Book Write-Up: Martin Dies’ Story, by Martin Dies

Martin Dies. Martin Dies’ Story. Bookmailer, 1963. See here to buy the book.

Martin Dies was a Texas Democratic congressman who, from 1937 to 1944, chaired what became the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or HUAC. HUAC was created to investigate Nazi, Fascist, and Communist subversion in the United States.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. This book is not exactly an autobiography. There is little in here about Dies’s family, personal background, and formative experiences. Overall, the book focuses on Communist infiltration of American institutions, including the domestic, intelligence, and foreign policy spheres of the U.S. Government, along with labor unions and Hollywood. Dies’s disappointing (from his standpoint) interactions with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are prominently featured in this book. Dies also defends HUAC against various accusations: that it is racist and anti-Semitic, that it has affiliated with Nazis and Fascists, that it makes baseless accusations, that it tramples on constitutional rights, and that its members are corrupt. In addition, Dies denies that he accused Shirley Temple of being a Communist. Another topic that Dies covers is media censorship: whereas books that portrayed Mao as an agrarian reformed were reviewed widely and favorably by the establishment media, books that exposed him as a Communist or that exposed Communist subversion in the U.S. were ignored. Because this book was published in 1963, it contains Dies’s reflections on events that transpired after his service on HUAC, as he criticizes the policies of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as inadequate responses to the Communist threat. Occasionally, Dies tells political stories that are only tangentially related to Communism, as when he talks about his race against Lyndon Johnson for a U.S. Senate seat, LBJ’s corruption, and the Democratic Administrations’ inconsistent and hypocritical moves against political corruption.

B. John Stormer in his famous 1964 classic, None Dare Call It Treason, was criticized for quoting FDR as saying that some of his best friends are Communists. That quote is widely regarded as apocryphal, and it is based on the word of Martin Dies, who claimed that FDR said that to him in a private conversation. Skeptics doubt that FDR would have said this to the chair of HUAC. Dies goes into more detail about this conversation. In Dies’s recollection, Dies confronted FDR with evidence of Communist infiltration in the U.S. Government. FDR responded that Dies was paranoid, that the U.S.S.R. would be a reliable ally to the U.S. in years to come, and that Russia was better off under Communism than under the Czars. FDR also remarked that the Communists in the U.S. were not bad people, and that some of his best friends were Communists. FDR wanted Dies to focus solely on investigating and combating Nazi and Fascist subversion. A transcript was made of this conversation, Dies recalls, but it was never released to the public. For Dies, the conversation illuminates FDR’s stance on Communism and explains why the U.S. helped build up Russia and allowed Communism to advance in Europe. Dies also talks about policy differences that he had with FDR: Dies wanted FDR to break off diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R., since Russia had violated its pledge to refrain from internal subversion in the United States. Dies also sought to deport Communist aliens from the U.S.

C. In one place, Dies acknowledges diversity within Communism and seeks to explain its position with empathy. Dies criticizes the FDR Administration because it did not want Trotsky to testify against Stalin before HUAC. According to Dies, Lenin preferred Trotsky rather than Stalin as his successor. Stalin believed in ruling Russia as a solitary dictator, whereas Lenin and Trotsky desired more of a democratic oligarchy. They did not want full-fledged democracy at the outset, for they thought the people were not adequately informed to vote and that they might recoil from the necessary, albeit painful, economic measures that the government needed to take. With time, however, the people would be qualified to vote. Dies obviously disagrees with Communism, for it is contrary to freedom and widespread prosperity, but he offers a rationale for the political positions of Lenin and Trotsky.

D. In terms of domestic policy, Dies is mostly a conservative Democrat. He believes that the New Deal was designed to sensitize Americans towards collectivism; Communists participated in its design and implementation, and, while Communists initially criticized it, they came to defend it against people they considered right-wing reactionaries. Dies denies that HUAC was intended to persecute left-wing political perspectives, however. Dies opposes deficit spending and the government printing more money to accommodate it, since it is irresponsible and can lead to inflation. At the same time, Dies believes that the federal government under FDR should have helped out the small farmers, not just the big ones, so he is not for complete laissez-faire. He also is open to the federal government raising taxes to pay down the deficit, which would set him apart from modern-day conservatives. Dies is in favor of labor unions, as ways to give workers prosperity, but he also thinks that Communists have instigated strikes, which he considers a dress-rehearsal for Communist revolution.

E. Dies is critical of the executive branch’s increasing power, for he views that as an infringement on representative democracy. Dies does not care for the new bureaucracies that have emerged under FDR, and he especially does not appreciate the Democratic Administrations’ undermining of HUAC. My impression is that many conservatives want more executive power when the G.O.P. has the Presidency.

F. Dies is a little unclear as to whether he thinks HUAC should have more power. He notes that Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black have supported forcing witnesses to testify when it comes to investigating unethical business practices, but not when it comes to HUAC. He also observes that Canada has tougher investigative policies against subversion than the U.S. has. Yet, he denies that he wants the U.S. to trample on people’s Fifth Amendment rights. Why, then, is he mentioning those points?

This book is not the easiest to read, since Dies jumps around from topic to topic. A rereading of it, sometime in the far-off future, may expose me to points I have missed. Some of what Dies says is present in other right-wing publications (i.e., the New Deal being a Kerensky-like preparation for Bolshevism, the Communist proposal to make a nation of African-Americans in the U.S.), but Dies probably said it before they did. Overall, the book is a cogent and well-documented defense of HUAC and Dies’s viewpoint.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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