THE AMERICAN LEAGUE AGAINST WAR AND FASCISM AND THE EMERGENCY PEACE CAMPAIGN 1933-1939
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The student anti-war movement was especially effective. The Socialist League for Industrial Democracy, (social democratic) the National Student League (Communist), and the National Student Federation of America (liberal) joined forces at the end of 1933 to initiate an annual student strike against war. Joined the next year by a new liberal organization, the American Youth Congress, they sponsored strikes which grew by 1935 to include 175,000 students and by 1936 to include half a million. The student unity was built around a simple program based on the Oxford pledge which students at Oxford, England, had originated. The American version was "We pledge not to support the government of the United States in any war it may conduct." In addition to organizations on Northern white campuses, the student peace organizations reached out for solidarity with trade union organizing drives throughout the country, and they pioneered in developing Black/White unity among Southern college students.
The student groups rejected red-baiting and kept a united front during the Thirties, which was a key to their success. The American League Against War and Fascism also stood its ground against red-baiting, but many liberals in the Emergency Peace Campaign succumbed. In response to one attack from the American Legion, prominent Campaign official Frederick Libby replied, "We have no communists on our staff. We do not cooperate with communists." True to his word, Libby not only refused to cooperate with the League, but he also refused to attend the Brussels Congress in 1936 to plan a world wide peace campaign because it would require cooperation with communists.
By the end of the decade it was becoming clear that war with fascism could not be avoided. The political struggle against the rise of fascism had been only partly successful. By the end of 1936 Germany was Nazi, Italy was fascist, and along with imperial Japan, they signed the Anti-Comintern Pact (the word Comintern refers to the "Communist International"). The anti-communism that the fascists had used to rise to power at home was now turned outward as an excuse for military expansion abroad. As long as they could convince the other capitalist powers that war would be directed against the Soviet Union, the fascists were appeased and allowed to expand (note 6).
The American peace movements shifted, awkwardly at times, away from anti-war isolation and towards support for World War II against fascism. The first shift came when the revolutionary government of Spain was attacked in 1936 by fascist forces, including troops and bombers from Italy and Germany. The American peace movement was divided between isolation and intervention, as much of the movement took up the cause of the besieged Spanish Republicans and tried in vain to get the U.S. government to ship arms to their government. Another period of division occurred when the Soviet-German truce (the so-ca11ed "Hitler-Stalin Pact") went into effect from 1939-1941. However, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered the war, most activists supported the war. The anti-war movements withered to what DeBenedetti has called a "tiny base of support."
The American peace movements of the Thirties made a major contribution to world history. They set the mood of opposition to fascism that determined that the U.S. would intervene on the side of the Allies rather than on the side of fascism in Wor1d War II. Many Americans now take this for granted, but at the time there were American capitalists who supported Hitler because of his promise to destroy the Soviet Union and suppress organized labor (note 7).