Subversive Activities

All but unheard above the sound and fury raised against the Barnes Bill have been the charges attacking H 1597. But H 1597, labeled the "Little Dies Committee Bill" by its opponents, constitutes a greater threat to civil liberties than does the Barnes Bill; it is not limited to the field of education and there is far more likelihood that it will become law. The Bill provides for a committee on subversive activities in the Massachusetts legislature which would bring the Dics-Rankin-Thomas type of investigation down to the state level.

Originally the Bill was aimed at investigating citizens advocating any doctrine "inconsistent with" the state and federal constitutions. This phrase would have endangered even those who urged legal amendment of the present constitutions. The Bill as now reworded directs the Committee to investigate-"when there is credible evidence"-persons who "are promoting, furthering or participating in any totalitarian movement which has as an objective . . . the changing by force or other unlawful means our duly constituted forms of national or state governments." As in the case of the Barnes Bill, this seems to be a superfluous piece of legislation since the Massachusetts Anti-Anarchy Act of 1919 already makes it a crime to advocate forcible overthrow of the Commonwealth while the Smith Act of 1940 provides ample teeth to deal with persons engaging in similar activity against the United States government. Certainly "credible evidence" should be sufficient for prosecution either under these acts, or under any laws referred to by the phrase "other unlawful means."

Since II 1597 basically does little more than duplicate existing legislation, it raises the suspicion that its backers are actually seeking to play upon the popularity of anti-Communist legislation in this election year, rather than to protect the Common-wealth. It also raises the suspicion-and fear- that a subversive activities committee might be used for purposes beyond those at which it ostensibly aims. Just as the House un-American Activities Committee has employed the weapons of public suspicion and smearing, so this committee could intimidate citizens from exercising their constitutional right of petition and thus stifle opposition to legislative policies which it favored. Such a committee could go beyond its avowed purpose of investigating totalitarian movements and further threaten those civil liberties which are already in peril.