[Marxism] Trumanism paved the way for McCarthyism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 13 11:29:10 MDT 2009

March 9, 2009

by Robert Justin Goldstein. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of 
Kansas, 2008. 388 pp. Cloth $34.95. ISBN: 9780700616046.

Reviewed by Erin Ackerman, Department of Government, John Jay College of 
Criminal Justice – The City University of New York. Email: eackerman 
[at] jjay.cuny.edu.

In 1947 President Harry Truman, seeking to undermine congressional 
Republican stands on fighting domestic Communist threats, issued an 
executive order creating a loyalty program for federal employees. One 
piece of information that could be considered in making loyalty 
determinations was whether an individual was a member of Communist or 
subversive organizations, or associated or sympathized with those who 
were members. These organizations were compiled in and publicized by 
what would come to be known as the Attorney General’s List of Subversive 
Organizations (AGLOSO), which AMERICAN BLACKLIST identifies as the 
centerpiece of the US government’s efforts to foster the Red Scare of 
the 1940s and 50s.

In AMERICAN BLACKLIST, Robert Justin Goldstein, professor emeritus of 
political science at Oakland University, presents a political history of 
the AGLOSO. Goldstein argues that the AGLOSO was “the single most 
important domestic factor that fostered and facilitated the Red Scare,” 
predating McCarthy and indeed creating the political tools and repressed 
public that allowed McCarthy’s rise to prominence (p.xi). This timely 
work traces the origins, rise, and ultimate demise of the AGLOSO over a 
seventy year period and illustrates a major example of the dynamic 
tension between civil liberties protections and national security concerns.

Goldstein’s major contribution is to reconstruct the workings of the 
AGLOSO and the politics around it through reviewing an immense number of 
primary sources, some recently declassified, found in national, 
presidential, agency, and university library archives, as well as those 
obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A short 
bibliographic essay at the end of the book will be a valuable resource 
for those doing related work on this era or on civil liberties during 
times of national emergency.

Few histories of this era have examined the AGLOSO closely. Goldstein 
traces the precursor initiatives to the AGLOSO, the internal political 
debates over AGLOSO standards, and attempted maneuverings by the Truman 
and Eisenhower-era Departments of Justice to avoid subjecting AGLOSO 
determinations to judicial review. Goldstein also briefly examines the 
roots of government attention to the threat of subversive organizations, 
reaching back to the nation’s first Red Scare in the wake of the 
McKinley assassination.

The heart of AMERICAN BLACKLIST, however, focuses on the AGLOSO created 
as part of the Truman [*176] administration’s loyalty program. At the 
end of Chapter One and in Chapter Two, Goldstein shows how the AGLOSO 
evolved from a tool to be used in the narrow context of federal employee 
loyalty screenings and as one of several potential pieces of evidence, 
into an officially publicized blacklist used widely by many federal 
departments, state and local governments, and private businesses and 
organizations. Targeted organizations had no opportunity to challenge 
their classifications on the AGLOSO. The immediate consequences of an 
organization’s listing were that its members and those with whom they 
associated lost federal (and state and local) government jobs, were 
denied passports and public benefits, and/or faced deportation 
proceedings. Listed organizations, whose members and contributors were 
discouraged from maintaining ties, were denied tax exempt status and 
often ceased to exist. The broader consequence of AGLOSO was to create a 
repressed public afraid of entering into associations that might be 
deemed to be subversive at a later date.

Goldstein discovers a shocking lack of agreement within the Truman and 
Eisenhower administrations, and between the FBI and other federal 
offices, on the scope, standards and usage of the AGLOSO. AGLOSO initial 
standards for determination of “subversive” organizations “included some 
specific criteria, such as advocating the overthrow of the government . 
. . along with some extremely vague ones, such as ‘consistently opposing 
the enactment of, or advocating the repeal of laws and measures designed 
to strengthen and improve the security of the US’” (p.58). As a result, 
the list came to encompass a broad range of organizations. Those 
explicitly advocating a Communist model of government were included, as 
were so-called Communist “fronts,” organizations in which Communist 
Party members “played significant or dominant roles, often without the 
knowledge of most members” (p.10). Also included were organizations 
whose missions for social justice and civil rights included explicit 
critique of the US government.

Most importantly, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was vested with the primary 
institutional responsibility to identify organizations for potential 
list inclusion. This authority, Goldstein argues, “combined with a 
general lax supervision of the bureau by the DOJ, was used by the FBI 
during the next thirty years as key basis for its increasingly virtually 
unbounded investigation of individuals and groups throughout American 
society, including the widespread use of a variety of illegal 
burglaries, wiretaps, and other intrusive means” (p.52).

Law and politics scholars may be especially interested in the role of 
the courts in challenging and constraining the use of the AGLOSO, which 
Goldstein details in Chapters Three, Four, and Five. Chapter Three 
starts with the Supreme Court holding in JOINT ANTI-FASCIST REFUGEE 
COMMITTEE v. MCGRATH (1951) that some listed organizations had to be 
afforded an opportunity to challenge their inclusion on the AGLOSO. The 
divisions among justices and between justices and their clerks show a 
Court divided over the appropriate balance between ensuring civil 
liberties and supporting a tough stance on [*177] communism. In the wake 
of the MCGRATH decision, DOJ officials searched for a way to assuage 
judicial due process concerns without giving listed organizations a full 
hearing. Ultimately, the DOJ adopted a written challenge system with 
procedural obstacles so difficult that many groups would or could not 
make use of it.

Chapter Four marks 1955 as the point at which the tide turned against 
the AGLOSO. Public attacks by former well-known supporters of 
anti-communist measures, congressional hearings, and judicial setbacks 
revealed that political officials and the public were increasingly less 
concerned with subversive threats within government and society in 
general. The most important judicial setbacks for the AGLOSO came in a 
series of cases challenging the use of the AGLOSO in denying federally 
subsidized housing benefits. One case, featuring the eviction of a 
veteran who had lost both legs while serving in the US armed forces 
during World War II, would occupy national headlines and serve to 
discredit the AGLOSO in the court of public opinion.

These legal setbacks continued for the AGLOSO into the late 1960s and 
1970s. As Goldstein shows in Chapter Five, although the list was still 
officially in operation, many government department loyalty screenings 
moved away from relying on it. Similarly, the DOJ was reluctant to list 
additional organizations for fear of triggering a court challenge that 
would find the AGLOSO unconstitutional in and of itself, instead of 
finding fault with it on limited or technical grounds. Finally, 
President Nixon failed in his attempts to revive the AGLOSO, a move 
which was strongly attacked in congressional hearings as ineffective, an 
overreach of executive power, and an abuse of civil liberties.

As Goldstein admits, it is difficult to disentangle the AGLOSO from 
other government initiatives of this era. Goldstein’s focus is on 
piecing together the record and history of the previously understudied 
AGLOSO. The reader is assumed to be familiar with the broader history of 
this period and the other relevant actors and institutions. Goldstein 
emphasizes the AGLOSO; the House Committee on Un-American Activities 
(HUAC), McCarthy and other players make brief appearances in relation to 
the AGLOSO, but Goldstein does not engage in comparison that would allow 
one to fully evaluate his claim that the AGLOSO was “the single most 
important domestic factor that fostered and facilitated the Red Scare.” 
Nevertheless, the reader is convinced of the importance of the AGLOSO 
and can see how the AGLOSO contributed to, or might have exacerbated, 
other initiatives of this time period.

Goldstein’s account is richly detailed, the product of extensive 
research and documentation. At times, the level and sheer amount of 
detail can overwhelm the reader. An important point that Goldstein makes 
is that the AGLOSO’s standards and procedures were in a constant state 
of flux from its very inception. Reading about the policy debates, 
changes, and territorial battles, it is easy for the reader to 
experience some confusion, as the reader tries to determine what was 
ultimately decided and how that led to later events. The reader would 
benefit from more signposts or summaries to guide the way through each 
chapter and from a separate [*178] concluding chapter that would assist 
in summarizing and evaluating the mass amounts of evidence presented. 
For this reason, AMERICAN BLACKLIST will likely be of most use to those 
already engaged in related research and able to make some of these 
crucial connections on their own.

AMERICAN BLACKLIST provides a service to political scientists and 
historians in documenting and describing in careful and exhaustive 
detail the creation of the AGLOSO, the political gambits and debates 
that influenced its makeup and operations, its extensive use or 
imitation at all levels of governments, and the devastating effects on 
listed organizations and individuals associated with them. The reader 
comes away feeling that Goldstein has made a case for the pivotal role 
of the AGLOSO in the Red Scare and the suppression of civil liberties by 
the sheer bulk of his documentation. The book is an enormous resource 
for scholars of this time period, those who are examining government 
interference with freedom of association, and students of executive 
power in times of war and heightened security concerns. As Goldstein 
himself notes, the book has obvious connections to civil liberties 
considerations in light of the War on Terror. Making these connections 
is beyond the scope of Goldstein’s already massive and detail-rich 
undertaking, but he offers a rich point of comparison for future work.

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