Dean Edward Nicholson created his own report on radical organizations in April of 1935 at a moment of significant political change on the campus and in the Minneapolis labor movement. He laid out in detail his account of how left-wing activism developed at the University of Minnesota. He linked it to the arrival of two activists from New York, who he identifies as Jews, in the same way that other right-wing political partisans of the era did.
Nicholson’s perspective provided a distorted lens on student political activism. He viewed all activism through the his understanding of communism. For example, Nicholson stated that left-wing students tried to convince “Negro” students to protest segregation, denying the strong leadership of African-American students. Or, he claimed that communists were behind student petitions for conscientious objection. Warner Shippee, one of those students, was a committed pacifist, a campus Jacobin, and not a communist. He distorted student interests in Marxist thought as identical to membership in the party. Because several of these student activists wrote about their political interests at the time, there is counter evidence to Nicholson’s assumptions.
Nicholson also bridled at students referring to their peace demonstrations as “strikes,” echoing labor activism. He expressed great frustration over their insistence on the term because of his anti-labor stance.
These comments underline how deeply Nicholson’s own Law and Order League, Citizen’s Alliance, anti labor politics shaped his understanding of campus activism. There were certainly communists on the campus of the University of Minnesota as there were in all movements of the 1930s. Nicholson seemed to see them everywhere.
Interestingly, Nicholson seemed to know that one member of the Social Problems Club taught young children about communism. That obscure fact was included in a report found in Ray Chase’s files in a report by someone who passed as a member in order to spy. Was it Nicholson who urged Chase to be cautious and not to reveal the source?
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