The Klan & the Government: Foes or Allies? [Sam Marcy]

Neo-fascism in the 1980s:

Where It Comes From

January 25, 1981

The U.S. working class should not fall prey to the deadly illusion that the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the growth of fascist violence in widely separated areas of the country is a fleeting, momentary phenomenon, soon destined to sink into oblivion as conditions rapidly change.

This very attractive if not alluring prognosis can only disarm the broad mass of the people and subject them to the kind of passivity in the face of danger which can only lead to catastrophe.

This conception of the menace of KKK and neo-Nazi terror is buttressed by sophisticated liberal apologetics which tell us that extremist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis mushroom only during periods of so-called "national frustration," and that they disappear as soon as economic conditions improve and international tensions begin to ease. As these conditions begin to take hold, even the Reagan administration will tend to move away from the Right and move to occupy the center, these liberals say.

All this we are told signifies that class contradictions will tend to soften rather than sharpen. In the course of this development the liberal establishment will again begin to assert itself and the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum will be cast into the dustbin of history.

Moreover we are too often reminded that almost every capitalist politician who has achieved some prominence nationally has had to denounce and condemn fascist violence and the neo-Nazis.

Even Ronald Reagan and James Griffin, the reactionary, racist mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., have had to denounce the Nazis and the KKK as did the former mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, and his like.

Finally, it is said (and this is all too true) that the overwhelming majority of the working class, the oppressed, and their allies are dead set against the Nazis and the KKK.

Of course, Tom Metzger, the Imperial Wizard of the California KKK, got almost 33,000 votes, or 15% of his Republican opponent's more than a quarter-million votes when he ran for Congress in 1980. And fascist Gerald Carlson won 32% of the primary vote in Detroit in a Republican contest for Congress. But the numerical or electoral strength of the combined Nazi-KKK forces appears infinitesimally small if arrayed against the tens of millions in the electorate.

However, posing the question on an arithmetical as against a political basis is the most fraudulent of all methods of assessing the subsequent evolution of basic trends in contemporary capitalist society. Unquestionably the Nazis and KKK are infinitely small groups when one compares them to the mass of the U.S. population. It is not however their numerical strength which has significance (although it is not to be discounted).

Symptom of capitalist disease

It is the symptomatic importance of the rise of the KKK and neo-Nazis which is of greatest moment in apprehending the direction that events are surely taking. The Nazi-KKK menace in the U.S. is a symptom of a profoundly significant disease which has become congenital to the entire social system of capitalist exploitation and oppression.

If the growth of the KKK and the Nazis were an isolated phenomenon divorced from the degenerative effects of monopoly capitalism, if these groups had no ties to and were not supported, encouraged, and promoted by formidable sections of the ruling class, they would be merely a sterile and stagnant combination of racist thugs, even though they are oriented to prey upon growing unemployment, economic dislocation, skyrocketing prices and the cost-of-living. But that is not at all the case.

The growth of fascism everywhere has been securely tied to big business; that is its lifeline.

A case might be made for the liberal apologists' view under the following conditions. If there were a prolonged softening of the class struggle, rather than its growing acuteness on a world scale; if a swift and protracted economic recovery on a truly high level of production were in the wind, if an easing instead of an aggravation of international tensions were to come, if a sharp drop rather than a tremendous hike in swollen defense expenditures were really to take place in the immediate period ahead.

Such conditional "ifs," however, are wholly unwarranted by the very grim realities of the present situation as it continues to develop.

Liberals don't speak for monopolist bourgeoisie

If the bourgeois liberal view as a class force represented the viewpoint or the orientation of the capitalist establishment as a whole, as it did on occasion in the past, its forecast would have to be taken into account, at least as one element, in appraising the evolution of political trends in the period ahead.

But the liberal bourgeoisie, for the most part, is a cast-out element. It has been in the process of decline for a very considerable period. Far from speaking for the capitalist establishment, it is trying desperately to retain some toehold by propitiating the rightists in the imperialist firmament.

The ruling class as a whole have rejected and disqualified the orientation of bourgeois liberalism. They are not full of optimism about a speedy recovery from the deep-going economic malaise which afflicts all of society, and whose burden falls so heavily on the shoulders of the workers and the oppressed.

Rather than seeking peaceful solutions to international problems, the new Reaganite administrators of the capitalist state are hell-bent on war. They may decide to talk softly and cover themselves with pacifist phraseology for a period of time, but mainly for the purpose of gaining time to gear up the war machine and militarize the country as a whole.

The two most formidable and preponderant elements in the capitalist establishment – Big Oil, that untrammeled octopus which pervades every nook and corner of social existence in the country, and the unbridled military – are the most prone to promote lawlessness and extra-legal, extra-parliamentary and paramilitary force to gain their ends. They, together with the military-industrial complex are the very infrastructure of contemporary capitalist society.

It is they who finance the growth of a thousand-and-one single-issue reactionary organizations and who cannot but look benignly upon and covertly finance KKK and neo-Nazi thugs. To them it is just one more covert operation which for public purposes is out-of-bounds of the legal framework of the capitalist government.

The array of giant multi-national corporations that compose the monopolist bourgeoisie are all connected in one way or another with the military and Big Oil either being subjected by them or allied with them in friendly, cooperative, "shared" areas of collaboration. None of the monopolist bourgeoisie any longer lean in or even give the semblance of leaning in a liberal direction.

End of free trade

The end of the free trade policy by Chrysler and Ford, and tomorrow by others, spells out political adventurism abroad and vicious reactionary assaults on the living standards of the masses at home. The launching of a new export drive by the U.S. to pump up the capitalist economy only succeeds in fueling the militarist inclination to protect and defend whatever growing war expenditures the giant monopolies and multinational conglomerates muster.

All this cannot but inevitably provoke a resurgence of the working class and oppressed masses to meet the menace of political reaction unloosed by the ruling class.

Big Oil and military

Of all the fallacies concerning U.S. politics, the worst is that which seeks to divorce and separate the most vicious and outrageous symptoms of capitalist reaction from the development of the degenerative aspects of monopoly capitalism.

It is Big Oil and the military which have unloosed the general political reaction and brought in the Reaganites to administer the state.

The old hands were good and praiseworthy in some areas of their stewardship (so goes the right-wing palaver), but the new hands will be firmer, more brutal. Indeed, they openly boast that they have an "SOB factor," which is popularly conceived to be mere nastiness when, in reality what is meant is the promotion and execution of dirty tricks and covert paramilitary operations, not only abroad, but also at home.

The financing and the spread of neo-fascist and downright KKK and Nazi groupings is a logical supplement to the legal repressive and terrorist apparatus of the capitalist state in times of need. For that reason, a short-lived perspective in fighting the fascist menace is erroneous.

The struggle against fascism, which is only in its embryonic form at the moment, must entail the perspective of involving the broadest social forces of present-day society in the struggle against capitalism. Capitalism is the fountainhead of political reaction in general and of KKK and neo-Nazi terror in particular.

It is impossible to conduct a consistent antifascist policy unless one takes into account the key and decisive factor in overwhelming and destroying the fascist menace; it is the working class, the oppressed people and their allies.

There can be no substitute, however one tries, for involving the broadest masses of workers and oppressed to overwhelm the fascist threat.

The fascist menace cannot be legislated out of existence. The employment of legal, judicial and other methods in the struggle against fascism is necessary and often indispensable as a prerequisite to winning the broadest sections of the masses. But reliance upon the capitalist state to effectuate political measures directed against the threat of fascism is a hopeless, deadly illusion.

Nowhere, and at no time, has a capitalist government ever effectuated legislation clearly directed against fascism and proscribed existing fascist organizations without at the same time also limiting and proscribing the existence of revolutionary, working-class organizations.

The general tendency of capitalist legislation against fascist organizations generally comes down to banning "subversive organizations in general," which is an umbrella formula to prohibit progressive working-class and revolutionary organizations while at the same time protecting and defending the right-wing and fascist organizations.

Lessons of Buffalo, N.Y.

The Buffalo experience has shown in microcosm what the bourgeoisie is capable of doing when faced with a fascist threat.[1] When the mayor of Buffalo was finally forced to take cognizance of the Nazi-KKK demonstration, he and the capitalist establishment, with the complete cooperation of (if not in conspiracy with) the capitalist media, moved to ban the anti-fascist demonstration under cover of banning both the right and the left.

This is a classic example of how a terrified capitalist city administration reacts when challenged by a neo-Nazi-KKK threat. First, they try to do nothing. Then they get their liberal friends and luminaries to ridicule the neo-Nazi menace and say that it doesn't exist. And then when the menace shows determination to demonstrate in the heart of the city, they advise the workers and the oppressed to boycott it, ignore it in the face of racist murders which have yet to be solved.

When all this fails and when a counter-demonstration against the KKK and Nazis shows promise of encompassing a broad coalition of civil rights, progressive, and working-class organizations to effectively confront the KKK and Nazi thugs, then (and only then) does the capitalist city administration assume its posture of "fighting" against the Nazis. But how? By presumably banning both demonstrations, but in reality aiming to ban only the anti-fascist demonstration.

What was truly important about the Buffalo experience was that a militant and progressive coalition demonstrated a determination to go through with its demonstration in the face of an illegal and unconstitutional ban. And finally the mayor and the capitalist establishment were forced to abandon the ban in the face of this militant and inflexible determination to hold the demonstration and not surrender the right to freedom of assembly in the face of the combined threats by the capitalist government, the press and the police.

In a further effort to try to displace, discredit, and frighten the mass of the people away from the militant anti-fascist coalition, the mayor and the city administration were obliged to sponsor their own government-supported and establishment-controlled rally to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Intransigence, which is so indispensable in any working-class struggle, did not alone account for the victory of the anti-fascist progressive coalition in Buffalo. It was also careful assessment of the political relationship of forces in the area and in the country. It was good, efficient organization, free from any dogmatic approach to the phenomenon of fascist violence, free from sectarianism. It was reliance on the mass of the workers and progressives, and attempts to achieve the broadest possible alliance with all elements willing, ready and able to put up a vigorous struggle.

Buffalo was a microcosm of what the ruling class can and will do in the face of a fascist menace. It is also a microcosm of what can be done by the working class movement to achieve victory in the face of what appear to be overwhelming odds.


1. The Nazi Party announced it would demonstrate in Buffalo, N.Y., on January 15, 1981, Martin Luther King's birthday. This came at a time when a string of shocking racist murders of Black men had occurred in this same city. A coalition of labor progressive and community groups immediately called for a counter-demonstration. It was only then that the mayor of Buffalo banned all demonstrations. Two thousand people demonstrated anyway against two Nazis heavily guarded by police. [return]

Last updated: 18 August 2017