Jersey City: Lesson and Warning

By James P. Cannon


Written: July 9, 1938, Socialist Appeal, New York
Source: The Fight Against Fascism In The USA © Resistance Books 2001. Resistance Books 2004 ISBN 1876646179; Published by Resistance Books 23 Abercrombie St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Permission for on-line publication provided by Resistance Books for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2004.
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters


Jersey City today is the testing ground of a struggle destined in the not too distant future to become national in scope and to dominate national affairs.

The most conscious representatives of the two main contending forces which will confront each other in the national struggle that is impending—the capitalist masters of America and the dissatisfied working masses—are closely studying the developments in Jersey City and drawing conclusions for the future.

It is safe to assume that a section of the capitalists have already come to certain tentative conclusions in favour of the Hague method of dealing with labour insurgence. It is important for the workers also to know what the brutal aggressions of Mayor Hague and his cohorts really signify.

They must know what the problem is in order to formulate the proper answer to it. Much can and much undoubtedly will be written on this subject, for it has a transcendent importance. Here I want to present an outline of opinion from the proletarian class point of view:

The Real Meaning Of Hagueism

Hagueism is not simply the individual aberration of an illiterate, provincial politician, as liberals, social-democrats, and Stalinists represent the matter. The Jersey City events signify a deliberate mobilisation of reaction, backed by big industrial and financial interests, for a serious preliminary test of the workers’ capacity to resist fascistic repression.

It is no accident that the fight of Hague was directed from the start against the organisation campaign of the CIO. Hagueism is a shrewdly devised antilabour campaign, not a seemingly irrational interference with the formal rights of free speech, etc.

By the same token the aggressions of the Hague reaction can be seriously countered only by an organised resistance of the workers. Any other approach to the question is false and can only lead to defeat in the fight against Hagueism in New Jersey and its spread to other centres. No doubt the present attempt to suppress the CIO in New Orleans draws certain inspiration and encouragement from the Jersey City success of Mayor Hague.

CIO Bureaucrats Debase Struggle

The greatest aid to Hague’s campaign has resulted from the pusillanimous conduct of the leadership of the New Jersey CIO. They renounced the fight on their own account and handed it over to liberal-Stalinist “civil liberties” bodies. The latter, as is their nature, debased the whole struggle to more or less meaningless court battles. Hague’s plug-uglies wielded their clubs and blackjacks on the streets of Jersey City where the issue is really decided.

The high-placed comedians from Washington, who were assigned the task of restoring free speech in Hague’s domain couldn’t find their way to Journal Square and had no organised workers’ force to protect them if they arrived. The publicity attending the intervention of Norman Thomas overshadowed one fact of paramount significance:

There was no organised force of Jersey City workers prepared to defend the meeting. But a Workers’ Defence Guard, the one factor so far lacking, is precisely the factor necessary for the beginning of a real fight. Only the Workers’ Defence Guard, surrounded by the sympathy and support of the workers’ mass organisations, can smash incipient American fascism—for that is what Hagueism is—and safeguard the workers’ rights in Jersey City.

Business Interests Behind Hague

The experience of the past weeks have shown that Hagueism is capable of organising the entire apparatus of the city administration, its police and unofficial thugs, veteran’s organisations, and all forces of reaction, together with a considerable section of the local population. It is likewise quite obvious that “business”, which is the real beneficiary of Hague’s antilabour campaign, is solidly behind him. It is not for nothing that Jersey City’s official slogan is: “Everything for Business”.

Under these circumstances, it is, to say the least, quite naive to imagine that individuals coming from the outside, or a few dozen, or even a few hundred people from New York, can seriously challenge the Hague reaction on its home ground and overthrow it. On the contrary, the sad fiasco of the comic-opera congressional heroes from Washington is proof that we are dealing here with something far more serious than the incidental and irrational actions of a local F�hrer. The failure to line up at least the local CIO organisations for serious resistance, for the protection of speakers and of meetings, reduces any outside intervention in the situation to the status of a more or less meaningless sally, doomed to defeat in advance.

Publicity Stunts Helped Hague

On the basis of the experiences of the past week, it can be said with certainty that all such adventuristic publicity stunts have only succeeded in playing into Hague’s hands and strengthening his appeal to local prejudices against the “invasion” of outsiders. Speakers, and even groups from the outside can play an auxiliary and stimulating role in a serious struggle; provided only, however, that their intervention is based upon solid support of a section of the workers in Jersey City and that the brunt and burden of the fight is borne by organised workers and their defence squads. A serious challenge to Hagueism can only begin with a movement inside the ranks of the Jersey City trade unions for stern resistance to Hague and his hoodlums, official and unofficial. That is the lesson of Italy, Germany and Austria. Fascism fears no “scandal” and is not to be bluffed. It has to be beaten down.

It is not sufficient to denounce Hague as a violator of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. These documents are sacred only for the dupes of capitalist propaganda, not for the real masters themselves. The workers in reality have only such rights as they are ready and able to defend with their own strength. Everything else under the subject of democratic rights is a lie. Hague, the authentic American fascist, answers all palaver with brutal force. For their part, the magnates of industry and finance, alarmed by labour’s aggressiveness of the past few years, cannot fail to notice with satisfaction that all the arguments in court and all the pious sermons and editorials about the Constitution carry little weight against the fists and clubs of Hague’s hoodlums. Force is the argument of the advance guard of Amercian fascism. Woe to the workers of America if they do not learn in time to talk the same language!

A Fight Of National Significance

The fight against Hagueism has an extraordinary national significance insofar as it poses in all seriousness the problem of combating the beginnings of American fascism. It imposes on revolutionary militants, in the first place, the general task of widespread agitation for the formation of the workers’ defence guards as the only way to combat fascism. Along with this must go thoroughgoing exposure of all illusions that people’s front combinations, liberalistic wailings, and court struggles can seriously interfere with the advance of American fascism. It is necessary to explain to the workers, on the basis of European experience, that if they do not fight fascism by their own organised defence guards, fascism will crush the labour movement.

In Jersey City, and in New Jersey generally, the main task of those who understand the problem and want to meet it realistically is to carry on an intensive agitation along this line, and to introduce resolutions to this effect in all labour organisations both AF of L and CIO, to which they have access. Revolutionary workers who are the only possible leaders of a fight to the finish against fascism will naturally take part, in the most energetic and courageous manner, in actual demonstrations against Hague.

Fight Cannot Be Delegated

But it would be adventuristic folly for them to substitute the numerically weak forces of the vanguard for the genuine mass struggle of the workers’ organisations. It is worse than folly for the workers’ organisations to “delegate” their fight for labour rights, which is their fight for existence, to lawyers, grandstanding congressmen, “civil liberties experts” and the rest of the publicity seeking, windbag fraternity. This is labour’s own fight. Only the workers, organised and steeled for physical combat, can stand up against fascist reaction and defeat it in New Jersey and on a national scale.

Bourgeois democracy, already obsolete in most of Europe, is also approaching its twilight in America with the decline and decay of American capitalism. The fate of America, like that of the rest of the world, will be decided in the oncoming struggle between fascism and the workers’ revolution. The Jersey City events signalise the opening skirmishes of this grandiose struggle.