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Seeing Reds

Seeing Reds: Federal Surveillance of Radicals in the Pittsburgh Mill District, 1917–1921

CHARLES H. McCORMICK
Copyright Date: 1997
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qh767
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh767
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  • Book Info
    Seeing Reds
    Book Description:

    During World War I, fear that a network of German spies was operating on American soil justified the rapid growth of federal intelligence agencies. When that threat proved illusory, these agencies, staffed heavily by corporate managers and anti-union private detectives, targeted antiwar and radical labor groups, particularly the Socialist party and the Industrial Workers of the World.

    Seeing Reds, based largely on case files from the Bureau of Investigation, Military Intelligence Division, and Office of Naval Intelligence, describes this formative period of federal domestic spying in the Pittsburgh region. McCormick traces the activities of L. M. Wendell, a Bureau of Investigation "special employee" who infiltrated the IWW's Pittsburgh recruiting branch and the inner circle of anarchist agitator and lawyer Jacob Margolis. Wendell and other Pittsbugh based agents spied on radical organizations from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Camp Lee, Virginia, intervened in the steel and coal strikes of 1919, and carried out the Palmer raids aimed at mass deportation of members of the Union of Russian Workers and the New Communist Party.

    McCormick's detailed history uses extensive research to add to our understanding of the security state, cold war ideology, labor and immigration history, and the rise of the authoritarian American Left, as well as the career paths of figures as diverse as J. Edgar Hoover and William Z. Foster.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7245-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book examines the origins and growth of the United States government’s domestic surveillance program in what used to be commonly called the Pittsburgh mill district during the Great War and the Red Scare (1917–1921). With the Steel City at its core the district included the steel mills, coke plants, coal mines, and heavy manufactories of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio. It stretched from Lake Erie in the North to the headwaters of the Monongahela and Cheat Rivers in the South, and from about Johnstown in the mountains in the East to Wheeling and Youngstown in...

  2. Part 1. World War I Surveillance, 1917–1918

    • 1 THE G-MEN: VIRTUE MADE VISIBLE (AND INVISIBLE)
      (pp. 9-26)

      When the great war began in August 1914, the United States government lacked the ability to carry on large-scale internal security operations. Of the various federal agencies that had dabbled in such matters, the Treasury Department’s Secret Service was the best known. Created in the Civil War era to ferret out counterfeiters, from 1914 to 1916 it conducted small-scale domestic counterintelligence, after which it largely abandoned the field to the Justice Department. The War and Navy Departments also conducted clandestine operations while the Post Office Department monitored or suppressed suspect foreign and radical publications and read the mail of alleged...

    • 2 THE WORLD WAR I–ERA PITTSBURGH LEFT
      (pp. 27-45)

      The principal target of Wendell and his federal handlers in Pittsburgh from 1917 to 1921 was the Left. It was a tame Left compared to New York, Chicago, or even Cleveland; the captains of industry and authorities had seen to that. Still, if it posed a small threat of revolution, it might stir up serious labor trouble among the mostly Slavic and Italian immigrants who filled the unskilled, common labor needs of heavy industry. For, despite its power, Pittsburgh industry was vulnerable to interruptions to production by its huge, exploited, and culturally unassimilated foreign labor force. It was a force...

    • 3 TAMING THE STEEL CITY WOBBLIES, 1917–1918
      (pp. 46-63)

      From april to october 1917 a wave of strikes plagued war production throughout the nation and cost industry 6,285,519 workdays. Leading the list were the metal trades, the source of one-fifth of the lost days. Next came shipbuilding and then coal mining. In these industries three-fourths of the strikers belonged to the AFL, but overall one-sixth of the lost workdays came from strikes led by the IWW. Meanwhile the SPA, as the only large national organization outspokenly opposed to the war, became a rallying point for antimilitarists, anti-imperialists, and draft resisters.¹ This made the left-wing Socialists and Wobblies prime targets...

    • 4 EXCURSIONS, ALARMS, AND SLACKERS ABROAD: EXTENDING THE RANGE OF SURVEILLANCE, 1918
      (pp. 64-88)

      In 1918, although the people’s council of America was in ruins and the IWW leadership in jail, draft resistance and radical agitation continued. Wendell remained the key source, but the Pittsburgh intelligence offices added agents and informers to expand surveillance to cover new dissident groups and areas distant from the city. In March the Germans launched a major offensive on the Western Front. Soon more than one hundred thousand American soldiers a month crossed the Atlantic to France.¹ The dreaded bloodying of the American army in the trenches would come, and with it long casualty lists in the papers. A...

  3. Part 2. The Red Scare and After, 1919–1921

    • 5 BOMBS, A NEW MISSION, AND THE USUAL SUSPECTS, 1919
      (pp. 91-119)

      After the armistice in the winter of 1918–1919 a combination of national labor unrest and opportunist Red-baiting inflamed a public opinion already rubbed raw by war propaganda. Abroad at Versailles, Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic peace plan sank in a morass of European realpolitik while the Bolshevik-led Third International proclaimed the spread of the Communist revolution throughout the industrial world. At home repressive wartime policies toward dissenters encouraged the desire to “make them pay” as xenophobia intensified. Fueling these attitudes was an outbreak of strikes that began in the Northwest and then seemed to infect the whole country. There was much...

    • 6 THE GREAT STRIKES OF 1919: STEEL AND COAL
      (pp. 120-144)

      After the “red summer” of 1919, which had been marked by a wave of bloody race riots, an epidemic of strikes that included the Boston police force, and the spread of revolution in Europe, the Justice Department still had not caught the May and June bombers. Insecurity verging on hysteria gripped the nation’s political and business elites and their allies in the press and religious and education establishments. Even the influential and conservativeNew York Timesfaulted the Justice Department for lack of progress against radicalism. Many legislators demanded an all-out war on dissent, defining it to include everything from...

    • 7 THE PALMER RAIDS I: THE UNION OF RUSSIAN WORKERS, 1919
      (pp. 145-166)

      At 3:30 a.m. in the pre-dawn murk of Sunday, December 21, 1919, the ferryImmigrantchurned the icy waters of New York harbor carrying 246 men and three women from Ellis Island to the old 5,000-ton troop transport U.S.S.Bufordanchored off Fort Wadsworth. She would take them to Finland from whence they would travel overland to Soviet Russia. As if to underscore the importance of the event, a navy tug carrying two dozen armed BI men dogged the ferry’s wake. Two hundred soldiers waited aboard theBufordto guard the prisoners. J. Edgar Hoover visited the ship in person...

    • 8 THE PALMER RAIDS II: THE COMMUNISTS AND THE END OF THE RED SCARE, 1920–1921
      (pp. 167-187)

      Thebufordwas still rolling in heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay on January 2 when Palmer ordered raids in thirty-three cities in twenty-three states coast to coast. The successful assault on the UORW boded well for phase two aimed at the meeting places of the Communist Party of America (CPA) and the Communist Labor Party (CLP). Eastern European immigrants made up an estimated 75 percent of their membership, enough to fill up a fleet of “Soviet arks.” On the authority of three thousand blank warrants signed by Solicitor Abercrombie, the dragnet netted thousands of aliens. As in the...

    • 9 ʺDEPORTINGʺ MARGOLIS, 1919–1921
      (pp. 188-200)

      The allegheny county bar association (acba) had never clasped Jacob Margolis to its bosom. Because law school admissions quotas and accreditation standards were not yet common, the genteel sons of old money who preferred the dark-paneled and lucrative respectability of corporate law to the more crass commercial pursuits of their forebears had no way to keep Margolis from practicing law.¹ Still, they made clear to the rabble-rousing former newsboy that he was unwelcome by pointedly not inviting him to join the ACBA.

      From 1917 to 1919 Margolis was the object of several attempted sanctions. The first came in February 1918...

  4. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 201-204)

    By the early 1920s the Wilsonian welfare state was only a memory. Neither big business nor the trade unions had been totally satisfied with the effects of the government’s wartime intervention, which each believed the other had used to unfair advantage. This, even though business had by far the greater power in Washington and conservative labor had only taken a bite of the apple of statism. When the adversaries renewed their struggle in the private sector during the Harding administration, business won victory after victory until, after more than a decade of defeats, epitomized by Irving Bernstein as labor’s lean...