Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(14 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 15, 14 March 1939, p. 4
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In a letter to the editor, Mrs. Mary D. Brite of New York takes us to task for a reference to the American Civil Liberties Union occurring in the Socialist Appeal article (March 3) on Should Fascists Be Allowed the Right of Free Speech?

We said in the article that the “A.C.L.U. rushed into print to insist that the right of free speech be extended to the Hitlerites.” But the capitalist press did not mention, says Mrs. Brite, that “the Union requested the same protection for the demonstrators as for those holding and attending the meeting ... I think a correction in the columns of the Socialist Appeal is in order.”

Our correspondent also encloses the Press Service Bulletin of the Union which quotes from its letter to Police Commissioner Valentine as follows:

“In conformity with our firm belief that the only way to preserve Americanism is to protect the rights of assembly and free speech of all groups, no matter how unpopular or undesirable their doctrines may be, we wish to request you to give full police protection to both those holding and attending the meeting, and to all persons and groups who may wish to protest the same by picketing or other lawful means.”

The C.L.U. Blew the Police Whistle

The full statement of the Civil Liberties Union does not seriously change the situation, especially when it is considered in the light of what actually happened around Madison Square Garden on the night of the Nazi mobilization.

The accompanying news release of the Union, which is dated Feb. 25, that is, after the meeting had taken place, notes with apparent satisfaction that “In line with a request by the New York Civil Liberties Committee for adequate police protection both to the Nazis and those picketing in protest, 1,700 members of the police force were assigned to the meeting.”

The Union, however, ignores completely what actually happened – not in the realm of its liberal wishful thinking, but at the Garden itself. In spite of almost two decades of activity in the field of civil liberties, it has not yet penetrated the liberal mind that the police are not an above-the-battle institution impartially conferring the benefits of democratic rights upon all and sundry. We have held, and still do, that the police are an institution, like all the armed forces of capitalism, for the suppression of the working class and the protection of its enemies.

Hence, whoever blows the whistle for the cops in a dispute between labor and its opponents, is willy-nilly calling upon the police to do the dirty job for which it is organized and maintained. That is precisely what the A.C.L.U. – oh, with the very best of intentions! – did with its statement; that is why we attacked its action.

How can there be any doubt of this when the realities are kept in mind?

Cops Did Not Protect Workers’ Rights

The unprecedented police guard made it possible for the facists to organize their first large public mobilization of anti-labor thugs. Without that guard, the Nazis could no more have carried through their impudent provocation of the workers than thugs at a company gate can, generally speaking, carry through a strike-breaking job without the benevolent protection of the police. Swinging their fists and clubs and trampling upon the pickets with their horses, the police did indeed give the Nazis all the protection they wanted and ... needed.

On the other hand, the same police, who came to the Garden on their mission with the blessing of the Union liberals, were not at all concerned with the rights of free speech and assembly of the workers who came to protest against the Nazi gangsters. Quite the contrary. It was the workers who were deprived of their rights. It was the workers who were slugged and wounded. It was the workers who were arrested.

That sums up the entire affair. The police made possible the reactionary Nazi mobilization against labor. The police brutally dispersed the labor mobilization against the Nazis. If the police did not act in accordance with the request of the Civil Liberties Union, it did act in accordance with its natural and “proper” function in capitalist society. If the liberals are shocked at the results of their request, it is only because they refuse to understand what this function really is, and to act accordingly.

Where Was the C.L.U’s Protest Delegation?

But come to think of it, we haven’t noticed anywhere that the Civil Liberties Union was shocked by the Garden affair. Is it possible that it considered its aim achieved when the Nazi meeting was peacefully concluded? For it has not come to our attention that the Union, after the meeting, addressed an indignant protest to the New York Police Commissioner and Mayor LaGuardia against the vicious anti-labor conduct of the police cordon around the Garden.

As is known, Acting Mayor Newbold Morris, the illustrious partisan of Democracy, gave a protesting delegation organized by the Socialist Workers Party the run-around at City Hall, and refused to see or hear it. Did the Civil Liberties Union also send a delegation of protest to City Hall? If it did, we have heard nothing about it. It would be interesting to learn if it had as much success in protesting against labor being deprived of its rights, as it had in getting the police to assure the “rights” of the Nazis. And in the alternative case, it would also be interesting to learn why the Union made no protest at all.

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Max Shachtman
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