After writing a CounterPunch article last Friday on the black bloc and Richard Spencer getting suckered punched, I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about counterproductive ultraleft tactics but an article by Eric Ruder in the ISO newspaper convinced me otherwise.
Titled “How we made Montana Nazis back down”, Ruder explains how the left organized against a January 17th march in honor of James Earl Ray, the racist who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., that was to be held in Whitefish, Montana where Richard Spencer lives part-time and that was a project of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the openly neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.
The neo-Nazis called off their march for a variety of reasons but primarily because they realized that there was massive opposition in rural Montana and particularly within the town of Whitefish itself that despite its “red state” aura had been mobilizing against such groups for a long time.
I urge you to read Ruder’s entire article but want to call attention to something I found pretty disturbing:
Montana is an open-carry state. Consequently, when antifascist forces started talking about armed direct action, it created a real sense of panic. As I repeatedly explained to them in long-distance midnight calls, these antifascists had not laid any groundwork in introducing, much less, explaining themselves or their tactics. I could easily envision a confrontation between armed Nazis on one side and armed non-local anarchists on the other. Obviously, that would have been an unbelievable disaster in every respect.
The last time there was a confrontation between armed leftists and armed ultrarightists in the USA, the results were an “unbelievable disaster”. I am very glad that Eric and the ISO were on the spot to defend a mass action perspective and persuade the anarchist comrades to avoid such tactics.
In fact, it was not anarchists that came out on the losing end of a past confrontation. The victims were self-described Marxists of the Communist Workers Party—a Maoist sect that was founded in 1973 as the Asian Study Group by Jerry Tung, a former member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). When I was a member of CISPES in the early 80s, I worked alongside an African-American CWPer named Ron Ashford who frankly admitted that they had made a terrible mistake by bring guns to an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.
Another Maoist group named the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective that I know nothing about wrote an analysis of what went wrong that I urge you to read on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line (ie. Maoist) section of the Marxism Internet Archives.
On November 3, 1979 members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the name of the group at the time, had gathered near a predominantly Black housing project for a “Death to the Klan” rally. At 11:20 a caravan of cars and trucks filled with Klan members came driving by slowly. As the vehicles passed by, CWP members began beating them with sticks obviously spoiling for a fight. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson article described what happened next:
Meanwhile the Klansmen and Nazis pile out of their cars; some of them wave handguns in the air and then begin shooting into the milling crowd of demonstrators. Other Klansmen get rifles and shotguns from the van and the trunk of a car and begin firing into the crowd. A few WVO members have small handguns. While the onlookers, press and some WVO members have taken cover by this time, a number of WVO members make no attempt to take cover even though they are heavily outgunned. The Klan is able to fire repeatedly into this group of WVO members with high powered rifles and shotguns at distances of several yards or less.
Four CWP members died that day, and another a few days later. Others were wounded. Meanwhile, the police arrested two CWP’ers for inciting to riot and interfering with the police.
The CWP chose tactics just as inappropriate to the struggle in the period leading up to this disaster. On July 8th, the Klan, which was trying to build up a following in this part of North Carolina after the fashion of the alt-right in Whitefish, was showing the pro-KKK film “Birth of a Nation” in China Grove, a town not far from Greensboro. The Maoists launched a surprise attack on the screening and sent the Klan scattering. Afterwards, the CWP’ers returned triumphantly to their cars, got their guns, and marched up and down the streets of the small town.
Bob Avakian’s RCP cult-sect was operating in the area as well, competing with Tung’s group for who could come up with more adventurist tactics. When four of their members showed up to confront 50 or more KKK’ers at a library exhibit about the Klan in nearby Winston-Salem, the cops narrowly prevented another massacre. The people who went on to form the Cabral/Robeson collective had been in the RCP at the time. The library confrontation made them decide to leave the group after witnessing “the utter degeneration of the RCP into a band of ultra-left idiots”, something that led them to decide that “the struggle we had been waging to correct its line from the inside for almost a year was hopeless.”
In March, 1979 the CWP began building a “Death to the Klan” conference in Greensboro by passing out this leaflet. Get their proclamation about being opposed to both non-violence and racism, as if the two were equally evil? Sheer madness:
We are against Non-Violence and Racism and for Armed Self-Defense. We should beat the hell out of the Klan wherever we find them! These Dogs have no right to exist! The Klan has no support among the people, only hatred and disgust. In China Grove, the People, helped by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, drove the scum Klansmen into a building and burned their Confederate Flag before their eyes.
Summing up the Greensboro massacre, the Cabral/Robeson Collective wrote words that should be uppermost in the mind of anybody foolish enough to consider emulating the November 3rd disaster:
November 3rd and the sequence of events leading up to it was an exercise in “left” adventurist suicide. Entranced by their fantasies of themselves as revolutionary heroes, the WVO engaged in a wild escapade that was just as successful in achieving their own murders as if they had set out with that purpose in mind. In fact, many people in the Black community as well as the press have raised the possibility that the WVO leadership did have in mind achieving the murder of some of their members either in order to gain publicity or because some of the leaders were police agents.
While I am the last person to urge following Lenin’s party in a dogmatic fashion, it is useful to consider how they dealt with the Black Hundreds, which arguably was the very first fascist organization of the 20th century. This Czarist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and clerical party was very much in the mold of Italian and German fascism even if it made no effort to adopt “national socialist” rhetoric. They had a militia called the Yellow Shirts that anticipated the Brown and Black shirts of Italy and Germany.
It should be noted, by the way, that the Black Hundreds were vehemently anti-Ukrainian and were just as prone to breaking up meetings of Ukrainian cultural associations as in organizing pogroms against the Jews. It is no coincidence that a newly formed Black Hundreds group exists in Eastern Ukraine, holding rallies that denounce Jews and call for the reestablishment of the Czarist Empire.
Is there any indication that the Russian Social Democracy, either the Bolshevik or Menshevik factions, ever formed militias to take on the Yellow Shirts in the way that the CWP took on the KKK? I invite you to check the Marxist Internet Archives, where you will find nearly zero evidence of that. The Russian Social Democracy fought the Black Hundreds politically in the same way that the good people of Whitefish, Montana took on the alt-right except when the objective conditions had ripened to the point of open revolutionary struggle. In 1905, which was a dress rehearsal for 1917, the socialists of Borisoglebsk circulated a leaflet that stated it was: “starting a subscription for the organisation of armed self-defence, and invites all those whose sympathies do not lie with the government and the Black Hundreds to help in the organisation of self-defence groups with money and arms.”
Of course, those who are operating under the illusion that 2017 USA is similar to Russia in 1905 might try the same approach. However, if you can’t tell the difference between the first month and the ninth month of a pregnancy, you are likely to end up with an abortion.
Speaking of yellow, black and brown shirts, we had a group in the USA during the 1930s that was called the Silver Shirts in homage to the fascist groups that preceded it.
In chapter eleven of “Teamster Politics”, SWP leader Farrell Dobbs recounts “How the Silver Shirts Lost Their Shrine in Minneapolis”. It is the story of how the Trotskyist-led Local 544 of the Teamsters union defended itself successfully from a fascist expedition into the city. Elements of the Twin Cities ruling-class, alarmed over the growth of industrial unionism in the city, called in Silver Shirt organizer Roy Zachary. Zachary hosted two closed door meetings on July 29 and August 2 of 1938. Teamster “moles” discovered that Zachary intended to launch a vigilante attack against Local 544 headquarters. They also discovered that Zachary planned to work with one F.L. Taylor to set up an “Associated Council of Independent Unions”, a union-busting operation. Taylor had ties to a vigilante outfit called the “Minnesota Minute Men”.
Local 544 took serious measures to defend itself. It formed a union defense guard in August 1938 open to any active union member. Many of the people who joined had military experience, including Ray Rainbolt the elected commander of the guard. Rank-and-filers were former sharpshooters, machine gunners and tank operators in the US Army. The guard also included one former German officer with WWI experience. While the guard itself did not purchase arms except for target practice, nearly every member had hunting rifles at home that they could use in the circumstance of a Silver Shirt attack.
Events reached a climax when Pelley came to speak at a rally in the wealthy section of Minneapolis.
Ray Rainbolt organized a large contingent of defense guard members to pay a visit to Calhoun Hall where Pelley was to make his appearance. The powerful sight of disciplined but determined unionists persuaded the audience to go home and Pelley to cancel his speech.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the defense guard members had left their guns at home.