This 1922 meeting of the Ku Klux Klan drew 30,000 members from Chicago and northern Illinois.
Insets: President Woodrow Wilson (left), a passionate supporter of the Klan,
and New York Banker Otto Kahn (right), an admirer of Mussolini.
(Library of Congress photos)
How can you compare us, Americans who defeated Hitler in World War II, with Nazis, or Nazi-sympathizers? That's the outraged question we hear again and again, as we demand that the murderous fascist policies of budget-cutters like Governor Tom Ridge be stopped.
But, if you look at the history of the early 20th century in the United States, you find that there was a mass movement here, cut from the same cloth as that which created the Nazi movement, and its atrocities, in Germany, and the fascist government of Mussolini in Italy. The policies of race science, cost-cutting, slave-labor, and chauvinism--all based on cultural pessimism and the perspective of Social Darwinism--were taken up internationally, especially after World War I, and the United States was no exception. They were called the Conservative Revolution. It is this tradition that the Gingrichites and others are reviving today.
In fact, as Lyndon LaRouche has stressed, the United States itself was well on its way to becoming fascist in the 1930s, and it was the crucial leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, carried out in alliance with the labor movement in particular, which build a mass movement to move the country in the opposite direction.
Fascist policies pervaded the United States in the 1920s and 30s. On the one hand, we can point to the policies of the establishment--the bankers, the Establishment press, elite cultural institutions, and even some of our Presidents! On the other hand, these policies were also picked up by broad-based institutions, who rallied millions of people around them.
It is impossible for us to write the history of this period, in the context of this pamphlet. Rather, we will present crucial examples that make the point.
The Eugenics Movement
It is well known that the racist, eugenics movement that found its conclusion in the Nazi death camps had strong proponents in the United States (as well as Britain, France, and so forth). It had many upper class supporters, including President Teddy Roosevelt, the Harriman family, Woodrow Wilson, virtually the entire faculties of Harvard. Yale, the University of California, and Stanford, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many other academicians, including the infamous John Dewey.
The movement was by no means an academic affair. It had a major impact on immigration policy, and on social legislation in the years from 1890s through to the mid-1930s. This was done on the basis of Anglo-Saxon racialism, anglophilia, and support of feudalism.
Agitation to restrict immigration to those with "Nordic" characteristics began in the 1890s, through such notables as Henry Cabot Lodge and Teddy Roosevelt. It culminated in the passage of the Johnson Act in 1924. The scientific "evidence" for such restrictions was assembled by institutions such as the Eugenics Records Office, which was founded in 1910 with financing by Averell Harriman's mother Mary (At right: New York Times coverage of Harriman family support of eugenics).
A leading spokesman for this "science" was Madison Grant, a New York lawyer who became head of the Bronx Zoo. Grant wrote an influential book in 1916, called The Passing of the Great Race. He said, "Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants (infanticide) and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value in the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race."
From the Eugenics Record Office, a set of model legislation was spawned, including a "Model Eugenical Sterilization law" which called for the sterilization of the "feeble-minded, paupers, inebriates, criminals,... deformed," and others. By the 1930s, mandatory sterilization laws had been passed in 30 of these United States.
So strong and internationally well-known was this eugenical movement, that the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg used the sterilization laws of the United States, particularly Virginia, in their defense. Why not? They could rightly claim the leading families of the United States--Lodge, Harriman, Roosevelt--as cothinkers.
The Mass Base
The eugenics movement also had a mass base, of a different social set than the Harrimans and the Teddy Roosevelts. These were the populists who had been mobilized into virtual mobs, to demand the implementation of anti-immigrant, anti-poor programs.
These institutions included the American Protective League, the Ku Klux Klan, and the American Legion. The following quotes give a flavor of their appeal:
"The curse these immigrants bring upon themselves is plainly to be seen, for it is immediate, they form a body incompatible with the healthy growth of this country.... They take the work and the bread out of the hands and mouths of native Americans, and the question of their means of living must soon become one of the most pressing social problems of the day." --introductory quote, from author Monroe Joyce, to The Web, a mass circulation history of the American Protective League
"First in the Klansman's mind is patriotism. American for the Americans. We believe religiously that a betrayal of Americanism or the American race is treason to the most sacred of trusts, a trust from his fathers and a trust from God. We believe, too, that Americanism can only be achieved if the pioneer stock is kept pure. There is more than race pride in this. Mongrelization has been proven bad. It is only between closely related stocks of the same race that interbreeding has improved men, the kind of interbreeding that went on in the early days of American between English, Dutch, German, Huguenot, Irish, and Scotch." --Grand Imperial Wizard Hirman Welsey Evans, of the KKK, 1926
The American Legion shared these sentiments on the question of immigration, and eugenics laws. At its 1923 Convention, the American Legion endorsed Mussolini. With President Calvin Coolidge in the audience, Legion Commander-in-Chief Alvin Owsley praised Il Duce and added:
"The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government--Soviets, anarchists, IWW, revolutionary socialists, and every other red.... Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the U.S."
The KKK received support from the highest echelons. It was President Woodrow Wilson himself, who provided backing for the movie Birth of a Nation, which popularized the revival of the KKK in the late teens and early 1920s. Birth of a Nation was previously called The Klansman, but the names were changed to protect the guilty.
KKK membership grew to more than 4.5 million in the 1920s, running the states of Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, and California, among others. The heavy recruitment outside the South, was a testament to the cultural and moral decay of the country's leadership and population.
The Southern Partisans
Much of the base of the Conservative Revolution forces within the United States, was located in the Southern states, where fondness continued for the "lost cause" of the Confederacy. The oligarchical concepts behind the slavocracy--degradation of human labor, disdain for technological progress, and mystical relationships with the land--were a perfect fit with fascist ideology.
A distillation of this view appears in the work of the so-called Nashville Agrarians, a group of intellectuals around Vanderbilt University. Mass meetings of thousands were organized in the 1930s to promote the work of the Agrarians. The group included Rhodes scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times operatives, and the first Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Penn Warren.
A 1930s manifesto produced by this group, lists the following principles:
"All tend to support a Southern way of life against what may be called the American or prevailing way.... Agrarian versus Industrial.
"The capitalization of the applied sciences has now become extravagant and uncritical; it has enslaved our human energies to a degree now clearly felt to be burdensome.
"The philosophy of applied science is generally quite sure that the saving of labor is a pure gain,... This is to assume that labor is an evil, that only the end of labor or the material product is a good.
"The true Sovietists or Communists ... are the Industrialists themselves. They would have the government set up an economic super-organization, which in turn would become the government. We therefore look upon the Communist menace as a menace indeed, but not as a Red one; because it is simply according to the blind drift of our industrial development to expect in America at last much the same economic system as that imposed by violence upon Russia in 1917.
"We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent.
"It is strange, of course, that a majority of men anywhere could ever as with one mind become enamored of industrialism: a system that has so little regard for individual wants. There is evidently a kind of thinking that rejoices in setting up a social objective which has no relation to the individual. Men are prepared to sacrifice their private dignity and happiness to an abstract social ideal, and without asking whether the social ideal produces the welfare of any individual man whatsoever. But this is absurd. The responsibility of men is for their own welfare and that of their neighbors; not for the hypothetical welfare of some fabulous creature called society.
"The theory of agrarianism is that the culture of the soil is the best and most sensitive of vocations, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers."
For those who associate fascism with military industry, this will seem incoherent with Nazism. But, in fact, it is the essence of fascist ideology--anti-progress, linking humanity to the blood and soil, pessimistic about science, and the advancement of labor.
In fact, leaders of the Agrarians waxed emotionally in support of Mussolini. And in Who owns America?, the second "official manifesto" of the Agrarians, with new authors added, the following is written:
"The claims, made or implied, of Japan, Italy, Germany, and Poland, to overseas possessions or economic privileges represent only the first proposals for readjustment which the world will have to adopt....
"Italy in particular is already on the way to freeing herself from dependence on foreign coal and one of the main aims behind her Abyssinian venture is to free herself from her dependence on American and Egyptian cotton.
"The governments of Fascist Italy and of National Socialist Germany have shown, however ruthless their methods, a greater appreciation of the realities of the modern problem [than non-totalitarian states]. Democracy will only be saved if it can learn ... that the only possible foundation of liberty is property."
Support for Mussolini and Hitler
This deep-seated support for fascist ideas shows that large numbers of Americans had abandoned the tradition of the American Revolution, for a synthetic creation called "Americanism," which justified inhuman treatment, if not murder, against whole classes of society. The theory was Social Darwinist, and an explicit abandonment of the Hamilton-Lincoln approach to society.
But we don't have to remain abstract, in terms of sympathy for fascist ideas. It has also been amply documented that leading American bankers and opinion-makers provided both funds and political support to the leading fascists of the 1920s and 1930s--Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
Mussolini, who came to power in 1922, was frequently lionized in both the New York Times and Washington Post. For example, in the June 13, 1933 Washington Post, (which had just been taken over by the Meyer family) the following editorial was run, in commentary on the four-power pact on armaments which had just been signed. We quote:
"Dissension over certain provisions and the delay in signing combined to create the impression that the quadripartite document finally agreed upon is of little moment, yet the characteristic aggressiveness of Mussolini may enable him to develop his plan into one of great importance. It gives him a more direct contact and means of modifying extreme demands in Berlin, and if it enables him to compromise old disputes with France, that alone will justify the pact. In a word, if Mussolini, once feared for his militaristic ways and imperialistic designs, now become the equally aggressive champion of peace and international cooperation, the pact that enables him to take this leadership will serve a useful purpose."
Mussolini, with his claim to fame of busting labor, received considerable aid from U.S.-based bankers, as well as his own banker, Bank of America head A.P. Giannini. Thomas Lamont, of Morgan Bank, served as the international chief of Mussolini's finances, and was lavish in his praise for the fact that Mussolini had balanced the budget, and laid low communism. He sent his aide, John J. McCloy, to work with Mussolini for a year's "training."
Otto Kahn, a leading banker with Kuhn, Loeb, said, "I admire Mussolini.... In the case of every people, more essential even than liberty, and therefore taking precedence to it, is order and national self-preservation...." Senator David A. Reed, of Pennsylvania, according to The Nation in May of 1933, told his colleagues, "What this country needs is a Mussolini."
Fortune magazine epitomized this bias in a July 1934 special edition devoted to fascist Italy. The introductory essay concludes as follows:
"Whether or not Fortune has adequately presented Fascist Italy is for others to judge. But as to Fortune's bias--that is easily stated. No 100 percent journalist can be more than a few percent Fascist, which is to say, he is by definition non-Fascist.
"But the good journalist must recognize in Fascism certain ancient virtues of the race, whether or not they happen to be momentarily fashionable in his own country. Among these are Discipline, Duty, Courage, Glory, Sacrifice."
Support for Adolf Hitler was generally not explicit among banking and Establishment circles in the U.S.--it came forth as support for Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, head of the Reichsbank since 1923, economic authority for the Hitler regime until 1939, and support for the leading industrialists of the regime.
Exemplary of this support was a June 4, 1933 editorial in the Washington Post, which argued for support for Hjalmar Schacht's "anti-inflation" policy--a policy which, in fact, meant cutting down living standards (just as Alan Greenspan's doublespeak on this question does today).
The most notorious cases have been documented by Anton Chaitkin and Webster Tarpley in their 1992 book, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography. The Harriman and Prescott Bush families were business partners and backers, with the Thyssen family, of Union Banking Corporation, Holland-American Trading Corporation, Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation, and the Silesian-American Corporation. This collaboration began in the 1920s, but it did not stop when Hitler took power. In fact, it was 1942, 10 months after the U.S. entered World War II, that the U.S. government ordered the seizure of Nazi German banking operations in New York City, which were being conducted by the Union Banking Corporation, on whose board were Prescott Bush and E. Roland Harriman.
The Thyssen family was an avowed financier of Hitler, from the 1920s on. It had multiple ties with U.S. industrialists and bankers--including Dillon Read. It is also notorious that the Rockefeller family was part of a consortium with I.G. Farben, the "industrialists" who ran the work camps at Auschwitz.
Unfortunately, however, it cannot be said that it was only the bankers who supported fascist measures. Too many average Americans, caught up in their own misery due to the Depression, and pessimistic after their losing battles against the Federal Reserve, looked to populist demagogues who, in effect, supported the European fascists. Such demoralization can be seen again today, in the wake of the 1960s political assassinations, and the dramatic decline in living standards over the last 25 years. It is this creeping fascism which must be defeated--by mobilizing to stop the Nazi policies so clearly visible in the budget cuts by Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge.