Joseph Hansen

N.Y. Anti-Fascist Protest Sends
Coughlinites Scurrying for Cover

S.W.P. Holds Union Square Meeting Despite Drenching Downpour –
Retreat of Fascists Seen as Demoralizing Effect on Ranks

(August 1939)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 62, 25 August 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2016 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2016; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The anti-fascists of New York succeeded last week in answering the fascist threat to march August 19 on Union Square with a mighty roar of protest which sent the Coughlinite Christian Mobilizers, the Nazi Bundists, the Silver Shirts, and other assorted storm troopers scurrying for cover.

Because of the immense response in the New York labor movement to the call of the Socialist Workers Party for a counter-demonstration in Union Square, first Father Coughlin and then the organization he sponsors, the Christian Front, “repudiated” the fascist parade. And then Father Coughlin himself, by long distance telephone, was forced to call off the projected march officially.

The ranks of the fascists were thrown into confusion and consternation. A feeling of self-confidence and power swept through the ranks of the labor movement. This is the way to conquer fascism – by militant action in answer to every provocation!

Meeting in a drenching downpour which had begun early in the morning, Edward R. Frank, organizer of Local New York took the speakers’ stand Saturday, August 19, at 4:30 P.M. in Union Square and stated that the anti-fascists of New York had succeeded in stopping this provocation of the Coughlinites.

“We promised to meet in Union Square in protest against the fascists. We carried out our promise. Now because of this terrible rain, it is obviously impossible to continue with our scheduled list of speakers. We are therefore postponing our demonstration.”

It was reported that 7,500 police had been mobilized because of fear the Coughlinite threats would lead to violence. Approximately 4,000 were assembled in Union Square and in nearby basements and parking lots, the rest being scattered on the line of march which the fascists had announced.

Sequence of Events

From the time that Coughlin first broadcast his notorious Call to Action over a nationwide radio network on July 30, in which he announced that his Christian Front intended to fight the labor movement “in Franco’s way,” and that the only flag of the “reds” which he would respect was the “white flag of surrender,” until Saturday afternoon, August 19, event followed event in rapid and dramatic succession.

The Socialist Appeal had already warned the labor movement of Coughlin’s projected threat, before leaflets began flooding New York announcing that an “anti-communist parade” in “manifestation of Christianity” and in behalf of “Social Justice” would march on Union Square August 19. The handbill lauded Father Coughlin and announced that the parade commander was “Lawrence J. Gilpatrick.”

Coughlin Prepares Alibi

Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justice, at the same time carried an announcement on the editorial page reading, “The management of the magazine disclaims and disallows any and all responsibility for any act or demonstration on the part of individuals or organizations posing as being under the direction of Social Justice magazine.” This announcement merely provided an “out” for Coughlin should the parade prove a failure or end in bloodshed.

The August 14 issue of Social Justice carried a vicious attack against the RELIGIOUS JEWS – a further development of Coughlin’s line which served to incite the ranks of his storm troopers against racial minorities in preparation for Saturday’s projected parade.

In South Bronx, the followers of Coughlin staged a series of riots in preparation for their march on Union Square. They intoxicated themselves with demagogic speeches, threats against racial minorities, and wild boasts about their prowess and the “cowardice” of the anti-fascists.

Counter-Rally Called

On August 11, the Socialist Workers Party called for a counter-demonstration to the fascist parade, and began distributing 200,000 handbills, organizing preparatory rallies and parades throughout the metropolitan area. Night and day, the struggle on August 19 was prepared. All workers’ organizations were called upon to unite in face of the common enemy, and a registered letter – later when no reply was received, a telegram – was sent to the Communist Party asking for a United Front against Coughlin on Saturday.

The Workmen’s Sick and Death Benefit Fund, one of the oldest working class organizations in the country, announced its support of the anti-fascist rally.

On August 15, the Civil Liberties Union called on the police to “forestall any violence” although only the fascists had threatened violence and the Socialist Workers Party was calling on the workers to rely upon themselves for protection.

On August 17, 250 members of the American Jewish Alliance, an organization dominated completely by the Communist Party, petitioned Mayor LaGuardia at City Hall to take action against the Coughlinites and Christian Front – with no result, of course.

Newspapers began printing stories about the projected march of the fascists and the call of the Socialist Workers Party for a counter-demonstration.

The State convention of the American Federation of Labor meeting in New York City on August 17 passed a resolution condemning Coughlinism.

Nazis in Parade

In the August 17 issue of Deutscher Weckruf, official organ of the German American Bund, a notice appeared in German ordering all storm troopers of the New York Division out for the Saturday parade, thus clearly showing that Fritz Kuhn, personal representative of Hitler, was one of those in back of the parade side by side with Coughlin.

Previously B.Z. Goldberg, editor of the Jewish Day, and Alexander Hoffman, General Manager of Cleaners and Dyers Union, Local 239 of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, called for militant resistance to the Coughlinites, Mr. Hoffman asking the union membership to “return blow for blow the attacks of Fascists and Coughlinites.”

Coughlin saw the direction of the wind and began pulling in his ears. On Tuesday he utilized the editorial statement in Social Justice to “repudiate” the parade. This was to keep his own skirts legally clean over possible bloodshed committed by his followers. In the next issue of Social Justice, however, he stated that there was no law to prevent the paraders from carrying banners with his picture and placards lauding Social Justice.

Parade Kommandeur Lawrence J. Gilpatrick, the 19-year-old youth who applied for the parade permit, stated on August 17 in answer to Coughlin’s “repudiation”: “I understand Father Coughlin. There was a reason for this statement and I approve of it.”

Father Coughlin was forced to retreat another step as the storm grew more threatening. His Christian Front organization “repudiated” the parade.

Despite these two “repudiations” by the parade backers, Gilpatrick expected, he said, 30,000 to march on Union Square on Saturday. The Coughlinites launched a series of beatings and stabbings in the Bronx.

Workers Prepare to Fight

The wrath of the workers at the threat of violence and bloodshed in the streets of New York mounted steadily. The Socialist Workers Party sent out special editions of its handbill into Harlem, calling on the Negro people to demonstrate against fascism with their own banners and organizations. Everywhere in the city, workers prepared for August 19.

Coughlin felt the cold hand of defeat closing down on the fight he had scheduled against “Jew York.” Over long distance telephone on the night of August 17, he ordered Gilpatrick to call it off. Gilpatrick did as his fuehrer commanded and issued the following statement to the press:

“Lawrence Gilpatrick, in behalf of request of Father Coughlin, ‘I withdraw my parade application and will spend my future in the distribution of Social Justice magazine’.”

Many Fascists Demoralized

The effect of this retreat was highly demoralizing to the ranks of the Christian Mobilizes, Christian Front, Bundists, etc. On Friday night, August 18, Coughlinite speakers in Columbus Circle stated bitterly and quite openly that “somewhere someone sold us out to the Jews and Communists.” In Donovan’s Hall, on West 59th Street near Columbus Circle on the same night, Coughlinite speakers threatened to march on Union Square Saturday despite “LaGuardia and all his police and any other orders to the contrary.” At first these speakers called on their ranks to pay “no attention to misleading reports in the papers. The parade will be held as scheduled.”

After the first shock of defeat among the fascists, charges flew in every direction, cowardice, bribery, sell-out – no accusation was too bitter to express the frustrated rage of these rank and file Coughlinites. “Who are these people in the Socialist Workers Party?” they demanded. “We’re going to march even if Coughlin is against it.” There was argument as to where to obtain arms.

On Sunday Father Coughlin took an apologetic tone in his nation-wide broadcast and attempted to counteract the devastating effect this set-back caused to his prestige. He attacked the Christian Mobilizers as using the wrong tactics. He called for the organization of the “Christian Front” in every town and village in the country in preparation for “another day.”

Communists Discuss Question

In the Communist Party, the rank and file likewise are bitterly discussing the silence of their leaders over the call of the Socialist Workers Party for a United Front between the two parties against Coughlin. The dependence of the leaders of the Communist Party upon the police and LaGuardia is felt by the rank and file as the same blind cowardly dependence which in Italy and Germany resulted in the victory of the fascists. Many of them are worried that the successful tactics of the Socialist Workers Party in fighting the fascists are not adopted by the Communist Party and especially that the leaders of the Communist Party failed to so much as answer the call for a United Front. Not even special spokesmen from the N.Y. County Committee, sent out to every branch to “explain” the leaflets and the United Front call of the Socialist, Workers Party, have succeeded in allaying this indignation.

Father Coughlin will now attempt to consolidate his ranks for a new provocation, to talk them out of their disappointment and prime them for a fresh move. One defeat will not stop him. The anti-fascists must now follow up this victory with the organization of Defense Guards in every union local and, above all, press for a broad united front. The way to fight fascism has been demonstrated. Now is the time to organize effectively to stop Father Coughlin’s next attempt at violence.


Last updated on: 12 March 2016