Commentary Magazine

It's a Secret, by Henry Hoke, and Time Bomb, by E. A. Piller

More Than A Conspiracy

It’s a Secret.
by Henry Hoke.
New York, Reynal and Hitchcock, 1946. 312 pp. $2.50.

Time Bomb.
by E. A. Piller.
New York, Arco Publishing Co., 1945. 194 pp. $2.00.

Both of these books are exposés of fascist groups and individuals in America. They are fact-books—and little else. As such, they are often valuable, even interesting. But if their purpose is to afford weapons with which to fight fascism effectively, they must be counted failures (of a type becoming increasingly common). For both Mr. Hoke and Mr. Piller lack a theoretical understanding of fascism, and so can offer their readers no substantial perspective for overcoming it. In identifying fascist organizations they are guided purely by rule-of-thumb criteria, such as anti-Semitism, Anglophobia, red-baiting, the anti-New Deal line, pro-Germanism, etc., etc. And they merely identify, they never analyze. Viewed seriously, these volumes are but partial contributions to a “Who’s Who in American Fascism,” offering a skeleton history of the continually disappearing and reappearing fascist groups in this country.

It’s a Secret is the less worthwhile of the two books. Mr. Hoke describes himself as “a businessman who does anti-Nazi crusading on the side.” Unfortunately, the avocational nature of his work shows through rather vividly. He writes poorly—e.g., his unbelievable use of ellipses, which leaves the reader literally with spots before the eyes. His chief concern is with the fact that the testimony given before the three Washington grand juries (July 1941 to January 1944) that investigated seditious activities and handed down the indictments for the infamous sedition trials, has never been made public. Hence his title. He reminds the reader of this secrecy on every third page. Apart from a few oblique intimations—that the Department of Justice responded to Congressional pressure, for instance—he offers precious little explanation of this secrecy.

Time Bomb is at least written in an adequate journalistic style. (Mr. Piller was formerly book editor of Liberty.) It also gives a more inclusive picture of present fascist groupings. But even Mr. Piller, despite a certain amount of squirming, does not manage to get out from under the attitude that vitiates both books: the notion that fascism can be fought by mere exposé. The kaleidoscopic ideology of fascism either has a significant relation to the serious and real problems of its audience, or it does not. If it has none, then it is all sound and fury, and we can laugh at it; we need not even “expose” it. But if fascism does operate on the ground of real frustrations, then the cure must be sought where the causes lie. Publicizing the fact that a certain Congressman had a book published by a Nazicontrolled firm, although useful, will not mean very much. Spotlighting such facts does not solve the real social problems that constitute the fertile ground in which the seeds of the Congressman’s propaganda flourish.

Observe, for example, the propaganda the Commoner Party of Georgia directs toward the poor farmers in the South: “The Gentiles go out and produce the wealth and the Jews stay in cities with their profit-taking system to grab it as the Gentiles bring it in.” In part, the audience of this lie had no direct knowledge of modern Jews nor any interest in them. But these farmers are now oppressed by a profit-taking system. If they were not, this propaganda would have no effect on them. The farmers must be shown who is actually oppressing them, and what they can do about it. Nothing else will suffice.

“Fascism’s secret weapon in America is the average American’s unwillingness to recognize fascism,” says Mr. Piller. As yet, thank God, this is a partial truth. But it would be even truer to say that fascism derives a terrible strength from the liberal American’s unwillingness to recognize fascism for what it is.

We still need two books—and many more—which will “expose” the ground on which fascist ideology bears fruit.

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