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A Case of “Midsummer Madness”?

Police-State Liberals

(Fall 1954)

From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.4, Fall 1954, pp.111-114.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ONCE MORE the intellectual, journalistic and labor supporters of the liberal politicians in Congress are drenching the wailing wall with their tears. They are crying about the flagrant act of indecent exposure committed by the New Deal-Fair Deal Congressional liberals who authored the so-called “Communist Control” Law which, for the first time in American history, outlaws a political party.

Not a single voice of official liberalism dares to defend the conduct of the Senate and House liberals in connection with enactment of the law which puts political liberty in America in mortal peril and places a new legislative knife at the throat of organized labor.

The Aug. 24 NY Post admitted that “it will be justly said that liberal Democrats disgraced themselves by striving to out-McCarthy McCarthy.” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the Post’s chief political soothsayer, spoke of “midsummer madness” in a “group of Democrats, infected by pre-election fever” and predicted that “their hasty and reckless action will plague themselves, as well as the country, for some time to come.” He added that “the Democrats succeeded triumphantly in placing their party to the right of Joe McCarthy, of Pat Mc-Carran, of Judge Harold Medina ...” Murray Kempton, the Post’s labor columnist, went all out in his excoriation of the liberal capitalist politicians that he, along with all the other liberals, had urged the people to elect. Kempton admitted:

“Every great name in the pantheon of liberalism in the United States Senate was on the list of those who voted to make simple membership in the Communist Party a felony ... Real politik has all but killed the liberals in this country, and we might as well drink the death brew at the wake ... The recent record of the Democratic Party on civil liberties is at least as bad as that of the Republicans. And liberals are its architects.”

The Aug. 21 Nation magazine, oldest and most respected voice of traditional liberalism in America, declared editorially that

“... once again, the Democratic ‘liberals’ have out-smarted themselves in their neurotic election-year anxiety to escape the charge of being ‘soft on communism’ even at the expense of sacrificing constitutional rights.”

The liberal weekly admonishes the Senate to “censure itself for the disgraceful 85 to 0 vote by which it has attempted to edge us a little closer to the concept of the one-party state.”

Speaking of the Senator who introduced the political outlawry section of the law, the Aug. 30 New Republic explains that

“... of course Senator Humphrey [Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.)] is tired – and embattled in the current campaign. But neither fact is justification for saddling the nation with restrictive laws ... The sad truth is that the Democrats were ... weak in judgment, in miscalculating the course of public opinion. Far more important, they were weak in spirit ...”

The labor union bureaucrats, who take their ideology mainly from the liberal intellectuals and journalists, served up diluted versions of the latter’s complaints. The Sept. 1 Advance, organ of the CIO Amalgamated Clothing Workers, found that the contest between the liberal Democrats, the Eisenhower Republicans and the McCarthyites to offer the most repressive, anti-democratic measure was

“... one of the most amazing acts of demagogy any Congress has put on display ... a sorry spectacle ... Frankly, we are at a loss to understand how the bill travelled so far without defeat. Many of the Senators and Representatives voting for it have long stood out as champions of civil liberties. If, as some observers have suggested, they joined in the stampede for political expediency, their actions were heinous.”

The official national CIO and AFL papers play down the real danger of the new law to organized labor and even find merit in the conduct of the Congressional liberals who pushed this law that now hangs like a headsman’s axe over all parties which make any pretense of observing the democratic forms and over the entire union movement.

In the Aug. 23 CIO News, we find the moves and countermoves over the bill in the Senate described in terms of a slick trick by the liberals through which the Eisenhower Administration’s

“... insistence on passage now of anti-Communist legislation aimed only at unions backfired ... The Republican Party and the President got the anti-labor provisions they asked for, but they had to swallow with them a bill they didn’t want – a bill which outlaws the Communist Party and establishes severe penalties for being a member.”

The CIO News does object to the measure’s “loose language.” But the impression is given that the Eisenhower administration, yelling and balking, was driven by sheer force to back the outlawry of the Communist Party and that this wonderful political’ achievement of the liberals was secured at a small price – just a law to undermine political liberty and free trade unions.

As for the AFL tops, their AFL News-Reporter not only found nothing wrong with the law as a whole, but emphasized in a front-page headline on Aug. 27: “AFL Units Not Affected By New Anti-Red Law.” They based this deluding notion on the amendment, by Sen. Ives (R-N.Y.), whereby affiliates “of a national federation ... whose policies and activities have been directed to opposing Communist organizations” are “presumed” not to be “Communist-infiltrated organizations.” However’, Ives himself admitted his amendment would not prevent the Attorney General or the Subversive Activity Control Board making an “inquiry” and “determination” against the AFL or its affiliates as “Communist-infiltrated.” “That is definitely the intent of the amendment. Nothing stands in the way of such action by the Attorney General or the Board,” said Ives (Congressional Record, Aug. 12, 1954, p. 13551).

How do publications like the NY Post, the Nation, the New Republic and the Advance explain the fact that the liberals in Congress strove to “out-McCarthy McCarthy”? They attribute the “heinous” conduct of Senators Humphrey, Herbert Lehman (D-N.Y.), Estes Kefauver, (D-Tenn.), Wayne Morse (Ind. R-Ore.) and their liberal associates in Congress largely to personal physiological and psychological factors – to everything but the inherent nature of political liberalism itself. Senator Humphrey, and presumably his confreres, were “tired” and also “weak in judgment ... weak in spirit” (New Republic). A case of “neurotic, election-year anxiety” opined the Nation. “Midsummer madness,” said Arthur Schlesinger (NY Post), who even found an element of juvenile delinquency – “a collection of hotheads running wild like kids after their first glass of beer at a picnic.” The Advance protested simple ignorance of any reason for the liberals’ conduct – “we are at a loss to understand ...”

From this we might conclude that the liberals in Congress are either physical wrecks, or crazy from the heat, or mentally deficient, or moral weaklings, or inexperienced youth fallen victims to their environment.

We might then have to ask what there is in liberalism, that attracts as its best elements – the persons we were urged to elect to government office – a bunch of neurotic weaklings who were nothing but idiots to begin with.

The supporters and apologists for the political liberals feel that anything is better than the truth, even to pleading “temporary insanity.” The truth is, of course, that the liberals in Congress are seasoned, shrewd, coolly calculating machine politicians. They didn’t just “run wild,” on impulse, due to unendurable Republican provocations. They did what they did because they wanted to and they behaved true to their political lights. The beer-addled schoolboys that Schlesinger depicts is a lie. The Social-Democratic New Leader of Aug. 23 describes the real picture – the organized, well-prepared, disciplined character of the liberal Democrats in Congress:

“The most articulate group in the Senate has been the band of a score or so who have carried the New Deal-Fair Deal standard. They have met regularly every fortnight to coordinate their tactics and objectives, and on alternate weeks their administrative assistants have gathered for the same purpose.”

Senator Humphrey, a vice president of Americans for Democratic Action, had originally introduced a Communist Party outlawry bill four years ago during the discussion of the McCarran Subversive Registration Bill. His August 1954 contribution, therefore, was nothing he drew up at the spur of the moment while his brain was dulled by fatigue and inflamed with the heat. When the Republicans readily accepted his proposal and attached it to the Butler bill dealing with “Communist-infiltrated” unions – a bill which Humphrey ostensibly opposed – the Minnesota senator and the rest of the liberals unanimously voted for the combined bill in its final version.

In doing so, the liberals were not attempting some “naive tactic in the fight against communism,” as the Social Democratic New Leader explains it. They were not trying to give the “kiss of death” to the Butler bill by having it combined with a section on the Communist Party which would make it unpalatable to Eisenhower and therefore cause its veto. Humphrey himself has testified that he did everything to meet Eisenhower’s objections and to make the whole anti-union, police-state bill palatable to the President and thereby ensure against a veto. At no time was the question of civil liberties involved.

Consider the following dialogue in the Senate on Aug. 19 between Sen. Humphrey and Sen. Butler, author of the bill Humphrey said he opposed and a man whom McCarthy personally had helped elect in Maryland. The Minnesota senator is calling on Butler to affirm that Humphrey had done everything to facilitate passage of the whole bill.

Mr. HUMPHREY: ... First of all, let me say that those who were members of the conference committee [joint Senate-House group] knew that they must at least take into consideration the views of the attorneys of our Government, who have some responsibility, and in fact the responsibility, for the prosecution of subversive activities.

Mr. BUTLER: That is true.

Mr. HUMPHREY: I think it is fair to say, and it should be said, that the changes which were made in the conference report were made because we did not want in any way to jeopardize proceedings now under way to fulfill the requirements of the internal-security law.

Mr. BUTLER: I wholeheartedly attest to that.

Mr. HUMPHREY: Let me say, as one who wants to cooperate with his Government, and at the same time strike a blow against those who would subvert the Government, that I felt a responsibility as one of those who had participated in formulating this proposed legislation, to give the utmost cooperation to the Department of Justice.

Mr. BUTLER: I believe the Senator has.

Mr. HUMPHREY: If I have a choice between giving cooperation to the Department of Justice and legislating regardless of their will or views or of their sincere observations, then my choice must be to recognize the superior knowledge and the responsibilities of the Department of Justice.

Mr. BUTLER: I think the Senator has been very amenable to the wishes of the Department of Justice.”

What a priceless commentary on liberalism this dialogue is. The leader of the liberals boastfully states a series of facts regarding his cooperation with the government political police in enacting the exact type of legislation the police-staters want. The McCarthyite affirms, like an amen, each claim of the liberal that his political policies conform to the line laid down by the Department of Justice and the FBI.

At another point in the debate, on Aug. 19, Sen. Kefauver, who originally opposed the Humphrey proposition, expressed his fear “that the application of this provision is not limited to the Communist Party. It may apply to the Republican Party, the Democratic Party or the Farm Labor Party. I assume the Senator from Minnesota would agree that this provision is not limited to the Communist Party.” To which Humphrey replied: “Of course not. It is not limited to the Communist Party ...”

In the end, Kefauver, too, swallowed his trepidations and scruples, voting for the bill in its final form because “I have now been assured that this will not adversely affect prosecutions under the Smith Act or adversely affect the Internal Security Act.” That is, he was assured the bill would not interfere with the operations of previous police-state measures, including the Internal Security Act of 1950, which Kefauver had actually voted against. But by 1954, Kefauver told the Senate, “while I did not vote for the internal security bill, I now feel it may do some good ...”

In case anyone believes that Humphrey – who continued to describe himself during the debate as “one who is deeply interested in the preservation of our basic liberties” – worked under some misconception as to the anti-civil liberties character of his proposal, the verbatim record makes everything clear. On Aug. 12, Sen. Johnston (D-S.C.) asked:

“Is it not also true that there are two types of Communists? One is the soap box orator. This amendment would certainly do away with him. Does not the Senator from Minnesota think that when we let them talk, and talk and talk we are aiding them to a certain extent, and that this amendment would put them out of existence?”

Humphrey replied succinctly: “I think so.”

This disdain for democratic rights, this rude brushing aside of elementary civil liberties is not something new with the political liberals. It is, as a matter of fact, their characteristic mode of behavior under pressure from the extreme right. Indeed, the record shows they have systematically sponsored some of the most repressive measures enacted by Congress to destroy the political liberty of the American people.

The previously cited Murray Kempton, who proclaimed the death of liberalism, summed up in a half-correct way the characteristic conduct of the liberal politicians:

“... Liberal politicians have generally had a sorry record on civil liberties. Woodrow Wilson stuffed our jails ... (in) the first World War; he whooped up the Palmer raids; he sent Eugene Debs to prison ... Franklin D. Roosevelt was much more tolerant; yet many of his retainers would have sent Col. McCormick to jail in World War II if they had had their way...”

Roosevelt’s tolerance was limited to fascist-minded multi-millionaires like Col. McCormick. What Kempton carefully covers up is that the first police-state law – the savage Smith “Gag” Act of 1940 which makes mere expression of opinion without any overt act a felony – was rushed through by a Democratic Congress and signed by Roosevelt himself. And it was Roosevelt personally who in 1941 ordered the Smith Act prosecution of 18 members of the Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Truckdrivers Local 544 and had them sent to prison for their anti-war views. It was Roosevelt who ordered scores of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent arrested, held without trial and incarcerated in concentration camps throughout World War II.

The Aug. 21 Nation reminds us of the role played in 1950 by some of the same liberal Democrats who, in Arthur Schlesinger’s words, “organized a runaway stampede” in the 83rd Congress to trample on the Bill of Rights. The Nation recalls:

“When the McCarran Act, which became the Internal Security Act, was before the Senate in 1950, Senator Paul Douglas argued that the bill was ‘ineffective’ because it did not ‘go far enough’ in attempting to curb communism. A group of seven Senate ‘liberals,’ all Democrats, then offered the detention-camp proposal as an amendment, thinking it would discredit the bill itself – or so they said. But, as now, they were caught in their own trap, and the amendment was eagerly accepted by the Republicans.”

The irrefutable fact is that the New Deal-Fair Deal liberals have been the chief authors and sponsors of the first laws (1) to make mere opinion a crime, (2) to establish concentration camps in America where political dissenters can be sent without trial in a “national emergency” and (3) to outlaw a political party. In short, they have been chiefly responsible for setting up the legal machinery which the McCarthyite fascists can use, if they c6me to power, to suppress all other political tendencies, including the liberal Democrats themselves.

The complaints of the liberal writers and publications about the latest anti-democratic acts of the liberal politicians sound like an echo of the lamentations these writers and publications have voiced time and again over the past 15 years. In the Fourth International of July 1942, we described the liberal mouthpieces then as “beginning to beat their breasts” over the reactionary conduct of Roosevelt’s New Deal government in the war presumed to be against fascism (The Wailing Liberals, by Art Preis). Then, too, it was a case of the liberal regime’s witch-hunt against political dissenters and radicals in the labor movement and government, of alliances with dictatorships abroad, of dollar-a-year men in control of the war machine in Washington.

Similarly, as reported in the Aug. 14, 1950, Militant (Liberals at Wailing Wall Over Korea, by Joseph Keller), the supporters of the Fair Deal Democratic regime of Truman were pouring out their woes over the reactionary moves of the liberal government. Then, the big gripe was the crudely aggressive character of the US invasion of Korea, conducted without any real attempt to put forward a “progressive” program to disguise the pro-capitalist, anti-land reform aims that were discrediting American imperialism throughout the colonial world. Then, too, the liberal apologists tried to make the conduct of the liberal Democrats appear as a mere temporary aberration.

The reactionary acts of the political liberals are “shocking,” “amazing,” “inexplicable,” “neurotic” only if we consider liberalism as a fixed set of principles. Chiefly, the liberals would have us believe that they constitute a movement to preserve, defend and extend civil liberties and to promote social reforms and improvements. It is true that the liberals do a great deal of talking and writing about these things, but their record in government, as we have cited it, belies their claim. Concern for civil liberties and social betterment is not a fixed attribute of liberalism, except for electioneering purposes. For a long time now, it has been more precise to speak of the police-state liberals.

The schizophrenic, or “split personality,” trait of liberalism is explainable only in terms of a class phenomenon. Liberalism is a tendency reflecting the interests of that class in modern society which has the least firm foundation and the most instability, the middle class. This class, caught in the midst of the basic struggle between big monopoly capital and organized labor, oscillates back and forth between the two, with ho clear, precise program of its own.

Historically, liberalism arose in the Struggle of the rising capitalists against feudalism and the landed nobility and was epitomized in the slogan of the French Revolution, “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” It continued as a tendency in the conflict between small and big capital, between heavy industrial and financial capital and light industrial and mercantile capital. The latter at a certain stage sought to win the lower-middle class masses and the workers with promises of social reforms and civil liberties and to use these classes as a counter-weight to the big bourgeoisie, the monopolists.

In England, liberalism had its special party called the Liberal Party. But class politics has long since supervened over the “non-class” concepts of liberal politics. The Liberal Party has been reduced almost to a relic, while the basic class forces are polarized in the Conservative Party and the Labor Party. In the United States, however, this polarization, as expressed in terms of class parties, has been delayed, primarily because the labor union leaders have accepted the political lead of the middle-class liberals.

Whatever the programmatic oscillations of the liberals, they have one constant: they are unshakably for the private-profit system which has enabled the middle-class to enjoy a privileged status, economically and socially, over the great productive class of modern society, the workers. In the final analysis, the middle-class liberals are wedded by class interests to capitalism and are loyal to it above all else.

But capitalism in decay leaves no room, for liberalism to continue in its earlier manifestations. Capitalism is torn asunder by insoluble contradictions which it seeks to resolve by wars between nations for economic advantages and by intensified exploitation of labor. The lower-middle class, on which the liberals lean most heavily, are driven into frenzy by the instability and ever-threatening crises of capitalism and seek some way to retain their status as a class. Offered no program of social betterment by the labor leaders, who themselves look to the middle-class for guidance, the lower-middle class in greater and greater numbers turns toward demagogic solutions – above all, to fascism and its thesis of “treason” by the traditional capitalist parties and the “menace of communism.”

The liberals seek to keep their hold on the lower-middle class and the more backward sectors of the Unorganized workers, who had previously looked for salvation in the promises of the New Deal and Fair Deal, by more and more asserting and demonstrating that they are the “best” fighters against “communism.” They try to maintain “class harmony” by supporting, increasing government intervention in unions and restrictions on organized labor. They may still try to preserve the shell of the old forms of democratic capitalist rule but they give it a police-slate content.

This, of course, will not halt the basic class struggle. Police-state liberalism will not stem the tide of McCarthyism but help to create conditions for its stronger flow. It will not even save the liberals from annihilation should McCarthyism come to power.

When Sen. Humphrey introduced his political outlawry bill because “I am tired of reading headlines about being ‘soft’ toward communism,” it won the liberals no respite from the McCarthyite attack. McCarthy rose on Aug. 16 in the Senate and menacingly replied:

“I am not much impressed by some of our friends who oppose the activities and the methods, if you please, of those who dig out the individual Communists – I refer to members who in their Whole lives have never dug out a single Communist – but who wish to make an anti-Communist record by sponsoring a law outlawing the Communist Party.”

McCarthy only demands more evidence of their “anti-Communism,” more proof that they are not “traitors.” They will have to back his witch-hunt, his methods, his movement. Nothing less will satisfy him. In the end, they will have to jump on the fascist bandwagon and work for the total destruction of organized labor or find themselves in the concentration camps, torture chambers and death cells.

Liberalism is no bulwark of our liberties. Nothing can save America from the iron heel but a class party of the working people in mortal combat against the fascist party of capitalism.

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