More than twenty years ago, Race Traitor published an editorial addressed to anti-racist activists. We are re-posting it here, hoping to engage the brave individuals who risked their lives facing down the fascists in the streets of Charlottesville a few days ago and the many more people across the US who support and praise their actions. We have no simple answer to the question of how best to defeat today’s fascists, who are more numerous, more sophisticated and more committed to a reactionary overthrow of the existing social and political order than were their forerunners a generation ago. Nor do we have a fully satisfactory analysis of the relationship among the various forces assembled within the block of Trump supporters and would not want to underestimate its volatility and potential danger. We note the inability of the president to enforce party discipline—even on members of his own family—when it came to defending his “wink and a nod” condemnation of violence, and think it wise to appreciate all of the official forces arrayed against him and his whims. We continue to believe that, if we defeated all the fascists and stopped all the “racists,” we would remain trapped within a society where “race” not only determines all too many matters of consequence for millions but also hinders the emergence of a mass movement that could put an end to the social and economic conditions that produce everyday misery for just about everyone and nourish the soil that allows fascist barbarism to attract thousands to its banners. Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey
Anti-fascism, “Anti-racism,” and Abolition
There now exist in this country and around the world a number of organizing projects, research centers, and publications that call themselves “anti-racist.” Almost all the attention of the “anti-racist” movement is focused on groups like the nazis and the klan that explicitly avow their racism, and on various movements like anti-abortion and anti-gay rights that are largely led by people on the far right of the political spectrum, and its programmatic initiatives are directed almost exclusively at combating these forces.
We think this is a mistake. Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, race is not the work of racists. On the contrary, it is reproduced by the principal institutions of society, among which are the schools (which define “excellence”), the labor market (which defines “employment”), the law (which defines “crime”), the welfare system (which defines “poverty”), and the family (which defines “kinship”)—and it is reinforced by various reform programs which address many of the social problems traditionally of concern to the “left.”
Racist and far-right groups in the main represent caricatures of reality in this race-defined society; at most they are efforts by a few to push the race line farther than what is currently considered proper. If that is the case, the “anti-racist” movement is seriously misreading the roots of the race problem, and pursuing an erroneous strategy for addressing it.
Race Traitor believes that the main target of those who seek to eradicate the color line should be the institutions and behaviors that maintain it: the schools, the criminal justice and welfare systems, the employers and unions, and the family. In this we stand with the original Abolitionists, who never tired of pointing out that the problem was not the slaveholders of Carolina, but the loyal citizens of Massachusetts.
We recently saw a report on an attempt by group of self-proclaimed nazis to hold a “Gay-bashing” fest in New Hope, Pennsylvania. According to the report, what happened is this: on learning that the nazis planned to march and rally, a group of their opponents called a counter-rally. The nazis, fearful for their safety, called off their march, but proceeded with the rally, which took place as scheduled behind a wall of police, who protected the nazis from the hostile crowd. The report states, “Residents of New Hope and anti-fascist organizers alike claimed the cancellation of the march as a victory for anti-fascist organizers. By creating the possibility of hundreds or thousands of counter-protesters willing to physically confront the nazis, we made it impossible for them to march. This strategy, of organizing for the possibility of physical confrontation, and bringing hundreds of people willing to carry it out, is clearly a successful one and needs to be pursued in the future.”
We are not so sure. That the cancellation of the march was a defeat for the nazis we have no doubt; but it seems to us that it was more of a victory for the state than for the anti-fascist organizers, because the state was able to emerge as the defender of both free speech and law-and-order, marginalizing the “extremists” on both sides—those who want to build death camps and those who want to prevent their construction. We are inclined to agree with another commentator who called the counter-demonstration “ineffective.”
We favor beating nazis off the streets wherever they appear and militant confrontations with “racists” or other reactionaries of the right (or the left). But we ask, what is the purpose of this “strategy”? If it is to do material damage to the fascists, then it takes no genius to point out that such damage can be done them more effectively on virtually any day of the year other than when they appear in public surrounded by a wall of cops and television cameras. If it is to win people out of the nazi ranks, we have no way of knowing how effective such actions are. If the aim is to expose the state as the defender of nazis, that is only a very partial truth; the state is the defender of public order, and has shown itself quite willing to repress nazis and other white supremacist groups who threaten that order. And if the purpose is to win people to a vision of a world without race barriers, then we must say that any action which aims to crush the nazis physically and fails to do so because of state intervention has the effect of reinforcing the authority of the state, which, as we said, is the most important agency maintaining race barriers.