Charlottesville Terror Attack
It’s not like we haven’t warned that this was coming. In article after article on the rise of Donald Trump and his brand of right-wing populism, we’ve stated that, as bad as his policies might be, the worst aspect of his regime would be the emboldening of the fascist and white supremacist elements that make up much of his base of support.
In Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12th, the murder of Heather Heyer, a reported IWW and anti-fascist activist, by James Alex Fields, an American Nazi, turned this horrifying, albeit logical, prediction into fact. The video of Fields driving his car into a mass of protesters attempting to leave Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park, after Robert E. Lee, the leading Confederate general) has been replayed on social media over and over. In addition to Ms Heyer, another 19 people were injured, many seriously, in the attack. There is the possibility that more could die as a result of this terrorist attack by a white supremacist.
It’s difficult to separate anger and hurt from analysis in such a situation. The young martyr was exercising her “free speech”, a right supposedly granted by American bourgeois “democracy”, when she was killed by someone who was willing to use force to make sure that his “free speech” was the only one allowed. A traditional fascist attitude. To fascists and supremacists, spewing murderous hatred of “others” is their “free speech”, but opposing them is a crime worthy of capital punishment.
There is no equivalence between this type of murderous “free speech” and its opposition. There is only one side or the other.
Fascism and White Supremacy
None of this happened in a vacuum. The legacy of hate against others with darker skins has a long history in the United States. White supremacy was the basis for the genocide of the indigenous people on the continent when the US expanded into a capitalist powerhouse and empire. It was the basis for the theft of resources from the undeveloped countries of the world in order to fuel that expansion into empire. Even earlier, it was the basis for the institution of slavery that captured black Africans, forcibly transported them to this country to be treated as chattels in the service of the southern plantations that supplied the world with cheap raw materials from which the whole capitalism system profited. The slave trade, and slave labour on the plantations growing cotton and sugar, were essential foundations of capitalism on both sides of the Atlantic.
Even with the official ending of slavery, white supremacy still reigned, well, supreme. Jim Crow laws and segregation, legally in the south and more “unofficially” everywhere else in the US, kept up the idea that black skin denoted an inferior “race”, socially, intellectually, and morally, that needed to be controlled by any means necessary. And, of course, exploited for extra profits under capitalism.
The passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts during the 1960s did provide a measure of progress for black Americans, but in reality and especially economically, that progress was at a glacial pace and always subject to being taken back if and when it hindered profits for the owners. Moreover, when the special exploitation of African-Americans couldn’t be justified legally, they provided a convenient scapegoat for the economic troubles of white Americans who had been steeped in this cesspool of historical bias and were looking for someone to blame. This is the basis of right-wing populism and the ascendancy of Donald Trump and, by extension, the murder of Heather Heyer.
The Left Response
No doubt the “Left” in the Democratic Party will be quick to point the finger of blame at Trump and the Republicans but, in truth, they are also complicit in the rise of the violent right wing. With their focus on “identity” politics, they ignored the economic underpinnings of the malaise that affects the US economy for everybody apart from the well off but, in particular, leaves black working class and unemployed people at the bottom of the pile. They played a role under Clinton and Obama in using the drug laws to imprison a grossly disproportionate number of black youth and they tolerated the impunity of cops harassing, beating and gunning down a great number of them.
In 2016, Hilary Clinton and the Democrats offered no realistic alternative to Trump and the Republicans. This was summed up in their campaign slogans; against Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Clinton could only lamely insist, “America is already great”. In other words, she failed completely to relate to the feelings of many, perhaps most, voters that the American economy was failing them. By contrast, Trump’s slogan not only acknowledged this but promised to change it.
For sure, racism played a large part in Trump’s victory, especially in areas where it is historically prevalent, but the swing states that put him over the top in the Electoral College were states that had voted for Obama, a black man, twice. Thus, the feeling of an unequal playing field between the haves and the have-nots played a major part in the election of 2016. The task of the revolutionary socialist left is to relate to the increasingly widespread belief that the economy and politics are rigged against the majority but to explain that it’s not blacks, Muslims, Latinos, or any other marginalized immigrant or native group that is doing the rigging. It’s the élite class, the capitalist owners of the big banks, industries, chain stores and media outlets.
Even in the area of “identity” politics, the Democrats failed their most loyal constituency, African-Americans. All through the Obama years, black Americans lost ground economically, more so than any other ethnic group. Nor should it be forgotten that Black Lives Matter was founded under Obama’s administration, as communities continued to suffer from police terror and vigilante violence that, for the most part, went unpunished.
Where Do We Go From Here
Thanks to Donald Trump’s international provocations, recently aimed at North Korea, in part undertaken to cover his failure to get any of his measures, like repeal of Obamacare, through Congress, the full danger of his reactionary program has yet to dawn on large numbers. True, his popularity, never high outside his core voters who were always a minority, has slumped. The ruling class and its politicians, including Republicans as well as Democrats, are engaging in a veritable civil war with him. The Administration is in a chaotic state.
This should create better conditions for successful resistance. After a good start around Inauguration Day, however, the resistance has not yet mobilized in sufficient numbers to impress on millions the fact that there is a powerful alternative to Trump. This is firstly because of the failure to build a united front of unions, women’s, youth, black and Latino organizations and socialist groups at local and national level to take on every prong of Trump’s attack.
Secondly, resistance will not be enough if we do not also build a political organization that can struggle for power, for a total transformation of society, and can put forward a policy of hope for white workers and the poor as well as the people of color suffering the scourge of racism. This means fighting to get the unions and the communities of the oppressed to break with the Democrats and build a Labor Party that is proudly and actively socialist and anticapitalist.
Charlottesville, and Trump’s reaction to it, shows us that the forces of the racist right are powerful, more powerful than the relatively small numbers of the Nazi grouplets or the Alt Right. The great danger is that Trump’s following is a potential base from which these could grow into a fully fledged fascist movement. Liberal protests and reliance on the state to protect us from such a development will be no use whatsoever.
As a Marxist tendency, we recognize that the only hope for a long-term counter to the fascist threat is an organized working class response that includes a trained and disciplined multi-racial and multi-ethnic workers’ militia to act in defense of the class as a whole. The most logical and historically relevant place to look for this particular response is amongst the ranks of the organized working class in the unions.
Given the collaborationist attitude of the union bureaucracy, and the state of class consciousness of even the organized working class, however, it is clear that building this is going to be a long fight. We have to hope that it won’t take fascists disrupting union meetings and trashing union halls before they realize the need to get involved in class self-defense.
Along with the self-defense aspect, a militant and organized working class would be in a position to pressure the representatives of capital to rein in their bullyboys with actions in the wider economy that would show that fascists and white supremacists would not be tolerated in our places of employment or on the streets.
Even a rudimentary knowledge of history shows that fascism cannot be allowed to get a toehold without a challenge. Fascists can’t be argued with because their appeal is not based on winning arguments. Their appeal is based on resonating with the worst of human instincts and emotions and shutting down opposition with intimidation and violence. The more they’re left alone to spew their murderous bigotry and hatred without challenge, the stronger they get. And Charlottesville proves that they are already more than willing to kill.
Looking At The Anarchists
Some organizations, mostly anarchist militias like Redneck Revolt, the John Brown Gun Club, and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, have taken up the question of armed self-defense. This is, of course, a constitutional right and defense against armed fascists and cops on the rampage certainly needs more than baseball bats. At the same time, the experience of the Black Panthers shows that to challenge the state to armed conflict, when the mass forces of the working class and the racially oppressed are not yet mobilized, will enable the cops to provoke, pick you off or crush you. The main task is to mobilize these mass forces for struggle against Trump and reactionary forces at state level but, at the same time, to win them to forming self-defense forces integrally linked to the existing organizations of struggle.
Although the big national union federation leaderships are still a long way from participating in such actions, some locals like the Longshoremen on the West Coast, have shown the willingness to stand up for them. Union locals need to be approached to join the fight.
In addition, there are the Alternative Labor Organizations (ALOs) that have sprung up over the last 25 years or so. They are working class organizations, mostly organized around issues like different forms of “wage theft”, such as withholding pay and wages below the legal minimum, that affect the lowest paid workers. It would not be much of a stretch for them to begin to form self-defense cadres for the protection of their communities. Where they are already organized, coordinating with other like-minded militias would be the natural next step in seeing off the fascists.
A successful strategy for combating the rise in fascism in the US will need the building of steering committees in every city, involving representatives of all the groups that fight against white supremacy and fascism, as well as the socialist left, in order to plan for the founding and training of community militias for self-defense.
Our sympathies go to Ms Heyer and her friends, family, and comrades. The only way to make sure her death is meaningful to the fullest extent is to make sure that the scourge that she died fighting is defeated, once and for all.