Originally published by Three River Reds on August 24, 2017
A summation of Three River Red’s formation of an armed partisan unit and Red Bloc in unity with Pittsburgh antifascists and the Pittsburgh masses
“Individuals do not set the course of events; it is the social force.” — F. W. Lawvere
In the struggle against capitalism and fascism our duty as revolutionary communists is to unite wholeheartedly and completely with the masses and take up the ideas of their most advanced elements, synthesize them with revolutionary theory, and put them into practice in the streets: in a phrase, the mass line method of leadership.
Following the inaugural successes of the mass organization Serve The People-Pittsburgh, as well as our formation of an armed red partisan unit positioned against fascist threats in Larimer at the request of local community members, we believe that it is time to issue a summation of our work and, in an inchoate sense, to synthesize our scientific analysis of militant and mass-based politics in Pittsburgh.
Introduction to the Communist Understanding of Fascism
Like a serpent rising from the grasses of the status quo of imperialist aggression abroad and national oppression at home, fascism is getting organized in America. At first emboldened and hopeful for Trump and his Republican cronies, they are now disillusioned and feel the need for a new explicitly fascist party to push their genocidal policies. In this context, the “Unite the Right” rally was called for Charlottesville, Virginia on the 12th of August. Hundreds and hundreds of fascists descended on Charlottesville and were met by the inspiring resistance of communists, anarchists, socialists, and members of the masses. When the tide of the roving street battles and armed standoffs turned in the favor of the people, the fascist enemy struck with terrorism, martyring the now immortal Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others.
This is the face of fascism — mass death and brutalization at the hands of a corporatist state intent on crushing all forms of revolutionary agitation and thus smoothing over the inherent contradictions of capitalist society.
One week after this brutal attack on the masses, the fascists called for a “free speech” March on Google in 9 cities including Pittsburgh, as Google had recently fired a man for writing an anti-woman, sexist tirade. Free speech is an empty slogan, a shell of an ideology, as fascism parasitically takes what it can from the dominant ideologies in order to push its poison on the people.
The Place of Communists in the Struggle Against Fascism
We must struggle to make communism a threat again, a threat enough to make the enemy fear us, to fear the people, but also to inspire the masses to take up the red banner and lead with it. We fight for the day when the masses wield communism and communists as a tool, a weapon, to reshape the world and thus sate their great hunger for bread, for joy, and for blood.
The masses must be with us every step of the way to socialism — communists are both led by and are leaders of the people, this is called the dialectic of the mass line method of leadership. If the masses attack the enemy, even if they are outmatched, we fight side by side with them, and if our blood mingles with theirs for it, all the better.
As revolutionary communists we call progressive everything that builds up the Party and the fighting capacity of the masses along the road to People’s War. Everything regressive and reactionary stands in the way of this forward march. Of course the status quo of the bourgeois state, based in white supremacist settler-colonialism, is thus regressive and reactionary, and we see its true face daily as this liberal democracy maintains its racialized and gendered caste system through police murders of black people and indigenous people, sexist terrorism, the creeping, bloated prison system, red-lining, other oppressive hiring and housing practices, etc. But fascism is a singular threat.
What is fascism? It is the last instance of bourgeois democracy, its natural tendency and end-point. Fascism is a state of exceptional terror used to smother, to obscure the contradictions of capitalist society. It is corporatism maintained through an absolute and nihilistic death machine which takes what it must from culture to build its supporting ideology — “Buy American”, MAGA, blood and soil, reclaiming a supposedly-threatened whiteness and purity.
Fascism must be crushed before it takes root in the fertile soil of the American status quo. And it must be crushed by the masses, by the full weight of the revolutionary people. Fascism is not a matter best left to white folks, like some embarrassing feud within “the family” that needs to be settled by the good white allies. It is a force that, if it takes full power, will first kill the communists, then the anarchists and liberal-left and the organized masses (union leaders, feminist leaders, etc), and will then be free to set about corralling and murdering and (re-)enslaving oppressed peoples.
The fascists have their own totalized understanding of society; if we are to defeat them, so must we.
Before the Formation of the Partisan Unit: The Kingsley Association Meeting
The Google Headquarters in Pittsburgh is located in Bakery Square, a gentrified blight in the black neighborhood of East Liberty bordering the black neighborhoods of Homewood, Larimer, and Garfield. The threat of white supremacists, fresh from tasting blood in Charlottesville, rallying in East Liberty and so close to multiple other working class black communities rightly inspired disgust, outrage, and fear from the masses in Pittsburgh.
Responding to these feelings, black women leaders called a meeting to discuss a community-led response to the “alt-right”, crypto-fascist March on Google. The meeting took place in the Kingsley Association in Larimer a few days before the planned March.
The March on Google organizers officially cancelled the event just before the community meeting, citing phony threats from the “Alt-Left” — including spinning around the threat made by a fascist to drive his truck into members of the masses Saturday. Fascists are cowards, and know what would happen to them if they showed up in the black working class neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, but the meeting organizers and the broad masses both understood the need to organize a response regardless of whether the fascists showed up or not.
The Black Femme Excellence Co., Sisters PGH, Black Brilliance Collective, and the Movement for Black Lives spearheaded the event, asking black folk and black community members in particular to speak first and white folk to speak last and “stay in their lane”. The plan, as put forward by the leaders, was to figure out if there would be a “response” to the March, and if so, what form this response would take.
The meeting opened with the leaders reporting to the community their conversations with the Pittsburgh police regarding the planned March and multiple terroristic threats the leaders and the black masses of Pittsburgh in general had received from fascists since Charlottesville. The police, as is expected, relayed that the “antifascists and counter-protestors” were the main threat to public order in the city.
Next a man spoke on “safety”, which turned out to be an impassioned speech on the history of white supremacist violence in the United States and the forms of resistance violent and non-violent both which must be taken up to crush it. “There will be sticks, there will be shields, there will be teargas and guns”. The masses responded enthusiastically to this talk, apparently fired up and subjectively ready to crush any fascists foolish enough to display their colors in East Liberty the upcoming Saturday.
Other members of the black masses spoke of the need to crush white supremacy not just in its fascistic form but also in its everyday, status quo form of grinding violence and oppression in service to the American racialized caste system in which we all live and, to various degrees, suffer. One man said he was a part of a group of 30 or so black men who “like to exercise their First and Second Amendment rights just as much as these white people do”. The tenor of the meeting was clear — the masses were ready for militant confrontation with the enemy.
The leaders of the meeting then held a straw poll asking if the masses wanted to organize a counter-demonstration against the planned March on Google. A resounding majority voted “Yes”. At this point, one of the leaders cut off the cheering to elaborate: “We don’t mean an actual counter-demonstration”, though this is precisely the term they used, “but a counter-narrative formation” to showcase the pride and resilience of the black communities of Pittsburgh. The plan apparently had already been formed before the community meeting to avoid entirely Bakery Square and instead hold a black-led pride march through Homewood and Wilkinsburg.
The masses were at first confused – what the hell is a “counter-narrative formation”? Then they were shocked, then outraged. No confrontation with the fascists, just a post-modern wrestling over “narratives”. The organizers explained that white people would be sent to Bakery Square to confront the fascists while black people would stay safely far away — white bodies to the front lines of the fight while black voices were allowed to speak elsewhere.
This discourse of bodies divorced from voices and of narratives divorced from struggle is a post-modern conceptualization of activism and mutual self-defense. This was disappointing, but communists must rely on and have faith in the masses, and the militant mood of the masses in the meeting was inspiring and showed us that the people were ready to fight and through that fighting, learn leadership: we had to be at their side with the red banner, pointing the way down the long road to liberation ahead of us.
The Spokes Council Meeting
Two days after the Larimer meeting, a group of communist, anarchist, unionist, and anti-fascist organizations met to discuss safety precautions for the Homewood march and direct confrontation with any fascists who may show up Saturday.
If an ember is kept burning a fire can start again. The spokes council meeting was sadly a continuation of the firefighting done by the organizers at the Larimer meeting. Though many revolutionaries were present, it seemed the direction of the wind was being blown into a rightward direction.
In the facilitation of the meeting, an emphasis was put on the Black Femme Excellence Co. et al’s line throughout the meeting. Many in the legal left in Pittsburgh are paid staff of the ruling class in NGOs, etc. and conceive of “revolution” as filling in the potholes of the capitalist road. It was correctly emphasized however, even by the legal lefts, that in spite the cancellation of the anti-Google march there was still potential for the fascists to show up.
When specific details related to logistics started to be hashed out, the legal left facilitator said that the Black Femme Excellence Co. organizer wanted the counter protestors to have no “t-shirts, bandanas, banners,” that didn’t “specifically feature a Black organization” or black struggle The facilitator also said, in a remark that would later come back to bite them in the ass, that we shouldn’t “dress conspicuously [as anti-Fascists],” that we “shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves,” and that “we should avoid masking up.” Another person in the room even suggested that we come dressed in business suits, as would look more elegant and respectable than they did!
This line put the immediate security of our movement at risk and completely negated the role that Black working class people from the neighborhood would play in directly combatting the fascists and building revolution, both that weekend and in the future. The dominant revisionist-capitalist-liberal ideology of “business as usual” had to be called out—a cadre brought criticism to them – “the way you are talking, you are acting like revolution is only reserved for white people!” It was made clear that such ludicrous directions would not be followed and that the masses outside of this room of activists should be mobilized to target these hated oppressors on Saturday, the day of the action.
Saturday: Unleash Mass Militancy, Build Proletarian Dual Power!
|A photograph taken by a member of the masses. Their caption: “WTF is going on??”|
At the request of the Homewood pride march organizers and in tactical unity with militant antifascist organizations in Pittsburgh, Three River Reds (3RR) deployed an armed partisan unit and Red Bloc composed of 3RR cadre,mass members, and supporters to protect Larimer and Homewood from fascist incursion.
The thirst of the masses to lead a militant response to the resurgent Klan/Nazi alliance was tangible on Saturday; contrary to the expectations of some of Pittsburgh’s activist circle, members of the masses who had not been reached by the organizers of the Homewood action came to Bakery Square armed and ready for combat. Many expressed disappointment that they and other members of the black/New Afrikan masses in Larimer and Homewood had not been included in the armed defense units, which turned out to be largely white.
One person asked, “Why aren’t black people out here?” Another person showed one of our cadre the firearms which he had acquired to fight fascism in Pittsburgh. These and our many other interactions with community members on Saturday revealed the advanced revolutionary line which the masses of Pittsburgh are already taking up, miles in advance of the “counter-narrative formation” line which was represented by the NGO/activist cliques.
A strategic failure on our part was the initial lack of signs and slogans expressing our intentions in Larimer; this led to some confusion among the masses as to whether we were an antifascist defense unit or a detachment of the fascist militia. Though we were able to defuse this problem in an immediate sense by making signs and by engaging sincerely with the masses, we will rectify our practice in the future by coming prepared with signs, by engaging in mass work and the propagation of revolutionary anti-fascist ideas, and most importantly, by incorporating more oppressed-nations comrades as cadre and mass members.
The Day of the Action
Upon the Red Bloc and Partisan unit’s arrival at the site of the proposed (but cancelled) anti-Google march site at Bakery Square in East Liberty, where the arch-gentrifier Google company building was located at, communists, anarchists and anti-fascists of all stripes were already starting to stream in. Curiously but unsurprisingly absent were the inheritors of the American Revolution, the hard-ass homesteaders, the wild west heroes, the men’s rights activist basement dwellers, and other neo-Nazi and white supremacists who talked up a good game on the Internet but couldn’t seem to be courageous enough to leave their keyboards. However, Walnut Capital (one of the big real estate capitalists in Pittsburgh) had brought in the other white supremacist big boys—a SWAT unit, six mounted police officers, six motorcycle police, six to eight police posted with binoculars in the parking garage adjacent to the building, and several on-foot officers. Signs reading “No guns/No Knives/No Weapons of Any Kind” were placed all around the property of the building, which seemed to stretch outside of the interior of Bakery Square to all adjacent properties, from Trader Joes to the tall ugly gentrifier apartments. The Red Bloc and Partisan unit and its antifascist comrades received requests from the Black Brilliance Rally organizers to be prepared to not let any fascists into the neighborhood of the Rally and pride march. So the groups were posted at the entryways closest to Bakery Square.
The presence of armed revolutionaries inspired mixed reactions from the masses but was largely welcomed – it was one of mostly passive support in the form of car honks and thumbs up and raised fists from people driving through the neighborhood. Three mover workers stopped their truck and held up traffic to talk to us. Those who stopped at the intersection excitedly put down their windows to talk about what we were doing. At one point towards the end, a revolutionary couple from the neighborhood who showed up concealed carrying asked to take pictures with us, and talked to us about the importance of everyone being armed for self defense against fascists and police.
But there was a sizable amount of confusion on the part of the masses as well. While those in the bloc and the partisans defied the suggestions of the Spokes Council and the organizer by choosing to wear the flag of the toiling masses as their bandanas, the lack of propaganda in the form of banners and tshirts which would act as a representation of our politics had a noticeable negative effect. Because those within the bloc did not conduct mass work in the area, and because the organizers did not alert the masses there to the purpose of our presence, the optics of our presence was bewildering at best and horrifying at its worse.
One man from Homewood came up and was Facebook Live streaming, saying he was ready “to fight us” before he realized that we “weren’t the Klan,” saying that people on Facebook confused us for the fascists themselves. Because the organizers of the response to the presence of fascists in East Pittsburgh chose to demobilize the masses from defending their own neighborhood, any active support came from the independent initiative of the masses themselves, most who came with the intention of initially confronting us. This is precisely because of the online rumor and hearsay described above.
As the rally came towards the close three members of the masses rolled up, angry as hell. “Where the fuck are all the other Black people? Why aren’t any of the people who are honking stopping to come fight?” One member of the Red Bloc started explaining the organizers requests at the Kingsley Association—and was interrupted by a liberal who stood in front of this activist: “…this was an event organized by Black femmes who wanted white bodies here to defend the Black communities where the Black Pride [Black Excellence March and Rally] is occurring.” The man angrily retorted them, “What the fuck are you talking about? East Liberty is OUR neighborhood! It shouldn’t just be white people out here with guns!”
The verdict was in – why were forces split? Why was combating fascists relegated to only ‘white bodies’? If fascists did show up in large numbers, this could have been a potentially deadly situation.
Aftermath: Why Mass Work Is Important
The confusion caused what could have been a dangerous fallout. The capitalist media mischaracterized one of the open carriers, who was depicted without a mask on, as an “apparent alt-right demonstrator.” While one could easily say this confusion was caused by the legal left leaders of the Spokes Council or by the organizers of the pride rally (who certainly did not help in dividing the anti-Fascist camp, by not encouraging revolutionary organizing, and by telling people to engage in bad security culture), this is ultimately our failure of not having a mass perspective and of not engaging in mass line work and agitation in the (admittedly very few) days we had before the proposed alt-right march. So what the hell is the mass line?
One of the most important contributions of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) is that it offers a mechanism of building revolution wherever you are, and this method is known as the “mass line.” It works like this: we recognize that the traumas and stress that this system gives our class is located at all the various spaces in our life. It’s where you’re sweating over paying rent at the end of the month. It’s where your wages are being stolen. It’s down the street from your house at the corner store when the pig pulls a gun on you. In other words, it’s where we work, live, and play—it’s in our neighborhoods.
Revolutionaries should not enter into situations with a ready-made program or assumptions about what people want. We integrate ourselves into those communities if we don’t already live there, gather everyone’s ideas, identify the most advanced of those ideas, create slogans and campaigns that build collective actions that will allow those who are advanced to win over those who are more intermediate in their understanding of things. And one repeats this process until everyone in the neighborhood is a revolutionary. This is a quick explanation of it. Work that uses this mass line method of building communists out of the masses is known as “mass work”. Cadre within 3RR, which is an explicitly Maoist organization, are required to do mass work as part of being members. Most do mass work within Serve the People-Pittsburgh, a revolutionary community organization that is based in Garfield and on the Northside.
To respond to fascism when it enters working class communities, we need to be doing long and patient mass work in the spaces where we live. This is what the Black Panthers and Young Lords did.The dominant form of politics that was at play by the organizers of the pride march was not mass line-based, in spite of many of them being from the neighborhood. This proves incorrect the assumption that demographic categories are coherent, homogenous “communities” or “cultures”. Identity categories do not always indicate political unity or correctness of analysis, as the Kingsley Association meeting show – the organizers did not listen to the advanced Black community members there. Identity categories do not indicate political unity or correctness of analysis. Identity is not solidarity. The violent domination and subordination we face on the basis of our race, gender, and sexuality do not magically create a shared political vision. But it is true that the uneven impact of oppression across society creates the conditions for the diffuse emergence of groups organizing on the basis of common experience, analysis, and traits. What isn’t excusable is pushing a politics which places shared cultural identity at the center of analysis of oppression, as juxtaposed against revolutionary organizing against forms of oppression which impact members of oppressed nations and gendered people unevenly from white people.
So while reverence is paid by the organizers to the Panthers, there was no revolutionary political program pushed, no collecting the ideas of the masses — in fact, they completely ignored them, as the dismissed straw poll shows. All that was important was symbolic demands for increased cultural sensitivity, demands that white people “do something”, and a commitment to one-sided “dialogue” with a white power structure. For all the veneration of Black Panther iconography and rhetoric, there was little talk of what that looked like.
If gentrification, police violence, capitalism, and imperialism is to end, we’re going to need a lot more than that. We need to build towards a revolutionary communist party, a people’s army (without a people’s army the people have nothing), and a united front led by the Party. We need to engage in mass line work to struggle here and how for the creation of proletarian dual power and to “cadre-fy” the masses, i.e. to make more communists. Our work in the Red Bloc and partisan unit, as well as our sustained mass work in Pittsburgh, shows us that Pittsburgh is fertile soil for revolutionary politics and programs.
We must dare to struggle, dare to win!
The masses are the makers of history!
— Three River Reds (now Red Guards Pittsburgh)