Philip C. Jessup, beating his breast before a sub-committee of the United States Senate in an attempt to prove that he is and always has been loyal to the American government and is not and never has been a partisan of communism.

At about the same time citizens of this free land were informed that the Department of Justice is just biding its time to bring indictments against 12,000 persons on charges of belonging to the Communist Party. And on the same day that this fact was revealed to the public, the newspapers also announced that the Department of Justice is pleading with Congress to refrain from attaching such severe “loyalty” provisions to the proposed National Science Foundation bill as would wreck the foundation before it could get well started.

Each of these events is part of the cold war against the freedom of the American people. Each of them is worthy of note and study.

Right now the political spotlight in Washington is held by Senator Joe McCarthy and the Senate committee which is supposed to be investigating his charges that there are in the State Department “fifty-seven ... individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party.”

The McCarthy Show

Everyone knows that McCarthy is engaging in a political smear campaign and that the Democratic majority on the committee is hoping to nail him to a political cross by proving his charges completely false. To date McCarthy hasn’t proved there is a single Stalinist in the State Department. But he is daily demonstrating for all to see that he is simply trying to use in open hearings exactly the same kind of phony “evdience” – the same hash of rumor-gossip-stool-pigeon slanders – with which hundreds and possibly thousands of humble citizens are being confronted month in and month out in the closed-chamber proceedings of the “loyalty boards” in the government. services and in private industry.

In reply to McCarthy’s charge that Jessup has shown “an unusual affinity for communist causes,” the ambassador read to the committee a record of his public and private activities, his ancestors, his posts and his titles which would fill two pages of Labor Action. Letters from Generals Marshall and Eisenhower praising him fulsomely were read into the record.

At the conclusion of his statement, Senator Theodore Francis Green. Democrat of Rhode Island, turned to the ambassador with words which we think are worth quoting:

“I congratulate you on the way you have so thoroughly cleared these so-called charges made against you. You are an established man and you have friends who have come forward.

An Appalling Harm

“But what would have happened to you had these charges been made when you were young and unknown? It is an appalling harm that might hatve been done – and may yet be done to young men now in the service.”

In his testimony, Jessup pointed out that he had never been a radical, not even when he was a young man. When he graduated from school he went right to a job as assistant to a bank president. But what would the fate of this man have been if he had come from poor and humble immigrant parents, had been compelled to toil for his living with his hands, and had at some time organized a union of his follow workers or led a strike or been involved in a demonstration of unemployed workers for relief?

Of course, he never would have been an ambassador at large. He would have been in the same boat, perhaps, as the workers at Bell Aircraft in Buffalo who were railroaded off their jobs and branded as “poor security risks” and by implication as “disloyal” and “subversive” by an arbitration board which didn’t even pretend to look into the “evidence” against them.

To Indict 12,000

The Democrats and Republicans are having their fun with the McCarthy hearings. And even those newspapers, which tend to support the “loyalty purge” as a whole (as Jessup does), are noting with regret that McCarthy’s irresponsible behavior may bring the whole loyalty program into disrepute.

On March 17 the New York Post stated that Raymond P. Whearty, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, has told a congressional committee that the Justice Department is preparing to indict 12,000 members of the Communist Party. The government is waiting for the Supreme Court to uphold the conviction of the eleven CP leaders under the Smith Aet before it swings the clubs.

Whearty told the committee that the FBI actually has 21,105 cases pending in its “internal security section” and the only reason the government isn’t going to go after all of them is because “they can’t be proven for the reason that the sole witnesses to the cases are confidential informants and cannot be used as witnesses and those cases have to be cancelled out.”

Whearty pointed out that if the Supreme Court upholds the conviction of the eleven Stalinists, the CP will in effect be an illegal organization. The Smith Act makes it unlawful for a person to be a member of an organization which is held to advocate overthrow of the government by force and violence.

Reign of Terror

And it doesn’t really matter too much, as far as civil liberties and political freedom in the country are concerned. The mass indictment, trial and imprisonment of 21,000 or 12,000 men and women in the United States on the sole charge of having joined a political organization will be quite enough.

Such a reign of political terror is calculated to silence anyone who dares criticize American foreign policy or the capitalist system of exploitation, no matter how much he may abhor and oppose Stalinist totalitarianism. For hasn’t the attorney general already placed on his list of “subversive” organizations ALL those who dare to make such criticism?

Congress Goes Too Far

On the same day that this threat of mass political arrests was made public, the Justice Department warned Congress that it has gone too far with the witch-hunt. In passing a bill to create a National Science Foundation, the House included provisions which would require the FBI to pass on the “loyalty” of every student or scientist, American or foreign, who would be employed or subsidized by the foundation. The FBI would have to certify that each and every one of them is “loyal,” believes in the United States system of government and had not at any time been a member of an organization declared subversive by the attorney general.

The Justice Department warned Congress that this would bar many competent scientists from working for the foundation. Further, that it would “effect an extremely radical and undesirable change in the basic responsibilities of the FBI” and would “bring about a departure from American concepts of justice and democratic government.”

It would give the FBI the power to be judge and jury over the hapless scientists and would bar from scientific work “innocents” who long ago had joined organizations they believed to be loyal but had quit and denounced them when they discovered otherwise.

Un-American Concepts

This is trying to lock the barn after the horse is stolen. The loyalty purge has already affected any number of such “innocents.” If such a procedure is contrary to “American concepts of justice and democratic government,” then President Truman and the Department of Justice have been guilty of putting “un-American” concepts into force the day they issued the subversive list and began hounding people from their jobs on the basis of it.

Then why does Truman’s Department of Justice oppose the loyalty provisions of the Science Foundation bill and why is it urging Congress to go slow on the Mundt-Ferguson bill?

Is it possible that Truman and his “liberal” advisers would prefer not to have a law on the books which could be challenged in the courts? Is it possible that these lovers of freedom prefer to carry on with the administrative procedure which leaves the victims, those accused of “disloyalty,” without such protection as the courts might give them?

The events described above are just part of the witch-hunt which during the past week has appeared above the surface. The real dirty work is being done out of sight.

Every day, every night, the FBI is snooping and sniffling into people’s personal and political affairs, past and present. It is planting its stool-pigeons and informers, gathering its files of gossip and anonymous slander. Isn’t it high time that the extent of this activity, the methods used and the number of the innocents fired from jobs or placed under a cloud of doubt and suspicion be made public?

Last week Labor Action suggested a public hearing, under a commission of prominent liberals and labor leaders, to go into the whole question of the loyalty purge, the subversive lists and-the damage being done to civil liberties in America by them. We repeat our suggestion. We know that in the sticky political atmosphere of today it will take real courage to organize such a commission and to hold such hearings. But surely men of such political courage are still to be found in the “home of the brave.”

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