The United States Post Office confessed last week that for three years now it has confiscated all Russian propaganda to "unauthorized" persons in this country. This legal basis for this action, the Post Office said, is a 1940 ruling by the Attorney general under a Congressional act that limits the receipt of foreign political propaganda to diplomatic or registered agents. Sound as the Post Office's legal position may be, its reason for censorship-that Russian propaganda can be damaging within the United states-is far from convincing.
Certainly no American Communist is likely to change his political views because he tails to receives his morning "Pravda." Nor will those wavering between capitalism and communism lose interest in the latter as a result of the Post Office's action. Indeed, such people can only view the Government's censorship at tending to confirm the soviet charge that the United states is a police state. To assume on the other hand, that a loyal citizen would be susceptible to a few pieces of Communist propaganda shows an amazing lack of confidence in both the stability of American institutions and the judgement of the average citizen.
The broader implication arising from the Post Office restrictions are even more alarming. The fact that scores of Government translators daily censor or confiscate Russian publications does in itself sufficiently resemble Soviet thought-control practices. But worse that that, under the existing legislation there is apparently nothing to prevent the Post Office, with the Attorney General's permission, from widening the censorship list to include socialist literature or just unpatriotic propaganda originating abroad. Universities also are exposed to the whims of Washington bureaucrats, because at the present time it is only through the permission of the Post Office that these institutions can receive Russian literature for research purposes.
In view of these patent dangers, it is distressing that the United Sates Post Office will soon ask Congress for even more effective controls over imported Soviet publications. When the request is made Congress should not widen the Post Office's censorship powers, but should instead take this opportunity to annul them.