‘The Black Legion: Spawn of the Crisis’ by Robert W. Dunn from Labor Defender. Vol. 12 No. 7. July, 1936.
While the spotlight has been turned on the terrible crimes of the Black Legion in Michigan, let us not minimize the shock that comes from the realization of the fantastic character of this symptom of fascism. However, if we are familiar with the history of terror in the United States, if we remember something of the barbarous tactics of the capitalist class in its merciless war on the workers, we cannot be really surprised that such a thing as the Black Legion has been spawned by the crisis.
Even in comparatively prosperous years we have seen secret as well as open terror used against workers attempting to unionize or to better their conditions through strikes. We have seen the law of rope and faggot at work in the South as well as in the orth. We have seen the lawless violence of police, the smashing of picket lines by deputy sheriffs, the routing of hunger marchers by state patrolmen, the raiding of union halls by Department of Justice agents, the deportation deliriums of 1920, the night riding tar and feather gangs crucifying those who opposed the World War, the murderous attacks on strikers by private armies of coal and iron police or Bergoff “operatives”. We have seen the liberty (league) loving Pre ident Hoover summon the army to drive a group of tattered veterans from their shacks on the Potomac in the dead of night. We have seen the glad-handed Roosevelt ride blithely through the blood spattered state of Arkansas entirely deaf to the pleas of sharecroppers hounded and evicted by the friends of the President’s crony, Senator Robinson. We have seen Candidate Alf Landon call out the militia to break the strike of metal mine workers in southwest Kansas in 1935. Yes, we have seen a lot in this country that ought to have prepared us for this manifestation of Black Hundredism in Michigan and points west.
There is no harm in refreshing our memories of some of these crimes-just a few of those of the last ten years that have gone quite unprotested by people who now appear to be alarmed by the secret order killing society in the Wonder City of Detroit. All of the incidents have had their root deep in the soil of capitalism and its inevitable class conflicts.
Have you ever heard of the Columbine Massacre in Colorado in November, 1927, when state police, commanded by a Rockefeller agent, shot down six workers and wounded 20. They were strikers who were quite unarmed. A few weeks later in January, 1928, in the same mine strike two more workers were murdered at Walsenberg. One or two years later, you may recall the massacre before the Marion Manufacturing in Co. in Marion, N.C., where a sheriff and his deputies killed six workers and wounded 24. All the workers were shot in the back: they had committed no provocation. None of the sheriffs were wounded. The ” law” proceeded to arrest some of the strikers who had fortunately escaped the bullets. A few deputies were tried for the crime but acquitted.
About the same time came the night raiders, acting for the Manville Jenkes Co. in the textile strike at Gastonia, N.C. These black legionaires of the South broke into the relief store and strike headquarters, tearing it down and scattering children’s food and union records in the streets. The militia arrived conveniently after the crime was committed, and ten strikers were arrested for breaking up their own headquarters. In the same strike, time after time, the Loray Mills “Committee of One Hundred”, many of these mobsters and klan men deputized, sheriffs and police, flogged and beat the strikers. It was the same gang of legalized company- paid Dillingers who murdered Ella May Wiggins, 29, and mother of five children, the bard of the union. The court refused to indict the nine who were held for this killing.
In fact in all these strikes there was absolutely no conviction of the perpetrators of violence against the strikers. These two southern examples are from the period just before the economic crisis seized the country, turning millions out of the factory gates to starve slowly on various types of home or work relief. Since then-and under the “New Deal” as well as under till’ hard reign of Hoover-we have had plenty of examples of the e same employer tactic.
Take only the last two years. In the San Francisco general strike of the summer of 1934, we found bands of legionaires and hoodlums, hired by the open-shop Industrial Association of San Francisco and incited the red-baiting slogans of General Hugh Johnson and other Roosevelt appointees, smashing the headquarters of working-class organizations and papers. Later in the same year the hunger marchers of New York State were attacked and brutally beaten at Albany as they were carrying their grievances to the legislature. The New Deal banker-governor-Lehman, did nothing to hold off or rebuke the uniformed sadists of the Albany police force.
And in New York City, the most “civilized” city in the world, under the regime of the great liberal LaGuardia, similar attacks have been made upon home relief pickets and demonstrators, upon delegations of white collar workers, upon unemployed councils, upon striking seamen. In the general textile strike of 1934 we found the governors of both Republican and
Democratic states calling out the militia to give aid and comfort to the mill owners and to smash the picket lines of the workers. The summoning of the militia for strike-breaking purposes was reported again and again in 1934-35. The survey of the Labor Research Association in Labor Fact Book III, found the at the national guard was called out 24 times in 1934 and 19 times in 1935 to suppress labor, unemployed and farm struggles. As the result of these militia operations as well as the armed attacks by private gangsters, company thugs and local and state police, an incomplete record of killings of workers and farmers in various struggles shows 49 victims in 1934 and 39 in 1935. (See Labor Fact Book III, page 171.)
Coming right down to the present year we find that auto union and clerks union organizers in Terre Haute and Anderson, Indiana, have been whipped, beaten and robbed by bosses’ agents. We find Governor Talmadge’s terror against Negroes and labor organizers continuing in Georgia, the duPonts backing the Ku Klux Talmadge in his demagogic crusade against the bill of rights of the U. S. Constitution. We find the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. hiring plug uglies to beat up Sherman Dalrymple, president of the United Rubber Workers International Union as well as kidnapping and beating other union men in the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama. We find Myron C. Taylor talking about the beauties of “collective cooperation” while his deputies of the subsidiary Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. are coolly slugging and slaughtering union miners near Bessemer, Alabama.
And in Washington we may watch a perfect type of swivel chair cold-bloodedness the spectacle of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, sending to certain destruction in Nazi Germany five innocent men. These are just “routine” deportations for Frances. Of course, she doesn’t hear the shots of the executioner or see the blood spurt in a Hitler concentration camp. But is there much more that a qualitative difference between her act and that of the moronic murder of Charles Poole, the WPA worker, by the Detroit Republican storm troopers wearing hoods decorated with skull and cross bones?
If we come nearer to Detroit itself we may find in the records of the last few years the background of the present Bullet Club exposures. The Detroit Civil Liberties Committee in 1931-32 alone reported nine cases of unprovoked police killings, raids and brutalities in that area. But in each case police officials and the Grand Jury either whitewashed the men or ignored the charges. And in Pontiac in November, 1931, seven men were kidnapped from their homes by vigilantes and lashed with horse-whips for attending meetings of the Unemployed Councils.
The police of Pontiac were involved in this but an investigation ordered by the Governor petered out. And earlier in the same year came the attack on the unemployed demonstration by the police of Dearborn Mich., in front of the Ford plant. Four were killed and many wounded. Such a background of mob violence and official terror we found in the motor cities even before the strikes in the auto plants of 1934- 35 when the police brutally attacked the workers of the Motor Products Corp. while militia shot down two workers in the Electric Auto-lite strike in Toledo. Important also in the background is the Service Department of the Ford Motor Co., with its “spotters” and “hunting dogs” embracing a ruthless network of espionage and intimidation. The chief of this department is Republican Harry Bennett, “Duke of Michigan”. He is linked with the Legion and it is the most logical link in the world.
Not only Ford but other auto companies are behind this terror, the exact connections as yet unrevealed but certainly demanding federal investigation. General Motors, Chrysler, Hudson, Motor Products, have already been named as well as the Citizens’ Committee of the Detroit Board of Commerce, long the spearpoint of the open shop “American Plan” campaign in Detroit. It was against the various unions in the auto industry, trying to organize workers in the major plants, that the direct fire of the Legion has been aimed, against those unions and the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers in the neighboring steel plants.
In the face of what we already know about the blackrobed Legion we can easily see beyond the petty agents to the main performers. The Dayton Deans are pretty small potatoes compared with the literal Directory of Directors that stand behind them, profiting handsomely from their violence and savagery-the Alfred Sloans, the Walter Chryslers, the E.T. Weirs, the Henry Fords, the Eugene duPonts and their American Liberty League.
It is these “big shots” one must always bear in mind in considering anti-labor terror in the auto and steel industries. Of course these people have plenty of personnel managers and public relations officials to protect them. They control the press, and are the heroes of the unspeakable Hearst. They tell the wiggling politicians what to do in every crisis. To document their complete exposure is not an easy task. But morally it is they and the system they represent that stand indicted in the minds of people who have given these new terror developments any thought at all.
It is these millionaire legionaires who are the major menace to liberty in this country today, not the petty police clerks, subforemen and municipal meter readers who have been turned up in the Michigan revelations. It is these “rulers of America” who direct the killers, who finance the professional patriotic societies and “law and order” leagues, who write the red scares in the press. It is they who infest their plants with spies and stool pigeons.
It is against these night riders of Wall Street, these very respectable KKK’s of the big banking and industrial monopolies, these Black Legionaires of finance capital, that we must direct the main fire of our protest. They are the organizers and financiers of fascism in America. The blood of Charles Poole and George Marchuk and John Bielak is on their hands.
Labor Defender was published monthly from 1926 until 1937 by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Workers Party of America, and later Communist Party-led, non-partisan defense organization founded by James Cannon and William Haywood while in Moscow, 1925 to support prisoners of the class war, victims of racism and imperialism, and the struggle against fascism. It included, poetry, letters from prisoners, and was heavily illustrated with photos, images, and cartoons. Labor Defender was the central organ of the Scottsboro and Sacco and Vanzetti defense campaigns. Not only were these among the most successful campaigns by Communists, they were among the most important of the period and the urgency and activity is duly reflected in its pages. Editors included T. J. O’ Flaherty, Max Shactman, Karl Reeve, J. Louis Engdahl, William L. Patterson, Sasha Small, and Sender Garlin.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/labordefender/1936/v12-%5B10%5Dn07-jul-1936-orig-LD.pdf