From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
The unprecedented neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., shocked the world.
On the night of Aug. 11, over a thousand Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and “alt-right” marchers invaded the University of Virginia, attacking students and counter-protesters.
Their torchlit faces sneered out classic Nazi chants: “blood and soil!” “Hail victory!” (“Sieg Heil”) along with “white lives matter,” and “Jews will not replace us.” It echoed 1930s Germany, and is a register of what Donald Trump’s racist support base is aiming at.
The Nazi cheers for Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad that punctuated the rally show where this might lead: to ruined cities and human devastation.
The genocidal ideology the march embodied was acted on at the next afternoon’s “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville. A neo-Nazi Trump supporter drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascists, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 others.
The “Unite the Right” rally was organized by Jason Kessler, anti-Semite and white nationalist, who has made a name in fascist circles by attacking Charlottesville’s liberal government. Its stated purpose was to protest the city’s decision to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Like most Confederate monuments, erected during periods of political reaction, at best the Lee statue falsifies history. In the words of local Black Lives Matter organizer Jalane Schmidt: “These statues lie to us on a daily basis, from the very central gathering places of our community. Neither General Lee nor Stonewall Jackson ever came to Charlottesville. It’s a testament to the perverse success of these monuments to misrepresent our past that so few people knew the outright majority of our community at the time of the Civil War was enslaved.
“If any general deserves to be in a central place, it would be General Sheridan, who rode in on March 3, 1865, and liberated the slaves in the area…Part of our struggle is to unearth and revise the narrative that’s been told about our community.”
CULMINATION OF REACTION
The Charlottesville rally was meant to bring a new generation of internet-bred “alt-rightists” into the streets, and under the control of fascist organizations. Also on Aug. 11, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer released “The Charlottesville Statement,” a fascist manifesto calling for both a ”white America” and war against Muslims and immigrants in Europe.
There have been many reactionary demonstrations, but this one polarized U.S. society, for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Trump’s shameless statement condemning violence “on many sides” was meant, and was taken, as a tacit sign of support for these fascist attack dogs. He doubled down on it the next week, describing anti-fascist demonstrators in Boston as “anti-police agitators.”
It was a step too far for much of the ruling class. Trump’s two big business advisory councils disbanded after his Charlottesville remarks led to the resignations of the CEOs of 3M, Campbell Soup Co., Merck & Co., and Intel, among others, along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Further, the Military Service Chiefs of each branch of the armed forces issued statements denouncing racism.
This is not a measure of the benevolence of the ruling class. It is a measure of the profound crisis facing bourgeois U.S. democracy. In the wake of this criticism, Trump is attempting a compromise with his ruling class opposition. So far, this has mostly amounted to promising more troops, and more bombs, for wars like Afghanistan that he once claimed to oppose.
U.S. SOCIETY AT A WRONG TURN
When U.S. society takes a wrong turn, racism takes center stage. We saw it with the betrayal of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the growth of the prison industry in opposition to previous freedom movements. While racism never went away, Trump has opened the door for a new level of attacks on Blacks, Latinos, and others. His Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions—like a Confederate statue come to life—has undermined the Department of Justice’s consent decrees that were meant to curb police brutality. These decrees were the result of mass struggle, as in Ferguson, Mo., and came at the cost of many lives.
Sessions has said, “Our officers, deputies and troopers believe the political leadership of this country abandoned them. Their morale has suffered.” Or as the Nazis in Charlottesville kept telling the police, “We’re on your side. We’re the only ones here who have your backs.”
The reactionary climate is stifling, with police officers being acquitted in the murders of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla.; Sylville Smith in Milwaukee, Wis.; Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn.; and the refusal to charge officers in the murder of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La.
Sessions wants to stiffen penalties for marijuana use, and intensify the “war on drugs.” He makes no secret of directing this war toward poor and minority communities.
Sessions has indicated his opposition to affirmative action in university admissions. Affirmative action has always been a feeble substitute for really transforming this racist society, but attacks on it come from the Right. The Trump administration’s opposition to it is just one more signal to his racist base that minorities have gone too far and white people are taking America back. Stephen Bannon described this as Trump’s “philosophy.”
One of the most disgraceful trends is the passage in at least six states of laws giving motorists the right to run down protesters—originally directed at Native Americans and their allies protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. All this is the absolute opposite of the humanism of Black Lives Matter and the Women’s Marches across the country on Jan. 21.
RACISM AND SEXISM RAMPANT
The racist assault unleashed by Trumpism can’t be separated from the misogyny that also pervades his administration. It begins with Trump’s own history of using and abusing women. But for some, particularly Black women, there is a kind of totalitarianism in place already, not unlike prison.
This is manifest in Black women’s fight for the right to control their own bodies. As Renee Bracey Sherman of Echoing Ida writes: “If we choose to have an abortion, we are cast as villains by anti-abortion campaigns that tap into the trauma of our country’s racial history…I often hear protesters shout racial slurs and say things like ‘unborn black lives matter’ when Black people walk past them…But we are stereotyped and called welfare queens if we choose to continue a pregnancy we cannot afford…Black women are ostracized for having children ‘too young’ and for having kids that society deems ‘illegitimate.’
“Then, regardless of the life we provide for our children, if they are killed by police officers, our parenting decisions will inevitably be criticized. From conception until death, damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
Just as Trumpism is an attack on every aspect of life, so the movement for reproductive justice created by women of color sees all the issues that allow for self-determination as being connected. It is hearing and responding to such expressions of humanism—such reaching out for universality—that puts revolutionaries to the test.
U.S. HISTORY’S ESSENCE APPEARS
The growth of native U.S. fascism has new aspects, but its roots are deep. It grows from the historic racism of a society founded on slavery and genocide. It is conditioned by the intractable world crisis that has gripped capitalism since the mid-1970s, and by the conscious promotion of racism by ruling class politicians—George Wallace, Richard Nixon and the “Southern Strategy,” Ronald Reagan, the cancerous growth of the prison industry, and now Trump. Abetted by the hypocrisy, spinelessness, and racism of Democrats.
This is a life-and-death struggle, and it has worldwide ramifications. Trump’s statements are meant to distract attention from one fact: this neo-Nazi/KKK/”alt-right” show of force was all but planned in the White House. There is no question that “strategist” Stephen Bannon was aware of the “Unite the Right” march from its inception. There is no question that he discussed it with Trump. Trump didn’t denounce the Nazis afterward because he didn’t renounce them beforehand.
Trump, the performer, likely calculated his response precisely—except for the unforeseen murder of Heather Heyer. That Trump changed nothing of his
prepared statement shows his contempt for human life. That he has maintained his popularity with most of his supporters—enough to keep Republican Party leaders cowed—is terrifying.
On July 5, Trump’s racist speech in Warsaw, Poland, carried this message internationally. His Hitlerian declaration that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” was clearly directed against non-white and non-Christian Europeans and European immigrants. The reactionary, anti-woman Law and Justice party government in Poland is explicitly opposed to immigration and multiculturalism.
Poland’s current rulers oppose immigrants and Muslims, and the multicultural tapestry that existed in Poland before World War II and the Holocaust. There are two worlds in Poland, as in every country. Women staged a general strike, defeating a draconian anti-abortion law (“Polish women show path forward,” Nov.-Dec. 2016 News & Letters). Youth defied the Law and Justice party at the annual celebration of “Woodstock”—a massive concert that includes anti-racist workshops and welcomes immigrants, which the government tried to shut down this year.
BANNON’S WELL-TIMED ‘RESIGNATION’
The fascist base that supported Trump’s election has become frustrated with the limitations bourgeois democracy still puts on their grasp of state power. They are furious at the opposition to Trump’s agenda sparked by the Women’s March and protests of his proposed Muslim ban. Fascist leaders decided that they now need to “occupy public space” and “confront Cultural Marxism.”
Stephen Bannon’s resignation doesn’t mean that he will no longer be a strategist of Trumpism, just that he will now work outside as an organizer of its racist base—which he will try to broaden. And he will have the collaboration and money of right-wing billionaires like the Mercer family.
Like other “alt-right” ideologues, Bannon is a pseudo-intellectual product of decades of racist ideological development, taking in classic 1930s fascism, U.S. racism, apartheid, and the “clash of civilizations” thesis used to justify the Bosnian genocide. He wants to spread these ideas among the working class.
Thus Trump and Bannon pick fights over racial and other issues they denigrate as “identity politics.” And they base their appeal upon very specific segments of the working class.
Trump’s background as a developer is bound up with historically racist building trades unions. These unions carried out Nixon’s 1970 hardhat riot against anti-war protesters, kept minorities from membership well into the 1970s, and kept Black youth out of Chicago’s Washburne Trade School. Despite some progress, these are also the unions that were most enthusiastic about Trump’s election, including his call to build the Dakota Access pipeline that was opposed by other unions in solidarity with Native Americans.
To this constituency Trump and Bannon have added a section of tech industry workers who feel threatened by immigrant labor, women, and people of color. Some of these types have gravitated to the “alt-right” and its internet base.
AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL
These workers don’t represent all of labor. They do represent white labor’s historic vulnerability to racist appeals. Trump is trying to push us further down the reactionary path carved by Nixon and Reagan.
Throughout U.S. history, the absolute opposite of this racist capitalism has been expressed by the Black freedom struggle. At each turning point, this struggle has pointed toward the future. Both labor and Black masses have only advanced at turning points when the two movements coalesced. That is why Marxist-Humanism recognizes the reality of the Black masses as vanguard at significant turning points in U.S. history as much more than just a political analysis.
It is a philosophic category that points the way to transcendence of this horror in the coalescence of Black freedom struggles with other forces of revolution, especially labor. At a moment when Black Lives Matter, prisoner struggles, women’s agitation, and the absolute assertion of human dignity come into such direct conflict with the degrading ideas of Trumpism, we are seeing this philosophic category come to life.
Like all Marx’s and Marxist-Humanism’s categories, it is a question of human beings grasping our own reality so completely that we are enabled to project—and create—a more human world.
As Raya Dunayevskaya wrote, “The absolute challenge to our age is the concretization of Marx’s concept of ‘revolution in permanence.’ The Black dimension is crucial to the total uprooting of existing, exploitative, racist, sexist society and the creation of new, truly human foundations” (American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard).
Black masses, labor, women, LGBTQ, youth have no future short of taking up that challenge to this society descending toward barbarism.