MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Education for Socialist Bulletin: Struggles Against Fascism at the End of World War II 1.
Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line
—Socialist Workers Party [US] Education for Socialist Bulletins—
Struggles Against Fascism at the End of World War II
Section Three: Protests Against the American Nazi Party
Introduction to section
With the decline of McCarthyism, fascist and incipient fascist groups were consigned for the time being to the lunatic fringe of American politics, although they occasionally made headlines by participating in struggles against school integration in the South.
One of the most exotic fascist groups formed in this period was the American Nazi Party, formed in 1956 George Lincoln Rockwell, an ex-army officer. Openly identifying with Hitler and the German fascist movement, Rockwell was cut off from support from even the most reactionary sectors of the American masses. Rockwell attempted to gain some publicity by several public appearances in 1960 and 1961. The result was a Series of protests which the SWP supported and helped to build.
The experience of McCarthyism and the widespread revulsion against the antidemocratic policies of Stalinism led the SWP to place greater stress on its opposition to official restrictions on the legal rights of Nazis. Such restrictions could only add to the government’s armory of repressive weapons against antifascist and working class dissenters. United-front, mass action tactics continued to be the keynote in organizing antifascist action.
The following materials deal with two incidents. The letter from James P. Cannon and the two items from the Militant which follow deal with Rockwell’s attempt to schedule a rally in New York City’s Union Square on July 4, 1960, and court actions arising from it.
The letter from Joseph Hansen to Larry Trainor deals with an antifascist demonstration in Boston on December 16, 1960. Trainor was a leader and activist in the SWP for forty years until his death in 1975.
Rockwell was murdered in 1967 by the leader of a split off from his Nazi group. 1.
Letter from James P. Cannon to Tom Kerry, June 23, 1960
I learned by way of radio and TV last night that Mayor Wagner denied the preposterous American “Nazi” outfit a permit to hold a meeting in Union Square; and that he said the people “would stone them out of town.” Then the TV report showed the scene of the attempt to mob the American Nazi leader outside the courtroom. I am disturbed by this little off-beat episode and wondering rather anxiously to what extent, if any, we were mixed up in it and how the paper is going to handle the occurrences in its report.
No doubt it was “a famous victory.” But a victory for what and for whom? Certainly not a victory for the right of free speech and assembly as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to which we are firmly, and I hope sincerely, devoted. For us, I take it, under any reasonably normal conditions, free speech is a principle—not only before the revolution but also after it, when the workers’ government becomes stabilized. But free speech is also a practical necessity for us, of particular burning importance when we are fighting as a small minority for the right to be heard.
We certainly didn’t win anything to sustain this right by Mayor Wagner’s decision. It sets a dangerous precedent. The reasons he gave for denying the constitutional rights of the American “Nazi” screwballs, and his incitement to violence against them, can be applied just as well and just as logically to us or any other minority. We will be greatly handicapped in fighting against such discriminations if we give direct or even indirect sanction to this treatment of others. People who demand free speech and constitutional rights for themselves but want to deny it for others do not get much public sympathy when their own rights are denied.
This was demonstrated quite convincingly by the public and labor indifference to the persecution of the Stalinists in the period since the cold war began. The Stalinist record of claiming rights for themselves and denying them, or trying to deny themn, to their opponents boomeranged against them. It gave other people a reason, or an excuse, to stand aside or even to join the hue and cry against the persecuted Stalinists on the ground that “free speech is all right, but not for communists.”
I don’t think the “Nazi” crackpots lost anything by this New York decision. They got a lot of nationwide free advertising, and a chance to appear as a persecuted minority, and the ground to appeal for funds and recruits. If they had a cause with any semblance of appeal to popular sympathy they should profit by this flagrant denial of their rights under the Bill of Rights.
The whole episode is quite obviously a tempest in a teapot It has very little relation to social and political realities in present-day America. But there is a symptomati c significance and we should ponder it. The problem, in one form or another, will come up again and again; and we must not stumble into an improvised policy each time. We have to have a line . As I see it, our line is free speech. We have to fight for it and convince other people that we mean it. With truth on our side, we have the most to gain by freedom of discussion and the most to lose by its suppression. It is true that, as the class struggle develops, we will have to fight the fascists, and not only with words. But this will not be a fight to deprive the fascists of the right to speak and to meet, but a defensive fight to prevent them from interfering with the rights of the workers.
s/James P. Cannon