Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee

The Lessons of Greensboro

Issued: November 9, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The recent murders in Greensboro have refocused the nation’s attention on the Ku Klux Klan. All democratic forces are attempting to understand the meaning of this atrocity in order to clarify the direction of our work and to build a powerful movement that can defeat the Klan. The National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee – recently formed as a merger of the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision, the Seattle Anti Racist Organizing Committee, the Committee to Overturn the Weber Decision in Los Angeles, and other activists – would like to share some of our thoughts on this crucial matter with other anti-Klan forces, in hopes that others may find them valuable in the course of their work.

1. We Cannot Be Complacent About the Klan

Greensboro must serve to heighten the vigilance of the people’s movement against the Klan. In the 1960’s the power of our movement forced the Klan into hiding and obscurity. However, in the 1970’s there has been a general upsurge of right wing and racist attacks, and the Klan has reemerged as merely the most extreme section of this reactionary current. Indeed, the Klan has launched a vigorous propaganda and organizing campaign throughout the country in a bid to become a ’respectable’ nationwide political force. To this end, the newer factions of the KKK are downplaying their violently white supremacist image and have adopted a version of ’white rights’ that draws heavily on the now popular ’reverse discrimination’ logic: according to David Duke, the Klan does not hate and murder blacks, it merely fights to defend the ’rights of white people’, who are now the oppressed group in U.S. society.

But even David Duke’s slick media campaign cannot for long hide the rabidly racist and fascist character of the Klan. If the Klan shootings of black people in Talledega, Okalona, or Decatur were not enough to de-hood the Klan’s white supremacist nature; if their murder of Native Americans in Oklahoma, their ’border patrol’ of Mexico, and their beatings of union organizers did not dramatically bring this to light; then their cowardly murders in Greensboro should serve to awaken the nation to the danger of this racist and fascist gang.

Still the Klan has become extremely bold, and their influence is growing (which is far more dangerous than the small numbers of die-hards presently active within the KKK itself). David Duke is constantly on television and radio talk shows. The Klan has shed its hoods and now make their identities public. In Detroit’s auto factories they have even worn their sheets to work. In several states Klansmen are openly running for public office. At the same time KIan violence is increasing: who can remember the last time the Klan murderously attacked a demonstration in broad daylight in front of te1evision cameras? All of this is only possible because the government, the FBI, the police and the mass media allow it. And because the people ’s movement has failed to mount a serious offensive that could chase the Klan back into their holes, expose their ’new racist’ rhetoric, and force the government to outlaw this racist and fascist group and all its cohorts.

2. The Role of the Government, FBI, and Police

The events in Greensboro also highlight serious questions as to the role of the government, FBI, and police. The Greensboro police have admitted that they were informed that a Klan attack on the demonstration was highly likely, and that a self-identified Klansman has obtained knowledge of the demonstrators’ parade permit. Yet they did little or nothing to prepare for the attack, and reacted extremely slowly once the attack took place. In times past the Klan was merely the police department in their nighttime uniforms and even today Klan influence is heavy in police departments throughout the country. For example, several of the Klansmen arrested for shooting up the houses of NAACP members in Talladega County, Georgia, a few months ago were members of the police department. The whole question of the relation and inter-penetration of the Klan and the police must be investigated and dealt with.

Similarly, it is a well known fact that the FBI has thoroughly infiltrated the Klan with its agents. It is therefore well informed about Klan activities and plans. Why then did they do nothing to prevent the Greensboro murders, or the dozens of other violent incidents involving the Klan throughout the country in the last couple years? And how were the Klan gunmen – obvious amateurs by the fact that they committed their atrocity in front of television cameras – able to carefully pick out of the hundred or so people at the demonstration a few leaders to be assaulted? There are many quest ions that need to be asked and answered about this incident. We don’t think that the local police department or the presidential investigation team are sufficient: will the police and the FBI really investigate themselves? Therefore we think that a Congressional investigation of the Klan, not only at Greensboro, but throughout the nation, is called for.

3. The Media Promotes Anti-Communism In Order To Split the People’s Movement

The established media has been generously promoting the KKK for the last several years by inviting David Duke and other Klan leaders to participate in many of its programs. By so doing they have contributed mightily to making the Klan ’respectable’ – and made a few extra million dollars since the Klan is so sensationally marketable. The media’s reportage of the Greensboro murders is consistent with this reactionary, but very businesslike, logic.

In essence, the media has attempted to portray the murders in Greensboro as ’an inevitable clash of two violent extremist groups: the Klan and the “communists”.’ As far as they are concerned, the ’violent communists’ brought these murders upon themselves by daring to challenge the Klan: Greensboro was not a fascist attack, it was a ’shootout’. The implication is that ’they got what they deserved’ and ’who cares anyway ’ – communists are no better or worse than the KKK.’ The media thus blames the victims of murder for their own murder, and equates the fascist KKK with anti-Klan militants. This is a cheap and dastardly attempt to fan anti-communism, to discourage the public from protesting the Klan terror, and to split the anti-Klan, anti-racist movement.

It is imperative that the entire anti-Klan movement unite in opposition to the Klan terror in Greensboro, repudiate the media’s attempt to blame the victims for their own murder, demand that the murderers be swiftly convicted, and develop a broad united front against the Klan. In no way was the Klan’s murder of the five activists ’justifiable’ or ’understandable’. More importantly, if the anti- Klan movement is to become really powerful and effective, it must consciously promote the unity of all anti-Klan forces and build a broad united front of people across the political spectrum. It must actively combat anti-communism in its ranks.

4. The Anti-Klan Forces in Greensboro Have Made Adventurist Errors Which Have Harmed the Development of the Anti Klan Movement

While defending the unity of the anti-Klan movement, it is also important that we learn from the mistakes of the anti-Klan forces in Greensboro as led by the Communist Workers Party (CWP – formerly Worker’s Viewpoint Organization) in order that we not repeat them elsewhere and that we can be successful in building a mass anti-Klan movement. A movement that does not learn from its mistakes cannot advance.

In the first place, CWP’s slogan “Death to the Klan” is incorrect and pseudo-revolutionary. Such a slogan assumes that the Klan is merely a raggedy band of insane individuals that can be gotten rid of through killing these few evil individuals. It ignores the fact that it is this racist, capitalist society which inherently produces such violent white supremacists and will continue to do so until racism is eliminated. The Klan (and the Nazis, Minutemen, etc.) are only the most extreme products of racist society, and cannot be gotten rid of merely by killing a few individuals. To the contrary, the struggle to defeat the Klan is only part of the struggle against racism: they can and must be neutralized in the course of that larger struggle, but the Klan will not be completely smashed until we are able to eliminate racism and its material basis in capitalist exploitation from the society.

Secondly, “Death to the Klan” proposes that the principal tactic of the anti-Klan movement be to physically (not politically) confront the Klan. This view is based on an incorrect assessment of the level of consciousness of the masses of people. It ignores the systematic nationwide education and organizing drive that anti-Klan forces must launch in order to prepare the masses politically and ideologically to confront and defeat the Klan. It may be ’militant’ for a small group of people to get into a fight with the Klan, but it is politically ineffective and adventurist unless large numbers of people are prepared to actually participate in or wholeheartedly support such actions. The history of such adventurism as practiced by the Progressive Labor Party, the International Committee Against Racism (INCAR or CAR), and others has taught us that such actions often isolate the anti-Klan forces from the masses of people. We must build real united fronts through our political and educational work before we embark on any serious attempt to physically confront the Klan.

Not only did the CWP fail to build a united front before challenging the Klan directly, it has stubbornly refused to build such a front even in the wake of the murder of their members. Many of us in the National Anti Klan Network have urged that CWP call for a broad coalition around the Greensboro murders. But the CWP refuses, saying that they alone are qualified to lead the anti-Klan movement. This is an outrageous case of sectarianism, of putting the interests of their own group above the interest of developing a broad anti-Klan movement. And it will undermine the broad local and national support that can and should be tapped in support of the Greensboro victims. The anti-Klan movement as a whole will be the loser if such sectarian tactics are continued.

Thus it is key that the entire anti-Klan movement support the anti-Klan efforts in Greensboro, for there is no doubt that the Klan attack there was indeed an attack on all of us. To fail to support the work there would fall into the trap of fostering a split in our movement, and tacitly justifying Klan terror. But at the same time we must struggle for a summary of the lessons of Greensboro in order to broaden the anti-Klan campaign and not allow ourselves to be swept into a narrow and adventurist conception of organizing.

5. What Should Be Done Now?

The most important lesson of Greensboro is that we must begin to pay serious attention to building a mass movement to isolate and defeat the Klan. Lipservice to this task is not enough, we need to put real priority – organizers and resources – into this effort.

An important step in this direction was taken last August when the SCLC took the lead in forming the National Anti Klan Network. This Network has members in eighteen states and was established by a broad range of human rights, civic, religious and labor organizations to mount a nationwide campaign to counter the resurgence of the Klan. It also mapped out an excellent outline for a campaign against the Klan including political, legal, and direct action.

The key thing now is to put the Network into action, to make it a real force nationally and in every locality. The murders in Greensboro provide an excellent conjuncture to begin organizing around the Network’s plan to call for a Congressional Investigation of the Klan throughout the country, starting with Greensboro. The President has directed the Justice Department to conduct an investigation, but given the possible collusion of the FBI in this incident, it is insufficient to have merely one section of the executive branch investigating another. Moreover, the investigation of the Justice Department is limited only to Greensboro, when what is needed is a nationwide investigation of Klan activity and influence. The demand for a Congressional investigation is thus a very important one, and one that could receive wide support at this time. The Black and Hispanic Congressional Caucuses in particular ought to be very supportive of such an effort, and a petition campaign could be launched to organize mass support. Locally, in addition to the petition, lobbying of local congresspersons and senators might be started.

Throughout the campaign for a Congressional investigation we could integrate a mass education campaign about the Klan and its more recent upsurge of violence, propaganda, and organizing. Such a campaign ought to enable us to involve many different groups and individuals in the work, thus building the National Anti Klan Network and increasing its capacity to engage in more extensive education and organizing campaigns.

There are undoubtedly many other things that can be done. The important thing is to get ourselves committed and organized to build the anti-Klan campaign. The National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee looks forward to working with you in this important effort.