by Jonathan Palameda
At the 21st International Seminar on Problems of the Revolution in Latin America hosted by the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador in Quito, the American Party of Labor presented a paper on the issue of fascism as one of chief concerns for contemporary Marxist-Leninists in the United States. The rise of fascism has indeed dominated left discourse in 2017 across tendency, as rapidly expanding anti-fascist movements have waged direct and indirect struggle against the forces of reaction from Berkeley in April to Charlottesville, Virginia next week. As the fight against fascism intensifies in the United States, it is of critical importance that Marxist-Leninists join this struggle in parties, unions, and local anti-fascist organizations, and advocate within these bodies for the Leninist methods and principles proven by the crucible of history.
This advocacy has not historically been sectarian, and Leninists were the originators of the multi-tendency popular front against fascism. Georgi Dimitroff’s call for a united front at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in 1935 deeply influenced American communists for decades. Jack Shulman, a seminal figure in American anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism, fought for nearly two years in Spain side by side with social democrats and anarchists, and went on to fight alongside his countrymen against fascism in the U.S. Army. The Black Panther Party took up Dimitroff’s rhetoric and call and organized their own popular front against American fascism at a conference of some 5,000 activists in Oakland in the summer of 1969 (1). American Leninists have thus been ardent developers and practitioners of the united front, but like Shulman, Newton, Seale, and others, we cannot and should not abandon our principles of democratically centralist organizations dedicated to theoretical advocacy towards building a popular movement of all peoples. Many of the problems facing anti-fascist movements in the United States could be advanced with the greater participation of Leninist and labor activists within the movement, including countering the proliferation of disinformation, the lack of popular, working class participation, and a lack of diversity in tactics.
There has been an explosion of fake anti-fascist accounts and organizations made by fascists specifically to defame the anti-fascist movement, and activists, while making noble efforts and collating lists of these fake accounts, have largely been unable to stop these fakes from reaching national levels of attention. Jesse Watters of Fox News interviewed the fascist troll behind “Boston Antifa” believing it to be an anti-fascist activist (2). A man shot himself in the leg counter protesting a non-existent anti-fascist event popularized by fascists trolls at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (3). The pervasive resistance in anti-fascist circles to centralization makes it nearly impossible to articulate a consistent rebuttal and line to the public, and makes anti-fascist groups extremely vulnerable to fascist wrecking, government subversion, and infiltration. These are not new problems. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were slandered as German spies and infiltrated to the top of their organization, and the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers endured unprecedented government attacks under COINTELPRO. In an environment in which fascist wrecking and government sabotage is a given, militant leftists have to practically and theoretically implement security in proven ways. The union “freedom in discussion, unity in action” model, long tested by bosses and government alike in the United States, is a necessary Leninist contribution.
This aversion to centralization in the face of subversion manifests also in the now pervasive notion that working class anti-fascist movements do not need to concern themselves with theory or radicalizing working class populations beyond a few basic leftist principles. Under the guise of a united front against fascism, many advocate for an unprincipled unity that underestimates the significance of agitating amongst the working classes. This is a line of thinking Lenin deeply opposed: “The workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia,” Lenin argued in What is to Be Done?, concluding that “only a few (bad) intellectuals believe that it is enough ‘for workers’ to be told a few things about factory conditions and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known” (4). The various grassroots anti-fascist groups, from the Young Patriots-influenced Redneck Revolt to the Antifa clubs emerging at local soccer matches, cannot opportunistically overlook the significance of political agitation amongst the working class in anti-fascist work. Anti-fascism has and always will be equal parts opposition and socialist agitation, and buttressing the former by abandoning the latter for greater public appeal underplays the working class desire for real alternatives and avoids the truly difficult work facing us. An anti-fascist movement will not succeed if it conceives of itself as separate from the Communist revolution, the theories that drive it, and the people who fight it.
A party that has a mutually discussed and unified platform that seeks to incorporate itself within the working class is a movement that can utilize a diversity of tactics. Lenin remarks in his Guerrilla Warfare that Marxism cannot “confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes” (5). In the era of reemergent American fascism, the right is constantly evolving to its contexts. The anti-fascist movement must keep up, and to do this, it must be active in working class communities. For Lenin, “Marxism learns from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies.” No one tactic, from physical confrontation to sabotage and protest, is sufficient to defeat fascism. The anti-fascist movement in the United States cannot be an armed wing of a politically vacant organization, nor an immobile “systematizing” one that refuses to participate until their “studied” expectations are met.
The rise of anti-fascism in 2017 has been one of the more encouraging developments in contemporary American politics. Anti-fascism must be a top priority for Leninist organizations in the United States, and advocating for democratic centralism, socialist agitation, and a diversity of tactics in this struggle will help in the construction of a Communist movement in the United States. The American Party of Labor has joined national and international anti-fascist struggles, from Portland and Chicago, to Texas, New Jersey, and Quito. In the spirit of Jack Shulman, Leninists must never forsake their principles, but always be willing to join with others in what Marxist-Leninist Dolores Ibárruri called in a farewell speech to the international brigades in 1938 “the cause of all advanced and progressive mankind” (6).