The next day these ultra-rightist thugs joined the “Unite the Right” rally of some 500 people in Charlottesville, ostensibly organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Organizers had claimed the action would be the largest such gathering in decades. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, but rightist thugs and dozens of so-called anti-fascist combatants — both armed — marched and engaged in a series of bloody clashes.
After the cops cancelled the rally, one of the neo-Nazis turned his car into a weapon and drove into a group of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
The Socialist Workers Party opposed the racist actions and stands with those who oppose their anti-working-class perspective.
The white supremacists were outnumbered at least two to one by counterprotesters. But prominent in the counterprotest were groups that promote the dangerous and false view that racism and fascism can be stopped by small groups confronting the rightists arms in hand.
At the same time, the liberal capitalist media, Democratic and some Republican party politicians, and the middle-class left used the ultrarightist actions and resulting deadly violence to blame President Donald Trump — and especially the workers who elected him — for what happened. They view everything in politics today through the lens of how to get Trump indicted or impeached.
They claimed that the white supremacists are Trump’s “base,” slandering the working class, particularly workers who are Caucasian, as backward, racist and reactionary.
Solidarity Cville, a Charlottesville-based coalition of clergy and radical activists, had demanded the City Council ban the racist rally. The Council cancelled their permit to rally in Emancipation Park where Lee’s statue stands, telling organizers to hold it a mile away. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the move, saying it was unconstitutional, because it was based on opposition to the ideas of the organizers. The ACLU prevailed.
Solidarity Cville called for a counterprotest. They were joined by middle-class radicals from around the country, as well as others, including antifa, short for anti-fascist groups; Refuse Fascism!; and various anarchist groupings that advocated physical attacks to shut down or break up the rightist action.
There were groups on both sides of the street actions armed with semiautomatic weapons, pistols, chemical spray and other armaments.
By 10:30 a.m., fights were taking place. Then a couple dozen counterprotesters formed a line, using a large wooden barricade to try and block a group of white supremacists armed with shields and wooden clubs who were approaching the park. A melee began as the racists were met by organized and similarly armed groups.
Responding to criticism of police inaction, Gov. McAuliffe, a Democrat, said that protesters “had better equipment than our State Police.”
Counterprotesters chanted “Go the f--k home!” the rightists shouted back “Go the f--k back to Africa.”
University of Virginia student Isabella Ciambotti was one of the counterprotesters. “What I saw on Market Street didn’t feel like resistance,” she wrote in the New York Times. “It felt like every single person letting out his or her own well of fear and frustration on the crowd.”
Ciambotti says she watched “when a counterprotester ripped a newspaper stand off the sidewalk and threw it at alt-right protesters.”
One assault particularly disturbed her. “A much older man, also with the alt-right group, got pushed to the ground in the commotion. Someone raised a stick over his head and beat the man with it, and that’s when I screamed and ran over with several other strangers to help him to his feet.”
Later she joined a group shouting, “Get out of our town!” at the rightists as they marched by. “A woman from their line turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I hope you get raped by a n----r.’”
Shortly afterwards, neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. used his car to kill Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and wound 19 others. Fields was arrested and has been charged with murder.
Liberals blame workers who elected Trump
The meritocratic liberals and leftists lay the blame for what had happened on President Trump and workers who voted for him. An Aug. 12 column by Colbert King in the Washington Post was headlined, “These Are Your People, President Trump,” one of many variants in the liberal media that racist and rightist groups are his “base.”
“We have a bigoted billionaire-cum-president who has done precious little for the white working class whose resentment fueled his rise,” wrote Michael Dyson in the Aug. 12 New York Times. “The only remnant of this leadership they have to hold on to is the folklore of white nationalist sentiment, and xenophobic passion, that offer them psychic comfort if little financial stability.”
Workers World Party takes this distorted view to a further extreme.
“Media manipulation and financial maneuvering by a significant far-rightwing section of the billionaire class to get one of their own into the White House,” they said in a public statement, “has emboldened the most racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, misogynist, male supremacist, murderous scum of this decaying capitalist society.”
But it’s simply not true that there is a rise in racism or anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment among the working class in the U.S.
On the contrary, there is less racism, bigotry or sexism among workers in the U.S. today than at any time in U.S. history. The historic conquests of the Black rights movement of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s dealt a crushing blow to Jim Crow segregation, pushed back racism and changed the United States forever.
President Trump wasn’t elected by racist southern workers seething over statues of Robert E. Lee coming down. He was elected by workers in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and other so-called Rust Belt regions who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, seeking change in the midst of social disaster raining down on them from the crisis of capitalism. In 2016, they rallied to Trump, his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington, his disdain for the “politically correct,” and his promise to stand by the working class. Did those who backed Obama suddenly become racists?
The meritocratic pundits insist Trump gives succor to the ultraright. “Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost,” ran one headline in the Aug. 15 Times.
After the armed clashes by some on both sides of the protests, Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” The White House supplemented this shortly after, saying, “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
Nonetheless, article after article, op-ed after op-ed, the Times, Post, anti-Trump politicians of both parties and others insist he’s hooked up with reactionaries of all stripes. When Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in a news release said that Trump hadn’t been forthright enough in condemning the racists in Charlottesville, the president responded.
“Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists and people like Heyer,” Trump wrote on Twitter Aug. 17. “Such a disgusting lie.”
The relentless attacks on Trump are not because he is a threat to capitalist rule. He’s a billionaire capitalist real estate baron, who aims to defend the interests of his class. It’s because the meritocratic liberals see in the workers who elected him class battles to come.
Looking at things through the lens of bringing Trump down, the latest heroes of the left are the billionaire CEOs and investment bankers who stepped down from the White House business round table.
Antifa danger to working class
Some of the groups involved in the counterprotest presented a course of action that combines reckless bravado with scorn for the working class.
The New York Times ran a photo of a number of armed members of a group called Redneck Revolt at the counterprotest.
The group put out a “Call to Arms for Charlottesville” that concluded, “To the fascists and all who stand with them, we’ll be seeing you in Virginia.” They assert that “letting fascists organize publicly and without challenge is the same as standing guard while they build a bomb.”
The idea that small radical groups can smash racism and fascism in the egg by physically confronting them is not new. But it is dangerous to the fight against racist violence and to the working class.
The only way to confront their poison is to mobilize the working class. The strategy of antifa, Redneck Revolt and the like tries to substitute for the working class, a recipe for disaster. Not only does it turn working people into spectators instead of active participants in their own liberation, it gives the government and cops a handle for assaults on political rights crucial for the working class to discuss, debate and act.
Adventurism is a deadly trap for the workers movement. Maybe this time the cops were “outgunned,” but you can be sure they won’t be in the future.
In fact, the biggest danger to the political rights of the working class in the U.S. today is not from small groups of white supremacists or fascists. As Charlottesville shows, they were incapable of mobilizing more than a few hundred people. Their racist, anti-working-class views and thuggery have virtually no support among working people.
Instead, the danger to workers’ rights comes from liberals and middle-class radicals who call for armed combat with reactionaries today. And those whose efforts to shut down meetings on college campuses across the country — from Berkeley, California; to Olympia, Washington; to Burlington, Vermont — have given college administrations and cops a golden opportunity. They call for tossing rights won by the working class at great cost out the window.
In an Aug. 17 column in the Times, K-Sue Park, a Critical Race Studies fellow at the UCLA School of Law, excoriates the ACLU for challenging the ban on the rightist rally in Charlottesville.
‘We replaced you’
Thousands of people, including many students, upset with the white supremacist rallies, the killing of Heyer and the ultraleft forays, turned out for a candlelight vigil at the University of Virginia campus Aug. 16, organized by word of mouth. It was many times larger than any of the actions of the previous days.
They retraced the steps of the march where the white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us.” One participant posted a photo of the vigil with the caption: “We replaced you.”
SWP talks with workers in Va. about racist actions
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