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Gertrude Shaw

The American Legion Is an Anti-Labor Creature of Big Business

Legion Is No Place for Worker War Veterans

(7 June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 23, 7 June 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In spite of the well known reactionary character of the American Legion, there are some thousands of union men in it. There are also several posts in industrial centers, composed mainly of union men. Although workers obviously have no business in a pro-fascist outfit organized by big business, AFL President William Green has nevertheless sent out a letter encouraging the formation of union Legion posts and urging eligible union men to join as legionnaires.

In June 1942 a conference of trade union Legion posts was held in Chicago. Another is planned for, the near future. There has been some talk of labor “reforming” the Legion.

In the opinion of Labor Action, this is an impossible task – and a harmful waste of labor’s organized effort.

The purpose, composition, backing and entire history of the American Legion must once more be placed before the scrutinizing eye of the worker. At this time it is especially urgent for labor to know every pro-or semi-fascist force in this country, and to fight it to the death.

The anti-labor record of the American Legion since its organization in 1919 should be well known to every worker. The American Civil Liberties Union, in its 1921 report, listed at least fifty acts of violence committed by the Legion against progressive elements in the year 1920 alone. Liberal speakers and labor organizers were tarred and feathered. Eugene Debs meetings were broken up. Kidnapping and crippling its innocent victims were common practice. Because of “connections” with the Chambers of Commerce and with the judiciary, such heinous crimes went entirely unpunished.

In 1937, the national commander of the Legion in effect admitted that strike-breaking is one of the functions of his outfit. He issued an order that from then on no strike-breaking was to be done IN UNIFORM. Legionnaires IN MUFTI could go right on breaking strikes.

It is no accident that the Legion is that way. It is anti-labor according to plan. During World War I those who had vigorously “fought for democracy” by expanding the size of their fortunes, saw a great danger to their social position from the returning soldiers who had had a bellyful of war and had got a whiff of the revolutionary air circulating over Europe. Big Business organized the American Legion as its own reactionary reception committee for the returning soldiers.

Prof. William Gellerman of Columbia University, in his book, The American Legion as Education, gives full information about the origin of the Legion. Here is a typical excerpt: “The American Legion was in no sense a ‘spontaneous expression of Americans who helped crush autocracy.’ On the contrary, it is evident that it was intended to circumvent any spontaneous organization on the part of ex-service men.”

In Prof. Gellerman’s book can be found absolutely reliable facts about the agents of big business who got the Legion going, about big business contributions to support it, about the bankers, business executives and corporation lawyers who have absolutely controlled and still control it.

Its Financial Support

The list of Legion commanders since its organization includes none but corporation lawyers, directors, treasurers, presidents, – banking, insurance and Wall Street big shots – real estate, public utility, oil magnates.

On the question of financial support for the Legion, there is in evidence, for example, a letter on Swift & Co. stationery, dated December 26, 1919, referring to the quota of $100,000 that the meat packers were to raise in Illinois alone, and stating: “We are all interested in the Legion, the results it will obtain, and the ultimate effect in helping to offset radicalism.”

To Swift & Co. and their brethren, “radicalism” includes everything from a demand for a union and a living wage to a demand for the overthrow of their profit-grubbing capitalist system.

Prof. Gellerman concluded from his investigation that “The American Legion is a potential force in the direction of fascism in the United States ... In the American Legion program of suppression we see fascism in its incipient stages.”

Mussolini Its Hero

Nor is this merely an abstract conclusion. When the Legion was organized, Mussolini was its hero. Mussolini was invited to make the principal address at one of its first conventions. The Scripps-Howard press interviewed the Legion’s commander, Alvin Owsley, Texas lawyer, in 1922, and quoted him as saying:

If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy!”

There is, furthermore, documentary evidence in the files of the government to show that in 1934 the Legion actually planned a fascist seizure of power. General Smedley Butler was chosen to lead the American fascist march on Washington, but the general instead spilled the beans before a committee of the House of Representatives investigating Nazi and other propaganda.

The leading spirit of this putsch movement was a director of the Guaranty Trust Co., a Morgan bank, who was also a director of. Anaconda Copper Co., Goodyear Rubber Co., Bethlehem Steel Corp. Others of like social position were also named by General Butler, whose testimony further revealed that the Remington Arms Co. was to have supplied the guns.

You see, therefore, that the American Legion is not an erring child of well-meaning parents, who can be set right by a good influence. The Legion is a reactionary monster that was created by the brains and money of labor’s powerful enemies.

No Place for Unions

It is today the creature of the most ruthless elements of the capitalist class. Its interlocking with the anti-Negro, anti-Jew, anti-labor villainous Ku Klux Klan, with the ditto American Christian Association and other like outfits, is constantly being brought to light. The Legion is an integral link in the chain forged by big business powers to shackle labor in totalitarian bondage.


The union posts of the Legion that will meet in conference soon should vote to get out of this pro-fascist organization of the bosses. And right now is not too soon to start a campaign to that end.

If union men who are veterans of the First World War wish to retain their identity as ex-service men, why not organize as auxiliaries of their unions? Such a step would be progressive and serve an excellent purpose. For union auxiliaries of ex-service men could be the rallying places for the returning soldiers of World War II – THUS SAVING THEM FROM THE GRIP OF THE REACTIONARY LEGION.

Union men must rally around their unions, must build all their auxiliary organizations around their unions, must make their unions strong and militant – to fight such loathsome anti-labor forces as the American Legion and the capitalist powers behind it.

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