Anti-fascism in the age of Trump
Platypus Review 100 | October 2017
On September 15, 2017 at the University of Houston the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a panel discussion, Anti-fascism in the Age of Trump. Participating on the panel were Gloria Rubac of the Workers World Party; Gus Breslauer of Redneck Revolt; Mark Kazanski of Socialist Alternative, Houston; and Bernard Sampson of the Communist Party, U.S.A., and the Democratic Socialists of America. Danny Jacobs of Platypus moderated. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
Since the Nazi seizure of power eighty years ago, anti-fascism has been a component of left-wing politics. In response to the Trump presidency, the politics of anti-fascism, reminiscent of the Popular Front of the 1930s or the Black Bloc politics of the 1990s, have—once again—been resurrected by the Left. How is anti-fascism the same or different today? Why anti-fascism now?
Mark Kazanski: I am going to talk about identifying fascism. What did it look like in the past, and how did people fight it, historically? What does fascism look like now, and how should we fight it today?
We should, first of all, distinguish between fascism and other authoritarian and reactionary movements. A useful working definition of fascism is, “the pursuit of transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.” The “cleansing” part is focused on eliminating perceived enemies of the nation, often defined in terms of ethnicities or races, whom fascists seek to kill or deport. Genocide is embedded in the movement; it is implied by the ideology. The “transcendent” part involves offering an alternative to the Left, essentially a right-wing alternative to class struggle. Mussolini promised to “knock heads together.” That sort of rhetoric appeals both to demoralized working class people and to insecure sections of the middle class who fear losing their status. In the early days of fascism, people from the borderlands of Italy, especially areas close to the Slavic countries, were overrepresented in the movement. In these places, borders were insecure after World War I and national identity was often unclear. Diversity could seem threatening in that context.
Today, we see paramilitary movements in border states in the US—Texas, New Mexico, Arizona—organized around hunting immigrants. These militias go out on patrol because, in their imagination, the borders are under threat. Their sense of national identity is likewise threatened by immigrants. These perceived threats combine fantasies of nationalism with nostalgia for formal, explicit white supremacy codified in law.
To be clear, fascism is a movement that denies the right of other people to exist. Its goal is genocide. This is not an opinion to be debated. Reasoning with them did not work to fight fascism in the past; it will not work now. The goal is to defeat fascism physically, politically, socially. The goal is to wipe them out, to destroy their movement and ideology, to make these people and this movement go extinct. The only things worth debating are strategy and tactics on how to destroy fascism.
In 1920, there were massive workers’ occupation of factories in Italy. Half a million workers along with rural people occupied landowners’ property. There were Red Guards prepared to defend these factory occupations; the conditions for revolution were there. However, because of the labor leadership’s willingness to negotiate and collaborate with the state, the factory owners and landowners, the Italian Socialist Party refused to lead a revolution. The revolutionary movement failed, resulting in complete demoralization of the workers. That created room for a fascist, reactionary movement to build. Two years later, it took power. As Mussolini rises in 1922, the Italian Socialist Party offered mostly nonviolent, ineffective resistance. There were separate Left paramilitaries fighting fascists, but they did not have the recognition and resources of the socialist or communist parties at the time, and thus were not particularly effective, either.
Germany had its share of left-wing paramilitary movements, too, such as the Iron Front, associated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Alliance of Red Front-Fighters, associated with the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). They were effective in slowing down fascist organization out on the streets, but they did not mobilize enough of the working class to make a serious difference. Obviously, they were persecuted and banned later, when the Nazis came to power. After the war, Antifaschistische Aktion resumed in Germany, with older members of the Socialist and Communist Parties of Germany taking charge in de-Nazification. At this point it was mostly older members, in contrast to the sort of youth movement we see now. Once again, they didn’t mobilize enough of the working class. They were in conflict with occupying Allies who were building parliamentary democracy, capitalism, and often keeping Nazis in positions of power. Eventually, Antifaschistische Aktion was forced out of the labor movement and became largely irrelevant, until its resurgence in the 1970s.
Now we are seeing fascist movements gaining momentum. In the USA, we can trace this back to the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s, a far-right Christian identity movement based in racism and anti-Semitism. They organized local paramilitaries, precursors to the 1990s militia groups, which were a mostly rural reactionary movement. Since 2008, we have seen an increase in right-wing paramilitary formations, from the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers, to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Finally, there are of course some outright fascist movements, here and around the world, such as the French New Right, National Bolshevism, and the Traditionalist Worker Party.
There have been several confrontations with these groups that we can learn from. A particularly instructive one occurred in 2007, in Knoxville, when a group called Vanguard America rallied. It was your regular racist rally, but it was countered by anti-racist protestors dressed up as clowns, who chanted slogans like “white flour,” “white flowers,” and “wife power” at the Nazis. The leader of the Vanguard America rally lost his temper and attacked them. He was arrested, and the rally was shut down. That was great, but I do not think mockery will be effective any longer. The alt-right is immune to mockery. They have been radicalized online in ways shrouded in many layers of irony. We cannot rely on mockery or what the Democrats want us to do—just turn our backs. And we are running out of time. We all know about the recent clashes. We have witnessed outright fascist organizing.
In Charlottesville, the Friday event was a small victory for the fascists, which emboldened them; on Saturday, we saw their tactics fail. Their game of acceptability, of marching in seemingly aspirational middle class uniforms, in khakis and polos—that failed. Once again, what we saw is that physical force made a difference. Anti-fascists were able to protect other activists from violence, and they were able to use strategic violence to send a message to the cops that they are not, cannot be in control of the situation. This use of violence made them shut down the rally. It turned a permitted rally into an illegal one. In that case, it was effective. Then Boston was an even better result, where we saw massive—40,000 people—turn out to shut down this free speech rally. And once again, we saw that the Democratic mayor had no plan to oppose the far Right. The only plan was to ignore them.
What we see from the struggle now is that the Democrats have no plans to fight fascism. What does work is mobilizing large numbers of workers. Tactics and strategy matter. Use of force in very specific situations makes a difference. We can also talk about weapons. Some of the anti-fascists had guns and weapons, supposedly as a deterrent against the far-right escalating tactics. We can discuss whether or not guns make sense at a protest like this, but I do not think they work as a deterrent; rather, it becomes an arms race, which is something we cannot win—at least, not yet. We saw an example of this in the 2011 Syrian protests. When guns became involved, the movement building stopped, and the only people who could get a constant supply of weapons were the fundamentalists. So, our primary tactic should be mobilizing large sections of the working class. The working class should be in this struggle because we have got the most to lose, but also the most to gain, by showing people that they can rally around material interests through campaigns like the Fight for $15, Medicare for All, and different kinds of workplace organizing. If we make and win demands, we send a clear message to people that class struggle, rather than racism, is what serves their interests.
Bernard Sampson: Where did the antifa movement begin? I would like to say in the American South, during Reconstruction and after. There was popular resistance to Jim Crow, which was essentially Apartheid in the U.S. South. People fought against Jim Crow and the Klan’s terror, even to the point of forming armed groups to defend their homes and farms. This form of resistance went on well into the 1950s. This might be an unusual view, but what took shape in the U.S. South after the Civil War was an early form of fascism. So, resistance to it was an early form of anti-fascism.
In terms of the more modern form of antifa, Mark is correct that it emerged from the Communist Party of Germany in the 1920s. The German Communist Party formed a military section of its party called the Red Front, which had thousands of members all over Germany, with headquarters in different working class neighborhoods, usually in the back room of a bar. Many members of the Red Front were unemployed; this was in the middle of a depression, and their party affiliation made it even harder to find work. They were organized into fighting units, with uniforms and even their own bands. The antifa flag and emblem, still in use today, originated from the German Red Front. All over Germany, the Red Front battled the Brownshirts, by any means necessary. Eventually, the socialist-led government legally banned the Red Front, shutting it down, even as the Nazis continued their terror campaign.
Most people don’t know this, but the Communist Party, U.S.A., formed a New York chapter of the Red Front. Both men and women were welcomed as members. It changed around 1935, as the party moved from the United Front to the Popular Front strategy. The CPUSA continued to fight Nazis out in the streets and tried to break up their meetings. When the Spanish Civil War started, they helped garner volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which went to Spain and fought as part of the international brigades. I would say the Lincoln Brigade was a kind of antifa, and many members of antifa also joined in the Lincoln Brigade. Jewish Americans made up about 30% of the Brigade, and many of them were also involved in antifa.
All the really anti-fascist organizations in the 1920s and ’30s dealt both in the tactical and strategic level. They were very organized in their actions, but saw these in the context of strategic goals. This is one of the big differences between then and now. The antifa movement of the 1920s and ’30s was organized by political parties. They were tied to the strategic needs of the working class, and they pursued strategies with different parties in order to fight capitalism and fascism in what was then called the United Front, and later the Popular Front. Antifa and other such groups are today not linked with political parties. They are mostly of a tactical nature and not strategic. Defense against fascists is necessary. It is a moral obligation, but it needs to be tied to broader goals. The fascist movement exists only because capitalism is the system we live under. Fascism will always be there, sometimes lurking in the dark corners, and sometimes coming out in the sunlight. To defeat fascism for good, we need to see where it comes from. The struggle against fascism must be combined with the struggle for democracy and against capitalism.
How do we build this unity? First, we should not give in to provocations. The goal of a fascist is to stage provocative acts in order to get us to respond in kind. In this fight, the state—meaning the police, the courts, the news media, etc.—will always support the fascists. Violence doesn’t help build the mass movement we need. Our use of violence must only be to defend ourselves. I completely support self-defense. But let’s keep our eyes on the main enemy, which is the capitalist class, not the fascists. Defeat the fascists, and you still have the capitalists. Defeat the capitalists, and you no longer have fascists. Second, we must have flexible tactics. Boycotts, sit-ins, occupations, demonstrations, strikes, picket lines, petition drives, and disruptions can all be useful tools. Where the law is unjust, we must break it.
At this time the fascist right is still a fringe. They may have some influence over a wider audience, but that audience does not participate in their actions at this time. The fascists are banding together as militias and other organizations, but a great many others remain unorganized. They are the ones saying, “I’m not a racist, but…” Our tactics should differ depending on which group we’re dealing with. Many Trump voters can be split from the fascists, by involving them in struggles around bread-and-butter issues: healthcare, jobs, environment, taxes, etc. Furthermore, when it comes to the organized, bona fide fascists, we must keep this in mind: Only in actual war has direct action worked. In every other case it has led to attacks on the Left by the capitalists. Our actions, however brave and admirable, are used by the capitalists to pass laws that lead to greater repression, not only against the Left, but against democracy in general. I have yet to see the capitalist state repress the right.
For antifa to play a truly productive role in the struggle against fascism here in the U.S., it must develop operations both on the tactical and on the strategical levels. It needs to incorporate itself within the Popular Front movement which is forming against Trump. This includes various left groups; organized labor; Black Lives Matter; native american organizations; Latino and immigrant groups; women and LGBTQ groups; and all of the Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and young people coming out against Trump.
Antifa exists today because the capitalist class is in crisis. Some of its far right sectors are promoting fascism and the destruction of bourgeois democracy. Antifa fills a vacuum where the state will not defend the working class from right-wing terror.
Gloria Rubac: I grew up politically in the Civil Rights Movement, such as it was, in Oklahoma. Once I got out of college, I got the hell out of Oklahoma. People sometimes ask, “How can you live in Houston? It’s so conservative.” I say, “Try Oklahoma!”
The Houston police murdered Black Panther Carl Hampton on July 26, 1970. It was a hit against the Black Panther Party as a whole. We rode all over the country to get national support for others who were charged with attempted murder of a police officer. The youth group of Workers World Party, Youth Against War and Fascism, was the only national group to answer us. I joined Workers World in 1972; today, I am the contributing editor for the newspaper and I serve on the executive committee.
Mark and Bernard gave some definitions of fascism, but there is really not a pure fascism that we can look at in this country today. The actual fascist groups here are pretty small, and one of the reasons for that is there’s already an outlet for people who have fascist ideas: You can become a cop! In St. Louis, people are pissed off because the cops got away with murdering somebody. I am so tired of looking at videos on my Facebook feed showing cops beating the shit out of people, with no consequences or reprisals against them. You can have fascist ideas and kill oppressed people if you are a cop. You even get paid for it. Look at Charlottesville: The cops stood by while a Nazi fired at anti-fascists. They did not even arrest the shooter! The same cops would have killed a black child with a toy gun. This is hardly new. In 1979, the police turned a blind eye as the Klu Klux Klan killed members of the Communist Workers’ Party in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The youth group of the Workers World Party was named Youth Against War and Fascism because we understood war and fascism to be the primary tendencies of monopoly capitalism in decline. In 1962, the first action of Youth Against War and Fascism was a huge counter-protest against George Lincoln Rockwell, who was the founder of the American Nazi Party. He was coming into Manhattan for a speaking engagement when he caught wind that there would be tens and tens of thousands of people gathering to protest him. He did not speak. He did not even dare to cross the George Washington Bridge. So that is one way that you fight fascism. You can punch a Nazi, too, of course. I am not against that. You can do individual things. I can think of some Houston Police Department cops that I would like to punch right now. But the main way to organize against the Nazis, the right-wing, and the ultra-racist, is with mass action.
In the early 1970s Youth Against War and Fascism organized a protest here in Houston outside of a Zionist fundraiser. I happened to be picket captain. We must have had twenty or thirty people outside of this fundraiser for an hour or so. I told everybody, okay, we are going around one more time. Next thing I knew, ten cops jumped on this guy in front of me, whose name was Jose Barriga. By the time I could see his face, it was such a bloody mess I wasn’t sure it was Jose’s. Twelve people were arrested that night, five charged with attempted murder of a police officer, for getting the shit beat out of them. All twelve were charged with aggravated assault on a police officer. It was interesting that they wouldn’t arrest any of the women. This was the early 1970s, after all. I was beating a cop with my pole. He said, “Little lady, go across the street!” I was like, “Fuck you.” So things have changed. The cops now are willing to shoot or arrest men and women, black and white. It took us a year and a half to organize support for the Houston Twelve, but we finally won the case. Out of the twelve, eight were Chicano, the other four were white. On the first day of the trial there were so many people there, including elderly ladies from Northside who did not speak any English. Still, they sat in that courtroom every day, and we won.
These are just some anecdotes about fascism. Workers World Party members in Durham recently pulled down a Confederate statue. Takiya Thompson, a young African-American lesbian member of Workers World, climbed a ladder, put a rope around the statue, and a group of people pulled it down. That was pretty cool. A few days after, Takiya and others were rounded up. All told, they arrested up to fifteen people on a couple of felony and misdemeanor counts. When that statue hit the ground, it crumbled. One of the felonies is about destroying property, but the property in question has to be worth over two hundred dollars. We found out these statues were mass produced for super cheap, so that charge is unlikely to stick. Three went to court this past Tuesday and received a postponement until November. The others have their first court date sometime in October. Taking down statues is awesome. As far as I know, however, Houston does not have that many Confederate statues. We do have a Dick Dowling statue in Hermann Park. There is also a statue of Columbus at the small park off of Montrose. I would love to know where others are. What’s more important is that, when Takiya and two others had to plead guilty or not guilty, almost a hundred people lined up behind them and said, “If you are going to charge them, charge us.” Taking down the statue was helping to build a movement against fascism.
When I was in college, Barry Goldwater ran for president. He did not have a party per se, but he was a fascist. Even Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York at the time, called him one. (Of course, seven years later, Rockefeller sent in the National Guard and murdered prisoners and guards at Attica Prison to stop the 1971 uprising.) So, there are many forms fascism can take. Right now, neo-fascist groups are relatively small, but we must take action to keep them small. We do that by organizing. I agree with Bernard on this. We must organize against capitalism. You can get rid of the fascists, but still have the capitalist state. I have a Marxist view of the state and capitalism. You need to connect the fight against fascism to the material conditions and the economy. We need to use all kinds of tools, from taking down statues, to having meetings like these, to going out and confronting fascists on the streets. Whatever you can do. We should not say, “Well, they are misguided.” We should not say, “Love Trumps Hate.” Punching a Nazi’s face is much better at trumping hate.
Gus Breslauer: I have been involved in many groups over the years. Currently, I am a member of Redneck Revolt, but anti-fascism was where I began in politics. The first protest I attended was organized against a Klan rally in the town of Tomball, Texas, in 2005. Some of us were arrested before we even arrived. I was going through a lot at the time, trying to understand the world in different ways, and being exposed to politics through punk rock. That was the first time we wanted to put feet on the ground. An organization developed out of that protest. It took a couple of years, but we came to be critical of just tailing Nazis around. It was a different era. Fascism did not have the mass base it has today. We began to run up against the limits of anti-fascism. So, I want to bring in some criticism of anti-fascism, as well, because the struggle against fascism and the struggle against capitalism have not always run the same course. Mark said that we all need to oppose fascism as a kind of moral obligation, but we disagree on strategy and tactics. We disagree on a number of other things, too, including our approach to the history of fascism and anti-fascism.
We all agree that the only real way to oppose fascism is to fight against capitalism. After all, fascism is just capitalism with its teeth bared. Only communism will destroy the preconditions of fascism. However, Mark said that we should focus on “class struggle, not race and nation,” which I want to push back against. In the American situation, we need a little more nuance than that. Revolutionary movements are the only way to destroy the preconditions of fascism, but, historically, those movements only come out of particular sections of the working class—namely, from black and brown folks.
Bernard, while I definitely appreciate the history of rebellion in the United States that you presented, I am not sure that we can categorically call the Jim Crow South “fascism.” It was absolutely an authoritarian racist regime, but I do not know that it benefits us to call it fascism, which has particular preconditions and characteristics. As Gloria mentioned, people’s definitions of fascism vary a great deal. One of the best definitions is very succinct: fascism is “reactionary modernism.” Fascism wants to maintain certain aspects of liberal democracy and the modern world, but it is reactionary. It wants to change things at the base of civil society, but on the basis of how it believes things once were.
I am glad the Spanish Civil War came up, as that is important in any discussion of fascism. I disagree with the way this history with the KPD and SPD was presented. I do not think that the Popular Front strategy worked at all. Nor should we try to reproduce the Popular Front now. The Popular Front led the working class to the fascist butcher house, in Spain and elsewhere. A lot of people like to blame the Stalinists for that. I blame class collaboration between the ruling class, which wanted liberal democracy, and the Left in general, which had a great deal of influence and power among the masses. They collaborated in order to oppose the fascists. I do not think that class collaboration will ever strategically destroy fascism or its preconditions, and we do not need to engage in that. We do not have to sacrifice our political principles to oppose fascism. Not only did the KPD and Red Front advance a Popular Front strategy, but also they engaged in a lot of unnecessary factional fights with the SPD and the Communist Workers Party.
The Lincoln Brigade is a really important part of American history. But what is the capacity of the Lincoln Brigade to be historically recuperated by the ruling class? About a year and a half ago, we saw John McCain put out a very endearing article on the Lincoln Brigade, when one of the veterans had died. More generally, what is the capacity for anti-fascism to be recuperated in ways that are contrary to our goals? I do want anti-fascism to be seen through to its end—to its limit. But only a revolutionary movement against the preconditions of fascism, that is, against the state and capital, is going to do away with it for good.
We are in really weird times. The fascism that we have does not lose any of the old-fashioned American white supremacy. But we are also seeing things that are new, such as the frat boys in Charlottesville and the people that look like just anybody off the street. It was not just “rednecks” and those we have become used to associating with racism. It has the character of classical fascism. It's a movement of the disaffected “middle class.”
MK: I agree with Gus that class collaboration is dangerous and does not lead to good places. However, I am not sure how closely the U.S. compares to Spain. Any United Front of the working class in the U.S. will eventually, if it is successful, turn into a Popular Front against fascism. However, the Popular Front should be led by the working class.
BS: Well, the best example of the Popular Front defeating fascism was World War II. You had England and France (or what was left of it), and China at that time under capitalist, military government, fighting along with the Soviet Union to defeat the Axis powers. The reason the Popular Front failed in Spain was because they could not get more capitalists on board. It was one socialist state with some arms sent in by Mexico. The Popular Front stopped the fascist takeover in France before World War II. You are correct, Gus, about the strategy of the Communist Party in the 1930s against Hitler. They viewed the Social Democratic Party as “social fascists.” These people had killed the heads of the Communist Party, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The socialists controlled the state government and the police forces; they outlawed the Red Front and murdered communists at May Day. So it was difficult for the communists to overcome the sectarianism that arose from these objective conditions. But, in the end, they did try to unite. They asked for a United Front with the socialists to stop Hitler—and the socialists said no. There were definitely mistakes, but the Popular Front is the only thing that stopped Nazism. The Soviet Union played the major role, but they could not have won without support.
The United Front is misunderstood. It does not mean that the communists give up the class question and the struggle against capitalism. Rather, the United Front is about doing to the capitalists what they do to us—namely, take advantage of internal differences. The capitalists seek to divide us on the basis of sex, and race, and so on. We split them up over their own internal differences. You can see this happening now in the struggle against Trump.
In the last election, the people who supported Bernie Sanders numbered some 13 million people. You need 60 to 70 million people to overthrow capitalism and defeat it. So, what do we do? First, we fight against the far right, which sponsors fascism openly, and we unite with anybody fighting to keep democracy. It is a life-and-death struggle for working people. We do not give up our aim, which will ultimately involve fighting against the very people we are, at the moment, aligned with. But it does mean some compromises, which are based on the balance of forces. How large is the socialist movement and the communist movement today? The anti-capitalist movement? It is not strong enough to put us in a pre-revolutionary situation, so we make compromises to move forward, to split our enemies, and to build a broader unity. The problem is, in doing that, sometimes the pressure of capitalism and bourgeois society pushes communists to give up their principles and make deals they should refuse. But you have to run that risk, no matter what you do. You have it in every political party. You have right-wing groups that nonetheless support social democracy and collaboration. So, I still say the Popular Front is the only way to fight fascism and, ultimately, to overthrow capitalism.
GR: If we are going to talk about fighting fascism today in the United States, we need to look at what happened in Boston recently. That anti-fascist protest was organized mainly by black women. Anything we do to fight fascism has to be organized with, or ideally led by, workers of color, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims—all the people who are so affected by the right wing, and who would be most affected by fascism. That is the key. We should not beg the Democrats or the Republicans to do anything. If individuals in those parties want to fight fascism, cool. But those two parties are meant to keep the capitalist system going, so they cannot be part of any serious struggle against fascism.
GB: I do not see the United Front and Popular Front as irreconcilably different, but they did have different purposes. The United Front strategy was not just about stopping fascism. At any rate, I do not like “front” strategies, in general. The solution must be based on revolutionary movements that come out of the working class. Inherently, front strategies rob the class of its autonomy and its agency in history. That gets at the limits of anti-fascism, which I am not against. But we do need to be aware of the limits of anti-fascism. We cannot extrapolate an entire political program from it. Only the class struggle does that; only struggles against white supremacy can do that.
However, fascism does possibly set the terrain for the whole capitalist system to be brought into question. It destabilizes things. We should absolutely have an orientation to anti-fascism, but we must remember what the goal is and who our enemies are. We can draw some comparisons between Spain and the U.S.A. The situations are not the same, but there are historical lessons we should apply to our situation now. I disagree that World War II shows the “success” of Popular Front. What does it even mean to say that, when millions of people died in the Holocaust? What kind of victory is that? How many years was the Popular Front strategy employed before World War II? We saw a lot of failures. We saw Brest-Litovsk during the revolutionary era. Trotsky said he traded space for time—only to see the German Empire fall a month later. Twenty years later, at the same spot, you see the Communist Party of the Soviet Union exchange prisoners with the Gestapo. I do not think World War II exemplified a “Popular Front” strategy at all. It was just people fighting for survival during an awful imperialist war. In that sense, it was like World War I. During that time, Lenin pushed the revolutionary defeatist strategy: The class must try to turn the imperialist war into a civil war between the classes.
In general, I would argue that the best things we can do to fight fascism right now are things we should have already been doing: building working class movements by organizing in our workplaces, our schools, and our neighborhoods. In many ways, fascism is built on our failures, on the failed interventions of the Left. So we cannot always fight it head on. We need to fight it by making the interventions that we should have been making for a long time.
Q & A
Gloria, you mentioned that the police have served as an outlet of general fascist tendencies. Hasn’t that been true in Spain, Germany, and most places where fascism took root? Do you think there is something different now? Does the structure of the police, and their role in the capitalist system today, really differ from what we have seen in previous periods?
GR: The role of the police has always been to keep the state in power. Fifty years ago, in Houston, the police were practically all white. Now you got Black, Latino, and Arab officers.
GB: I believe the majority of the police force in the U.S. is non-white, now.
GR: Is it really?
GB: It is something like 55% non-white, from what I heard.
GR: And a lot of women are on the force, too. One time, when I was in jail, there was a female cop beating the shit out of this black woman, and I remember thinking, “Oh boy! That is a real liberation for women, to get beat up by another woman.” — I do not think there is a significant difference.
I agree with Gus that one of the primary failures of the Popular Front, historically, has been the loss of autonomy of the working class to more socially liberal movements. We have to build mass movements if we want to fight the far right. In order to do that, the Left has to provide a clear radical pole of attraction to the working class. That can only be done by maintaining the autonomy of our movement. This is what distinguishes the United Front from the Popular Front.
BS: The United Front is basically a front composed of groups from the Left. It does not include the capitalists. By contrast, the Popular Front includes sections of the capitalist class who, at a particular moment, are willing to unite with the Left on a certain issue. So, the Popular Front is like going to somebody in the Democratic Party and saying, “I really don’t like you, and I want to get rid of you, but I do not have the strength right now. In the meantime, Trump is right here, taking away my job, and he is going to kill us all. You hate Trump, too. Can we unite for a temporary period and fight together against him?” You divide and you conquer. If you are sectarian about it, then you refuse to unite with other people on certain issues. As a party, the Democrats would not even support Bernie Sanders. We know who these people are. We also know that they have different interests and, based on monetary rather than ideological reasons, they oppose the fascists, or Trump, or what the Republicans are doing. So we take advantage of that. They do this to us; why shouldn’t we do the same thing to them? The Popular Front does not work every time, but is has worked in the past, whereas the United Front has never worked.
MK: In the U.S., we don’t have a party of social democrats, so we are not talking about a Popular Front with them. We are talking about the Democratic Party, composed of outright capitalists. We have seen from these struggles how they have no plan to fight fascism and they are very happy to be pacifists when it comes to anti-fascism. So, I do not know what value the Popular Front with the Democrats would have, or what sort of compromises you would be making. We have seen class collaborationism turn out bad.
The wrong way to fight fascism was demonstrated in Russia in the late 1990s, early 2000s. It seemed like half the people you met were skinheads or in some way aligned with fascism. Every time you go to a party, someone would get beaten up for being Ukrainian or Georgian. Fascists were marching constantly. In response there emerged a youth movement called Nashi, which means “Ours.” Anti-fascism is in their messaging, but they are a super-nationalist, pro-Putin movement, funded by capitalists, businesses connected to the government, and even the Kremlin itself. They claim to be fighting against oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals. In reality they are supported by the capitalists and the state. This is what happens when the perception is that the only defense against fascism is to unite with the establishment. In the U.S., we should not seek a union with the capitalists and the Democrats. We should not want the only defense against fascism to be a pro-Trump youth group or even a pro-Sanders youth group.
GB: I would even go further and say that we do not want anti-fascism to be a defense, at all. This world is not defensible. Our game plan should not just be about defending liberal democracy.
BS: The Popular Front is not with the Democratic Party itself, but with those who have illusions in the Democratic Party. That includes the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and so on. Without them, you will not achieve revolutionary change. Without them, your movement will be almost entirely white and will have little or no connection with labor. Consider the AFL-CIO. It has 84 affiliates here in Houston. The most reactionary ones, like the carpenters’ union, hold back the more advanced ones, some of which want to break with Democrats, but feel they cannot do so, because they will lose the less advanced unions. The consciousness develops differently among different people, and if you do not understand that, you cannot build alliances. The Left cannot do this on its own. The roughly 13 million voters who supported Bernie, many of whom are just liberal democrats, is not going to cut it. We have to go beyond that. This will require us to make some compromises. As the Left grows stronger, we can make fewer compromises, but you have to build up to that. Otherwise you just beat your head against the wall.
You all agree that we need a mass movement. The incredibly successful campaign of Bernie Sanders was brought up, which was built on these “bread-and-butter” demands. I bet a number of the people in this room right now, would not be here if that campaign had not happened. The things he put forward united people from different ideological viewpoints, from people on the far Left to conservative, church-going, racist, small-town people whom we are supposed to think are beyond the pale. Is there a common struggle that we can work towards in order to build a mass movement? Do you see that struggle on the horizon? How do you see us working towards that?
BS: In a Marxist sense, we can speak of three areas of class struggle. First there is the ideological struggle, which we conduct through our newspapers, books, conversations, the Internet, and so on, in order to convince people. The second is the economic struggle of the working class against capitalism, in order to get a better deal in their exploitation. The third is the political struggle, which is the most important, despite being frequently overlooked by the ultra-Left and anarchists. The political struggle is the electoral struggle. You have tens of thousands of people who have died and been imprisoned fighting for the right to vote. Now, bourgeois democracy is not real democracy, and the ruling class gets to roll it back whenever they can. So, you fight for women’s rights and get a bill passed, then the right-wing gets elected two years later and they repeal it. However, that process is how you educate people that capitalism is not truly democratic and that only socialism can achieve democracy permanently. You cannot make a leap from where we are now straight to socialism. Consciousness does not work that way. It develops in a dialectical process based on your relationship to the means of production and your relations to the capitalist system. You can talk at people all day but it is not going to mean anything until they experience being hit on the head by a police officer or something like that.
MK: That is not the only way people learn, though. The way you mobilize the largest cross-section of the working class is on the basis of bread-and-butter issues, things like the Fight for $15 and Medicare for All. Those things are relevant to the working class and can mobilize them as part of the bigger struggle against capitalism. The role of the party is important here. When you are in a pre-revolutionary situation, like in Italy during the 1910s, when the party leadership is not actually taking the lead, the revolution fails. That is what creates a reactionary backlash; that is what creates room for the fascists to seize power.
GR: I have a question for the audience member. Why did you say that people were here tonight because of Bernie Sanders campaign?
I am twenty-three years old. As someone in the “Millennial” age group, I became politically engaged for the first time because of the Bernie Sanders campaign. It gave me hope that something good can come from the political system and motivated me to learn about our system in a way that was never taught to me in public school or by my religious family. I have heard similar stories from a lot of people my age. Of course, some had been educated before, but Sanders popularized the word “socialism,” which has become a lot more socially acceptable because of his campaign. The membership of the DSA and the Socialist Alternative, of which I am a member, has shot up over the past year. A lot of that has to do with the impact of the Sanders campaign, and the fact that he was able to generate a massive volunteer base involving many people who had not been part of any movement before.
GB: Was it really Bernie himself moved you and others, or was it the conditions of the class in this historical moment? Because it is not just your age group, and it is not just Sanders supporters, who are becoming more political right now. I am in Redneck Revolt, a group that did not exist a year-and-half ago, and we can barely keep up with the growing interest and membership. Of course, the fascists are also growing at a rate that they have not seen in a long time. I just think it is a kind of powder keg right now. The working class is more immiserated than it has been in decades. That is a major part of it. There are more proletarians living on this planet than any other time in history. We are living in very dark times, but there are also things to be optimistic about.
I like what you said about diversity of tactics, Mark, but f I understood correctly, you hinted at a criticism of a leftist gun culture. Is that correct? What is your take on groups like the Deacons for Defense or the Black Panthers, which among things brought guns to protests and provided security for non-violent groups?
MK: I am a fan of gun culture, but there is a bigger question of tactics and whether it is wise to bring guns to a protest. What happens to movement building once guns are involved? We have seen that this can set off an arms race, which then stops movement building. Security for non-violent groups makes sense. But the Black Panthers were in a very different situation. They had a legitimate self-defense argument which does not apply to us, at least from what I have seen during the confrontations thus far in Houston. It might be different in Boston and Charlottesville. I have heard different reports about anti-fascists having guns and whether or not it was a deterrent. From my perspective, right now, it is an open question.
In Houston, our protests have not been particularly violent thus far, nor have police tactics been violent. We are still building a movement. We are trying to get more working class people to come to these events. Openly displaying arms and provoking fascists will turn away a large section of the working class.
GR: The Deacons for Defense—you are talking about Rob Williams and Mae Mallory? I know that the Workers World Party supported them wholeheartedly in the 1960s.
GR: When you talk about armed self-defense, people like Rob Williams and Mae Mallory definitely had the right to do that, as did the Black Panther Party. Our demonstrations do not wind up as shootouts with the cops in the streets, but the cops occupy working class neighborhoods, and particularly oppressed communities. If somebody in those neighborhoods wanted to take up arms, that should be supported. The way the Black Panther Party was killed here is that they were selling their newspaper on Dowling Street and a cop pulled a gun on Carl Hampton, who drew his gun, too, creating a stand-off. The cops issued arrest warrants for him and many others in the Black Panther Party and other groups, from the John Brown Revolutionary League to the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), who were working with the Black Panthers. We did overnight armed defense of their headquarters in an attempt to prevent the cops from killing Carl. We were stationed in empty buildings that had a line of sight on the Panther headquarters. The night that they did kill him, there had been a Chicano moratorium against the Vietnam War over on the east side of town. We were sunburned and exhausted, so many of us did not go to Dowling Street with our weapons. That night, when we had the smallest number of people there, the cops came in and killed him from the roof of the nearby church.
BS: Let me say something about this. When we have a demonstration and the fascists are across from us, let them be the ones that are armed. When I see people on the Left with semi-automatic weapons, I think, first off, “police provocateur”—because that is exactly what the cops want. Once it starts, who is going to win? The fascists are ex-police and ex-military; they are going to win. If it looks like they won’t, the police will come in and make sure they do. You do not want an armed struggle until you are able and ready to win. That will come. There will be an armed struggle one day, but we cannot use force until we are sure we can win, or else nobody is going to come to your demonstration and oppose fascists. You are not going to have 40,000 people. If the fascists open fire and shoot five people in Boston, the next time there is a demonstration, watch what happens. We need millions of people out there. People say Martin Luther King was a pacifist, but that is wrong. He understood that he was putting people on the line, subjecting them to violence, and he was using force himself, but in a very different way, and it worked. It brought us the Civil Rights Act, which some people would say, finished the bourgeois revolution here, as far as that was concerned. Of course, it has all been turned back now, but it had reached up to that level at that time. Those are the tactics that work. We need millions of people. Armed struggle? When the time comes—but not yet.
GB: It is unprincipled to call them police provocateurs. I want to support those people politically and I am not going to stop having boycotts and protests here. It is fine to disagree with those tactics. I have political differences with many of those people, as well. That does not make them police provocateurs!
The people on the right, the ex-cops and ex-military folks, the fascists attracted to guns—why aren’t we recruiting those people? Perhaps not ex-cops—I am sketched out by that, too—but ex-military people we absolutely need to consolidate within our movements. Veterans have been a central part of every anti-war movement. We should be recruiting them before they turn to the fascists because they are the ones with guns. So it is not about waiting until we are ready to win. The conditions to win are here now. They have been here as long as there has been a communist movement, which is centered on existing conditions. It seems rather arbitrary and subjective to say, “We are not ready yet.”
Going back to the original question, there is a difference between community self-defense and anti-fascism. I’m not necessarily sure we need guns at every anti-fascist rally. I do think we should be out recruiting at gun shows, and that is why I am in an organization doing just that. But community self-defense is a strategy that has worked. There is a precedent for that in American history, particularly within the black working class. When they move, everybody moves. Community self-defense has been really important to revolutionary history in this country, and I would want to distinguish that from anti-fascism.
MK: Just to be clear. I am definitely in favor of arming the workers, training them with weapons, and defending communities with those weapons, if necessary. I also agree with making a class-based appeal to the military. I have a question for Bernard. Is there any value in left-wing groups being seen with guns and sending a message that we are not liberals, we are militants? There are sections of the working class that are simply turned off by, you know, the stereotype of the “soft” liberal.
BS: Sure, there can be value in that. I am not against the Left having guns. I am not against the Left having armed groups. I am not against the Left defending itself with force and with arms when they are under attack. But to bring weapons out in order to build up towards a fight that you cannot win is just suicidal. I understand where you are coming from, Gus, and I sympathize with the idea that you have to believe you can win. But idealism is not going to win anything on its own. Just because I want socialism does not mean I am going to get it. Between here and there, it is a long, difficult process, where sometimes you go backwards one step in order to move forward twice. You are always going to make mistakes and need to retreat in order to move forward. That’s the way it is. We are going to have that problem until the revolution, and after it, too. The class struggle does not end with the revolution; in fact, the class struggle will intensify after the revolution.
One way that fascists recruit people into their ideology is through social media and on sites like 4chan. Also through meme culture, with “Pepe” and all that. I am curious to hear your thoughts on how we challenge that.
GB: If you are trying to learn more about today’s Alt-Right and the fascist movement today, avoid that book by Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies. I have not read the whole thing, but I have seen enough excerpts. I would recommend the writings of Matthew Lyons, on the blog 3-Way Fight.
MK: When people get radicalized online, it all happens anonymously. Once they actually hit the streets, they get exposed publicly as fascists, and a lot of them find out that their social lives and careers are ruined. So it takes a lot to transition from anonymous shitposting to going out on the streets, and a lot of them try it once and never go back out, especially when they are confronted with real opposition and with real force. They end up just trying it once. The ones who stay do become hardened and form more dangerous cadres. Nonetheless, the prevalence of far-right memes just is not a valuable metric by which to judge their numbers.
“Fascism” is an accusation that has been leveled at almost anyone. Lots of people will call basically anyone they dislike a “fascist.” Many of us feel like we have a general understanding of the term but our definitions vary dramatically. Some people say racists or nationalists or misogynists are fascists. But we all have our own definitions of who is racist, or nationalist, or sexist. Those definitions can likewise vary dramatically. So, keeping that in mind: What is fascism? How does it emerge? Who are the real fascists today in the US and globally? Depending on these definitions, how many fascists are there in the US and globally? How much of a force is fascism?
GB: I cannot say how many there are today. Everyone tonight has been asking for a definition. There are many characteristics but fascism politically depends on the elevation of the nation-state and its fusion with capital. Fascism consistently creates disorder while preaching order. It is a movement of the disaffected middle class, but with working-class characteristics and orientation. It is important to remember that Mussolini ‘s paper said, at the bottom, “To the Laborer and to the Veteran,” because those are the people he wanted to elevate. I do not want to call fascism “revolutionary,” but it has a revolutionary flavor. Moreover, fascism is born in the streets and is pretty much dependent on the appropriation of left-wing tactics and left-wing forms of organization, but with right-wing goals and aims. This is why it is important not to call the entire history of American White Supremacy “fascism.” Workers’ organizations and legitimate organs of class-struggle became the kernels of fascism. They did not really have tactics of their own; they stole their tactics from us. In Charlottesville, we saw them chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” They got that from us. They are aware of this. They say things like, “The commies do cool stuff, too.” That sort of approach is inherent in third-positionism.
MK: One definition I heard from an Italian anarchist is that fascism is a “pre-emptive revolution.” The one I started out with, which is nice and concise, is the “pursuit of transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.” So, the paramilitary part of that is very important, because fascism is a bottom-up movement. The appeal of the “third way” is central to it, as is claiming to get rid of all the parliamentary horse trading. Mussolini did start off as a Marxist. He learned the language of Marx and learned about class struggle. Then he applied it the other way, in order to lead the petty-bourgeoisie against the working class. So there was a left-to-right turn.
BS: I agree with a lot that is being said. Fascism is basically a fraud. It takes from the Left and uses it for its own purposes. Fascism takes different forms; fascism in Italy is very different from fascism in Germany. But one thing they all have in common is the elimination of democratic rights for everyone in order to install a totalitarian regime in which every organization you belong to is controlled by the State in association with a fascist-type party. People misuse the term “fascist” quite a bit. If we really were living under fascism, we would not be meeting. In fact, we would all be dead, or in prison or concentration camps. That is how bad fascism is. That is the difference between fascism and plain old right-wing imperialism. It is a really big difference. Fascism arises when capitalism is in crisis and the ruling class can no longer maintain order in the normal way. According to Lenin, Marx, and others, the best way for capitalism to rule is through bourgeois democracy, which provides the best cover for exploitation, murder, racism, and so on, because it fools people. But when bourgeois democracy begins to fall apart--when the veil is torn away, and people see what capitalism really is--that is when the ruling class becomes willing to look to the fascists. Capitalists do not like the fascists, in general. A few of them do, but the majority prefer to make their profits by fooling everybody, having us all be patriotic and feeling like we have a say in government. But when the capitalists need it, they bring the fascists in, like a gangster, and they say, “I need you to do a job for me.” The gangster says, “Sure, I’ll do it, but I might kill a couple of y’all as well.” That is the risk the capitalists take. They would prefer not to gamble on that, but they do it when they feel there is no other choice. We are not at a fascist situation yet, but that might be coming, because capitalism is in crisis. Fascism in the 1920s was a direct result of the Bolshevik Revolution. The capitalists understood the threat of that and were willing to gamble on fascism.
MK: Now, is that really true? By the time Mussolini comes to power, the threat of the Bolshevik Revolution is just non-existent. They claimed they were protecting Italy from Bolshevism, but that was false. The crisis was over, Italy was in recovery, and the revolution had been successfully crushed by social democracy. Capitalists did not really need to throw in their lot with the fascists, but they did anyways. Perhaps material conditions are not really sufficient to explain fascism in that way.
GR: You are right, Bernard, that we are not living under fascism. But it is important to stop the fascists in their tracks. Trump’s election has emboldened these people. We do not want to give them an inch.
GB: What you said about fascism, Bernard—that we are not in a fascist situation but they are gaining traction—is exactly what I could say about revolution. We are not in a revolutionary situation but we are gaining traction.
I suppose we are just going to disagree about the role of the Communist Party in Italy (CPI). They were going through a factional struggle, but they also had much greater power and a larger mass base then they would for decades thereafter. I definitely think that the CPI was revolutionary at the time and the class was revolutionary in Italy. Workers’ councils were emerging and the CPI was having healthy debates over their role in the council movement and over the question of fascism, as well. Some of the people that fought the hardest against fascism in Italy were critical of anti-fascism; for that reason, I try to maintain a critical view of anti-fascism. I draw that from the Italian anti-fascists in the Communist Party at that time.
When fascism was first emerging, it was understood in terms of the failure of the socialist movement. One of the reasons that these organizations and groups—and even uniforms—were ceded over to the fascists was because the communist revolution did not pan out. Take someone like Mussolini: He basically felt that, if we cannot win on the basis of communism, we are going to need fascism. Does the apparent rise in fascism today reflect a failure of the Left, then? If people are being recruited to the right online, does this speak to the inability of the Left to make itself relevant? Mitt Romney came out against Trump over Charlottesville, which led some people to make memes about “Comrade Mitt Romney.” This shows the kind of problem the Left faces: Many people will get behind punching Nazis, but how do we get them behind communism or socialism? I suspect that many people will say “I want the anti-fascism, but without the communism or socialism, because I have seen where that leads.” How does that reflect a potential failure of the Left in the present?
MK: The working class is demoralized. The Left has shown no way forward, no way to struggle. Once working people see their power as a class, they can achieve demands. That starts not just by getting people to sympathize with us, but more importantly to mobilize them. At that point you are building a movement and can get people out onto the street. If you do not have that, people will drift to other, non-materialist ideologies.
BS: We live in the most powerful imperialist power in the history of the world. They control everything. It is difficult to build a communist worker’s movement. It is hard enough just to form trade unions. It is hard to fight for women’s rights. It is hard for African Americans to leave their houses and go to work without being killed. So it is much easier to work for eight or ten or more hours a day, go home, have a beer, sit on your couch, and watch all the trash that is on TV. How do you get people off the couch and out into the streets? That will only happen when things get bad enough that it affects them. We have not reached that stage yet, but we are approaching it, which is why Bernie Sanders got so much support. He was able to take concepts of socialism and make them easy for everyone to understand. It is not like reading Lenin or Marx. Not that I agree with everything Bernie says, but he was brilliant at constructing a minimal program and getting 13 million people to vote for him. That changed the consciousness. The “Occupy Movement” brought forward the idea of the “one percent.” That too was a revolutionary change in people’s conception of class struggle. Sanders took it a step further and brought forward the idea of socialism. “Yes, we can have free medical care—yes, we can do that, and more.” It goes step by step: One thing builds on the other, just as in any type of science. It is based on actual actions, and work, and real life—people’s experience. You do not make leaps.
GR: But a single spark can start a prairie fire.
BS: Certainly. However, the political party has to be there. That is not to say that the Bolshevik Party made the revolution. They did not. They became the leaders of it, and directed it, but the revolution was made by the peasants and the workers. When they rise up and there is no political party, or it makes a mistake… Had Lenin not come back from Germany, Russia would have had a bourgeois government and there would have been no revolution and, consequently, probably no Chinese revolution. The world would have been totally different. You have to have the organization, but the role that the individual can play in history is also important. Every Bolshevik was against overthrowing capitalism except for Molotov and Kollontai. Lenin had to argue and fight with them to do what needed to be done. He said it is like an art, and if it is not done right when it needs to be done, history will pass you by and never forgive you.
The good news is that it is a lot easier to stop the KKK and the Nazis than it is to stop the real fascists. The real fascists have imperial navies and police. They are the ones standing between the anti-fascists on one side and the Nazis and the gun nuts over on the other side. For the most part, there have not been any Klan marches in Texas, in the big cities, since around 1983, because we have priced them out of the market. How did we stop them in 1983? Gloria and Bernard will remember this. The KKK were on a big recruiting drive. There were two of these big Klan marches two weeks apart—Austin and Houston. In Austin, they just used the regular Austin PD with some State Troopers on the grounds of the Capitol, where their march wound up. I was with the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Bernard and Gloria were with some other groups. We mobilized enough people and we kicked the Klan’s ass. We destroyed their cars. We wanted to go even bigger in Houston, and we got somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people to show up and protest the KKK in downtown Houston. The HPD could not handle it. They had the FBI working on it. There were not enough cops in Houston to handle the counter-demonstration. They hired five other police departments to come and protect the fucking Klan. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men. And they succeeded—they protected the Klan. They closed off ten blocks of the city around City Hall. You could not even drive near City Hall. All of us were thinking, “Crap! We failed.” But it turns out that it cost the city of Houston one million dollars to protect the KKK. City Hall realized that this is not sustainable, but they could not go against the First Amendment. So they updated the parade permits across the board. Any group that puts on a parade has to pay for their own security and their own insurance. The new rules probably would not pass a serious legal challenge, but it has been working pretty well for thirty years or so now. The rodeos and the parades for the astronauts do not have to pay anything, because they are not a major security risk. But when it comes to protecting the KKK you have to hire five police forces to protect them, and the Klan cannot afford the million dollar buy-in, so they cannot march. I am more of an anarchist than anything else. Using the state is kind of like Aikido: You use your opponents’ force against them. You let it defeat itself. You just have to show up and get all your friends to show up. You make it too expensive for the city to protect them.
I know you all have some mixed opinions about bringing people over from different sides to support socialism or the anti-fascist movement, but I have seen a lot of Trump supporters who believe that he will help with the mining and coal industries, oil, even agriculture. Can we bring such people to our side?
GB: Both the Republicans and the Democrats are factions of the bourgeoisie. There are potential allies who voted for Trump, just as there are potential enemies who voted for Hillary.
GR: Right, and Trump supporters are already becoming disillusioned with his talk about jobs. So, yes, many working-class people voted for Trump for economic reasons, and many of them are going to wind up hating his guts. There is potential in people like that, for sure.
BS: We have to win some of those people over. They say that up to ten percent of Sanders supporters voted for Trump. That’s something. But just look at the numbers: Hillary won by three million votes. You want to change the country? You want to defeat the Right and then eventually overthrow capitalism? You need hundreds of millions of people.
MK: I have seen the Traditionalist Worker Party—fascists—making an appeal to the people to the mining communities in Appalachia. We should have a program for mining communities, for transitioning people away from mining jobs. The Left should be making these appeals to people, but in a very different way than the Traditionalist Worker Party did.
I’ve heard a lot tonight about “bread-and-butter” demands, which is how we will win over a lot of the Trump supporters. In the 1930s the Communists did actually offer that. They said, “We will end hunger and homelessness.” Yet the fascists still won. Is it really just a matter of appealing to material interests? People find themselves simply devalued in capitalism and they look for something greater that they can be a part of. Again, think of the people attracted to the right-wing through 4chan. Why are these people so disaffected? I do not think anyone is born a racist. Is it enough to say, “We will give you higher wages and more jobs?” After all, isn’t that what Donald Trump has offered?
BS: That’s what trade unions are for. Trump’s not going to keep his promise. He makes these promises because he wants votes. He is doing the same thing that capitalists have always done. They make promises to everybody but only fulfill them for the rich. The Russian Revolution was not won because they said, “We want socialism, we want the dictatorship of the proletariat.” It was won by the masses. The Bolshevik Party won because it had three demands: Land, peace, and bread. None of those are socialist demands, are they? All socialism does is make permanent bourgeois right—the right to organize, democracy, the promise of a decent wage—the things that we still have to struggle for, even die for, in this country. Then we lose it at the next election. Republicans and Democrats alike are sitting in River Oaks, in their country club, laughing about what stupid chumps we are. Until we break with them, until we fight back, we are going to get what we deserve. If I go out to the AFL-CIO headquarters and say, “We need socialism,” it won’t even register. We need to speak with the clarity of the Bolsheviks: land, peace, and bread. That is how we are going to win over the people who voted for Trump.
MK: Yes, but the question is, aside from those necessary material demands, is there a cultural component that we can offer? The “Alt-Right” is all culture, and we know fascists love Wagner. They think they are engaged in some sort of cosmic battle. Can we offer something like that? I do not know what that would look like.
GB: The Left being.... cool? That has not happened in a long time!
MK: I do not think the public at large likes communist memes. That is not going to capture their attention.
GB: The point is simply that we have to make ourselves more relevant and cool again. The fascists beat us to that punch. Also, not every person who becomes a fascist is necessarily a disaffected person we are trying to win over. Same thing with Democrats or Trump voters. We should be trying to win over the class, and—make no mistake—the most revolutionary and vulnerable sections of the class. We should be trying to win over the class, not disaffected liberals.
That Trump got sixty-one million votes speaks to the strength of fascism. But I want to ask about antifa. You have all been very concrete tonight respecting fascism—skinheads, Nazis, the Confederate supporters. But what about antifa? Is antifa good for the Left?
GR: If people want to fight fascism, go for it. It is absurd for the media to go on and on about how “antifa is so violent!” As far as I understand, they are not even a structured organization. They just show up and do their thing. Do not compare them to the right. The media has played a horrible role in all of this.
You mention the Black Panthers and how you see that in comparison to the antifa. After all, they are both defensive and they are both gun-carrying leftists…
GR: You are thinking of the New Black Panther Party, which should not even be using that name. The Black Panther Party had incredible community support, not because they were carrying guns, but because they were feeding people. The kids at school today would not get free meals if it were not for the free breakfast program that the Panthers initiated. This New Black Panther Party is nothing.
But could antifa end up being an obstacle for the Left?
GB: My answer would be a nuanced, “Yes.” But we must not let the media succeed in their negative portrayal of anti-fascists. A lot of average people have pushed back against it because it is phrased like, “Is it OK to punch Nazis in the face?” Personally, I have been very surprised at all the people I have encountered, including people who are not really political, come right out and say, “Yeah, I am fine with punching Nazis in the face.” At the moment, it is still politicizing people. I am not sure it will do so for much longer, though, because ultimately anti-fascism is limited.
BS: Antifa exists because the capitalist class will not defend people against fascism, so someone has to do it. It is a democratic, ground-up movement that is very loosely organized, on the whole. But within that there are many different forms. There are sections of antifa that are very organized and almost totally underground. Other groups are more anarchist. They play a positive role, all things considered. The main danger they must look out for is being infiltrated by police agents. As long as they handle that, I do not think there is any problem. But the biggest failing of antifa is that it is predominantly white and middle class. That is the biggest failing. Capitalism is built on the super-exploitation of African Americans, who are the most oppressed people in this country. If communists are not out attempting to recruit African Americans first and foremost, then we end up with an all-white organization that will never succeed at anything. And, if I was African American and I went to a meeting of a revolutionary party and I walk in and I am the only person of color…. Well, that’s a failure. We will never achieve anything without unifying all the groups that the bourgeoisie tries to divide.
MK: I definitely think antifa is important. I don’t know if lack of diversity is such a failure for antifa, though. The least oppressed people can take the most risks, so it makes sense that they are the ones taking more risks right now.
GB: In my experience, antifa is not a universally “white” thing. It is pretty much the same composition of the rest of the Left—so, mostly white. But that is true of pretty much the whole Left. I agree with you that composition is important. The black working class in America has always been struggling the hardest.
GB: I want to remind everybody that all these things, all these questions don’t matter as much when you raise them in this room as when you raise them at your workplace, in your school, and among your neighbors. If you are in an organization, raise these questions there, too. Because we do not have to be tailing after the fascists. We can have movements for ourselves.
Moderator: That is why Platypus prints transcripts of our events, by the way—so that you can bring them into your workplaces and schools.
GR: We were all horrified about what happened to Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. But, then, it was wonderful when Takiya Thompson took down the Confederate statue in Durham. So, the struggle continues, whether it is against fascism, capitalism, racism, sexism, whatever. The undocumented youth just took a blow when Trump said he was scrapping DACA. I asked an organizer, Cesar Espinosa, whom I have known since he was a kid, “Well, what are you going to do?” He said, “We are going to continue dreaming and continue fighting.” When you look at fascism, you have to have that attitude.
BS: Keep your eye on the prize. The fascists are a product of capitalism. Capitalism is the main enemy. Fighting against capitalism, the tactics and strategies necessary for that fight, are not the same as fighting against fascism. Be flexible in your tactics and, whatever you do, build unity and build a broad movement. If anyone says you should not unite, even temporarily, with these people or those people, it is sectarianism, which only plays into the hands of the enemy. Unity and militant struggle—and, above all, keep your eye on the prize.
MK: Violence and the use of force matters. It can be used judiciously, at the right place and the right time. We have seen that, even in small-scale confrontations, it can be decisive. Regarding groups in Houston that have been out with guns at protests, it is not productive to call them “police provocateurs.” We should not call groups on the Left “provocateurs” unless we have real, convincing evidence. Of course, that does not mean that I am going to start bringing guns to protests myself. Ten percent of the common struggle is going to be out-gunning them, out-muscling them, using force. Ninety percent of it is going to be organizing the working class behind movements, behind demands—mobilizing them to fight capitalism. |P
Transcribed by Jack Calder, Audrey Crescenti, Kevin Dong, Danny Jacobs, and Sidonie Sturrock