Note: The following is from an old Socialist Workers Party Education for Socialists bulletin: The Fight Against Fascism in the USA
Intro: The Struggle Against Racism and Fascism Today
New racist groups developed in the 1970s in opposition to efforts to achieve school desegregation through busing. Academicians like Jensen and Shockley found new audiences for pseudoscientific “theories” about the genetic inferiority of Black people. The atmosphere created by such forces stirred fascist groups into new activity. Some radicals argued that antiracist counteractions should try to prevent racists and fascists from speaking. They claimed that free speech does not apply to such views. Focusing primarily on the free speech aspect of the question, YSA leader Malik Miah proposed a different strategy in a speech given in May 1975.
Free Speech and the Fight Against the Ultraright
By Malik Miah
Malik Miah is the former national chairperson of the Young Socialist Alliance and a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. This article is based on a report he made to the June 7-10, 1975, plenum of the YSA National Committee. It is reprinted from the August 1975 issue of the International Socialist Review, which appeared as a supplement to the August 1, 1975 issue of the Militant.
The past year has seen a sharpening of racist discrimination and violence nurtured by the government, from President Ford down to the local school boards and police departments. The government and corporations are trying to force Black people and other oppressed minorities to bear the greatest burden of the current depression, through discriminatory layoffs and cutbacks in welfare funds, child care, and education. As part of this racist offensive, the politicians, media, and police have cooperated to encourage racist violence aimed at beating back the civil rights gains won by Black people in the past. The spearhead of this campaign has been in Boston, where the school committee and the racist organization ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) have tried to physically prevent the implementation of school desegregation. The racist offensive by the government and employers has been the breeding ground for other racist fanatics and right-wing and fascist organizations. In West Virginia a reactionary movement has arisen to try to eliminate scientific textbooks and books by Black authors from the-public schools. There has been increased activity—including violent activity—by the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazis, and other rightist outfits. Both the Klan and the Nazis sent organizers to Boston last fall when the desegregation struggle broke out, sensing fertile ground for their program of hate and violence. In Los Angeles, Nazi and right-wing Cuban exile groups have waged a bombing campaign against socialist organizations, Palestinian groups, and civil liberties groups.
This rise of racist and right-wing activity has extended onto the campuses as well. The Black-inferiority theories of academics such as William Shockley and Arthur Jensen are widely propagated. The Klan and the Nazis are both on stepped-up recruiting drives, sending speakers to campuses. In response to the general racist offensive, the NAACP, the National Student Coalition Against Racism (NSCAR), the Young Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Workers party, and many other groups have joined together in organizing antiracist demonstrations and meetings around the country. Most effective so far was the May17 antiracist march in Boston. On the campuses, students have been faced with the question of how best to answer such racist or fascist elements when they come to try to spread their influence. Over the past year the Young Socialist Alliance has helped organize a number of effective actions against racist academics and right-wing hucksters on the campuses, for example, at Yale University and at St. Cloud State College in Minnesota. In each case the YSA began from the point of view that the most effective way to deal with these racists was through a campaign of education and broadly sponsored protest actions. The aim is to win over the majority of students in a massive repudiation of the racists and rightists, to demoralize them, defeat their organizing drives, and drive them back into their ratholes. Part of this strategy is to win the support of Black community organizations and unions, which are the social forces that have the greatest power to stop racist and fascist violence. Other organizations have taken a different approach, advocating the tactic of shouting down racist and right-wing • speakers or attempting to physically break up their meetings. Some also call on the school administration to ban these speakers from campus because of their reactionary ideas. Variations on this general position are held by the Maoist Revolutionary Student Brigade, the Progressive Labor party, and the Spartacus Youth League. The SYL, for example, puts forward the slogan, “No platform for the fascists,” and denies what it calls the “supposed ‘right to freedom of speech” of fascist groups.
In fighting the racists off the campus as well, these groups oppose the strategy of building mass mobilizations against the reactionaries. In Boston, for example, the Progressive Labor party favors militaristic confrontations by small groups with South Boston racists, rather than supporting the strategy of mass action embodied in the NAACP May 17 demonstration. The RSB boycotted the May 17 action. The Spartacist League, which is allied with the SYL, attended the demonstration of 15,000, but attacked. it as “impotent.” The increasingly dangerous role played by the racist and rightist organizations makes it important for all opponents of racism and supporters of democratic rights to consider, carefully how best to combat them. In deciding what tactics are most effective, it is useful to look first at what these racist and fascist gangs represent in a historical sense. This will reveal what the antiracist forces are up against in deciding to take these groups on. What tactics to employ today will then come more clearly into focus.
The situation in the United States today is, of course, not one of a large-scale rise of fascism. There are no mass fascist organizations. The existing ultrarightist organizations, such as the Nazis, can do little more than conduct propaganda—as vicious as it may be—and resort to isolated, small-scale acts of violence. They are conscious purveyors of fascist views, proclaiming Hitler as their hero. In this form they are unacceptable to the masses in the United States. More important now is the racist violence of groups such as ROAR in Boston, with its friends in the school committee and city hall, as well as the step-up in racist police brutality. t can be expected that such groups will grow as the economic, social, and political crisis deepens. The United States is entering a period of a qualitatively deeper economic crisis than it has ever faced before. This is reflected in the fact that the current recession is deeper than any since the Great Depression and in the fact that it is part of a world recession. Even when the country comes out of the current downturn, the probability is that there will be shorter and shorter intervals between even more drastic downturns. It is this type of situation—prolonged economic uncertainties and crisis—that is a precondition for the rise of a full-fledged fascist movement. Fascism is a specific social phenomenon exemplified most clearly by the movements and regimes headed by the German Nazis and Mussolini’s Blackshirts. It is important to use the term scientifically and to distinguish between the rise of small groups with a fascist ideology on the one hand, and the rise of a mass fascist movement or the imminent threat of a fascist regime taking power on the other.
Those who loosely called the Nixon administration “fascist,” for example, are not likely to be taken seriously when they try to sound the alarm about the real thing. Some of the most important characteristics of the rise of a fascist movement are:
A fascist movement is a mass movement based primarily on sections of the population standing between the two most powerful classes—the working class and the class of big capitalists. These “in-between” layers include small businesspeople and shopkeepers, professional people, farmers, and higher-level government functionaries. Another layer that is always a prime recruiting ground for the fascists is the police and army officers. Sections of the working class can also be attracted to a fascist movement, especially the most privileged layers, and the most degraded layers, who are demoralized by unemployment or driven by poverty and hopelessness to antisocial acts.
A fascist movement feeds on the despair and frenzy that grip these layers of the population as a result of severe economic crisis, as their shops are squeezed out of business, their standard of living is slashed, or their means of livelihood threatened. Fascist lenders use “anti-establishment” demagogy—sometimes even “socialist” or “revolutionary”-sounding rhetoric—to appeal to the dissatisfaction of the masses of people with the status quo. Thus the German fascists called themselves National Socialists. Fascists try to turn the anger of all those threatened with ruin by the capitalist crisis against the oppressed racial minorities and organized labor. In this country, the approach of fascist organizations in the l930s and l940s was to claim to be the representatives of the “little man” against both the big capitalists and the “communists,” directing their fire especially at Blacks, Jews and “big labor.” In his book Fascism and Big Business, Daniel Guerin points out that “fascism’s game is to call itself anti-capitalist without seriously attacking capitalism.”
Fascists appeal to all the backward, obscurantist traditions, customs, and prejudices that have been deeply embedded in people through the repressive nature of all class society. Racism, sexism, superstition, mysticism, and national chauvinism are key weapons used by the fascist demagogues.
When a fascist movement becomes powerful enough to move toward taking governmental power, it means that major sections of the ruling capitalist class have decided in favor of giving the fascists full rein. It means the big banks and corporations have begun large-scale financing of the fascist groups. This occurs when the economic crisis brings forth massive resistance on the part of the working class, and the capitalists see fascism as the only possible means of maintaining their rule. In effect they resort to a form of civil war to beat the working class into submission. The troops at the side of capitalism in this civil war are supplied by the fascist-led movement.
Thus, fascism is not simply a new form of dictatorial rule. New police-state methods are not sufficient to defeat a strong, organized workers movement. Then ruling class needs on its side the added force of the desperate middle class and backward workers. Through mass terror, murder, and other forms of intimidation carried out by these forces, the capitalist class aims at completely crushing, atomizing, and demoralizing the labor movement. In general the capitalists would prefer not to have to resort to fascism. It is much more efficient for them to rule “democratically’ through mass illusions in their system. But as the workers movement grows and develops in face of social crisis, their fear of socialist revolution makes the step a necessity for them. However, the ruling class a does not make the move in one leap. It begins with a process of increased attacks on the democratic rights of workers- through legal repressive measures as well as extralegal ones, including small-scale collaboration with rightist groups.
5) Leon Trotsky explained that the reason fascism triumphed in Italy in 1922 and in – Germany in 1933 was because of a default in leadership of the working class by the Communist and Socialist parties. The Russian revolution of 1917 demonstrated that the middle classes do not have to be won by reaction. If the workers organizations are able to project a bold, revolutionary program, a way forward out of the crisis, they can win the middle layers over to the anticapitalist struggle, just as the Bolsheviks won over decisive sections of the Russian peasantry. The defeat of fascism is only possible in the final analysis with the defeat of capitalism. The question of who should rule will be decided in major class battles. This means a revolutionary socialist combat party must be built to lead the workers to accomplish this task. But if the workers’ leadership is indecisive and incapable of uniting the class to exert its full power, then the middle layers can become embittered against the workers movement and turn elsewhere in search of radical solutions. In Germany the Stalinized Communist party took the disastrous position that the Social Democratic party was just as bad as the fascists. The CP refused to organize a united-front struggle with the Social Democrats, and Hitler’s regime of terror triumphed without a struggle from the workers.
Trotsky wrote in 1940: “In all the countries where fascism became victorious, we had before the growth of fascism and its victory, a wave of radicalism of the masses; of the workers and the poorer peasants and farmers, and of the petty bourgeois class. Only after these. . . tremendous waves, did Fascism become a big movement There are no exceptions to this rule—Fascism comes only when the working class shows complete incapacity to take into its own hands the fate of society.”
The name or forms under which a fascist movement might arise in this country cannot be predicted. But it is likely that an American fascist movement will not simply ape the German or Italian fascists, as the American Nazis do. It won’t identify with hated figures like Hitler. It will be camouflaged, its features emerging from the American class struggle and American prejudices. An American fascist movement might look more like ROAR (although ROAR is not now fascist) than a group sporting helmets and swastikas. Or it might emerge from sections of the Democratic or Republican parties, like Joseph McCarthy or Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, New Jersey, who, Leon Trotsky thought, could be designated a fascist. It could also be noted that a fascist movement might incorporate elements like the National Caucus of Labor Committees, a group that evolved from a socialist organization to a fascist-type group, just as Mussolini did. Under cover of radical-sounding rhetoric about a CIA-Rockefeller plot and gimmicky tax schemes, this group has carried out thug attacks on the Communist party, the SWP and YSA, and trade unionists. It issues vicious, racist hate sheets against Blacks and Puerto Ricans, and opposes all strikes. It has unusually generous financial sources that allow it to send organizers to other countries. The racist and right-wing groups we see today are breeding grounds of what can become a capitalist-backed mass extralegal force aimed at attacking and eliminating the organizations and democratic rights of the labor movement, the Black movement, and all the oppressed. This is the full dimension of the problem before the antiracist movement. Already we see that the current racist offensive, abetted by the racist and right-wing groups, is an attack on the most militant section of the working class, Black people. It is clear from history that the threat represented by the racist and rightist groups cannot be defeated by small groups. The only effective counter-strategy is to unite the labor movement, the Black movement, and their allies in countermobilizations that make it politically and physically impossible for the racist and right-wing groups to get away with their violent attacks on the democratic rights of others.
In the face of racist mobilizations, the antiracist movement today should exercise its democratic right to counterdemonstrate in protest.
In face of right-wing violence, the antiracist forces have the democratic right of self-defense—which should, however, be exercised judiciously through forms adapted to the specifics of the situation. The way to beat back these forces is to out mobilize them in the streets, to show them that they are a minority and cannot intimidate the opponents of racism. This is the case because their goal is precisely to strike fear into those on the side of working people and Black people. Even though there is no mass fascist movement today, the debate over how to combat existing racist and right-wing groups is of great importance. Experiences gained by the antiracist movement today will be preparation for larger confrontations to come, contributing to the development of a leadership of the working class and oppressed minorities competent to defeat the fascists, in future battles in the struggle for socialist revolution. The struggles taking place on the campuses can play an important role in building the general’ antiracist countermobilization. Campus struggles will be an aid to antiracist movements off the campus, such as for school desegregation. And, on the other hand, forces from the working class and the Black community can he drawn into aiding the students’ actions. With the full implications of the antiracist struggle in mind, the problem with the “no platform for fascists” position—the position that racist or fascist meetings should be banned or disrupted—becomes clear.
First of all, the danger presented by these reactionary organizations does not arise primarily from their speaking and expounding their ideas. It arises from their violent actions in violation of the democratic rights of others—such as the ROAR lynch-type mobs that have stoned and beaten children and other Black people in Boston, the Nazi bombings in Los Angeles, and the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi terror campaigns against Black families in the West Englewood section of Chicago and in the Rosedale section of Queens, New York. It is a question of groups that have carried out hundreds of lynchings of Blacks, and who often endorse Hitler’s mass murder of the Jews and use of gangs of thugs with knives, blackjacks, and guns against trade unionists. To call for banning or disrupting the racists’ meetings shifts the axis of the struggle away from exposing their real nature as violent elements out to attack the democratic rights of working people and Blacks, and onto the question of whether they should have democratic rights. The “no platform” tactic gives the racists and fascists a new weapon to use against their opponents. It allows these thugs to pose as a persecuted minority or as defenders of democratic rights. Students, as well as most Americans, are correctly concerned about protecting their own democratic’ rights. The “no platform” position raises the question: Exactly which groups should be banned from expressing their views, and who is to decide this? Where Should the line be drawn? Should only open fascists be banned? What about the KKK, which does not claim to be fascist? What about racist groups like ROAR, in which fascists are active? What about less blatant but more powerful racists like President Ford, who gave the green light to the racist mobs in Boston with his statement against busing last fall? What about Boston Mayor Kevin White, who has made secret deals with ROAR and promised them money out of city fends? What about the notorious racist George Meany? The confusion is confounded by the fact that some of the sectarian groups that call for “no platform for fascists” have their own definition of “fascists.” For example, the Revolutionary Student Brigade calls the YSA “fascist” and has physically attacked YSA members selling the Young Socialist and the Militant in public places. Some of these groups also include Democrats and Republicans in their category of who should not be allowed to speak publicly. The Progressive Labor party and the Spartacist League, among other groups, tried numerous times to shout down Democratic party politicians who spoke at antiwar meetings and demonstrations in the 1960s and early 1970s.
This “no platform” approach generates fear of radicals as small groups that are trying to force people to adhere to their views or be silent.
Many students and others can become so confused by these considerations that they will side with the racists on the question of free speech instead of joining antiracists in a counterdemonstration. Many of the people might be staunchly opposed to the racists and could contribute important forces to the struggle, if the tactics proposed did not confuse the issue. It is useful to look further at the logic of the “no platform” position. Consider a hypothetical situation of a referendum on a campus to ban all racist speakers. One thing that could happen is that Zionist students—who have considerable strength on many campuses—could attempt to use such a ban against supporters of the Palestinian people. If it were agreed that a referendum could be used to ban racist ideas—and the ideas of the Zionists definitely fit that category—this could open the door to pro-Zionist student bodies voting to bar Arab speakers from the campus with the false charge that they are “anti-Semitic.” The concept of stamping out unpopular ideas—even by majority vote— clearly leads to more harm than good. Its logic is that only those ideas considered acceptable by the majority could be freely expressed—which automatically eliminates most radical ideas at present. Students and faculty should be able to control the university facilities, but not what ideas can be expressed on campus. Democratic procedures imply not only majority rule, but also the right of free competition of ideas, on the basis of which people then make up their minds. Just as antiracists should not call on the administration to ban fascist or racist speakers, it is also counterproductive to call on the university to fire racist professors simply because of their ideas. To do so would give the administration a chance to, as Malcolm X put it, make the criminal look like the victim and the victims look like the criminal. The firing of professors with racist theories would set the precedent for the firing of Marxist or other radical professors. The authorities are always. looking for excuses to fire dissident teachers—as happened to professors Angela Davis, Bruce Franklin, and Morris Staraky, to cite a few examples.
Of course, teachers who insult or mistreat their students in a racist manner, or are engaged in using campus facilities for police training, behavior modification, or other racist projects are a different question. There it is not a question of expression of ideas, but rather of the misuse of campus facilities for racist actions. Another example that helps clarify this question is the struggle against military recruiters, ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), and war research on campus. When this became an issue during the anti-Vietnam War movement, the YSA drew the distinction between a prowar speaker—such as Melvin Laird or William Westmoreland—and recruiters or researchers who were on campus to build up the war machine. On the one hand, we did not try to bar prowar speakers because of their ideas. We helped organize demonstrations, picket lines, and sometimes debates. In this way we helped expose the prowar speaker as well as the federal government and any university complicity with the war. But when military recruiters came onto campus, we demanded that the university withdraw its invitation to them. What was involved was not a question of democratic rights, but rather an attempt by the government to use campus facilities to help carry out their imperialist war effort in Vietnam. Our opposition to ROTC and war research also stemmed from our view that the university should not be used as an arm of the military. In cases where the question was put to a referendum, the YSA and other antiwar students went on a campaign to convince the majority why ROTC should be thrown off campus.
These examples illustrate why an effective struggle against reactionary ideas and violence cannot be carried out if one begins by placing qualifications on democratic rights in the case of fascists. This stand not only cuts across the mobilization of the maximum number of antiracist forces; it also reflects a lack of understanding of the prime importance of the principle of democratic rights to the working class and all the oppressed. Democratic rights create better conditions for the education and organization of the oppressed against their oppressors. They mean the right to form trade unions and. other organizations to defend the interests of the masses. They mean the right to hold meetings and distribute leaflets and newspapers, which is necessary for winning the majority away from the reactionaries.
Revolutionary socialists are for the fullest democratic rights under capitalism as well as under socialism. The only exception, in which a temporary abridgement of democratic rights might be called for, would be under conditions of civil war, when the logic of war becomes applicable. One historical example that could be cited is the situation during the American Civil War; This war look place at a time when the capitalist system was still capable of carrying out a progressive fight against the more backward social system of slavery. During the war, President Lincoln ordered that any person could be arrested in the North simply for speaking out in support of the Southern slaveholders.This was a violation of free speech, yet justified under conditions of warfare, when the Southern slaveowners had tried to violently frustrate the will of the majority in the country.
Likewise, during the Russian revolution of 1917 and after its victory, when twenty-two countries joined in military action to try to overthrow the first workers state, the Soviets banned those parties that joined forces with the counterrevolutionary side in the civil war.
Trotsky explained this in the following way in his article “Freedom of the Press and the Working Class” (International Socialist Review, June 1975):
“Once at the helm, the proletariat may find itself forced, for a certain time, to take special measures against the bourgeoisie, if the bourgeoisie assumes an attitude of open rebellion against the workers state. In that case, restricting freedom of the press goes hand in hand with all the other measures employed in waging a civil war. Naturally, if you are forced to use artillery and planes against the enemy, you cannot permit this same enemy to maintain his own centers of news and propaganda within the armed camp of the proletariat.”
Nevertheless, Trotsky warned that “measures of this kind can only be a temporary, unavoidable evil.”
Because of the importance of democratic rights to the oppressed, the denial of this right to racists and fascists can only backfire. It has been proven throughout the history of capitalism that any suppression of democratic rights is ultimately turned against the working class. One illustration of this is the application of the Smith Act, which supposedly banned “subversive” ideas from either the right or the left. While the thirty fascists indicted under this act during World War II got off scot-free, members of the Socialist Workers party and, after the war, the Communist party were convicted and given heavy prison sentences. Another case where this problem was raised concerned a rally organized by George Lincoln Rockwell, former head of the American Nazis, for July 4, 1960, in New York City’s Union Square. After a counterdemonstration against the Nazis was announced, the Nazis were denied a permit for the rally by the city government on the grounds that it might start a “riot.”
The Socialist Workers party opposed this move by the city. It was clear that if the government was able to ban a fascist rally, it could do the same thing if the SWP or another workers organization or Black organization tried to organize a rally. The city government could use the same pretense– to prevent “riots” and “stop the extremists from both right and left.” At the same time, the SWP was in the forefront of organizing the counterdemonstration against the Nazis. To call on the government or campus authorities to ban racist or fascist speakers helps to foster the illusion that the capitalist government and institutions can be looked to as a force to stop the fascists. History has shown, to the contrary, that the capitalist authorities, while claiming to stand for democracy, protect the reactionary terror gangs and look on them as the nuclei of the last-ditch defenders of their system.
As Leon Trotsky explained in his article “Why I Consented to Appear Before the Dies Committee”:
“The outlawing of fascist groups would inevitably have a fictitious character: as reactionary organizations they can easily change color and adapt themselves to any kind of organizational form since the influential sections of the ruling class and of the government apparatus sympathize Considerably with them and these sympathies inevitably increase during times of political Crisis.”
While opposing government denial of free speech and assembly to anyone, the antiracist forces should vigorously call for government arrest and prosecution of racists or right-wingers who carry out any acts of violence. A call for the arrest of rightist terrorists is not a call on the government to restrict democratic rights, but rather to enforce the democratic right of everyone to equal protection of the law against physical attack. Here again there is the problem that the capitalist government does not consistently defend democratic rights. The government and its police will drag their feet on taking any action against rightist thugs. But a campaign exposing their protection of rightist hoodlums can force them to take some action. The best current example of this kind of campaign is in Los Angeles, where the Nazis and Cuban counterrevolutionary gangs have carried out a series of terror bombings and arson against the YSA, the SWP, and other groups. There the YSA’s approach is to focus on forcing the city government, headed by Mayor Tom Bradley, to arrest and prosecute those responsible, and building mass support for our democratic right to exist, through united-front protests with all those concerned about this terrorist threat. The YSA does not, however, call on the government to ban the Nazis, nor do we propose that Nazis be prohibited from speaking on campuses in the city. Another argument used to justify a call for banning or physically breaking up reactionary meetings is that fascism can thereby be “nipped in the bud,” or somehow stopped even before it gets started. For example, the Young Spartacus, publication of the SYL, carried an article in its June 1975 issue that prominently displayed in large letters a quote attributed to the German fascist leader Joseph Goebbels: “If the enemy had known how weak we were, it would probably have reduced us to jelly – . . . It would have crushed in blood the very beginning of our work.” The implication is that that is precisely what should be done today. And the method, the article explains, is to do as the Young Spartacus League did March 10 at San Francisco State University. The SYL and others physically attacked a few fascists scheduled to speak in a class on campus. Their slogan was “No platform for fascists.” All this succeeded in doing was to give the Nazis the opportunity to return to the campus with leaflets protesting the denial of their democratic rights, while making the Spartacus Youth League look like it was against democratic rights. Such tactics reinforce the prejudices of many people who think socialists are fighting for a system that will do away with democratic rights, as is the case in the Soviet Union. To the contrary, socialists must convince the masses of people that they are the most consistent defenders of democratic rights, against the government’s infringement of those rights. The SYL tactics cut across the main axis of the fight against the fascists: their threat to the democratic rights of others. The task for socialists is not to prove their “toughness” in fighting handfuls of fascists, but rather to build an effective mass response that isolates and demoralizes them. A fascist movement cannot be “nipped in the bud” no matter how many of their meetings are disrupted. This theory shows a lack of understanding of the social conditions and forces that lie behind the growth of fascist organizations. The development of a real fascist threat will not be the work of the handful of individuals who make up the fascist groups today. It will be a mass movement playing on the fears of large sections of the population and backed by major sectors of the ruling class, The despair created by economic crisis, together with the aid and comfort provided to fascist demagogues by the ruling class, will bring forth new fascist forces no matter how many individual rightists are beaten up by the tiny SYL today. They can only be defeated by the conscious action of masses of working people and Black people who have learned through their own experience what they represent.
In their frenzy to “nip the fascists in the bud,” the SYL and other ultraleft groups fail to see the greater challenge posed today by groups such as ROAR, or the racists Jensen and Shockley. This was obvious in an article in the May 23 issue of Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League, describing an incident along the line of march at the May 17 antiracist demonstration in Boston. “The marchers’ response to a small counterdemonstration by a band of Nazis was instructive,” says the article. “As the SL and others moved to deal with the racist scum, SWP and NAACP marchers linked arms to keep the indignant crowd from getting at the Fascists. The police moved immediately to protect the Nazis.” The demonstration marshals were completely right to try to avoid provocations from the group of Nazis and halt the irresponsible actions of the SL in order to keep the focus of the march clearly on ROAR and the Boston School Committee. A fracas with the Nazis could have given the cops an excuse to attack the whole demonstration.
In considering how to respond to reactionary speakers on campus, it is important to draw the distinction be between racist forces such as Jensen and Shockley and ROAR on the one hand, and groups such as the American Nazis on the other. The Jensens and ROARS are not looked on by masses of Americans as the reactionaries they are. They are not seen as a threat to the whole working class. All too many white people even share their blatant prejudices. The Nazis, on the other hand, are widely viewed as dangerous, or even “un-American.” The Jensens and the ROARS are the main threat today. They are the ones who are spearheading the government’s racist offensive, which is affecting the entire Black community with discriminatory layoffs and cutbacks. Their racist theories of Black inferiority and their demand for racial segregation of schools gain a sympathetic response from millions of whites. Their demagogy must be seriously answered and exposed before the mass of students and of American working people.
If a ROAR representative comes onto a campus to speak, the antiracist forces should not call on the administration to ban the speaker. This would only provide ROAR and other racists with a phony “free speech” issue to aid them in their organizing efforts. More effective methods might be to challenge the racist speaker to a debate, to write leaflets and articles exposing their positions or to build a protest action with the broadest support possible.
The YSA has no disagreement with the proponents of the “no platform” approach that the racists and fascists on the rise today are vicious and dangerous scum. The disagreement is over how to combat them most effectively. Most effective is to confront the fascists’ ideas ideologically and their actions through counteractions. The “no platform” approach blunts our effectiveness. It means that the struggle against racism and fascism is turned “inside out.” Instead of coming across for what it really is—a struggle in defense of the democratic rights of the working class and oppressed minorities—the struggle is turned into a sterile dispute over the “rights” of the fascists. That is advantageous to them, not to the antiracist movement