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Vol. 81/No. 12      March 27, 2017


Suppression of rights inevitably targets the working class

Below are excerpts from Counter-Mobilization: A Strategy to Fight Racist and Fascist Attacks. It contains the transcript of a 1975 discussion led by Farrell Dobbs. Dobbs was a leader of the 1930s Teamster strikes; central organizer of the first Teamster campaign to unionize over-the-road truck drivers; and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1953 to 1972. Other participants excerpted here are Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, and Steve Clark, at the time the national secretary of the Young Socialist Alliance. Copyright © 1976 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

FARRELL DOBBS: Starting from our initial premise — the aim of the capitalists with regard to fascism — I’m trying to look at each tactic from the point of view of its effect. What happens if you start out with the premise that you’re going to organize a battle to prevent the fascists from saying one word in public? What happens, on the other hand, if you operate on the basis of asserting and exercising the right to counterdemonstrate, to confront the fascists in this form without getting bogged down in the question of the fascists’ right of free speech? The first approach is to the advantage of the ruling class. The second approach puts you in a more favorable position and the ruling class in a more difficult position for carrying out its basic aim of crippling the rights of the antifascists.

To use a slight reformulation of that phrase of Malcolm X, the essence of the ruling class tactic toward oppositional movements like the struggle against fascism is to make the criminal appear to be the victim and the victim appear to be the criminal. They try that in every struggle, without exception. You always have to keep that in mind when you deal with the tactical nuances in the struggle.

Remember that tactics have to serve a strategic course, and the strategic course has to be closely attuned to the programmatic aims. It’s not advantageous to grab hold of a tactic because it seems appealing at the moment without always seeing the tactic in relation to the whole fundamental problem. …

STEVE CLARK: The concrete incident that led Ginny Hildebrand and I to want this discussion occurred at San Francisco State University. A professor invited a Nazi onto the campus to address his speech class on March 10, 1975. No right-wing student or faculty group was involved. In fact, the professor was known to have left-liberal leanings. The way he conducted his class was to bring in all kinds of professional speakers — preachers, Communists, and in this case a Nazi.

A demonstration was called with the stated aim of running this Nazi off campus and preventing his appearance before the class. It was called by the Spartacus Youth League, which describes itself as the youth section of the Spartacist League. The Progressive Labor Party and the Revolutionary Student Brigade were involved in one way or another on the same basic line. The real organizations with influence on campus — the Chicano student organization, the Black students organization, the women’s organization, and some others that were approached — didn’t want anything to do with the action.

The Young Socialist Alliance [YSA] refused to support or endorse this demonstration because of the way it was projected. We were aware of some of the basic ideas that Farrell laid out. We had learned the dangers of the confrontationist approach in the antiwar movement. …

We took a different tack than that proposed by Farrell on the question of the rights of Jensen, Shockley, the other academic racists, and, by implication, the fascists. We incorporated a lot of the lessons Farrell discussed. We opposed calling on the administration or the government to ban speakers. We thought we were avoiding the trap of placing the axis on freedom of speech, by avoiding actions like shouting the speakers down and other things which have led to unnecessary victimization of antiracists. But we said that the YSA does not believe racists and Nazis have the right to speak on campus. …

JACK BARNES: The processes going on in society, including class polarization, reflect themselves on campus. Let’s begin with that reality, and then we can fit all our strategy and tactics on campus into the broader strategy and tactics of the class struggle.

That’s why I think Farrell was right to begin where he did. We don’t start with the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, or the fascists. We start with the preparation of our class and its vanguard for the coming struggles. That’s the axis that everything we do revolves around. …

Tactically, you have to differentiate between Shockley and the Nazis. There is a whole spectrum of outright fascists, right-wing professors, right-wing students, secretly right-wing types, open racist elements, secretly racist elements, groups that favor a stronger role for the military, etc. You have to be aware of the qualitative differences between some of these shades as well as the breadth of the spectrum. You handle each type slightly differently.

At the point where we are in the evolution of class consciousness in this country, and the state of the student movement in relation to that overall level of class consciousness, you cannot deal with Shockley or Jensen exactly as you would deal with fascists.

On these questions we have the job of winning the minds not only of the masses but of the vanguard. Even many of the more capable students cannot self-confidently explain what’s wrong with these theories. You’ve got to take them on at that theoretical level, as well as on the level of the implicit politics of what Jensen and Shockley are doing. It will be greatly appreciated in the Black community if forces come forward to rebut this racist fakery in plain language, cogently and scientifically. On this question, one of our weapons is science.

Of course, we don’t invite these people to campus, but we also know that they are going to be on campus. There are going to be debates and people are going to go to them and a lot of racists are going to look to these pseudoscientists for ammunition. The young militants will want to know how to rebut the Jensens. They really appreciate it when you give them ammunition, answer their questions, clarify their confusions so that they can answer the questions of others in their milieu.
Related articles:
Debate rages over attack on political rights at Middlebury
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