Just Another Day in the Life of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1953)

In March 1953, Brick Garrigues was fifty years old, his graft-busting and union-organizing days behind him. He was a copy editor on the San Francisco Examiner.

Brick, who lived in San Francisco, was subpoenaed to appear in a closed session of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating subversion in the Los Angeles area. He was questioned by Congressman Harold H. Velde and Raphael I. Nixon, a staff member. (No relation to Richard M. Nixon, who had been a member of the committee until he was elected to the Senate in 1950.)

Brick was happy enough to get a government-paid trip to L.A., though he was not happy he had an odious ritual to perform — the “naming” whereby he earned absolution.

He later said  he had identified only those Communist Party members who were dead or who had already been identified by others. This was a tactic many ex-party members took; the alternative would have been loss of his job.

(A colleague, Jack Eshleman, was fired as an Examiner reporter when he refused to answer questions before the same committee. Eshleman, I understand, was never able to work steadily as a reporter again.)

Mr. NIXON: Now, has there been any time . . . that you had occasion to join the Communist Party?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Yes, I did join the Communist Party.

Mr. NIXON: . . . You saw William Z. Foster?

Mr. GARRIGUES: I was assigned to go and interview him, which I did. I was rather impressed by the man’s attitude, wrote what I would consider a very favorable, honest interview, was quite proud of the fact that it was probably the first honest interview written of a Communist and published in a Los Angeles newspaper. [Click here to read the article.]

Mr. NIXON: For what newspaper was this?

Mr. GARRIGUES: That was the Daily News. . . . At that time I was — you remember that was the depth of the Depression, and one of my jobs was meeting the people who came to . . . the News . . . in search of some kind of help. Many people came there very desperate for food or paying their rent — and during many days twenty or thirty sometimes — and I would question them and sometimes, very frequently, call reports in to the WPA. [The Works Progress Administration, one of the New Deal’s anti-Depression agencies.] I would very frequently call friends of mine at the city and county offices and ask them to help this particular family or that particular family.

After this interview with Foster, I began to — or the boys came and called me up, several Commies whom I don’t now recall, and they made no particular impression on me.

Mr. NIXON: They were known to you as Communists or so identified themselves?

Mr. GARRIGUES: They identified themselves as Communists.

Mr. NIXON: All Communists, were they?

Mr. GARRIGUES: As well as people of all other left-wing political beliefs. And during the campaign I had contact for the first time with what the people called first just “the movement,” which consisted of the Communists, Guild Socialists, Walker Socialists, Utopian Socialists, remnants of the old IWW, as well as merely ordinary socialists and left-wing Democrats, and noted trade unionists began to come in later, I think.

They didn’t make too much impression on me, except I became aware for the first time that there was a good body of political theory which I was not familiar with.

During those times when I was engaged in political work for Mr. Boddy, the publisher of the News, as a reform investigator, I had begun to theorize a great deal about the basis of the American Government, municipal and higher governments, and had at various times started preparation of a book [You’re Paying for It! A Guide to Graft] relating to some of my experiences as an investigator, and some of the things which I thought could be done and could not be done and should be done or should not be done in order to save the American system from downfall from internal corruption.

As my experience in that direction became wider I began to have more and more definite ideas, and by 1935 they had begun to crystallize in a book in which I set forth quite completely my conclusions as to the relationships between business and government, the genesis of graft, and that sort of thing.

Mr. NIXON: Now, fixing this again in period of time, you just referred to 1935. What was the commencement of this feeling? 1932, 1929? . . .

Mr. GARRIGUES: My interest in the subject began when I was a kid. The first work I did I was a newspaper editor in Venice, California, when Venice had a realty boom in 1922.

I didn’t have any opportunity to do any more investigation probably until 1930, when I assisted in the prosecution, the detection and prosecution of certain people known as the dam graft ring, which sent a couple of men to the penitentiary, and out of that there came not only the political idea, you might say moral idea, of what should be done, but I was interested to see if it was possible to convict a bribery case solely on circumstantial evidence, and they did that in the first bribe case in American jurisprudence with no evidence other than circumstantial, got a conviction and got it sustained by the Supreme Court.

Mr. NIXON: All right. We will get down to the actual period of your joining. You have previously referred to your interview with William Z. Foster. . . . It was not at that time that you actually joined the Communist Party.

Mr. GARRIGUES: No, that was my first contact with it, as I say. Then increasingly during the rest of the Depression I began to come in contact with this segment of society who called themselves “the movement.” . . . .

I had just finished my first book, and it was accepted and I then began to debate the idea of doing another book on the relationship between labor and government, the potentialities in there. At that time . . . I was employed by a committee working for Harlan Palmer for district attorney, and after that campaign ended I went to San Diego.

I was then employed by the King-Ramsey-Connor Defense Committee, investigated a murder trial in Alameda County a couple months, when I met more and more Communists.

I came back to San Diego and went to work for the San Diego Sun. That must have been early in 1937. And at that time I decided that I would make a thorough investigation of the potentialities of the labor movement in the same manner that I had previously done with the graft situation, except to approach it on a different angle.

I went down to the Communist Party offices and book shop, headquarters in San Diego, and told them, this man there, that I wanted to join the party. He handed me a card and I signed it. And a couple of months later or possibly a month . . . I had a call from him that I was to meet a certain man at a certain place. I remember who, but where I don’t recall.

Mr. NIXON: From that you recruited yourself actually into the Communist Party.

Mr. GARRIGUES: That is right. . . .

Mr. NIXON: Were there any instructions given to you as to future meetings or activities?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Yes. I was told that I was to — the party would keep in contact with me, but that I was to keep undercover, not to expose myself, and they would have more information for me later. . . .

Mr. NIXON: During that period of time were you given any instructions or indoctrination instructions into the party, or Marxism?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Well, by this time I had begun to read theoretical Marxism, which is what I say most interested me, that aspect of it. There was a person who came to me . . . from time to time and [brought] . . . me pamphlets and books. . . .

Mr. NIXON: You were not throughout the period of time assigned to any particular group or anything, but more in a position of a member at large?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Yes, for a little while; I don’t remember how long. As a matter of fact, I know I was regarded with considerable suspicion at first.

Mr. NIXON: Why?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Because I had recruited myself. . . .

Mr. NIXON: And then I think you referred to having left San Diego? When was that?

Mr. GARRIGUES: That was in — must have been probably October of 1937. . . . I came up here; they asked me, that is, the Newspaper Guild. Of course, by this time I was a part-time organizer . . . and they were having trouble with the Guild in Los Angeles, and the Guild officers asked me to come up.

Mr. NIXON: In connection with your work in organizing the Guild, did you receive any instructions or directives from the Communist Party as to what action your work should be directed to?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Not in the sense of instructions or directions, no.

Mr. NIXON: Well, would it be on a basis that because of your knowledge of the purposes and your activities in the party, that your direction or the activities that you used in organizing the Guild were influenced by the Communist Party to the extent that you were a member of the Communist Party as well as an organizer for this particular organization?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Well, I think you can go farther than that. I was in the Communist Party, at least in theory, because I believe in the importance of the labor movement as such. The Guild, according to the theory under which we were working, was a very important aspect of that labor movement, and anything I could do to strengthen the labor movement —

Mr. NIXON: By “the Guild,” are you referring to the Communist Party?

Mr. GARRIGUES: I am referring to both, although I mean the labor movement particularly.

Mr. NIXON: Particularly in regard to aiding the Communist Party?

Mr. GARRIGUES: Yes; that is right. . . .

Brick and his inquisitor seemed to be talking at cross purposes, with one not really understanding what the other was getting at. The committee’s obtuseness in general can be measured from the fact that when Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theater Project under the New Deal, made a reference to the sixteenth century English dramatist Christopher Marlowe, a committee member demanded to know if Marlowe “was a Communist.”

The Guild was the American Newspaper Guild, a labor union once riven by a left-right controversy.

Mr. NIXON: When did you leave the Communist Party?

Mr. GARRIGUES: In 1939. . . .

Mr. NIXON: Was there any occasion or reason for you to feel all the time that you were in the Communist Party that it was a revolutionary party or was a conspiracy in the sense of advocating the overthrow of this Government, as was stated?

Mr. GARRIGUES: No, not in the sense in which the terms are now being used. That was not my experience with it at all. That was the particular point I studied most carefully. I didn’t want to be in such a conspiracy.

Mr. VELDE: Mr. Garrigues, on behalf of the entire Committee on Un-American Activities, I wish to express our thanks for your testimony today.

You may be excused.

(Whereupon the witness was excused and the subcommittee adjourned subject to the recall of the Chair.)

He went back to work writing headlines on the Examiner’s copy desk with scarcely a ripple left behind him in the fight against international communism.