Letter to the Spartacist League
No Free Speech for Fascists!
International Bolshevik Tendency
Box 405, Cooper Station
New York, NY 10276
13 November 1999
Box 1377, GPO
New York, NY 10116
We congratulate you for the Spartacist League’s (SL) role in ensuring that the KKK provocation in New York City on 23 October was met by mass protest. Despite many serious differences with the SL over the years, we freely acknowledge that you were critically important in triggering the demonstrations against these fascist terrorists. In taking this initiative, you acted in the interests of all working people and the oppressed.
Without seeking to minimize the importance of your contribution, we also find it necessary to raise certain important criticisms, and make some factual corrections to the 29 October Workers Vanguard (WV)coverage of the event. WV described the rally as:
“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.”
Unfortunately you organized the protest as an SL-controlled affair, rather than a united front. While you sought to involve other organizations (including your leftist competitors), they were only presented with the option of endorsing your event. There were indeed “diverse political viewpoints” among the participants in the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) demonstration, but it was the SL leadership that decided which of them would get the chance to be heard.
It would have been better to have invited representatives of a spectrum of labor, black, leftist, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic, feminist and other organizations known to actively oppose the Klan to a meeting for the purpose of organizing a common demonstration. Instead, the SL/PDC made all the decisions and arrangements itself, a conception reflected in WV‘s description of it as “a microcosm of a workers party in action.” A party is a different thing than a united front. One of the main benefits of a united front is that it permits various groups to unite their forces in pursuit of a common goal without first resolving their differences. While you undoubtedly derived certain advantages from holding all the strings, both in terms of simplifying the logistics and not having to share the political credit, they were gained at the cost of narrowing the sponsorship of the action, which created new problems.
A more broadly-based initiative which involved activists outside the orbit of the SL might have made it much more difficult for the Democrats to get their divisive “demonstration for tolerance” off the ground. WV mentions that at a meeting endorsed by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) that had been “called by a variety of lawyers and liberals to organize behind [Democratic State Assemblyman Scott] Stringer’s ‘demonstration for tolerance'” PDC representatives found “no takers” for their proposal for unity. But it seems that even at that late date, the PDC was only proposing “unity” on the basis of having the liberals endorse the SL’s event.
The Democrats’ demonstration was clearly a response to the PDC initiative–an attempt to divert people from a militant anti-fascist mobilization. Their willingness to share a sound permit with the Klan murderers was outrageous, and the fact that the ISO, the Communist Party (CP) and assorted other leftists backed them is a scandal. But unlike the Democrats, the ISO, CP and other leftist organizations are contradictory formations. They are of course politically hostile to the SL and unwilling to promote, or even participate in, a PDC event, let alone follow your leadership. A demonstration organized on a more inclusive, united-front basis that gave other groups the chance to take part in the planning and building of an anti-KKK rally might have helped undercut this sectarian response.
At the PDC rally, a couple of pro-socialist political opponents of the SL (Emily Woo Yamasaki of Radical Women and Roy Rollin of Staten Island’s College Voice) were called on, but none of the SL’s more serious competitors (i.e., the Internationalist Group, the League for the Revolutionary Party and ourselves) were permitted to speak. WV‘s explanation is that:
“Because the speeches were interrupted when the KKK was sighted, a number of scheduled speakers from endorsing organizations did not get to address the rally….”
Yet your rally started at noon, and the Klan did not appear until 2 pm as expected. During the intervening two hours a variety of SL speakers and unaffiliated individuals were called on.
We recall that you employed the same tactic in November 1988 at a PDC anti-Klan rally in Philadelphia. On that occasion, there was no “interruption” as the fascists did not appear at all. Yet despite the fact that we were the only group (besides the SL and its affiliates) that organized a contingent in that demonstration we were not put on the speakers list, supposedly due to a lack of time.
This time WV failed to even list us as an endorsing organization, despite the fact that, at your instruction, I personally visited your office several days prior to the event, signed an endorsement form, made a financial donation and was even issued a receipt by comrade Joel S. Comrade Jake of the PDC promised to look into this and we expect to soon see a correction.
The WV account seeks to alibi what was clearly a policy of political exclusion by claiming that, “the Partisan Defense Committee itself” did not get a speaker. Yet you print a picture of “PDC labor coordinator Gene Herson…on the speaker’s platform” and even report the crowd’s response to his remarks:
“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.”
And then there is the issue of what actually took place on 23 October. The impression conveyed by WV is misleading:
“As these hooded-and-robed racists scurried back into the courthouse under police escort barely mid-way 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!'”
Anyone not present at the event would hardly deduce from this that the participants in the PDC rally never got within a block of the KKK racists. WV claims that the PDC rally drove the Klan “off the streets.” We wish this were true, but unfortunately it is not. The handful of Klansmen who appeared were indeed besieged by some 8,000 angry anti-fascists, and would certainly have been smashed had it not been for the 1,000 cops provided by New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. But the fact is that under massive police protection the Klan provocation did take place at the scheduled time and place. This was no Klan victory, but a few of these murderous racists did appear and stand around for over an hour, and despite the fact that a few individuals managed to get through the police lines and deliver a couple of punches, the KKK terrorists were (unfortunately) not driven off the streets.
The WV account also fails to even hint that the Democrats’ competing rally “for tolerance,” not the PDC rally, took place right in front of the Klan at 60 Centre Street. Nor does it report the fact that most of the demonstrators attended the Democrats’ event, rather than the PDC’s which was held at 100 Centre Street, a block away.
The Democrats’ pleas for “tolerance” (and their willingness to share a sound permit with the Klan terrorists) were disgusting. But SL agitators dispatched to the other rally to try to convince people to leave and walk over to join the PDC, were heard denouncing it as a “pro-Klan rally.” This was simply not true. The vast majority of people assembled in front of the Democratic windbags had not come to display “tolerance” for genocidal racists, nor devotion to Scott Stringer or Al Sharpton. They were there because they wanted to stop the Klan, just like those who came to the PDC rally.
Ed Kartsen, a prominent SL leader, stated at your 30 October forum in New York, that most of the protesters at both rallies had come in response to the SL’s leaflets and that most people only ended up with the Democrats because of ISO misdirection. There is no question that without the kind of serious mobilization the PDC carried out, the Democrats would never have done a thing. But it is not true that most people at the Democrats’ rally had actually intended to join the PDC’s. The time and place of the Klan’s appearance had been widely advertised in the news media and that is why most people went to the other site.
We understand that the PDC organizers planned to march to the other rally when, and if, the Klan appeared. But by the time this was attempted, the PDC demonstration was cordoned off by the police and prevented from moving. Had you sought to join the larger demonstration earlier, when people were still able to move relatively freely in the area, we might have been on site when the Klan appeared. The police presence was so massive that the fascists would still probably have escaped unscathed, but it would have been preferable to have been there to confront them, rather than a block away.
You comrades deserve credit for taking an important initiative, but it is our communist duty to frankly criticize mistakes, challenge factual inaccuracies and pose suggestions for how things can be done better next time.
No Free Speech for Fascists!
ps. I drafted this letter before seeing the latest (12 November) WV. The suggestion that instead of “some form of progressive organization,” the ISO et al. are “now exposed as enemies of the working class and of all the would-be targets of fascist terror” is a bit over the top, even for you. It reminds me of Challenge. We presume you still consider the ISO (and the CP, etc.) to be part of the left and workers’ movement. So what’s with this “enemies” stuff?