“Communists should know that, in any case, the future belongs to them; therefore, we must combine the most intense passion in the great revolutionary struggle, with the coolest and most sober appraisal of the frenzied ravings of the bourgeoisie.” – V.I. Lenin
The clashes in Charlottesville yesterday saw both remarkable success and painful loss for the anti-fascist forces in the United States. On one hand, the fascist event was dispersed before it was scheduled to begin, and videos quickly circulated of anti-fascists physically removing fascists as they attempted to leave. On the other, the heroic martyrdom of 32-year-old Heather Heyer has prompted vigils across the country last evening and today. The August 12th action in Charlottesville brought with it profound loss, but anti-fascists must carry on the heroic work of all those killed and injured by the fascist murderer James Alex Fields Jr. by continuing to pursue a no-platform campaign against Nazis across the country. As it has developed in the United States from Berkeley to Austin to Charlottesville, a no-platform anti-fascist method refuses to allow any fascist action to occur in public without organized opposition forces utilizing any means available, practical, and appropriate. This no-platform campaign succeeded yesterday in completely shutting down and isolating Nazis in Charlottesville, and it is a method that we must, in the memory of Heather Heyer and all those killed and injured, take to every place the American fascist movement seeks to plant its flag of genocide and slavery.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11th and 12th were the most recent manifestations of the resurgent American fascist movement and the forces that drive it. During periods of economic and political crisis, idealism is reinforced by the ruling class to help combat rising class consciousness. Capitalism and liberal democracy, in particular, are natural breeding grounds for the worst of fascism’s tendencies. This reactionary idealism is protected both by liberal democratic notions of “freedom of speech” and the ruling class that seeks to use it for its own ends. These ideals find fertile ground among the disaffected petite bourgeoisie and its sympathetic sections of the working class.
Here in the United States, these conditions have come together to weave a tapestry of conspiratorial nonsense, “ironic fascism,” and classical racism that the American public has come to know as the “alt-right.” Though this fever-dream of mismatched ideas has proven difficult to pin down, it has also made it difficult for the forces of reaction to act cohesively. Brief unity was achieved during Trump’s electoral campaign, but once he was elected the differences in ideals drove wedges between them once more. It was amidst this political backdrop of conflicting idealist views and irreverent demagogy that alt-right organizers decided to try and bring order to this circus on their own terms. Fascist groups of both the new and old schools came together on August 12th in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, to test this new kind of unity.
The sequence of events that would lead to the tragic demise of comrade Heather Heyer began the day before the scheduled rally. Late Friday night on August 11th, a large group of white nationalists marched on University of Virginia grounds carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans. Cries of “white lives matter,” “blood and soil,” and the vile “Jews will not replace us” echoed throughout the campus. Counter-protesters clashed with the nationalists despite being outnumbered. The ensuing violence drew the attention of the police, who declared the rally an unlawful assembly and dispersed the crowd with pepper spray. Several reports on the ground denoted a slow police response time to fascist belligerence against peaceful protesters, which is to be expected and underlines the connection between the bourgeois state and the American fascists.
The second day proved far less successful for the fascists. The forces of reaction intended to organize bright and early, bringing together a presence as early as 11 a.m. in preparation for noon rally at Emancipation Park. Fortunately, tireless anti-fascists and heroic members of the masses were also mobilizing early, and rushed to meet them on the streets. Violent clashes broke out between the two sides with the fascists yelling racial epithets at Charlottesville locals and protesters alike. This prompted Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency. Empowered by the bourgeois state apparatus, the police jumped into the fray assaulting protesters and counter-protesters alike. The fascists became divided, some following the orders of their police idols while others displayed varying levels of resistance to police orders. Richard Spencer, darling of the alt-right, shoved police and was detained and pepper-sprayed while begging the pigs to defy their orders, asserting meekly that “I am not resisting!”
Though the fascists had intended to start the rally at noon, by that time the rally was already defeated. Anti-fascist organizing and direct confrontation had forced the hand of the bourgeois state apparatus. Apart from the minimal resistance put up by splintered fascist groups against the police, the vast majority retreated down the streets of Charlottesville in the hopes of regrouping. They attempted to turn their retreat into a march, further chanting racist slogans and spewing reactionary filth as they went. The masses and anti-fascists followed them with dogged determination. Further skirmishes broke out, including a spectacular assault on a separated group of fascists by a parking garage. Elsewhere, counter-protesters took to the streets in celebration of their victory, chanting anti-racist slogans in sharp contrast to the vitriol spouted by the reactionaries that day and the night before.
It was at one of these impromptu anti-racist marches that tragedy struck. A gray 2010 Dodge Challenger accelerated down a busy street and crashed into the back of another car, sending them both into a crowd of people. Bodies flew and flipped over hoods as the Dodge Challenger reversed at high speed, slamming into even more people as the driver made his escape. It was here that Heather Heyer was tragically and heroically martyred. Dozens of others suffered varying levels of injury alongside her. James Alex Fields Jr., a registered Republican and member of the Neo-Nazi Vanguard America group, was later arrested and charged with second-degree murder. The end of the day saw half-hearted condemnations of the attack from McAuliffe. Donald Trump also demurred from condemning fascism, instead condemning violence from “many sides.”
But anti-fascists know it was not some romanticized vision of the American past or a laughably Trump-endorsed pacifism that defeated fascism yesterday and will defeat fascism tomorrow. It was the courageous actions of activists like Heather Heyer using a no-platform method that drove them from the streets. No-platforming worked yesterday and will work in the future because it attacks two main functions of the fascist party as analyzed by Leninists throughout history. Fascism first seeks to establish an alliance with bourgeois forces to what Italian communist and survivor of fascist persecution Palmiro Togliatti called “force the large working masses under its control and … suppress any attempt by the working masses to liberate themselves” (Lectures on Fascism). Second, and as is evident in contemporary American fascist organizing, fascists also seek to infiltrate and co-opt working class organizations towards this goal of making the working class subservient to finance capital. For Leninists, as Togliatti argues, this only proves that all political organizations develop a class character and that is essential for anti-fascists to enter into this realm to undermine the fascist corruption of working class struggles. No-platforming subverts fascists’ ability to pursue these goals by building working class organizations and relationships at the local level, and countering fascist populism with real working class political organization. The chief lesson of the events in Charleston that started on the night of August 11th must be that no-platforming enables anti-fascists to sabotage fascist organizing.
Thus, just as the reactionary and jihadist ISIS lashed out in the wake of the collapse of its cause, American fascists lashed out yesterday in an act of domestic terror. Acknowledging that they had failed to co-opt working class communities in Charlottesville or make a firm alliance with the bourgeois state, the defeated, no-platformed fascists resorted to simple terrorism. This political death throe took the life of Heather Heyer, and demonstrated the enduring threat of fascism to all progressive people in the United States even in its failures. Anti-fascists everywhere must take up her name in their movements and remember her sacrifice beside those of the many heroic martyrs to fascist violence. In invoking those lost and hurt, it is essential we pick up their banner of a no-platform campaign to prevent the further development of a fascist movement in the United States. By no-platforming American fascists consistently and everywhere, we can honor the legacy of Heather Heyer, and in the words of so many of the anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville yesterday, ensure that fascism once and for all stays on “the wrong side of history.”