The current wave of white nationalist attacks has its roots in specific developments of the past period. But there is also, of course, a longer history of white supremacist violence, stretching from the original Ku Klux Klan’s terror campaign against freed slaves during Reconstruction to the 15th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963 to the Klan’s broad daylight massacre of leftists in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.
Frequently in the past, the cross burners, bombers, and lynchers were aided and abetted by sections of the police and the ruling elite who have sought to use white supremacist violence to deal blows especially to black people’s struggles for equality and justice. But the Klan and other fascists have had other targets including Jews, leftists, and labor organizers. Today the fascists overlap with the most extreme wing of the “pro-life” anti-abortion movement.
Historically, fascism in Europe was used as a club in the 1920s and ‘30s to defeat the movements of the working class which threatened to end the capitalist profit system altogether. In the U.S., racial division, enforced through segregationist policies but supplemented by state and white-supremacist violence, was used by the ruling class to maintain its control.
At this point, the fascists in the U.S. are not in a position to build a real mass base. But the influence of far-right ideas is growing and there is no room for complacency. Besides the new wave of murderous attacks, what is alarming is Trump’s success in increasing racial division which undermines any effort to push back against the massive inequality and exploitation which characterize neoliberal capitalism. And if the labor movement and the left do not rise to the challenge of the next period, the road would be open to something worse than Trumpism developing a real base.
Black and white workers, native born and immigrant face different situations but they also have common interests. At the end of the last decade, tens of thousands of black women were victims of the “sub-prime loans” pushed by the banks and lost their homes. This was part of the massive loss of wealth by the black population caused by the economic crisis. Meanwhile the scourge of opioid addiction has ripped through white working-class communities in the Midwest and the Northeast where good, unionized manufacturing jobs have largely become a thing of the past. Deaths due to overdoses have contributed to a significant increase in mortality among working-class people. Aren’t all of these working communities victims of neo-liberal capitalism? Do they not share a common enemy?
The Role of the Labor Movement
The Congress of Industrial Organizations, a union federation now part of the AFL-CIO, showed workers in the midst of the Great Depression that there was a different road: uniting against the bosses. They won real gains for white and black workers. If a mass working-class party had been built in 1930s and 40s period, far more could have been achieved and capitalism itself could have been challenged.
When fascism sought to gain a mass base in Britain in the ‘30s they were pushed back by the labor movement, socialists, and Jewish workers at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Socialist Alternative’s forebears in the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party mobilized 50,000 workers to fight back against a fascist rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1939.
Today we see the beginning of a real fightback by working people, which began with teachers in states that Trump won in 2016. Hillary Clinton dismissed all who voted for Trump as “deplorables” but many Trump voters joined the mass protests less than two years later in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma demanding properly funded schools and fighting the Republican politicians.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016 appealed precisely to the common interests of working people against the “billionaire class.” This is what made the billionaires so worried and what electrified the hundreds of thousands who came out to his rallies.
Defeating the far right will not be achieved by better police intelligence or liberal hand-wringing. It requires building a force that is serious about fighting for all working people, against racism, inequality, and capitalism which is the source of the hatred and division. Just as many who voted for Trump would have voted for Bernie if he had been on the ballot in November 2016, we can win back many people seduced by the racist right-wing conspiracy theories. But to truly isolate and defeat the reactionaries and fascists, people need a vision of the future worth fighting for. This is why the struggle against the far right is inseparable from the struggle for socialism.