(The US to the CRASH of 1929 – continued)

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The US to the CRASH of 1929 (3 of 10)

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Reds, Raids and Vigilantes

In early September 1919, 1,117 of Boston's 1,544 police patrolmen went out on strike. The salaries of Boston's police had fallen behind inflation, and they had joined the American Federation of Labor. The police strike was accompanied by people looting and other disorders, which added to public fears. Volunteers filled in for the police, and the governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge, became a national figure by talking tough and deploying the National Guard throughout Boston.

In late September, a nationwide strike in the steel industry erupted. And also in September, some socialists impressed by the Bolshevik Revolution met in Chicago and formed their own Communist Party. Most of those attaching themselves to this little party were immigrants who knew little about Marx or Lenin, but they felt close to their Eastern European roots and were eager to present themselves as able to speak for Lenin or Trotsky. Only seven percent of them spoke or understood English, but they were hopeful that they could lead the rest of the working class in revolution.

America's Socialist Party – the party of Eugene Debs – was split on the issue of revolution, with many of its members wanting to proclaim that they were not timid, that they were for something more than reforms. Eugene Debs, still in prison for having violated the Espionage Act, announced his support for the Bolsheviks. Some moderate socialists, such as Morris Hillquit, defended the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as democratic. A faction within the Socialist Party, led by the journalist John Reed, a former Harvard cheerleader from Oregon, tried to lead the party into declaring support for revolution. Failing in this, Reed's faction broke from the Socialist Party and formed the Communist Labor Party – a rival to the Communist Party that had formed in Chicago.

Other concerned citizens were banding together to fight what they saw as the Bolshevik menace. They inspired the removal of books from libraries. They inspired universities to fire faculty members thought to be radical. Some groups were impatient with mere legal actions against those who had broken the law. Among these vigilantes was the group in Washington state that pulled an IWW organizer from his jail cell, hanged him and riddled his body with bullets. In November, American Legionnaires and members of the Citizen's Protective League besieged an IWW union hall. The union members attempted to defend their hall. Three legionnaires were killed, one IWW member was hanged, and the union members were arrested and jailed.

In November, the Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer established an anti-radical section in the Department of Justice, headed by J. Edgar Hoover. Palmer was looking for radicals to deport. In dozens of cities, police raided meetings that were celebrating the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Several hundred workers were beaten and 250 were seized, 39 of whom were recommended for deportation. The raids extended into January, aimed at Communists in seventy cities, resulting in the arrest of about ten thousand, including the leadership of the two Communist parties.

Moderate Socialists had also become the targets off those presenting themselves as patriots, and twice the moderate socialist Victor Berger was debarred from taking his seat in the House of Representatives – disenfranchising those in Wisconsin who had elected him. Five socialists who had been elected to seats in New York's state legislature were also prevented from taking their seats, on the grounds that no socialist could be considered loyal to the Constitution. And in the US Senate, McKeller of Tennessee called for sending American citizens with radical beliefs to a penal colony in Guam.


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