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 Two: Struggles Against Fascism at the End of World War II
The conclusion of the war saw a revival of fascist activity, along with a revival of labor militancy. Counting on an economic downturn to put wind in their sails, the fascists offered their services to big business as a combat force against a new labor upsurge.
The most active of the fascist leaders was Gerald L. K. Smith. Smith began in Louisiana as an aide to Huey Long and an organizer of his “Share the Wealth” movement. After Long’s assassination, Smith lost a fight to take control of Long’s machine. Shortly thereafter, Smith emerged as a fascist demagogue. In 1942 he formed the Christian National Front and began to publish The Cross and the Flag.
In 1945, he began an energetic effort to build a mass base through national tours. His meetings were met with mass protests in Detroit, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and other cities. These were often initiated by the SWP. The biggest anti-fascist actions occurred in Los Angeles which Smith tried to establish as a major base.
“Report on the Los Angeles Antifascist Campaign,” by Murry Weiss details the tactics used by the SWP in encouraging and building a united front that built a mass meeting of 17,000 against Smith on June 21, 1945. Similar tactics brought a further success on October18 when 20,000 picketed a Smith meeting. This brought Smith’s large-scale efforts in Los Angeles to an end.
An article from the August 31, 1945 issue of the Militant and the comments by Vincent A. Dunne on this action describe the setback Smith experienced in Minneapolis.
While Smith’s star went into decline, other fascist forces began to emerge out of the government apparatus and the two-party system. The leader of this incipient fascist tendency was Senator -Joseph A. McCarthy of Wisconsin. Smith played an active role in supporting McCarthy in the next period. Today, Smith retains a tiny following, primarily in the South.
1. Report on the Los Angeles Antifascist Campaign (abridged)
By Murry Weiss from SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol. VII, No. 8, August 1945
The first stage of the antifascist campaign launched by the Los Angeles Local on June 21st has been concluded. Now it is necessary to sum up a body of extraordinarily valuable experience. This experience is all the more precious in view of the inevitable development of the struggle against fascism on a broader scale in the period that lies immediately ahead.
American fascists, such as Gerald L, K. Smith, are already busy preparing for large-scale operations. They scurry up and down the country seeking concentration points. Their natural arena are the large population-swollen industrial centers such as Detroit and Los Angeles where monopoly capital is harried by present and future “labor troubles.” In these areas they try to build a mass base among the dislocated and discontented middle-class; the old-age pension movement, veterans groups, religious sects, etc.
In our analysis of the Smith movement, we must avoid exaggerations. To overestimate Smith’s present strength or to exaggerate his ties with big business in Southern California is in some respects as dangerous as the softheaded evaluation of Smith as a lunatic and an “inconsequential rabble-rouser.”
G.L.K. Smith, a typical product of the pioneer American fascist movements, came to Los Angeles to persuade big business in Southern California that he could be useful to them in settling accounts with the labor movement. For this purpose he had to show strength, dynamic abilities, a large movement. Has he succeeded in doing this? No doubt powerful elements among the rich farmers and capitalists toy with the idea of utilizing Smith. But it is obvious that Smith has not yet been given the go-ahead signal and the necessary finances to accomplish his purpose. Our analysis of Smith’s campaign and his tactics must proceed from this premise—he seeks to make a show of strength. He seeks to impress the big powers with his potentialities as an organizer of anti-union combat forces and with his skill in manipulating race antagonisms and provoking race riots.
The ranks of labor in Los Angeles are swollen with new recruits from the deep South, both Negro and white. Large masses of reactionary middle-class elements are mobilized in and around Los Angeles by the very process of the war. The zoot suit riots, carefully studied by the fascists, gave an indication of how soldiers and sailors could be incited against racial minorities and how a pogrom atmosphere can be created in an American city. Smith’s activities constitute a mortal threat to the working-class. This was and remains our starting point. Smith’s movement is not the isolated German-American Bund, wearing storm-troopers’ uniforms and meeting in the Deutsches-Haus. He moves behind a heavy defensive covering of “Christians Unite” and “Against Fascism and Communism!” He works through the churches, the old age pension movement, and every other possible defensive camouflage; Thus when we formulated the policy of our antifascist campaign, our central thought was to force the organized working class into consciousness of who Smith was and the necessity of fighting him. In the first period this was the main need.
The line of the campaign was to mobilize the organized forces of the working class for a struggle against Smith. We reasoned: Smith is here to build a mass movement; to win financial support from influential capitalists; to organize combat groups; to unite all reactionary forces under a single banner; to explode the tinder box of racial tension into riots and pogroms; to turn it all into an attack on the labor movement and on the unemployed who tomorrow will struggle for jobs and security. But Smith is only in the initial stage of his campaign. Therefore, we must not allow him to gain time and a foothold but we must smash back with great power and boldness, with overwhelming preponderance of force. This was the objective need. This was the message our party would bring to the workers organizations.
When the Section Executive Committee first opened the discussion on our tactics in the struggle against Smith, the leaders of most sections of the labor movement were completely passive to the fascist threat. Others were following a feeble and cowardly policy. In the Stalinist movement and its periphery a great deal of pressure to “do something” against Smith was to be observed. The Jewish organizations were feeling the pressure of the alarmed and apprehensive masses of worker and middle-class Jews.
The policy of those labor leaders who showed at least an awareness of Smith (the Stalinists and the Jewish leaders) contained two main elements. One was what has since been termed the “hush-hush” policy: “Smith is a lunatic crackpot; ignore him, leave him alone and he’ll kill himself.” When the rising tide of pressure from the militant workers, the Jewish people and other racial minority groups became sufficiently acute, the Stalinists and the Jewish leaders developed the second element of their policy: “Pressure on the existing law-enforcement agencies and auditorium owners.” A large scale telephone and letter-writing campaign was organized. Auditorium owners were petitioned to refuse Smith access to their halls. At one point an “anti-lunatic-fringe” committee was formed with a few prominent Stalinist trade unionists at the head. This Committee died still-born and is interesting only as a symptom of the policy that was being followed.
With each successful meeting of Smith, hammer blows were struck at the policy of “hush-hush.” Cowardly silence and petitions to auditorium owners proved their ineffectiveness. More and more workers were being drawn into the movement for antifascist action. We learned later of pressure being applied by various militant CIO unionists.
It is on this background that the Section Executive Committee considered the campaign and worked out policy. At the meeting of the SEC on June 21st, the discussion at first revolved around the question: Shall we picket Smith’s Philharmonic meeting of June 25th? We had a proposal from the Schachtmanites for a united front picket demonstration on the 25th. The proposal of the Schachtmanites served one purpose. It forced us to seriously consider the whole question of the fight against Smith—something we had not done previously. As the debate on this question developed, it became clear to all the comrades that a much broader question was involved: the need for an energetic long-term campaign against Smith was agreed upon; the main tactical orientation of propelling the labor movement into action was also agreed on. The letter from the WP [Workers Party—the organization Shachtman formed after he split from the SWP in 1940] was addressed to the Socialist Party, Socialist Labor Party, Industrial Workers of the World, and the Socialist Workers Party. Their proposal stemmed from the main line they followed throughout the campaign. Draper expressed it clearly when he told us, “We expect, nothing from the labor movement at this time in the struggle against the fascists. It is up to the socialists to act.” All the SEC members, including the comrades who favored a picket line, appraised the policy of the Shachtmanites as sterile and adventuristic. If it is true that Smith is a fascist bent on destroying the labor movement, then obviously what is needed is a resolute and persistent campaign to organize the united front of all the powerful workers’ organizations. This is the force that will crush fascism! How can a serious revolutionary policy fail to orient from the basic consideration of a united front tactic towards the Stalinist organizations? Why did the Shachtmanites appeal to the SLP for a united front and to the CPA (Communist Political Association)? Why did they fail completely to see the need for a united front campaign in the labor movement? It will be seen in the future development of the events how the Shachtmanites miscalculated the entire situation (“we expect nothing from the labor movement at this time”), based themselves primarily on a heckling attack on us, provided comfort to the fascists, and were overwhelmed by the, real course of events.
Comrades Weiss and Tanner were absent from the June 21st SEC meeting because of illness. They proposed in a memorandum to the Committee “the Los Angeles Local should immediately open an anti-fascist campaign” and outlined a proposed plan of attack. The Committee adopted the proposal for the campaign as a whole; dividing on the question of the tactic for June 25th Smith meeting, a majority in favor of the tactic proposed in the Weiss-Tanner document.
We Launch the Campaign
The comrades of the Section Executive Committee were fully aware of the pressure the Shachtmanites would attempt to exert on the party when we adopted our policy. If we had considered the question from the point of view of factional pluses and minuses, of “getting the best” of the Shachtmanites in a petty sense, we would have gone out and picketed. This would have facilitated our work of getting next to a few workers the Shachtmanites had recruited and were carefully hiding from us. The Shachtmanites put on a campaign of pressure. At two Sunday night lectures on Stalinism conducted by our party, their leading speakers took the floor and presented their policy; called for party members to participate with them in the picket line. At our anti-fascist mass meeting at which we presented our program for the struggle against Smith, three Shachtmanite speakers dominated the discussion period. The congenital Abernite, Max Sterling, presented himself to a group of our youth as a “raw worker” undecided between us and the Shachtmanites, but inclining towards them because of their militant position on the antifascist struggle. In a word, they threw everything they had into a campaign to shake the party. We anticipated this and took it into the bargain. We had confidence that the correctness of our line would be confirmed. Our new members and our workers cadre would learn from the first-hand experience with Shachtmanism, with the petty-bourgeois adventurers in action. We can state with absolute certainty that as regards this aspect of the question, that is, the Shachtmanite “offensive”, it netted them exactly zero in influence or gains in our ranks. On the other side of the ledger, we succeeded in inoculating the relatively new party members against the old Shachtmanite virus and in developing contact with a few workers who had accidentally joined the WP.
We opened the campaign with a whole series of record moves. We sent telegrams to all labor bodies, racial minority groups, the Communist Political Association, etc. Naturally we had no illusions that this would bring results in and of itself, but it provided the basis for the effective agitational campaign we developed during the following weeks.
We struck out along three main lines. Within the framework of the general united front tactic we developed a special united front maneuver towards the Stalinists. We regarded the Stalinist movement as the key to the situation. The Stalinists control the apparatus of the CIO; the Stalinists have a large Jewish following; there was considerable sentiment in the Stalinist ranks for “action”; and finally, the Stalinist ranks were in the midst of the crisis of their turn [the expulsion of Browder] manifesting a greater susceptibility to our ideas than we have witnessed in many years. We decided to place as much power as we could behind the united front campaign directed towards the Stalinists. The evidence shows that we were very successful in driving our appeal for the united front deep into the ranks of the Stalinist movement. Our open letter was distributed widely at Stalinist mass meetings, at the Hollywood Citizens Committee meeting, at the CIO Council and in the garment center. It was mailed to our contact list as information.
Most important of all, it was a weapon for our comrades in the shops and unions. The open letter became the occasion for an approach to Stalinist shopmates. Even a number of leading Stalinist workers, members of the Section Committee of the CPA, were contacted in this way and made favorable comments. In one case, our comrade presented the open letter to a Stalinist worker in the shop, a die-hard anti-Trotskyist, who declared he was convinced we were right on this point. He then showed the open letter to two other Stalinist workers in the shop, one of whom asserted that the Trotskyists were “certainly sincere in their struggle against fascism.” Among the militants in the CIO and in leading Negro circles our united front tactic towards the Stalinists made a good impression. When we observe how our campaign, our tactics and slogans are being carried into the factories, we can mark it down as a new stage of our development. Here, in the shops, we have the greatest testing ground for our slogans, and here is where we are strongest.
The second line of action was the presentation of resolutions in the unions. We started modestly, but quickly realized the extent of possibilities and tried to step up the introduction of resolutions and the content of the resolutions accordingly. At each union meeting we observed that the temper of the workers was relatively hot on this question. The ease with which our resolutions passed prompted us to work on the idea of proposing that one union body, for example, the Auto Council, shall take the initiative in calling for the formation of a Trade Union Committee to combat Smith. We envisaged this as the next step in making the united front a reality. We are convinced that this would have been entirely possible and a trade union committee would have taken shape “from below,” so to speak, i.e., from the action of various local unions in meeting together.
In the meantime, however, the accumulated pressure from a number of different directions, ours not least of all, had forced the Stalinists into a more serious move. The fascists planned to hold a mass meeting at the shrine Auditorium on July 20th. It was clear that all of the previous efforts of the official leaders to stop Smith had fizzled. The pressure of the workers had also forced the AFL and Railroad Brotherhoods tops into stirring. The united front took shape “from above.” Our tactics in the resolutions campaign were accordingly adjusted to this new situation, and we shifted over to resolutions endorsing the united front and calling for support to the united front mass meeting, a counterdemonstration to the Smith Shrine meeting, at the Olympic Auditorium on July 20th.
Although the full effectiveness of our resolutions campaign cannot be measured by the list of unions in which we passed resolutions, the score is nevertheless impressive. In all cases the unions forwarded the resolutions to other unions with a “snowballing” effect. Through the direct initiative of the party, we passed resolutions characterizing Smith, condemning him and calling for militant united labor action against him, in the following unions: Marine Fireman’s Union; the Consolidated Steel Local of the USWA; the Joint Board of the ILGWU; the United Auto Council, UAW-CIO; Local 9 of the Shipyard Workers Union-CIO (the largest CIO union on the West Coast); an IAM Local at Lockheed Aircraft; and the San Pedro Longshoreman’s Union. In a number of other unions resolutions were slated to go through, but further developments made them unnecessary. The key character of the union bodies listed will show why we can realistically state that our resolutions campaign played an important role in mobilizing sentiment for action, putting pressure on the bureaucrats and in developing the antifascist united front of the Los Angeles labor movement.
The third main line of our campaign was work among the racial and national minorities organizations. We very quickly utilized our excellent relations with the Negro press to publicize the party’s campaign and its united front slogans. Three of the local Negro newspapers published our press releases. In our discussions with the editors of the Negro press and various Negro worker leaders, our policy was warmly received and approved. The Sunday before the Olympic Auditorium demonstration the party mobilized forces to go into the Negro neighborhood and the Negro churches. Our comrade spoke before 1200 Negro youth in a large church.
Our contact with Jewish organizations has been fruitful in at least one instance. Mr. Gatch, the editor of the California Jewish Voice , has taken a militant position on the struggle against Smith. Before the news of the United Front Olympic Auditorium demonstration was announced, he proposed in a lead article that 10,000 antifascists picket the Shrine meeting. Smith has printed photostatic copies of this article as evidence of the violent Jewish plot against him and his “Christians Unite” campaign. Our relations with this editor and a number of other Jewish organizations around him promise to develop into a bloc within the united front.
Recently it has come to light that fascist vigilante elements are organizing, in the agricultural valleys, rifle clubs with anti-Semitic slogans. Gatch has indicated that he is planning to demand from the authorities decisive action against this ominous move, and if immediate action is not forthcoming, he will call for the formation of Jewish youth “Health” clubs. There are other small signs that such sentiment is developing among the Jewish, Mexican, and Negro population. We will of course be in the forefront in raising the slogan of Defense Guards. In every case we will try to deepen the effect of the slogan by inking it to such concrete events or threats as the valley rifle clubs. If the Jewish Voice calls for the formation of Jewish Youth clubs for defense, we will advocate joint Jewish, Mexican, Negro, youth, and workers’ defense groups.
Two Smith Meetings
The Smith meetings at the Philharmonic auditorium on June 25th, and at the Ham’n’Eggers Hall on June 28th were organized on an ostensibly closed basis, admittance by invitation only. Both were overflow meetings of thousands of people. The Shachtmanites called for mass picketing at both meetings. They issued leaflets and conducted a publicity campaign. In our opinion, separate and apart from the question of whether the SWP should have called a picket demonstration, the Shachtmanites’ picket demonstrations were puny and ineffective. At the Philharmonic Auditorium, they mobilized from the street a hundred and fifty people. Very few of these came down in response to the call, but were obviously antifascist passersby who joined in the picket line for a short time. Can this demonstration, which was called to “stop the fascists,” be considered effective? Can it be compared with the Madison Square Garden demonstration or Los Angeles antifascist demonstrations of 1938? When the party called the workers to demonstrate against the fascists at the Deutsches Haus in Los Angeles in 1938, we had 2,000 workers outside to a few hundred frightened fascists inside. We had unions and factories represented officially in the demonstration, speaking over our sound truck loudspeaker. We held siege on the fascist meeting so that they didn’t dare leave the meeting till long after midnight. Many of them were then severely beaten by Mexican workers from the Dura Steel factory, who had been called out to demonstrate by the party. In New York comrades know what a mass outpouring of working-class strength there was in response to our call.
If there remains a shadow of doubt over the estimate of the Shachtmanite tactic, this is eliminated when we examine the results of their picket line three days later! Here the Smith meeting was conducted in an off street with very few passersby. The real drawing power of the Shachtmanites and a test of the mood of the workers, their willingness to respond to a call from a small organization, could be observed more accurately. Instead of maintaining their 100 to 150 pickets, the second picket line dropped to from twenty-five to fifty according to the most generous estimates!
At both meetings Smith made great capital out of the feeble showing of the Shachtmanites. “We are thousands and they are 25 or 50 at the most, and they talk of breaking up our meeting. If we went out and said ‘boo’ they’d run. Even the left-wing CIO is not represented out there.” In general, he employed the occasion to raise the morale of his meetings, to picture his movement as unconquerable and the opposition as disorganized and feeble. The Shachmanites, however, proclaimed these demonstrations as “victories”. How a “Picket Smith’s Meetings” movement which records a sharp decline from its first to its second action, can be depicted as a victory is very hard to grasp. Overflow fascist meetings are successfully held. They aren’t to the slightest extent shaken from enthusiasm and confidence but, on the contrary, draw strength from observing that instead of a mass demonstration of workers’ strength, a small handful of “radicals” parade before their meeting. This can be proclaimed an anti-fascist victory only by irresponsible braggarts who are deaf, dumb, and blind to the teachings of Bolshevik tactics.
Shortly after their second picket demonstration, the Shachtmanites again proposed to meet with us to discuss joint activity in the struggle against Smith. Our Section Executive Committee decided to authorize the organizer to meet with them. In accordance with our traditional policy we were ready to act jointly with any group or individual in the labor movement. We were ready to bloc with them on any question of action that could be commonly agreed upon. We didn’t think there were many such actions but we were ready to listen to any proposals. We met with the Shachtmanites, and they presented a united front proposal in a number of variations.
A. That the SWP and the WP and perhaps the SP shall set up a joint Labor Committee for the fight against fascism. This “Labor Committee” they did not envisage as a trade union body. It was at this meeting that Draper, their representative, stated, “We expect nothing from the labor movement at this time. The Socialists will have to act alone.” Of course we rejected this, explaining that our orientation was towards forming a united front of unions and other large working-class organizations.
B. A united front mass meeting of both parties. We explained that this was unrealistic since it simply meant a proposal that we provide them with a platform and we preferred to speak from our own platform in party meetings and could see no benefit from a joint mass meeting.
C. A united membership meeting to discuss the antifascist struggle. Again we explained that they had been provided with ample opportunity to remain in the party and have full rights in discussion as an opposition faction. Since they treacherously split with the SWP, it was unreasonable for them to demand the rights of members within our organization.
D. United front picket lines against any future meeting Smith may hold. We gave them the same answer; that we were orienting to the formation of such a united front with the working-class organizations that really represented the mass of workers in the city and thereby the power of the workers in the city. As regards future demonstrations of Smith, we would appraise the question of purely party demonstrations on the basis of the relationship of forces at a given time.
E. They proposed blocs to pass resolutions in the unions. Here we agreed to consider such blocs on the basis of any concrete situation that offered possibilities along this line. They could cite only one, Local 9, Shipyard Workers. We could think of no other. In this union we had formed a bloc with a Negro militant, the vice-president of the state CIO, a former Stalinist, who had agreed to present our resolution.
Nevertheless, we agreed to refer the question to our fraction with a recommendation that our fraction consult with their fraction; mainly because we were concerned with restraining them from any blundering interference with the arrangements we had made. This is precisely what occurred. Our fraction representative met with theirs. They arrogantly insisted on proposing their own resolution with their own speaker. We finally persuaded them to refrain from doing so until a far more effective arrangement could be put through. This was the extent of our bloc with the Shachtmanites in Local 9.
The United Front is Formed
Smith announced plans for his final rally for July 20th at the Shrine Auditorium at a small secret meeting in Clifton’s Cafeteria. We had observers present at this meeting and were the first to spread the alarm throughout the labor movement and Jewish organizations. We called up representative individuals and appraised them of the plans of Smith. Immediately the movement for antifascist action was spurred forward. As we reported before, one Jewish newspaper called for a mass picket demonstration. A Jewish workers cultural organization pledged its 300 members in support of a picket line at the Shrine meeting. The pressure of our campaign was developing considerably in the CIO. The Stalinist rank and file and periphery were dissatisfied with the official policy.
The first news we heard of the development of a united front and a counterdemonstration for July 20th came from Slim Connally, a Stalinist CIO leader, who told one of our comrades that the CIO was calling a counterdemonstration at the Olympic Auditorium on the same night as Smith’s Shrine meeting. He told our comrade, a Negro trade unionist, to spread the word among the Negro people. Our comrade immediately came down to the Central Branch meeting of the party and announced the news.
At the same time we heard that a meeting of all antifascist organizations was to take place at the Royal Palms Hotel on Tuesday, July 17, to lay the plans for the final buildup for the Olympic Auditorium demonstration.
The Tuesday meeting proved to be an extremely representative gathering of the trade unions, racial minority organizations, religious and Hollywood groups. A sprinkling of bourgeois politicians decorated the occasion with the typical Stalinist attempt to distort a united front into a peoples’ front masquerade. Official representatives of the CIO, AFL, and Railroad Brotherhoods were present. A good number of local unions, mostly CIO, were also represented. A mystery of sorts surrounds the question of precisely which organization took the initiative in calling this united front. Attorney General Kenney and Assemblyman ALBERT Decker were assigned the roles of official chairman and convener. Our first information led us to believe that the CIO had called for the Olympic meeting and the Royal Palms united front gathering. This accounts for the fact that the Militant characterized the Olympic meeting as a CIO demonstration rather than a united front demonstration at which the CIO AFL and Railroad Brotherhoods participated together with racial organizations and other “community” groups. It is possible that the Stalinists started with the CIO as sponsor and then obscured its role when they found such widespread support from other organizations and individuals. In our opinion, organization control of the Olympic Auditorium meeting and the initiative in calling the Royal Palms meeting lies with the Stalinists The question of which organization was officially responsible recedes into the background once it is clear that the Stalinists were the most powerful force which controlled the apparatus of both meetings What then is our analysis of this set up? Is it a genuine united front?
There can be no question that it was a real united front, but as is always the case with institutions that arise out of the reality of the struggle, as distinguished from textbook definitions, this concrete united front has its peculiarities, determined by the entire situation. The ground swell of workers antifascist sentiment for action was sufficient to jar the official apparatus of labor and of the Stalinist party into action. This workers’ sentiment, when combined with the state of excitement and anxiety of the Jewish organizations, proved sufficient to bring together in one Council an extremely wide representation of the labor movement and the racial minority groups. However, the movement of the workers from below has not yet reached the point where it could express itself in a united front of action which would be representative of the labor organizations from top to bottom. What was striking at the Tuesday Royal Palms meeting was the inordinate importance and weight held by political shysters, Hollywood stars, accidental figures, and the summits of the labor movement There were too many religious quacks and too few factory workers. This signifies an early stage in the united front struggle against fascism; The Stalinists are working might and main in this early stage to derail the movement; to switch it on to the path of peoples’ frontism, to stifle the initiative of working-class ranks. This is the characteristic element of their policy at the Royal Palms and Olympic meetings.
The Party in Action
How did the party participate in this movement? We immediately declared our full support to the idea of a counterdemonstration against the fascists Our leaflet calling for the workers to pack the Olympic Auditorium was the first announcement of the demonstration on the streets. The campaign that was organized during that one week in some respects surpassed the election campaign. The SEC declared a state of full mobilization, and that proved to be no idle phrase. It was understood by the overwhelming majority of the party membership to mean an extraordinary demand on their time and energy, and they acted accordingly.
The week was notable for our utilization of a long unused medium of agitation, the open air meeting, which has now become a regular feature of our campaign. We decided to launch a new series of radio broadcasts, and attempted to arrange the schedule in time to announce it to the workers gathered at the Olympic Auditorium but we were blocked in this by the refusal of the broadcasting companies to sell us the time.
The first part of the week was concentrated on getting out the leaflet, beginning its mass distributions, preparing a mailing to 4 000 subscribers and contacts and in preparation for the Tuesday meeting All our fractions were instructed to work wherever possible to represent their unions at the Tuesday meeting In most cases the shortness of time prevented the democratic election of delegates and thereby cut down our own representation. Union officials would, as a rule, appoint one of their group to attend. Yet we had four trade union delegates at the united front meeting. We had three delegates from the party, and about thirty comrades participated as individual observers.
There were approximately 400 present at the Tuesday meeting. The night before at the SEC we had elaborated a three-point policy to be following by the party caucus. (1) Continue the united front after the Friday meeting as an organ of struggle against fascism; (2) For a preponderance of representatives of the labor movement on the speaker’s rostrum. Instead of Hollywood celebrities, let’s have the leaders of the labor movement, Green, Murray, and Lewis, fly out here and speak at the meeting; (3) We proposed the Olympic Auditorium demonstration should have a brief program and should then be transformed into a giant parade to march on the Shrine. The Olympic Auditorium is one mile from the Shrine. Our proposal was to march the parade past the Shrine in a peaceful display of antifascist strength and to demobilize a few blocks past the Shrine. On Tuesday we had two speakers get the floor at the United Front meeting. Following a speaker from an Italian organization, who stated that if workers had organized in time and fought back, fascism would never have triumphed in Italy and Germany, Comrade Cappy got the floor and presented the proposal for adjourning the Olympic meeting early and parading to the Shrine. Then Comrade Tanner was recognized. She spoke for fifteen minutes, outlining the proposals of the party. The party proposal for a march became the pivotal point for all further discussion. Her speech was received with considerable applause as well as some subdued heckling from the Stalinists. The People’s World reported the next day that “speaker after speaker” came out against Myra Weiss, leader of the local Trotskyites who had proposed a parade past the Shrine after a brief meeting at the Olympic. In the course of a debate at the Wednesday party membership meeting Comrade Cappy developed the idea that our proposal for a march was adventuristic and represented a succumbing to the pressure of the Shachtmanites. The reporter for the SEC, Comrade Weiss, held that it was precisely this proposal which had marked off the left-wing of the United Front; that the proposal was entirely realistic; that it was feasible to call for the organization of an antifascist parade when the forces we were addressing this proposal to represented all the official organizations of the labor movement; that taking into account the real strength of the fascists, such a parade would have the effect of a powerful sledgehammer attack. It would. weaken Smith immensely. As for the comparison with. the Shachtmanites, it was held that our difference with them was over the question of proceeding with a tiny force in an ineffective display of weakness against the fascists; whereas we were appealing to the strong workers’ organizations to act against the fascists. Although it was not disputed that many tens of thousands of workers were still unaware of the character of the Smith movement, there were other tens of thousands, still in the minority, who were ready to take militant action once they saw a realistic possibility of doing so. An official decision of the labor movement to act, parade past the Shrine, would call forth a tremendous burst of enthusiasm and action from tens of thousands of militant workers in this area. Furthermore to underscore that we were not proposing a march led by us alone, we had stressed in our formulation of the proposal that if the majority of the united front opposed such a parade, we would be bound by that decision.
The Friday Meeting
Across the platform of the meeting was paraded the usual Stalinist handpicked assortment .of phony politicians, religious leaders, Hollywood stars, etc. However, the heads of the AFL and CIO Los Angeles Council spoke. The greatest ovation was received by Philip Connally, the head of the CIO Council. The most spirited applause occurred when the speakers struck a militant note. When Connally said: “We do not believe in free speech for the fascists,” the enthusiasm of the audience reached its height.
What was most characteristic of the whole program and the meeting—and it went to about 11:30—was the fact that not one speaker told the workers what they should do in the struggle against Smith. Attorney General Kenney painted the picture of the war boom industries threatening to collapse, the danger of unemployment, the sharpening of a social crisis as a result of it; and cited this as the reason for Smith’s activity in this area. He said: “The way to fight Smith and other fascists is to keep industry going at capacity with full employment.” All he failed to do was to tell the audience how.
The Stalinists pushed to the fore the question of Rankin’s forthcoming investigation of Hollywood. It became apparent that they are utilizing this united front, both at the Olympic meeting and at future meetings, to shield themselves from the red scare attack that the reactionaries are trying to whip up in Hollywood.
The Olympic meeting was the product of a real movement from below. The Stalinists are not capable of calling such meetings at will. When Philip Murray came to Los Angeles in 1943, the Stalinists, who were then trying to impress Murray, tried to gather a large meeting together at the Olympic with Hollywood stars featured and an enormous publicity campaign. However, the meeting was poorly attended with a very low level of enthusiasm.
It is hard to say what the composition of the Friday meeting was. The Stalinists and their periphery were there in full force. There was a strong middle-class professional grouping. Without doubt there were many thousands of industrial workers present and quite a large number of Negroes. Some comrades believe that the largest percentage of workers were turned away in the overflow crowd; those who couldn’t arrive early enough due to working hours.
We distributed our leaflet in over 8,000 copies. The four proposals are the pivotal points around which we propose to agitate in the shops and the unions during the coming period. The slogans for antifascist shop committees we regard as extremely potent in possibilities. There, the initiative will more and more fall into our hands. In the last analysis, the united front that has emerged represents all the weaknesses of the existing state of the labor movement; the union tops disconnected from the workers in the shops, the Stalinist political and trade union apparatus, the heavy middle-class element. As the struggle sharpens, the party will bring the slogans of the left-wing of the united front into every factory where we have contact. At a certain point the formation of antifascist factory committees will provide the medium for the organization of vital combat forces. One of the possibilities of the formation of workers’ defense guards is linked up with the factory committees, although it is not excluded that the workers’ defense guards will have an initially neighborhood, or even racial minority origin.
The third point of our proposal is obviously the most immediate. It is our opinion that if we follow the right tactic with sufficient energy, we can meet the next wave of fascist activity with labor demonstrations and mass picketing. It is not a question of can we “get by” with some small picket lines of the “radical” parties. It is a question of how to mobilize masses of workers for struggle, without ignoring the reality of their existing organizations and leadership. Every party venture, every party tactic must be calculated to further this end.
The fourth point (the labor party) has become particularly timely after the results of the British elections and is now prominently lifted to the place of an independent and immediate campaign of agitation for the party as a whole.
All the comrades at the meeting reported that our leaflet was read carefully by those they could observe around them. Not one leaflet was found thrown away; this despite the fact that tremendous amounts of literature were being distributed at the entrances. Before the meeting our distributors succeeded in contacting a few new Shachtmanite recruits, who have since been followed up and look to be very promising.
The distribution squad was caught outside with the thousands of workers who couldn’t get in, and engaged in many fruitful discussions in the street. After the police dispersed the crowds, we filled the available cars with contacts and brought them to the headquarters. When the others returned after the meeting, it was as if we had a mass meeting in our own hail. Although it was after midnight, the new workers contacted were anxious to hear a word from the party speakers.
Our observer at the Shrine meeting reported how Smith ascribed the poor attendance at his rally (5,000) to “the Communists and the Jews who had packed the streetcars en route to the Shrine and Olympic Auditoriums.” Comrades Tanner and Weiss announced our determination to continue the open air meetings on the East Side and our plans to develop a free speech fight if the police interfered again as they had done earlier. Since then we have held three successful street meetings on the same corner without any further difficulties.
Summary and Perspectives
The campaign is in a moment of lull. Smith has left town for speaking engagements in the East, promising to return soon. His threat to make Los Angeles a national headquarters was not carried out. It is not even a West Coast headquarters. For the moment he is working under the surface once again. How long will this last? Will he start a new campaign of meetings? Will someone else of the same caliber raise a new threat? These questions cannot be answered in detail.
We base ourselves on the inevitable development of further fascist activities. The reported rifle clubs in the valleys can become the point of departure for a new offensive in the antifascist campaign. We are investigating the activities of local supporters of Smith. Generally speaking, there is no lack of vigilante and fascist activities in Southern California. The party then prepares for a new big push in its campaign. What better preparation can there be than the assimilation of the lessons of the first stage of the campaign?
The contrast between our policy and the Shachtmanites had a clear and finished character. The two lines of policy were submitted to the test in a short time. It is useful and instructive to draw up a balance sheet.
The Shachtmanites proceeded by a superficial analogy to the Madison Square Garden demonstration of 1938. They “expected nothing from the labor movement at this time,” and they thought that a mere signal from anyone was sufficient to bring a mass of anti-fascist workers into the streets. If one is serious about summoning masses to action, it must be conceded that they miscalculated on both counts.
The antifascist masses would not in these circumstances move against the Smith type of fascist movement without first exhausting the possibility of utilizing the defensive covering and power of their own mass organizations. In this they display a far better grasp of the difference between the Smith fascists and the German-American Bund than the Shachtmanites do. The militant workers did not answer the call to picket because they felt the need to move with and through the unions. Moreover they estimated that it was possible to get action from their organizations and proceeded to apply pressure. That is why we found that we were not alone in our efforts to push for the united front and for antifascist action in the unions. Everywhere other militants were following the same line.
Our tactic was fully confirmed by the course of events. The objective implications of Smith’s activity were so ominous in the setting of the present economic and political situation, that the trade union officials, the Stalinists, the Negro and Jewish leaders could not fail to be alarmed. Our task was to hammer home the meaning of the fascist threat and to organize the pressure of the workers to force the organizations of labor onto the road of struggle.
It is necessary to understand clearly that the Shachtmanites did not simply add to the tactics we carried out, by organizing a picket line. They followed a totally different course. They could not see the reality or effectiveness of a struggle for the united front in the unions, and they had no conception whatsoever of a united front tactic with the Stalinists.
They complain: “You claimed you had no time for preparing a joint demonstration with us, but you were ready in the available time to act jointly with the Stalinists.” Of course! In uniting with the WP we could calculate mainly on our own forces to act. For this we lacked time and the necessary relationship of forces. If we could unite with the Stalinists instead of the WP this would signify an enormous change in the relationship of forces and the time factor would alter accordingly. The Shachtmanites cannot understand that this is the reason why we fight for the united front with the Stalinists. It is not because we hate the WP worse than we hate the Stalinists, or because of our natural bureaucratic affinity for the Stalinists. It is because in one direction a mass of workers are concentrated; in the other, little more than a handful of renegades from Marxism.
This is not the place for an estimate of the antifascist campaigns of 1938-39. Certainly the demonstrations in New York and Los Angeles were of great significance. However, in my opinion the. model of antifascist activity for the party is to be found in Minneapolis. The relative weight of their antifascist tactics as against the other ventures of the party is much greater precisely because they operated through the mass movement of the workers. It is this aspect of the Minneapolis experience that should be assimilated by the party now. The question remains: Could anything have been lost by joining in a picket demonstration with the Shachtmanites at the Philharmonic on June 25th? Yes! A great deal would have been lost. Adding a few hundred to such a picket line would not have raised its effectiveness qualitatively. What was needed was a demonstration of the overwhelming preponderance labor possessed in the contest. Even the Olympic Auditorium demonstration accomplished this. By mobilizing 17,000 thousand in a counter-demonstration to the fascist 5,000, a demoralizing blow was struck at them.
But could anything have been lost? In following such a tactic we would have become divorced from the mainstream of militant workers who were pressing hard on the lever to lift their organizations into action. By concentrating on helping them press this lever, we solidified our connection with them. Many workers were irritated and contemptuous of the policy of a “show of weakness.” Had we followed that course we would be arguing to this day with the Stalinist workers about the question of whether the Trotskyists are “hotheads” and “ineffective.” “Look how small their demonstration was. Why do they jump the gun?” As it is, we decisively reject responsibility for the WP antics. We point to our record of struggle for the united front and we propose action to the workers’ organizations. The perspective of the antifascist campaign is very broad and converges with other campaigns. This distinguishes it from the more narrow party campaigns with their succinct objectives and delimited time. We compensate for this by introducing into the broad campaign the element of organization objective whenever possible. When there is a lull we exploit it for analysis and preparation, rather than for artificial campaign-mongering. Right now campaign activity is confined to open air meetings. At the same time we are searching for an opening that will allow us to lift the struggle to a higher level.
There is a possibility for organizing a meeting with a number of Jewish. groups who hold militant positions on the tasks of the united front. In a bloc with them we could present our proposals for militant action at the next united front conference, which will occur on August 26th. If we mobilize the forces of the party and its sympathizers in the trade unions we can have a large group at the united front meeting. The same tactic can be developed toward Negro and Mexican organizations, who are keenly aware of the threat of fascism with its physical violence and terror. In the solidification of such a bloc lies the possibility of, in the next immediate period, calling united front demonstrations and picket lines. In the next stage of the campaign, through the radio, through demonstrations, through the deepening of our united front tactics, we shall draw even closer to our banner the sympathetic periphery of Militant readers and contacts. We will recruit many of them. The party will grow stronger. We want the comrades nationally to know that when the Los Angeles Local raised the slogan of “No headquarters for Smith in Los Angeles,” we did so in deadly earnest. We are committed to this slogan to the marrow of our bones.
For the Socialist Workers Party: the struggle against fascism is to the death.
August 7, 1945