1940 September 11

Report: Laws, Violence Keep “Reds” off the Ballot


A report by the Civil Liberties Committee of the National Lawyers Guild charged that Communist, Socialist, Socialist Labor Prohibition, and other small political parties were being kept off ballots in 13 states by laws and vigilante violence. The Lawyers Guild sent the report to Attorney General Robert Jackson on this day, asking that the Justice Department investigate and prosecute where appropriate. In many instances, election officials had refused to accept nominating petitions from radical parties. In other instances, mob violence had prevented people representing minority parties from circulating petitions. The ACLU had issued a similar report with a demand for federal action on July 31, 1940.

The efforts to keep the Communist Party off the ballot in 1940 were part of an upsurge of anti-Communist sentiment that had revived around 1938. (For instance, California removed the Communist Party from the ballot on September 22, 1940.) That revival was due in part to the emergence of the Soviet Union as a world power and growing recognition of Stalin’s repressive tactics, particularly as evidenced by the infamous Moscow Trials, where top Bolshevik leaders confessed their “crimes” and were then executed. The anti-Communist fervor in the U.S. went into abeyance in June 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and that country became an important ally for the U.S. in World War II. Anti-Communism reappeared soon after the war in what became known as the Cold War.

Learn more about the Lawyers Guild: Ann Fagan Ginger and Eugene Tobin, eds., The National Lawyers Guild: From Roosevelt Through Reagan (1988)

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

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