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American Blacklist

The Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations

Robert Justin Goldstein

October 2008
388 pages, 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1604-6, $34.95 (t)

book cover imageResonating 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.

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—issues that have continued relevance in the current 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

“Goldstein’s 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.”—Choice

“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 General’s 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 America’s 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 General’s 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 History

ROBERT JUSTIN GOLDSTEIN is professor emeritus of political science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His many books include Political Repression in Modern America: From 1870 to the Present and Flag Burning and Free Speech.


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