Mr. President?

Bill Sr.    From The Fight against War and Fascism, October, 1936. A monthly newspaper of The American League against War and Fascism

The great mass of the American people are united in their desire to avoid an international war and to prevent the establishment in the United States of a Fascist state. The two they know to be intimately related:  an international war, the inevitable outcome of present-day economy, would more than likely clamp upon the American people the rule of Fascism.  Or Fascism, if it should come first, would but hasten the international blow-up, since it merely intensifies the evils of the profit system that is plunging us straight towards war. If to stop war and avoid Fascism is the paramount issue before us, how are we to vote this fall?

It is not an easy question to answer, and I presume it is only an innocent person like myself who would respond to an editor’s request and make the attempt. However, I have always been a neck-sticker-outer so that there is no particular harm in again supplying folks with a target at which to direct their shots. Since March 1933 the country was on the verge of complete economic collapse when Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in March, 1933. Banks were closed, factories were idle, millions were out of work. Declaring himself to be whole-heartedly for the ‘American system,’ by which he meant the profit system, he and his associates went to work to save it.  He opened the banks by handing the private bankers billions of dollars, leaving the management in their hands.  Bankrupt industrialists were handed great gobs of money on little or no security in order that they too might again appear to be solvent.  He then went into a huddle with these big boys and got them to subscribe to codes, to be enforced by law, which so limited the production of foodstuffs and manufactured goods that scarcity, essential to the profit system, might artificially be established. He topped his efforts by hastily launching a program of relief whereby billions of dollars of borrowed money was dribbled out to millions of destitute workers in order that they might be kept quiet with a loaf of stale bread. He set out to save the profit system and he took the steps necessary to do it.

The Reaction.  Now comes November, 1936, and the American people are asked to decide whether they will support Mr. Roosevelt in his continuing efforts to save our present economic order, or whether we will turn him out in favor of another candidate, presumably with a different program.  And, as one would expect, the people most anxious to turn him out are those that he has momentarily saved, Wall Street and the big industrialists. The caliber of their economic thinking is indicated by the slogans they are now plastering on billboards and shouting over the radio: ‘Our economic system, if left alone, will cure itself’; ‘Bring back the good old days we formerly enjoyed’; ‘Replace the visionaries with practical businessmen.’  Mr. Landon and his fellow Republicans are thoroughly convinced that the New Deal administration, through its wholesale expenditure of public funds (most of which they got), has retarded the return to that most desirable of all worlds which they enjoyed in the days of Cal Coolidge. Certain it is that either Mr. Roosevelt and his New Deal Democrats or Mr. Landon and his reactionary Republicans will win in the November election.  Both of them, obviously, are whole-heartedly for the present profit system which contains the seeds both of war and Fascism.  But many maintain that there is one real difference — Roosevelt knows that Old Man Profits can be saved only with a good stiff shot in the arm, whereas Landon believes that the patient would be sound of limb and mind if he only stopped taking the pills and applying the ointments supplied by the man now in the White House. The New Dealers recognize that they are dealing with a very sick patient who needs to be restrained until he is well. Their chief opponents on the other hand maintain that he never was sick and would therefore discharge him at once to raise hell in an already mean world.

Old Man Profits and the Pop off.  There are many enlightened people, fully aware of what is wrong with this cockeyed world, who maintain that the smart thing to do under the circumstances is to allow Roosevelt to restrain the patient for another four years, hoping during that time to nurse their own offspring, suffering at the moment from a badly split personality, to such vigorous health that he can put over the body blow to Old Man Profits in 1940. They know that Mr. Roosevelt has no concrete plan, and can have none since he does not apparently recognize the fundamental evils of the profit system.  But they do believe that he is wholeheartedly for a democratic system of government and will continue to make such concessions as are required to prevent a final popoff. And by so doing he will give them time, if they hurry, to cement the forces in America that are committed to fundamental change in our economic system, a system which is the godmother of war and Fascism.

The Republicans on the other hand, if returned to power, would first stupidly try to return to the good old days, and failing in that, as they inevitably would, they would preserve their profit system by clamping on the country the gangster rule of Fascism, using the entire coercive power of the state to stifle protest, suppress all civil liberties and ruthlessly to crush any who opposed their system of greed. (See Hearst and the Liberty League!)  There are tested anti-Fascists, and I am told many of them, who will for this reason vote to continue Roosevelt in power. They are not kidding themselves about Roosevelt. They recognize in him a defender of the present economic system, which is the real enemy, and an intelligent defender who knows that the present system can continue only through the concessions offered by a social service state.  All of which suits them, since the concessions will keep the dying Old Man alive until they have time to bring together the workers, farmers and many middle class people of this country into a real movement, a united People’s Front against War and Fascism.

Lemke the Stooge.  Others insist that to choose between Roosevelt and Landon is Tweedledum-Tweedledee stuff and that the smart thing to do is to support a candidate and a party that promises more to the masses. Some will turn to William Lemke and the Union Party. He is running about the country promising good things to come, security for all, regulation of industry and banking — all coupled with a strong nationalism that is very reminiscent of the beginning s of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany.  Indeed his whole line, and that of his chief supporter, Coughlin-Smith-Townsend, runs true to the ‘radical’ declarations of Mussolini and Hitler before they took power, only to be dropped once they were in the saddle for the gangster rule of the big industrialists.

Opposed to these parties, wishing at all costs to maintain the profit system, are two parties that are definitely revolutionary. Socialists and Communists alike recognize that the present profit system has run its course and must soon give way to collectivism. Leaders of these parties of course recognize that the vote for their candidates this fall will be light compared to the vote for the two parties of capitalism, but both hope to show increased strength over 1932 in order that they may be the rallying point for a united People’s Front in 1940.

Whatever the result of the election, certain it is that Fascism will not long be delayed unless an effective, united opposition is created to stand against it.  It is therefore imperative that Socialists, Communists, Non-Partisan Laborites, Liberals and the various other groups that represent the industrial workers and farmer of America forget their relatively unimportant differences and unite to stop Fascism and the impending international blow-up. And as I see it, it is the chief function of the American League Against War and Fascism to bring this about.

For Peace and Democracy.  To the forty million American citizens who will cast their votes on November 3rd: Are you for Peace or War? Are you for Democracy or Fascism?

Bill Jr.

Of course, all those workers, farmers and middle-class folk weren’t listening. FDR had a famous landslide over the nice Alf Landon, governor of Kansas. Norman Thomas, old campaigner with Dad in the textile strikes of the south, got a few votes. But it was FDR’s hour. With the New Deal policies, at least, more folk were eating, there was concern about the Dust Bowl agriculture and the wandering ‘Okies’ and, in 1936, it was easy to depreciate Mussolini and Hitler.

I recall Dad and some of his friends, including some of the old ‘Berkeley Four’, talking seriously about buying a farm somewhere so that when his prophecies came true, they could farm enough to keep their families fed. Mother must have heard that ‘gladly’ since she liked to garden and, on basis of Dad’s skills, she knew that she would be doing the plowing and planting. And, yet, at the same time, everything that Dad was prognosticating came true, at least in terms of the threat of Fascism and the need to combat it. As editor and speaker, Dad always capitalized the word, seeing it as a true Demonic force. World War 2, which was considered to be a phase of an on-going struggle between democracy and the forces of privileged power, was proof of his insights, perhaps. He, like many others, was pre-maturely ‘anti-Fascist.’

Martin Niemöller in New York (1938)

From a newspaper article about Bill Sr. sermon at St. James Church, Madison Ave. & 71st St., New York City, at ll o’clock service, Feb. 20th, 1938.  He had been on a Sherwood Eddy tour to Europe, including Germany and the U.S.S.R., the previous summer.

The trial and persecution of Martin Niemoller by the Nazis*/ demonstrates how imperative it is that people stand together to maintain democracy and freedom”, declared the Rev. William B. Spofford, executive secretary of the Church League for Industrial Democracy. The service was held in connection with the annual meeting of the League which is being held in St. George’s Church.

Describing a conference with Niemoller in Berlin three days before the German pastor was arrested, Mr. Spofford said that Niemoller and other church leaders had definitely stated that they were prepared to go along with the Nazi regime in its economic and international policies if the Church could remain free. “Niemoller uttered no protests when the Social Democratic Party was put out of business; he stood by while the trade unions were liquidated; he even applauded the persecution of the Jews. Now his turn has come. Stand by while others lose their freedom and you may be sure your turn will soon come.”

Declaring that the same forces that had imprisoned hundreds of pastors in Germany were preparing to do the same thing in the United States, Mr. Spofford said that religious leaders here would soon receive the same treatment unless they join forces with others in defending democracy and peace. “I recently returned from a visit to eight European countries where a number of us met with outstanding leaders: men like Lloyd George, Lord Cecil, Lord Halifax, Major Clement Atlee (leader of the Labor Party in England), Francis Jourdain and Jean Longuet of France, Rudolph Breitscheid, the leader of the exiled German Social Democrats; Senator Smeral of Czechoslovakia and others. Without exception we were told that the world faces two dismal prospects: an economic crack-up, a war, or both. They were all quite aware that we are living under a decadent economic system and that democracy and peace can be maintained only if the people throughout the world join forces to extend democracy into other areas beside the political. Oiur economic system worked reasonably well in a world only partly industrialized, but now that the rest of the world is catching up, every nation is fighting for markets in which to dispose of the goods they refuse to allow their own people to consume. it has brought untold suffering to the masses of the people. We are attempting to meet this crisis by building a social service state. This means ever increasing taxation which of course cuts into profits and threatens to eliminate them entirely. As a result the financial and industrial rulers of America, faced with a choice between profits on the one hand and democracy and freedom on the other, are already crying for a dictatorship. It is not because anyone wants it but because it is either that or so extending democracy into social and economic life that there may be greater and more equitable distribution of the goods we can so easily create.

“There should be no question where the churches stand in this struggle”, concluded Mr. Spofford. “We are for the abundant life for all people; for brotherhood between nations and peoples. Instead of moving into our heritage, we will be all enslaved, with church leaders receiving the same fate as Martin Niemoeller, unless we line up with those forces that are fighting fascism and war which is a part of it. There are forces in America that believe in democracy sufficiently to wish to see it extended into other areas of life. The religious forces of the country should stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the struggle.”

(Bill Jr. Note: The 1938 meeting of the C.L.I.D. at St. George’s Church, N.Y.C., was considered the largest and most important meeting of the organization up to that time. Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, old-time colleague in the Marion County textile strikes, and at this time Distinguished Professor at Union Seminary, was the chief speaker. Dr. Niebuhr, among others, had been instrumental in bringing German intellectuals such as Paul Tillich out of Nazi Germany. Dr. Harry Ward, ethicist at Union, who served on the national American Civil Liberties Board and the American League for Peace and Democracy with Dad, often conflicted with “Reinie” on international policies and the role of unions and communism in the national scene. In such disputes, Dad generally sided with Harry Ward.

On an occasional summer, Bill and Dot would have a cottage at Heath, Mass. It was a colony of academics and others, including Justice Felix Frankfurter, Bps. Angus Dun of Washington and Charles Gilbert of New York, Dr. Wm. Wolf, theologian of E.T.S., Dr. Sherman Johnson and his wife, both professors at E.T.S. and subsequently dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and others. Since Heath was a recreational colony, they would have guests who were well-known.   Each would be expected to take their turn at preaching in the local ecumenical church, and would have at the Gospel from differing perspectives. Alas, as far as I know, no collection of “The WORD from Heath” sermons were ever collected or printed. It would have been most interesting.

Dad finally stopped going to Heath. As he put it, “Everytime I get my shirt off and lie down with a beer in my hand to listen to a Yankee game, somebody comes over and wants to talk about theology or something!” I think that was his rationalization. It wasn’t really his idea of spending R&R time. And as disputes about the nature of the world crises got hotter, and he was more often on the minority side, it wasn’t a comfortable place to be.


*/ Bill Jr. : Martin Niemoller was a well-known German pastor who had been a U-boat commander in World War I and who, after W.W.II, became an ardent and much sought-after peace advocate. His quote about ‘standing by’, which has become so popular that it was used in the 1992 presidential election, was believed to have been first printed by Dad in The Witness.)

Bishop Parsons on CLID

Bill Jr.:  Bishop Edward Lambe Parsons, first while Bishop of California and later in retirement, was president of the C.L.I.D.  He was a noted liturgical scholar as well as deeply concerned with the relevance of the Church to the changing culture and social climate.  He followed Bishop Charles Williams of Michigan as president in the early 1920’s and continued well through the World War II years.

Bill Sr., The Witness, Sept. 24, 1931:

Against the dark background of business depression and unemployment, one sees standing out more vividly than ever the need for the C.L.I.D.  The situation in the world and in America is so bad that even the thoughtless give it an occasional thought.  Serious minded people are everywhere troubled.  The complacent confidence that because America is America things will in time all come right automatically is badly shaken.  People are beginning to realize that we are Continue reading “Bishop Parsons on CLID”

Your Servant — The Miner

Bill Sr., THE WITNESS: 5/14/31

Decent people, buying a necessary commodity like coal at high prices, like to believe that the miner who goes into the earth to dig it is at least assured of a warm meal when he comes out at the end of the day.  Times are hard with the depression and all.  Nobody can hope for very much.  But even at that I presume decent folks want the miners, who dig the coal which keeps them warm, to be supplied with enough food to keep them warm, to be supplied with enough food to keep them well.  Very decent people might possibly go a bit further and argue that they should be supplied with the minimum necessities of life, not only for themselves but for their families.


The are not getting it in West Virginia.  I have been in the Kanawha Valley Field, near Charleston, for a few days.  i came with the idea that Vice President B.A. Scott of the newly organized West Virginia Mine Workers, in telling the story of Continue reading “Your Servant — The Miner”