The arrest of 3 students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for wearing masks to an anti-Confederate protest should act as a wake-up call for leftists, and to re-evaluate tactics for struggle against the far-right and imperialism at large. The law used to convict the students, who now face 5 years in prison for their so-called crimes, was first drafted in order to undermine the KKK. This is not the first time that leftists have been arrested for wearing masks to anti-fascist events, of course. It is one of the more common charges leveled against leftists in protests of almost any kind. Of course, we endorse the use of masks wherever possible as they provide much-needed security against those who wish to identify us and do us harm. We should, however, analyze how it was that the state acquired this power.
Ironically, the power to convict anti-racists for covering up was agitated for by anti-racists of the past. These anti-mask laws were pushed hard by liberal and establishment-left forces looking to undermine the Klan. This push even saw the participation of more radical groups, who wanted an end to open activism by the KKK and their Nazi comrades. Now, (only somewhat) unexpectedly, we have become the victims of state backlash, hoisted by the petard of parliamentary anti-fascism. Needless to say, we must alter the trajectory of future anti-fascist struggle. The fight against capitalism-imperialism, the primary contradiction, cannot be jettisoned in the struggle against fascism.
Myopia as regards state repression will blind us to the long-term consequences of extraordinary violence accrued to the imperialist state through struggle between the state and the insurrectionist right. We treated this topic in some depth in a previous article, “In the Wake of Developments in the Anti-Fascist Struggle”, where it was explained how backhanded support for the imperialist state in their measures to halt fascist movements lays the groundwork for a more powerful state repression against the left. For the first time in decades in north amerika, the prospect of an anti-racist, anti-imperialist and politically independent left presents itself, not out of a great outpouring of internationalism, but out of necessity. Material conditions have foisted this potential onto the movement in amerika, and the opportunity must be seized. Fascists are, after all, a product of the contradictions in capitalism-imperialism and settler-colonialism, and cannot be defeated decisively without the resolution of the primary contradiction.
That is not to say that legal struggle can never be useful in slowing the metastasis of the far-right, but the call for greater measures of state repression (while the state is not ours) is most usually a long-term reactionary measure. Of course we must also understand that the situation is in constant flux, and temporal alliances and united fronts can spring up as necessity and strategy dictate. While the unity of communists and the bolivarian government in Venezuela, for instance, can be understood as revolutionary in the immediate interests of fighting both the far-right and amerikan imperialism, the same cannot be said for the monopolistic rule of the neoliberal bourgeoisie acting temporarily in opposition to the far-right in amerika. The situation as it stands now cannot leave room for such confident unity between the state and the communist movement, and therefore we must oppose all attempts of the imperialists to mitigate existential threats and strengthen their grip on state power.
This does not mean that any temporal alliance with fascists or the far-right is necessary or preferred, but it does mean a principled opposition to neoliberal finagling in the interests of boosting the power of the police state. Sure, an anti-mask law will help us identify fascists who may otherwise hide behind hoods and masks, but in the end these laws serve the interests of those who hold state power. All activity in the interests of anti-fascism should also supercede the singular issue of attacking a bloc which currently lacks state power, and aim to break apart the actual monopoly rulers of the global capitalist-imperialist system. In those interests, attempts by the state to affix themselves as the regulators of political discourse should be attacked regardless of their targets. We are always their target, so long as we are in opposition to their monopolistic rule. These 3 students are just the most recent examples of nearsighted “friendly fire” by leftists who have restricted their political action to a purely tactical, rather than strategic, point of view.