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Carlos Hudson

Inside the C.C.C. Camps

(March 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 13, 31 March 1934, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Minneapolis. – Today there are 1,522 C.C.C. camps in this country with over 300,000 recruits. By summer many more such camps will be established. I have just returned from a visit to several such camps in Minnesota, and would like to tell the Militant readers what I observed.

Most of the boys at work in Minnesota forests have been imported from Kansas. The government makes a fixed policy of sending the young workers far from home: in this way the potential rebels and deserters will think twice before they run away, with a long trek back to the farm staring them in the face.

For working 8 hours a day, five days a week, these boys receive thirty dollars monthly – twenty-five of which is sent home to their parents. In this way many Kansas families are removed from local relief. This peculiarly ingenious plan has a double merit, then, in Rooseveltian eyes. By making one member of the family support his parents and brothers and sisters in the style to which they have become accustomed, it preserves the domestic self-respect. Likewise, the C.C.C. worker himself receives a tidy bit of pocket money. For working 40 hours weekly, he receives the munificent sum of $1.25 – or slightly over 3 cents an hour.

One of the camps at which I stayed for several days (in the Chippewa National Forest) was located near an Indian reservation. After every meal, a throng of dirty, ragged Indian boys and men would throng themselves at the kitchen door, carrying large cans and buckets. They were waiting to receive the scraps from the meal. All that could not be garnered by the camp cooks for subsequent meals was given to the Indians – soup, bones, crusts, vegetables – all were thrown in the greasy pails making the most filthy, garbage-like ollapodrida – to be eagerly taken home and eaten by the Chippewa braves and squaws and tubercular papooses. Thus does Uncle Sam provide for his First Families.

A word about the forestry work. These Kansas boys are not used to the bitter weather of northern Minnesota winters. One day it was 27 degrees below zero. Eighty boys decided that this was too cold and revolted. After breakfast they returned to barracks instead of climbing on the trucks which were to convey them to the woods. Ten minutes later the officer in charge strode in and paused in the center of the room.

“Any man not reporting for work this morning, will be fined $20,” he announced. “Just follow me back to the office and I’ll take your names.”

The boys thought of their families back home, destitute, starving. The putsch was over almost as soon as begun.

At noon a handful of boys came back to camp with frost-bitten ears and cheeks. After bandaging the injured parts, the camp medico observed, “The bandages will be a warning to the rest of the men. Now they will take more care to protect themselves.” What a soothing philosophy!

While at the camps I had the opportunity to talk to many of the boys. I should like to report that many were militant, class-conscious workers; but such is not the truth. The boys, almost without exception, come direct from farm homes. None has ever worked in a factory, has ever stood face to face with his exploiters across a picket line. I found no evidence to indicate that any boy had the least understanding of the economic forces at work in the world which were condemning him to an empty futureless life. They, and their fathers, had slaved on the farm, had been losing ground every year in this struggle for existence. Then came the New Deal, with its shabby offer of six months of camp life; and, poor as the work was, these boys jumped at the chance to escape from the wretched gray existence on the farm.

I was particularly interested in the attitude of the recruits towards war. Would they go to war if America should become embroiled with a foreign nation? Yes, almost to a man, they would. “There’s nothing doing back home,” they say. “Might as well fight as rot on the land.” Should an emergency arise, and the Government throw rifles at these 300,000 young men, 99% of the rifles would be caught and drilling could immediately start. At present, the army staff makes a great show of the lack of military discipline prevailing in the C.C.C. camps. No saluting, no drilling, no court-martial, etc. But let war appear on the horizon: how the picture would change overnight. The department of war must be well aware of the fact that, if occasion arises, they have a third of a million young men in first-class condition available for fighting forces at a moment’s notice.

The C.C.C. workers have become accustomed to having the government take care of them. Poor as the pay is, they are living better now than were they back home. In the evenings in camp they have attended classes in American history, in military tactics, etc. Subtly they have been filled with the insidious nationalistic ideology. Here the greatest danger lies.

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