Our solidarity is stronger than their hate
The renewed threat of the far right is another frightening feature of the Trump era, but we have solidarity and unity to rely on in building resistance and a left alternative.
AT THE start of August one year ago, the far right in the U.S. was preparing for its boldest moment yet during the Trump era: two days of strutting and bullying on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, at their “Unite the Right” rally.
They claimed they were exercising their “free speech,” but the white supremacists’ real purpose — deadly violence — was exposed when a Nazi used his car as a murder weapon to plow into a march of anti-racist demonstrators, injuring numerous people and killing Heather Heyer.
Horror at Heyer’s murder was compounded by outrage at Donald Trump for pandering to the racists with his comment that there were “good people” among the thugs.
Immediately, there were protests and vigils around the country, culminating the next weekend in a 25,000-strong counterdemonstration in Boston that overwhelmed the handful of racists who dared to show up. The following week, it was the Bay Area’s turn to counter the far right. Thousands celebrated in Berkeley and San Francisco when the bigots had to give up on their rallies.
After Charlottesville, the far right had to keep a lower profile. But not any more.
THIS MONTH, the far right is planning a show of strength on both coasts, and they are following a frighteningly similar script.
Just like the months before Charlottesville, there have been a string of increasingly bold acts of racist violence — whether directly connected to Nazis or not — such as the horrific murder of Nia Wilson in a public transit station in Oakland.
The far right has been preparing. In Portland, Oregon, when racists mobilized by Patriot Prayer clashed with counterprotesters this spring, it was clear from video footage that the right-wingers had trained in advance, and came looking for a fight.
This coming weekend, Patriot Prayer will again attempt to claim the streets in Portland on August 4, and the next day, white supremacists from around the western U.S. have been planning to descend on Berkeley.
In an article about the Portland mobilization for its “Hatewatch” column, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote: “As they have done for many prior rallies, Patriot Prayer...has pre-emptively declared any violence an act of self-defense. But the group intends to create a combustible situation where brawls against counterprotesters are virtually guaranteed.”
The organizers of the “No to Marxism in America” rally in Berkeley also hide behind the fiction that the alt-right is a persecuted minority, in order to justify racist provocations and violent rampages.
What happens this weekend will affect the mobilization a week later on the other coast, where the organizer of last year’s Charlottesville rally has a permit for an August 12 demonstration in none other than Washington, D.C. The monsters responsible for the murder of Heather Heyer are planning to march to the White House to salute the Bigot-in-Chief.
If any complacency has set in on the left because of the lower profile of the far right until recently, that has to change — now. The reactionaries are still emboldened by having a sympathizer in the White House, and they have had a full year since Charlottesville to regroup.
As always, liberal figures and Democratic Party leaders will tell us to ignore the far right. But that’s what led to the tragedy of Charlottesville, when the anti-racist mobilization wasn’t large enough to effectively counter the Nazis.
The left faces an urgent challenge of confronting this renewed threat. We have to rely on our biggest strength: We are the majority.
It’s frightening that the white supremacists will be able to bring some hundreds of thugs into the streets this coming weekend. But as we — and they — learned last year, when the much larger numbers of people who oppose their hate organize and mobilize, the bigots are a tiny minority that can be drowned out and pushed back.
THERE’S ANOTHER reason the far right can’t be ignored. Its twisted lies and bizarro conspiracy theories might seem like they could only appeal to an isolated few, but the spread of reactionary ideas — and organizations to represent them — is accelerated by the political polarization and discontent of this era.
The far right can thrive for the same reasons that Donald Trump won the White House, if not the majority of the popular vote, with a related message of scapegoating, nationalism and repression.
Both have gained a wider hearing in a society where the vast majority of people face deteriorating living standards, and “official politics” offers no answers to their grievances. The key to Trump’s success in 2016 was to pose as an outsider challenging a rotten status quo — even though he was a billionaire who benefited from it.
Social polarization also produces a left radicalization, which has been expressed in the form of struggles and movements, like Occupy Wall Street or the “red state” teachers’ rebellion, and progressive political challenges, such as Bernie Sanders’ left-wing presidential campaign. This shows what’s possible when people’s desire for an alternative is answered with hope, rather than despair.
The radicalization to the right is smaller in absolute numbers, but the reactionaries have an advantage: Their agenda is generally compatible with the priorities of the capitalist class and its political institutions.
Thus, only a minority of the ruling class embraces Trump’s xenophobia and economic nationalism, but grumbling aside, Corporate America and the Republican Party have tolerated his reign because the Trump administration has delivered — as sometimes-critic Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, acknowledged in a recent interview.
“Respectable” political leaders may shun the far right, but the policies of “official” Washington have, over a period of decades, legitimized open racism and violence. Both Trump’s anti-immigrant cruelty and the far right’s vigilantism are extensions of intensifying enforcement and border militarization sanctioned by both mainstream parties.
So the far right has benefited from the conservative shift in mainstream politics — while also exploiting discontent with how this status quo has failed masses of people.
For this reason, the alternative to the far right can’t be confined to the narrow limits of the Washington system — where the “left” is a Democratic Party that is complicit in the rightward trend of U.S. politics and equally responsible for an economic and social status quo where masses of people feel left behind.
As we’ve written before at Socialist Worker: “You can’t fight the right by creeping toward it from the center.”
THE RISE of the far right today is a frightening threat — all the more so in Trump’s America, where the “leader of the free world” uses the same ugly rhetoric as torch-bearing fascists, and his administration is filled with alt-right sympathizers.
The consequences of the right on the rampage are all too real, as any study of hate crimes in the Trump era shows.
Thus, the protest organized the next day after Nia Wilson’s murder in Oakland was an outpouring of grief and alarm at a racist crime committed in a historically Black city. But it was also an expression of resolve among hundreds of people who know that there can be no middle ground when it comes to racism and the right.
Everyone on the left must recognize the danger we face from the far right — and rise to the challenge of confronting it.
Too often, protests against the far right are confined to activists who are prepared to physically confront the fascists. Not only does this hand an advantage to the right, which is more capable and prepared to resort to violence, but our side gives up its own advantage by limiting its participation: our unity and solidarity.
On the socialist podcast Better Off Red, Bay Area socialist and SW contributor Ragina Johnson explained why all activists for every social justice cause have a stake in this struggle:
The right doesn’t actually see that the issues are separated. So for instance, last year, you had a right-winger who tried to drive his motorcycle through the middle of a Medicare for All rally in San Francisco and injure people. Over the last year, you’ve had the right show up at our demonstrations for women’s rights and immigrant rights...So the right sees how these things are connected for their side.
Our source of strength is to unite everyone who opposes what the fascists represent to deliver a message of opposition to their hate — and a message of our own commitment to a left alternative.
There will be counterprotests against the white supremacists in Portland, Berkeley and Washington, D.C. — hopefully with as many people as possible.
Now and in the future, these mobilizations need to go beyond the smaller numbers of anti-racists who have bravely and steadfastly confronted the far right. Everyone who the far right reviles — left organizations; African Americans, Latinos and other people of color; supporters of women’s rights and LGBT equality; unionists; antiwar activists; environmentalists — needs to find ways to raise their voice.
We also have another task: to put forward an alternative to the right’s politics of hate and despair.
Fighting the right this summer doesn’t stop with protesting the white supremacists. We have to challenge the right’s wider agenda — whether that means standing up for immigrant rights against ICE terrorism or building opposition to Trump’s attempt to put another anti-abortion, anti-labor reactionary on the Supreme Court.
One year after the horrific violence of Charlottesville, the far right is trying to advance — and any ground it conquers will be taken away from us. We can’t let that happen.