MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Education for Socialist Bulletin: Counter-mobilization to Racism and Fascism: Comrade Cross Invents a Problem by Morrow
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Comrade Cross Invents a Problem (excerpt)
A Reply to “The Relationship Between Free Speech and the Proletarian Revolution ”
By Felix Morrow
The following item is reprinted from SWP Internal Bulletin No. 8, May 1939. Felix Morrow was a member of the SWP Political Committee who wrote many of the key articles on fascism published in the Socialist Appeal , the SWP’s twice-weekly newspaper, in 1939.
On February 20, 1939, the SWP led a demonstration of 50,000 protesting a fascist meeting at Madison Square Garden. Other political forces had abstained from the action, for fear of undermining their ties with New York’s Mayor La Guardia.
Many liberals and Stalinist sympathizers tried to justify their refusal to participate in the antifascist demonstration by pretending that such demonstrations violated the fascists’ right to free speech. This attempt to divert attention from the real issues was answered in “Should Fascists be Allowed the Right of Free Speech?”, an unsigned article probably authored by Morrow. In the March 3, 1939, issue of the Socialist Appeal . Morrow also flayed the, liberals for their failure to defend the civil rights of the antifascist demonstrators against brutal police attacks. Stalinists claimed that the purpose of the antifascist demonstration was to prevent or break up the fascist meeting. Morrow answered this in the March 10, 1939, Socialist Appeal “Jerome’s reference to ‘forcibly’ preventing the meeting is of course a dishonest subterfuge; the issue involved was that of a counterdemonstration, of mass picketing of the meeting.”
Roger Cross, a member of the SWP, interpreted the position taken by the SWP as opposing the application of free speech rights to fascists. In “Comrade Cross Invents a Problem,’ Morrow attempted to eliminate this misunderstanding.
Comrade Cross Invents a Problem
I have carefully read and reread Comrade Cross’ article, “The Relationship Between Free Speech and the Proletarian Revolution” [see the same number of the’ Bulletin]. I regret that it is not a fruitful contribution to analyzing the new problems concretely raised by the slogan of Workers Defense Guards. That slogan does raise important new problems. Comrade Cross has, however, simply invented a nonexistent problem; he has done so, as I shall show, in order to propagate an historical interpretation of the Thermidorean reaction in Soviet Russia which is alien to the Trotskyist explanation of the degeneration of the workers state in Russia. The free’ speech problem” invented by him serves merely as a springboard for a false historical theory. Comrade Cross is within his rights in raising any and all questions during the pre-convention discussion. But the main body of his article is an argument against a straw man, for it is not true that the party “denies free speech to fascists”; while the real logical motivation of his article—the enunciation of an anti-Trotskyist explanation of the degeneration of the proletarian dictatorship in Russia—is simply asserted without a word of argument or proof.
Comrade Cross writes: “The current articles in the press of the SWP have unambiguously pledged that party to most violent action in smashing the fascists and in denying them the right to speak. A more thoughtful leadership would simply agitate to smash the fascists, and leave the question of their right to speak alone. The arguments used are: that the avowed object of the fascists is to smash all democratic rights. They would deny us the right to speak, put us in concentration camps and shoot us. Consequently, why should they be allowed free speech?
Where did comrade Cross find the Socialist Appeal saying that fascists should not be allowed to speak? He cites no issues and pages of the Appeal —and with good reason, for he could find no such citations. Yet he blandly reports the Appeal’ s arguments for this nonexistent position.
A very fruitful discussion can be had on the extremely delicate problems connected with calling upon the workers to fight against the fascists: when to speak purely in defensive terms, and when to go over to terms indicating an offensive against the fascists. For the moment, it is clear, political realities—the speedy growth of the fascists, our own weakness—dictates defensive terms. A warning must also be given to the party against a too-technical conception of the formation of Workers. Defense Guards: unless the Guards are merely the first ranks, carrying with them nonparty and nonguard elements-in their actions, we shall find ourselves defeating the real purpose for mobilizing the guards: getting the masses to move with us. We must also convince the party membership—and above all the youth—that the guard is a practical, feasible, and pressing task. These and other problems, deserve discussion. But not this invention of Comrade-Cross.
It has long been clearly thought out in the Bolshevik movement, where we stand on the question of free speech. First of all, “free speech” belongs to the category of “civil liberties.” Let those who will, engage in this activity—we certainly don’t denounce the existence of the American Civil Liberties Union —but the task of the revolutionist and of the working class and its allies is the fight for the democratic rights of the working class .
From the concept of “civil liberties,” the American Civil Liberties Union logically arrives at the point offering its services to fascists who in isolated instances run afoul of a progressive mayor or police chief. What do we say about such actions of the’ ACLU? We say: for every fascist persecuted by the state, ten thousand workers are persecuted. We are ready to tell the ACLU of more cases of workers rights being violated than’ the ACLU can possibly handle. The ACLU knows this as well as we. But the ACLU is so anxious to prove its respectability, so fawningly worried about the good opinion of .bosses and their stooges., that the AC LU takes good money and lawyers that might be used to help persecuted workers, and diverts it to the use of the fascists.
This concrete criticism of the ACLU does not involve a denial of free speech to the fascists. Moreover, is it our business ‘to tell the capitalist state what to do about the fascists, to please give them free speech? Not at all. We give advice only to the workers, and we call upon to fight fascism. The only point at which we will suppress the free speech of the fascists is only in the broad sense that, in carrying out the seizure of state power, we shall undoubtedly have to smash the fascist organizations and suppress the fascist cadres.