City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Month: November, 2016

How Soon We Forget, continued

Reagan Youth - Youth Anthems for the New Order (1984).jpg

[I]f a road toward an American form of fascism exists, it will be predicated on the conjunction of several ideological and political factors currently visible. The ‘new patriotism,’ like fascism, is a ‘vehement nationalist ideology.’…In Friendly Fascism, Bertram Gross observes that racism ‘invigorated’ the political dynamics of classical fascism, by serving ‘as a substitute for class struggle and a justification of any and all brutalities committed by members of the Master Race against “inferior” beings.’ Ideologically, there is the need not simply to identify a public scapegoat–Jews in Hitler’s Germany, and national minorities in the U.S.–but to cultivate sharply divergent racial perceptions and conceived racial interests that reinforce the drive to the right.


The growth of a mass radical Right in the 1980s has also permitted the renaissance of even more extreme racist formations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and the coalition of various racist political factions under more ‘acceptable’ labels.


I am claiming that Reaganism has permitted and encouraged the involvement of blatantly racist and anti-Semitic forces in the electoral arena to an unprecedented degree; that the ideological ‘glue’ in the appeals of these formations to low-to-middle income whites is racism; and that the inevitable social byproduct of the ultra-right’s mass political mobilization is terrorism and increased violence. Throughout 1984, literally hundreds of incidents of racially-motivated random violence erupted across the U.S., directly and indirectly provoked by these forces. Klansmen and racist vigilantes had an especially busy year. On 8 April, several hooded and robed Klansmen, passing out leaflets in Cedartown, Georgia, beat an eighteen year old Black youth with brass knuckles; on 19 June, racists leaving the message, ‘KKK: Nigger go home,’ burned the home of an Indianapolis Black woman; on 11 August, a Black family residing in a predominantly white neighborhood of Daytona Beach, Florida had a cross burned in their front yard; on 27 August, racist vandals leaving the mark ‘KKK’ attacked a Black church in a predominantly white Milwaukee suburb; on 7 October three racist whites, in an unprovoked public assault, left a twenty year old Black male a quadriplegic in Fontana, California. Chicago probably experienced the greatest upsurge of racist violence, especially in the aftermath of the election of Harold Washington as the city’s first Black mayor. The Chicago Police Department recorded 127 separate ‘racial incidents’ in 1984, an increase of 24 or 23.3 percent over 1983. The most dramatic were the firebombings of the parsonage of a Black minister in suburban Hickory Hills on 26 August, and a six hour-long stoning attack of the home of a Black family by dozens of whites, who were said to be celebrating Reagan’s reelection. Racial brutality in the U.S. is hardly new. What is ominous is that such groups have openly entered the electoral arena in many states, working vigorously for independent rightists and/or conservatives in the major parties. In North Carolina, Klansmen organized white registration drives, and state leader Glenn Miller ran in the Democratic primary for governor ‘on an open Klan and white supremacy platform.’ Klansmen in Georgia and Alabama succeeded in being named county deputy voter registrars. Although some Klansmen gravitated to the Populist Party, most worked aggressively for Reagan’s reelection. The national leader of the Invisible Empire KKK, Bill Wilkinson, publicly endorsed the President.

Reagan has created the social space or political environment for fascist and terrorist groups to operative with comparative impunity. One example was the emergence of Taiwan-backed death squads, which since 1981 have assassinated eight prominent critics of the regime inside the U.S. In the northwestern states, the Idaho-based ‘Church of the Aryan Nations’ has committed public beatings, robberies and several murders. Federal authorities investigating the formation state that the ‘Aryan Nations’ maintains a computerized ‘hit list’ that targets for assassination major figures in Black, labor, Jewish, and Marxist organizations.

The latest innovation in the Right’s vigilante forces is the series of bombings, threats and assaults on abortion and family planning clinics. There were no bomb threats on such clinics from 1977-180, and only four incidents during 1983. The following year, 27 abortion clinics in seven states were firebombed by evangelical anti-abortionists and rightwing groups, frequently identifying themselves as the ‘Army of God.’ A total of 157 ‘violent incidents’ were reported last year, including assault and battery, kidnapping, vandalism, death threats, and attempted arson. A few neofascist groups have been formed in part to halt women’s legal rights to abortion, such as the southern California-based ‘White American Resistance’ (WAR). WAR leader Tom Metzger, who ran openly as a Klansman for Congress in 1980, and for the Senate in 1982, has publicly attributed abortions to ‘Jewish doctors’ and ‘perverted lesbian nurses’ who ‘must be punished for this holocaust and murder of white children.’ The Reagan administration’s ‘response’ to these bombings was revealing. A national campaign by the National Organization of Women began on 2 March 1984, demanding that the U.S Justice Department investigate anti-abortion terrorism. On 1 August, federal authorities finally agreed to begin to monitor the violence. Federal Bureau of Investigation director William Webster, however, declared that he saw no evidence of ‘terrorism.’ Only on 3 January 1985, in a pro forma statement, did the President criticize the series of bombings as ‘violent anarchistic acts,’ but he still refused to term them ‘terrorism.’ Reagan deferred to Moral Majoritarian Jerry Falwell’s latest campaign–to have 15 million Americans wear ‘armbands’ on 22 January 1985, ‘one for every legal abortion’ since 1973. Falwell’s anti-abortion outburst epitomized Reaganism’s orientation: ‘We can no longer passively and quietly wait for the Supreme Court to change their mind or for Congress to pass a law.’ Extremism on the right was no vice, moderation no virtue. Or, as Hitler explained in Mein Kampf: ‘The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence.’
–from Manning Marable, “Race and Realignment in American Politics,” The Year Left: An American Socialist Yearbook, 1985 (Verso Books)


How Soon We Forget


To recoup, the capitalist class unleashed an attack against working people. Real wages, especially for the unorganized majority, have been cut; speed-up, lack of safety and other declining conditions have become a fact of life at work. In addition, the quality of life: of social services, of the cities, of the natural envi­ronment has decayed….The all-too-evident flight of capital only hammers this point home. Working class people feel powerless, hostage to the needs of capital accumulation and profit.

In this situation it is understandable, though not defen­sible, that sections of the working class should try to protect themselves at the expense of the weaker sections. This is the main source of the drift to the right in the work­ing class. The process is not always conscious. But insofar as people are really unable to act as a class and are not tak­ing on the capitalists, they are unlikely to adopt a class struggle world view to solve their problems. There is then every temptation to see society as made up not of two classes in opposition but of individuals competing on the market. This outlook does correspond to one aspect of capitalist reality: for workers are not only collective pro­ducers with a common interest in taking collective control over social production. They are also individual sellers of labor power in conflict with each other over jobs, promo­tions. etc. This individualistic point of view has a critical advantage in the current period: in the absence of class against class organization, it seems to provide an alterna­tive strategy for effective action—a sectionalist strategy which pits one layer of workers against another.

It appears possible for the stronger sections of the work­ing class to defend their positions by organizing on the basis of already existing ties against weaker, less-organized sections. They can take advantage of their posi­tion as Americans over and against foreigners, as whites over and against blacks, as men over and against women, as employed over and against unemployed, etc. In so do­ing, working people may act initially only out of what they perceive to be their most immediate self-interest. But over time they inevitably feel the pressure to make sense of these actions and they adopt ideas which can make their actions reasonable and coherent. These ideas are, of course, the ideas of the right.
–from Johanna and Robert Brenner, “Reagan, the Right and the Working Class,” Against the Current, 1981 (H/T Verso Books)