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George Clarke

Workers Asking: Who Are We
Going to Fight and – What For?

(25 May 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 21, 25 May 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BOSTON – Big black headlines scream at you in every railroad station, every crowded square, every street corner. They all tell the same tale: the “horror” of the invasion; the atrocities of the Nazis; the outraged feelings of decent civilization.

But the big scoop of the week is the news about the shrinking of the Atlantic Ocean which brings the Heinkel bombers within hearing distance. “Preparedness!” “Preparedness” they all shout in chorus. “Track down the Fifth column,” – “keep the beacons trained overhead for Nazis popping out of the skies in parachutes.” “Wipe the Germans out,” shouts the Boston Herald: “If Allied planes should lay waste scores of German cities and use the technique of the Germans, our people would rejoice.”

But the American worker is not rejoicing at the slaughterhouse that is Europe. He passionately hates the Nazis. Yet he wants no part of the war. Few and far between are the expressions favoring a new A.E.F. The nightmare of Morgan’s last war is still too vivid in the popular consciousness and it serves temporarily to block the road of the war-made jingoes in the White House.

The anti-war feeling is strong enough to find expression even on the tongues of some public mouthpieces of big war-boom corporations. Boston’s Mayor Tobin, of American Tel. & Tel., Du Pont affiliate, said to 5,000 people gathered on the Boston Common for a “Mother’s Day” celebration: “The day on which America mobilizes for war, that is the day which means the end of representative government.” Other speakers – all of the hypocritical tribe of “isolationists” who will soon become virulent “interventionists”- drew cheers from the audience when they urged America be kept out of the “war for imperialism.”

The crowd on the Common did not at all signify some special occasion. Large numbers of people are congregating on this public square since the war broke out in the Low Countries. They are heatedly discussing the war, America’s chances of entry, listening to radical speakers, reading periodicals and literature of all types on the war.

Soldiers Listen Too

Abnormally large numbers of uniformed sailors, soldiers and marines are in evidence these days, especially around the Common. Some of them, cocky with the new thrill of wearing a uniform attempt to heckle and disrupt Socialist Workers Party antiwar meetings. But many others are more thoughtful, they know at least part of the score and they listen quietly, ask pertinent questions and remain after the meeting to argue and discuss. Where will they fight? Why? and for whom? These questions are becoming more wide-spread even among the unemployed young workers and farmers in uniform.

The anti-war message of the S.W.P. is penetrating slowly but deeply into the ranks of the industrial proletariat. A small but enthusiastic group of workers came to the party meeting where I spoke and applauded vigorously when it was proved that American workers have been the victims of a devastating “blitzkrieg” for over a decade by their real enemies, the Sixty Ruling Families, the billion-dollared corporate interests – that the only war for American workers is against “the enemy within our gates” and not overseas for World Empire for Morgan-DuPont & Co.

* * *

LYNN – Living in what was once the “world’s biggest ladies shoe center” but is now rapidly becoming a “ghost town,” Lynn workers have too keen an appreciation of so-called American democracy to be eager to sell that shoddy commodity overseas at the point of bayonets.

Interest at my meeting here was sustained and the question period unusually lively. One worker was troubled by the question, “What if Hitler comes here?” There were many nods of approval when I exposed this old, old shell game:

“In World War I, we were threatened with Kaiser Bill coming over here. Instead, we went ‘over there’ after him. The German workers bounced Kaiser Bill off his throne. But American and British politicians found him a summer resort in Holland. Then Allied capitalists made it so tough on the German people that they began to prepare a revolution. This scared the wits out of the Chamberlains, especially since the Revolution would make it pretty hot for them at home. So they financed and backed Hitler to put down the revolution. Now that Hitler has grown strong enough to poach on their precious profits, they want us in again. Not to end dictatorship, no, but to put Hitler out and put someone else in who wouldn’t poach so hard on their profits.”

An older worker put the question better when he, said: “Last time they sent us over to throw Kaiser Bill out. This time they’re sending us over to put him back in again.”

There wasn’t much explaining necessary for the workers present concerning the fiasco of the New Deal. They knew it in the kind of statistics that you feel: idle factories, jobless months and years, stinking private charity and public welfare, canned bullybeef for supper and clothes from the Salvation Army.

Between 1929 and 1940 Lynn sank to 37th place in shoe manufacturing. Profit-hungry bosses staged an exodus out of this city for the paradise of open-shop, low-wage towns in the South and West. Employment in shoe dropped to 3,000 from 8,000 in 1929. The welfare rolls shot up like a thermometer under a desert sun. One out of every six persons in Lynn pounds the streets, unemployed.

Workers Stick to Union

The bosses and their political stooges shouted: “It is the unions fault.” But the workers knew better, and they have held tight to their unions and organized the unorganized. Not for nothing did the Lynn workers establish a tradition of militancy.

Teamsters, shoe workers, leather workers, textile workers are well-organized. Outstanding among these is the powerful CIO union in General Electric with a membership of 7,000 strong; next are the teamsters, a husky and vigorous organization.

An Industrial Union Council with 14 affiliated unions in Lynn, Salem, Peabody and Beverly counts 25,000 members. A successful News Guild strike against the Daily Evening Item helped to strengthen its forces.

A resolution calling for the establishment of the 30-hour week at 40-hour pay was adopted unanimously at the Leather Workers convention held in Boston, April 26–28.

Stalinists Losing Ground

Comrades canvassing house-to-house in workers’ neighborhoods report enthusiastic response for the Peoples’ Referendum Against War. A resolution along these lines was cut to pieces at the Leather Workers convention, dominated by the Stalinists. Thus, the C.P. “struggles against war.”

Stalinist influence in Lynn is steadily losing ground. In recent months they have abandoned their hall and removed the party organizer who had been employed by them for 3 years. No one replaced him.

On the other hand, rank and file C.P. workers have become more friendly with our worker comrades. The lies of the Stalinist misleaders are making less of an impression on the rank and file than heretofore.

FBI in Lynn

The FBI is allowing little to get by its hawkshaw eyes these days. The American “Gestapo” is everywhere.

The SWP discovered this in Lynn when it found out why it had been banned from holding meetings on a city square, traditional public open air forum for 15 years.

An ex-marine, now retired, had constantly been heckling SWP speakers and attempting to provoke a riot. He then went to the Mayor and demanded speakers be barred from the Square. The Mayor said he had no authority to take such action. So the exmarine wrote to Washington which went into action at once. The U.S. Marshall was contacted in Boston with orders to instruct the police chief in Lynn to stop all meetings in the Square. The police chief didn’t have to be “blitzkrieged” into action. Now meetings must be held in back alleys, or not at all.

Another grand victory in the “war for democracy.”

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