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Ben Hall

Socialist Party Leader Backs
Free Speech for Fascists

(20 October 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 45, 5 November 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The letter below appeared in the Detroit Tribune, Michigan Negro weekly, on October 20. We reprint it here for the information of anti-fascists in every city:


To the Detroit Tribune:

In your issue of Oct. 6, Mr. Judah Drob rises to defend the rights of Gerald L.K. Smith to free speech and free expression, and by implication denounces all those who picketed his meeting as “totalitarian liberals.” As organiser for the Workers Party, whose Detroit branch was one of the sponsors of the Sept. 27 picket line and whose Los Angeles branch single-handedly organized a similar action against Smith in that city, I request space in your paper to reply to this accusation.

Mr. Drob is not alone in his viewpoint. In an editorial on September 29, the Detroit News writes: “The behavior of the pickets was tarred with the mark of fascism at least as much as anything that went on inside the hall.” The News, however, carries its opinions to their logical conclusion, supporting not only the right of Smith to hold his meeting but the right and duty of the police who defended him to beat two pickets into unconsciousness.

I wonder if Mr. Drob confines the defense of Smith’s rights to a verbal and literary plane, or if he too condones the actions of the police. For our part, indignation and protest are justly directed not against the pickets but against Smith and against the brutality of the police.

The Aims of Smith

Gerald L. K. Smith is a fascist. He seeks by his rantings against the labor movement, against the Jews, and against the Negroes, to do in this country what Hitler did in Germany. For proof of this contention, I refer you to the pamphlet, The Truth About Gerald Smith, published by the Workers Party, a copy of which I enclose.

Fascism aims at the brutal wiping out of the organised labor movement and at the destruction of the democratic rights of all the people. It would no doubt be preferable if this matter could be settled by amicable round table seminars, but unfortunately for fence-straddlers whose good intentions lead them astray, it cannot.

What we must face squarely is this: a powerful fascist movement will cause violence, bloodshed, and deaths. A “live and let live” attitude toward this developing movement will not prevent or eliminate these evils but will merely permit the fascists the luxury of choosing when and under what conditions to initiate their terror.

I have no doubt in my own mind that Mr. Drob’s sympathies will be, extended to the victims of any such fascist movement and that his protests against its violence will be forthcoming. (In fact, he himself might be one of its victims.) But we prefer that there be no victims, or if there must, then as few as possible, and that condolences become unnecessary.

Cut Out the Cancer

Cancer must be cut out early or the body perishes. The time to act against the canter of fascism is NOW when there is still time to cut it out with the least injury. That is the only way to reduce its anti-working-class violence to a minimum. Powerful mass action today can prevent a repetition of bloody anti-Negro riots tomorrow.

Mr. Drob should know, these lessons well, for he heads the Socialist Party of Michigan, which was affiliated to the German Social Democratic Party through the Labor and Socialist International. The SPD, the socialist party of Germany, was the most powerful single party in Germany prior to the rise of Hitler. It received 9 million votes in 1928 and enrolled 900,000 members. Despite this power, precisely because it shared fundamentally the same views as Mr. Drob, it permitted the Nazi bands to rise from a fanatical handful to a dangerous army. Did its passivity and tolerance prevent violence and terror, and preserve democratic rights? The answer is now history.

One might reply: if fascism attacks us physically, we will defend ourselves, but if it confines itself to meetings, we will ignore it. But this, is a strange argument. Accordingly, if I see the fascist sharpening his knife to cut my throat, I must not take up a club and knock the knife from, his hand; but once the knife is whetted and is on its way to my heart, then I may resist.

No! We say: Organize against fascism NOW, The. way to prepare now is for the trade unions to form antifascist Workers Defense Guards to train and organize to protect the labor movement and ail the people against fascist violence.

Finally, Mr. Drob might say:

“But some people, for example the Communist Party, call all their opponents, including the Workers Party, ‘fascist.’ Must I then support any violent measure that they may initiate against these opponents?”

My answer is, simple. The Communist Party lies.


Ben Hall
3773 Gratiot
Detroit 7, Mich.

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