The power to stop the far right

August 10, 2018

Danny Katch, author of Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People, argues that we have to make sure the strike is mightier than the punch.

THIS IS the second summer of the Donald Trump presidency, and the second summer that fascists and their “alt-right” buddies have assembled on the East and West Coasts for “rallies” that are, in reality, testing grounds for their ability to impose their violence on the public square.

In the lead-up to last weekend’s hate marches in Portland, Oregon, and Berkeley, California, and this Sunday’s sickeningly named “White Civil Rights Rally” near the White House, we’ve seen two expressions of very different visions of power — one projected by the fascists and another by those who oppose them.

White supremacists around the country celebrated the image of Ethan Nordean, a member of the Proud Boys, punching out an anti-fascist protester during a clash in Portland on June 30.

Meanwhile, our side took heart when the managers of the Washington D.C. Metro were forced to abandon their absurd plan to give fascists private train cars to get them to their rally — after the largely Black transit workers union declared that it wasn’t going along with this stupidity.

A massive mobilization opposed the far right in Boston
A massive mobilization opposed the far right in Boston

The fanatical centrists of the U.S. establishment like to equate socialists and white supremacists as simply two different versions of “populism.” But these two examples of their power and ours — a punch vs. a strike (or at least a threatened one) — show just how fundamentally opposite we are.

Theirs is the politics of destruction, aiming to use mob violence to eliminate all organizing and resistance among people of color, women, LGBTQ people and workers. (Including transit workers, who were fired en masse in Italy as Mussolini vowed to make the trains run on time.)

Ours is the politics of creation, aiming to finally put the majority class in the position of being the decision-makers over the work we already do.

Protests against the far right like this weekend’s in Washington, D.C., are critical because socialists need to stop those who seek to destroy us.

What you can do

Anti-racists are mobilizing against the far right in Washington, D.C., on August 12, at 12 noon at Freedom Plaza, corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Sponsored by the Shut It Down D.C. Coalition, with participation from numerous organizations.

But the struggle to defend our streets and communities from fascists — and the understanding that police and elected officials can’t and won’t do it for us — is also a crucial part of our larger project of developing the capacity of our class to fight for a more fundamentally democratic society.

OF COURSE, the far right currently has another source of power far greater than street violence: the office of the president of the United States.

The horror in Charlottesville, which took place one year ago this weekend, confirmed everyone’s worst fears about the Trump presidency.

There were the hundreds of goons marching with swastikas, Confederate flags and, for some reason, tiki torches, beating and harassing protesters and passersby as police yawned nearby. This culminated in James Fields’ vehicular terror attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured many others, including Socialist Worker contributor Bill Burke.

And there was Trump’s response, which began with a boast about the soaring stock market before moving the infamous sentence: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides.”

Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville threw his presidency into turmoil and probably permanently ruined his chances of ever winning support from the majority of voters. But he muddled through in the absence of protest movements and organizations strong enough to create a crisis that forced him out by some means. So in addition to the turmoil, Charlottesville now stands as the beginning of the White House shift further to the right.

DACA was repealed (though it survives thanks to legal challenges). Trade wars were started. Immigrant children were stolen from their parents. “Globalist” members of the team were out, right-wing nationalist advisers were elevated. Alt-right whisperer Steve Bannon was fired for some quotes in Fire and Fury, but he might have more power than ever as a shadow adviser and informal ambassador to European far right parties.

Trump rallies have veered further into Nuremberg territory, with ever-more explicit threats to the media as the “enemy of the people” and attendees using them as meet-ups for creepy online conspiracy cults.

Some of the most ominous developments are in Portland, where Patriot Prayer marches mix Trump MAGA hats and Nazi salutes with fire and brimstone rhetoric about a great cleansing of the far right’s opponents.

Groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are seeking out street violence because it’s the time-honored way that fascists have built their ranks.

That became apparent when Nordean became a far-right celebrity for his punch, being named “Proud Boy of the Week” and getting interviewed by Alex Jones, who said about leftists: “You try to speak to them as humans, they disregard that and use it as weakness. But they do listen to your fist smashing into their face.”

THE GROWTH of white supremacists, from the Oval Office to the streets of Portland, is sobering and frightening, but it’s important to recognize that their key weakness remains: They are widely despised.

The far right worships a president who pushes tax breaks for billionaires while gutting health care for everyone else. They have nothing to offer working people besides hatred of other working people and conspiracy theories about the politically correct Marxists who secretly run the world.

Actually, their guy has the most powerful office in the world, and the way he’s running it — still complaining about hidden conspiracies, too afraid to speak outside the safe spaces of Fox News and his own rallies — exemplifies their ultimate impotency.

Unlike many parts of the world, where far-right parties have gained mass support in reaction to the failures and betrayals of left parties, in this country, we’ve had four decades of right-wing austerity — including the terms of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — and people are hungry for the politics of solidarity and economic justice.

There is a widespread desire to oppose the far-right agenda in this country. More people have protested in the past year and a half than any time in U.S. history. Socialist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America are exploding in size.

But it’s up to us to stop them. For all of the justified outrage over Trump’s statement after Charlottesville last year, most of media and political establishment took a similar view — that both fascists and those who come out to oppose them are problematic extremists, taking the law into their own hands, instead of letting the system do its job.

But it’s the system — the system of Electoral College, voter suppression and two parties that both report to Wall Street and have no answer for the deteriorating conditions a majority of people face — which put Donald Trump in power. And it’s the system, in the form of police who repeatedly side with Nazis over protesters and wanted to give them a private train escort — that bears the blame for the right’s rise.

SO WE’RE right to take the fight against the far right into our own hands. But we can only do it with numbers.

The protests against the fascists in Portland, Berkeley and Washington, D.C., have been important, but in truth, they should be far larger after the horrors of Charlottesville last summer.

Some of reason might be that activists are focused on the many other horrors of the Trump era. But it’s also likely connected to the growing attention on the midterm elections as the best way to get rid of Trump — by winning a Democratic majority in one or both houses of Congress that can both block his agenda and pursue investigations that could bring him down.

But even if this works, that doesn’t mean that diminishing Trump’s power within Washington or even getting rid of him will diminish or get rid of the far right. In fact, the examples of France and Italy show that the experience of center-left governments betraying people’s hopes can actually help the far right grow even stronger.

Not only that, but we’ve seen in Portland and Berkeley that liberal city administrations won’t do anything to stop the obvious bias shown among the ranks of their police forces against those who protest white supremacy.

We know what works against the far right, because we saw it last year in the weeks after Charlottesville: Mass protests that demoralize the far right by proving that they are pathetic pariahs who can’t risk showing up in public. The eruption of protest proved to everybody that this society wasn’t going to allow the right to succeed in its project of restoring Nazis and the KKK to a place of acceptability.

When we build those mass protests and use our own superior numbers — a form of democracy more responsive than the rigged system that gave us Trump vs. Clinton — we are also contributing to the project of building real power, the same power we need to defend abortion clinics and build rapid-response networks that can stand up to ICE raids in our communities.

And then there’s the power of workers, as shown by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 in Washington, whose President Jackie Jeter declared: “More than 80 percent of Local 689’s membership is people of color, the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated. The union has declared that it will not play a role in their special accommodation.”

Our longer-term goal has to be to mobilize this power in the fight against the far right and Trump. It’s a good step that SEIU 1021 and other unions were part of the coalition that mobilized against fascists in Berkeley. The goal must be to get more workers to these protest and raise the issue of job actions against the far right, just as tech workers are starting to organize against their company’s contracts with ICE and the Border Patrol.

That’s our socialist vision of power: workers shutting this system down. That packs a much harder punch than any Nazi.

Further Reading

From the archives