The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 57 (Summer/Fall 1998).
The leaflet below, produced and distributed by the Chicago LRP and slightly edited here, details a convoluted chain of events this March after the Ku Klux Klan declared it would march in Cicero, Illinois.
Originally the Town Board refused to grant a permit, citing expenses of extra cops and so forth. The Klan sued and won the “right” to demonstrate. But mass anger was building in Cicero, and cops feared that protesters would come from Chicago as well. Police were estimating that up to 8000 people, some armed, might confront the Klan. So town officials offered to distribute the Klan’s literature if the KKK would agree to call off its demo.
In the end the Klan backed off and did not march. This was a small victory won indirectly by mass pressure, though not nearly as decisive as a well deserved smashing would have been.
On Wednesday, March 11, Cicero officials announced that they had convinced the racist KKK to back down from its plans to rally at City Hall. In order to prevent a “confrontation,” Cicero officials agreed to copy and distribute KKK literature to the predominantly working-class population of Cicero! This was an insult to the workers and youth who had planned to show up and confront the KKK and its message of race hate. As one worker put it, “Why don’t they just put on the sheets while they’re at it?”
The LRP agrees: Cicero Board President Betty Loren-Maltese and her cohorts are king-sized racists. Their actions show that they are not opposed to racism at all. Their real intent was to prevent a mobilization against racism. Above all, they did not want Cicero to become the center of anti-racist struggles which could unite workers and youth across race lines. Because protests against the Klan and Nazis always raise bigger political questions. Like the fact that the whole system is racist – from Clinton’s attacks on welfare and immigrants to the way bosses use racism to pit workers against each other by skin color and nationality.
Through protest and struggle, workers and youth may see that the real enemy is not just the KKK and Nazi maggots, but the rotten system which breeds them. Loren-Maltese may not like the Klan, but she would rather fill the mailboxes of Cicero with the message of race-hatred than permit a confrontation which could show the power of working-class unity. Because she knows that such a demonstration raises bigger questions about the system she serves – the capitalist profit system, a system of class rule based on the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class of bosses. A system which uses racism, even though it usually prefers to keep its KKK/Nazi bloodhounds on a leash.
So how did all this go down? More than a month ago, the racist scum of the Ku Klux Klan announced that it planned to hold a rally in Cicero on Saturday, March 14. But as the day grew closer, it was clear that the fascists would be confronted by a much larger crowd of protesters. In the meantime, Cicero officials tried to deny the racists a permit to march. The KKK won this round in the courts. Rather than permit mass protest against the Klan (against the racism she pretends to oppose), Loren-Maltese offered to mail out the KKK’s racist literature. Initially, the Klan refused this offer and said it would go ahead with its plan to march.
Town officials desperately tried to deflate the growing mass anger. They schemed to promote a so-called “unity” rally designed to lure anti-Klan protesters away to Morton East High School – so that the KKK could hold its hate rally in peace! And then there was the “blue ribbon” campaign. But many workers and youth saw through these diversions. Police officials still feared a mobilization of 8,000 protesters. Finally, Loren-Maltese held a five-hour summit with KKK “Imperial Wizard” Jeffrey Berry. She emerged with the “compromise.” The KKK accepted the town’s offer to mail out the KKK’s race-hate literature.
In the end, the Klan backed down completely: it withdrew its demands unconditionally. This is a victory, but it does not erase the actions of the town government. The KKK’s and the Cicero officials’ mutual fear of mass interracial working-class protest confirms the power of the working class, but only in a limited way as workers did not get to experience this power firsthand in united mass action.
Leon Trotsky was the co-leader of the workers’ socialist revolution in Russia in October 1917. He said there is one way to reason with a fascist: “acquaint his head with the pavement.” And that is what happened when the Klan attempted to march in Chicago two years ago. They were over-taken and soundly beaten by an interracial group of anti-Klan militants at Daley Plaza. This small event was a victory for the entire working class, but the arrest and prosecution of nine protesters also showed the need for a mass mobilization to fight the fascists. Cops and Klan work hand in hand – future mobilizations must be large enough not only to stop the Klan but to guard against the danger of cops attacking the protesters (which is what happened at Daley Plaza).
For this reason, communists point to the need for a united front mobilization of the unions and other mass organizations of the workers and oppressed. However, we warn that the AFL-CIO leadership cannot be trusted to lead the working class in this or any other fight because they are fundamentally loyal to the capitalist system. The middle-class leadership of the main civil rights movements and organizations (PUSH, NOW, etc.) push the same pathetic strategy of “working within the system” – usually the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton and Jim Crow. In other words, turn the other cheek and wait for the next election, etc.
When you turn the other cheek, the enemy breaks your jaw. Communists oppose the misleaders who steer the workers’ movement into the death trap of the Democratic Party. Think about it. Yes, we must combat the fascists of the KKK/Nazis whenever and wherever they attempt to speak.
But at this moment, the main danger comes from the mainstream parties of the capitalist ruling class, the Democrats and Republicans. History shows that the capitalists will turn to fascism as a last resort – when faced with the prospect of the workers’ revolution! But we are not yet ready to make that revolution. So the bosses would rather keep their fascist dogs on a short leash, for now. The good cop/bad cop strategy of Clinton vs. Gingrich seems to be working. And the so-called “leaders” of the labor and civil rights movements play right along.
The crisis of working-class leadership is the main barrier to building a mass fighting response to racism and other attacks against the working class. While seeking to build the broadest mobilization possible, communists fight within these movements to expose the cowardice and bankruptcy of the pro-capitalist misleaders and to win workers and youth to our program of socialist revolution! We oppose their dead-end strategy of voting for Democrats as the “lesser evil.” Instead we fight for an action program which relies on the power of the working class. We propose mass strikes and mass self-defense mobilizations to fight every attack on our class!
The capitalist profit system is based on the exploitation of the working class and oppressed masses. As communists we explain to our fellow workers that the only way to crush fascism is to overthrow the system which breeds it. We stand for the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class and oppressed masses. Under a workers’ state, the vast wealth of society will be harnessed to build a society based on human need and human cooperation. The basis for socialism has long since been achieved. Human society is faced with a choice between socialism and barbarism. The crisis of human society is reduced to the question of proletarian leadership – that is, the need for the revolutionary party of the working class. Join us!