Pelley’s Christian Commonwealth

“For Christianity and the Constitution!” Silver Legion of America leader William Dudley Pelley and his program for a ‘Christian Commonwealth’

Fringe movements, whether in politics or religion, tend to attract fringe individuals. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, once made the observation that: “Creativity IS fanaticism. Every creative genius has had to be a fanatic. Many of them have been burned at the stake… In between the Communists and the Nazis is the great mass of non-fanatics, the TV watchers and the comic book readers.” He might have had a point. It is hard to be a revolutionary or a radical without being a fanatic to some degree – and fanaticism of any kind is, by definition, not exactly “normal.” William Dudley Pelley, who led the fascistic Silver Legion of America (the ‘Silver Shirts’) during the interwar era, was almost the quintessential example of the kinds of fringe individuals who frequently find their way into radical politics. A successful journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had been radicalized through his time covering the Russian Revolution and by his experiences with Jewish film executives, Pelley in the mid-1920s began experiencing divine ‘visions’ which led him into a career as a best-selling spiritualist teacher and writer. Pelley believed that his visions were sent by Christ and that he had been chosen for a great purpose, and it was these visions which inspired him to found the Silver Legion in 1933 with a goal of bringing about the renewal of the United States on both a spiritual and a material level. The USA’s rebirth under the Silver Legion would see it become a “Christian Commonwealth” – a society still fundamentally based on the American Constitution, but made both more equitable and more efficient through application of the principles of ‘Christian Economics’ revealed to Pelley in his mystical and clairvoyant visions. Pelley spelled out the essence of his ideas in a number of works; his overview of the ‘Christian Commonwealth’ and its economic precepts, excerpted below, is taken from his book No More Hunger! This book was first published in 1933, but the text below is taken from a revised edition published after WWII (my copy is from 1961). So far as I am aware, the only significant difference between the original and revised editions is the removal of a chapter in which Pelley calls for blacks, Mexicans, and “improvident backwoods whites” to be made wards of the state and put onto Native American-style reservations where they can be tapped for domestic labor; Pelley, for all his eccentricities (he also became a UFO enthusiast in the 1950s), was apparently down-to-earth enough to know which way the post-War wind was blowing.

The Program for a Christian Commonwealth
From William Dudley Pelley’s
“No More Hunger”

Unfortunately, when the average man hears the words “new system” uttered or when some enthusiastic person begins to prate about a “better economic order”, the immediate conclusion is drawn that some sort of violent revolution is being recommended or promoted, or that the sponsor is indulging in philosophical day-dreams because he had lost his business or can’t find a job.

Furthermore, a Wise Teacher has aptly remarked: “Tell men not too great truths with suddenness, lest they turn and rend you, or call you addled in your wits.”

Over the years we have had every sort of makeshift plan to cure our economic ills: the Townsend Plan, the Upton Sinclair Plan, the Utopian Plan, and others.

The trouble with most of these palliatives has been that they were not advanced by practical economists who would take into account the country’s actual plight of lost buying power that cannot be restored along the old profit-making and profit-taking lines.

Some of these Plans contained commendable recommendations for redistributing wealth on a more equitable basis but did not get down to brass tacks and face the staggering truth that there is precious little unborrowed or unpledged wealth let to be distributed. Furthermore, such wealth as they would redistribute would have to be seized by confiscatory methods. To loot the present rich, or soak the fortunate that the unfortunate may benefit, is equally deplorable with making the poor man of the present face his fate and like it.

What most of the economic strategists have been and are really trying to do, whether they are honest enough to admit it or not, is to find some plan that will jump all of us out of poverty in a day and a night while at the same time being careful not to alter any of the fallacious methods that have always been employed for accumulating wealth, and that in the hands of master manipulators have resulted in exactly the evils that have beggared us today.

They want to retain all the old evils while at the same time abolishing them. They want to go right along taking profits on the predatory basis while at the same time curbing the activities of all individuals who seem to do it successfully. Continue reading

Communism is 20th Century Americanism

“We Communists claim the revolutionary traditions of Americanism.” Earl Browder, patriotic communism, and the Communist Party USA

AmericanismThroughout much of the 1930s and early 1940s the Communist Party USA, the United States’s officially-recognized Comintern representative, pursued a general ideological line which was for all intents and purposes ‘national-communist’ in orientation. Earl Browder, a Kansas-born accountant with a long history of involvement in the labor movement and in socialist activism, was largely responsible for this patriotic position. Through a series of tumultuous factional disputes Browder had risen to become General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1930, and under his leadership the Party attained a level of success that it would never reach again. In large part this was due to Browder’s national-communist strategy, which emerged around 1935 and lasted – to varying degrees of enthusiasm within the Party – until Browder’s ouster from the CPUSA in 1945. The slogan used to spearhead the ‘Browderist’ strategy was striking: “Communism is the Americanism of the 20th Century”. This maxim, which made its first appearance in the article transcribed below, became a key element in the Party’s mission to shake off its image as an organization of foreign ‘subversives’ and so appeal to a much broader section of American society. The essence of Browder’s thinking was that communism was just an advanced development of the original American revolutionary ideal. Lenin and Stalin had essentially inherited the radical mission of liberation first begun by Washington and Jefferson; communism and ‘Americanism’ were thus inherently intertwined, making Marxism-Leninism a patriotic ideology whose aim was to complete the American Revolution. In CPUSA propaganda Soviet leaders appeared on posters alongside Lincoln and some of the Founding Fathers; Party posters and illustrations began using traditional American revolutionary imagery; rallies were bedecked with dozens, or hundreds, of American flags. Browder’s strategy began to be phased out around 1938-39, likely as a consequence of the Comintern’s concerns that Browder was both too popular and too independent, and the ‘Americanism’ slogan had disappeared completely from CPUSA propaganda by 1945. The article below, which initiated the Party’s national-communist period, was first published in the June 25, 1935 edition of Marxist cultural magazine The New Masses. The version I have transcribed is taken from a later revision published in Browder’s 1936 book What is Communism? There are some slight differences between the two versions of the article, but they are incredibly minor – the original has one or two word differences, and an additional introductory sentence establishing that the article was originally part of a series. 

Who are the Americans?
By Earl Browder
General Secretary, Communist Party USA
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The question asked of Communists more frequently than any other, if we can judge from the Hearst newspapers, is this:

“If you don’t like this country, why don’t you go back where you came from?”

The truth is, if you insist on knowing, Mr. Hearst, we Communists like this country very much. We cannot think of any other spot on the globe where we would rather be than exactly this one. We love our country. Our affection is all the more deep in that we have watered it with the sweat of our labor – labor which made this country what it is; our mothers nourished it with the tears they shed over the troubles and tragedies of rearing babies in a land controlled by profit and profit-makers. If we did not love our country so much, perhaps we would surrender it to Wall Street.

Of course when we speak of our love of America, we mean something quite different from what Mr. Hearst is speaking about in his daily editorial diatribes. We mean that we love the masses of the toiling people. We find in these masses a great reservoir of all things admirable and lovable, all things that make life worth living. We are filled with anger when we see millions of these people whom we love being degraded, starved, oppressed, beaten and jailed when they protest. We have a deep and moving hatred of the system, and of those who fatten on the system which turns our potential paradise into a living hell.

We are determined to save our country from the hell of capitalism. And most of us were born here, so Hearst’s gag is not addressed to us anyway. But workers in America who happen to have been born abroad are just as much Americans as anybody else. We all originated across the waters, except perhaps a tiny minority of pure-blooded American Indians. The foreign-born workers have worked harder for less wages on behalf of this country than anybody else. They deserve, at a minimum, a little courtesy from those who would speak of Americanism. There is less historical justification in America than perhaps in any other major country for that narrow nationalism, that chauvinism, which makes a cult of a “chosen people”. Continue reading