The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Against Extreme-Right Violence, Working People Can Count Only on Themselves

Oct 12, 2020

Thirteen men, some self-identified as members of one of the Michigan militia organizations or of the “Boogaloo Bois” tendency, were arrested on charges detailing a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. According to the FBI, their aim was to stash her away in Wisconsin, where they would try her for “treason” before the November 3rd election.

Some of the individuals charged had been in raucous demonstrations by Michigan militias in the state’s capital during the spring, after Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Groups from those demonstrations invaded the state legislature, carrying long guns as a statement of their so-called “Second-Amendment” rights. Most in the demonstrations went maskless, protesting Whitmer’s orders putting limits on businesses and requiring individuals to wear masks during the spread of the coronavirus. Trump called on his supporters to “LIBERATE” other states, i.e., force Democrats to “open up the economy.”

It was an electoral maneuver aimed at shifting blame for the crises affecting the population onto the shoulders of Democratic governors. The refusal to wear a mask became a show of support for Trump, and an assertion of one’s devotion to “individual freedom.” It soon became a centerpiece of extreme-right, social-media posts.

The charges concerning a plot to kidnap Whitmer are based on information gleaned by the FBI from two paid informants. Given the FBI’s long history, we have little reason to trust its version of “fact,” and much less to believe it will protect the population. But one thing these events illustrate is the existence of an extreme right in this country, committed philosophically to the idea of violence in pursuit of individualism.

The Extreme Right: More than Ideology

In the face of growing protests against police violence and racism, the extreme right tried to grab the spotlight away this summer, often posing as allies of the police.

Early on, anti-racist demonstrations broke out in small towns that had never before seen a demonstration. They were often organized by local people who felt compelled to register their opposition to the official violence that George Floyd’s death revealed. Some of them ran into problems from right-wing hoodlums roaring in on motorcycles with the intention to intimidate.

Some of this same national right-wing movement flooded into Kenosha, Wisconsin, after protests broke out there in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, with right-wing thugs posing as protectors of local storeowners.

In Michigan, the “Proud Boys”—the misogynist and racist organization Trump saluted in the debate—paraded through the center of Kalamazoo. With their hands adorned for a street brawl, they declaring their readiness to “sweep the streets clean” of all “rioters”—their term for protestors against police violence.

Finally, there is Portland Oregon, which people calling themselves Proud Boys turned into a street rumble, with periodic invasions. Allied with “Patriot Prayer,” which came from Washington State, they came into Portland from California, Idaho, even as far away as Arkansas. Over the last 18 months, out-of-state right-wing organizations invaded Portland at least 17 times, showing up with weapons, eager to intimidate by their presence and their readiness to brawl.

When Play-Acting Becomes Real

Despite the spectacular incidents gaining media attention, most of the right-wing exists essentially on social media. Its actions—so far—usually take the form of organized shows of force, like the truck caravans that drove through Portland with assault rifles dangling out their windows, or the anti-mask militia rallies in Michigan. The demonstrative bearing of arms seems little more than a game, boys playing with their toy guns.

But what is implicit in the “right-to-bear-arms” posturing has over the years turned into action by some individuals.

In 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 42 fatal attacks carried out by people with political motives. People who identified themselves with the extreme right committed 38 of them: neo-Nazis, white supremacists, immigrant-haters, misogynists, Christian fundamentalists and other groups opposed to abortion. The deadliest of those attacks came in an El Paso Walmart. Declaring his intention to carry out a terrorist action to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” a 19-year old shot 46 people, killing 22 of them.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, people from the same extreme right milieus have been responsible for 330 deadly attacks in the last decade. In 2015, a self-described “white nationalist” killed nine people attending a black church in South Carolina. In Colorado, three people were killed and nine more injured in a shooting at a Colorado women’s health clinic where abortions were performed. In 2018, six women were shot, two mortally, in a yoga studio in Florida, by a self-described “incel,” an on-line misogynist movement. Self-styled “Patriots,” patrolled the border, with the aim of preventing migrants from making it across. There is no account of how many these ultra-nationalistic gangs may have killed.

Since the protests provoked by the killing of George Floyd, the violent attacks perpetrated by the right have escalated. According to police reports, there have been at least 50 incidents when vehicles purposefully rammed into “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations. Two people were killed, one in St. Louis, Missouri, one when a truck caravan roared into a Bakersfield California protest. Two people were murdered in Kenosha, by a self-identified supporter of the police. Shooters identifying with an extreme right current intent on starting a “civil war”—the so-called “Boogaloo Bois”—shot two security guards, killing one, from within the cover of “Black Lives Matter” protests in California, aiming to provoke the police to shoot on the protest. An 80-year old man was killed last week by another bar patron in New York state. He was only the latest in a string of people killed by someone whose violence was triggered by the demand to wear a mask.

The Extreme Right: A Potential Military Force

This violence raises the question of what should be done.

For many people, the answer is to get rid of Trump, to work to put a Democratic administration in office.

It’s true that Trump goes out of his way to encourage the extreme right. He justifies their violence—calling it “retribution.” He made Whitmer and, more recently, Kamala Harris the focus of misogynist rants, calling on his supporters to “liberate” themselves from these female “monsters.”

But the extreme right-wing existed long before Trump. It has been a nearly permanent feature of the American political landscape.

The extreme right is certainly not fascism today, despite what some leftists and anarchists claim. In most areas, it may even seem somewhat marginal. But it is an organized force, ready and often trained to use weapons. And a notable part of those active in it are vets or otherwise discharged military.

Historically, the extreme right has been a military force held in reserve by the capitalist class, but sometimes used when its own state apparatus proves insufficient to deal with a popular mobilization. This extreme right was long allied with or tied to the official forces of violence: police, immigration officials, other security agencies. Those links continue today.

During the long periods when the South was embroiled by popular movements, the KKK often led the attack on the black population and others. Starting at the end of Reconstruction, picking up during the agrarian populist fights of the 1890s, throwing itself against the attempt to organize unions in the 1930s, and going to war against the civil rights mobilization running from the 1940s all through the 1960s, the KKK was a prominent enforcer of the capitalist order.

So were the Pinkertons, who dominated the steel country of Pennsylvania and the coal country in Appalachia from the 1870s to the 1930s. These hired gunmen may have worked for a private security company, but they were effectively an extra-official military force, used against strikes and union militants.

Local chapters of the American Legion and other nationalistic social clubs did the same thing during and after World War I. Their lynch mobs were directed against miners and free-speech orators of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) in the Northwest, and radical immigrants in the East.

During the 1930s, the attempt to organize the CIO was met by the Black Legion and similar forces in the Midwest, adjuncts to company police and city police. Thrown against strikes, they also killed some union organizers and communist militants.

Such forces existed under both Democrats and Republicans. But the worst violence came during and was encouraged by the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson.

To look to the Democrats as protection from a violent extreme right means to disarm oneself in advance. Anyone who advocates this is telling the population that it’s not necessary for working people to organize in their own defense—that the Democrats will do it for them. There is nothing in the history of this country that supports such a blatantly false assertion—and everything which shows how wrong it is.

The capitalist class depends on many means of violence to defend its privileges, its wealth and its ownership of the means of production. The extreme right is only one of them.

Substituting Themselves for the Working Class

There is a small anarchist current, Antifa, that sprang up in some cities following the protests that broke out after the murder of George Floyd. Antifa comes from “anti-fascists,” since these people say they are acting to oppose what they call “the fascists,” which includes for them, the police. Having existed for some years, particularly in Portland and Seattle, they made those cities a kind of center for ongoing nightly skirmishes with the cops as well as occasional fights with right-wing invaders.

Antifa and other anarchists who think like them are correct when they say there has to be a response to the possibility of violence coming from the extreme right, as well as from police.

But, in a real sense, Antifa is the mirror image of those who say, “Depend on the Democrats,” except Antifa says, by its actions, “Depend on us.” When the extreme right announced it was sending troops to Kalamazoo, Antifa announced that its troops would be there—a little like two gangs that agreed to meet in an old-fashioned rumble.

Some of Antifa may believe they are setting an example, showing what to do. In fact, their actions drip with, at best, impatience, a search for a shortcut. At worst, they exhibit the same scorn for the masses as have the Democrats and, it should be said, the right-wing battlers for “individual rights.”

Working People Can Defend Themselves

It’s necessary that the working class understand this threat of violence—but more important, it has to understand its own capacities, its ability to organize a defense. That consciousness will develop only if there are organized revolutionary militants rooted in the working class who insist the working class has the means to defend itself, who draw on the history working people have already written, and who carry out the steady work alongside those ready to build organizations.

In the periods when the extreme right was driven back, it was the population that drove it back, not all those forces who, according to the propaganda, are there to protect people. Not the FBI, not the police, not any part of the state apparatus, not any administration, Democratic or Republican, and certainly not any self-appointed saviors. The KKK practically disappeared for a whole time after the vast black mobilization of the 1950s and 1960s put fear into those cowards hiding under their bed sheets. The Black Legion, the American Legion and other forces disappeared after CIO militants stopped calling on the police for help, knowing the police were on the other side of the fight. The movement for the CIO was built on the basis of its own organized defense guards, what the UAW called Flying Squadrons, and what the Teamsters in Minneapolis, led by militants of the SWP, called cruising picket squads.

That defense was organized by people where they lived, where they worked—with the people they knew, the ones they had confidence in, the ones they knew they could count on, the ones who shared the same perspective of where they wanted to go. And it always depended on there being militants embedded in the ranks of the poor classes, standing for such organization.

In fact, the most important example, the only complete one we really have, takes us back to the Russian Revolution, when workers, organized by the Bolshevik Party, not only defended themselves from the police and the right-wing “Black Hundreds,” they also took the offensive to tear down the old state apparatus, with all its violence, that the capitalist class depended on. Overcoming the violence of capitalist society, they were able for awhile at least to start building a socialist society.

If we want examples: let’s take those drawn from the history of the laboring classes.