I don't believe Samuel Dickstein was a communist. In fact the diminutive eleven term nattily dressed Congressman was the creator of the infamous, virulent anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee. His primary justification in creating this step child of democracy was to combat Nazi infiltration of American politics, but he also called communists “high binders and hoodlums”, and once invited several communist party members to his home, where he welcomed them with subpoenas printed on pink paper. So, I see little evidence that Dickstein was a communist. He was an arrogant, loud obnoxious bully, with the morals of an investment banker. He did take money from the Communists, but for him that was just business. You see, Samuel Dickstein, was very aptly named.
“Hiawatha was an Indian, so was Navajo. Paleface organ-grinders killed them many moons ago; But there is a band of Indians that will never die. When they're at the Indian Club, Big Chief sits in his tepee, and this is their battle cry: Tammany, Tammany. Swamp 'em, swamp 'em, Get the wampum, Tammany!”
Samuel Dickstein was one of last tigers promoted by Tammany Hall chief “Silent Charlie” Murphy (above). “Ominously shrouded in silence, mystery and power”, Commissioner Murphy commanded the machine which had dominated New York politics since Aron Burr, in 1797. Mr. Murphy followed a simple rule: “Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Never nod when you can blink”. In fact, that was about the only thing Charles Murphy was ever quoted as saying. One fourth of July, when the Commissioner did not join in singing the national anthem, a supporter nervously suggested, “Maybe Murphy didn't want to commit himself”. But in 1922 the taciturn Murphy committed to his his doppelganger, the diminutive, argumentative, loud and often offensive state representative Samuel Dickstein, to be Tammany Hall's federal Congressman from the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
“On the island of Manhattan by the bitter sea, Lived this tribe of noble Red Men, tribe of Tammany,
From the Totem of the Greenlight, Wampum they would bring,”
The Lithuanian born Samuel Dickstein (above) was an early member of the two million Ashkenazim Jews driven out of Russia and Poland, who came to America Between 1880 and 1923, as many as 110,000 new Yiddish speakers a year poured into the cramped neighborhood bordered by the East River, 14th Street on the north, Houston Street on the south and Greenwich Village and Astor Place to the west - the 12th Congressional district of the cantor's son, Samuel Dickstein. So intense was life on the Lower East Side, it was the source for the modern image of American Jews. Then, in 1924, new antisemitic immigration laws chocked off the flood of new arrivals.
“When their big Chief Man Behind, They would pass the pipe and sing. Tammany, Tammany. Swamp 'em, swamp 'em, Get the wampum, Tammany!”
At the urging of Tammany Hall, the freshman Congressman was appointed to the Immigration and Naturalization Committee. Dickstein's constituents favored liberal immigration laws. Fellow committee member, the bombastic Texas Democrat Thomas Blanton, insisted some of his best friends were Jews, but he wanted to stop all immigration for ten years.(Sound familar?) “Let us assimilate those we have before we take in others,” he argued. The restrictive yearly immigration quotas of 1924 were a compromise in the cultural wars of the roaring twenties.
“If we'd let the women vote, they would all get rich soon. Think how old man Platt gave all his money to a con. Mrs. chadwick is a girl, who'd lead in politics. She could show our politicians lots of little tricks, the Wall street vote she'd fix.”
Just a year later, in August of 1925, “The Saturday Evening Post” noted the new rules had produced a gray market, fueled by 10,000 desperate transients in Canada, willing to pay $500 for a permit to legally cross the U.S. border . Dickstein (above, center) told Time Magazine another 40,000 had already been smuggled in from Cuba. And he should know, because he was already profiting by selling entrance visas out of his capital hill office. His capitalistic enterprise grew even larger after Saturday, 4 March, 1933, when the 73rd Congress was sworn in and Samuel Dickstein became Chairman of the Immigration and Naturalization Committee. He was already disliked because of what Rep. Lindsay Warren of North Carolina called his ““itch and flair for publicity and advertisement.”. As if the congressman from North Carolina ever turned down either of those.
“Tammany, Tammany, Stick together at the poll, you'll have long green wampum rolls. Tammany, Tammany. Politicians get positions.”
Still looking for a wedge issue, in a December 1933 radio broadcast, Dickstein called Nazi Germany “the most dangerous threat to our democracy that has ever existed”, and added, “I will name you 100 (Nazi) spies who have entered this country....” The response in his district was so positive that in March of 1934, he proposed spending $25,000 for an investigation of “Un-American Activities” by Nazi agents . But few non-Jewish Americans in 1934 thought Hitler posed a threat. After meeting the German Chancellor, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst said only “Hitler is certainly an extraordinary man.” In response to Dickstein's motion, Congressman Blanton mocked “the so-called persecution of the Jews in Germany”. Dickstein then challenged Blanton to step outside for a fist fight. United Press reported that one party leader mused, “ I'm still undecided which is worse... to allow more Dicksteins to come in, or...raise more home-grown Blanton's”
“Chris Columbo sailed from Spain, across the deep blue sea, Brought along the Dago vote to beat out Tammy. Tammany found Columbo's crew were living on a boat, Big Chief said: "They're floaters," and he would not let them vote, To the tribe he wrote.”
In the end the “Un-American Activities” Committee was authorized, but given just $10,000, and Dickstein (above) was forced to share the chairmanship with Representative John McCormack, an Irish Catholic from South Boston. After the vote, when Dickstein asked for three minutes to make some closing remarks, the House voted him down.
“Tammany, Tammany. Get those Dagoes jobs at once, they can vote in twelve more months. Tammany, Tammany, Make those floaters Tammany voters, Tammany”
Still, between 26 April and 29 December, 1934, the committee heard testimony that Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, had hired an American lobbyist to put a positive spin on the burning of Jewish shops and synagogues, that Rep. Louis McFadden of Pennsylvania had allowed the Iowa Nazi “Silver Shirts of America” to use his franking privileges to mail antisemitic, pro-Nazi propaganda for free, that thugs had silenced anti-Hitler sentiments in the German-American community. But after 4,300 pages of testimony, McCormack kept the conclusions of the final report conservative - “To the true and real American, communism, Nazism, and fascism are all equally dangerous...equally unacceptable to American institutions.” And as quickly as that bland statement was issued, Samuel Dickstein had lost his wedge issue.
“Fifteen thousand Irishmen from Erin came across, Tammany put these Irish Indians on the Police force. I asked one cop, if he wanted three potatoes or four, He said, "Keep your old potatoes, I've got a cuspidor, What would I want with more?"
As the 1936 elections approached, a letter to the New York Herald Tribune labeled Dickstein;s claims of Nazi subversion as “red herrings...to keep his name on the front page”, and Rep. Maury Maverick of Texas called his claims “just a lot of noise...”. Dickstein responded by naming 46 Nazi “propagandists, agents, stool pigeons and spies” at work in America. The Herald noted Dickstein's list had shrunk, and added, “With cooler weather, it may shrink further”. In fact most of the names had been published earlier in the book “The Brown Network”, by William Francis Hare, who had served in British Intelligence. Dickstein's constituents did not seem to mind. They re-elected him that November with 86% of the vote.
“Tammany, Tammany. Your policeman can't be beat, They can sleep on any street. Tammany, Tammany, Dusk is creeping, they're all sleeping, Tammany.”
In the summer of 1937 Dickstein was approached by an Austrian member of the Communist Party, seeking to obtain American citizenship. Dickstein agreed to help, for $3,000. The Soviet Security Agents, the NKVD, learned that Dickstein headed “a criminal gang that was involved in...selling passports, illegal smuggling of people...”. Evidently Dickstein knew of their interest, because over the Christmas holidays he offered his services to them. The NKVD station chief, Gaik Ovakimyan, felt the need to warn his bosses, “We are fully aware of whom we are dealing with...This is an unscrupulous type, greedy for money...a very cunning swindler.” They eventually agreed to pay him $1,250 a month, at a time when the average American family survived on less than $180 a month Dickstein was given the Russian code name, “Zhulik” - in English, Crook.
“When Reformers think its time to show activity, They blame everything that's bad on poor old Tammany. All the farmers think that Tammy caused old Adam's fall. They say when a bad man dies he goes to Tammany Hall, Tammany's blamed for all.”
With another election cycle coming up in 1938, Dickstein urged Congress to fund another investigation. They did, but appointed the staunch anticommunist Texas Democrat Martin Dies as its Chairman. Dickstien was not even offered a seat on the new House Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC). His new Soviet contact, Peter Gitzeit, was disappointed, even after Dickstein dutifully denounced the Dies Committee as “a Red-baiting excursion”. And still, Dickstein kept asking for more money. Gitzeit cabled Moscow that the Congressman claimed he had sold information to Polish and British Intelligence “and was paid good money without any questions.” But clearly Gitzeit was fed up with the egotist, telling Moscow, “Apparently, he really managed to fool the Poles and the English” In February of 1940, the NKVD stopped returning Dickstein's calls.
“Tammany, Tammany, When a farmer's tax is due, he puts all the blame on you. Tammany, Tammany, On the level you're a devil, Tammany.”
Samuel Dickstein left Congress in 1945, after he was redistricted out of office. The Tammany Hall machine secured him a seat on the New York State Supreme Court, a position he still held when he died at the age of 69, on 22 April, 1954. The Tammany Hall machine kept clunking along for another twenty years until it was finally dismantled. And as we all know, ever since, politics in the state of New York have been as pure as the driven snow.
“Tammany's chief is digging out a railroad station here, He shuts off the water mains there, on folks who can't buy beer. He put in steam shovels, to lay off the workingmen. Tammany will never see a chief like him again, He's the poor man's friend.”
On that same Dickstein died - Thursday, 22 April 1954 - in Washington, D.C., the United States Senate held the first session of the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Joseph McCarthy (above), the junior Senator from Wisconsin, had first blazed onto the scene with a 1950 speech in Wheeling ,West Virginia, in which he claimed to have a list of either 205 or 57 communists working at the U.S. State Department. McCarthy's blend of bombast and arrogance should have sounded familiar to the constituents of New York's old 12th district. But “Tail Gunner” Joe was far more successful that Samuel Dickstein. McCarthy was not distracted by fortune hunting – the new kid on the block was only interested in fame.
“Tammany, Tammany. Murphy is your big Chief's name, he's a Rothschild just the same. Tammany, Tammany, Willie Hearst will do his worst to Tammany.”
Tammany Hall Words by Vincent Bryan Music by Gus Edwards 1903
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