Archive for the 'History Regurgitates Forward' Category

on Garfield’s assassination

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Bear with me.  There will be at least two more posts of this type.  Relating to the news coverage and debate surrounding the assassination of James Garfield, from July of 1881… on a couple months.  Why?  It seems to provide provides some tangeantal historical context for current debate surrounding political violence, and the problems of where to place blame and what to fault.  The debate seems to reverberate and rhyme.

Next post for this mini-series, when I get around to it.: a couple of preachers.  Fall of Rome and all that, unless we change our wicked ways.
New York Tribune
A second president lies stricken down by assassination.  President Lincoln was murdered, not by rebellion, but by the spirit which gave the rebellion its force.  President Garfield has been shot down, not by a political faction, but by the spirit which a political faction has begotten and used.  But for that spirit, there was hardly a man in this country who seemed at sunrise more safe from murderous assault. […]
“Was he crazed by political excitement?,” then, as many say?  At what point, if ever, did the madness of faction become the madness of irresponsibility?  Do the leaders of factions ever intend all the mischief which grows from the wild and desperate spirit which they create, feed, and stimulate week after week?  Is it not their constant crime against self-government that, by kindling such a spirit, they send weak or reckless men beyond the bounds of right or reason? […]
As a “Stalwart of Stalwarts” his passion was intense enough to do the thing other reckless men had wished were done.  So the assassin Booth put into a bloody deed the malignant spite of thousands of beaten rebels.  His deed stands in history as the cap-sheaf of the rebellion.  So the spirit of faction which fired the shots of yesterday gave in that act the most complete revelation of its real character.

Richmond Dispatch
Well is it for the man who sped the bullet of the assassination that he did not do it in a Southern city; for hot Southern blood would have terminated his life without waiting to learn whether he was a maniac or not — as he was, we take it for granted.

Louisville Courier Journal
It is fortunate that the hand which dealt that blow was not that of a Southern man, because if it had been we should have from one end of the land to the other a Stalwart outcry against the South.  The author of this dire crime claims to be a Stalwart, and what is there in the character of the man in whose name and interest the deed was done and whose desperate fortunes it saves from destruction to rescue them from a suspicion which would, by a change in that author’s nativitiy, firmly attach itself to the most innocent people?  Mrs. Surratt was hanged on less circumstantial evidence than occurs to the mind as to Roscoe Conkling and Chester A Arthur.  The vile nature of the contest at Albany, the despicable rancor of the combatants, and the base methods adopted by both parties, render murder as likely a weapon as any other; and while we should be slow to accuse anybody, and prayerful that the man Guiteau is not the instrument of a conspiracy, we should not be eager to assume the innocence of a body of political wretches whose hands are stained by every other crime — not preciptate in wishing to hurry into power a hand of bandits and plunderers who may have planned this assassinatino as their last resort.

Atlanta Constitution
The news is unquestionably startling, but no thoughtful man will deny that it is the natural and appropriate outcome of the political insanity which goes by the name of Republicanism.  Frenzy and fanaticism are the streams which have fed this remarkable organization from the first.  The fury with which the Southern people have been pursued, the stupendous fraud of 1876, the acknowledged corruption of 1880, the tremendous struggle between the factions, and the marvelous greed for office, all go to show the life of an individual, even though the individual be the Republican President of the United States, will not be allowed to stand in the way of those who are seeking place and power.  There are thousands of Republicans in the North today as insane as the “Stalwart of the Stalwarts” who shote the President, and as ready to be made tools of.  There are thousands of Republicans who would welcome a period of anarchy that would place in control of affairs the restless and revolutionary spirits who are determined at all hazards to control the Government.

recalling President Hoover

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Rifling through Hoover’s papers, one sometimes has the strange feeling that the President looked upon the Depression as a public relations problem — that he believed the nightmare would go away if only the image of American business could be polished up and set in the right light.  Faith was an end in itself, “lack of business confidence” was a cardinal sin.  Hoover’s first reaction to the stump which followed the crash had been to treat it as a psychological phenomenom.  He himself had chosen the word “Depression” because it sounded less frightening than “panic” or “crisis”.  In December 1929 he declared that “conditions are fundamentally sound.”  Three months later he said the worst would be over in sixty days; at the end of May he predicted the economy would be back to normal in the autumn; in June the market broke sharply, yet he told a delegation which called to plead for a public works project “Gentlemen, you have come sixty days too late.  The Depression is over.”

Already his forecasts were being flung back at him by his critics, but in his December 2, 1930 message to Congress — a lame duck Republican Congress; the Democrats had just swept the off-year elections — he said that “the fundamental strength of the economy is unimpaired.”  At about the same time the International Apple Shippers Association, faced with a surplus of apples, decided to sell them on credit to jobless men for resale at a nickel each.  Overnight there were shivering apple sellers everywhere.  Asked about them, Hoover replied, “Many people have left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples.”  Reporters were caustic, and the President was stung.  By now he was beginning to show signs of the more ominous traits of embattled Presidents; as his secretary Thodore Joslin was to note in his memoirs, Hoover was beginning to regard some criticism “as unpatriotic.”  Nevertheless he persevered, pondering new ways of waging psychological warfare.  “What this country needs,” he told Chistopher Morley, “is a great poem.”  To Rudy Vallee he said in the spring of 1932, “If you can sing a song that would make people forget the Depression, I’ll give you a medal.”  Vallee didn’t get the medal.  Instead he sang [here].

[…] One source of embarassment to the Administration was the stretch of Pennsylvania Railroad track between Washington and New York.  It was lined with thousands of billboards.  Half were blank, which raised awkward questions in the minds of passengers until admirers of the President began renting them to spread the slogan “WASN’T THE DEPRESSION TERRIBLE?”  Agreeing that it had been, but that it was past, the International Association of Lions Clubs celebrated Business Confidence Week.

— William Manchester, Glory and the Dream Volume 1

6 political youtube videos you’ve probably never thought to look up

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Father Coughlin newsreel

Father Coughlin speaks, and is a tad scary..

News events of February 20, 1964

Ronald Reagan stumps for Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey.

Grover Cleveland: Exactly!

Charles Lindbergh and his America First speech

from a Red of the 30s

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

It has since been calculated, quite believably, that of twenty-one staff members and frequent contributors to the magazine when I was there, eleven have become “enemies of the people,” or the equivalent in party invective; one was killed in Spain, a gentle and dedicated youth named Arnold Ried; and seven couldn’t be tracked down.  Only two were still faithful, or hooked, in the postwar era.  I started to turn “enemy of the people” in my second or third month of the New Masses, for reasons I will come to in a moment, achieved the distinction of being attacked by name in the Daily Worker while still on the magazine, and was out in the bourgeois cold ten months later, in the spring of 1937. […]

In the second or third month of my tenure the Moscow Trials Trials took their initial toll, leaving me, among millions of others, aghast and bewildered.  Unable to understand how men like Zinoviec and Kamenev, who I had just gotten around to learn were heroes of the Russian Revolution, were really “cannibals” and “mad dog assassins” in ideological disguise, I went to Joe Freeman, the editor who had hired me and a warm, sympathetic, and eloquent man if ever there was one.  I could understand, I said, how a few of the dozens of accused heroes might be “cannibals” of sorts, but I couldn’t begin to see why at least one or two of them didn’t stand up and say, “It’s a lie, I didn’t do it” even if they had, or “Yes, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.”  Why did they all grovel and damn themselves and beg to be shot as a service to the Socialist Fatherland and a boon beyond their poor deserts?”  “You have to read Dostoevsky,” Joe advised me, “to understand the Russian soul.”  So when word came from Moscow a month or so later of a second  batch of trials, at which Piatakov, Redek, and others were to be charged with operating an “Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Terrorist Centre,” I impiously captioned our editorial comment “Dostevsky Rides Again,” knowing I could change it when the proof came back from the printer.

A special editorial meeting followed, at which it was made plain to me that such frivolity was roughly equivalent to tripping up a bishop at High Mass.  Nor was my status improved when I pinned up over my desk a cartoon from the Daily Worker which depicted Trotsky as the usual mad dog, with bulging eyes and dripping fangs, crounched and ready to spring at his innocent victim.  The caption over this horror merely said, “Thoroughly Discredited,” an understatement that stuck me as so droll  that I had to be warned again about the consequences of misplaced levity.

Schachtman and his supporters broke away on the Finnish question, but by this time the Trotsky followers had already suffered the numerous divisions that come inevitably to amoebas and minority political parties alike.  First a faction headed by Comrades Ohler and Stamm went its way, soon to separate again into Ohlerites and Stammites.  Somewhere along the way the immediate family of one George Marln left to become Marlenites, and a Mr. and Ms. Wisbord had a League for the Class Struggle all to themselves until divorce separated their rank from their file.  The Fieldites, another group of limited range, were said to have come a cropper when picket signs were borne past their headquarters proclaiming: “Mr. and Mrs. Field are No Longer Fieldites.”  The deadly seriousness with which all this fantasy could be taken by its dreamers was illustrated at the stormy climax of the evening, so the story goes, Cannon stepped to the rostrum, leveled a finger at his rival, and issued the memorable warning: “Very well, Comrade Schachtman, we will seize power without you!”

–  Robert Bendiner, Just Around the Corner, 97-100, published 1967

what have the neo-cons wrought against the “Old Right”???

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Among the perspectives that no longer belong to the establishment Right but that could once be found regularly in the American Mercury, Human Events, National Review, and other conservative publications are the following:  Woodrow Wilson and his outspokenly Anglophile Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, maneuvered us into World War I by treating the two belligerent sides unequally and excusing the British blockade, which was illegal under international law and starved German civilians.  FDR behaved recklessly in dealing with imperial Japan in 1941, and whether he willed it or not, his actions were bound to lead to a Japanese attack.  After Pearl Harbor, the US, led by such liberals as FDR and California governor Earl Warren, stripped American citizens of Japanese ancestry of their property and freedom as part of an attempt to frighten Americans into submission to the central government.  (Significantly, Robert Taft was the sole Senate vote against Internment.)  The Nuremberg trials were an example of victor’s justice that had no legal basis outside of the will of the antifascist winners, including Stalin.  Moreover, World War II could have ended without insisting on “unconditional surrender” from the Axis powers; dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese was unnecessary for bringing about a just peace.

— “Victor’s History:  Neocons Have Air-Brushed the Old Right Out of Our Past”, by author I’ll dig up in a minute, in the previous American, the one with the cover-story concerning Chas Freedom.

Notable is that the left-wing explanation for the imprisonment of Japanese – Americans was that it was a property grab.  Beyond that, there’s a lot there that a “Conservative Movement” (whatever that is) should be glad to have thrown overboard.

The article goes on to flow sand at Martin Luther King, Jr. and praise Jesse Helms.

Lyndon Johnson’s Bull

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

When the co-chair of a White House conference, “To Fulfill These Rights,” scheduled for June 1966, asked him what kind of session he wanted, the president replied:  “In the hill country in the spring, the sun comes up earlier, and the ground gets warmer, and you can see the steam rising and the sap dripping.  And in his pen, you can see my prize bull.  He’s the biggest, best-hung bull in the hill country.  In the spring he gets a hankering for those cows, and he starts pawing the ground and getting restless.  So I open the pen and he goes down the hill, looking for a cow, with his pecker hanging hard and swinging.  Those cows get so Goddamn excited, they get more and more moist to receive him, and their asses just start quivering and they start quivering all over, every one of them is quivering, as that bull struts into their pasture.”  As his distinguished visitors gaped at him in stunned silence, Johnson smacked his hands together noisily, then continued.  “Well, I want a quivering conference.  That’s the kind of conference I want.  I want every damn delegate quivering with excitement and anticipation about the future of civil rights.”

— The White House Looks South, William E Leuchtenburg 2005, page 336

The Standard Take on American Elections from Abroad

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Foreign observers were mystified by the ferocity of the American campaign.  To Sydney Brooks, the distinguished British journalist, the real issue of 1896 was a narrow one: the Democrats’ demand that bimetallism be adopted by the United States at once independently of other nations versus McKinley’s ambivalent loyalties to gold and to bimetallism promoted by international agreement.  Had Bryan campaigned on his platform in England, Brooks believed, it would have aroused only mild reaction.  It was not “half so revolutionary” as the English Liberal Party’s Newcastle program calling for extensive politial and economic reforms for the working classes.  The English could calmly debate the liberation of trade union from age-old restrictions, national abolition of child labor, and free trade, and the British industrialists not only paid an income tax, but was accepting greater governmental intrusion into his affairs on behalf of social justice.  The American industrialist, in contreast, was little trammeled by national regulation, and the laws applying to railroads and trusts were generally hobbled by lax enforcement and crippling judicial interpretration.  The alert industrialist or financier could extract huge profits, unburdened by income or inheritance taxes.  Inevitably American society became an order of sharp differences between a small group of the fabulously wealthy titans and the squalid poor whose numbers were enlarged by the heavy immigration.

Meanwhile the men at the top wielded their wealth and power freely.  No one better symbolized private strength than JP Morgan to whose financial citadel on Wall Street the President of the United States had to venture twice, seeking help to save the gold reserve.  If Bryan was, as Sydney Brooks called him, “the first American Radical,” his radicalism derived less from his program than from the background against which it was expressed.  If in America he was a radical, in Europe he would barely have been considered a moderate.

Bryan: A Political Biography, 1971, Louis W Koeing, 235-6

Communist account of swallowing hard the Nazi – Soviet Nonaggression Pact

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

As the world outside our movement grew increasingly hostile, we huddled more closely together.  Crowds at street corner meetings were becoming less friendly.  In some places our supporters were so few we had to give up holding meetings altogether.

Then, in August of 1939, came a political thunderclap — the Nazi – Soviet Nonaggression Pact.  It felt like the end of our cause.  Maybe it was.  How could we explain this treaty between a socialist country and the most hated fascist regime?

As the headlines were screaming out the news of the pact to divide up Europe, I made my way in a state of total confusion to the YCL headquarters.  Everyone was there, looking for explanations.  Seymour told us that the Politburo of the Central Committee was in session at that very moment to consider the Party’s position.  He was sure they would come up with a clear explanation of why the Soviets had signed the pact.

On our way to a meeting at Webster Hall that evening we were beseiged by a group of Trotskyites waving copies of their paper, The Militant.  Its headline read “Socialism Betrayed — Stalin Signs Pact With Hitler.”  An argument with the Trotskyites invariably ended in a screaming match.  Even to me, my arguments sounded limp, and I was glad when someone pulled me away:  “C’mon Schrank.  It’s a waste of time.  Nobody is going to convince anyone of anything.”

In the packed, hushed hall, hundreds of party members leaned forward in their seats as Earl Browder, the general secretary of the party and our very own midwestern college professor, quietly began to explain.  Ever since the rise of Hitler in Germany, he said, the central objective of the imperialist powers had been, directly and indirectly, to supprt and build German fascism in order to prepare for an assault on the Soviet Union.  It was no accident that the West had stood back as Hitler marched across Europe.  The Munich agreement, Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the West to act — all convinced Stalin that Russia should not, as he put it, “pull their [the capitalists’] chestnuts out of the fire.”  Browder explained that at times socialism had to take many steps backwards in order to move forward.  This was such a time.  Stalin’s agreement with Germany would defeat the capitalists’ scheme of letting these two powers destroy each other while Britain, France, and the United States looked on, licking their chops in anticipation of spoils.

The hall broke out in wild applause.  Of course!  That was it!  It was a brilliant manuever!

But did we believe it?  At the cafeteria after the meeting, we were not so sure.  Henry pointed out that intellectuals like Browder could explain anything.  It was a Faustian gamble.  Could we sign a pact with the devil and not be destroyed by him?  Hitler was now ready to move east against Poland, and Churchill was saying that World War II was about to begin.

To those of us in the American Communist Party, Moscow was something like the Vatican to Catholics.  It was a far-off place that periodically issued directives — papal bulls or the party line — about subjects followers in distant lands may have known or cared little about.  With the exception of high party officials, most of us in the movement had never been outside the United States.  To me, Europe was a place Papa had characterized as cursed by an incurable and deadly nationalism.  Looking back, I think the outlook I learned from him didn’t give me much hope for Europe, and even less for Russia.  I suppose I was a provincal American.  I was humbled by the intellectuals in the party leadership.  I simply assumed they knew things I couldn’t possibly understand and continued to think of myself as a dumb worker.  Whatever doubts I had about the wisdom of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, I continued to believe in what we were doing in the United States.

Wasn’t That A Time, Robert Schrank, 175-176, 1998

in the times of FDR

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Over much of previous progressivism had hung an air of patronizing the unfortunate, of helping the group that reformers often called “the little people.”  The attitude of the new liberalism was spoken with classic tartness when Joseph Mitchell presented his stories “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.”  The phrase “little people,” Mitchell declared, was “repulsive. . . .  There are no little people in this book.  They are as big as you are, whoever you are.”  The point was carried to its further significance by a discerning, upper-income liberal, who added: “For quite a while I have lived in a commuter community that is rabidly anti-Roosevelt and I am convinced that the heart of their hatred of Roosevelt is not economic.  The real source of the venom is that Rooseveltism challenged their feeling that they were superior people, occupying by right a privileged position in the world.  I am convinced that a lot of them would even have backed many of his economic measures if they had been permitted to believe the laws represented the fulfillment of their responsibility as ‘superior people.’  They were not permitted that belief.  Instead, as the New Deal went on, it chipped away more and more at their sense of superiority.  By the second term, it was pressing hard on a vital spot and the conservatives were screaming.”

 — — — (Anonymous person quoted in Joseph Mitchell’s book quoted in Eric Goldman’s Rendezvous With Destiny)

“Assassin of Wilson”, post-script

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

New York Times, September 14
President Gets Greatest Ovation on Reaching Coast
Tumultuous Seattle Crowd Almost Overpower Police in their Demonstration
Tribute to Him as Leader
Sullen I.W.W.’s Conpicuous in Throng with Hatbands Urging Deb’s Release
Two Speeches During the Day
Sets Forth America’s Duty in Tacoma Address — Climax in Arena at Seattle

Reaching the Pacific Coast today at this city, President Wilson received a tumultuous ovation which found a climax in a great meeting tonight at the Arena.
The immense demonstration during his visit here when he revviewed the new Pacific fleet off the waterfront followed a splendid reception in Tacoma in the forenoon, where 30,000 persons greeted him in the Stadium and he later spoke to a large audience at the armory.
It is doubtful if in the history even of recent political campaigns a more remarkable demonstration has been witnessed than that of which the President was the centre in Seattle.  The spirit of the crowd at times seemed to be akin to fanaticism.  The throngw which jammed the principal streets and overflowed into the side streets that run off the main arteries of the city at a considerable grade joined in a continuous and riotous uproar.
At times it appeared as if the crowd would overcome the polic, soldiers, and large force of Secret Service men in their efforts to reach the President’s automobile during the afternoon parade and the shorter trip to the Arena in the evening.
The police at times were forced to use harsh methods to check the spirit, and they fought the throng with shoulders squared, feet firmly planted, and clubs drawn.  Men who sought to get by the guards were often thrown back by force and on the threat of being club.  A score of Secret Service men, each a giant in strength and determination, surrounded the President’s automobile or stood on the running boards, their eyes ever watchful, their bodies a force of protection.  More than once the Secret Service men were forced to leap into the throng which had passed the police lines, and hurled back men who had approached within a short distance of the President.
At the height of the demonstration in the afternoon parade, when the shouts of the crowd could be heard many blocks, a spectacular touch was lent to the scene when a huge shower of confetti was loosed from the roofs of buildings along Second Avenue.  For minutes it appeared that the parade was passing through a heavy snowstorm.

The demonstration had at some points a sinister note, for there were present in the crowd thousands of members of the Industrial Workers of the World, which is tsrong (sic) in Seattle.  As a hatband of each member of this organization wore a ribbon bearing the words “Release Political Prisoners.”  They have been agitating for the release of Eugene Debs and other radicals convicted of seditious utterances.
Not a few of the men who wore these hatbands had themselves defied the law and served sentences.  They were found in greatest number in the Woodly district, a section of the city through which the President first passed soon after leaving his train.  They were for the most part men of foreign extraction, sullen of face, and undemonstrative.  For several blocks along Second Avenue they held positions on the curb.  Some had literature which they distributed among the crowd.  As a rule these men and the women with them did not join the throngs that attempted to storm the President’s automobile.
There were no fewer than 5,000 IWWs living in Seattle, and more than that number in addition flocked in from the lumber camps and mines.  Many were dressed roughly and had no coats or neckties.  They did not attempt any anti-Wilson demonstration.  It would probably be incorrect to picture them as bitterly antagonistic to the President, but they wished him to know their strength in this section.  Not a few of their leaders boasted that such was their purpose.
During the entire demonstration the President stood in his automobile waving his silk hat.  Mrs. Wilson, who sat beside him was partly hidden by the great bouquets of flowers, presented to her when the train arrived.  The President’s tall figure stood out in bold relief.  He seemed not to pay the least attention to the radicals on every side, but only heeded the enthusiastic throng cheering him.

The article is actually available here, if you desire to read about the carnage that followed after Wilson passed the peaceful radicals of the IWW.

I do believe, if memory serves right, Howard Zinn in his book (and by “his book”, I’m referring to the book that is conjured up when one refers to a singular Howard Zinn book) alludes to this incident.  A bit better than the scraping he had to do to find World War 2 dissent.  I’ll have to look it up.