It was a grand week for the Sound Thinkers in Washington. The House swatted the “death sentence” in the utility bill. The Senate Banking Committee—the same committee that brought in so many “reforms” two years ago—reported Senator Glass’s amended Reserve bill to the Senate with some queer things in it. The tax plan troubles the Sound Thinkers, of course, but they have really derived a lot of satisfaction from it because its ill starred career thus far has revealed the President in a not very pleasant light. The general result has been dismay in the ranks of the Roosevelt “revolutionists.”
The revolution, in fact, has been getting very wet. The N.R.A., apparently, has ceased to interest the President and it is being more or less abandoned to the tender mercies of the former Carnegie Steel official who succeeds the great liberal, Richberg, who in turn succeeded the great revolutionist, S. Clay Williams of the tobacco trust, who succeeded General Johnson. It is not a spectacle that any liberal can take comfort in. The pathetic ruin is hailed as the failure of liberalism. And the newspapers print with glee excerpts from the Guaranty Trust survey showing how, with the crash of the N.R.A., “planned economy” has proved a failure.
Incidentally, I listened last week to an eloquent defense of the N.R.A. and a tribute to the President from the lips of Mr. Sidney Hillman. He added a bitter attack on the Supreme Court. All this came after he had been extolled as a great labor statesman. One hesitates to criticize Mr. Hillman, who has done so much for labor, or at least for his own union. I do not criticize him, but merely comment on his views.
He was painfully disturbed at the strange bedfellows who were to be found in opposition to the N.R.A. One wonders if he could be really unaware of the strange bedfellows who were herded together in its support. Pull aside the curtains of that amazing couch and you see Mr. Hillman on one pillow and Mr. S. Clay Williams on the other. They may have differed on various points, but they were just as sure that the N.R.A. was a splendid achievement as Mr. Ogden Mills and my humble self outside were sure it was a bad thing. And when the Blue Eagle was beheaded by the Supreme Court, what an assortment of persons went storming to Washington to demand its resurrection—the gentlemen of the Steel Institute and the gentlemen of the A.F. of L., Mr. Hillman and Mr. Van Horn of the Silk Code Authority.
And as for the Supreme Court, that body was not created in 1935. The Constitution was not adopted by the G.O.P. in May of this year. Both these ancient institutions, good or bad, were in existence in 1933 when the N.R.A. was adopted. The men who framed N.R.A. knew this. To get around these two existing menaces they labeled the N.R.A. an “emergency” artifice. And even with that they feared to go into court. When they went to court they headed into absolutely inevitable decisions on two points. One was that the power of the federal government does not extend into purely intrastate matters and the other that Congress has no power to delegate in general, undefined terms its legislative powers. Both points have been settled over and over again. Statesmen—labor statesmen—in 1933 would have had this in mind. They would not have built a system upon a foundation that they knew must be necessarily swept away as soon as the Supreme Court went to work on it.
And as for this beautiful confidence in the President—only a few hours before Mr. Hillman spoke, 1 listened to another speech by Mr. John Frey of the A.F. of L. He told of the tobacco industry. And he quoted these extraordinary figures. The 400,000 tobacco growers in 1932 had received gross for their entire crop $107,000,000. But the big four tobacco companies made, not gross but net $104,000,000 in profit on that same crop in 1932. And they paid out to their workers something less than $69,000,000 in wages. It was the representative of this industry who came to Washington to fight the N.R.A. andwas made its head by that same President who inspires such confidence in Mr. Hillman. As long as labor relies on such officials its fate must remain unchanged.
It does not occur to these N.R.A. apologists that the critics they so bitterly assail have turned out to be right. In 1933 those critics said the N.R.A. was unconstitutional and would surely be junked; that it was launched to head off the Black thirty-hour bill; that it was nothing but the old Chamber of Commerce self-rule-in-industry scheme; that Section 7a was meaningless and would turn out to be so; that the whole thing would fall into the hands of the employers and that when it failed, as it would, it would discredit the whole liberal cause because it had been sold as a liberal device and that it would have set back the cause of a real New Deal because it distracted attention from real liberal measures.
Now all these things have come to pass. The start must be made all over again. And it must be made, not with the country flat on its back, the bankers discredited and the magnates penitent and ashamed, but with these tory gentlemen revived. The President has fed them several hundred millions a month and they are beginning to feel a little prosperous on government doles. He has had them to the White House for tea and has appointed them to important public posts to plan our future and they are feeling respectable again. The Devil when he was sick would have been willing to kneel and pray for banking laws and utility laws. Or at least he would have kept quiet. Now the Devil has been fed by the President and thinks he is well and so he doesn’t want to stay in the monastery any more but he wants to break out and run around with the girls again.
This article originally ran in the July 17, 1935, issue of the magazine.