Thunderous outrage marked a turning point in the U.S. after James Fields Jr. murdered one anti-Nazi demonstrator and injured dozens more in his Aug. 12 attack in Charlottesville, Va. The antagonism between left and right has blown wide open. And so far, those who stand against bigotry are winning.
Now is the time to build a sustained and united resistance movement. This is what it will take to counteract not only white supremacist thugs, but also the police and corporate press, who are whipping up hysteria over the supposed violence of anti-fascist demonstrators.
Nazis on the run. Mighty congratulations are due to the tens of thousands of anti-Nazi warriors who out-organized and outnumbered white supremacists across the country, with Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and Radical Women contingents among them.
As a result, the Islamophobic group Act for America cancelled 67 “America First” rallies while other right-wing demonstrations were called off from Boston to Atlanta. Reactionary guru Steve Bannon was forced out of the White House, and CEOs on White House advisory councils resigned. Supremacist websites like Vanguard America were chased off the internet.
People resisting the ultra-right now have the opportunity to analyze the far-right threat, evaluate our strategies, and reinforce our defenses.
Baiting anti-fascists as “violent.” Fascist currents grow when people feel besieged and desperate, and both U.S. parties of capitalism have helped set the stage for their advance today. After several decades of the working class losing ground under both Democrats and Republicans, the anemic recovery from the 2008 crash and cloudy economic prospects for the future are feeding people’s insecurities and fears.
Both parties are encouraging tolerance of racist and sexist behavior and stimulating paranoia about immigrants and “Islamic terrorism,” which fueled the rise of Donald Trump and his hard-right backers.
Now, starting with Trump’s “many sides” remarks, politicians and media are engaged in a concerted effort to equate far-right violence with self-defense by counterprotesters. The Department of Homeland Security has even classified activities by “antifa” — an anarchist wing of the anti-fascist movement — as “domestic terrorist violence.”
Most headlines since Boston’s huge demonstration have spotlighted small slugging matches between racists and opponents, not the masses of marching and chanting demonstrators. Seldom reported was that white supremacists were almost always the ones to provoke a fight (along with some people subsequently identified as undercover police saboteurs). Nevertheless, most arrestees were counterprotesters, not fascists.
Right-wing and pro-human-rights demonstrators are not equal! The battle is one of ideas: who stands for human rights and equality, and who stands for bigotry and concentration camps?
What works — and doesn’t. In the 1980s, FSP together with others created the United Front Against Fascism, which led a successful campaign to smash neo-Nazi plans to turn the Northwest into an Aryan homeland.
That experience made it clear that defeating these types requires courage and a bold platform that pulls no punches about what it stands for and what it opposes. It demands serious, democratic collaboration among left organizations, unions, community groups, anarchists, progressive religious people, and anyone else committed to the fight.
Anti-fascists don’t aim to deprive ultra-rightists of free speech, but to win the battle of ideas by vigorously exercising our own First Amendment rights!
The involvement of the labor movement is essential, because when capitalism takes the fascist route, it does so in a last-ditch bid to survive in a time of crisis by obliterating all working-class organizations. And, if labor leaders do more than just endorse the fight on paper, they can bring disciplined strength in critical numbers to the battle. Credit goes to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who organized and turned out in the San Francisco Bay Area, and to the many individual unionists participating across the country.
Boston’s massive, 40,000-strong counterprotest immediately after Charlottesville was a thrilling success. Four leftist groups with different politics worked together to create a list of demands and build a stunning “Stand for Solidarity — Resist White Supremacy” protest of a racist “Free Speech” event on Aug. 19. They got broad support from numerous grass-roots groups. They rallied at Boston Commons, exactly where the right-wingers had hoped to be. And although organizers planned for a peaceful demonstration, they made it clear that people had a right to defend themselves.
The story was different in the Bay Area on Aug. 26 and 27.
Activists knew in July that the white nationalists were coming again — for “Free Speech” in San Francisco and “Say No to Marxism” in Berkeley. The media fixated on the potential for violence, and Berkeley’s liberal city officials pleaded with potential counterprotesters to stay away. Unfortunately, most left groups took this damaging advice. The International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America, and Workers’ Voice/La Voz de los Trabajadores organized a “Rally Against Hate” in Berkeley, eight blocks away> from where the right-wing event was planned, which was endorsed by Socialist Action and Socialist Alternative among others. (See flyer.)
This is a mistaken, perilous strategy. Directly confronting nascent fascists is the only way to make them back down before they grow powerful. Also dangerous is minimizing the threat that they pose, as Socialist Action does in an article describing them as “tiny groups of isolated and pathetic reactionaries.” Encouraging people to stand up to the far-right menace, not belittling it, is the way to instill confidence in our ability to win.
This is what Bay Area FSP did, working in the ad hoc coalition Communities Against Racism & Fascism to get the word out. Hundreds of anti-Nazis were at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park early enough to take over the stage area. If ultra-rightists were present, they were in hiding. Later, about 500 of the Rally Against Hate folks joined those already defending the park.
In Germany, Hitler’s Nazis won because of inadequate resistance by opposition forces divided among themselves. As FSP Organizer Su Docekal said after a huge Seattle demonstration against the far right the day after Charlottesville, “The way to prevent fascism from taking root is through direct action and disciplined counterdemonstrations when they come out to recruit. Our goal is to build a broad, democratic united front to stop them in their tracks.”
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