Recent events in Kenosha, Wis., and Portland, Ore., are the biggest signs that a racist backlash is underway in the United States against the righteous rebellion that followed the police murder of George Floyd in May and has continued through the summer.
The backlash originates with the billionaire class of big capitalists, landlords and bankers, takes shape through its state, politicians and media, and ends in the violent white supremacist gangs that are carrying out attacks on protesters and communities of color, often in collaboration with local police.
On Aug. 29, activists in Kenosha bringing food to protesters were kidnapped by federal agents. On Sept. 3 in New York’s Times Square, cops escorted racist counter protesters to their car, which the fascists then drove into a crowd of Black Lives supporters, injuring several. In Louisville, Ky., armed fascists threatened protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor during the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. The same day, in Tallahassee, Fla., cops and Trump supporters targeted socialist student activists during protests that followed the grand jury exoneration of killer cops. The list goes on.
For Marxists, this is not an unexpected development. Every push forward by the masses in the struggle to secure their rights and advance their liberation is met by a counterattack of the ruling class, who are desperate to protect not only their own wealth and privileges but the capitalist system of exploitation upon which their power rests.
Anti-racist unity threatens bosses
The biggest threat to the capitalist system is working-class unity, and the bosses’ most powerful weapon against unity is racism. That’s why this summer’s massive uprising — uniting Black, Brown and white workers and youth against the racist cops — scares them so much.
President Donald Trump openly waves the flag of white supremacy and urges his fascist supporters to greater acts of racist violence to silence and intimidate the movement. Trump defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old white supremacist who murdered two protesters in cold blood and wounded another in Kenosha.
Shortly after, his supporters attacked Black Lives protesters in Portland. One of the Patriot Prayer neo-Nazis was allegedly shot dead by a white anti-fascist defending himself and other protesters. Trump then ordered a hit on Michael Reinoehl, which was carried out by federal agents on Sept. 3. Reinoehl’s assassination was meant as a warning to the anti-racist movement.
But the backlash extends beyond the ultraright. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has joined in, giving speeches and airing nationwide campaign ads condemning “looters” and “rioters” — essentially conceding Trump’s argument and aiding his campaign to demonize anti-racist protesters and the Black community.
Before the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Biden gave aid and encouragement to killer cops by vowing not to “defund the police,” reassuring his major funders and masters on Wall Street that nothing will really change if Democrats take the White House.
The pages and airwaves of “liberal” corporate media are filled with stories questioning whether anyone really wants to “defund the police” amidst a wave of shootings in major cities. (Whether this “crime wave” emanates from the corrupt police departments themselves, as it often has in the past when they felt their funding and power threatened, is a question that is never asked, however.)
Amidst all this blame-the-victim propaganda, we must remember that it was the burning of the police precinct in Minneapolis, and the righteous rebellion of the masses of people there and in other cities, that inspired the anti-racist struggle to new heights across the U.S. and forced the politicians and big business to address the epidemic of police violence.
What’s different this time
There are many examples of capitalist backlash against popular movements.
U.S. imperialism was taken by surprise by the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which came amidst a large and youthful anti-globalization movement. For a short time afterward, while the George W. Bush administration was reeling, there was an opportunity to speak and educate people about the crimes of the U.S. abroad.
Then came a crushing wave of repression and propaganda. The ruling class took over and dominated the narrative, marginalizing and ostracizing the struggle of the oppressed, and plotted new “endless wars.” The anti-globalization movement was crushed under its weight.
Similarly, during the Barack Obama administration, the Occupy Wall Street movement took the bosses and the government by surprise with its rapid spread to every nook and cranny of the country. Many of today’s most dedicated organizers got their start with Occupy. But when the capitalist state got coordinated and cracked down, the movement was quickly dispersed.
What’s different this time is that, despite the vicious backlash and very real threat of violence, people are still in the streets — and continue to come into the streets with each new racist police murder, from Atlanta to Kenosha, Los Angeles to Rochester, N.Y., and beyond.
The refusal of the people, especially young people, to be silenced is encouraging. But a spontaneous protest movement is not an unlimited resource, especially when the forces of the capitalist state are mobilized against it.
Unity and coordination needed
The urgent need is for greater unity and coordination of people’s organizations for the coming battles with the state and the fascists. This includes developing strategies for self-defense, new tactics to escalate the struggle in the streets and workplaces, and alternative forms of power to challenge the right of the presidency, the Congress, state legislatures and city councils to make the rules. This is true regardless of the outcome of November’s presidential election.
The broad movement in defense of Black lives needs to prepare for whatever may come in the next several months. The least likely scenario is a sweeping Biden victory, a peaceful Trump concession and a return to pre-2017 governmental norms, as bad as those were.
Police and fascist repression at polling places; massive voter suppression; interference with the Post Office and mail-in voting; manipulation of the undemocratic Electoral College system; fascist violence in the streets; an “October surprise” war against Venezuela, Iran or China; even a coup involving the military or other state forces — are all possibilities that revolutionaries must reckon with.
Underlying the volatile instability at the top is the cataclysmic crisis of capitalism, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created the greatest economic crisis for the workers and oppressed since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Now is the time for bold initiatives, careful planning, and building class-conscious, anti-racist organs of self defense. Time is short, but the human material exists and conditions are ripe for taking the first steps onto the path of revolutionary change. Let’s get to work.