After Charlottesville: How the Working Class Can Defeat the Right

Haz clic aquí para leer en español.

Livestreamed footage of violent street battles between “white nationalist” and neo-Nazi marchers and a sea of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia flooded global news outlets and social media on August 12. The “Unite the Right” march was organized by a variety of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and alt-right organizations in response to the city’s long-awaited decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, one of over 1,000 Confederate monuments still standing in 31 states across the US.

The far-right rally first drew national attention the previous night when hundreds of torch-wielding right-wingers—including alt-right spokesman, Richard Spencer—marched through the University of Virginia campus. They descended upon Emancipation Park (formerly known as Robert E. Lee Park), encircled, and taunted a group of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators at the base of the statue.

By 11 am Saturday morning, small skirmishes had escalated into outright brawls along the city’s West Main Street, leading the mayor to declare a state of emergency. Footage showed riot police, lined up along the march route, appearing to stand at attention and calmly looking on as fascist demonstrators attack counter-demonstrators with pepper spray and other chemicals, beat them with bats and wooden clubs, and clashed with wooden shields. The neo-Nazi demonstrators were accompanied by fully armed “militiamen” in camouflage combat gear and armed with high-power assault rifles.

The early inaction by the police was criticized, among others, by Cornel West, who was present at the counter-protest. “If it hadn’t been for the anti-fascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.” But Virginia Democratic Congressman David Toscano praised the police for later intervening when things started “getting out of hand” and fully exposed the Democratic Party’s own police mentality when he subsequently blamed the anti-fascist counter-demonstrators as “outside agitators who wanted to encourage violence.”

The situation intensified in the early afternoon, when one of the fascist demonstrators, James Fields, intentionally plowed his car at full speed into a crowd of hundreds of counter-demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a Bernie Sanders-supporter and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Fields, who had traveled all the way from rural Ohio to participate in the rally, was photographed with a contingent of the neo-Nazi organization Vanguard America. Nineteen other counter-demonstrators were hospitalized after being hit by his car, and an additional 14 people were injured in street brawls. Fields has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder—though the terroristic nature of his attack has been glossed over by both the liberal and right-wing media.

President Trump, after remaining uncharacteristically silent into the afternoon, began tweeting from his Bedminster, NJ golf course. As could be expected, his attempt to address the question was disconnected from reality and drew scathing criticism. Not only did he praise the unemployment figures and blatantly attempt to deflect attention from Charlottesville—”There are so many great things happening in our country!”—but his comments on the right-wing violence were vague and equivocal, condemning the “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides.” As if the actions of the neo-Nazis and those who defended themselves against them were on an equal plane!

Balance of forces

The far-right had intended this rally to be a show of strength, but in reality, it demonstrated the insignificance of their forces. After months of planning, and despite drawing racist participants from all corners of the country—the vast majority of the identified right-wing demonstrators were from out of state, from as far away as Florida and Nevada—the crowd they managed to muster was no bigger than an average anti-Trump rally in a major city. Not only was the right drastically outnumbered by the counter-demonstration in Charlottesville (by at least two-to-one), thousands immediately mobilized across the country in simultaneous rallies in Baltimore, Boston, Memphis, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, and other cities, with more to follow.

Most of these impromptu rallies against the right featured slogans from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and even calls for revolution as the only cure for the disease of racism. The spontaneous turnout and militant mood at these demonstrations are confirmation of the real balance of forces among the working class and youth from all backgrounds. There is a determination to fight against racism and all forms of oppression and inequality, as displayed with each new wave of the #BLM movement which has spread across the country over the past three years.

While many of these upsurges have been sparked by police brutality, others have emerged around initiatives to remove Confederate memorials and symbols throughout the South. Other instances of right-wing terror, motivated by racist, reactionary ideology, have also provoked disgust and outrage in recent months.

For example, in May, two men were killed and a third injured by a violent racist in Portland. The man had been harassing a woman in a hijab and her friend. When the bystanders intervened, he drew a knife and cut their throats. Two months earlier, two Indian men were shot in Kansas in another racist incident, also involving the intervention of a bystander in their defense. In March, a white supremacist traveled from Baltimore to New York with the aim of murdering a black man, in a horrifically arbitrary yet premeditated crime. His fatal victim was 66-year-old Timothy Caughman, an unsuspecting and defenseless homeless man.

A society in decline

The rising frequency of such events reflects a recent emboldening of the most backward layers of society, who see a point of support in Trump, and particularly in the far-right members of his administration, such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. This perception was spelled out by former KKK leader, David Duke, who declared that the Charlottesville rally “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” He later protested Trump’s call for all to “come together” on Twitter, responding, “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” before going on to lament the “invasion of Marxist propaganda.”

However, as these elements are coming to realize, there is no mass base or even a movement of any significance behind their reactionary ideas. Not only do these events reveal the polarization in society, they, in turn, deepen that polarization. The whip of counterrevolution serves only to the spur onward the overwhelming predominance of an anti-racist sentiment among the vast majority of workers and youth. Millions of people are more open to revolutionary and socialist ideas today than at any other time in living memory.

Marxism explains that for a set of ideas to become a real force in society, they must connect with the material interests of a certain social layer. In capitalist society, racist and other chauvinistic views are fomented by the ruling class, which controls the institutions and flow of information which shape consciousness in most times. They consciously create and uphold inequalities in our society which in turn reinforces their dominance and ideology. Most importantly, capitalism is incapable of meeting everyone’s basic needs, and that insecurity reinforces divisions on the basis of identity, as the masses are forced to compete for the little that’s available to them.

For this reason, many workers have racist and other chauvinistic ideas. Part of the task of the movement is to educate these layers and to win them to the perspective of united class struggle against our common exploiters. At the same time, however, those who can be educated must be distinguished from those who cannot—and these must be fought through the mass action of the working class.

Solidarity is forged by the common working and living conditions of the working-class majority, and above all in united struggle. Solidarity is antithetical to capitalist ideology, but it is on the rise, especially as the crisis deepens and illusions in the status quo are eroded. The ideas of the right-wing, the perpetrators of these bloody and senseless attacks, resonate far more with the petty bourgeoisie, a layer of society that is continually squeezed by the onslaught of big capital and its crises, and whose atomization breeds individualism, racism, nationalism, and other poisons.

Marxists have long explained that, on a world scale, the traditional class basis for a mass fascist movement has been virtually eliminated by the development of capitalism since World War II. And although the mass “enraged petty bourgeoisie” base of fascism is no longer the force it once was, even a military dictatorship requires the destruction of the labor movement—a fight they are by no means guaranteed to win—as well as the relinquishment of direct political control of their state. So while the bourgeoisie of all countries rely on brute force and will readily resort to rule through open military dictatorship if they can get away with it, nowhere in the world are they prepared to hand power to an outright fascist regime.

It is therefore clear that fascism is nowhere near assuming state power. But this fact does not preclude the emergence of an embryonic and virulent form of fascism. Indeed, the rise of such forces on the far right is an inevitable consequence of the growing polarization in society. The emergence of organizations such as Vanguard America is an expression of the acute impasse of the capitalist system on one hand, and the utter vacuum on the left created by the class collaboration of the labor leadership on the other. So how can the working class crush this movement while it remains embryonic?

Capitalism has always been violent, and at this stage of its historical exhaustion, is rife with social tensions that can explode at any moment. It is a system founded on slavery, genocide, and forceful expropriation, propped up by sectarian hatred and violence, and the insidious and deliberate fomenting of the most corrosive prejudices. All this to ensure the coldly calculated preservation of profit and the continual accumulation of capital. Whether in the form of state-sponsored pogroms, or the decades-long Jim Crow reign of terror, the dictatorship of capital is and has always been characterized by calculated violence. During the postwar boom, illusions in gradual, linear progress held sway for a time, but as the crisis intensifies, so will the instability in society.

The pressing historical task

Trump is not the only bourgeois politician guilty of trite lamentations. The Democrats and liberal organizations have made their complete impotence in the face of far-right terror abundantly clear. For example, the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union not only sued the city of Charlottesville to defend the fascists’ park permit for the rally, they also spread the rumor that an anti-fascist demonstrator had thrown a rock at James Field’s car. They thereby painted the intentional terrorist atrocity as a provoked “accident”—despite clear video evidence in which the whole sequence of events is evident. CBS News characterized the brutal murder of Heather Heyer as a “fatal wreck.”

What Charlottesville demonstrates is the critical urgency of an immense political task for which there are no shortcuts. That the working class is an overwhelming force numerically goes without saying. But on the political front it lacks a mass, independent, organized expression, and on the economic front, is consistently sold short by the pro-capitalist labor leaders. The consciously organized working class, in the form of a mass socialist party, could stop a burgeoning fascist movement in its tracks. Most importantly, it alone can put an end to the impasse that has given rise to a resurgence of right-wing terror, by striking collective blows against the material basis of reaction.

If heroism and physical courage in an individual standoff were all it took to fight back and win, the right would be easily defeated by our numbers and resolve. After all, people like Rick Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche in Portland were willing to give their lives in the name of solidarity. Thousands of young people and workers from all backgrounds, valiant fighters like Heather Heyer and countless other anti-fascists, are willing to defend the oppressed with their bodies and fists. But in the last measure, these isolated skirmishes cannot eliminate this scourge.

A mass socialist party of the working class with a determined and audacious leadership would bring millions of workers into the streets in an unstoppable wave of demonstrations against racist reaction in every American town and city. By combining such demonstrations with a meticulously prepared and coordinated all-out general strike, the working class, with organized labor at the forefront, could bring the entire country to a standstill. Not only would the tiki torches of the neo-Nazis be extinguished as easily as a child blows out birthday candles, but Trump’s administration, which has emboldened these elements, and all capitalist parties and institutions would be called into question. In short, such a show of force would not only cower the scattered forces of embryonic fascism, but would pose the question: who really runs society?

The labor unions must be clawed back from the careerist, class collaborationist bureaucrats who have transformed them into machines for controlling the workers instead of collective tools for fighting the bosses. Racism, misogyny and all forms of capitalist oppression manifest in the workplace and we have to tackle this head on ourselves, with no faith in bourgeois courts or arbitration.

The program of a socialist revolution may appear daunting, considering the present vacuum of working-class leadership, but if there is one quality that characterizes the present epoch, it is volatility. We are not living in a “normal” period of history, but an exceptional one in which events unfold at a breathtaking pace, shaping consciousness on a massive scale in their wake. After a lifetime of trite and meaningless rhetoric from the bourgeois politicians, both major capitalist parties have abysmal approval ratings. A bold, revolutionary program, if given a sufficiently prominent platform, could transform the political landscape and put an end to capitalism’s perpetual “state of emergency.” Join the IMT and help us reach ever-wider layers of workers and youth with the ideas of revolutionary socialism!

Are you a communist?
Then apply to join your party!