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CRISIS  No. 1

BY

HOWARD FAST



IN 1776, at a time of awful trial and tribulation for the people of the American colonies, a man called Tom Paine addressed himself to his fellow countrymen. He wrote a proclamation called The Crisis, a message addressed not to all Americans, but to those who loved freedom and thought independence a cause worth fighting for and, if need be, dying for.
   He was not a man of prime importance in the struggle then going on; he held no official post of leadership; but he hated tyranny and he hated injustice, and he could not remain silent while a handful of brave men fought for freedom.
   Therefore, again and again, when the forces of hate and oppression seemed overwhelmingly strong against the people, he spoke out firmly and forthrightly. And these statements of his are still remembered as the Crisis Papers, potent weapons in the struggle for American freedom.
   Similarly, in what follows, I hope to create another weapon in the struggle for American freedom. I have been, for the many years past, a part of the people's struggle. As a writer in that struggle, I state that I will speak out at this time of crisis, and call the attention of my countrymen to the dangers they face.
   If I speak with passion and anger, it is because I believe this is a time for passion and anger, even as it was when Tom Paine lived.
   I intend this to be the first of a number of Crisis Papers. This tyranny of today will not be easily conquered, nor will the evil men who rule America easily bow to the will of the people. I state that I will speak up again and again so long as the need be present.

I SPEAK of what is happening to a land which was once, and not too long ago, a place of freedom and dignity for the individual. Today, this land is fast becoming a police state, a land of terror.
   What has caused this? I ask you that, my fellow Americans. Were you consulted when Harry Truman and the miserable men who surround him plunged us into war with Korea?
   And now, for more than a year, American boys have been laying down their lives in Korea--so that those who make guns and tanks and airplanes might fatten on American blood and amass millions out of the deaths of our brothers and children.
   Did they ask you, my fellow Americans, when they decided to turn the Korean cities into wastelands, the Korean children into corpses, the Korean women into widows? Were you consulted?
   My God, how I hate the men who dabble so easily in blood and death--while they themselves sit in comfort and ease! I don't call them Americans. They have sold us, dirtied our land, besmirched our honor, and sullied all that is beautiful and noble in our past. They have exchanged our Constitution and our Bill of Rights for the Smith Act, the McCarran Law, and the Taft-Hartley Act.
   Consider what they have done to our past. How was it that when, in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, a newspaper reporter approached one hundred and eleven Americans with words from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, these one hundred and eleven men and women were afraid to put their names to these two documents? Harry Truman blames this on Senator McCarthy. I say that Harry Truman above all others must bear the blame. He above all others took the lead in imposing this terror on America.
   He instituted the Loyalty Oath. He started the witch hunt. He ordered the chief of his secret police, J. Edgar Hoover, to spy into the lives of a million Americans, to turn men and women into informers. He gave aid and comfort to the unspeakable House Committee on Un-American Activities. He instituted the charges against the eleven national leaders of the Communist Party, establishing the principle that men might be jailed for what they think, even though such men as Justices Black and Douglas pointed out the dreadful consequences of this action.
   Harry Truman directed the mass arrests, the smashing down of doors, the dragging of people from their beds without warrant or indictment, the tapping of telephones, the trailing of citizens. He could have saved the seven martyred Negroes of Martinsville, but never lifted a finger. He could have saved Willie McGee, but he would not save him. And what does he do in the case of Rosa Ingram, the Negro woman, mother of 14 children who faces a living death in a Georgia prison--for no crime? The answer is that he does nothing.
   Yes--and he could have prevented the Korean war. He could have prevented this blood bath.
   But instead he directed that warrants be sent against the five leaders of the Peace Information Center, and it is his administration which seeks to put the venerable Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in prison for five years.

I DO NOT SAY that Harry Truman alone does these things. He is only the face and the voice. Behind him stand the men of Wall Street, the men of the trusts, the munitions makers, the merchants of death. And these merchants of death tell you,
   "Do not be alarmed. We are only after Communists. We are only destroying the Constitution in terms of the rights of Communists. We will not bother good, loyal Americans."
   "Good, loyal Americans!"
   By all that is holy, how do they dare speak such words--these men who are an abomination to all that is good and loyal and American! Never before in all our history has there been such a gang of evil, disloyal and un-American men in power!
   Recently they arrested seventeen working class leaders in New York City. As happened under Adolf Hitler, these seventeen were arrested by the secret police, in the first hours of the dawn. As under Adolf Hitler, they were arrested, ostensibly, because they were Communists. But do you know what the actual indictment said? Here is why they were arrested--and I quote the exact language of the government:
   Betty Gannett was arrested because she "delivered a report."
   Pettis Perry was arrested because he "did leave 35 East 12th St., New York."
   Alexander Bittelman was arrested because he "did issue a directive."
   Albert Francis Lannon was arrested because he "did issue a directive."
   Marian Bachrach was arrested because she "did mail approximately fifty envelopes."
   William Weinstone was arrested because he "did issue a directive concerning teaching of Marxism-Leninism."
   George Blake Charney was arrested because he "did attend and participate in a meeting."
   Alexander Trachtenberg was arrested because he "did participate in and report on the expulsion of Max Bedacht from the Communist Party."
   Isidore Begun was arrested because he "did attend and participate in a meeting."
   Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was arrested because she "did participate in a meeting."
   Simon William Gerson was arrested because he "did issue a directive and cause it to be circulated."
   Louis Weinstock was arrested because he "did teach at the Jefferson School of Social Science."
   Arnold Samuel Johnson was arrested because he "did issue a directive."
   Victor Jeremy Jerome was arrested because he "did issue a directive."
   Claudia Jones was arrested because she "did issue a directive."

   So much for fifteen of the seventeen. There are no specific acts mentioned for Israel Amter and Jacob Mindel, two men so old and sick that they could barely totter into court. But if you are curious as to what the government means by "issue a directive," the answer is that they mean the writing of an article--an article on some question of politics or peace.

IS THIS something to be easy about? Or is it something to make a decent American weep with shame and anger? What Hitler did, is done even more openly and shamelessly here. I weep with shame that my country has made it a crime, punishable by ten years imprisonment, to talk, to write, to think, to meet together. I weep with shame that such miserable, petty, cowardly and stupid public officials can do such things to Americans.
   I do not believe that these actions are directed only against Communists. That is what Hitler said. That is what Mussolini said--and they both lied.
   We know why Hitler and Mussolini did these things. They did these things to terrify and intimidate the people, so that the people would not resist the smashing of the trade unions and the preparations for war. I hold that Truman and his helpers do these things for the same reasons, to sow terror among the American people, to smash the trade unions, and to prepare for war. And we ourselves can see how, at the same time, the burden of American workers grows heavier, with rising prices and merciless speed-up.
   Where has there ever been an attack against Communists that was not preparation for war and fascism? This is no different. Once the principle is established, anyone can be called a Communist and sent to prison simply because he has been accused.

I HAVE NOT told the whole story. There have been new mass arrests. Every day there are new arrests, new jailings. When lawyers come forward to defend these people, they too are sent to prison. And when Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hunton, Abner Green and Frederick Field offered bail from a fund of which they are trustees, they were imprisoned without trial or warrant. And now, William L. Patterson, great leader of the Civil Rights Congress, is ordered to turn over the records and names of his organization, or face jail himself.
    But I have told enough of the story for you, my fellow Americans, to begin to think about these matters. I do not ask that you accept my statements without question. Question what I say--by all means, question it. Get the facts for yourself. Look at the facts. And see whether the facts do not bear me out.
   As for myself, I will not be silent. I should consider it a shame to be silent at this time. I would rather say what the author of the first Crisis Paper said. These are Tom Paine's words:

   "Let them call me rebel, and welcome. I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day, shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow and the slain of America."

   To this, Tom Paine signed the name Common Sense. Not out of any desire to hide his identity, but because the words he spoke seemed to him--and to thousands of his countrymen--the essence of common sense.
   So I end my Crisis similarly, as a part of common sense, the common sense which impels a people to choose life and freedom and with the firm belief that my people will defeat fascism.

HOWARD FAST

______________________

Published as a public service by the

CIVIL RIGHTS CONGRESS - 23 WEST 26th St., NEW YORK 10, M.Y.

WILLIAM L. PATTERSON, National Executive Secretary


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