by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan
On August 12th, White nationalists from across the United States gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate General’s statue. They were met by hundreds of anti-racist counter-protesters, and police stood by as the two groups clashed in the street. Dozens were injured in the mayhem, and Heather Heyer, a 32-year old anti-racist activist, was killed after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd.
Donald Trump responded by blaming “both sides” and expressing sympathy for those opposed to the taking down of a “very, very important statue”. Trump’s statements ignited a firestorm of condemnation from media, politicians and businessmen, with even right-wing conservatives calling him out as a racist.
Meanwhile, vigils, protests and other actions have been held in cities across the US and Canada. As the fallout continues, working-class people here in Scarborough and the rest of the city should be clear about the different parties involved, and figure out what (if anything) this incident means for our day-to-day lives.
The Charlottesville rally, dubbed ‘Unite the Right’ by organizers, was intended as a show of strength for a political movement that has surged in recent years. The influence of far-right organizations, websites and militias greatly increased after the 2008 financial crisis, as many White middle-class people feared losing their economic position, and after the election of Barack Obama, who those people saw as a representation of everything wrong with the country.
What separates far-right politics from other right-wing politics, is that they hate the ‘establishment’ as much as they hate Muslims, immigrants, gays, women’s rights, and so on. This is especially true for the sections of the movement that are explicitly White nationalist and fascist (like the Alt-Right and other groups in Charlottesville) – they don’t just want Muslim-bans or border walls, they want to radically change society. For example, they would support building a separate all-White ‘ethno-state’.
Donald Trump’s campaign was another major boost to this movement. According to liberals, he is the worst president in US history, but the truth is that most of his predecessors were just as racist and sexist as him. His attacks on immigrants and affordable healthcare were promised by other Republican candidates, and Hillary Clinton ran on even more pro-war platform.
What really sets Trump apart is that he broke from the consensus of both major political parties. He campaigned on rants about a “rigged system”, objections to foreign wars and free-trade, and openly nationalist and racist policies. The rich and powerful often disagree about how to run things, but in places like the US and Canada these disagreements are usually kept within certain boundaries. Trump took things a step further. Appealing to the beliefs and support-base of the far-right, this billionaire capitalist came in demanding sweeping changes to the US political and economic system – and even if he’s been unable to make them happen, his rhetoric alone has been a problem for other members of his class who want to maintain the status quo.
After Charlottesville, these members and representatives of the US capitalist class rushed to denounce both the White nationalists and Trump. CEOs of several companies resigned from Trump’s manufacturing panel and strategy forum, causing both to be disbanded. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and other big tech companies booted far-right groups and individuals off their platforms. Political figures, including Mitt Romney, George Bush Jr. and Sr., and chiefs of the US military issued statements against ‘racial bigotry’ and distanced themselves from Trump’s comments. Others went much further, to the point of making ongoing calls for impeachment and government shutdown.
It would seem like many of the rich and powerful are standing with ‘the people’ against the threat of White supremacy – that there are two camps, one for a progressive and diverse country and one that wants to bring back racism and xenophobia. But how do we square this with the fact that the same politicians, media and business owners saying such good things have led, promoted and benefited from so much war, exploitation and suffering?
US capitalism, under the political leadership of people like Obama and Clinton (and even Bush), has brought more inclusion and opportunities for a few alongside drone-strikes, prison, deportations and poverty for the majority. It has also increasingly used language that sounds anti-racist and anti-oppressive. This is about making capitalism run more smoothly, and many of the moves against Trump and the far-right are attempts to re-stabilize the US political system – a system that has proven itself as the biggest enemy of poor and working-class people around the world.
Looking at this mess can make us feel relieved to live in Canada, but we are not so far off from a similar political situation. Although on a much weaker level, the far-right has grown in this country as well – in Toronto we’ve seen the rise of anti-Muslim rallies in front of mosques, right-wing groups preaching ‘free-speech’ and ‘men’s rights’ on campus, and even the paramilitary-style anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin (SOO) doing street patrols.
As for our Prime Minister, he is the opposite of Trump in a lot of ways. Justin Trudeau is a ‘Canadian Obama’ in the sense that he uses selective inclusion and progressive language to compensate for the fact that life is getting harder and harder for the majority of people. As economic hardship continues, far-right political opposition to this way of running capitalism will continue to grow.
A far-right movement will look different in Toronto than it did in Charlottesville, and this should not prevent us from understanding it as a threat – not only to the Black, Brown and immigrant majority of our class – but also to the working-class White people it will bribe into betraying their neighbours and co-workers.
It would also be a big mistake to let the threat of open racists make us run to the ‘lesser evil’ of liberal politics. This system is not working, and our society should be radically transformed – not in a far-right or liberal direction, but so that it is run in the interests of our class.
To have any prospect of changing things on our own terms, we must turn to our class and our people. We must get organized in our schools, workplaces, buildings and neighbourhoods. We must develop the capacity to defend ourselves – not only against the distant enemies of a Canadian Trump or far-right, but against the immediate enemies we face every day (slumlords, police and employers) who are fine robbing, abusing and even killing us under the banner of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’.