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The California criminal syndicalism law : a factual analysis.

Text concerning the recent United States Supreme court decision on the Oregon criminal syndicalism law.

1919
Text

The California Criminal Syndicalism Law: A Factual Analysis; San Francisco : California crusaders, [c1936]; PAM 343.C13; California Historical Society

In April 1919 California adopted the Criminal Syndicalism Act. This law made it illegal for individuals to belong to an organization that advocated the overthrow of the government. By the end of 1919, the state charged 108 people with violating the law. Most of those charged belonged to labor groups and the Communist Party. The law was favored by a broad political coalition of leaders who felt the government needed to do more to repress radicalism. In the wake of World War I, an anti-radical movement known as the Red Scare led federal and state leaders to support policies and laws such as this act that seemingly prohibited certain acts of free speech that they deemed seditious. As you read the text of the law, make a list of the ways that someone could be considered a criminal syndicate. The definition of criminal syndicalism in the first sentence references illegal change in industrial ownership or effecting political change. Based on this definition, which groups did the law target? Next, based on reading the section on unlawful acts, what were the ways the government used to determine whether to charge someone with breaking the law? How does this document provide evidence for one of the “extremes” of the 1920s?

In April 1919 California adopted the Criminal Syndicalism Act. This law made it illegal for individuals to belong to an organization that advocated the overthrow of the government. By the end of 1919, the state charged 108 people with violating the law. Most of those charged belonged to labor groups and the Communist Party. The law was favored by a broad political coalition of leaders who felt the government needed to do more to repress radicalism. The Red Scare that followed World War I and the Russian Revolution ushered in an era of unprecedented government repression of radicalism. Widespread anti-Bolshevism, rampant labor unrest, race riots, and a series of mail bombs prompted the heated response of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to order raids, arrests, and deportations of more than 6,000 Americans and immigrants, including leading labor figures such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. On top of these sweeps, federal and state governments rapidly passed laws prohibiting certain acts of free speech that they deemed seditious, which marked an important turning point in national and state governments leading repression of certain activities. As students read the text of the law, ask them to make a list of the ways that someone could be considered a criminal syndicate. The definition of criminal syndicalism in the first sentence references illegal change in industrial ownership or effecting political change. Based on this definition, which groups did the law target? Ask students to also describe the ways the government used to determine whether to charge someone with breaking the law. Finally, connect this document to others in this set by considering the question: how does this document provide evidence for one of the “extremes” of the 1920s?

Criminal Syndicalism Defined:
The term “criminal syndicalism” as used in this act is hereby defined as any doctrine, or precept advocating, or aiding and abetting the commission of crime, sabotage (which word is hereby defined as meaning wilful and malicious physical damage or injury to physical property), or unlawful acts of force and violence or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change.

II. Unlawful Acts. Penalty.
Any person who:
By spoken or written words or personal conduct advocates, teaches, or aids and abets criminal syndicalism or the duty, necessity or propriety of committing crime, sabotage, violence or any unlawful method of terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control or effecting any political changes; or …
3. Prints, publishes, edits, issues or circulates or publicly displays any book, paper, pamphlet, document, poster or written or printed matter in any other form, containing or carrying written or printed advocacy, teaching, or aid and abetment of, or advising, criminal syndicalism; or
4. Organizes or assists in organizing, or is or knowingly becomes a member of any organization, society, group, or assemblage of persons organized or assembled to advocate, teach or aid and abet criminal syndicalism …
Is guilty of a felony and punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not less than one or more than fourteen years. …

IV. Urgency Measure:
Inasmuch as this act concerns and is necessary to the immediate preservation of the public peace and safety, for the reason that at the present time large numbers of persons are going from place to place in this state advocating, teaching and practicing criminal syndicalism, this act shall take effect upon approval of the governor.