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Arne Swabeck

‘In the Name of God’

Coughlin “Eschews All Radicalism;”
Offers Age-Old Panaceas as Cure-All

(May 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 21, 11 May 1935, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not to be outdone by the Kingfish, Father Coughlin has taken a step ahead in the formation of a national political organization. This while Huey Long went to Iowa to receive the acclaim extended to him and his third party project by the convention of the Farmers Holiday Association. But it is really not to be understood as a matter of competition between the two; just listen to what Father Coughlin has to say: “I was married to my competitor by the press. Well, I haven’t asked for divorce papers. He has never said anything about me to which I could take exception, and I don’t propose to say anything about him to which he could take exception.”

Says It Is Not a Third Party

Of course, the radio priest insists that his organization is not a political party; it is not a third party, he says. According to his plans it is to take shape through a number of so-called state conventions similar to the one held in Michigan last week, and Coughlin maintains that it is to be only an instrument to provide a little more articulate expression so that the representatives in Congress may know what the people back home want.

This sounds modest enough and it lends to the whole scheme an outward appearance of righteousness The democratic rights of the people back home are to be reinforced. But in the shaping of his party the Machiavellian shepherd made no provisions whatever for democratic rights. All supporters are to accept in full the sixteen points of Coughlin’s program, or, as he says, “they can’t belong.” His organization scheme calls for the appointment by him of a national council of twelve persons. Further appointments to be made by this national council will create state committees, ranging from seven to fourteen, which again will appoint their own aides. Nowhere are elections provided for, and “der Fuehrer” Coughlin will soon announce his selections for the national council. A hierarchy much more complete than that of the Catholic church and ominously reminiscent of the fascist structure of organization is here in preparation.

Makes Bid For Farmers, Workers

Both Coughlin and Long are now making special efforts to obtain farmer and labor support for their movements. William Collins came to Coughlin’s Michigan state convention, officially delegated by the A.F. of L. Executive Council together with Edward Kennedy, Secretary of the National Farmers Union from Chicago. Among the members of Congress attending were William Lemke of North Dakota, co-author of the Lemke-Frazier farm mortgage bill and William P. Connery Jr. of Massachusetts who is co-author of the Connery-Black 30-hour week bill and the Wagner-Connery trades disputes bill in addition to being Chairman of the House Committee of Labor.

This set-up fits in well with the Coughlin scheme of labor organization. In his program the right of labor to organize in unions is proclaimed and it is insisted that it is the duty of the government to protect these organizations against the vested interests of wealth. But when broadcasting, Coughlin adds that strikes and lockouts are absolutely unnecessary, indicating that the “protection” he demands means a form of actual state control, including compulsory arbitration Since his Michigan state convention, Coughlin has promised that his next step will be the organization of the automobile workers of the state. Will they respond to his efforts? No doubt many of them are taken in by his high-pressure demagogy; but it is not likely that they should desire any more government “protection” for their unions after last year’s sell-out experience. If the present strike action of the Toledo Chevrolet workers is an indication of the mood of the other automobile workers they can be expected to decline that kind of unionism.

Real Appeal Is to Petty Bourgeoisie

Otherwise the appeal of Father Coughlin, the same as the appeal o Huey Long, is addressed essentially to the lower middle class, to the small businessmen, the farmers and the petty bosses. A good many of those among them who in former times managed to save up for a rainy day and since saw the bank crash, those who were hit by bank foreclosures and live in the shadows of economic insecurity but know that wealth is available in abundance, turn once again to the political demagogue and harken to the glamour of a middle class panacea. And in Father Coughlin’s political organization many of them undoubtedly expect to find a haven. To make it attractive for them he announces that its national council and its state committees will be composed of appointed representatives of what he calls various groups, such as labor, farmers, veterans, small manufacturers, youth and possibly certain specialized industries. Of course, this is the characteristic middle class approach of defining interests by business groups and avoiding any open acknowledgement of class lines.

Among other outstanding points in the Coughlin program it is worth noting that while national ownership – that is government ownership – is demanded for banking, credit and currency; power, light, oil and natural gas, together with the “God given” natural resources, emphasis is placed on his belief in private ownership of all other property and of upholding the right to private property; yet it is to be controlled for the public good. What he is speaking of in this connection is not just personal property such as homes, radios, cars or toothbrushes, but private property in the means of production. But it is this form of private property that Coughlin believes in that secures for the owners thereof the right to exploitation of labor. It secures for them the right of acquiring profits which also carries with it the power of the suppression of the laboring masses. In the same program Coughlin declares for the abolition of tax exempt bonds and for the broadening of the basis of taxation founded upon the ownership of wealth and the capacity to pay and together with that it declares for an alleviation of taxation. His program is quite vague and contradictory hut this is precisely what allows him to play on the feelings and the emotions of all classes.

Coughlin Explains His System

The political padre explains the system that he is aiming for as follows:

“I believe that the economic system of tomorrow will not be that type of socialism which desires to nationalize not only natural resources, but also all productive industry. Nor will it be capitalism wedded to the theory of private financialism and production for a profit. It will be a new system based on the belief that wealth is not money, but that wealth is created by the union of capital and labor; and that this wealth must be distributed, even through the intervention of the government, in such a way that every laborer who cooperates in producing this wealth shall have that share of it which will enable him to enjoy, according to his merits, the things which we are capable of growing and of manufacturing as a nation.”

Classes and Production

Yes, only when labor power is applied to capital can the process of production take place; but this is not the union that Coughlin presents it to be and cannot he such a union unless the social relations of capitalism are abolished and productive industry socialized. The sum total of relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society. These relations are today capitalist relations, based on production for profit and exploitation of labor. This is the real foundation on which rises the legal and political superstructure – the foundation of the government. Consequently all government intervention for the distribution of wealth under capitalism has served only to strengthen the system of exploitation and to protect the owners of wealth against those who have none. The system of tomorrow, Coughlin says, will not be socialism, the government which he proposes shall intervene will therefore not be a Soviet government and to make his stand more clear he adds: “I eschew all radicalism.” Would a distribution of wealth enabling the laborer to enjoy the things which we produce as a nation be thinkable on any other basis? That is excluded and this exposes the fraudulent position from which the Machiavellian shepherd appeals for the support of the working class.

It is well to remember the fact that just as this resent stage of development when the American working class is displaying in brilliant fashion its rebellious nature and militant qualities in powerful strikes, Coughlin steps to the fore proclaiming that strikes are absolutely unnecessary and that the system to aim for is not socialism The direction of his national political organization will be the opposite. Its actual role can therefore be none other than, under the cover of the panaceas offered, to sidetrack the working class from its path to revolution which alone can guarantee a distribution of wealth that will enable the laborer to enjoy the things which we produce as a nation.

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