Frank Graves

Gang Disrupts Astoria SWP Rally;
Cops Look On

Harvey’s Police, Like Hague’s, Condones Fascist Tactics
Against Labor Meetings; Workers Need Own Defense Guard

(July 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 30, 23 July 1938, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

NEW YORK. – A mob of hooligans, inspired with fascist ideology, succeeded in breaking up an open-air meeting of the Socialist Workers Party on July 14 at the corner of Second and Ditmars Avenues, Astoria, in the heart of the bailiwick of George U. Harvey, reactionary president of the Queens Borough, well-known for his red-baiting and hatred of the labor movement.

As soon as the meeting commenced, the rowdies, thirty or forty of them, closed in from all corners of the street intersection and set up a chorus of yelling and singing which made it impossible for the speaker to be heard.

In accordance with the customary procedure, the Astoria party branch had given advance notification to the police that the meeting was to be held and several cops were on hand, presumably to preserve “law and order” and the democratic right of free speech.

Police “Protection”

But they permitted the hooligans to carry out their disruptive tactics unhindered, without even a mild warning. Nor did they intervene when the barrage of catcalls, yells and snatches of patriotic songs was supplemented by a barrage of over-ripe fruit.

After twenty minutes of vain effort to gain a hearing, during which the mob worked itself into a frenzy bordering on real violence, the handful of Astoria comrades were obliged to abandon the meeting.

While preparing to move from the spot, our comrades heard such characteristic remarks as, “Go back to where you came from,” “Reds are not welcome here,” “Don’t come back to Astoria.” One youth was heard to say that the breaking-up of meetings was his favorite pastime.

Object Lesson in Democracy

On their way to the elevated station a block away, we were followed and “protected” by a solitary policeman who had watched the rowdies assail our meeting without attempting to put a stop to their hooliganism. Walking between our comrades and the yelling mob which followed them, he kept the hoodlums at a distance of a few yards, but this did not discourage them from hurling fruit missiles at the departing S.W.P.’ers.

This guardian of “law and order” showed by his whole attitude that he was in sympathy with the aggressive mob and was doing only the minimum necessary to prevent an outright mob attack on our hopelessly outnumbered comrades. At the commencement of the meeting the mob displayed its cowardice when one of its more vociferous members asked another “How many are there?” referring to our party comrades.

A show of real resistance to the hooligans would have put the latter instantly to flight. It was not forthcoming from the police because they, and their inspirer, George U. Harvey, are fascist-inclined and hostile to the workers’ movement.

Defense Guard Needed

Which points the need for a well-organized, disciplined and sufficiently numerous defense guard to protect our meetings. The hooligans are bold and aggressive because they know or sense our weakness. They could easily be put to flight by organized, physical defense and given a lesson which would discourage them from repeating their July 14 performance.

This was not the first S.W.P. meeting disrupted in Astoria. A week previous, at the corner of Steinway Street and Jamaica Avenue, some distance away, young hoodlums inspired and egged on by Legionnaires and known members of a local fascist organization had carried out precisely the same tactics. The conduct of the police in this precinct, too, was the same as at the July 14 meeting. One of the cops on duty there told us plainly that he had no sympathy with our ideas but that nevertheless we had the right to expound them at meetings.

He permitted the hoodlums to disrupt the meeting and pelt our comrades with fruit and vegetables, and finally escorted the local comrades to their homes to protect them from threatened violence. Thus he performed his duty of “protecting” the democratic right of free speech.

Material for Fascism

Who are the rowdies? They are, for the most part, youthful people of both sexes, but a majority of them are young men in their ’teens or early ’twenties – the type of youth which has not known the taste of a job since leaving school. They are the New Deal unemployed, fast degenerating into declassed slum proletarians of the most vicious type.

This is the social material upon which fascism draws for the creation of its storm troops. The Astoria hoodlums show by their conduct that they have already fallen to a considerable degree under the ideology of fascism as expounded by George U. Harvey, who proudly boasts of his admiration for Mayor Frank Hague, the embryonic Hitler of Jersey City, and his method of “handling labor” – the method of outright proscription and suppression of 1abor’s hard-won rights.

Stalinists Also Attacked

Not only the S.W.P. but the Stalinists, too, are finding it impossible to obtain a hearing on the streets of Astoria. A Communist Party meeting, despite the patriotic sooth-saying of its public representatives, was broken up by the same hoodlums at the same spot (Second and Ditmars Avenues) the night previous to the S.W.P. meeting. To the fascist-minded hoodlums ALL street meetings are “suspect” as being of foreign origin. Respectable people, i.e., capitalist politicians, hold their meetings in halls.

The experiences in Astoria point to the growing danger of an advancing fascist movement in the United States. The continuing and deepening social crisis, throwing hundreds of thousands of the youth on to the scrap-heap of unemployment each year, is providing fascism with its human material, its army of the future. This army awaits only an organizer with the gifts of a demagogue – a Hitler.

If the labor movement proves unable to organize these elements and draw them into the class war for the overthrow of capitalism, which has reduced them to their present social plight, they will become recruits in the army of fascism.

The Contagion Spreads

The fascist peril is here right now. Jersey City – Newark – and now Astoria! Hague and Harvey! Only last week the Flatbush (Brooklyn) Chamber of Commerce addressed a letter to Mayor LaGuardia and Police Commissioner Valentine “respectfully demanding” that future outdoor mass meetings scheduled for Flatbush Avenue and Albemarle Road be held elsewhere. “Communists, Nazis, Friends of Spain, Catholics and non-Catholics draw as many as 2,000 spectators who create a nuisance and hinder business,” the letter declared. Thus Brooklyn is in line to follow Hague and Harvey.

Right now is needed a workers’ defense organization to defy and contest every attempt to curtail the rights of free speech anywhere – and workers’ defense squads to protect working-class meetings from fascist assaults. There is no other way to halt the black plague of fascism.

Last updated on 12 September 2015