Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 20, 2017

Boston and Vancouver, models for the anti-fascist struggle

Filed under: anarchism,Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

One of the difficulties I faced in writing about antifa adventurism was the lack of a positive example. Someone derided me for referring to the struggle with the KKK that I and other socialists were involved with in Houston in the early 70s. What a moldy fig I was. Didn’t I know that punching Richard Spencer in the face was the way to stop fascism?

Fortunately for me and fortunately for the need of the movement, two demonstrations epitomize exactly the approach I have been advocating. I consider them enormous successes and hope that a national movement can emerge that adopts their strategy and tactics.

Yesterday 40,000 protestors converged on Boston Commons to show their opposition to a “Free Speech” rally at the same location. As you probably know, people like Milo Yiannopoulos and his ultraright supporters have cynically been trying to get sympathy because of the bans on his appearances or attempts by small groups of antifa activists to shut them down. His freedoms are being denied, you see. Poor thing gets his chance to make his case before millions on the Bill Maher show after the antifa idiots throw a tantrum at Berkeley.

I don’t have much use for the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League but they have a useful report about the people who organized the event that they characterize as “alt-lite”, meaning people who do not use white supremacy language but vilify feminists, immigrants and Muslims.

They like to straddle the fence. For example, there’s an outfit called The Proud Boys that is led by Gavin McInnes, which calls for “Reinstating a Spirit of Western chauvinism” but dubbed the Charlottesville event as “racist”, plus the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler is a member.

Last Monday, McInnes announced that he was dropping out of the event, as would Cassandra Fairbanks, a former reporter for Sputnik. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, some of these types were getting cold feet. Angelus Invictus, a member of the military wing of the Proud Boys, announced that he was no longer going to speak.

Another featured speaker was Based Stickman, who was charged with a felony at a protest in California carrying his eponymous weapon of choice at a fascist protest. He was to be followed by Shiva Ayyadurai, an Indian-born American scientist who claims that he invented e-mail. Just by coincidence I heard him being interviewed this morning on the radio. Mostly he was defending himself from critics who consider him a fraud rather than expressing any political views. Ayyadural is running as a Republican to unseat Elizabeth Warren, making nativism a key plank. Naturally, he has been a guest on Infowars.

Apparently, the Free Speech rally fell apart a short time after it began. Scheduled from noon to 2pm, it was all over by 12:50. Probably a combination of the toxic fumes left over from Charlottesville plus the immense build-up to the counter-protest a few days before Saturday aborted the event.

Even if there wasn’t much to protest, the appearance of 40,000 disciplined and serious protestors was a major shot in the arm to a burgeoning movement. For background on the organizers on this event, who shared a socialist rather than an anarchist background, I recommend an article on The Uptake (http://theuptake.org/2017/08/19/how-boston-counter-protesters-organized-against-free-speech-rally/). It was a coalition of ANSWER Coalition and the DSA, plus a group called The Coalition To Organize And Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT) that I know nothing about. I have no way of proving this but I suspect that the DSA’s high profile helped to turn out the numbers. Good for them.

Apparently some antifa idiots tried to stage a melee as the event was winding down but they were largely ignored, thank goodness.

The same thing happened in Vancouver. An anti-Muslim rally called at City Hall drew a couple of dozen people while 4,000 counter-protestors ringed the building. As was the case in Boston, ultraleftists were marginalized.

For a full report on the action, see http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/anti-immigration-rally-at-vancouver-city-hall. As was the case in Boston as well, the fascist rally was stillborn:

At the peak of the counter-protest at around 2 p.m., when organizers from the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam Canada and the Cultural Action Party of Canada had been expected to speak out against federal immigration policy, about 4,000 people surrounded city hall, according to a police estimate.

The anti-Islam rally organizers were nowhere to be found.

This week Noam Chomsky denounced antifa activists in an interview with the rightwing Washington Examiner, a sign once again of declining judgment. If you wanted to criticize ultraleftism, it would have been much better to do it on ZNet or any of the other publications that worship at his feet. Chomsky told them, “”As for Antifa, it’s a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were. It’s a major gift to the Right, including the militant Right, who are exuberant.”

Stung by Chomsky’s criticism, there was the customary anonymous answer to him on Libcom, an anarchist website that along with the It’s Going Down website constitute the “punch a Nazi in the face” faction of the left.

Titled “6 reasons why Chomsky is wrong about antifa” (http://libcom.org/blog/6-reasons-why-chomsky-wrong-about-antifa-18082017), the first reason struck my eye since it referred to antifa’s predecessors being more significant that Chomsky believed and as well a party I once belonged to, I wondered how in the world they could equate their adventurism with how Trotskyists dealt with the Silver Shirt fascist movement in Minneapolis. Libcom wrote:

In Europe, they are the Red Warriors of Paris or the Revolutionary Front in Sweden. And in North America they were the Teamsters who formed a defense guard against the Silver Shirts in the 1930s, or Anti-Racist Action who took on Klansmen and the National Socialist Movement from the 1980s until very recently.

They link to an excerpt from Farrell Dobbs’s book “Teamster Politics” that is very useful in understanding how fascism was resisted in the 1930s. As even the anarchists are forced to admit, Dobbs took Leon Trotsky’s advice and formed a defense guard. As the name implied, this was an armed detachment made up of working class veterans of WWI who were charged with defending union headquarters from attack. Dobbs is quoted:

It became known immediately that Zachary’s main theme had been to call for a vigilante attack on the headquarters of Local 544….This situation called for prompt countermeasures. So Local 544, acting with its customary decisiveness, answered the threat by organizing a union defense guard during August 1938….

In the 1930s, the CIO organized defense guards during strikes all across the USA. Mostly, they used clubs or tire irons but were not above using guns if the occasion called for it. This is a far cry from today when groups like Redneck Revolt fetishize weapons as if groups led by Richard Spencer or his co-thinkers were being backed by the big bourgeoisie as was the case in the Little Steel strike when the CEO of Bethlehem Steel et al hired and armed thugs with machine guns and hand grenades.

When the leader of the Silver Shirts was scheduled to speak in St. Paul, the Teamsters sent 300 members of the defense guard to confront him. The sight of this contingent was enough to call off the meeting. Would the Teamsters have used their weapons on the people at the meeting? Of course not. That would have allowed the cops to arrest them all and break the union.

It is important to understand the context for all this. Four years before the confrontation, there was a general strike in the Twin Cities. In an article for Jacobin, Canadian historian Bryan Palmer described the assault on working people there:

The mayor backed a vindictive police force led by a chief determined to crush the workers and willing to execute strikers and strike supporters in the street if necessary. “You have shotguns, and you know how to use them,” Police Chief Johannes instructed his officers in July 1934.

A picket captain described the police carnage in one infamous battle, memorialized as “Bloody Friday”: “They just went wild. Actually they shot at anybody that moved. … they kept on shooting until all the pickets had either hid or got shelter somewhere. Oh, they meant business.” Novelist Meredel Le Sueur’s account was more gruesomely lyrical: “[T]he cops opened fire.. . . men were lying crying in the street with blood spurting from the myriad wounds buckshots make. Turning instinctively for cover they were shot in the back.. . . Not a picket was armed with so much as a toothpick.”

Two workers died on “Bloody Friday”: Henry Ness, a striker, riddled with buckshot, succumbed to his wounds almost immediately. John Bellor, an unemployed strike supporter also critically injured in the battle died, days later. Forty thousand lined the streets and marched in Ness’s funeral procession.

Many years ago when I was in the SWP, comrades used to speak about the ultraleftists of those days. They said that if you mistake the first month of a pregnancy with the ninth, you are likely to end up with a abortion. With the raw youth of the antifa movement making the same kinds of mistakes as the Weathermen in 1971, you might even say that they are mistaking the first week of the pregnancy with the last.

There are no class battles taking place today that have the slightest resemblance to those of the 1930s. Back then, combat between the workers and the class enemy was a deadly serious business. And also back then, men assigned to work in defense guards or flying battalions in militant strikes were democratically elected by trade unions and were usually members of the Communist Party or other radical groups well known to those whose class interests they were defending.

Today, we have antifa people who are only known to each other. Nobody votes to have them turn a peaceful march into a battleground. Libcom and It’s Going Down feature articles written by people cloaked in anonymity. Many of their members show up at protests with their faces covered. This is not the kind of movement we need. I hope that some of them will learn from the success of the Boston and Vancouver protests since they foreshadow the kind of movement that we need. It is hard for people to reverse themselves politically but when you are as young as them, there is hope.

4 Comments »

  1. I’m guessing that antifa is overwhelmingly male in composition. But judging just from the reportage from Boston it seems many of the organizers and speakers were female. Is that an important difference? (and hardly any females on marxmail, either—hmmm.)

    Comment by uh...clem — August 20, 2017 @ 10:02 pm

  2. It’s refreshing to read someone take on antifa. Some Dartmouth prof. is now peddling an Antifa how-to book where he compares them to the anti-Nazi and anti-Franco resistance. (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/16/antifa_a_look_at_the_antifascist)

    They are like a bull charging a red cape. Their attack on the Milo meeting was a huge gift to the extreme right and accomplished literally nothing. Throwing excrement and bottles of urine at the police in Boston was another genius stunt of theirs. Busting shop windows in the demonstrations they’ve tried to hijack, another huge gift to the right wing and corporate press, which loves pictures of street fighting and is bored by hundreds of thousands of peaceful but determined protesters.

    They do some good work–combing through fascist and racist chat rooms, doxing their participants. But other than that… a disaster.

    Comment by Evan Siegel — August 21, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

  3. Yes, well, it’s pronounced on’-tee-fah. The emphasis is on the first syllable, and it’s pronounced more on than an, so on’-tee-fah. It’s commonly mispronounced.

    This from the Amy Goodman interview with that astonishing twerp Bray. Next he will no doubt explain the “correct” pronunciation of “artisanal.” Jesus wept.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — August 22, 2017 @ 12:39 pm

  4. One point about Chomsky’s comments to the Examiner about antifa.

    He has said elsewhere that he gets so much queries about the matter that he sends a “form response” to everyone who asks. See, for instance, this post on reddit 6 months ago — it’s virtually the same thing as the Examiner comments, word for word. https://www.reddit.com/r/Anarchism/comments/5th2sa/i_emailed_noam_chomsky_about_antifa_freespeech/

    Comment by pach — August 22, 2017 @ 3:28 pm


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