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"Strike Against War!"

Strike Against War
City University of New York Digital Archive
View this Pamphlet

tags: activism education

type: Pamphlet

Some American college students responded to the rise of Nazism by organizing protests and demonstrations throughout the 1930s. The American Student Union (ASU), a nationwide organization of socialists and communists founded in 1935, was especially active in campaigning against the emergence of fascism across Europe. After its founding, the ASU also joined an ongoing effort to oppose US intervention in conflicts abroad.1 The group organized a yearly strike in April to mark the anniversary of the US entrance into World War I in April 1917.

As part of this annual effort, the ASU organized a one-hour student strike on April 22, 1936. During this protest, roughly 500,000 students across the US left their classes and joined demonstrations, usually featuring speakers on a variety of topics. While the metropolitan New York area had the most participants, strikes took place across the country at institutions across the country, including Texas Christian University, Purdue University, and the University of California, Los Angeles.2 Five hundred American universities participated in the event.

The flyer featured here, created by students at the City College of New York (CCNY), illustrates how some members of the student body organized in support of the strike.3 The speakers at an event advertised for the day included the editor of the college newspaper (The Campus), the president of Student Council, representatives from anti-fascist, socialist, and communist student groups, and the president of the campus's Frederick Douglass Society. Among these speakers were both Jewish and African-American students. The strike's organizers, quoted in another CCNY campus newspaper, insisted that the strike protested "increasing nationalism and hatred" and acted "against the approaching menace of fascism."4

Though broadly focused on mobilizing against war and fascism overseas, the protest's student organizers called for specific actions on the CCNY campus. The flyer doubled as a ballot with which students could vote on five different resolutions, connecting antiwar organizing with the fight for academic freedom and a stance against "imperial aggression."

For many students at America's colleges and universities, the threat posed by Nazi Germany motivated strikes and protests like those in April 1936. However, as this flyer underscores, this cause represented just one element of a wider political program advanced by some student leaders and faculty.5

The ASU disbanded during the 1939–1940 academic year, after the Nazi-Soviet Pact left its members clashing about the place of communism in the movement. For more on left-wing politics in the US before World War II, see Robert Cohen, When the Old Left Was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929–1941 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). For further reading on student activism during this period more generally, see Philip G. Altbach and Patti Peterson, "Before Berkeley: Historical Perspectives on American Student Activism" in the Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 395, no. 1 (May 1971): 1–14.

A photograph taken at Wayne University in April 1936, also featured in this collection, documents another offshoot of the strike.

City College of New York, the nation's largest urban university system, served many students from Jewish and immigrant backgrounds in New York City. An estimated 3,500 CCNY students reportedly attended the April 22 strike. Today CCNY is known as the City University of New York. For more details, see the CUNY digital archive.

Less than three months after the strike, war erupted in Spain. Later known as the Spanish Civil War, the conflict pitted Spanish fascists and nationalists under General Francisco Franco against Communists and left-leaning Spaniards loyal to the Spanish Republic.

 

There is evidence that CCNY's administration viewed political currents within the student body and the college faculty with suspicion. The protest resulted in the firing of Morris Schnappes, an English professor who had spoken at the rally. His firing led to further protests and sit-ins at CCNY, which in turn influenced the administration's decision to reinstate him. Schnappes's political leanings, however, reportedly led to his dismissal and imprisonment in 1941. For more details, see the CUNY digital archive.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
City University of New York Digital Archive
External Website CUNY Digital History Archive
Date Created
April 1936
Author / Creator
Unknown
Language(s)
English
Location
New York, USA
Document Type Pamphlet
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