Workers Vanguard No. 1121
3 November 2017
Remember 1979 Greensboro Massacre!
Emboldened by the overt racism of the Trump administration, fascists have stepped up their provocations and deadly attacks. Their murderous intent was clearly seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, when hundreds of fascists mobilized in defense of the Confederacy. Heather Heyer was murdered by a Nazi-lover who drove his car at high speed into a group of anti-fascist protesters. The goal of today’s fascists is no different than that of their Nazi and Klan forebears: racial genocide, of black people in particular, and the destruction of working-class organizations, including unions and the left.
Today, “Charlottesville” is a byword for fascist terror, just as “Greensboro” has been for 38 years. On 3 November 1979, Ku Klux Klan and Nazi fascists murdered five union organizers and anti-racist activists, supporters of the Communist Workers Party, in broad daylight in Greensboro, North Carolina. The fascist killers did not work alone; they were aided and abetted by the government. Dozens of Klansmen and Nazis in a nine-car caravan drove up to the black housing project of Morningside Homes, the assembly point for an anti-Klan rally. With calculated deliberation, they took their shotguns and semiautomatic weapons out of their trunks, aimed and opened fire directly at the 100 protesters. Then they calmly packed up and drove away. The whole massacre was shown live on TV and recorded by the Greensboro cops.
In less than 90 seconds, five demonstrators lay dead: César Cauce, Michael Nathan, William Sampson, Sandra Smith and James Waller. Ten more were wounded, one of them paralyzed for life. As soon as the attack ended, the cops swooped in and arrested survivors. Liberals, black Democrats and the trade-union bureaucracy reacted with the same lies as the bourgeois media, implying that the dead got what they deserved. Grotesquely, the New York Times described the carnage in Greensboro as a “shootout” between two “fringe groups.”
Many of the anti-Klan activists who survived were fired from their jobs, jailed and hounded by the FBI and local police. These courageous people—black and white, men and women—were targeted because they acted to oppose the fascists’ vicious campaign against blacks, Jews, unionists and leftists. Many of them had a long and honorable history in the Southern civil rights movement and as union militants in North Carolina, where Klan terror has historically been used by the bosses to keep unions out.
The Greensboro Massacre was the product of collusion between the fascists and the capitalist state. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent helped train the killers and plot the assassinations; a police/FBI informer rode shotgun in the lead car; a Greensboro cop brought up the rear. The killers literally got away with murder. They were acquitted by all-white juries, affirming once again the meaning of “justice” in this racist, capitalist system.
The fascists announced they would “celebrate” the Greensboro Massacre a week later in Detroit. In response to this provocation in a black proletarian center, the Spartacist League built a labor/black mobilization at the same place and time that the Klan threatened to rally. Over 500 people, including black and white auto workers, turned out to make sure that the Klan did not ride in the Motor City. In organizing the protest, we had to overcome sabotage from the trade-union misleaders (especially UAW bureaucrats), who refused to endorse and build the rally, and from black Democratic Party mayor Coleman Young, who threatened to arrest the anti-Klan protesters. In an exemplary way, this mobilization showed that the working class, marching at the head of all the fascists’ intended victims, has the power to sweep the race-terrorists off the street.
The fascists must and can be stopped. Greensboro showed that the fascist killers can’t be effectively fought by individual direct action, no matter how courageous. What is necessary is to mobilize the strength of the working class. As we wrote in the immediate aftermath of Greensboro:
“Every successful cross burning, every fascist parade through a Jewish or black neighborhood, every courtroom victory in the liberals’ campaign for ‘free speech for fascists’ whets the murderers’ appetite for more violence.... This campaign of terror must be stopped. Socialists and militants in the labor movement must call on organized labor to mobilize its tremendous social power, in alliance with black and other minority organizations and the left to stop the Klan in its tracks.”
—“For Labor/Black Mass Mobilizations: Smash KKK Killers!” WV No. 243, 9 November 1979
Such mobilizations can give the working class a sense of its social power and of the class nature of the capitalist state and the Democrats. They also point to the need to forge a workers party to lead the fight for a socialist revolution. That is the only way to get rid of the fascist murderers once and for all—by doing away with the racist capitalist system that breeds them. In fighting for a workers America, we honor the memory of the Greensboro martyrs.