The Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations
Robert Justin Goldstein
Resonating with disturbing implications for the present, American Blacklist is the only full-length study of the so-called Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO) and its critical role in the post-World War II Red Scare.
Although earlier versions of AGLOSO date back as far as 1903 and were wielded by the federal government during both the post-World War I Red Scare and World War II, they were not widely publicized. But beginning in December 1947, as part of the Truman administration's loyalty program, the federal government engaged in a massive effort to publicize the AGLOSO lists. In the process, it threatened, damaged, or destroyed nearly 300 organizations, all of which were listed without any notice, evidence, or hearings.
“Goldstein draws upon an impressive number of court documents, archival materials, and records released under the Freedom of Information Act to trace the rise, heyday, and fall of the Attorney Generals List. His book is an enthralling tale that may compel many readers to question similar government tactics in use in the post-9/11 era. . . . The resurgence of powerful and sometimes secretive lists for example, terror watch lists, no-fly lists, and lists of suspected terror funding groups in the post-9/11 United States highlights the political importance of Goldstein’s careful scholarship and clarifies the dangers that these lists present to the promise of democracy. This book deserves our careful attention as a cautionary tale.”
—American Historical Review
“A useful and thorough accounting of the origins of the list. . . . A valuable description of the inner workings of the government agencies that formulated the list and of the battles that ensued as various groups contested the list.”
—H-LawSee all reviews...
“A well-researched and endlessly fascinating study of an important legal process and an even more important historical epoch. . . . Offers a bracing perspective in this era of the ‘Patriot Act,’ ‘torture memos,’ lawless wiretapping, and the like. Certainly, this is a cautionary tale that needs to be heeded, and for this, the author merits our heartfelt thanks.”
—Law & Politics Book Review
“Based on meticulous research in FBI and Justice Department documents acquired through declassification requests, American Blacklist is the definitive account of the origin, development and belated demise of ‘the single most important domestic factor that fostered and facilitated the Red Scare.’ A masterful narrative history of the U.S. Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (AGLSO). . . . American Blacklist is essential reading ... for scholars seeking to assess the ‘silent generation’ or the ‘politics of fear.’ It also raises pertinent issues regarding the effects of anticommunism on the civil rights movement, the background to FBI domestic covert action programs, and the context of Watergate. Most importantly, Goldstein alerts us to the tenacity of targeted organizations, such as the National Lawyers Guild, which fought the blacklist, which will inspire those fighting for civil liberties and human rights during a so-called War on Terror.”
“This exhaustive account will fascinate scholars of civil liberties and political repression.”
—Journal of American History
“An important and much-needed contribution to our understanding of the development, maintenance, and use of suspect-organizations lists.”
—History: Reviews of New Books
“Goldsteins volume is not only a welcome addition to the historical literature on anticommunism, but also a historical primer on what governments should not do. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.”
“Goldstein has done the country a great service, offering the definitive history of one of the most important mechanisms for political censorship ever devised in American history. The story of the blacklist, never told before because until now its operation was shrouded in secrecy, is a cautionary one for our times, and should be read by all who care about preserving the liberties that characterize our nation at its best.”
—David Cole, author of Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism
“Few American scholars have devoted as much time and energy to uncovering the many faces of political repression as Robert Justin Goldstein. His work is an invaluable guide for anyone who wants to find out how dissent gets repressed in a modern democratic society.”
—Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America
“American Blacklist is an important and timely book. For one, it significantly expands our understanding of the politics of anti-Communism of the Cold War years and of the questionable practices of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon administrations and of the FBI. It is also a sobering reminder of the costs and consequences inherent in the secret, at times mindless responses of the Bush administration to the 9/11 terrorist attack.”
—Athan Theoharis, author of The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History
“Many bizarre rites of the McCarthy Era took place in the shadow of the Attorney Generals List of Subversive Organizations. Until now, this looming Sphinx has remained a potent but mute mystery. At last Goldstein unravels, definitively and intriguingly, the tangled story of this crucial artifact of Americas red scares.”
—Richard M. Fried, author of Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective and Men Against McCarthy
“This book is a crackerjack view of the background to and operation of the Attorney Generals List—a major weapon of the anti-subversives during the McCarthy era. Goldstein, building on his previous first-rate efforts dealing with the infringement of individual rights during periods of political anxiety in the United States, has produced a splendidly researched, jargon free, incisive book. It is an intelligent, useful contribution to the study of the post World War II Red Scare and it is also a good read.”
—Daniel J. Leab, editor, American Communist HistorySee fewer reviews...
Drawing heavily on previously classified FBI, Justice Department, and other documents, Robert Goldstein demonstrates how the listed organizations and their members (including a large number of federal employees) came under suspicion, were investigated, and suffered numerous public and private penalties. These included the loss of federal tax-exempt status, the denial of passports, deportations and immigration exclusions, ejection from federally subsidized housing, and private employment bans. AGLOSO, which was dominated by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, also placed a huge damper on political dissent throughout the nation.
After 1954, AGLOSO and the Red Scare both came under increasing attack as serious violations of American civil liberties. Indeed, AGLOSO's declining significance after 1954 reflected a more general decline in the postwar Red Scare campaign itself. Both gradually diminished in impact and importance, but they left a long-lasting legacy.
As Goldstein reveals, AGLOSO's final demise in 1974 resulted from congressional opposition to President Richard Nixon's attempt to revive it via a 1971 executive order, which was severely attacked as an abuse of executive authority and an attack on civil liberties. The subsequent controversy preceded by only three months the Watergate investigation and the collapse of the Nixon presidency, events that continue to leave their unsettling mark on an equally troubled present.