MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Education for Socialist Bulletin: Counter-mobilization to Racism and Fascism: The Fight Against Fascism in the USA
Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line
—Socialist Workers Party [US] Education for Socialist Bulletins—
The Fight Against Fascism in the USA:
1. Two Letters on the Youth Committee Against Fascism
Following is a 1934 exchange of letters between the Spartacus Youth League (SYL), the youth affiliate of the Communist League of America (CLA), and the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), the youth group of the Socialist Party. The CLA was the first Trotskyist organization in the United States and a predecessor of the Socialist Workers Party . The letters were reprinted in the October 12, 1934, issue of the SYL’s newspaper, Young Spartacus .
Fascist groups had begun to spring up in the United States in response to the economic crisis and the victory of Hitler in Germany. In opposing these initial fascist formations, the Trotskyists followed a policy aimed at building mass working-class countermobilizations against the fascists. To accomplish this, they realized, a united front of workers’ organizations would be needed. The CIA and the SYL thus sought to apply the key lesson of the German workers’ defeat.
The Stalinists and the Social Democrats opposed such a united front, as they had done in Germany. The Stalinists, still in their ultraleft “Third Period,” held that all other working class organizations represented varieties of fascism.
The Social Democrats favored a class collaborationist approach to the fight against fascism, relying on alliances with liberals to preserve capitalist “democracy.” Under intense pressure, the YPSL had engaged in a united-front antifascist action with the SYL on May 30, 1934. To evade the necessity of such activities, the YPSL leaders initiated the Youth Committee Against Fascism (YCAF). The main task of this organization was the issuance of social.democratic propaganda against fascism. The YPSL held that this was an adequate substitute for a united front of workers’ organizations.
Thus the criticisms by the SYL of the YPSL and YCAF were well taken on all the key strategic questions in dispute. On the issue of democratic rights, however, the young Trotskyists made an error that parallels the error made by the Young Socialist Alliance at the beginning of a later period of class polarization. The letter to YPSL describes the objective of antifascist counter-demonstrations as preventing the fascists from “assembling and spreading their insidious program.”
Similar formulations appeared in the SYL resolution, “Youth in the Struggle Against American Fascism,” published in the December 1934 issue of Young Spartacus. The line of action proposed by the resolution was wholly correct: “. . . Our league should take the initiative to bring together the various youth organizations under a minimum program of action against Fascism, for the organization of united protest actions, mass meetings and counterdemonstrations, for the defense of the democratic rights of workers’ organizations.” The resolution concluded, however, by declaring that the ”rights” of the fascists must be “taken away” by the workers.
The objective Of the working class struggle against fascism is not to suppress the fascists’ legal right to “spread” an insidious program, ‘but to stop them from carrying it out. The fascists challenge the right of the workers’ organizations to assemble and spread their program. The rights of the fascists are not at issue because it is not their rights that are under attack, but those of the working class. Erroneous formulations such as those used by the SYL in these instances could provide liberals and reformists with an excuse to falsely portray the workers’ fight against fascism as an assault on democratic rights.
Experience has taught this lesson to the Trotskyist movement in the United States. In the more serious struggles against fascism that took place in 1938 and 1939, the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party avoided slogans that could make it appear that the antifascists were trying to suppress anyone’s rights. Instead, they realistically and honestly portrayed the battle against fascist goon squads as the defense of the hard-won democratic rights of the workers and their allies.
From Young Spartacus
The Youth Committee Against Fascism has already had several months of sterile existence. Its failure is graphically displayed by the fact that it is not active in the anti-Fascist front in any section of the country. More than that, it is not even participating in such anti-Fascist actions as the Columbus Day demonstration on Oct. 12 in New York.
Where is the need of an anti-Fascist organization which refrains from the anti-fascist activity?
The impotence of the Y.C.A.F. is due in most part and fundamentally to its false basis. The letter of the Spartacus Youth League clearly explains the position of our organization towards mass (individual membership) anti-Fascist organizations.
We believe that the struggle against Fascism requires a united front of working class organizations. The May 30th anti-war, anti-Fascist demonstration sponsored by the Y.P.S.L. and the Spartacus Youth League was a beginning towards the development of a national united front of youth. The Columbus Day united front of youth organizations is a continuation of this movement. We strive to convert these local united fronts into a national action of all working class youth organizations.
Winston Dancis, Sec.
Young Peoples Socialist League
Dear comrade Dancis,
Our agreement to promote united front anti-war, anti-Fascist demonstrations on May 30th met with some success in several cities, particularly New York. Our Committee is prepared to participate in further efforts to construct a united front of youth organizations against war and Fascism which would include all sections of the radical, labor and student movement.
Along these lines we were ready to proceed in New York. Comrade Ben Fisher informed us that the Y.P.S.L. was not interested at the present time in continuing the “United Youth Committee Against War and Fascism ” and considered the “Youth Committee Against Fascism ” as sufficient to carry on the immediate anti-Fascist work.
We are therefore prompted to write to you on the “Y.C.A.F.”. The questions and views presented are based on information and material supplied by comrade Fisher.
1. It is not clear as to precisely what organizations participated in the formation of the Y.C.A.F. On what basis were they selected and is the “National Council” open to further affiliations? If you intend getting further organization affiliations, what are the requirements, obligations and rights of these organizations?
2. We note that you aim to recruit individual adherents for the Y.C.A.F. who would spread its message “in school, shop, mill, mine, office and breadline”. Are these supporters to be formed into groups which are federated on a regional and national scale? Are they to have the right, at a future date, to elect their own regional officers and committees as well as through a national conference elect the “National Council”? Comrade Fisher informed us that no conferences are being planned and the regional committees are being appointed by the National Council. Is this a temporary measure or is it intended as a permanent feature of the Y.C.A.F.?
For our part we do not see the value of a mass individual membership organization against Fascism. An individual membership organization can be based on a revolutionary program, or a liberal pacifist-program. We see no need to build a new membership organization against Fascism on a revolutionary program—we believe that that is the task of our Spartacus Youth League . As to a liberal pacifist anti-Fascist organization, it is obvious that such a formation would serve as an obstacle rather than an aid to genuine anti-Fascist work.
3. In our opinion this view is supported by the present program of the Y.C.A.F. It aims “to educate youth to understand the real nature of Fascism, and to work to end the conditions which have brought this reaction in Europe and also threaten us in America.” Who can accomplish this task but a political revolutionary labor organization?
Surely not a group on whose advisory committee are such liberals and pacifists as Franz Boas, Jerome Davis, John Dewey and Oswald Garrison Villard!
While a united front for definite anti-Fascist action is possible with these elements, if they represent organizations, a fundamental program which includes a basic analysis of Fascism and a clear cut position of how to avoid and combat it, is impossible unless we are to give up the essence of our own program.
The dangers of an organization such as the Y.C.A.F is clearly shown in its program of “pledge”. The individual adherent is asked to pledge—among other things—”to oppose attacks on civil, religious or radical liberties and to support equality and justice for all.”
This pledge cannot be taken by any genuine anti-Fascist fighter. Is he going to defend the “civil liberties” of the Fascists? Is he to support “equality and justice” for the Fascists and the anti-Fascists? Arthur Garfield Hays, a liberal anti-Fascist, recently defended the civil rights of the Fascists to assemble in New Jersey. According to the program of the Y.C.A.F. this action should be supported. Then what becomes of counterdemonstrations to Fascist rallies?
In our opinion, it is important that, today when Fascism in the United States is still in its infancy as a movement, a mass movement of all anti-Fascist organizations and elements be organized to prevent, by all possible means, the growth of the murderous Fascist bands. This has meant and will mean physical clashes with the Fascists to prevent them from assembling and spreading their insidious program of the destruction of labor organizations and the denial of civil liberties for all anti-Fascists.
All attempts of Fascist bands to break working class meetings must be met with united front workers defense corps. But this is hardly sufficient. Immediate action to
obstruct their “civil rights” to assemble forces which can effectively conduct such destructive activity is also needed. No true anti-Fascist can reject or overlook such a task.
The same liberal and constitutional sentence of the pledge is further objectionable to those like ourselves, and sections of your organization, who hold that a classless
society is possible only through the medium of a transition period where the civil liberties, equality and justice of the present exploiting class, will be limited or entirely
abrogated, that is, a dictatorship of the working class. In our opinion it is false to pose the demand for democratic rights today in such a liberal fashion.
We await an early reply to our questions and objections.
(Signed) Joseph Carter,
Letter of YPSL to YSL
August 3, 1934
Spartacus Youth League
Dear Comrade Carter.
The National Executive Committee of the Y.P.S.L. considered the letter which you sent on June 30 in regard to our anti-Fascist work and Youth Committee Against
The Y.P.S.L. took a leading part in establishing the Y.C.A.F. in order to have a special organization that would carry on Anti-Fascist work.
We do not seek the affiliation of the Spartacus Youth League in this endeavor and will be active with other affiliated organizations in the Y.C.A.F. in order to carry on this line in regard with our objectives.
I believe that Bob Parker of New York will be able to give you any further information which you may wish.
(signed) Winston Dancis