When They Bought Us Out
“[W]hite supremacy exists not external to the class, but as a perversion of its own interests.”
From Shane Burley
Based on a speech delivered at The Potter’s House in Washington D.C. on June 19th, 2017.
The days that followed Donald Trump’s unlikely election were a red-carpet moment for Twitter nationalists.
Richard Spencer made his fame in the wake of Trump’s run, as the Alt Right rose in public recognition as the new leadership for a fascist movement made visible. Spencer was the President of the National Policy Institute; a white nationalist think tank that built up an intellectual underpinning to a self-conscious fascist movement. It knew what it was, and it didn’t lie.
He had been holding posh conferences in the heart of Washington D.C. for years, and he planned his November 2016 conference just after the election. It was going to be a celebration or a recommital to accelerationism, whatever worked. In front of a crowd of suits and MAGA hats Spencer berated the press and gave a raucous speech, going fully explicit with the language with which he saw his movement.
“To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognize the central lie of American race relations. We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around. Whiteness, or rather identity, is being forced on the deracinated, consumerist “last man” that is European America. No one is going to be permitted to escape this process. Great historical changes are imminent when people are forced into a binary choice, fight or flee, join or die, resist or cuck. That is the position of white people right now.”
That speech finished with an explosion from the crowd when Spencer yelled “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory.” The Roman Salutes that dotted the audience made sense, and the liberal media loved it.
One year later, at the November 2017 NPI conference, things had changed. The infighting in the Alt Right began almost immediately, with the revolutionary white nationalists separating from the Trump Republicans. Antifascist mass actions began to disrupt any functioning event the Alt Right had, from Spencer’s campus appearances to Identity Evropa’s brief attempts at anti-immigrant rallies. Then there was Charlottesville, a window into the reality of what the white nationalist movement is capable of, and the mass media platform denial that came as a result. Social media, podcast hosting, YouTube, and almost all venues for their expression were halted; their message, and money, began to flounder in the wake.
This year, they were no longer allowed the Ronald Reagan building in D.C.’s City Center, but instead had to rent an unheated barn in rural Pennsylvania. They could not secure another venue, no one would rent to them: it simply wasn’t worth it. During the event Spencer did an interview with author Angela Nagle for a documentary on the Alt Right, discussing the state of their movement and Spencer’s vision for a great white empire.
When Nagle asked what he would do with the American whites who did not want the vision he promised, he had a binary choice. “Then we will force them to be free.”
Fascism is not just a system of obtuse and indecipherable totalitarianism. It is not simply the decisive rule from the top. It is populist: meaning, in a sense, it is popular. It is a movement that has to be rooted in the people. Fascism was not popular in an era before mass politics, when aristocratic elites ruled by decry without the charade of mass democracy. Fascism rises and rules by the mass participation of segments of the working class, a point which many have tried to ignore. It is the flaws in democracy it hopes to exploit, to expose the lies of extra-judicial violence and control that allow the system to continue.
As a revolutionary movement which seeks to undermine some of the basic assumptions of Western liberalism, fascism rises from the same conditions that the radical left does: economic strife, dehumanizing living conditions, racial conflict, state repression, and the range of violence marked by modern capitalist society. This creates the turmoil, a revolutionary spirit that can tip over into a number of directions. The rage of the marginalized classes is always sincere and valid, yet its purity guarantees nothing about outcomes.
One element that can pivot and distort class rebellion is the meager benefits that a privileged class of workers have. This is to say, the more white, male, or otherwise marginally-benefited workers have, the more advantages they see above their counterparts. A reactionary privileged class, desperate to hold on to those privileges in a world of uncertainty and competition, have the longest tradition of patented self-destruction. The inability of white workers to see the benefits of anti-racist solidarity, the strength that comes from class unity only possible through a revolutionary refusal of white supremacy, has been the bargain made for decades in an attempt to grasp at that privilege.
This choice has been the Achilles Heel of the worker’s movement, and largely all left mass movements, and enacts arson on liberation. The push in the labor movement to bait out immigrants, including demonizing immigrant labor, was a bid to raise wages for domestic workers. However, it ignored the fact that those meager wage gains were nothing compared to what could have been achieved if a true internationalism was embedded. The benefits of male social caste came at the cost of crushing patriarchy, the kind of rigid gender roles that have cost men the ability to hold relationships and live with themselves as they are. The exchange has been made, and for pennies now they lost thousands.
The mass politics of fascism is built on the white working class, it cannot exist without it. They are what gives it strength, people, anger. They are the enforcers, even the vanguards, even if they are not the beneficiaries. This reality has to be confronted: white supremacy exists not external to the class, but as a perversion of its own interests. But whose fault is it? As the left recedes into urban college campuses, internalize jargon, and failed liberal movements, where is the white working class? Is it organizing?
No one needs to tell us to organize, to survive. We do it every day, and we do it without the organized left. There is no reason to believe, however, that this is always in a direction we could celebrate, or even accept. The old IWW slogan of “if you aren’t talking to your co-worker, someone else is” with the silhouette of a Klansman rings true, and the anger of the white worker class has nowhere to go but down. Their energy, built on de-industrialization, falling real wages, and the true reality of working life rises; it has been effectively turned upon itself and on immigrants, women, queers, and people of color.
This is not eternal, it has not always been this way. While the shift has taken place, the left has always been there, a step away to mock, criticize, and remain insular, losing popularity as it loses the class.
This is a call to engage all members of the working class in fundamental change, but it is not a declaration to ignore the reality of violent white supremacy coming from people with similar paychecks to our own. We have to prioritize defense in times of repression and supremacist insurrection, including building networks of community protection against white nationalist attacks and the growing infrastructure of genocide in the state. While white workers have not largely sided with movements like the project to Abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) system, we push ahead without apology.
Regardless, white workers benefit from a deeply revolutionary antiracist movement, one that drives out divisions in the working class. Such a movement can do so only by uprooting actual inequality and destroying racism, both interpersonal and institutional. When white workers give up privilege by undoing the system of institutionalized white supremacy, they will get solidarity in return. This provides real power, not just the illusion of freedom so many cling to.
A movement like that can destroy all borders, wages, bosses, and states. And to do that we need everyone together, with foundations that were built consciously. A working class movement does not abandon the work at road blocks, or offense, or even trauma; instead, it sees the reclamation of the class as inherent to a revolutionary process. This doesn’t stop the work: there are two projects ahead, revolution against the top and the rebuilding of the class. This is a permanent work in progress, a permanent revolution.
This doesn’t mean every white worker will read your pamphlet, hear your speech, and join your movement. And why would they? Organizing rests on more than that: the legitimacy of shared class identification and matching of idealism with material conditions. It won’t work universally, and the “false consciousness,” or even parallel consciousness, lingers in huge swaths of people whose mythology of self is cemented in the whiteness offered as a consolation prize. That doesn’t matter, though: they benefit from the destruction of whiteness just the same.
So that means going forward. And if they tell you they don’t want it, then we will give them a binary choice. We will force them to be free.
Shane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1
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