From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 10, 24 February 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The fighting anti-fascists who answered the call of the Socialist Workers Party were of many types. Among those who pressed against the horses, fighting for every inch of ground, were Spanish and Latin-American workers, aching to strike the blow at fascism which had failed to strike down Franco; Negroes standing up against the racial myths of the Nazis and their 100% American allies; German-American workers seeking to avenge their brothers under the heel of Hitler; Italian anti-fascists singing Bandera Rossa; groups of Jewish boys and men, coming together from their neighborhoods, to strike a blow against pogroms everywhere; Irish republicans conscious of the struggle for the freedom of all peoples if Ireland is to be free; veterans of the World War; office-workers, girls and boys, joining the roughly-clad workers in shouting and fighting; workers of every trade and neighborhood of the city.
They had come, the overwhelming majority of them, not because they were adherents of the Socialist Workers Party – to most of them indeed the name became etched on their consciousness for the first time – but because that party, alone among the working class and anti-fascist organizations of the city, had clearly and unambiguously called them to confront the hated fascists.
Some of them brought homemade signs, eloquent of their anxiety to speak out. “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of the Nazis,” read one, perched on the end of an umbrella rib. “Hitlerism is Political Gangsterism” read two others, identifying their bearers as “German-Americans of Yorkville.” One group of Jewish-American World-War veterans from Brooklyn brought a large American flag.
Many of the demonstrators learned for the first time what the cops are. While the Socialist Workers Party spokesmen were addressing the huge crowd on 51st Street, making clear to the demonstrators the role of the police as protectors of the Nazis, an impatient Jewish boy appealed to his friends: “Help me get up to speak to the police for two minutes, they’ll leave us through if we appeal to them and explain we just want to picket.”
A few minutes later those he sought to appeal to were grinding him down under their horses’ hooves.
As the main contingent of the demonstration pressed against the horses on 51st Street, the veterans from Brooklyn sought a simpler solution. With their big flag at their head, they marched to 53rd Street and 9th Avenue, then down 9th Avenue to 50th and attempted to turn east toward the Garden.
As they marched they sang Hallelujah with its original pious words, and shouted to onlookers: “All those who believe in democracy march behind the American flag.” As they tried to turn toward the Garden, the police stopped them. “We’re veterans,” the front line shouted, “We’re good American citizens.” Then came the shambles.
The horses drove them on to the sidewalk, then followed them there – eight mounted cops driving them down on the street like so many hunted animals. At 51st Street the cops wheeled and came back at full speed, driving those who had hidden in doorways out into the open where they could ride them down again. Veterans fought back wildly and hard and gave the cops more than they took; at the end of the fight, their flag emerged with only tatters left on the flag-staff. The cops had torn it to ribbons. It was 9:15, two hours after the veterans had appeared. A lesson in democracy.
In the 47th Street police station the lieutenant was laughingly ruefully as the work piled up. A young student was brought in, picked out of the demonstration on one pretext or another. The lieutenant sought to question him. “Am I under arrest?” the boy asked. “If so I want to telephone for a lawyer.” “Yah smart, young feller,” grinned the lieutenant. “Well I ain’t booking you, what do you know about that? Take him upstairs and make him talk!”
Almost tearfully, a cop reported that his horse’s mouth had been injured when he had ridden him into the demonstration; he had arrested a demonstrator who had grabbed at the bridle when the horse came at him, and he blamed the bridle-puller for the horse’s injury.
“Is he hurt bad?,” the lieutenant inquired solicitously. “Take him up to the veterinarian right away. Book your prisoner for disorderly conduct and separately for cruelty to animals. Where is he?” “We got him upstairs,” the cop answered grimly.
Past a group of cops at the curbstone gently caressing the injured horse, a cop came dragging a young boy who was saying, over and over, “Let go my collar, you’re choking me.” The cop shoved the boy in front of the lieutenant’s desk, and a minute later the boy fell heavily to the floor, unconscious. Involuntarily, a newspaper reporter moved to pick him up. The cop shoved the reporter away with all his strength, and kicked the boy’s fallen hat into his unconscious face. “Didja notice how easy he fell down?” asked the lieutenant. “Just slid down. It ain’t gonna do him a bit of good.”
As the evening wore on, and incident piled upon incident, the mood of the crowd changed. “Curiosity seekers,” as the press called them, who stood watching at 6 p.m., were shouting slogans at the direction of the Party’s squad marshals at 8 p.m. At 10:20 they fought back, blow for blow, as the cops rushed them on 8th Avenue between 47th and 48th; they would not give way even when the mounted cops took to the sidewalk and drove them up against the plate-glass store windows. Clear and musical, came the sound of one window after another cracking under their weight, pressed against the windows by the horses, and determined not to retreat.
For hours thereafter, even when the Socialist Workers Party spokesmen had concluded the action and the formal demonstration had ceased, the demonstrators walked up and down Broadway, and the appearance of a patrol wagon or a mounted or motorcycle cop was the signal for spontaneous boos. They had learned their lesson: the cops whom they had been taught in public school were civil servants, they had found to be friends and protectors of the Nazis, and vicious, brutal, sadistic attackers of a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration.
Last updated on 28 November 2014