Hal Draper

Coast Rally Muffs Anti-Smith Issue

(22 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 39, 30 September 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 22. – This city, which last year mobilized mass picket lines of 20,000 against rallies held by Gerald L.K. Smith, today saw a perfect example of how NOT to conduct the fight against native fascism.

Thousands of disappointed workers were bewildered and confused when the Gerald Smith rally at the Polytechnic High School was countered only by an open-air meeting in a parking lot almost a block away, attended by a scant two thousand and subjected to a list of speakers who held forth while the crowd wondered why some REAL action was not being taken.

This anti-Smith meeting was organized by the Mobilization for Democracy, the same united front of various organizations which last year had organized the picket lines. Today, when a picket line did form in front of the school where Smith was to speak and after it had marched for about a half hour, the Mobilization broke it up, steered it over to the lot and spent the afternoon in speech-making.

Fight Receives Setback

Thousands of people who had come down to picket Smith went home in disgust when the demonstration was given this namby-pamby turn. The very general sentiment even of the crowd that remained was that they “could not understand” why the mass picket line had been restrained and prevented from taking place. It is necessary to say absolutely bluntly, facing the facts, that the fight against Gerald Smith and all that he represents was given a severe setback.

This setback was not administered by Smith, or by the police or other authorities, but by none other than the leaders of the demonstration themselves. It is important that workers understand why this turn of events took place, so that the antifascist fight can go forward again to new heights.

When the news came, at the beginning of this month, that Smith was returning to Los Angeles, the general reaction was: Let’s go after this fascist this time and drive him out of town FOR GOOD! The news of how Smith had been driven out of Minneapolis by the militant action of the trade union movement made a great impression wherever it traveled; the Smith rally had been stopped COLD there; we could do the same in Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago Friday, on September 7, the CIO Council met and decided to call for a mass picket line. There was hope also that the spirit abroad to get rid of Smith would also lead to his facing an overwhelmingly hostile audience inside the hall. The Mobilization for Democracy, in which the Communist Party Stalinists have the decisive say, also made known that they were calling a mass picket line. That was scarcely surprising since in this city, where the Stalinists control the leadership of the CIO Council through their man Connelly, the decision of the CIO virtually represented the line which the Stalinists would push everywhere.

Then the counter-attack from the right got started. Mayor Bowron went on the air to denounce the Mobilization as “trouble-makers” because of their picketing plans, calling on people to “ignore” Smith. (In the same speech, he also went out of his way to whitewash the Ku Klux Klan, claiming that the 27 outrages perpetrated by the Klan in the past period had not been proved and did not show that the Klan was active here. That’s our mayor!)

The Council for Civic Unity sent out a blast against an anti-fascist picket line, conducting a regular campaign of propaganda to ask people to “stay away” from the affair. The AFL Central Council, currently engaged in a red-baiting campaign of its own, joined in.

It was obvious that the so-called “broad” and “liberal and progressive” elements, who last year were swept into the tide of anti-Smith action, had now recovered their normal shilly-shallying attitude, reverted to the policy of “hush-hush” as the secret weapon against fascism, and were exercising pressure in all directions to restrain action.

The CIO, the Mobilization, and, the Communist Party yielded before this pressure. The Stalinists were faced with the choice of satisfying the demand and desires of their own rank and file as well as the ranks of the trade union workers, or of going along with the “respectable” but wishy-washy liberals and progressives whom they have wooed so assiduously especially in Southern California. This was symbolized by the presence on the platform at the open air meeting of Ellis Patterson, New Deal Democrat and the “Wallace” of the local Democratic Party-Stalinist love-feast, with whom they could hold hands at a tame rally but who would not have countenanced connection with a militant picket line in the face of the conservative barrage. They chose to hold hands with the Pattersons rather than conduct a real fight against Smith.

As a result, some time during the past week, the Stalinist leaders of “the anti-fascist front” switched their signals, changed their line, decided to retreat to the parking lot, and hold there the shindig which took place, as a mere token of anti-Smith intentions. As compared with the organized drive to get the CIO workers out which took place last year, practically nothing was done this time. It was not until a few days ago that the CIO Council got around to sending a telegram to its locals about the projected demonstration, and that was all.

Quarantine Pickets

It is no wonder therefore that the demonstration was so much terrifically smaller, in addition to the fact that many militants voted on the matter with their feet and just went home where they felt they could call Smith names just as effectively as the wind-rippers on the platform.

The Smith rally had been called for 2 p.m. The open-air meeting was called for 1:30. At about one, a group of veterans from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the AVC swung out in front of the school with a picket line. The contingent from the Workers Party joined in as well as the already large crowd of workers waiting for something to happen. In a half hour the line held several thousand marchers, who undoubtedly did not suspect that the signals had been switched.

By that time the “official anti-fascist leaders” – God save the mark! – namely, the leaders of the Mobilization, had caught their breath and shouted and steered the picket line across the street and down the block to the loudspeakers they had set up. Most of the marchers did not know what was up and followed along trustingly as directed by the boys with the “official” armbands, and before long there was no picket line and the potential “trouble-makers” (trouble for Smith) were safely quarantined on the parking lot.

William Bidner, executive secretary of the Mobilization and a well-known Stalinist hatchet-man, actually had the nerve to start the meeting off with a fervent assertion that “we will carry this fight against Smith to the end,” and although he didn’t specify what the end of his policy might possibly be, the crowd spread out before him was sufficient evidence of the weakness of his bluster.

Fitting enough as a climax to the whole disgraceful spectacle, the meeting closed with the passing of a resolution (from the platform) calling on Mayor Bowron “to give leadership” to the people to see that Smith does not establish himself in Los Angeles! This was actually the only concrete word from the meeting on what to do next in the fight against Smith, except that the same character Bidner added an exhortation to the same Bowron “not to be afraid of the anti-fascists – we know how to be disciplined and we know how to carry on the fight against fascism.”

In this slavish bow before the rod of the Mayor’s discipline, the great anti-fascist leaders of the Mobilization told the flock to go home and especially not to hang around because there might develop “trouble” with Smith supporters. In all, they seemed as much worried about causing any “trouble” as if they were Sunday-School teachers on a picnic. The thousands of workers, who were used to “causing trouble” (as the Hearsts put it) when they went on strike, couldn’t see it.

The last-minute flipflop by the Mobilization effectively cut the ground from under today’s anti-fascist demonstration but it is doubtful whether the ranks will be taken by surprise once again. The Stalinist-mushhead coalition in the Mobilization will either have to play dead next time and start nothing or else have a hard time keeping the workers in line. The militants are going to want to do it the “Minneapolis way!”

Immediately following the demonstration, the Workers Party held a meeting for friends and sympathizers who had come out at its nearby headquarters on Pico Boulevard, where a report was given on Smith’s rally and the events leading up to today’s fiasco explained and analyzed. About fifty copies of Labor Action were sold during the afternoon. (Pictures next week. – Ed.)

Last updated on 3 April 2020