Friday, February 23, 2018

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The Greensboro Massacre

Christopher Owens reviews a book on a US massacre.




It's an incident that could very well have come from our own country. Protest, murder, political intrigue and acquittals, the events of November 3rd 1979 should be as discussed and dissected as much as Bloody Sunday and Kingsmill. 

Sadly, this book remains one of a very few about the Greensboro Massacre.





Published in 1980, both authors were present at the march against the Klu Klux Klan and American Nazi Party, which saw the death of five people (all members of the Communist Workers Party) at the hands of the Klan and Nazis.

Allegations of collusion surfaced, due to the lack of a police presence until after the shootings. It quickly emerged that one of the Klansmen who had been present at the shooting was a police informer, while a member of the ANP (who had been an FBI informer) encouraged the Nazis to arm themselves prior to the demonstration.

Tried before an all white southern jury, they were acquitted when the jury accepted their argument that they had been provoked. Another trial in 1984 also saw the gunmen being acquitted when they argued their motivations were political, as opposed to racial.

So this book, the first about the massacre, retains an important place in history.

With both authors being members of the Communist Workers Party, there is no pretence at impartiality. On one hand, it's refreshing to see and read such open proclamations of Communism in such works (especially in a pre Gorbachov era Cold War). On the other hand, it does get rather po-faced and tiresome to read about "full time revolutionaries" and their debates about revealing their Communist beliefs to a sympathetic public.

The vast majority of the book is dedicated to telling the stories of the people who died at Greensboro, and they are all portrayed as good, hard working members of the party who were willing to debate, think and take action (such as moving to North Carolina to work in a textile mill so they can spread the message to the working class).

Interestingly (to me anyway), the chapters dedicated to each person are almost interchangeable. All of them give up certain types of careers to become revolutionaries, all of them are involved with trade union disputes, all of them knew to have fun etc etc. And while I cannot fault their activism and bravery in uniting black and white textile workers against the bosses and the police, there's very little in the way of what made them tick. What made them human. It's just party political propaganda at best (although understandable giving the context).

The authors conspiracy theory about it being a deliberate attempt to stifle the growth of the Communist Workers Party by removing some of the genuinely committed members (and future leaders) is an interesting one, considering what we now know about the conflict in this country. However, with the CWP never numbering more than (probably) 1000 members (in a country of 225.1 million in 1979), I'm not convinced that the state saw them as much of a potential threat.

Ultimately, it's hard to come away with any other thought that the marchers were maybe a tad naive to think that, by announcing that a march would be held under the banner "Death to the Klan", there would not be anything of this ilk. With the Klan being heavily infiltrated and even members taking up important positions in the political establishment, it was only going to end up bloody. 

In recent years, with a Truth and Reconciliation style committee (not endorsed by the mayor or the majority of the council of Greensboro) report citing that both sides engaged in antagonising one another in the run up to the march, but that the Klan went there with the intention of murder, more information has become available. And it's fascinating to see the ambivalence some of America seem to have towards the event, because the murdered were Communists. 

Very much a time capsule, this book documents a time when radical left wing politics was untouched by neoliberalism and the onslaught of Reaganomics. When people genuinely believed that the revolution wasn't far off and, as described in the book, a time when Robert Mugabe was seen as an inspiring hero.


Paul C. Bermanzohn,‎ Sally A. Bermanzohn The True Story of the Greensboro Massacre Cesar Cauce Publishers and Distributors ISBN-13: 978-0866860000


Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212

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