THE PEOPLE'S COUNCIL OF AMERICA 1917-1919
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As the People's Council organizations spread across the country, they encountered direct and brutal government suppression. The government branded the Council's work as "sedition," banned its publications from the mails, raided its offices, barred its national congress from Minneapolis, and broke up the congress with an invasion by National Guard troops when it was finally held in Chicago. An indication of the strength of this movement despite government suppression may be gained from the vote for Eugene Victor Debs. Debs, a member of the Council, received almost one million votes as the Socialist Party candidate for President in the election of 1920 even though he sat in a federal prison cell because of his opposition to the war.
The government's suppression of the People's Council was part of the anti-communist "Red Scare" of 1919. It began with the Overman Committee in the U.S. Senate that investigated "radical" activity in the peace and labor movements, and it climaxed in the Palmer raids on the night of January 2, 1920, in which 10,000 peace and trade union activists were arrested and imprisoned without due process. The Red Scare did not confine its attacks to labor and the Left, but it also tried to split the movement into Left and Right fragments by red-baiting the liberals. Such leaders of the women's peace movement as Emily Balch. Lillian Wald and Jane Addams were branded as "radicals" by the Overman Committee, and they were vilified in the mass media. Even Samuel Gompers was red-baited, to which he responded by red-baiting his own A.F. of L. union membership.
The American peace movement shifted to the left in the decade following the First World War. Not only was it in response to the People's Council and the Presidential candidacies of Debs. but it was also associated with a worldwide shift. In Russia, the first socialist revolution had won the support of the people on the promise of Bread, Land, and Peace. The first official act of the revolutionary Bolshevik government was the Peace Decree, which, we have noted, directly inspired the People's Council in America. At the World Disarmament Conferences in the Twenties and Thirties it was the Soviet delegate Litvinov who led the call for world disarmament.
After the Russian Revolution there was a fundamental shift in the nature of war itself. The fight between rival capitalist nations that had caused World War I was now augmented by a new fight in which the capitalist nations sought to destroy the new socialist state, the Soviet Union. This new cause of capitalist wars culminated in the rise of Hitler.