POLITICS JULY 7, 1926
After leaving Pennsylvania, the next stop is Illinois! The searchlight of investigation is now to be turned on expenditures in the recent Senatorial primary in that state. The Senatorial committee which has been looking into the Pennsylvania orgy decided some time ago that as soon as Congress adjourns it will move to Chicago and continue its activities there. Since then Senator Caraway has made charges on the floor of the Senate which if confirmed will make the stigma attached to Illinois politicians quite as serious as that now clings to the Pennsylvanians. Senator Caraway reports allegations that Senator McKinley, the unsuccessful Republican candidate, spent a million dollars, and his successful opponent, Frank L. Smith, twice that sum. The picture Senator Caraway paints is that of two groups of public utility interests fighting each other with reckless expenditure of funds to secure their ends. Among the reports is one to the effect that Samuel Insull gave $500,000 to the Smith war chest, and that E.H. Rollins and Sons contributed $100,000, coincident with a decision of the Illinois Utilities Commission, of which Smith was and is head, favorable to a $20,000,000 transaction in which the Rollins firm was interested. These statements are at present only rumors, lacking verification. They have been denied by the campaign managers for both Smith and McKinley, and suspension of judgment is only fair, pending the investigation by the Senate committee. It is impossible to forget, however, that the first charges of a similar character regarding Pennsylvania were met with equally vigorous denials. A month ago, the allegations which Senator Caraway reported would have seemed to most Americans fantastic. Today we know that politics is being played in America in precisely that fashion.
Two important rumors are circulating about Mr. Calllaux’s possible policy as French finance minister —one reassuring and the other disquieting. The first is that since the French Chamber will not ratify the American debt agreement as it stands, he intends to seek its revision by pressing for the adoption of a safeguard clause exempting France from payment except in so far as she receives German reparations. Such a clause would be justified by France’s fiscal difficulties, and although it probably would not be accepted by the United States, the resulting failure of settlement would be, in our opinion, better than the ratification of the present disingenuous agreement. The disquieting rumor is that after forcing out of office Governor Robineau of the Bank of France he has installed officials who will consent to the use of the Bank’s reserve to support the exchange market. Neither French gold nor any other should be used for this purpose until it is certain that the budget is and will remain in balance. Unless Caillaux produces effective measures for that central purpose everything else he may do for the franc will be in vain.
The sudden, enforced resignation of the Liberal Mackenzie King government in Canada is another example of the widespread political consequences of prohibition. The government fell because of scandals in the customs service, and these were largely if not wholly the result of the vast business enterprise which has been built up about the smuggling of liquor into the United States. While the corruption in the Canadian customs was of the gravest character, there is no pretense that it involved more than a comparatively few men. The Mackenzie King government, however, commanding only a minority in Parliament and existing by sufferance of the Progressives, was unable to withstand the blow to its prestige. Arthur Meighen has again been asked to take the reins. If he does so, and survives the nearly inevitable general election with sufficient strength to make his continuance in office feasible, Canada will move markedly toward the right.
Mr. Clifford Sharp, editor of the New Statesman and author of the article on the British general strike in this issue of the New Republic, has unusual opportunities for close observation of British labor affairs. The new chapters which he adds to the history of the strike are extraordinarily enlightening, not to say piquant. Yet his interpretation of the meaning of the whole event need not be accepted as final—in this matter all varieties of comment are relevant and should be weighed. Our own opinion differs from that of Mr. Sharp when he concludes that the only way in which the strike succeeded was in demonstrating the ineffectiveness of a general strike unless used for avowedly revolutionary purposes and conducted with the accompaniment of violence. We are not persuaded that our own interpretation at the time was wholly incorrect. The strike was an impressive demonstration of the solidarity of the workers which emphasized as nothing else could have done the failure of Parliament to take effective action for reorganizing the coal industry. It created a precedent for action by a functional class to put pressure on Parliament where Parliament has egregiously failed. Without going so far as to be violently revolutionary or to be treated as such by the government—in spite of the number of times it was called so—it was revolutionary to the extent of making a breach in the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the political state whether right or wrong, efficient or inefficient.
Of course the bill now sponsored by the Conservative government to increase hours in the coal mines is not and cannot be the final outcome of the British crisis. Even the expert commission saw the futility of an increase in hours. Where the difficulty is low prices due to overproduction, you cannot solve it by increasing the total outputs If you add to the hours of the individual workman, you aggravate the crisis, first by throwing still more coal on an already saturated market, and second by creating still more unemployment in an industry where inability to use a large part of the personnel is already the chief cause of misery for the workers. In adopting the program of longer hours the government has merely capitulated to the obstinate demand of the operators. Doubtless they want it because of the natural conclusion of the individual employer that unit labor costs may be reduced by more work for the same pay as well as by the same work for less pay. But what is the use of reducing costs if you reduce selling prices in greater proportion by the same act? Inexorable economic logic will force a better solution than this in time—if not under the Conservative government, then under another one. In the meantime we doubt whether the emphasis on the coal problem laid by the general strike will be forgotten.
We publish in our correspondence columns this week a remarkable appeal on behalf of the English coal miners. It is signed by a group of leading church officials of Great Britain, and has the endorsement of a similar American group. The document tells its own story, and both because or its contents and because of the character of the signers, needs no endorsement; yet we are glad to call our readers’ attention to it and to urge them to respond. The miners went on strike in the effort to prevent their almost unendurable conditions of employment being made worse. If feel they were right, you owe them what aid can give, to prevent their being starved out; if feel they were wrong, you should still assist them in order to help prevent a settlement on the degraded basis of brute force.
Bellingham, Wash., has recently been the scene of an extraordinary piece of communal and judicial tyranny. A nine-year-old boy has been forcibly taken away from his parents and placed in a Children’s Home for no other reason than that his parents, on religious grounds, objected to having him forced to salute the flag in school. The parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Tremain, are members of the Elijah Voice Society, a sect of religious extremists who acknowledge no authority other than God’s. They refused to let their nine-year-old son, Russell, join in the ceremony of saluting the flag in school as required by law. The school authorities refused to let him attend without performing this bit of patriotic ritual, and when the Tremains kept him out of school a court order was obtained taking him from his parents. At first an attempt was made to bully his parents into abandoning their beliefs in favor of those held by Bellingham’s 100-percenters. The order was made temporary, revocable as soon as the Tremains gave in. Russell was first placed in a “detention home”—a combined prison and reformatory—where he could be made to suffer properly for his parents’ obstreperousness. Though they had wept, as he did, at the parting, they remained firm in adherence to what they regard as a fundamental tenet of religion, referred to by the jurist in the case. Judge W.P. Brown of the Superior Court, with rare human sympathy and understanding, as “their real or fancied conviction.”
The court order has therefore been made permanent. Russell was first “given out for adoption to a family which wanted a nine-year-old boy, but the illness of the wife necessitated his return, and he is now in the Washington Children’s Home. His parents have been refused permission to see him; he is being compelled to salute the flag regularly, and Judge Brown has issued a solemn warning that anyone advising him to do otherwise will be haled up for contempt of court. The plan is to turn him over presently to some other foster-parents for adoption so that he may, in the language of a local newspaper, be kept “in school and under proper training and environment.” In other words, under thetraining and environment which produce such masterpiece as Judge Brown. Meanwhile the Tremains have, still on religious grounds, refused offers of assistance. They will take no legal steps which would involve recognizing the jurisdiction of man-made courts. Their sincerity is beyond question, however annoying their passivity may be to those who would welcome the opportunity to come to their aid. It is charged that they are fanatics, and perhaps they are; but if so, certainly their opponents are also fanatics, and ten times more undesirable to everyone to whom there still clings any shred of notion that America ever has been, or ought now to be, a land of freedom.
Joseph B. Eastman of the Interstate Commerce Commission won a hard-earned victory when the Commission voted that hereafter railroads must offer their equipment trust certificates for sale by competitive bidding instead of selling them through a few associated banking houses as heretofore. The principal argument made and recognized was that by the competitive method the railroad would probably have to pay less interest, and hence could reduce by that much its cost for service to the public, than by giving a single banking house a monopoly of its issues. Eventually the same ruling may be extended to cover all types of railroad securities. The implications of the change, moreover, may be deeper than appears on the surface. It has often been charged that a few powerful bankers dictate rail policy. They have, in a modified form, admitted to this charge by claiming that their exclusive right to market railroad securities was justified by the “service” which they rendered the roads. To introduce competitive bidding is to break up such connections, to increase the number of bankers interested in railroads, and to reduce the banker to his ostensible function of furnishing credit at the market rates—so long as competition in investment banking may survive.
One of the most successful devices to convert the Sacco-Vanzetti case into an incident of the class struggle is the systematic efforts of those whom Mr. Coolidge calls “the criminal authorities” to prevent the defense from taking advantage of all means of proving the innocence of the accused. In a recent leading article In the New Republic attention was directed to the fact that the prosecution did not call upon the witness who stood nearest the murder in Braintree to testify, or notify the defense of his existence; that it deliberately juggled the testimony of Captain Proctor In regard to the connection between the fatal bullets and Sacco’s gun, and presented him with a form of words which was misrepresented in meaning to the jury; and that the judge refused to permit examination of a witness who was under indictment, as to whether any Inducement in that connection had been offered him by the prosecution. Now, in the strenuous efforts being made by Mr. William G. Thompson of the defense to obtain evidence in corroboration of the confession made by Celestino Madelros, exculpating Sacco and Vanzetti, It appears that obstacles are being thrown in his way by the criminal authorities. This aspect of the case as the persecution of two radicals is emphasized by Mayor Nichols of Boston who refuses permission to hold a public meeting to express sympathy with the accused. Nichols incidentally defended the violation of civil liberties during the War and asserted that the victims were treated better than they deserved. Representative Underhill of Massachusetts is working in the same cause as Nichols in asserting that the movement of protest is a Moscow plot.
The League for Industrial Democracy held its annual conference at Camp Tamiment, Penn., June 24 to 27. The general subject of discussion was The Newer Defenses of Capitalism, with consideration of the efforts of labor to enter the field of capital through labor banks and the investment of trade union funds in profit-bearing enterprises, and the corresponding efforts of capital in the field of labor through the establishment of company unions. The main issue was joined between those who wished to see the system of private capitalism abolished and those who wished to see it altered by degrees. On the one hand it was asserted that labor unions in entering the field of capital tended to become capitalistic in outlook, and to contribute to the defense of the system; and on the other, that under that system, the workers had only the choice between putting their savings into capitalistic enterprises as individuals or as a body through the unions. An interesting question was raised as to whether the increasing control of capital by expert managers, engineers and others, who are not themselves capitalists, would not operate to allow greater equality of opportunity which would satisfy the ambitions of labor to take part in control, and increase efficiency of production and distribution. On the other hand it was queried whether the increasing speed of production accompanied by increasing cost of distribution would not outrun the possibilities of consumption, and reduce the capitalistic system to its inherent absurdity.
One of the most interesting sessions of the Conference was that devoted to a consideration of economic imperialism on the part of the United States. Dr. L.H. Jenks, formerly of the History Department of Amherst College, declared that we have been constantly interfering in the affairs of Cuba, in violation of our pledges at the time of the Platt Amendment. We have landed troops in Cuba. We have intervened officially in legislation. We have held up the processes of justice, until cases could be submitted to Washington for approval. We sent General Crowder to Cuba as “personal representative” of the President, an office unknown to international law, to dictate the appointment of the Cuban cabinet. Dr. M.M. Knight, Assistant Professor of History of Columbia University, discussed the still more disgraceful record of the intervention by the United States in Santo Domingo, culminating in the military occupation arranged by Wilson and Bryan in 1916. The United States took possession of the financial administration and withheld all funds from the constitutional government until it signed under duress a notoriously unfair treaty. The plea that our administration was necessary because of disorder. Professor Knight ridiculed: “There is more banditry in one square mile of New York or Chicago than in the whole republic.” That the occupation was of advantage to the Dominicans be likewise denied. Its handling of the finances of the little state was “silly and wasteful, if not downright scandalous.”
The immediate status of American imperialism is brought before us by the visit of Louis Borno, President of Haiti, at the White House. Borno is entirely the representative of the American occupation. After the seizure of the capital by American marines a constitution was forced upon the country in accordance with which the President names a Council of State which in turn elects the President. In the present council, eighteen members out of twenty-one were appointed by Borno, among whom we find a nephew of his present wife, a nephew of his former wife, his law partner, and a dozen members of his administration. It is not surprising that it reflected Borno. This is the constitution of which Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Wilson, boasts the authorship. It was forced on the Haitian people at a cost to them of some 3,000 lives. The United States did many things under the second Wilson administration which even now are beginning to seem incredible. It did nothing more contemptible than this business of Haiti, and we have sometimes thought that Mr. Roosevelt was the oneperson in that administration sensible and decent enough to be ashamed of it.
The administration of American criminal justice reveals to no small degree an oscillation between vague sentimentalism and hysterical brutality. At present, the hue and cry is again abroad in the land with its usual attendants of impatience with restrictions against the safeguards of orderly procedure and due heed to the fallibilities of human testimony. At such a period we are apt to forget the abuses of police and prosecutors and the deep considerations of human freedom which have crystallized legal restrictions against such abuses. In the effort to bring the guilty, and particularly professional criminals, to book, the danger that the innocent might he imprisoned and sometimes even hanged cannot he lost sight of. The case of Ziang Sung Wan again serves to emphasize these commonplaces, present so unpopular. Wan on February 1, 1919, was seized by the Washington police, under suspicion of having been the murderer of three other Chinamen slain a few days before. On January 9, 1920, he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. About five years later, the case finally reached the Supreme Court. On October 13, 1924, Wan’s conviction was unanimously reversed. For the Supreme Bench found that his sentence was due to so-called confessions which were extorted by the police by holding Wan, although a sick man, incommunicado for over a week and subjecting him to most brutal torture, from which he could securerelief only by agreeing finally to statements the police insisted on having from him.
The existence of the “third degree” is not infrequently denied, not only by police authorities, but by professional spokesmen for law and order.” Here, at least, is startling proof of it, in a case which the indisputable authority of the Court of the United States laid bare the record of a harrowing third degree and condemned the instrument of torture by which its victim was brought within the shadow of the gallows. No one could read the austere opinion of the Supreme Court, speaking through Mr. Justice Brandeis, (printed in full in the New Republic for November 12, 1924) without the conviction that a civilized society cannot tolerate such methods even in bringing the guilty to justice. But Wan’s case also seemed another instance of the conviction of the innocent through barbarous methods. After two further trials resulting in disagreements by the jury, in both instances with the majority of the jury for acquittal, the indictment against Wan has now been nol prossed by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia and Wan given his freedom. For more than sevenyears Wan has languished in jail, the victim of lawlessness by those charged with the guardianship of the law. These facts speak for themselves.
Senator Copeland has performed a service of which the human value far outweighs the political, in introducing a bill to affirm the classification of Hindus as “free white persons” eligible to citizenship. This classification was made by the Committee on Immigration some years ago, and approved by Congress. Under this ruling a number of Hindus were admitted to citizenship, and Hindus who served in our armies were promised such admission. During the War, however, the British authorities became disturbed at the position which their Hindu subjects, many of them Home Rulers, were gaining in the United States, and made use of the power which, as associates in the War, they possessed with our courts and officials to attack it. Whether as a result of the same campaign or not, United States officials ceased to recognize Hindus as candidates for citizenship; and following the custom of the day summarily deprived those already admitted of their rights without due process of law. Thus, a Hindu-born citizen, professor of political economy at a leading university, appointed to represent this country abroad on an economic commission, found himself unable to obtain a passport—a man without a country. The situation was given a quasi-legal definition by Justice Sutherland of the Supreme Court, who in 1923, in reply to a question submitted by the Circuit Court of Appeals in Oregon, handed down the advisory opinion that the words “free white persons” are to be interpreted in their popular sense rather than that given them by ethnologists.
The Hindus affected by this ruling number from three to five thousand, most of them farmers on the Pacific Coast. They had made an important contribution to the economic life of the country in developing cultivation of cotton in the Imperial Valley, and were in many cases well-to-do. The opinion of Judge Sutherland placed them in the class of those ineligible for citizenship, who under California law are ineligible to hold or lease land. They Were enabled to remain on the farms which they had developed on what was thought to be sterile and arid land, only by virtue of transferring title or leasehold to American citizens, by whom they were mulcted of the fruits of their industry, and in some cases reduced to peonage. The present bill, which should be promptly passed, will have no effect on the immigration of Hindus from the barred zone. It will merely make impossible the economic exploitation of a group of extraordinarily able farmers and artisans. It will rescue the Hindus already admitted to citizenship from their stateless condition, and in cases where Hindus not citizens have married American women, it will allow their wives to retain United States citizenship. It will save the United States from the meanness and dishonor of retracting a pledge already given. A man who renounces one government and swears to another in good faith has a right to expect good faith on the part of the nation to which he is admitted, particularly if he is ready to shed his blood in its defense.
Representative Robert L. Bacon of New York has introduced a bill in Congress which for sheer and cold-blooded imperialism equals anything we can remember. He proposes that the Moro provinces of the Philippines should be separated from the Insular government and allowed to create a separate regime of their own. For what purpose? The answer is in one word: Rubber. The soil of the Moro provinces is well adapted to the propagation of the rubber tree. Suitable labor is at present lacking, a fact Mr. Bacon omits to mention, but might be provided from some quarter—possibly from China. But at present, as Representative Bacon admits, American capital is reluctant to enter the rubber industry in the Philippines. The existing laws of the Islands prevent the creation of huge plantations and are in general “unsympathetic” to American big business. These conditions will probably be aggravated when we set the Philippines free—if we ever do. Therefore, says Mr. Bacon in effect, don’t set them free. Pick out the regions most valuable to us and there set up in them a dummy government of our own in perpetuity. It is a great scheme. About the only thing which stands in its way is the fact that we have solemnly pledged ourselves to return the Islands to their inhabitants. That pledge, given long ago, has been reiterated on more than one occasion. If we fail to observe it, even as regards part of the territory, we shall stand convicted of dishonor before the world. Does that fact, we wonder, have any weight with Mr. Bacon and his friends?
This article originally ran in the July 7, 1926 issue of the magazine.