By STEVE XAVIER
On Jan. 19, there were reports of threats and intimidation against women’s rights events in several cities, including Boston and Orlando, Fla. According to a source, Proud Boys and allied rightists attacked the Portland, Ore., Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) hall and a Democratic Socialists of America meeting in the same city. Previously, on Sept. 27, Proud Boys attacked a DSA social event in Louisville, Ky., spraying participants with pepper spray.
Also, on Jan. 19, a group of white Catholic high school students, who had attended the anti-women “March for Life,” taunted a Native American Vietnam veteran who had attended an Indigenous Peoples March. The students wore red MAGA hats and chanted, “build the wall!” as Omaha elder Nathan Phillips sang and played a drum in an attempt to calm down the students. Phillips had been one of the water protectors at Standing Rock.
Such mob behavior is encouraged in the racist and xenophobic atmosphere that is energized by Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants, Muslims, and other oppressed groups. In the context of Trump’s attacks, the far right feels validated and energized.
Mass united-front counter-mobilizations are the main weapon in our arsenal right now against fascist and rightist attacks.
On Nov. 17, 2018, about 20-25 rightists rallied on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall and were met with a spirited counter-protest of about 600 people. Because of the public organizing for the counter-mobilization, some militia groups, and quite a few Proud Boys, opted not to attend; they were afraid of a large demonstration by opponents. In the aftermath, the dissension among the rightists sowed further disunity and finger pointing.
Mass united action helps workers and oppressed people feel their potential power—in the streets and at the point of production. Isolated street-fighting tactics do not impart these lessons. Quite the opposite, they teach that a small group can substitute for the actions of workers and oppressed people. Mass action is part of the method we use not only to build an effective anti-fascist movement but also to build the confidence and organizing capabilities of the working class for the major class battles of the future.
Self-defense and physical force
Socialists also support the right of working-class and oppressed people to self-defense. In the Transitional Program, Trotsky wrote: “The struggle against fascism does not start in the liberal editorial office but in the factory—and ends in the street. Scabs and private gunmen in factory plants are the basic nuclei of the fascist army. Strike pickets are the basic nuclei of the proletarian army. This is our point of departure. In connection with every strike and street demonstration, it is imperative to propagate the necessity of creating workers’ groups for self-defense. It is necessary to write this slogan into the program of the revolutionary wing of the trade unions.”
The recent attacks on oppressed peoples, including the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, provide an opportunity for socialists to the introduce the question of workers’ defense guards, built by the unions and other labor organizations, to defend against right-wing attacks. But we also know you can’t get so far ahead of the masses that you lose sight of them.
Ultimately, it’s a political question. How do you introduce these ideas to working people and win advanced workers to a perspective of opposing fascism? Whether we are dealing with defense against fascists or against strikebreakers, it’s appropriate for us to discuss the idea in a way that explains the political importance of self-defense that is done in a collective way, not in isolated formations.
One problem with the antifascism that relies on “physical force” is that it relies on a tactical response to a strategic problem. I know from personal experience in anti-Klan and Antifa work in South Texas in the late 1970s and early ’80s that there’s a limit to that perspective. We need a response to fascist mobilizations and attacks that can impart lessons that advance the struggles and consciousness of working people.
Defending meetings from attack
In the 1970s, reactionary gangs, as well as groups of ultra-left Maoists, staged a number of physical attacks on meetings and rallies of socialists and the antiwar movement, which posed a grave threat to free speech. In many cases, the movement took effective steps to build united-front defense guards to defend their speakers’ platforms and meetings against disruption and violence.
Today, the far right is displaying the same kind of thuggish behavior. As reported above, the Proud Boys have attacked political meetings in Kentucky, Oregon, and elsewhere. We must give unconditional support to the rights of left organizations (DSA, IWW, etc.) to meet without threats and intimidation. It’s appropriate to build united-front defense guards and to call on the labor movement to defend meetings as well. If the far right is able to successfully shut down the meetings of left groups, union meetings and picket lines will be next.
By calling for the united-front defense of IWW and DSA meetings, or any other meetings, socialists demonstrate our politics in action. Our defense is unconditional and not based on any prior political agreement between groups. The lesson, however, is profound. If the ranks of DSA, for example, see that revolutionary socialists defend their right to meet, perhaps they will investigate revolutionary politics further.