The Revolution WasAND
[This essay was first published as a monograph in 1938, now republished in Ex-America, copyright Caxton Press.]
There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.
There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, "Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don't watch out."
These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when "one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state."
Worse outwitted were those who kept trying to make sense of the New Deal from the point of view of all that was implicit in the American scheme, charging it therefore with contradiction, fallacy, economic ignorance, and general incompetence to govern.
But it could not be so embarrassed, and all that line was wasted, because, in the first place, it never intended to make that kind of sense, and secondly, it took off from nothing that was implicit in the American scheme.
It took off from a revolutionary base. The design was European. Regarded from the point of view of revolutionary technique, it made perfect sense.
Its meaning was revolutionary and it had no other. For what it meant to do, it was from the beginning consistent in principle, resourceful, intelligent, masterly in workmanship, and it made not one mistake.
The test came in the first one hundred days.
No matter how carefully a revolution may have been planned there is bound to be a crucial time. That comes when the actual seizure of power is taking place. In this case certain steps were necessary. They were difficult and daring steps. But more than that, they had to be taken in a certain sequence, with forethought and precision of timing. One out of place might have been fatal. What happened was that one followed another in exactly the right order, not one out of time or out of place.
Having passed this crisis, the New Deal went on from one problem to another, taking them in the proper order, according to revolutionary technique; and if the handling of one was inconsistent with the handling of another, even to the point of nullity, that was blunder in reverse. The effect was to keep people excited about one thing at a time, and divided, while steadily through all the uproar of outrage and confusion a certain end, held constantly in view, was pursued by main intention.
The end held constantly in view was power.
Not even a New Dealer any longer maintains that the four steps directly involving gold, namely, the seizure of it, the repudiation of the government's gold contracts, then the confiscation of the gold, and lastly the devaluation of the dollar, were necessary merely as measures toward national recovery. In the history of the case there is no more dramatic bit of testimony than that of Senator Glass, formerly Secretary of the Treasury, who in April, 1933, rose from a sick bed and appeared in the Senate to speak against the Inflation Amendment. He said,Does any of this sound familiar?
"I wrote with my own hand that provision of the national Democratic platform which declared for a sound currency to be maintained at all hazards…. With nearly 40 per cent of the entire gold supply of the world, why are we going off the gold standard? With all the earmarked gold, with all the securities of ours they hold, foreign governments could withdraw in total less than $700,000,000 of our gold, which would leave us an ample fund of gold, in the extremest case, to maintain gold payments both at home and abroad…. To me the suggestion that we may devalue the gold dollar 59 per cent means national repudiation. To me it means dishonor. In my conception of it, it is immoral…. There was never any necessity for a gold embargo. There is no necessity for making statutory criminals of citizens of the United States who may please to take their property in the shape of gold or currency out of the banks and use it for their own purposes as they may please. We have gone beyond the cruel extremities of the French, and they made it a capital crime, punishable at the guillotine, for any tradesman or individual citizens of the realm to discriminate in favor of gold and against their printing press currency. We have gone beyond that. We have said that no man may have his gold, under penalty of ten years in the penitentiary or $10,000 fine."
And when the "gold cases" went to the United States Supreme Court — the unreconstructed court — the judgment was one that will be forever a blot on a certain page of American history. The Court said that what the government had done was immoral but not illegal. How could that be ? Because the American government, like any other government, has the sovereign power to commit an immoral act. Until then the American government was the only great government in the world that had never repudiated the word engraved upon its bond.