By Cassandra Devereaux
It is no coincidence that reactionary movements never fail to denounce communism. While the Klan was marching, the Black League murdering, the American Bund tossing up Nazi salutes, communists were hard at work campaigning for Civil Rights and running Black candidates for offices high and low. The Black activist James W. Ford ran as vice president on the Communist Party ticket in ’32, ’36, and ’40. From the time of Lenin, communists have always fought for the liberation of oppressed nationalities.. Fascist generals learned to their peril in the Battle of Stalingrad the valor of the Red Army’s soldiers and the Soviet people, who turned the tide of WWII well before the UK and US landed at Normandy.
Anti-communism was placed on the back burner during the years of WWII when the United States was allied with the Soviet Union, but the Red Scare came roaring back after, especially in the 1950’s. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his right-hand man Roy Cohn were terrorizing the country from their perch atop Capitol Hill via the House Un-American Activities Committee. Roy Cohn was a vicious lawyer, of whom a colleague remarked, “you knew when you were in Cohn’s presence you were in the presence of pure evil.”
Both McCarthy and Cohn were virulent U.S. nationalists and anti-communists. Their sinister contrivances jailed hundreds and left over ten thousand people jobless due to accusations of being communists or communist sympathizers. Most of the accusations were unfounded, and those who were “guilty” were guilty only of imagining a liberated, more just world where all had access to the material necessities of human survival.
Twin to the Red Scare was the Lavender Scare, which extended these persecutions to LGBTQ2 peoples. Cohn’s own homosexuality made no impact on his zeal in purging his fellows from public life. The pretense was that these individuals were mentally unstable and prone to compromise by communist agents. The closeted life was near universal at the time. Because of sodomy laws and statues that regulated gendered dress, our very existence was criminal.
It was a time of repression but even so, legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote frequently for communist journals, kept infusing his radical politics into his timeless music. In 1954 he resided in an apartment which Fred Trump owned. Disgusted by the racist policies of his landlord he wrote a song called I Ain’t Got No Home or Old Man Trump which opens with these lyrics:
I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project
In 1973, 19 years after this song was written, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Trump Management, now run by both Fred Trump and his son Donald for his long standing practice of denying rental applications from non-whites. It was also the fateful time when Donald met Roy Cohn.
When Trump and Cohn met, the latter was an infamous mob lawyer and insider to the New York underworld’s ‘favor bank’ by which influence was peddled and fixes called in from the shadows. He quickly became a mentor to young Donald, teaching him the amoral and highly effective strategy that when someone tries to wring justice from your stingy fingers, no matter what, you must never settle. He advised to always countersue and counterattack, and regardless of outcome must claim victory no matter what the facts may be.
In the early ‘80s, Donald was having Trump Tower built. An architect on the project had shown the future president a proposed layout for the elevator. Noting the braille next to the buttons, Donald became enraged, He demanded that the architect remove it. The architect told him that this was against the law, and Trump screamed, “Get rid of the (expletive) Braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower,” and berated the man as ‘weak’.
Weak vs. tough, big vs. little are common themes in Trump’s verbiage.
Perhaps it was this disgust for what he considered weak, perhaps simply homophobia, but whatever the reason, when it came to Trump’s attention that Cohn was battling AIDS, the future president dropped Cohn immediately and cut off all ties. He never looked back.
In 1989, Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and three other papers demanding the death penalty for five teenagers accused of raping a woman in Central Park. Four were Black, one Hispanic. The ad came out before they had even stood trial. He would be no stranger to racist attack ads; he would later approve attack ads against the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe implying that they were criminals and drug dealers in order to fight their building of a rival casino. At any rate, decades later after the Central Park Five went to jail, they were exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence. Regardless of this irrefutable evidence, Trump reasserted his belief in their guilt. A month later, he was awarded the presidency in the cumulation of a campaign that opened with a declaration straight out of his St. Regis Mohawk ads: that Mexicans migrants, and by implication Mexicans writ large, are criminals. Drug dealers. Rapists.
I have listed but a fraction of the racist, antisemitic, nativist, and otherwise hate driven movements in U.S. history, and I need not expound on the crimes on which the U.S. was built. While many overlook or excuse it away, the massacres, treachery, forced marches, chattel slavery, forced Christianization and all assorted genocides are well known. U.S. concentration camps held Japanese Americans in World War II ; today they hold Latinx families, children and other individuals trying to flee oppression . Suppression of popular movements and oppressed nationalities by the state, lynching by vigilantes: these are nothing new. Terror in the streets and lone wolf killers armed with guns and hate are not a deviation from the state of normality; they are as characteristic of U.S. imperialism as baseball, apple pie, and fireworks on the fourth of July.
It is important to understand history, but also to understand the present day, if we hope to win the future. ICE detention centers are not unique to Trump, but a tremendous expansion of new concentration camps is underway at this moment. People working multiple jobs can’t make ends meet. As rents skyrocket, working and oppressed people are often unable to keep a roof over their head. Access to potable water is not a given; fracking and other industrial processes are contaminating our water sources. Flint’s water has been contaminated for years and working class people in Detroit are facing water shutoffs.
Austerity is being broadly imposed on poor and working people, while corporations and billionaires go without paying taxes on their billions. Money is showered upon the Pentagon and the imperialist war machine grows, placing crosshairs on Venezuela, Cuba, China and Iran. Yet as workers and oppressed people suffer and migrants face abominable detention conditions, some fascists march and fly the Confederate battle flag, swastikas or flags celebrating police rule, at the behest of Boss Trump. He and they build hate movements that shatter worker solidarity, attempting to turn attention from our common enemies; those with wealth and power. As poor and working people’s conditions deteriorate, the KKK and their ilk is recruiting and growing,
The Klan is not alone in their debt to historic predecessors. Yesterday’s Know-Nothings are today’s KKK. Yesterday’s German American Bund and Brown Shirts are today’s National Socialist Movement and Proud Boys. Yesterday’s Black Legion is today’s Atomwaffen Division. The alt-right isn’t a new movement, but a re-branded one. And now it has a ruling class sponsor in the name of Donald Trump, preparing to use them as a tool against our class when the next capitalist crisis unfolds.
At the same time, there is a growing interest in socialism. Many new communists are stepping forth from deteriorating material conditions of the day to join the struggle for justice and to win liberation from our capitalist subjugators.
Meanwhile, as happened in the era of J. Edgar Hoover, we have “law enforcement” set against us to crush our movement. Police departments collaborate with far right extremists. Police escort reactionary fascist gangs, functioning as their security detail while fist bumping members. The task before us is huge. The entrenched power of our class enemies is a juggernaut. Their pawns in today’s hate movements are organized and interconnected. We must be the first to meet people who are awakening to the need for radical change. Our movement must expand into every city, every town, every workplace. We need an awakened mass of workers and oppressed peoples to rise in solidarity and win our cause. We must break the cycle of this ghastly history
Consider how the United States, the bastion of hyper-capitalism, helped incubate the egg of the fascist serpent that hatched in 1930s Europe. U.S. imperialism pioneered eugenics policies such as those that Nazis adopted. The genocide of indigenous nations, the race laws and Jim Crow inspired Hitler in the formation of his Reich, making it impossible to distance the United States from the horrors committed under his Nazi flag. Was not Henry Ford a Nazi member as much as any German?
Those who see the venal man of boundless hatred currently occupying the Oval Office as a unique stain must reacquaint themselves with what came before he sat behind the Resolute Desk. Even a casual and unblinkered look at U.S. history brings one to the conclusion that Trumpism is minimally a continuation, or an escalation.. Nothing represented by a red MAGA hat in 2019 runs counter to imperialism’s brutal character.
To the contrary; “Trumpism” is now its very animating force, and Trump is the quintessence of the empire. What is new today is that a significant section of the ruling class, as it sinks into the quagmire of its self-created stagnation and crisis, has now backed Trump to the hilt, counting on him and his fascist base to turn back any resistance by the workers and oppressed to their unfolding austerity measures and cutbacks to all the social and economic gains won through decades of struggle.
Within this very empire dwells a huge multinational working class. And throughout the empire’s history, whenever racism and reaction pushed to the fore, the working class and oppressed nations have found a way to rise up and push back. Trump and his minions can and will be crushed by this great force of history.