Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ray O. Light

The Lessons of the Greensboro Massacre

First Published: Ray O. Light Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4, November 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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A tragic example of the application of the semi-anarchist, ultra-left Chinese “Cultural Revolution” leadership of the so-called “Gang of Four” to conditions in the U.S.A. has been provided by the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) in leading its own forces to slaughter in the Greensboro Massacre and thereby bringing the power of the Klan-Nazi right and the state down on the Afro-American masses. This has resulted in the strengthening of the forces of reaction in the Afro-American nation and the undermining of the Afro-American people in the revolutionary struggle for national democratic revolution in the Black Belt South and for socialist revolution in the U.S.A.

A) The Left Opportunism of the Workers Viewpoint Organization:

On November 3, 1979 the WVO (now calling itself the Communist Workers Party (CWP)) held what was billed as a “Death to the Klan” demonstration in the middle of the Afro-American community of Greensboro, N.C. This demonstration was turned into its opposite as the bloodthirsty Klan brought death to five WVO demonstrators!

Several aspects of this demonstration gave it a pronounced “left” opportunist character.
1) In Greensboro, the concrete immediate basis for the Afro-American masses to attend any rally opposing the Klan as its sole aim, never mind publicizing ’death to the Klan” as its sole aim, did not exist. The Afro-American community in Greensboro had not been attacked by the Klan at any time recently. By contrast, recently in Alabama and in Mississippi incidents had taken place where the Afro-American masses were protesting the injustice committed against individuals such as Tommy Lee Hines and political groups such as the United League of Mississippi and were attacked by the Klan in the course of their struggles around these immediate issues. Hence in these concrete situations, fight against the Klan also became a concrete immediate issue for the Afro-American masses. Consequently the Afro-American masses could not be mobilized to the WVO demonstration. Consequently there was a gap created by WVO between itself and the Afro-American masses – a gap in which WVO was too far ahead of what the masses were prepared to act on in relation to the Klan at that time. (This is the most fundamental manifestation of both right and left opportunism – the underestimation of the role of the masses of people, the importance of the masses being the decisive active force in the activities of the proletarian revolution. WVO obviously considered the masses unimportant.)
2) WVO publicly invited the Klan to come to the demonstration and chided the Klan as “cowards” daring them ”to come out from under their rocks on November 3.” This was an open provocation of the Klan.
3) WVO had successfully dispersed a Klan rally in July in China Grove, N.C. for which they had received little publicity and which had itself been carried out in a provocative fashion, i.e. without the mobilization of the Afro-American masses. This July incident virtually guaranteed that the Klan would be retaliating and contributed all the more to the provocative character of the “Death to the Klan” rally.
4) WVO underestimated the treacherous, partisan counterrevolutionary nature of the state and placed undue reliance on the Greensboro police department to protect them from the Klan. During the massacre the police were conspicuously absent. (WVO repeated this classical opportunist error when the following Sunday, November 11th, they relied on 1,000 armed soldiers of the state apparatus to protect their funeral march, while WVO had an “honor guard” provocatively “armed” with unloaded weapons!
5) WVO underestimated the Klan’s capacity for counterrevolutionary violence as shown by the fact that it was a massacre. The Klan murdered five demonstrators and wounded at least nine more, while allegedly one Klansman received one minor wound in the massacre.
6) WVO seriously overestimated their own capacity to meet and defeat the Klan on the battlefield of the streets. Along with the underestimation of the role of the masses, the incredible over-estimation of the importance of the “heroic” individuals of the ‥vanguard” as a force in itself, in the revolutionary process is fundamental to the “left” opportunism of WVO.

As the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) stated:

In answer to the Narodniks’ assertion that the masses are nothing but a mob, and that it is heroes who make history and convert the mob into a people, the Marxists affirmed that it is not heroes that make history, but history that make heroes, and that, consequently, it is not heroes who create people, but the people who create heroes and move history onward. Heroes, outstanding individuals, may play an important part in the life of society only in so far as they are capable of correctly understanding the conditions of society and the ways of changing them for the better. Heroes, outstanding individuals, may become ridiculous and useless failures if they do not correctly understand the conditions of development of society and go counter to the historical needs of society in the conceited belief that they are the ’makers’ of history. (p. 14)

B) What the Massacre Cost the Revolutionary Movement and the Afro-American People:

1) The provocative character of WVO anti-Klan activity provided the basis on which several Klan and Nazi organizations united.
2) The Ku Klux Klan was able to bring Klan terror into the midst of the Afro-American community of Greensboro. Thereby the Klan has a concrete, decisive and well publicized victory around which to recruit and mobilize forces to its banner.
3) The state apparatus of Greensboro declared martial law enforced by 1,000 armed soldiers in the aftermath of the massacre.
4) Thereby also the Afro-American community in Greensboro has been made to appear vulnerable to Klan terror and has in fact experienced intimidation as a result of the massacre, martial law, etc. On Saturday November 10th and Sunday November 11th, while WVO had called for a funeral march and demonstration for their five fallen members, a number of Afro-American churches called off choir practice on Saturday and church services on Sunday!
5) Much sentiment in the Afro-American community has now been directed against “communism” – since it was the “Communist” Workers Party (WVO) which had “invited” the Klan into the Afro-American community and had acted in a provocative fashion in the period leading up to the Massacre.
6) Five cadre of a “communist” group, most of them presumably full of good intentions, have been murdered which is a loss that thereby serves to intimidate whatever genuine left is left in the USA.
7) Most of those victims of the Klan violence either had recently been or were functioning as in-plant union organizers. Consequently the Klan murder of these union activists serves as intimidation of organized labor in N. C. as well.
8) Along with “anti-communism”, the Afro-American community, confused by the “ultra-left” strategy of the CWP and its tragic aftermath is developing a tendency to see the Klan attack and the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan as being directed against the left and therefore of little concern for the Afro-American community. Yet, since the Klan is in reality directed primarily against the Afro-American community and not primarily against the “Left”, the community needs to take the main role in opposing the Klan. (The opportunists of the “New Communist Movement” have joined with the ruling class forces in N.C. in pushing the lie onto the Afro-Americans that the Klan is now attacking the Left, not the Afro-American people.) The resulting tendency is for the Afro-American community of Greensboro to rely on the state apparatus to keep the “peace”, restore “harmony”, etc. This sentiment is reflected in acquiescence in and among certain sections of the Afro-American community to support of martial law declared by Greensboro Mayor Melvin on the weekend of November 10 and 11.

* * *

The cost of the “Greensboro Massacre” to the revolutionary movement and the Afro-American people of Greensboro in particular is thus enormous.

C) Positive Responses of the Afro-American Community to the Greensboro Massacre:

1) Although the main response of the Afro-American people in Greensboro to the Massacre has been negative, significant forces within the community there have responded to the Klan terror visited upon them by organizing some level of resistance. Some Black ministers, local Black entrepreneurs and Afro-American petty bourgeois forces along with Afro-American working class people have seen the need to mobilize the Afro-American community of Greensboro to protest the Klan terror in order to have the strength to defeat Klan violence directed against them in the future. Even the local NAACP President, George Simkins, expressed the view that a response of the Afro-American people was needed, though the NAACP countrywide headquarters apparently suppressed participation by the Greensboro NAACP in the vigil and march and rally scheduled for Sunday, November 18th, or anything else relating to the Greensboro Massacre.

Along with the white liberals from the North Carolina ACLU and white radicals from SCEF, etc. the Black ministers are sponsoring “an interfaith, interracial expression of commitment and concern” to be addressed by among others, ministers, a priest, and rabbi from the Greensboro area. This interfaith service is pushing a line of liberal pacifism, and denunciation of “all violence”, onto the oppressed Afro-American masses of Greensboro in the face of rising Klan terror. This is its negative side. But it is positive in its attempt to mobilize the Black community in its own defense in the face of the somewhat successful effort of the ruling class of the area to present the Greensboro Massacre as a Klan-“Communist” conflict in which the Afro-American community has no stake.

2) Very positive is the fact that most of the Afro-American community leaders from various classes involved in the protest vigil (but not the white liberal forces involved) are also supporting a proposed march and rally to begin nearby the prayer service immediately following that service. Hence a multi-class anti-imperialist united front of the Afro-American community is beginning to form in Greensboro.

This latter action is largely the initiative of the “Concerned Citizens Against the Klan”, made up of veteran fighters of the Black Power movement of a decade ago which include a number of forces formerly around Malcolm X Liberation University then located in Greensboro, as well as rank and file Black workers, anti-imperialist petty bourgeois Black students from N.C. A. & T., etc. mainly from the Greensboro community itself. A leading role is apparently being played by a group of Afro-American Marxist-Leninists from the Greensboro area.

The outstanding first leaflet of the “Concerned Citizens Against the Klan” group follows:


Saturday, Nov.3, a brutal massacre of anti-Klan demonstrators took place here in Greensboro. This was the most serious incident of Ku Klux Klan terror in recent years. This attack must be taken up and opposed by the Black community.
This vicious murder represents a resurgence of the use of open terror by the Klan as a means to intimidate Black people and those who support our struggle. This incident, if it goes unopposed, will serve as an encouragement to the Klan, Nazis, and others like them. It will say to them that they can once again shoot Black people and their supporters down in the streets to keep them from exercizing their rights. This is why it is so unfortunate that up to now there has been no significant response from the Black community here in Greensboro.
Much of the blame for this lack of response must be placed on the demonstrators themselves, whose statements and actions have spread tremendous confusion. It was utterly stupid and irresponsible for the Workers Viewpoint Organization to challenge the Klan and to invite them into the Black community in the way that they did. It was totally irresponsible for them, having dared the Klan to come, to take no effective measures to protect and defend not only themselves, but the community where their demonstration took place. These adventuristic and irresponsible actions not only allowed the murders of their own people to take place but endangered innocent people, including children and old people. Their statements and actions since are almost insane. They seem only interested in avenging the murders of their own people and portraying what happened as a fight between them and the Klan. They have refused to work with anyone to build a broad response by the entire Black community, which is what is urgently needed.
We must recognize, however, that this is not just, or even mainly, a fight between the Klan and the “Communists” (which is how the news media and government, as well as WVO, is saying). The Ku Klux Klan’s main purpose is to keep Black people terrorized in order to keep them oppressed.
This is what they were formed to do right after the Civil War – to drive us back into slavery. It has never been necessary to call them out to get them to murder our people and the people who support us. The Black Sunday school children in Birmingham who were murdered by Klan bombs didn’t call them out. Neither did the three civil rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, who were killed in Mississippi, do anything to provoke the Klan – anything, but fight for Black people’s rights. Our demanding equality and freedom has always been more than enough provocation for the Klan to kill us wherever they thought they could get away with it.
Today the Klan continues to have the same purpose and program. They say ’White people. Wake up’ and that Blacks have too much. They want to undo the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and put us back in slavery – what they call ’our place.’ We must let them know we will never stand for it. We will never go back to the way it used to be.
We must also let the city and the police know that we will not stand for they way they allowed the murders to happen, making no serious attempt to protect either the demonstrators or the community. Nor will we stand for the way the police are now attempting to cover up what they did. Let’s not be fooled by the city and Justice department officials who are running around saying we need to get the facts before we respond. The police admit that they knew the Klan was coming before they got there, and we all saw, either in person or on T.V. , the Klan get out of their cars, shoot the people, pack up their guns, get back in their cars and drive off, all while there was not one cop in sight. However, if we let them, the cops will try to make us believe that what we saw with our own eyes did not really happen.
What we should do is to unite all the people who can be united to take up the struggle against the KKK and their accomplices in the city government and higher up. All Black people, whatever class they are in have a stake in this fight. Because in times of economic crisis, such as the present, Black and white workers need to be united more than ever, the KKK’s poisonous racist propaganda and program are also harmful to white workers. We should build the broadest possible unity between all the Black churches, political and community groups to build for a massive march and rally to put forward the demands from the community. Such a march should be peaceful, but of course we should take necessary precautions to insure peoples safety. The coalition we are trying to build should decide on demands, but we would suggest demanding that the murderers be given maximum penalties, that the police chief be suspended pending a People’s investigation, and that the families of those who were killed as well as the surviving victims be compensated by the city and that the charges against the demonstrators be dropped. We should also develop a petition campaign to take this question into churches, schools, work places, and communities.
Concerned citizens in the Black community and those who support our struggle should join with us to share their ideas and take up this fight. We can’t let the KKK get away with murder. We will never go back to the way it used to be.
Concerned Citizens against the Klan

D) Marxism-Leninism Vs. Opportunism on the Greensboro Massacre:

The line of the “Concerned Citizens” group is in conformity with the Marxist-Leninist scientific teachings on the Afro-American national question and its relationship to the proletarian revolution.

The key points of this line as reflected in the “Concerned Citizens” leaflet are as follows:

1) In opposition to the self-satisfied sectarian and idealist view of the “new communist” forces – that the “heroic individuals” of the vanguard are everything and the masses of people are nothing, and that therefore the Klan attack is aimed at the Left and not at the Afro-American people, the Marxist-Leninists recognize that the significance of the rising Klan activity in the South is that it is aimed in the first place against freedom of the Afro-American people, next against southern labor (Black and white) and thirdly against the Left to the extent that the Marxist-Leninist and leftist forces represent and organize the oppressed Afro-American masses and the exploited Afro-American and southern white proletariat around their interests in opposition to U.S. monopoly capital and Southern industrial barony. Hence, defense of the Afro-American community by the Afro-American people themselves is the cornerstone of opposition to the Klan terror.

2) In opposition to the “left” opportunist, adventurist, premature call by WVO, the RCP et al for “Death to the Klan”, and in opposition to the right opportunist, social-pacifist position of the CPUSA and Southern Organizing Committee, the CLP and the Equal Rights Congress, SCEF and the CPM-L, etc. of opposition to “violence” in general, given the present level of struggle of the Afro-American masses and the labor movement, the Marxist-Leninists call on the Afro-American people and the proletariat to “Oppose the Klan”.

The RCP marched in the funeral procession held by WVO on Sunday November 11th despite the fact that WVO had not only refused to be self-critical regarding their left opportunist error in dealing with the Klan which had set up their organization for the massacre, etc. and that they were proceeding to plan their November 11th funeral march on the same sectarian and adventurist basis that they had used the previous Saturday , and despite the fact that WVO had physically thrown the RCP out of the WVO planning meeting and had described the RCP as “police”.

Indeed the RCP’s support for WVO’s adventurism is not at all surprising. Preliminary “work” in Greensboro for RCP’s “chairman” Avakian’s current national tour had led to a dozen or so frivolous arrests of RCP members in Greensboro for various anarchist acts committed in publicizing Avakian’s speech there and how “it will change your life” less than a month prior to the Greensboro massacre, no doubt contributing to the Klan’s hysteria.

Unlike WVO and the RCP which have stubbornly clung to the “left” opportunist, semi-anarchist politics projected by the so-called “Gang of Four” when they were leading the Chinese Party and state, the CPM-L has tried faithfully to follow Chinese revisionism’s shift from the left opportunism of the so-called “Gang of Four” to the right opportunism of the present Chinese revisionist leadership of Hua Kuo-feng and Teng Hsiao-ping. Yet fascination with ultra left tactics effected the judgement of Lyn Wells, CPM-L and SCEF leader. Consequently while on the one hand Lyn Wells’ role has been to push for a pacifist vigil November 18th over an anti-Klan march and rally and then to support as the featured speaker for the rally the pacifist SCLC leader Joseph Lowery over Skip Robinson , dynamic leader of the much more militant and Black nationalist oriented United League of Mississippi; on the other hand CPM-L’s Wells encouraged and even “dared” Greensboro Afro-American activists to join the November 11th WVO funeral march – a march which took place under martial law with a thousand armed soldiers of the state apparatus controlling the streets and with absurdly provocative WVO “honor guards” marching with the five caskets “armed” with unloaded weapons, by agreement with the Greensboro mayor who had declared martial law!

3) In opposition to the opportunist demand projected by WVO right after the Greensboro Massacre for “Kennedy and Carter” to investigate the murders, to the CPM-L’s call for a congressional investigation, and to the CLP’s call for “an immediate federal investigation” and “further legal action under the Civil Rights Act” as well as the CLP’s and CPUSA’s call for the US imperialist state apparatus to “Outlaw the Klan” – the Marxist-Leninists call for a “people’s investigation” and for the Afro-American people to fight for the mandatory penalties for the Klan-Nazi elements who committed these murders.

4) In opposition to the efforts of the CPM-L-SCEF forces and the CLP-Equal Rights Congress forces along with Guardian, RWH etc. who want to make the November 18th Greensboro vigil and march and rally into a countrywide mobilization – swamping the Afro-American community of Greensboro with white petty bourgeois radicals, Marxist-Leninists (including those involved with the “Concerned Citizens” group of Greensboro) oppose this “invasion” of Greensboro by white radicals while calling for Afro-American liberation organizations such as the United League of Mississippi to come in numbers to join hands with the Afro-American people of Greensboro in opposition to the Klan terror. As one “Concerned Citizens” group member put it – “Better a march of 50 Black people from the Greensboro community than 5,000 ’imported’ white middle class radicals”.

5) In opposition to the “new communist movement” opportunists’ uniform approach of not criticizing WVO’s left opportunism to the Afro-American masses of Greensboro and to the international proletariat, Marxist-Leninists recognize not only the importance of mobilizing the masses of the people to oppose the Klan, but the need, precisely in order to mobilize the people, to criticize the ultra-left leadership provided by WVO in its confrontation with the Klan.

Based on the alleged “Communist” Workers Party having invited the Klan into the Afro-American community and having provoked the Klan terror which has become a rallying point for the rising Klan activity in the Carolina Piedmont and throughout the Black Belt South, the Afro-American masses of Greensboro have some understandable bitterness toward “communists” at this time.

RCP, CPM-L, and CLP all agree with WVO’s basic premise, however, that the vanguard “thinkers” “leaders”, etc. are the only significant force worth discussing such questions with. As we wrote three years ago with regard to precisely these four organizations:

INCORRECT CONCLUSION NO. 5: The role of those who possess the ideas, (and especially the petty bourgeois intelligentsia) is all-important, or the only role of consequence, or at least they are the only force worth analysing, struggling for and struggling against.
Hence, the ’new communist movement’, (rife with petty bourgeois individualism) places all responsibility, good or bad, onto the shoulders of ’outstanding leaders’, e.g. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Foster, Nelson Peery [CLP], Avakian [RCP], Klonsky [CPM-L], Jerry Tung [WVO], etc. This relieves or more precisely deprives the rank and file communists and the non-party masses of their own role, i.e., their own creative initiative and responsibility in the historical process. (The Present Party-Building Movement in the USA and the Materialist Conception of History, Ray O. Light, 1977, p. 15)

And again,

5) Contrary to the incorrect proposition and conclusion of the ’new communist movement’ that those who possess the ideas (i.e. party members) and especially the masters of these ideas (i.e. the party leaders) are the only force worth analyzing and struggling with: Leninists believe that the masses of the working class and the people have creative initiative in the revolutionary historical process and that they therefore have responsibility for what happens in their life, the life of their society, its role in the world, etc. Hence in the process of winning the hearts and minds of the working class for the cause of socialism and communism we must tell the proletariat the truth, bitter or sweet, as comrade Lenin did. (Ibid, p. 95)

In Dialectical Materialism, Adoratsky, the authoritative Bolshevik philosopher, wrote,

In 1914 the liberal newspaper Rech, discussing the fight the Bolsheviks were waging against the Liquidators, bewailed the ’carrying of the dissension into the ranks of the workers.’ Lenin in an article entitled The Methods Used by the Bourgeois Intellectuals in the Fight Against the Workers’, wrote:
’We welcome the ’carrying of dissension into the ranks of the workers’, for it is the workers, and the workers alone, who will distinguish dissensions from differences, from disagreements on principle, who will understand the significance of these disagreements and form their own opinion and decide not ’with whom’ to go, but where to go, i.e., decide on a definite, clear, well-considered and tested line of action.’ (p. 11)

Reflecting Marxist-Leninist confidence in the Afro-American proletariat and the Afro-American masses of Greensboro, the advanced forces within the “Concerned Citizens” group responsible for their outstanding leaflet raised principled criticisms of WVO’s “adventuristic and irresponsible” actions in their mass leaflet.

Only such Marxist-Leninist confidence in the masses can over the long run lead the Afro-American masses of Greensboro to overcome their understandable bitterness toward “communists” and finally develop confidence in genuine Marxist-Leninist leadership, which is the only leadership capable of leading them to Afro-American national liberation and a socialist USA.