Books of the Month

SWP fought US gov’t to open doors to Jews fleeing Nazi terror

December 13, 2021
Members of Socialist Workers Party helped initiate picket at German Consulate in New York in November 1938 demanding Washington open its doors to Jewish and other victims of Nazi terror. Party resolution said road to end Jew-hatred was fight for workers power, socialism.
Members of Socialist Workers Party helped initiate picket at German Consulate in New York in November 1938 demanding Washington open its doors to Jewish and other victims of Nazi terror. Party resolution said road to end Jew-hatred was fight for workers power, socialism.

The Founding of the Socialist Workers Party: Minutes and Resolutions, 1938-39 is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for December. The communist movement in the U.S. was founded in 1919 to emulate the proletarian internationalist course of the 1917 Russian Revolution as V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks led workers and farmers to power. The SWP was forged out of the struggle to continue that course, including deepening an orientation to the industrial working class and unions. Its founding resolutions covered the fight against the bosses’ assaults at home, the rise of fascism in Europe and the drive toward war by Washington and other imperialist powers. The excerpt is from the “Theses on the Jewish Question.” Copyright © 1982 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 


Our approach to the Jewish question can be none other than that of the international class struggle. In its death agony the capitalist class maintains itself in power by resorting to unmitigated brutality and violence aimed at the working class, particularly at its vanguard. It utilizes every element of hatred and prejudice which it can fan into flame to bring about division among the masses and to establish a social basis for its fascist, gangster rule. The Jews, by virtue of the fact that everywhere they form only a small minority of the population, and because anti-Semitism has always been fostered, sometimes openly, sometimes in masked form, constitute an easy scapegoat upon whom the big bourgeoisie can divert the pent-up, dangerous wrath of the backward elements among the masses, and particularly of the desperate middle classes. The fascist hirelings of the big bourgeoisie use the most vicious, lying propaganda to inflame to pogrom temperature the dormant antagonism to the Jews. Precisely because the fomenting of anti-Semitism has become an inseparable part of the technique of fascist reaction, the revolutionary party has a double duty to perform in combating it. It has the duty of exposing the real aims of the capitalists, hidden behind the smokescreen of anti-Semitism and thereby inoculating the masses against the poison; it has also the special task of mobilizing the real defense of the persecuted Jews, a defense of necessity based on the might of the organized working class. …

The present decay of capitalism on a world scale and in each and every country, has … not merely arrested the movement towards assimilation but has brought its speedy reversal. To defend its hold on property and its exploitation of the toiling masses, national capitalism makes use of the ideology of national chauvinism. This is made the foundation of the totalitarian state. In the name of national chauvinism democratic rights are completely stripped from the working class. In exchange for these rights the masses are permitted the unrestricted play of anti-Semitism. The reactionary measures taken against the Jews in Germany and Austria, driving so many to suicide, are a yardstick by which to measure the strides taken by rotting capitalism back to the Middle Ages. At one stroke the Jews are deprived not only of their democratic rights as citizens, but of the elementary possibility of earning a livelihood. In this hideous fashion does capitalist democracy reach its end, not having lasted long enough to permit assimilation.

Many Jews — and not only Jews — delude themselves with the soothing thought that America is different, that these same phenomena cannot happen here. They continue to picture the United States as a great melting pot with a democracy far more securely founded than was European democracy. But the Jews and the entire working class must be forewarned — the same causes leading to decay are visibly at work here, and the same results are not merely possible but absolutely inevitable unless the working class learns, and learns quickly, to defend its hard-earned rights and to take the road to power. The second crisis piled on top of the first one leaves the capitalist ruling class in a serious predicament and in a quandary concerning the way out. That it is fearful of its continued domination and considers the advisability of strong measures — fascist measures — cannot be doubted. The symptoms of increased discrimination against the Jews, of anti-Semitism, are already present. We must immediately sound the alarm to put the working class on guard against all the reactionary conspiracies of the big bourgeoisie; more particularly we must awaken the Jewish masses to a sense of realization of the danger and above all we must propose the proper measures to be taken against the growing danger. …

In view of the awful plight of the Jews, it must be made a special point in the program of the various sections of the Fourth International to fight against restrictions on immigration, particularly Jewish immigration. In the U.S. we must fight against the imposing of barriers such as the necessity to prove by showing money or through affidavits that the immigrant will not become a public charge. Part of our combating of anti-Semitism must take the form of a fight for unrestricted immigration for refugees, especially Jews. …

The Jews form a small minority of the American population — some 4.5 million out of 130 million. If the defense of the Jews depended on themselves alone, then their case would indeed be hopeless. But here again the Jewish masses must be shown the bridge to our movement, that of the Fourth International. For it is primarily upon the American workers that the Jews must lean for support in their struggle to maintain their joint rights. Our propaganda against anti-Semitism is directed not to Jews but first of all to the American working class. It draws at every point the lesson that the attack against the Jews is merely the spearhead of the attack against the American working class for the purpose of lowering their standards of living and rendering them powerless to resist this economic blow by depriving them of their democratic rights. The workers and the Jewish masses are natural allies in the antifascist struggle. Our propaganda among both is to convince them to defeat fascism the workers must establish socialism. Not only the general working class is the natural ally of the Jews, but all the other national minorities … can be enlisted in the struggle for the rights of national minorities including the Jews. Above all the Negroes must be linked up with the struggle against reaction, for the Negroes are the worst victims of capitalist exploitation. Their struggle for equal rights is of the utmost importance for the workers’ cause.