Thousands Come Out to Stop Klan Terror

Labor/Black Mobilization Rides KKK Out of NYC

The following article was published in Workers Vanguard No. 722, 29 October 1999. WV is the biweekly newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., American section of the ICL.

New Yorkers came out in their thousands on October 23 determined to make sure the KKK didn’t ride in their city. They were mobilized by the call initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee, “All Out to Stop the KKK on October 23!” Hundreds of working people, students and others joined in distributing 175,000 of the PDC’s mobilizing leaflet in workplaces, campuses and neighborhoods throughout the city.

Thousands came out in defiance of the efforts of the Giuliani administration, its cops and the courts to deny their right to mobilize to stop the Klan. They came out in opposition to appeals by the phony “friends of labor” in the Democratic Party and self-appointed spokesmen for the black population who preached a “demonstration for tolerance” for the “rights” of the KKK. They knew this wasn’t an issue of “free speech” but of stopping Klan terror and murder. They came out to drive the Klan lynchers off their streets. And that’s exactly what they did.

Able to show their faces only under the protection of an army of cops, 17 Klansmen cowered outside the New York State Supreme Court, surrounded on all sides by at least 8,000 determined anti-Klan protesters. “Unmasked and Overwhelmed, the Klan Is Besieged at Rally,” headlined the New York Times the next day. As these hooded-and-robed racists scurried back into the courthouse under police escort barely midway through their scheduled rally, the trade unionists and others assembled under the PDC “Labor/Black Mobilization to Stop the KKK!” banner broke into nonstop chanting: “We stopped the Klan! We stopped the Klan!”

Headed up by union marshals with their arms linked, they marched up Lafayette Street displaying in victory the militancy, determination and defiance that was at the core of this mobilization centered on the social power of organized labor. “We gave a message to the city: This is not Klan country!” said a member of the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) Local 371. Local 371 came together with members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, postal, construction, civil service and many, many other trade unionists to form the backbone of the mobilization to stop the Klan.

These unionists, who knew that coming to a mobilization to stop the Klan was serious business, were above all what gave the mobilization its disciplined and determined character. They acted as marshals to protect the mobilization at 100 Centre Street. In the vanguard was SSEU Local 371, led by its president, Charles Ensley, whose members stationed themselves right in front of the speaker’s platform and then led a large contingent from 100 Centre Street to Foley Square a block away, where thousands of others had drifted in the hope of getting closer to the Klan. A thousand edgy cops, with many more in reserve, were restrained by this show of labor power.

The thousands who turned out saw this labor/black mobilization as their own, and many had indeed helped build it. Workers at transit locations, hospitals and UPS depots, on buses and subways, at municipal office buildings took stacks of leaflets to distribute and poster. Many demonstrators brought their own handmade signs or made them on the spot. People called out suggestions for additional chants to the speaker’s platform.

Student governments from Borough of Manhattan Community College, Lehman, Bronx Community, Hostos, as well as students and student organizations from Columbia and New York University, Sarah Lawrence, Cornell and many others, endorsed and helped build the mobilization to stop the Klan. Many students organized contingents from their campuses, which marched into the rally in groups. As the speaker for the Spartacus Youth Club—which helped build campus support—read off the names of the colleges and college groups, students cheered loudly.

For hundreds of students, this was not only their first taste of mass political action, but their first sense of the social power of labor organized in racially integrated unions. Speakers from the student contingents spoke with fire and passion, as exemplified by a young woman from City College who declared: “We are here to tell the KKK that you are cowards and if you would like to come to Washington Heights, if you would like to come to Harlem, and if you’d like to come to Brooklyn, we are waiting! Harlem is waiting, KKK!”

A Workers Party in Action

What was seen in the streets of New York City on October 23 was exactly what the PDC had said was necessary to stop the Klan: a powerful mobilization of the social power of the multiracial working class, standing at the head of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, immigrants, Jews, Catholics, gays, youth and all those the Klan has lined up in its sights. Our purpose was to give an organized and militant expression to the massive outrage against the Klan.

It was a united-front mobilization, which allowed for the expression of many diverse political viewpoints by all those who shared a commitment to the urgent necessity to stop the KKK. But it tapped into far more than that, intersecting the accumulated anger among the city’s working people, particularly blacks and Hispanics, who are fed up with being pushed around for years in the one-sided war against workers and the poor.

It galvanized the anger against the marauding, racist cops which exploded earlier this year over the killing of black African Amadou Diallo by the NYPD. It gave expression to the hundreds of thousands in this city—from unionized workers to immigrant cab drivers and hot dog vendors, CUNY students, artists, AIDS victims—who have had it with Giuliani’s mini-police state. It demonstrated an alternative to the Democratic Party politicians, their black front men and labor flunkies, who worked as feverishly to try to demobilize any independent outpouring of the working people and all the enemies of Klan terror as they had done to contain the protests over the Diallo killing within the confines of electoral pressure politics.

Many of the thousands who mobilized behind the anti-Klan rally were looking for the answer not only to stopping Klan terror but to fighting back against the entire system of racist capitalist exploitation and oppression. Demonstrators listened raptly to all the speeches from the platform. Many shouted, “That’s right, that’s right” when PDC labor coordinator Gene Herson denounced both the Democratic and Republican parties as enemies of labor and the oppressed. Calls for the working people to build their own class party were met with applause.

What was seen on the streets of New York City on October 23 was a microcosm of a workers party in action, i.e., the working class mobilized in its own interests, acting independently of the government and parties of the capitalist class. The PDC—a class-struggle legal and social defense organization whose purpose is in accordance with the views of the Marxist Spartacist League—initiated the call which brought to bear the social power of labor and its strong, militant component of black workers in defense of all the oppressed. That same power, those same forces which stopped the Klan from riding can organize the unorganized and unemployed, can mobilize in defense of the masses in the ghettos and barrios, can crack the “open shop” South—itself a product of KKK anti-union terror.

The successful labor/black mobilization brought to life the connection between labor’s fight and the fight for black freedom. Black oppression is the cornerstone of racist American capitalism. There is no road to eliminating the special oppression of black people other than the working-class conquest of power, and there will be no proletarian revolution to end class exploitation unless the working class actively takes up the fight for black rights.

The working class has the numbers, the organization and the power to win all those things that the ruling class appropriates for itself—health care, education, decent housing, abortion rights. What is lacking is the kind of leadership necessary to fight—a leadership of the unions that doesn’t bow down to the bosses’ laws, parties and state agencies, a workers party that doesn’t respect the property “rights” of the bourgeoisie. We need a workers party that fights for a workers government to rip the means of production from the capitalist class and institute a planned socialist economy that operates not for the profit of a few greedy exploiters but for the working people who produce the wealth of society. That is the kind of workers party that we communists of the Spartacist League are fighting to build.

The Political Battle to Stop the Klan

Just as the mobilization to stop the Klan in New York City on October 23 gave a real taste of the social forces and leadership required for socialist revolution in this country, it also starkly exposed the enemies and obstacles to organizing struggles of the working class in its own interests and in the interests of all those at the bottom of this society. These included the capitalist cops, courts and Giuliani city administration; the American Civil Liberties Union, which continued its revolting decades-long defense of “constitutional rights” for the fascist terrorists; the Democratic Party, whose calls for a “demonstration for tolerance” were aimed at trying to demobilize the working people and others who wanted to stop the Klan; Al Sharpton and the black establishment Amsterdam News, who grotesquely filed a court brief on behalf of the Klan; the International Socialist Organization (ISO), who leapt into the camp of Giuliani, the Democrats, Sharpton, the ACLU and the Klan against the PDC-initiated labor/black mobilization.

From the day that the Klan’s rally was publicly announced in a 13 October article in the New York Post, there was a contention of two counterposed class forces—those representing the interests of the capitalist ruling class and those representing the interests of the working class and its allies. The moment the PDC heard of the KKK’s plans, it applied for a permit to hold a demonstration at the same time and same place as the Klan’s announced rally site, 100 Centre Street. The call for a labor/black mobilization was issued immediately, and met with overwhelming support when it hit the streets. This mobilization had an impact on city politics not seen in years. The issue captured the front pages of the tabloids, dominated talk shows and call-ins on black radio stations, reportedly split union executive boards and drove the Democratic Party establishment to distraction.

The Giuliani administration and NYPD responded by setting to work in an attempt to block this mobilization. Colluding with them was an unholy alliance ranging from the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Norman Siegel, lawyer for the KKK, to Democratic State Assemblyman Scott Stringer and black Democrat Al Sharpton. The KKK’s rally site was secretly moved a block away to 60 Centre Street, information that was not made public for days. As it became clear that thousands of New Yorkers were rallying behind the PDC’s call, as tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed over the weekend of October 16-17, this cabal moved into high gear.

Stringer, joined by Sharpton and other Democratic Party pols, called a press conference on October 19 to announce that he had applied for a permit for a “demonstration for tolerance” at 60 Centre Street, where the Klan would stage its rally. That evening it came out, as a PDC press release reported, that Stringer & Co. were “colluding with the Klan and the Giuliani administration to cut a deal to share a sound permit with the KKK at 60 Centre Street.” The following day, Sharpton filed his amicus brief on behalf of the Klan. We fought on behalf of the tens of thousands of New York’s working people who wanted to stop the KKK, waging an incessant battle in the courts for their rights to free speech and assembly.

On October 21, a federal district court gave the Klansmen everything they had asked for and the working people were told they were to be muzzled. The court approved the deal cooked up by Siegel, Stringer and the Klan to share a sound permit and gave the KKK the right to stage their race-hate provocation in hoods with masks. The judges denied a sound permit for the labor/black mobilization at 60 Centre Street. As PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein declared, “This deal is an attempt to guarantee that only the Klan will be heard and not their intended victims.” She added, “The denial of a sound permit to the anti-Klan rally is a provocation against the mobilization organizers’ ability to hold a militant, orderly mass demonstration. A rally without centrally located sound and leadership is like a car without a steering wheel.”

Even the right-wing New York Post (23 October) denounced the court’s decision that the anti-Klan mobilization could not use loudspeakers at the same time as the KKK on the grounds that that would “snuff out the free speech” of the Klan. Indeed, the court ruling was a graphic illustration of the race and class bias of the capitalist “justice” system—a free ride for Klan terror and no rights for their intended victims! This was punctuated by the fact that the courthouse was literally used as a shelter for the KKK when it staged its race-hate rally.

When the Klan’s permit to rally with masks was retracted in a federal appeals court on October 22, a disinformation campaign was set in motion aimed at convincing people there was no reason to come out the next day since the KKK would not be there. A PDC press release that evening declared: “Whatever reports are circulating that the KKK currently has no permit to stage its race-hate provocation, the working people of this city have no reason to trust the word of these racist terrorists or the Giuliani administration. The only way to guarantee that the Klan does not rear its head in New York tomorrow is if the streets are filled with its opponents.”

And, on October 23, there were many thousands of determined opponents of the Klan filling the area around Centre Street. Here was the answer to Sharpton’s defense of the Klan’s right to “free speech.” Many of those who came out had personal experience with the burning cross, the lynch rope, the shotguns through which the Klan “speaks.” Despite being separated by helmeted riot cops and police barricades at different locations, they had come out not to show “tolerance” for the KKK as preached by Stringer and the Democrats but in response to the PDC call to stop the KKK.

The ISO—Traitors Exposed

Except for some of the Democratic Party faithful, like Local 1199 president Dennis Rivera, and a token endorsement by the leadership of the Central Labor Council, Stringer, Sharpton et al.’s call for “tolerance” fell on deaf ears. The only organization to leap into Stringer’s camp with energy and purpose was the International Socialist Organization, which did its level best to give a cover to the Democratic Party—and the Klan—against the organized working class.

The ISO endorsed a meeting called by a variety of lawyers and liberals to organize behind Stringer’s “demonstration for tolerance.” When representatives of the PDC intervened to call for uniting all those who wanted to stop the Klan on October 23, there were no takers. While Sharpton was outrageously defending the Klan’s “rights” in court, at the meeting the ISO enthused over what a good speaker Sharpton was and how many people he would draw to the Democratic Party diversion! As it turned out, Sharpton never even showed up on October 23, doubtless not anxious to face the jeers of the thousands who had come out to stop the KKK. But the ISO was there with bells on.

While shamelessly enlisting with the Democrats, the ISO tried to cover its despicable role by issuing a little-distributed leaflet under the heading “Stop the Klan!” Since their main purpose was opposed to stopping the KKK, this was pure cynicism. On site on October 23, the ISO continued to try to deceive people who had mobilized in response to the PDC’s call by steering them into the site of the Democrats’ location, which was a police trap. When people discovered this deception, many who tried to leave found their way blocked by the cops.

Having been provided a temporary, if unwitting, audience by the ISO’s treachery, Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer and others tried to turn the event into an election rally. They were repeatedly booed by the angry protesters who had not come out for election speeches or messages of “tolerance” but to stop Klan terror. While the anti-Klan demonstrators understood the role of the cops in protecting these nightriding terrorists, the ISO speaker stood in front of the banner of the Latino Officers Association. This is not unusual for the ISO, which has a long history of viewing the cops as “workers” and upholding their “right” to organize. Will these social democrats whose British paper once headlined “Are All Coppers Really Bastards?” now ask, “Are all Klansmen really bastards?”

With the ISO acting as the donkeys for the Democratic Party in trying to demobilize the mass labor-centered protest to stop the Klan, whatever pretenses it had to the cause of “workers power” have been stripped bare. The ISO stands exposed as the servants of capital against the interests of the working class, black people and all the oppressed.

While the rest of the left did not play so forward a role as the ISO in serving the interests of the Democratic Party, most remained silent in the face of the deadly Klan threat until Stringer and Sharpton started to call for a liberal diversion. The Communist Party endorsed the Stringer rally. Workers World Party (WWP) tried to have it both ways. Feigning some mock independence from the Democrats, they called for people to assemble at Stringer’s site, but somewhat later than the official starting time. Then, on October 23, WWP also had people at the PDC rally site, where they handed out placards that called to “stop the Klan” and for a “new trial” for black death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. When SYC comrades pointed out that this sowed illusions in the very same courts that had sentenced Jamal to death and had upheld the “right” to Klan terror, many of the people who had unwittingly taken WWP’s placards traded them in for PDC placards demanding freedom for Jamal.

In a very unusual move, the Stalin-lovers of Progressive Labor Party (PL), who smear “Trotskyites” as fascists, called on people to assemble at the site of the PDC mobilization, signing an endorsement form on the spot. Now a PL Internet statement crows how “thousands” were “led by PLP” and asserts, “It took the PLP to lead a breakaway march of hundreds who really wanted to confront the Klan.” In fact, what PL did was “lead” itself straight into a line of riot cops a short distance away. PL’s whole strategy of individual confrontations with the cops and the fascists is based on a rejection of the working class as a force for social struggle. Giuliani’s cops did arrest several anti-Klan protesters on October 23. We demand: Drop all the charges now!

The self-proclaimed redder-than-red communists of PL—who can’t tell the difference between a trade union and right-wing religious bigots like the Promise Keepers—are guided by absolutely no class criteria. Thus, they expressed no solidarity with the powerful Teamsters union during its strike against the UPS bosses. Instead, they dismissed this struggle as a battle between two wings of the ruling class! With its utter contempt for the organized working class, PL’s cries of “Kick the bosses in the ass” and “Death to the Klan” are little more than the bleatings of grandstanding liberals.

Linking the Power of Labor to the Anger of the Ghettos

The clear intent of the liberal Democrats and their allies was to block any independent expression of the power of labor and its allies to stop the Klan on October 23. But they seriously miscalculated the outrage throughout this city against the Klan rally and failed miserably in their efforts. Throughout the building for this labor/black mobilization, the Democrats and their labor lackeys evidently realized they couldn’t even try the usual violence-baiting and redbaiting of the PDC which has been attempted against previous PDC-initiated anti-fascist mobilizations. That’s not because they had any less fear of or hostility to labor being mobilized behind a class-struggle program, but because they recognized they couldn’t openly come out against the labor/black mobilization to stop the Klan in a city where the overwhelming mass of the population is directly in the cross hairs of the racist terrorists.

Many unions told us that they couldn’t endorse the PDC mobilization because their leadership was split over the question. Nonetheless, a number that didn’t endorse asked for stacks of the PDC’s mobilizing leaflet to put in their union halls. Dennis Rivera, who runs a well-oiled machine in Local 1199, made no overt attempt to mobilize his membership behind Stringer’s “free speech” diversion. Likewise, the hidebound craft-union bureaucrats at the head of the Central Labor Council who endorsed Stringer’s “demonstration for tolerance” did not put out the word that trade unionists should stay away from the labor/black mobilization.

What was reflected here was the fear of the labor bureaucrats and black Democrats that by opposing the PDC’s anti-Klan mobilization they could potentially detonate the anger building at the base of the unions, the outrage in the ghettos and barrios. But that didn’t stop them from trying to head it off.

In defending their legal efforts on behalf of the Klan, the editors of the Amsterdam News grotesquely echoed the racists who compared the Klan with Khallid Muhammad. Condemning this equation of the victims of Klan terror with its perpetrators, PDC labor coordinator Gene Herson responded: “The purpose of this is to conceal the real enemy and deny the true nature of the KKK. Khallid Muhammad is an anti-Semitic demagogue, but that’s all he is. The Klan is a terrorist action group whose purpose is genocide.” Speaking at a PDC press conference on October 19, Jim Webb of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists added, “Khallid has never murdered, lynched, burned churches, synagogues and homes.”

In its call initiating this mobilization, the PDC noted that the Klan was making a big mistake by thinking it could ride in New York City, and October 23 proved that. The thousands who turned out that day sent a powerful message that the KKK had better not try it again. This mobilization was also a powerful response to the demagogy of Muhammad and his former mentor, Louis Farrakhan, who seek to channel the anger of the ghetto into bigotry against Jewish, Arab and Asian shopkeepers in order that they can be the sole exploiters of the ghetto masses. This response was palpable in minority neighborhoods throughout the city.

A Korean shopkeeper in Harlem came out of his store to donate money and hand out leaflets to build for the anti-Klan mobilization. In Chinatown, a merchant took a stack of leaflets and taught PDC soapboxers how to say “stop the Klan” in Chinese, immediately drawing sympathetic crowds. At the mobilization itself, many black participants remarked on the multiracial character of the turnout and echoed denunciations of anti-Semitism from the speaker’s platform.

In contrast to the preaching of liberal “diversity”—like Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition” or David Dinkins’ “beautiful mosaic”—which means acceptance of the racist status quo and Democratic Party ethnic politics, this was a powerful demonstration of class unity and unity of the oppressed behind the social power of the multiracial working class. One chant in particular resonated at the PDC mobilization: “Asian, Latin, black and white—Workers of the world, unite!” Everyone could see that proletarian power right before their eyes in this labor-centered anti-Klan mobilization.

The Fight for a Workers America

The Klan was born out of the bloody reaction in the South following the defeat of the slavocracy in the American Civil War. These were the hooded-and-robed agents of the former Confederacy, who carried out a campaign of terror, intimidation, mutilation and murder aimed at strangling the political rights that were won by the freed slaves during Reconstruction. The KKK spearheaded the restoration of white supremacy in the form of the system of Jim Crow segregation that held sway for nearly a century. It heralded a resurgence, reaching several million strong in the 1920s, with the lynching of Jewish businessman Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915.

Today the Klan is the lowlife, terrorist bunch held in reserve by the American capitalist ruling class. This ruling class, a tiny minority which expropriates all the real wealth of this society, believes that everyone else has no rights which this rich, white man’s government is bound to respect. This capitalist ruling class needs the homegrown Nazis of the KKK, to be deployed to crush the organizations of the working class when the masses can no longer be lulled by the lie that their interests are represented by capitalist “democracy.”

The political battle required to build the labor/black mobilization which stopped the Klan from riding in NYC contains important lessons for all those who want to struggle against union-busting, racism, poverty, homelessness, war and all the other hideous expressions of a system rooted in exploitation and racial oppression. Central is that the capitalist state is not neutral. It is the instrument for organized violence to ensure the rule of one class—the capitalists—over another class, the proletariat. As Marxists, we know that the bourgeois state at its core consists of special armed bodies of men—the cops, the military, the prison system and the whole “justice system”—whose job is to protect the profits and rule of the capitalists and to repress the workers. All historical experience has shown that the working class cannot reform the state and use it in its own interests but must create its own state, a workers state. The revolutionary fight for proletarian state power is the only road to black freedom and the emancipation of labor and all the oppressed.

We didn’t invent the perspective on which our anti-Klan mobilizations are based. It is the concrete application of the experience of the Bolshevik Party which led the first, and only, successful working-class revolution in history—the October Revolution of 1917. Like the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy in this country which undermines the gains that were won through hard class struggle, the gains of the Russian Revolution were betrayed by the Stalinist bureaucracy which hijacked the exercise of political power by the workers. Paralleling the policies of the AFL-CIO tops, the Stalinists pursued class collaboration, not internationalist class struggle. Ultimately, this led to the destruction of the Soviet Union by the forces of imperialism and domestic counterrevolution in 1991-92.

Since then, the imperialist rulers have been celebrating the “death of communism.” But communism isn’t dead—it is the program that expresses the class interests of the workers and oppressed, growing out of their aspirations and struggles for a society of genuine equality and social justice. What is needed to realize those aspirations is a workers party, which can bring the consciousness to the working class of its social power and historic interests in fighting the rule of capital and every manifestation of the barbarity of this system. What is needed is a workers revolution, which will break the power of the few and liberate the many—the working people and their allies—who will employ the wealth created by their labor for the benefit of the majority both in America and around the globe. On October 23, thousands of New York’s working people and minorities got a small taste of that workers power.


Running Dogs of the Democrats

ISO Covers for KKK

Mass Labor/Black Mobilization Rattles PL

The following article was published in Workers Vanguard No. 723, 12 November 1999. WV is the biweekly newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., American section of the ICL.

The October 23 labor/black mobilization that drove the Klan from the streets of New York left an imprint on the consciousness of thousands of workers, black and Hispanic militants, students and others who got a taste of what could happen when the social power of the multiracial proletariat was mobilized independently of the capitalist class enemy. It also laid bare the obstacles to such a class mobilization in the form of not only the open agencies and parties of the capitalists—the cops and courts, Giuliani’s City Hall and the “friend of labor” Democrats—but also the self-styled socialists who do their bidding. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) acted purely and simply as running dogs for the capitalist Democrats. For its part, the Progressive Labor Party (PL) dismissed the mass labor-centered mobilization initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee and sought to substitute its own small forces against the Klan terrorists.

The ISO social democrats provided a pale pink cover for the cynical machinations of Democrats Scott Stringer and Al Sharpton as they actively worked to head off the labor/black mobilization. Stringer colluded with the Giuliani administration as the Klan’s rally site was secretly moved from where the PDC had called for the labor/black mobilization to stop the Klan and then agreed to share a sound permit with the KKK. Sharpton worked the airwaves trying to convince black people not to come out against the KKK lynchers, then endorsed Stringer’s “tolerance”—for the Klan—diversion and even went to court on the Klan’s behalf on October 20.

That very evening, at an organizing meeting for the Stringer/Sharpton “demonstration for tolerance,” an ISO member gushed about what a wonderful speaker Sharpton was and how many people he would draw. On the morning of the October 23 mobilization itself, an ISO member from Columbia University baited one of our comrades: “If anyone is going to bring out thousands, it’s Al Sharpton, not you guys!” In the upshot, Sharpton didn’t even bring himself out, no doubt ill-inclined to face the fury of demonstrators disgusted by his defense of the Klan. Now, well after the fact, the ISO’s Socialist Worker (5 November) slaps its erstwhile idol Sharpton on the wrist for defending the KKK!

In another ruse to cover its tracks, the ISO put out a flyer for an October 28 meeting on “Lessons of the Anti-KKK Demo” which asks: “Who Do the Government and Cops Serve?” Well, on the afternoon of October 23, some of these cops served to hold up the banner of the Latino Officers Association that provided a backdrop for the ISO speaker on the Democrats’ platform, while their fellow cops massed to protect the robed and hooded racists.

Left Wing of “Democratic” Imperialism

Providing cover for the racist nightriders in league with the cops and capitalist politicians certainly strips bare what socialist pretensions the ISO has. But such treachery comes naturally to these reformists, who see in the “democratic” capitalist state and its cops and courts potential allies of the oppressed and have supported police “strikes” from one in NYC in 1971 to one by Toronto prison guards in 1996. The ISO’s British patron, Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party, even ran an article titled “Are All Coppers Really Bastards?” which claimed that the cops would cease to be “agents of the state” if they “rebel collectively” (Socialist Worker, 8 February 1997). How about the NYPD’s “collective rebellion” in September 1992, when 10,000 armed cops besieged City Hall in a lynch mob frenzy against black Democratic mayor David Dinkins? When the cops “rebel collectively,” it is to get more firepower and throw off any constraints on their murderous rampages against working people and minorities.

Just as the ISO views cops as “workers,” it looks to the capitalist class enemy to “clean up” the unions. The ISO-supported Teamsters for a Democratic Union literally wrote the blueprint for the Justice Department’s takeover of that union in the late 1980s, capping a decades-long government vendetta against the Teamsters. We say: Cops out of the labor movement! Government hands off the unions!

Embrace of “democratic” capitalism has been the Cliffites’ lodestar since that tendency’s formation. Cliff was expelled by the Trotskyist Fourth International at the outset of the Korean War in 1950, when he refused to defend North Korea and China against U.S. and British imperialism in the Korean War. In the name of “anti-Stalinism” and their spurious, anti-Marxist “theory” that the Soviet degenerated workers state was “state capitalist,” the Cliffites went on to support every reactionary force intent on smashing the Soviet Union—from cutthroat Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan to CIA/ Vatican-backed Polish Solidarność (see “The Bankruptcy of ‘New Class’ Theories,” Spartacist No. 55, Autumn 1999). When Russia’s Boris Yeltsin and his pro-imperialist “democrats” in 1991 launched the capitalist counterrevolution which led to the final undoing of the October Revolution of 1917, the Cliffites cheered, “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991).

As long as the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe existed, we Trotskyists called for their unconditional military defense against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, as we do today in the case of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. We fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies.

PL: Revolutionary Phrasemongering

Where the social-democratic ISO openly embraced the Democrats who provided a platform for the Klan, the Stalinoid Progressive Labor Party counterposed its confrontationist posturing to the PDC-initiated mobilization of labor/ black power which rode the Klan out of New York. PL actually called on people to assemble at the PDC rally site and had a contingent there, endorsing the labor/black mobilization on the spot. Immediately after the mobilization, a PL Internet statement ludicrously claimed that “thousands” were “led by PLP” that day and crowed, “It took the PLP to lead a breakaway march of hundreds who really wanted to confront the Klan.” In fact, as we wrote last issue, “what PL did was ‘lead’ itself straight into a line of riot cops a short distance away.”

Now PL’s Challenge (3 November) rails about “the enemy in our midst” in the form of “two counter-demonstrations,” one organized by “liberal politicians from the Democratic Party” and the other by “the fake leftists of the Spartacist/ Partisan Defense Committee.” The Challenge report recounts futile attempts by isolated groups of PLers to push through police lines—“Back and forth we went, fighting the cops, trying to get more people into our group so we could lead an all-out attack on the Klan”—and enthuses that when the KKK first showed up “three anti-racists organized by PLP” managed to land a few blows against the Klansmen. The PDC has contributed to the legal defense of the arrested anti-Klan protesters and demands: Drop all charges now!

But such substitutionalism is utterly ineffective as a strategy to stop the fascists. It dismisses the need for and is in fact counterposed to the mass mobilization of labor and its allies. As the PDC call for the labor/black mobilization declared: “What is needed is a determined, disciplined mobilization of labor standing at the head of all the oppressed to stop the fascists, not for small groups to engage in confrontations with the police which accomplish nothing other than getting some heads busted and people thrown in jail.” What kept the cops at bay on October 23 was the show of labor power, including disciplined contingents of trade unionists, mobilized by the PDC.

PL is clearly rattled by this mass anti-Klan mobilization initiated by those it customarily denounces as “Trotskyite fascists.” In the issue of Challenge (27 October) immediately following the anti-Klan mobilization, PL came out for the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal after refusing for years to defend him on the grounds that Jamal is a “black nationalist.” Challenge even acknowledges that “the Trotskyite group, the Spartacists, have made Mumia a major thrust of their organizing one of the main defense committees.” PL then attacks us as “very unprincipled” for “never criticizing Mumia’s nationalist politics.” Our policy of class-struggle defense of those victimized by the racist capitalist state is non-sectarian, i.e., it is not dependent on the political viewpoints of those we defend. Moreover, our position for revolutionary integrationism as against all currents of black nationalism and liberal reformism is expressed in numerous publications which we distribute at Jamal defense rallies.

PL’s sectarianism is directly linked to its rejection of the need for a political struggle to win the proletariat to revolutionary consciousness. In fact, while in practice carrying out “left-center coalition” opportunist maneuvers within the unions, PL dismisses the unions as “pro-boss” organizations that must be “smashed.” PL explicitly denies any class distinction between the mass organizations of the working class under pro-capitalist leadership and church groups, the imperialist army and thoroughly reactionary outfits like the all-male religious bigots of Promise Keepers!

The social-democratic ISO is abjectly servile to the bourgeois liberals. The Stalinoid PL combines adventurist confrontationism and empty “fight for communism” rhetoric with philistine backwardness. But these are flip sides of the same opportunist coin: both the ISO and PL despair of the possibility of making the working class conscious of its historic interest in overthrowing capitalism. For this, it is necessary to forge a revolutionary workers party on the model of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who led the Russian proletariat to victory in the October Revolution of 1917. The October 23 labor/black mobilization in New York City was a step on the road to forging that party.

ICL Home Page