The Socialist Workers Party has a long history in the fight against Jew-hatred, explaining the stakes for the working class and calling on the unions to take up the battle.
The party traces its continuity in this fight to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia led by V.I. Lenin. Fellow Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky fought to continue the revolutionary course Lenin championed against Jew-hatred and pogroms, against a counterrevolutionary assault by Joseph Stalin.
“Now more than ever, the fate of the Jewish people — not only their political but also their physical fate — is indissolubly linked with the emancipating struggle of the international proletariat,” Trotsky wrote in December 1938. “Only audacious mobilization of the workers against reaction, creation of workers’ militia, direct physical resistance to the fascist gangs, increasing self-confidence, activity and audacity on the part of all the oppressed can provoke a change in the relation of forces, stop the world wave of fascism, and open a new chapter in the history of mankind.”
The SWP adopted a Thesis on the Jewish Question in April 1938, saying that the revolutionary party has a “double duty” in combating Jew-hatred. One, to expose the “real aims of the capitalists,” and two, “mobilizing the real defense of the persecuted Jews, a defense of necessity based on the might of the organized working class.”
On Nov. 10, 1938, the second day of the Nazis’ murderous Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany, the SWP National Committee issued a call: “Let refugees into the U.S.! Open the doors to victims of Hitler’s Nazi terror!”
“The first step of solidarity with the German Jews and the German workers must be a vast outpouring of the workers from every shop and factory and office into a mighty protest demonstration at which labor will give voice to its resounding indignation,” the party said.
Nine days later the SWP joined unionists and others in a demonstration of hundreds in front of the German Consulate in New York, shouting, “Open the doors to the refugees!” and “Only working-class actions can smash fascism!”
“Members and sympathizers of the party have already begun introducing into their unions and other mass organizations” resolutions demanding President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress open the doors to persecuted Jews, the Socialist Appeal — the name of the Militant at that time — said the same day.
SWP goes on campaign footing
The SWP joined a nationwide campaign by the American Fund for Political Prisoners and Refugees to repeal all laws restricting Jewish immigration. SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters leader Vincent R. Dunne served on the fund’s national committee.
The party campaigned door to door, at union halls, and on campuses, organizing mass meetings coast to coast.
In Minneapolis, the campaign for asylum for Jews was initiated by Teamsters General Drivers Union Local 544.
The president of the union was Carl Skoglund, also a founding leader of the communist movement and the SWP. He was later one of 18 imprisoned socialists and Teamsters union leaders framed up by the Roosevelt administration for organizing labor opposition to Washington’s entry into the second imperialist world war.
In a Nov. 26, 1938, interview with Socialist Appeal, Skoglund said, “In Minneapolis, where the Silver Shirts are organizing, combining anti-Semitism and anti-unions, our union is ready to fight this reactionary movement with every means at our command.
“We have organized a Union Defense Guard for this purpose, which is engaged in rooting out fascist activities wherever they can be unearthed.”
When the pro-fascist Silver Shirts of America, founded by William Dudley Pelley, came to Minneapolis to spread the filth of Jew-hatred and launch an attack on Local 544, the union used its guard as a nucleus around which to build the broadest united defense. Rabbi Albert Gordon kept the union apprised of the Silver Shirts’ plans.
Mobilizations by the union and others drove the Jew-haters and Nazis out of Minneapolis.
When pro-fascist forces, including the German-American Bund, Pelley’s Silver Shirts, Father Charles Coughlin and Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, announced a rally for Feb. 20, 1939, at Madison Square Garden in New York, the SWP called for a mass protest.
“Let the Fascists feel the anger and the might of the working class — Get out and picket! Don’t wait for the concentration camps — Act now!” the party said. More than 50,000 people showed up. “Surrounded by an unbreakable phalanx, one SWP speaker after another, lifted on the shoulders of huskies, made terse and militant speeches to the workers, who cheered so lustily that they could be heard, literally, for blocks away.”