Refuting the Mundt-Nixon Bill

views updated

Refuting the Mundt-Nixon Bill

356. My Day

1 June 1948

Hyde Park, Monday—It is a curious thing that, among those aligned against the Mundt Bill, one finds people belonging to the extreme left and to the extreme right, and also those in the middle—the moderate liberals, like myself, who dislike seeing us fight Communism by extreme measures. I feel that, in using repressive measures, we are not only underlining our fears that democracy cannot stand up against the superficial attraction of Communism, but we are resorting to the very measures which dictatorships—both Fascist and Communist—use to stay in power.1

I have always said that I saw a difference between the Communists of Russia and other totalitarian governments, but their methods are strangely similar. The price paid for the results obtained under all forms of totalitarian government is the surrender of individual freedom. If in a democracy, in order to protect ourselves from Communism, we also surrender our freedom, we are no better off. The Mundt Bill is, from my point of view, a dangerous bill.

Our Attorney General has just come to the conclusion, according to the papers, that Communism all over the world stands for the overthrow of existing governments by force, and that therefore no one who declares himself a Communist can be a good citizen of a democracy.2 I have known a number of theoretical Communists who certainly were not going around with guns.

The only ones that I think have any real justification in being Communists, and who might possibly be tempted to overthrow any government by force, are those for whom democracy has not provided the basic needs of decent living. That is the point on which I wish we would focus our fight against Communism—not on repressive measures which drive Communists underground, but on the development of democracy so that no human being can find any great attraction in the rather drab program of Communism.

Of course, in the USSR everyone is employed by the Government. The interesting thing to know, however, would be the conditions under which many people are obliged to work and live. But that, of course, we cannot know as long as there is no free interchange of visitors between the two countries and no free travel once you are across the borders of Russia.

To obtain one of the four freedoms, Freedom from Want, and not the others, is a poor bargain; and yet, unless one obtains freedom from want, one probably is not much interested in any of the other freedoms. That is why I would like to see us stop all the thought and time given to restrictive measures such as the Mundt Bill, and try to do a little constructive thinking in an effort to advance our democracy and make it stronger and less responsive to fear.


1. On May 19, 1948, the House passed the Mundt-Nixon bill, introduced by Congressmen Karl Mundt (R-SD) and Richard Nixon (R-CA), with a vote of 319 to 58. The bill required the Communist Party and "Communist-front" organizations to register with the attorney general and provide membership rolls to the Justice Department. The bill's critics, including Truman who declared his intention to veto the bill if passed by the Senate, argued that the proposed legislation effectively outlawed a political party. Proponents of the bill argued that one of the Communist Party's fundamental objectives was the overthrow of the government. Although the Senate never voted on the bill, the McCarran Act, based largely on the Mundt-Nixon bill and enacted in 1950 over Truman's veto, required Communist organizations to register with the federal government (John D. Morris, "Bill to Control Communists Passed by House, 319 to 58," NYT, 20 May 1948, 1; "Truman Indicates a Mundt Bill Veto," NYT, 14 May 1948, 15; Fried, 116-18; Reeves, 329-30).

2. When Seth W. Richardson, chairman of the president's Loyalty Review Board, wrote attorney general Tom Clark asking for clarification on the course of action to be taken if investigations revealed an individual had ties with the Communist Party, Clark instructed him that, under the Hatch Act of 1939, the "board must recognize in its recommendation to the agency that the dismissal of the employee is mandatory." The Hatch Act's Section 9A denied government positions to individuals who belonged to "any political party or organization which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government." Although the act did not specifically mention the Communist Party, Clark argued that the legislative record revealed Congress's intent to include the Communist Party among the groups covered by the act. "It has thus been the intention of the Legislative branch, reinforced by positive action on the part of the Legislative branch, to bar from Government service persons having membership in the Communist party," he wrote Richardson in a letter that both the New York Times and Washington Post excerpted (Lewis Wood, "U.S. Can Fire Reds, Clark Tells Board," NYT, 28 May 1948, 12; Carl Levin, "Hatch Act Bars Reds from Jobs, Clark Says," WP, 28 May 1948, 4).

The Chair as Delegate

After a discussion of the objectives of the declaration of human rights, the Human Rights Commission proceeded to an article-by-article review of the draft declaration of human rights prepared at Geneva and modified by the drafting committee earlier in May.1 The articles on workers' rights (Articles 23 and 24), posed particular problems for the United States, since these articles reflected the relatively new concept of economic and social rights, rather than the principle of civil and political rights long recognized by American law and society, and raised the issue of the role of the state in securing these rights. ER supported the inclusion of economic and social rights in the declaration, but sought to craft the definition of such rights in a broad way that would leave the means of achieving them open.2 In the case of Articles 23 and 24, the United States supported amendments proposed jointly by India and the United Kingdom that changed "Everyone has the right to work" to "Everyone has the right to work under just and favourable conditions," eliminated references to the role of the state in ensuring that its citizens found employment and to women receiving equal pay for equal work, and replaced the right of a worker "to receive pay commensurate with his ability and skill" with "the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being."3 In the following statement, ER explains the United States' position.