The Christie Pits Riot is likely the most well-known domestic clash with fascism in Canada’s history. To commemorate the 84th anniversary of this uprising against racism and fascism, the Toronto IWW General Defence Committee Local 28, in partnership with the International Socialists and the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia is hosting a community BBQ on Sunday, August 20th, from 12 to 5 PM. Join us in Christie Pits Park – the location of the baseball game where the uprising began – for food, baseball, and solidarity against fascism.
In 1933, six months after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, the effects of this administration could be felt across the world. In Toronto, Jews were institutionally excluded from summer resorts outside of the city. The Jewish population at the time was predominantly working-class, and would spend their summers making use of the city’s various amenities. This sparked a backlash from the more racist and xenophobic residents of Toronto, who formed “Swastika Clubs,” whose purpose it was to marginalize Jews and others, and threaten them with violence.
On August 16th, at a community baseball game involving a largely Jewish and Italian team, a “Swastika Club” displayed a huge blanket featuring the hateful symbol of the Nazi Party. This was not the first time the symbol had been displayed at Christie Pits, and the police made no effort to prevent it. Frustrated at the police’s willingness to let open displays of hatred and incitement of violence slide, Jewish and Italian community members took matters into their own hands. In the spirit of community self-defence, they rushed to the swastika display to destroy it, and the resulting street-fighting, which lasted until 2:00 AM after both sides brought in reinforcements, became known as the Christie Pits Riot. The police, characteristically, did nothing.
After this event, the mayor of Toronto warned against displaying the swastika, and no further riots occurred. Had the Jewish and Italian people not stood up for themselves that day, there is no telling how far these “Swastika Clubs” would have gone.
The rhetoric of ‘jocular’ Nazi salutes and ‘joking’ ‘Heil Hitler’ signs used by fascist sympathizers at the time are immediately familiar to anyone who has witnessed the modern appropriation and display of fascist symbols and talking points, stubbornly and falsely claimed to be satire by their promoters to deflect criticism and provide a veneer of plausible deniability. ‘Ironically’ doing the Nazi salute (or flying the Nazi War Flag, or calling for genocide) never went out of fashion: it remains a common tactic of fascists and white supremacists to both spread their ideology and to dehumanize their opponents.
The Swastika Clubs and their allies were careful to avoid naming Jewish people directly, instead referring to them as ‘obnoxious visitors’ or ‘un-Canadian,’ which immediately brings to mind the modern use of ‘Canadian Values’ or ‘Western Chauvinism’ by the far-right as dogwhistles for white supremacy, the scaremongering marginalization of refugees, or claims of alleged incompatibility between Muslims and ‘the West.’ The open organizing of fascists and white nationalists on-the-ground in Toronto and their harassment of Muslim and transgender people in the GTA (and the similar lack of police response to this hate and bigotry) demonstrates once again the need for the spirit of solidarity and community self-defence among the city’s communities. We must look back at the struggles of days past, and toward a future free from racism, anti-semitism, anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBTQ+ hate.
We will never accept institutional discrimination against any group of people. The view that certain kinds of people are “subhuman” or otherwise undeserving of solidarity and empathy is not a valid political position. We refuse to debase ourselves by debating with such a position, as this only grants them legitimacy and platform, and we instead seek to empower communities to become self-sufficient in resisting racism and fascism at a local level. We think this proactive coming together of the anti-fascist and anti-racist community at this event will provide a good counterpoint to the largely reactive actions and counterdemonstrations that have characterized this summer – an opportunity to organize, socialize, and regroup for the increase in far-right organizing (especially on university campuses) expected come September. Come by to eat, play ball, help to strengthen our community and harden it against those who wish to see us divided.