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The Red Menace

This anonymous editorial from the tenure of Clifford Phelps Morehouse refers to the Church League for Industrial Democracy, a major 20th-century organization founded by Vida Dutton Scudder and associates in 1919 as a successor to the Church Socialist League. The CLID described itself as “an association of Christian people who believe that the teaching of Jesus should be applied to every phase of life — to international affairs, to social affairs and to industrial affairs no less than to the problems we all face as individuals.” It offered a platform for Episcopal Church-based labor organizers, and later civil rights activists, to share information and resources with one another. It was subsequently called the Episcopal League for Social Action, and based in Detroit.

From The Living Church (May 2, 1936), pp. 555-56. 

COMMUNISM IS ONE of the gravest menaces to Christianity in the world today. Perhaps, indeed, it is the most serious menace, not only to Christianity but to civilization, though we are inclined to rank supernationalism along with it and to agree with Professor Berdyaev that “Marx and Nietzsche are in conflict for the control of the world.” We agree further that whether the disciples of Marx, as represented by Russian Communism and the Third Internationale, or those of Nietzsche, in the persons of the devotees of Italian Fascism or German National Socialism, may win the conflict, the success of either portends the end and destruction of certain essential characteristics of humanity itself. Both of these political and economic religions — for they are nothing less — are significant of the fact that in large areas of the modern world “the image of God in man is being darkened” and “man is losing the sense which Christianity revealed to him of being a son of God.”

In our own country, despite observable tendencies in both directions, neither Communism nor Fascism is as yet a dominating political factor. The Communist party has never polled more than an insignificant vote in any election and even the Socialists, with their comparatively mild reform program, have been and are a negligible factor in practical politics.

But if there are few avowed Communists or Fascists in America, there are hosts of friends of Fascism and Communism, many of whom would be aghast if they were accused of aiding either of these materialistic and destructive philosophies.

For example, William Randolph Hearst is probably more directly responsible for the growth of both Fascism and Communism in this country than any other single individual. Through his vicious journalistic tactics, his seeking out of Red activities in places where the existence of them is most unlikely, and his general policy of accusing everyone who does not see eye to eye with him of being in the pay of Moscow, he has actually encouraged the type of subversive activity that he purports to be fighting. At the same time by stirring up the alarm of good citizens who have no sympathy with Communism but who are led by his lurid publications to believe that the Red Menace is lurking just around the corner, he has persuaded millions of these good citizens to retreat from their ideals of liberty and democracy and entrench themselves behind a barrier of class hatred that makes them fair game for any prospective dictator who is willing to use the battle cries of Fascism to his own advantage.

It is with these good citizens who are being so frightened by false propaganda that they cannot distinguish between independent thinking and Communism that we are chiefly concerned. By its very nature Communism is inconsistent with independent thinking. The Communist idea of organization is a ruthlessly authoritarian one, and there is no place in the Communist organization for the man in the ranks who would think for himself. How then is it that virtually all of the individuals and organizations in the country that are devoted to the democratic principles of freedom of thought and freedom of expression are sooner or later accused of being linked in a world-wide Red network?

WE HAVE described Communism as one of the gravest menaces not only to Christianity but to civilization today. This is not an original thought with us nor is it the first time that we have expressed it. Nevertheless, here, for example, is a dear lady, the widow of a clergyman, who writes us that she has been much distressed lately to hear The Living Church quoted as “being in sympathy with the Communistic propaganda now flooding the country.” She writes that she hopes that we can explain this, but it is evident from her letter that she greatly fears that we shall not be able to do so. What is the basis for her belief that we are in sympathy with Communism? Here is what she tells us:

A month ago, a speaker addressing a large audience displayed a page of your paper which announced an alliance between our Young People’s Fellowship and one of the most rabid of the Communistic associations. A week ago, a young student of the University of Pennsylvania, speaking before five hundred women, asserted that not only was great progress being made among the young people of the Church, but that the leading Church paper, The Living Church, was heartily supporting the movement. He was trying to arouse people from the fatal indifference to this awful influence which is rampant in our schools and colleges.

Vague? Yes, but no more so than many of the hysterical cries of “Communism!” that are raised by good citizens from time to time. We cannot even identify what issue of The Living Church the good lady has in mind. We think it likely that she refers to our reports of the recent meeting of the Church League for Industrial Democracy, but if she had read our editorial on that subject she would have seen that we specifically warned the League against the danger of joining in a united front with non-religious and anti-religious organizations, including the Communist party.

Who are the real friends of Communism in America? Are they not those people who are quick to raise the false cry of “wolf, wolf” whenever some motion of the bushes throws them into jittery fears of the Red Menace?

Let’s have a little sane thinking on this whole matter. Let’s place our confidence not in such artificial things as loyalty oaths, salutes to the flag, and the like, but rather in sound devotion to those fundamental principles of democracy and freedom of speech, thought, and assembly which have characterized America from the days of Washington to — shall we say the present time, or must we say from the days of Washington to the outbreak of the World War? Since the war there has unfortunately been a notable dearth of these characteristics. Let’s get them back before it is too late.

Richard Mammana is the Archivist of The Living Church.


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