LaRouche's writings in the late 1960s displayed an intense curiosity about the history and methods of European fascism. His research, so his followers thought, was aimed at learning how to prevent fascism. But his analysis differed in subtle ways from that of other leftists. One of the first observers to spot something amiss was his old rival Tim Wohlforth. In a 1968 article, Wohlforth noted LaRouche's "preposterous theory" that the Nazi’s murder of six million Jews had been motivated solely by economics. "It seems," wrote Wohlforth, "that when [the Nazis] worked the Jews to a point where there was no labor power left in them, they simply sent them to the gas chambers to save the cost of upkeep for unproductive slaves." Wohlforth saw LaRouche's theory as just a one-sided analysis of Nazi motives. He didn't suspect that LaRouche one day would develop his own brand of fascism.
In 1971, LaRouche published a major article on the prospects for fascist base building in America, Only with a mass base, he observed, could a "storm trooper" organization have "saleable qualities" that might attract support from "leading governmental and financial interests." He predicted that such a movement would emerge soon on the basis of a "populist" ideology and diverse appeals to rival ethnic groups. This movement would begin to furnish the capitalists with gangs to "break strikes and break up socialist and union meetings." Although at first it might include fascist-minded Jews, it would sooner or later turn on the Jewish community. The Jews, LaRouche observed, were "a most visible and thus 'ripe' " candidate for the role of scapegoat.
LaRouche also predicted that a new type of left-wing group, defined as "left-protofascist," would take part in the street violence on the side of overtly right-wing ethnic fascists. In subsequent articles he examined how the alleged controllers of fascism, the American capitalist class, might use advanced brainwashing techniques to transform leftist college students into precisely this type of left-fascist "zombie." He meanwhile began to teach his own leftist followers to regard themselves as "Prometheans," an elite far above the rest of humanity,
LaRouche's implication was clear: The NCLC must learn from fascism and adopt some of fascism's tactics. But his followers still regarded themselves as good Marxists (in spite of their elitist pretensions) and retained a visceral hatred of fascism. If LaRouche wanted to steer them to the right, he would have to turn the NCLC into a controlled environment for ideological reeducation—a political cult.
The NCLC's transformation occurred in three overlapping stages during 1973-74. First, LaRouche ordered his followers into the streets for a campaign of savage attacks on rival leftist groups called Operation Mop Up. This forced them to either deepen their commitment or get out. It also isolated them irrevocably from the rest of the left.
Second, LaRouche staged "ego-stripping" sessions at NCLC meetings, instilling in his followers a sense of shame over any ideological wavering or lack of courage they might have displayed during Mop Up.
Finally, he whipped up an atmosphere of hysteria inside the NCLC based on allegations of an assassination plot aimed against himself. The acceptance of these bizarre allegations severed most of the remaining links between NCLC members and everyday reality.
Operation Mop Up was preceded by months of squabbling between the NCLC and the Communist Party USA. NCLC members had frequently disrupted CP meetings with long harangues from the floor. The CP began tossing them out and published articles alleging that they were government agents. Matters escalated in early 1973 when the NCLC announced a conference in Philadelphia to build a national organization for welfare recipients and the unemployed. CP members and other local activists started a campaign to discredit the conference, calling its NCLC organizers racists as well as agents. The NCLC leadership was furious. A New Solidarity front-page editorial, entitled "Deadly Crisis for CPUSA," warned the CP that if it didn't back off it would face an all-out counterattack. The CP failed to take the threat seriously.
On the conference's opening day the anti-NCLC coalition sent a sound truck through the black community and staged a picket line with signs comparing the NCLC to the Ku Klux Klan. This failed to stop the event, which was attended by several hundred white middle-class activists and a handful of welfare mothers. The harassment did, however, give LaRouche the pretext he needed. He called an emergency meeting of the East Coast NCLC. "From here on in," he declared, "the CP cannot hold a meeting on the East Coast . . . We'll mop them up in two months." The NCLC, he promised, would seize "hegemony" on the left—i.e., replace the CP as the dominant organization.
Many NCLC members were shocked and frightened by LaRouche's announcement, but he anticipated their reluctance: "I know you better than you know yourselves, and for the most part you're full of crap," he said. "This isn't a debating society anymore."
A front-page New Solidarity editorial, "Operation Mop Up: The Class Struggle Is for Keeps," echoed LaRouche's call. "We must dispose of this stinking corpse [the CP]," the editorial said, "to ensure that it cannot act as a host for maggots and other parasites preparing future scabby Nixonite attacks on the working class. . . . If we were to vacillate . . . we would be guilty of betraying the human race. Our job is to pulverize the Communist Party."
Meanwhile, the NCLC leadership prepared an extraordinary psycho-theological document, "The CP Within Us," to bolster morale. The key to winning Mop Up, it argued, was to expunge the inner voice of cowardice and hesitation (i.e., the CP) within each NCLC member.
Months prior to Mop Up, LaRouche had ordered the most physically agile NCLC members to undergo training for street fighting. This training was now stepped up. Members were organized into flying squads armed with metal pipes, clubs, and nunchukas (Okinawan martial arts devices consisting of two sticks attached by a chain). The idea was to go into action as mini-phalanxes with the nunchuka wielders in the center.
Mop Up began in New York, and spread to Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit, and other cities. Attackers were sometimes brought from out of town so their faces wouldn't be recognized. In several cities they broke up public meetings and invaded leftist bookstores, beating anyone who tried to bar their way. In New York they ambushed individual CP leaders on the street. In Detroit they administered a savage beating to a partially paralyzed left-wing activist on crutches. In Philadelphia, twenty-five to thirty NCLC members raided a meeting of the Public Workers Action Caucus. "The steps were a mass of blood," said a PWAC activist. "As soon as I walked out I was hit by a pole," Although no one was critically injured in any of the attacks, several were hospitalized with broken bones and many required medical treatment for cuts and bruises.
The NCLC rhetoric kept pace with the attacks. "The red Communist Party has turned into a den of yellow cowards," announced a LaRouche spokesman in Philadelphia. "CP Recruiting Pallbearers for Its Own Funeral," blared a headline in the April 30 New Solidarity.
When members of the Socialist Workers Party and other Trotskyist groups came forward to defend the CP despite past differences, the NCLC responded with an announcement that henceforth the Trotskyists would be fair game. Undeterred, dozens of SWP supporters showed up to guard the CP's New York mayoral candidate, Rasheed Storey, after the NCLC announced it would break up a speech he was scheduled to give at Columbia. Doug Jenness, a member of the defense squad, recalls that about forty LaRouchians "filtered into the hall, some wearing leather jackets. They had staves concealed under blankets. When Storey started speaking, they stood up and moved forward, putting on brass knuckles and displaying nunchukas." Storey and other speakers were whisked out the back. The battle then began in earnest. Although the NCLC was finally driven from the hall, six members of the defense squad required treatment.
An unsigned front-page New Solidarity article, "Their Morals and Ours" (named after an anti-Stalinist treatise by Trotsky), expressed anger at the attitude of LaRouche's former Trotskyist comrades. The SWP, the article complained, "has been saying, 'Smash the Communist Party' for almost forty years, yet when some left organization proceeds to actually smash the CP, the SWP leaders and members roll their glazed eyes heavenward, expecting the entire galaxy to fall upon them."
"Their Morals and Ours" revealed the tactical thinking behind Mop Up. It boasted that fifty NCLC members could "rout" three hundred CP members and that the CP would have to mobilize at least six times as many fighters to even become a "serious obstacle."
This bravado strongly resembled the passage in Mein Kampf in which Hitler, describing an altercation between Nazis and leftists in a Munich meeting hall in 1921, crowed that "our enemies, who must have numbered seven and eight hundred men, [were] beaten out of the hall and chased down the stairs by my men numbering not even fifty."
"Their Morals and Ours" also said that destroying the CP meant showing that it was "a 'paper tiger,' rightfully an object of pitying contempt in the eyes of the working person." This idea was further developed in another New Solidarity article: "All those mighty 'Communists' can do is hide behind the nightsticks of the local police, while publishing tear-jerking accounts of their own casualties."
Again, there is a similar formulation in Mein Kampf: "Any meeting which is protected exclusively by the police discredits its organizers in the eyes of the broad masses. . . . [A] heroic movement will sooner win the heart of a people than a cowardly one which is kept alive only by police protection."
Such parallels did not go entirely unnoticed within the NCLC. Christine Berl, one of LaRouche's top disciples (who quit the following year), recalls that she was assigned to prepare a report for a 1973 NCLC conference on how Hitler built up the Nazi Party. "It scared me," she says. "I began to see it was the very tactics Lyn was using." Berl says that she presented her doubts in the form of a puzzle: How do we distinguish ourselves from the Nazis? The audience was unable to give a clear answer.
New York in 1973 was hardly comparable to Munich in 1931. There were no Freikorps veterans and ruined shopkeepers to flock to LaRouche's banner. And his street fighters were middle-class intellectuals, not desperate lumpen proletarians. Indeed the majority of them were not fighters at all. Most Mop Up attacks were carried out by just a few dozen persons. Even the most enthusiastic of these became nervous as the CP and SWP fought back, their defense squads often outnumbering the attackers. "I pissed blood for a month," recalls a female NCLC member who was injured while charging a Detroit SWP rally. The Chicago regional NCLC sent a memo to New York stating that it wasn't strong enough to "deal directly" with the CP. Would the leadership send "defense reinforcements"? Until such reinforcements arrived, the Chicago organization would keep most of its activities "low-key or underground," the memo said. By May, the NCLC leadership was finding it difficult to whip up enthusiasm for fresh attacks even in New York.
It is widely believed among leftists that the police in some cities encouraged Mop Up. This suspicion is understandable in light of well-documented police harassment of left-wing groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But former LaRouchians who participated in Mop Up say they don't recall any police encouragement. At the time, the NCLC regarded the police as the enemy, acting in cahoots with the CP and the SWP to repress the true forces of Revolution. This view was vehemently expressed in the pages of New Solidarity as the police cracked down on Mop Up in city after city. Several NCLC members were arrested in Philadelphia, including a top LaRouche aide. More were arrested in Boston. In Buffalo felony indictments brought the local Mop Up to a grinding halt. In New York City two NCLC members were charged with second-degree assault and possession of a deadly instrument after they attacked black CP leader Ron Tyson. One of Tyson's attackers was rearrested a week later for assaulting an SWP member.
The only evidence of a law enforcement role in Mop Up points not to local police but to the FBI. The findings of a federal judge in an SWP lawsuit against the FBI suggest that once Mop Up was under way, the bureau's New York office attempted to aggravate it as part of a campaign of anonymous mailings and other malicious pranks to keep leftist sects at each other's throats. Federal Judge Charles D. Breitel of the Southern District of New York reviewed classified FBI files in 1979 as a court-appointed Special Master acting for plaintiff SWP. His report noted that a letter had been sent to the NCLC during Mop Up listing the names, home telephone numbers, and addresses of SWP members. "Unless the Government is prepared to allow disclosure of all information" in the deleted part of the file, Breitel ruled, "it should be conclusively presumed that the letter was sent by the FBI . . ."
LaRouche knew just how far he could push Mop Up. Before the stalemate with the CP could turn into a rout for his followers, he declared victory and called everything off. In fact, Mop Up did no real political harm to the CP. A few meetings were canceled in the first weeks, but thereafter the CP continued its normal activities behind a screen of defense squads. However, Mop Up was a great success for LaRouche. It induced his followers to believe that those they had attacked, and who had fought back, were permanently the enemy. No longer were non-NCLC leftists seen as rivals within a common Marxist tradition. They had become unredeemable devils, traitors to the working class, subhuman police agents, fascists. Mop Up thus marked a bizarre new stage in the NCLC's political evolution—the stage of antifascist fascism.
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