“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Nov 22, 2021
The “white supremacists” who organized to bring violence to Charlottesville, Virginia have now been put on trial. Their two-day rally in August 2017 stepped off with lit torches, while demonstrators chanted, "Jews will not replace us." It ended with a murder by car when a self-styled Nazi barreled into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 16 others. In the immediate uproar, DeAndre Harris was battered by six white supremacists carrying clubs, spouting abusive racial slurs. All told, 35 people were wounded in mob attacks by those who “united” to demonstrate the supposed “supremacy” of the “white race.”
The right-wing mob that invaded Charlottesville came from all over the country: from Virginia to Montana; from Florida to as far away as western Canada.
The mob left no doubt what it stood for. Swarming through the town, they carried swastika-adorned pennants and Confederate flags. Some sported “battle shields” embossed with Nazi insignia or Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia.
The civil trial that began this November issued a clear indictment: the violence that broke out on those two August days in Charlottesville was planned. The organizers’ aim had been to make these few hundreds seem to represent something much greater than themselves. It was contrived to create the appearance of a mass movement, styled like the photos of fascism’s marches in Germany in the 1930s or the KKK’s mob attacks in the 1920s.
Contrived, yes, and people in the small town of Charlottesville were grievously harmed by it.
Although the neo-Nazi who sped his car through the crowd was convicted of murder, and four more were convicted of a beating, no one has been held accountable for organizing what happened. This current civil suit by nine people from Charlottesville is an attempt to hold 24 organizers of the rally accountable. Fourteen of them are leaders of the different organizations that planned the rally; ten of those put on trial are the organizations.
The defendants repeatedly claimed during the trial that they hadn’t intended for violence to happen—claims disproved by their own words introduced into the record of the trial. For weeks leading up to the rally, its organizers had discussed among themselves, via a common chat room, how to bring out the people most ready for battle. They discussed how to “troll” the left, in order to attract counter-demonstrators. We want a “war,” said one of the defendants. In advance, they called it the “battle of Charlottesville.”
Immediately after the rally, one of its main organizers called the attack by car, "a victory for the white race." In the trial, they tried to disown the car’s driver, but on the day he killed Heather Heyer, several of the organizers said he had killed people "who deserved to die." Another referred to the woman killed as a "fat pig who had no right to take up space on this planet ... a disgrace to the white race."
The claim of self-defense by people who murder is not a new tactic. It was the claim made by the man who came to Kenosha and killed two people, blowing off half the arm of another person. The same claim was made by three white men who killed a black jogger in Georgia. All down through the history of this country, it was the claim made by the KKK, when it lynched black men, in defense—supposedly—of “pure, white womanhood.” It was the claim made by thugs organized by Henry Ford when they murdered five hunger marchers in 1932. It has been the standard claim of every right-wing force in this country. It is so often upheld by the so-called “justice” system because that system defends the capitalist order. These right-wing thugs, no matter what kind of inconvenience they might be, ultimately serve the interest of those who rule the country.
No matter what finally happens in this trial, these organizations—or ones like them—will continue. And, yes, they pose a danger to black people, first of all, to women, to all others oppressed by the system and targeted by the right-wing.
But the biggest danger we face, the one that clearly can be mortal for humanity is the fact that the working class today is not organized in its own name, fighting for its own aims. In that absence, organizations that seem to be radical like those who came to Charlottesville will continue to attract people.
The goal of all those who want to prevent the growth of the extreme right, and of supremacists of any stripe, can only be to work for the working class to develop its own voice, its own struggles; in other words, its own organizations.