The Nov. 8, 2016 presidential elections in the United States marked a turning point in world politics. The far right has been significantly emboldened by the victory of Donald Trump. The right-wing populism of Trump resulted in the strengthening of racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic ideas. Individuals and groups with far-right and fascist ideas have gained the confidence to organize more publicly and try to rally support behind their violent and poisonous program. This is a phenomenon that we are witnessing across the United States as well as Canada. The question arises, how do we defeat these far-right organizations?
The two most graphic events that are a part of this phenomenon of the emboldened far right are the white supremacist terrorist attacks that occurred in Charlottesville and Quebec City. On Jan. 29, 2017, a white-nationalist carried out a mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural centre in Quebec City after evening prayer. Six were killed and a further nineteen injured.
On Aug. 12, 2017 a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville who were marching against the “Unite the Right” rally. Heather Heyer, a socialist activist, was killed and another nineteen protesters were injured. The response of the White House was shocking to many. Trump refused to clearly condemn the white supremacist rally which was made up of Nazis, the KKK, and other assorted groups.
Trump even referred to some of the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville as “very fine people”. Meanwhile, at a recent rally in Alabama, Trump lashed out at NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s anti-police brutality protest, demanding that the NFL owners “get that son of a bitch off the field”. The contrast in the White House’s treatment of racists and those challenging racism could not be more clear-cut.
In Canada, the emboldening of the far right has meant increasing attacks on left-wing organizations, especially those that come from the Marxist tradition. Organizations of the far left have been at the forefront of the fight against the fascists in Canada. The far right also has a deep, instinctive hatred and fear of the internationalist principles upon which the Marxist movement is based.
Given Fightback’s prominence on the left and the role we have played in the movement against the far right in Canada, our organization has come under particular attack. We aim to give a summary of these attacks in this article, and show the next steps forward in the fight against the far-right.
Far right in Toronto put in its place
Prior to the events in Charlottesville, there were two major gatherings of white supremacists being planned in Toronto. The first was a public event at Ryerson University organized under the guise of free speech, in which former Rebel Media “reporter” and Nazi sympathizer Faith Goldy would be speaking along with the infamous, openly transphobic professor Jordan Peterson. The second event was a demonstration on Sept. 14, 2017 called by the Canadian Nationalist Party at the University of Toronto campus.
Anti-fascists immediately started organizing counter-demos on both campuses, saying that the events of Charlottesville will not come to our streets. As a result, the administrations at both Ryerson and the University of Toronto shut down the far-right events that had been planned. The white supremacists retreated at both campuses.
It should be noted that the left-wing, anti-racist, anti-sexist activists who were involved in organizing the two counter-rallies did not ask the administration to close the white nationalist events from the top-down. The position of Fightback is to shut down the far right through mass mobilization. We do not trust or rely on the assistance of the administration or the state. We can only trust in our own strength and class organizations to defeat the far right. This means mobilizing trade unions, workers’ organizations, tenants’ organizations, student and youth groups, women’s and racial minority organizations, etc. in the fight against the far right.
After the white supremacist meeting at Ryerson was cancelled, the counter-demonstration was still held. It was important to make a show of force and send the message that racists are not welcome on campus. This rally was a useful springboard for further anti-fascist, anti-racist and socialist organizing in the country. The rally received significant mainstream press coverage (see Fightback’s report).
Fightback was the most prominent and most organized force behind the anti-fascist rally at Ryerson University. This is a major reason why Fightback has drawn the attention and hostility of some of the sickest, most degenerate elements in Canadian society who gather around the banner of fascism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia.
Sabotage, threats, and vandalism
Fightback has been the target of far-right organizations since the beginning of 2017. The attacks have accelerated since the summer events in Charlottesville and subsequent solidarity actions in Toronto. The attacks range from intimidation and threats against our activists and public events, to vandalism and hate graffiti on our posters, and extend to direct and indirect sabotage of our public events (including with the assistance of police forces).
In January 2017, a very successful townhall was organized by Fightback at Ryerson University under the title of “United Against Trump!”. At that event, with more than 100 in attendance, a fire alarm was pulled just as several Trump supporters left the venue. This resulted in the event having to be moved outside temporarily (but with no loss of enthusiasm!). In the months following, individuals associated with the alt-right made threatening comments and messages against Fightback activists on campus.
At York University, a campaign of vandalism and hate graffiti has been waged against Socialist Fightback Students since the start of the fall term. Nazi-inspired slogans such as Gott mit uns (“God with us”) as well as clear Nazi symbols have been scrawled across our posters. An activist of our campus club was aggressively verbally attacked by an alt-rightist at York when he challenged them over the issue of vandalism.
In Hamilton, far-right activists identifying with the “Proud Boys” organization sabotaged a meeting of the Socialist Fightback club at McMaster University. This event was directed towards first-year students who had met us during frosh week. The fascists advertised a dummy meeting at the same place and time as ours, and then reported this dummy meeting to the administration. The administration then shut down our event, and the police intimidated and threatened our activists and first-year students trying to attend the meeting (see statement). After this attempt at intimidation, Socialist Fightback Hamilton has stepped up the fight against the far-right in the city to show we will will not be intimidated. Our efforts have gained significant support from organized labour and have even been covered in the local Hamilton press.
At the University of Toronto, rumours circulated on online chat-boards that alt-right supporters were going to crash a public meeting in September on the topic of the fight against fascism and racism. Just prior to the Anti-Trump Townhall at Ryerson, there were discussions on reddit chat boards which included the threat of physical violence. Fightback takes all threats, vandalism, and sabotage by the far right seriously. We are not intimidated by these actions of the far right, and we believe the way forward is to stand up and fight back. It appears that in a number of instances our preparations scared off the rightists from attending.
It is notable that the far right are resorting to such cowardly and sneaky attacks. This is a result of their rallies and meetings having been shut down by the mass mobilization of workers, youth, minorities and socialists. The fascists have had to beat a retreat. These cowardly acts of vandalism, sabotage and anonymous threats are a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength.
Shut down the far right through mass mobilization!
The white supremacist protest and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, and the attempts by the far right to organize rallies and meetings in different cities, have created an immense backlash. There is a powerful urge among workers and youth to get organized and fight back. We have seen anti-fascist protests being held in one city after another.
The surest way to defeat the far right and guarantee that the fascists have no platform is by establishing a broad-based, mass united front. This united front should be composed of socialist and labour organizations, trade unions, student unions and organizations, and organizations representing oppressed communities.
The key to victory is mobilizing the broadest section of the working class, as well as students, youth and especially marginalized groups, into mass struggle against the fascists. Historically, anti-fascist action has been most successful where mass mobilizations are organized.
The anti-fascist demonstrations organized in Boston and Vancouver to counter the far right a week after Charlottesville show the way forward. In Boston, some 40,000 people came together to drown out the far right, and in Vancouver that same weekend some 5,000 rallied to shut down an anti-Islam demonstration. In both cases the far-right rallies were cancelled in the face of mass opposition. The fascists had no platform and were shut down.
After this demonstration of mass opposition against the far right, dozens of far-right and fascist rallies were cancelled all across North America, demonstrating the power of a broad-based, united movement. Facing mass mobilization of workers, youth and marginalized communities, the far right was forced to retreat and was made painfully aware of their weakness.
A key role in the fight against the far right must be played by the trade unions. A fantastic example of the role and power of the trade unions was shown in San Francisco a few weeks after the events in Charlottesville. The International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) organized a work stoppage in response to a planned rally of the far right in San Francisco. The ILWU Local 10 represents dock workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of whom are black and/or Hispanic. For example, the union includes workers at the Port of Oakland, which is the fifth-busiest container port in the United States. A work stoppage therefore has a significant impact on the capitalist system.
The work stoppage motion passed by ILWU Local 10 explained the threat posed by fascist thugs to unions and all the oppressed; called on all unions, anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations to help organize a counter-demonstration; and organized a strike at the port so that members could join the march to stop racist and fascist intimidation. The far right cancelled their rally out of fear; nonetheless the massive anti-fascist demonstration went ahead. The ILWU motion for a work stoppage to mobilize the fight against the far right is an example for unions across the continent.
Closer to home, the Hamilton & District Labour Council (HDLC) has announced a rally to Shut Down Hate for Saturday, September 30. That the HDLC is taking a lead in the fight against fascism represents a solid step forward. Trade unions taking a lead in the fight against fascism significantly emboldens workers of all backgrounds, and puts the far right on the back foot.
Trade unions and labour councils must take the examples in San Francisco and Hamilton as an example. They should make preparations for similar rallies and begin concerted efforts to mobilize their members. Where the threat is real, work stoppages should be organized to bolster the rallies and marches against the fascists, and to send a clear message to the bosses and the capitalist state.
“Free speech” and liberal hypocrisy
There has been a torrent of criticisms from the right wing, and especially from liberals, that the anti-fascist movement is undermining free speech. These liberals claim that the attempt to mobilize to shut down the far right is an attack on free speech. The criticism of these people is utterly false, and reeks of hypocrisy.
This “free speech” critique comes from the same people who have been utterly silent as the police and National Guard were sent in to repress Black Lives Matters protesters, and raised no criticisms as police kettled the #OccupyWallStreet protesters, or as the police were sent to pepper-spray protesters at the #noDAPL and Idle No More protests. Neither did they raise their voice as mass arrests occurred during the G20 in Toronto and during the heroic Quebec student movement of 2012, or as anti-strike legislation and court injunctions have been repeatedly slapped against trade unionists across North America.
The far right themselves are no supporters of free speech either. This is shown demonstrably by their sabotage of socialist organizing. And what of Heather Heyer’s free speech? She has been silenced forever.
For these liberal “defenders” of free speech, the democratic rights of black people, Indigenous people, racial and religious minorities, progressive youth and students, socialists and the labour movement are of little importance. Most of these liberals have supported, or acted as apologists, for the repression of the democratic rights of these groups.
However, when it comes to the supposed free speech of fascists, racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes, the liberals work up a storm of outrage and condemnation. The fact is these liberals focus on defending the far-right groups and ideology that openly proclaim their intention of using physical violence to repress our democratic rights.
The far-right organizations, from the Nazis to the KKK, from the Proud Boys to the Soldiers of Odin, all promote physical violence against the left wing and typically of racial, religious, or sexual minorities or women as a fundamental part of their program.
The struggle for democratic rights for workers, for women, for racial minorities, were all won through militant struggle. Many were injured, jailed and even killed by state repression or fascist gangs in the various struggles for democratic rights; free speech, the right to vote, freedom to assemble, freedom to organize a union, and freedom to organize political parties.
The program of the fascists is precisely to claw back these democratic rights through brute, physical force. The only way for us to preserve our democratic rights is through the same means through which we won these rights in the first place: militant mass struggle to defend our rights.
This is exactly what Fightback is advocating—Using our hard-won democratic rights to engage in mass mobilization to shut down the fascists. If they hold a meeting, we show up with hundreds or thousands to their meeting. We protest it, effectively shutting down the attempt of the fascists to organize. If they hold a rally, we repeat what happened in Boston, outnumber and surround them, forcing the fascists to retreat with their tail between their legs.
The liberal criticism of the anti-fascists for using mass mobilization to shut down the fascists exposes their hypocrisy. They are opposed to anti-fascists using our democratic rights (free speech, right to assembly, etc.) to mobilize against the fascists. However, they are in favour of those same rights being used by the fascists, to facilitate the carrying out of their program of racial violence.
After the retreat of the far right on the streets and at open public meetings, there is now an attempt by the fascists to make use of free speech clubs to organize themselves at university campuses. The fascists cannot organize publicly under their own banner because of the mass revulsion and backlash towards their ideas and program.
As a result, the fascists are forced to organize under the cowardly banner of “free speech”. It goes without saying that free speech is totally in contradiction with their political program. The fascists being forced to organize themselves in such a sneaky manner is yet another sign of their weakness and lack of support in society.
These “free speech” clubs, in providing a platform to the far right, are giving the fascists the means to organize around their platform of racist terror, repression of democratic rights and physical violence. Any events with fascist speakers should be shut-down by mass mobilization, regardless of the title of the group that has booked the room space.
Weakness of the far right
In this fight against the racist forces emboldened by Trump, it is necessary to have a sense of proportion. We should not be complacent, and one death is one death too many, but there is no danger of the fascists coming to power as in the 1920s and 1930s. These forces are actually very weak in society and lead the majority of workers to react with utter revulsion. It is notable that in the days after Charlottesville, even conservative politicians and newspapers were calling for the fascists to be shut down. This is not because these more “respectable” representatives of the capitalist class are wedded to democracy. This is because they are afraid of the backlash the far right will elicit amongst the people.
The capitalists are not currently relying on fascist terror to keep the workers in check. Instead, they rely on the liberals and reformists to sing the workers to sleep and make workers believe they have no power. Far-right provocations show the impotence of the liberals and reformists in practice and shatter the illusions of the workers. The capitalists are desperately trying to leash and muzzle their mad dogs for fear that they will spark off a far more radical and united mass movement of workers and the oppressed.
Capitalism is in crisis internationally. This has led to a collapse in confidence in the political establishment, state institutions, and the status quo. There is extreme inequality and polarization between the classes. A small minority has taken all the wealth while the majority stagnates or goes downward. In Canada, two men control as much wealth as the poorest third of the population. This economic polarization has had its reflection in a political polarization. Internationally there is a crisis of the so-called middle. Liberal defence of the status quo becomes increasingly untenable. Anti-establishment arguments, from both the left and right, gain in prominence. Examples include Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit.
It is vital that we understand that the anti-establishment arguments of the right cannot be defeated by pro-establishment arguments from the liberals. When people are sick of the status quo, they will not support more status quo. Hillary Clinton cannot defeat Trump. The Clintons have created the conditions for the rise of the Trumps of this world. The right recognises that there is a crisis and demagogically blame immigrants, Muslims, and black people. This can only be countered by a left-wing anti-establishment argument that lays the blame on the bosses and bankers who are actually responsible for the crisis in society. Mass mobilization against the far right must be united with socialist politics that can win the argument amongst those looking for an alternative to the failed status quo.
The class balance of forces are incredibly favourable to the left. The traditional class base of fascism in the interwar period, small shopkeepers and the petit-bourgeois in the countryside, has been decisively eroded. The working class is the overwhelming majority in almost every country. Students, who supported fascism in the 1930s, now stand firmly on the left. For every sad individual who turns to the far right, 100 or 1,000 turn towards the ideas of socialism. The task before us is to organize en masse against the racists, demand that the mass trade unions play a unifying role, and adopt socialist ideas that can undercut the racist ideology of the fascists and undercut the social conditions that promote racism. The workers united shall never be defeated.
We will not be intimidated!
Shut down the racists through mass mobilization!
Trade unions and student organizations must take a lead!
Only socialism can defeat the far right!