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Mundt Bill---1950

I. Loose and Inclusive


After a nine-month pregnancy, the Senate Judiciary Committee has delivered itself of Mr. Mundt's new bill "to protect the United States against certain un-American and subversive activities, and for other purposes." The bill is one of the most comprehensive threats to civil liberties that the gentleman from South Dakota has yet conceived.

This legislation opens with a "working definition" of the world Communist movement "whose purpose it is, by treachery, deceit, infiltration into other groups, espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and any other means deemed necessary, to establish a Communist totalitarian dictatorship in all the countries of the world."

Since it would be impossible to draft laws against a "movement," Mundt goes on to define a more tangible "Communist political organization" as "any organization in the United States having some, but not necessarily all, of the ordinary and usual characteristics of a political party, which is substantially dominated or controlled by the foreign government controlling the world Communist movement, and operates primarily to advance the objectives of such world Communist movement."

The only vague phrases in this definition are "organization," "some, but not necessarily all," "ordinary and usual characteristics of a political party," "substantially dominated and controlled," and "operates primarily to advance, the objectives of." It is unfortunate that the wording is so loose, because the groups included in the definition are subject to severe restrictions. There is a correspondingly vague, though less stringent, definition of a "Communist-front organization."

Senators Mundt, Ferguson, and Johnston, the authors of this measure, are not going to do the actual listing of the "Communist" organizations themselves. For this purpose, the bill provides a three-man "Subversive Activities Control Board," under the Attorney General. These three men, drawing $12,500 a year each, will do nothing but sift all sorts of groups to pick out these which are "Communist political organizations," and "Communist front organizations." In addition to the working definition above, this Committee will have a list of eight criteria, all beginning with the phrase, "the extent to which," and none specifying what "extent" is to be considered significant.

Public Airing

After all groups falling into these categories are named, they will have the opportunity to present their side of the question in open hearings before the committee, and then carry their case to the federal courts.

Their case had better be good, because once they are tagged as "Communist," they might as well close up and go underground. It would be unlawful for any member of a "Communist organization" to hold appointive office in the federal government, to hold elective office if he did not reveal his affiliations, to get a passport, or to belong to such a group which has not registered. Both "Communist" and "Communist front" organizations would be required to submit annual financial statements and lists of officers, plus a list of the entire membership in the case of the former. All mail sent out by these groups "Intended to be read by more than one person," would have to be marked: "Disseminated by ---, a Communist organization." All radio or television programs sponsored by them would have to be similarly identified. Contributions to these groups could not be counted as tax exempt.

These restrictions would be imposed as punishment for beliefs and affiliations, not for acts. The stamping of a letter would have no reference to the content of the letter, only to the people who sent it out. Denial, of passports would be on the basis of group membership, not of subversive acts or even of subversive utterances or opinions. Running through all these provisions is the principle of "guilt by association," which has pervaded almost all security legislation since the beginning of the present Red seare.

More Clauses

For good measure, there are two additional sections in the bill, one providing 10 years in jail and $10,000 fine for anyone who transmits "classified" material to foreign agents or members of "Communist organizations," the other levelling the same penalties against anyone who "knowingly combines, conspires, or agrees with any other person to perform any act which would substantially contribute to the establishment within the United States of a totalitarian dictatorship the direction and control of which is to be vested in, or exercised by or under the domination or control of any foreign government, foreign organization, or foreign individual."

The first of these two merely increases the penalties for what is already a crime. The second is an even vaguer absurdity than the opening definition of a "Communist organization." No proof of disloyalty would have to be adduced, only the proof that some program advocated by somebody might "substantially contribute" to the weakening of the country in some way.

Considered as a whole, the Mundt-Ferguson-Johnston omnibus is a loosely-drawn and heavy handed attempt to put restraints on organizations which fall into these Senators' amorphous categories. Tomorrow's editorial will discuss the theories behind this type of legislation and attempt to find a constructive way out of the present "subversive" dilemma.

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