[Ads-l] premature(ly) anti-fascist

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 2 00:56:25 UTC 2020

"Premature anti-fascist" and "prematurely anti-fascist" are terms that were
associated with Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War's Lincoln
Brigade, allied with the Republican side against Franco. Conventional
wisdom has it that various government authorities labeled Lincoln Brigade
vets as "premature anti-fascists" as a kind of bureaucratic euphemism for
"communists." In their book "In Denial: Historians, Communism and
Espionage," John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr dispute this, arguing that
there is no contemporary evidence that authorities used this label.


But some of the early evidence now available via the newspaper databases
suggests it really was officialese used against Spanish Civil War vets, and
not just a kind of sardonic self-identification as Haynes and Klehr implied
-- see esp. the May 25, 1943 example below.

* prematurely anti-fascist

Daily Worker, Apr. 19, 1943, p. 4, col. 8 [ProQuest]
"National Leaders Honor Foreign-Born Defenders"
[Rep. Vito] Marcantonio also sharply warned against the use of deportation
and naturalization laws to persecute men like Harry Bridges. "... to
persecute people, whose only crime is that they were prematurely
anti-fascist, and are still militantly anti-fascist. I refer to men like
Harry Bridges."
Gazette and Daily (York, Pa.), May 25, 1943, p. 2, col. 3
"Army Still Discriminates Against Early Hitler Fighters"
PM presents facts that show someone in the Army is ignoring a definite War
Department policy of not discriminating against Americans who served with
the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. [...] Some officers have traveled
specially to Washington and were told little except perhaps this: "He was
prematurely anti-Fascist." (Spanish War veteran.)

* premature anti-fascist

Courier-Journal (Lexington, Ky.), May 16, 1943, section 3, p. 2, col. 5
Frederick L. Schuman, "The House's Star Chamber"
If it chooses to do so, Congress may (subject to correction by the Supreme
Court as to the constitutionality of such action) enact legislation barring
from federal posts all premature anti-Fascists and all person who have
urged Soviet-American co-operation, supported the Spanish Republic,
criticised the profit system or collaborated with organizations designated
by the Dies committee or by the Attorney General as "front organizations."
[...] The accused were charged not with aiding the enemies of the United
States but with supporting its allies and with condemning its enemies
prematurely and in bad company.
Gazette and Daily (York, Pa.), June 26, 1943, p. 10, col. 1
"Premature Anti-Fascists" (masthead editorial)
The other day we noticed a phrase that has been recurring to our mind every
now and then since we first read it. "Premature anti-fascists" were the
words and it was applied to persons who recognized the Nazis and fascists
for what they were before a great many of their fellow citizens understood
the seriousness of fascism to the future well-being of all free peoples.
This phrase was used as a term of reflection upon the persons so called, as
though they were to be censured for their intelligence and their ability to
know something bad when they saw it. [...]
These three men [sc. William E. Dodd Jr., Goodwin B. Watson, and Robert
Morss Lovett] who have been hounded and persecuted by the Dies Committee
and whom the Kerr Committee of the Lower House of Congress, to its
everlasting shame, recommended be dropped from governmental payrolls,
certainly do answer the description "premature anti-fascists."


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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