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—Socialist Workers Party [US] Education for Socialist Bulletins—

The Fight Against Fascism in the USA

Resolution of July 1939 Convention on Workers Defense Guard

Reprinted from the July 7, 1939, issue of Socialist Appeal

1. The collapse of the New Deal, and the insuperable, ever-mounting internal conflicts of United States capitalism are beginning to pose more and more directly to the U.S. bourgeoisie the necessity for abandoning parliamentary democracy and resorting to fascism as the sole means for preserving its power and privilege; and these same factors simultaneously open the minds of large numbers among the unemployed, farmers, middle classes and demoralized proletarians to fascist demagogy and organization.

2. Recent months have witnessed a profound transformation in the character of the fascist movement in the United States. Before this, it had been confined largely to individual cranks, eccentrics, and dilettante intellectuals, and “foreign” groups such as the various Italian fascist societies and the Nazi Bund. Now, for the first time, it is becoming a serious, native, mass movement. in the first stage of this transformation, the Coughlinites in the big cities, and to a lesser extent the Silver Shirts in the farming areas and smaller towns, are playing a major role. Whatever may be the eventual fate of these two particular groups, and whatever may be the episodic rises and declines of the fascist movement as a whole, it is certain to grow in extent and depth until its sources have been rooted out. This can be accomplished by nothing short of the social revolution.

Immediate Problem

3. The transformation of the fascist movement dictates the transformation of the methods of defense against it. Theoretical analysis and abstract propaganda, to which specifically antifascist activities had to be more or less confined so long as fascism in this country remained primarily a threat for the future, become altogether inadequate when fascism has become a reality of the present.

4. The long-term defense against fascism can be only the achievement of the social revolution. Meanwhile, however, there is the immediate and direct problem of the physical defense of the organization, lives, and liberties of the workers, which the fascists aim first to weaken and then to destroy, from the physical assaults of the fascist gangs. The experience of all countries, including the United States, proves beyond any doubt whatever that the agencies of the bourgeois-democratic state will not and cannot carry out this defense; but that on the contrary, reliance upon these agencies guarantees the smashing of the workers and the victory of the fascists. Only the workers themselves, relying on their own means and strength, can defend their own organizations and life and liberties. The only possible form of defense against the fascists is the Workers Defense Guard. Whereas, formerly, the Workers Defense Guard has been primarily a slogan for agitation, the point has now been reached, and more than reached when the concrete task of the actual building of the Workers Defense Guard must begin in action.

5. The Workers Defense Guard is, from one point of view, an outgrowth and development of the picket squads used by virtually all unions in strikes. From the beginning, however, the Defense Guard differs in key respects from the picket squad. The Guard is permanent, whereas the picket squads are usually created only for the duration of the strike. The duties of the Guard are not merely picketing, defense against scabs, etc., but at all times the defense of the headquarters and rights of the union and its members. Moreover, the tasks of the Guard must be conceived, from the start, not in narrow terms of the given single union which may be first involved, but of the labor movement as a whole, and indeed of all groups, individuals, organizations, racial minorities, etc., threatened or attacked by the fascists, vigilantes or other reactionaries. The duty of the Guard is to defend all who need defense from the assaults of the fascists. To carry out this duty, the Guard must be trained and disciplined, and function democratically as an autonomous body. From a second point of view, the Workers Defense Guard is the preparation for the far broader organization of the masses, with far greater tasks, which will in the future have the task of defending the masses against the counterrevolution.

Enlisting The Unions

6. From the nature of the Workers Defense Guard and its tasks, it follows that the Guard should take form wherever possible through the established unions. Revolutionists within the unions must attempt to win the union members as a whole to a realization of the necessity of the Guard and must aim to have the unions initiate the actual building of the Guard. Where a union forms units of the Guard, the aim must be from the beginning to extend the scope and base of the Guard beyond the normal confines of union organization and activity; by drawing into the Guard unemployed, youth, and others who are not members of the union (and in many cases are not in a position to be members of any union), by linking up with other unions in the building of the Guard, by establishing relations with the Guard in other cities and by amplifying the types of activities undertaken by the Guard.

7. In localities where it is at present impossible to enlist the established unions in the task of building the Guard, it is now necessary, in addition to constant agitation for union initiative, to take concrete steps in the formation of the Guard with what forces are available. Where such forces are meager it would be an error to regard the group that can be formed as a Workers Defense Guard in the full sense; rather, since the genuine Guard can be built only by enlisting the masses, are such groups skeletons or embryos of the Guard. They cannot substitute their action for that of the masses, but must aim to win the masses especially in the trade unions to the task of building the Guard, by adding on however a modest scale, the lesson of action and example to that of agitation. In New York City, Newark, and elsewhere, first steps have been taken along these lines by the formation of the Anti-Fascist Labor Guard.

United Front Action

8. The struggle against fascism makes possible, and demands, the broadest possible united front. The essential requirements for membership in the defense Guard must be formulated simply as a willingness to fight the fascists, to defend labor and other organizations and groups from the fascist and vigilante attacks, and to accept the democratic discipline of the Guard. While taking every precaution to make sure of the integrity of every applicant and to preserve the Guard from provocateurs, stoolpigeons, and irresponsible or light-minded elements, the effort must be made to enlist membership and support as broadly and widely as possible on this basis.

9. The significance of our party’s advocacy and support of the Guard is in no way limited to the specific and all-important tasks which the Guard can and must fulfill.

Advocacy and support of the Guard is an integral and decisive part of the political program of our party and a political weapon of the utmost importance. Experience has already shown, and will more fully confirm in the future, that the slogan of building the Guard meets with an immediate response from the best sections of the workers and the youth, and concretizes the whole meaning of our conception of the struggle against fascism in a manner accomplished by no other part of our program.

Supplementary Motions

1. The convention instructs the incoming National Committee to appoint a special commission to be in charge of carrying out and coordinating on a national scale, the work of the Party in connection with the building of the Workers Defense Guard.