MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Education for Socialist Bulletin: Struggles Against Fascism at the End of World War II 1.
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—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
Letter from Joseph Hansen to Larry Trainor
February 6, 1961
Yes, we received the article about the demonstration against the Nazis together with the clippings and copies of the leaflet that was distributed.
I thought the article was well written and gave a very dramatic and vivid picture of what happened.
However, we thought it politically inadvisable to print the article; and instead wrote a short account based on the total material sent us. Aside from its shortness the main difference between the printed article and the one submitted is the line. In the Militant we felt it absolutely necessary to indicate what the party position is in relation to Rockwell’s outfit. For example, the article sent us did not indicate that we do not oppose the democratic right of the Nazis to demonstrate. The Harvard Crimson , however, did report that “most of the students said they felt that the Nazis had a right to picket the theater, but upheld their own picketing as ‘the only way we can protest against what they stand for.’” We considered this very important evidence that this was the attitude taken by the Boston branch of the SWP. The fact that it was reported by the Harvard Crimson made it all the more impressive.
I should like to call your attention to some differences in the way the New York local handled the Nazi demonstrators and the way the Boston branch went about it.
In New York, the SWP at no time assumed leadership of the counterdemonstration or even sought leadership. No leaflets were put out in the name of the SWP. The reason for this was that in view of the relative size of the party it would be an illusion to think that we can directly take leadership of the struggle against fascism. Our role is to urge the mass organizations to engage in this struggle.
To attempt to bypass the mass organizations can only sow illusions in our own ranks about our real strength and our real role; and insofar as it is noted by the members of other organizations it can create the illusion that the SWP will handle the job; they don’t need worry about it. We did help to create a committee that called for a counterdemonstration and this committee succeeded in getting some big organizations to take action.
Another point of difference concerns the estimate of the Rockwell outfit. Does this represent incipient American fascism? I do not think so. The real American fascists look more like Mayor Hague, Senator McCarthy possibly Senator Goldwater. It can be be put down with absolute assurance that in no case will they wear Nazi uniforms, swastikas, and praise Hitler. To picture Rockwell’s outfit as representing American fascism thus helps create the illusion that the real fascists, when they show up, will be identifiable with similar ease and will similarly openly stir up the most violent antipathies (including those of the most patriotic Americans).
Finally, in everything the New York local did, it stressed the fact that Rockwell’s democratic rights were not being challenged. On the contrary. The counterdemonstrators were similarly exercising their democratic rights.
Aside from the question of principle involved in this, it would be a great political mistake to permit our worst foes to maneuver us into the position of seeming to deny democratic rights to others, no matter who, and to claim them only for ourselves. The consequences of this mistake is that we put ourselves into position to become the very next victims.
We had a discussion about this in the PC last June and Jim wrote us his opinions. I suggest you check the PC minutes for July 20, 1960, which included two letters (dated June 14 and June 23) from Jim. With best regards, Joseph Hansen