Supposedly, Trump’s conciliatory language makes him a traitor, “simpering and submissive” before Putin. Doesn’t he care that Putin hacked the election – an “act of war” comparable to Pearl Harbor and 9/11?
Now, Russian bots didn’t put Trump in office. Rather, Hillary Clinton focused her get-out-the-vote efforts on Republicans, misguidedly expecting them to vote for her (whom they’ve hated for decades) rather than their own candidate. That miscalculation narrowed her majority enough to make her vulnerable to a fluke of Electoral College math.
Even so, since the election anti-Trump progressives have become more and more bellicose, with a growing homophobic and anti-communist edge. Where is that coming from? Aren’t liberals supposed to oppose war and support gay rights?
Liberalism is in crisis.
It started under Obama. Despite opening his administration with broad popularity and the only congressional super-majority in recent memory, Obama’s tenure saw the emergence of mass movements to the Democratic Party’s left, most prominently Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Combined with the lingering echo of the 2008 financial meltdown, that laid the conditions for a Democratic crisis of legitimacy. In 2016, it crystallized through Bernie Sanders challenging Clinton and Trump winning the presidency. The unthinkable had happened. Progressives couldn’t deliver what they promised. So, their credibility vanished.
How did they respond? There’s a logic to the accusations of treason, the saber-rattling, and the conspiracy theories. If you’ve lost your legitimacy, how better to get it back than to set yourself up as the defender of the homeland against a looming foreign menace?
That’s why liberals are also going after the Left. Supposedly, Russian hackers are behind not only right-wing fake news, but also oil pipeline protests and the Jill Stein campaign. Democrats are throwing accusations of disloyalty and collusion at all of their opponents, left as well as right.
So, it’s no surprise to see the kind of outright homophobia that they mostly avoided under Obama. Homophobia is a powerful weapon in the nationalist arsenal. Insinuations of “deviant” sexuality bring a visceral punch to the image of sinister, un-American outsiders, strengthening nationalists’ appeal. Joe McCarthy persecuted gays as well as Communists in the 50s, and Democrats are exploiting those same attitudes today. Will they officially recant their pro-gay rights platform? They don’t need to. They’re feeding an embryonic anti-LGBT backlash in spite of it.
Liberals are fighting a war on two fronts.
On one side, they’re trying to beat down and discredit the Left. On the other, they’re competing against the Right on its own nationalistic turf.
Working in coalition with liberals is common sense for most leftists. But, the Democrats’ hard-nationalist turn means they’re starting to view radicals as enemies on par with Trump supporters. Government socialists and other activist leftists will doubtless keep trying to form progressive coalitions anyway. They’re donating volunteer hours to the political forces that will destroy them.
Progressives tolerate radicals when they can afford to. Right now, their crisis means they can’t. Working with Democrats, within their subculture, is no longer viable. So, without an infrastructure of independent revolutionary institutions, how will the Left survive? Revolutionaries can drop conventional activism and embrace the institution-building dual power strategy, or they can find themselves helpless as the liberal allies they depend on turn against them. The crisis of liberalism won’t be ending soon. Unless revolutionaries adapt, how can they withstand it?
Anti-fascism in the United States has two deep problems, neither of which can easily be unraveled. The first problem, which is the foundation of the second, is that it cannot accurately identify precisely who or what a fascist actually is.
This first problem can best be shown from a rather amusing conversation I recently encountered regarding myself and Gods&Radicals Press (where I am the managing editor). It turns out, according to some deeply wise Twitter commentators, that I’m a fascist, or possibly a proto-fascist, or an anarcho-nationalist with white-nationalist leanings.
Their evidence? A recent essay regarding the commons, an essay critiquing racial and gender essentialism, and an anti-imperialist essay.
While it’s tempting to dismiss such a conversation and laugh about the general absurdity of American social media “call outs,” their error points to something much more endemic than mere ignorance or poor reading skills. The essays selectively cited do indeed contain some ideas that could be mistaken as fascist, but not because the ideas themselves are fascist. For instance: the essay on reclaiming the commons from an anti-colonial perspective mentions the word “land” a lot. Some fascists also wish to reclaim land. Likewise, the essay against imperialism shares with some fascist tendencies a disgust for the occupation of peoples by the military. And my critique of social justice essentialism criticizes non-Marxist “feminist” reduction of men to their bodies and genitals.
That is, what the commentators were looking for were signs of fascist ideology, ticking off boxes on a checklist of fascist traits. But unfortunately, opposition to fascism is not as easy as completing a Buzzfeed quiz or reading an Everyday Feminism listicle.
In this error they are hardly alone. American antifascist organizing has faced a much larger difficulty identifying precisely who’s a fascist, or even whether any particular idea is indicative of fascist ideology. This problem leads to all sorts of practical problems, particularly when it comes to organizing against groups and theorists on the far-right who don’t fit into traditional stereotypes of fascism.
Two examples should suffice to show the problem here. First of all, Jack Donovan and the group to which he belongs, The Wolves of Vinland, cannot easily be classified as fascist according to popularly-accepted metrics. Donovan is specifically anti-imperialist, criticizes capitalism and anti-globalisation, rejects racism, and is homosexual. In addition, The Wolves of Vinland might be better described as a Pagan body-cult than a “Fascist counter-cultural tribe” , particularly because they not only do they not participate in demonstrations and have rejected alliances with alt-right groups, but have absolutely no interest in seizing political power or taking control of the state. So any litmus strip we might apply to either Donovan or the Wolves of Vinland in order to determine whether they are fascist will come back completely clean.
Likewise, fascists are at least according to popular understanding supposed to be anti-Black, anti-gay, and most definitely anti-Semitic. So that makes encountering the occasionally violent ideas of Milo Yiannopolous quite difficult: he is homosexual, has a Black man as a lover, and also happens to be Jewish. That is, he isn’t anti-Black, nor anti-gay, nor precisely anti-semitic, yet we still generally see his ideas as fascist.
This nebulous nature of Fascism also means that many leftists find themselves considered fascist because of their adherence to ideas which appear (at least at first glance) to be of fascist provenance. For instance, the anarchist publisher Little Black Cart and its publications have been repeatedly identified as fascist by other anarchists because of their anti-civilizationist and eco-extremist tendencies, both of which appear (under a glance no more attentive than what is needed for a Teen Vogue article) to be identical to some white-nationalist positions.
Similarly, those who use the works of clearly leftist philosophers such as Max Stirner or even Slavoj Zizek are often painted with a fascist brush because of the similarities between both philosophers’ rejection of Liberal Democratic capitalism and the European Nouvelle Droit’s rejections of the same regime.
This inability to distinguish between right-wing (and fascist) critiques of Liberal Democracy leads to the second and more intractable problem within American Anti-fascism. That problem? By mis-identifying Marxist and other far-left opposition to Liberal Democracy as fascist, antifascists end up siding with Capitalist interests and becoming defenders of Liberal Democracy. That is, in an attempt to fight off white supremacists and other far right challenges to the state, antifascists can enable the state to continue its oppression against the very people antifascists claim to defend.
The Revolutionary Right
Thus Matthew N Lyons’ forthcoming book, Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, is a deeply needed work.
In the title itself, Lyons begins to unravel inherited, popular misconceptions about the entire political constellation in which we (often clumsily) attempt to locate fascism. Generally (at least within liberal and “progressive” anti-fascist currents), the far right is not considered a threat to Empire, but to be the political foundation of Empire itself. But while to speak of an anti-imperialist far-right seems oxymoronic, Lyons provides an almost overwhelming onslaught of detail as to how much of the Far Right is predicated on a critique of and opposition to liberal democratic imperialism.
Opposition to global capitalism and the international governance organizations which protect it, fierce criticism (sometimes backed by weapons) of oppressive policing and surveillance apparatuses, and moral reprehension at imperialist US foreign policy in the Middle East have all been parts of many movements within the Far Right in the United States. For instance, consider the following words:
When a U.S. plane or cruise missile is used to bring destruction to a foreign people, this nation rewards the bombers with applause and praise. What a convenient way to absolve these killers of any responsibility for the destruction they leave in their wake.
Unfortunately, the morality of killing is not so superficial. The truth is, the use of a truck, a plane or a missile for the delivery of a weapon of mass destruction does not alter the nature of the act itself.
These are weapons of mass destruction — and the method of delivery matters little to those on the receiving end of such weapons.
Whether you wish to admit it or not, when you approve, morally, of the bombing of foreign targets by the U.S. military, you are approving of acts morally equivalent to the bombing in Oklahoma City …
These words by Timothy McVeigh (the far-right bomber of a federal building In Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, many of them children) might just as easily have been written by indigenous resistance leaders, the Black Panthers, or other leftist revolutionary groups in the United States. Or as I note in an essay about him, many of Jack Donovan’s critiques of the police state and of liberal democracy could just as easily have been written by those same groups.
Unlike those leftist revolutionary groups and also unlike Jack Donovan, Timothy McVeigh was a white nationalist, expressing fondness for the white supremacist book The Turner Diaries, as well as selling copies of it at gun shows. And so there is where someone like McVeigh fits into our preconceived notions of what makes a fascist…except as Lyons points out in his book, white supremacist ideas are not a clear indicator of fascism, either.
That difficulty of pinning down precisely what makes someone on the far right a fascist might otherwise plague such a book as his, but Lyons wisely dispenses with the question altogether until the very end (a previously-published essay included as appendix). Rather than attempt to build a catalogue of fascist ideologies and movements in the United States, he instead details all the Far Right movements which intersect with this slippery category.
The first part of Insurgent Supremacists provide a detailed sketch of five ideological movements (Neo-Nazis, Christian Dominionists/Theocrats, The Alt-Right, the Patriot movements, and the LaRouche Network), and at least for the first four groups, readers with only a surface understanding of Right-wing ideology may find themselves surprised to learn how thoroughly different each ideology is from the others. While crossovers absolutely exist, many of the adherents of each group would be just as likely to vehemently oppose the other groups as to claim them as fellow travelers.
In the second section, Lyons then looks at each group again through the lens of their views on gender & sexuality, decentralization, and anti-imperialism, and here again the average anti-fascist may find their original analysis uncomfortably complicated by what Lyons details. Particularly of interest are the problems of anti-imperialism and decentralization (anti-federalist– or in some cases even anti-government–positions ), both of which are critiques autonomous Marxists and anarchists share with many on the far right (albeit for different reasons).
The third section, however, is the most useful and unfortunately the most short. In it, Lyons discusses the complicated relationship that police and the FBI have had with far right groups, as well as the influence the Liberal political structures (especially the Democratic Party) has had on creating the conditions for the rise of these groups as well as increasing police oppression of society at large in the name of fighting them. Returning to McVeigh’s bombing, Lyons points out:
The Clinton administration also used the Oklahoma City bombing to help win passage of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which loosened restrictions on the wiretapping and other surveillance of alleged “terrorists,” expanded the use of secret evidence to deport non- citizens (which means that the defendants have no opportunity to see the evidence being used against them), and, in the words of legal journalist Lincoln Caplan, “gutted the federal writ of habeas corpus, which a federal court can use to order the release of someone wrongly imprisoned.” The law made the death penalty more “effective” by making it much more difficult for death row inmates to appeal their sentences, even though a notoriously high proportion of death sentences have been shown to have serious flaws.” (174)
Antifascist Alliances with the Capitalist State
In fact, it’s Lyons’ consistent (but understated) criticism of liberal politics throughout his discussion of the Far Right that makes Insurgent Supremacists most useful. Lyons runs directly counter to most popular antifascist thought by insisting that the Far Right is not made up of idiots without political sensibilities or actual grievances. People like McVeigh were absolutely right to be incensed about the government’s slaughter of innocents in Waco or at Ruby Ridge, just as many of those who supported Trump in the recent election had absolutely legitimate grievances against the Democratic Party’s destructive hyper-capitalist economic policies and imperialist expansionary foreign policy positions.
Of course, such a position runs counter not only to the received wisdom of many antifascists, but stands directly in opposition to Liberal dismissals of the Right as merely ignorant or hateful. Accepting this Liberal position is how antifascists have gotten to the place they’re in now, finding themselves continuously pulled toward the Democratic Party’s “centrist” positions and thus unable to distinguish a leftist from a fascist.
This is not merely an unfortunate problem of mis-identification, however. As in the case of McVeigh, Lyons points out that antifascism and opposition to far right ideologies have historically sometimes served to increase State violence and power.
Many people think of growing state repression as a trend toward fascism. But these events of the 1930s and ’40s highlight the fact that antifascism can itself serve as a rationale for increasing repression, as Don Hamerquist has pointed out: “when did this country outlaw strikes, ban seditious organizing and speech, intern substantial populations in concentration camps, and develop a totalitarian mobilization of economic, social, and cultural resources for military goals? Obviously it was during WWII, the period of the official capitalist mobilization against fascism, barbarism and for ‘civilization.’” (166)
The particular difficulty here, which Lyons touches on occasionally, is that the political interests of Capital are able to manipulate opposition to far right ideologies, particularly through the Democratic Party. And here many looking for easier answers will likely either dismiss or take offense at his discussion about whether or not Trump (or the US government in general) is fascist or in “process” of becoming fascist.
Each of these claims that the U.S. government or public officials are driving us toward fascism represents a misuse of the term, one that blurs the line between fascism and the more repressive, racist, and militaristic sides of the United States’ liberal- pluralist political system (181)
Radical journalist Alexander Reid Ross argued that we should look at fascism “as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘outcome’,” and that “Trumpism” was “part of a process of ‘fascist creep,’ meaning a radicalization of conservative ideology that increasingly includes fascist membership while deploying fascist ideology, strategy, and tactics.” This approach rightly emphasized that many political initiatives occupy a gray area between fascist and conservative politics and that the political character of such initiatives can change over time. But Ross simply assumed that Trump’s campaign—unlike previous right- wing populist candidates such as George Wallace and Pat Buchanan—had an inherent tendency to move toward fascism and would not be co- opted by the established political system. (197)
But then, if Trump isn’t fascist and if many of the implementations of oppressive (and often explicitly racist) policies and powers of the United States isn’t fascist either, than what exactly is fascism? In an appendix of the book, Lyons discusses the difficulty of defining fascism and looks at others’ attempts to do so before coming up with a definition that will satisfy very few:
Fascism is a revolutionary form of right- wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.
This definition will be unsatisfactory to most because of what it doesn’t explicitly include (white supremacy, misogyny) as well as what it does include (a challenge to capitalist political and cultural power). With such a definition we are forced to question almost everything we think we know about fascism’s traits, and find none of our checklists or listicles make sense anymore.
That’s a good thing, but with a caveat. Because the culture of constant reaction within America, especially via the reductionist forms of internet “discourse,” makes it very likely that capitalists and the government which serves their interest will continue to summon antifascists to their defense. While the challenge fascism presents to capitalist power is not our challenge, we must avoid making façile concessions to the Liberal Democratic state out of fear that the fascists might win. As Lyons points out in the case of the House UnAmerican Activities Committe during the middle of the last century (which was originally set up to prosecute fascists!), supporting (or even celebrating) government repression of the far right always empowers the state to then turn its weapons on the left.
Antifascists can and must oppose both the capitalist liberal democratic state as well as fascists, and must do so always at the same time. To make alliances with the state against the Far Right which threatens it will also lead the left to abandon their own challenge to the state, cutting off our nose to spite the face.
Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder of Gods&Radicals and one of its co-editors. He is currently teaching a course on Marxism, and currently lives in Bretagne. Follow his dispatches from other shores here.
A statement written by friends and endorsed by people in Tunisia.
Below is a letter written by freedom of information activists which aims to broaden our network of resistance against class oppression and State violence. Tunisia has been seen by the West as an Arab Spring success-story, after the 2011 revolution that brought an end to the country’s dictatorial regime. Since then, the country has been on a road towards ‘Democracy’ that has exposed a whole new breed of brutality, one which lies beneath this so-called new-found ‘freedom’. Unemployment, sky-rocketing price of food, police brutality, concentrated wealth and power are some examples of the obstacles Tunisian people have faced in the past 7 years. [TW: violence] Poverty has literally lead people in Tunisia to set themselves on fire. All of this after even winning a Nobel Peace Prize for Democracy-building efforts. What kind of “peace” is this? Perhaps a Western capitalist neoliberal perspective of it. The systems of oppression that cause these atrocities engulf all of us, all over the world. Far reaching solidarity is crucial, and this is why we want to share this with you. Alerta!
Friends from all over the world stand in solidarity with the People of Tunisia. We demand that the Tunisian security services immediately release any remaining political prisoners and drop all criminal charges against demonstrators. The Government of Tunisia must respect the People’s right to free expression. The Government of Tunisia must immediately reverse all austerity measures. We, friends from all over the world, will accept nothing less.
Due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government of Tunisia has passed tax increases and austerity measures on January 1, 2018. The People of Tunisia have taken to the streets to demand their dignity and to protest this oppression. In response, the Tunisian security services have beaten and tear-gassed the people wishing to exercise their right to free expression. The Tunisian security services have arrested and brought criminal charges against more than 700 people.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and lit a match. Bouazizi later died from his injuries. Earlier in the morning, a local government official harassed Bouazizi for a bribe. The local government official claimed that selling fruit and vegetables required a permit, which was a lie. Unable to pay the bribe, the local government official had Bouazizi assaulted and had his produce cart confiscated. The people took to the streets to protest the corrupt government and to demand their dignity. On January 14, 2011, the dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled to the country. In Tunisia, this is known as the Dignity Revolution.
The People of Tunisia continue their struggle for dignity, and it is our duty to stand with them in solidarity!
We pledge love, mutual aid, and solidarity with the People of Tunisia. More people are needed to translate statements and videos from Tunisian Arabic into other languages used around the world. Please share and republish this statement of solidarity.
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Most US leftists make sign-waving demonstrations a core tactic. They shouldn’t. Protests create the feeling of power, but not the reality.
From Sophia Burns
In high school, I went to my first protest. Someone passed me a sign – “ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY” – as we marched to the governor’s mansion. The organizers read our demand: that the governor commute the sentence of a Death Row prisoner nearing his execution date. After twenty minutes of chanting slogans, we withdrew to the courtyard in front of City Hall, where a folk-punk singer performed and activist groups tabled.
The governor didn’t listen. He didn’t even hear us, strictly speaking – after a fire a few weeks earlier, the governor’s mansion was closed for repairs. He wasn’t physically there.
A few days later, the man on Death Row was executed.
However, millions in the street didn’t bring the Trump Administration down. And while he’s had a hard time enacting his program, that’s not because of liberal or leftist opposition – his biggest obstacle has been the ongoing faction fight in his own party.
So even if “it” had begun, why would Refuse Fascism’s protests have worked any better than their precursors? The US government does not cease to function simply because people oppose it. Sure, the plan’s political incoherence didn’t help (were Trump and Pence supposed to resign in succession? Was the goal to install President Paul Ryan?). But goals aside, Refuse Fascism never explained how, exactly, demonstrations were going to bring Trump down. Signs with slogans do not possess that kind of power, even if there are millions of them.
Most anti-Trump protesters, though, likely don’t share Refuse Fascism’s belief that their activities will literally end Trump’s presidency before he finishes his term. If they did, November 4th would probably have been much less anticlimactic. Rather, they’re less ambitious: they want to express disapproval of the Trump Administration, to make their voices heard.
That’s what we were after in front of the governor’s mansion. We knew he wasn’t going to commute anyone’s sentence. We protested because the death penalty was wrong, not because we expected to win.
But is the Left served by self-expression for its own sake? It exists to help the working class, rather than the ruling class, exercise political power. Most US leftists make sign-waving demonstrations a core tactic. They shouldn’t. Protests create the feeling of power, but not the reality. Shouldn’t revolutionaries instead dedicate their limited resources to institution-building, which does tangibly increase working-class power? Orienting towards the protest scene keeps radicals safely within liberalism’s orbit. After all, the activist subculture is dominated by the Democratic Party and its extensive network of front groups. Why did November 4th fail? It hinged on the subculture’s support. But Democrats have that base, so Democrats set its agenda.
The Futility of “Expressive Protests”
To be clear, “protest” is an imprecise term. It elides activities that shouldn’t necessarily be equated. So, this critique doesn’t extend to concrete confrontation: that is, physically preventing something from happening. Striking workers holding a picket line and people at Standing Rock blocking the pipeline differ from most protests – they involve literally stopping the things they oppose. Rather, this criticism targets expressive protests: demonstrations that demand something, but don’t do it. That includes not just permitted marches with police escorts, but also many ostensibly militant activities. Blocking streets for gay marriage, marching through city centers against trade agreements, and getting arrested in “direct actions” against policies being carried out thousands of miles away all fall within the spectrum of expressive protest. It resembles concrete confrontation in form, but they’re like red wine and grape soda. The superficial similarity hides a qualitative difference.
Expressive protest is ubiquitous and meaningless. A protest might be numerically “successful,” but by its nature, it doesn’t change any aspect of collective life. That’s why liberals love it. Because the 2000s anti-war movement structured itself around a powerless tactic, what option did it have besides falling into place behind John Kerry’s pro-war presidential run? Since it couldn’t escape the Democratic Party’s hegemony, is it any surprise that it dissipated under Obama, even though he escalated Bush’s wars? Expressive protests don’t lead to actual power. What option did the anti-war movement have besides narrow electoral opposition to Bush, the individual politician, on the Democratic Party’s terms?
Radicals absolutely should take mass upsurges seriously, in part because their participant base does differ from standard-fare “activist networking.” However, upsurges typically share two traits that shape their relationship with expressive protest:
They aren’t premeditated. The feminist writer Jo Freeman describes two ingredients for protest movements: a pre-existing communications network through which the movement’s ideas can spread, and a crisis to act as the “spark.” She gives the example of 1960s radical feminism: women participants in the New Left formed a communications network, and a series of public displays of misogyny from male leaders served as the galvanizing crisis. While Freeman emphasizes the role of organizers in developing networks, “sparks” are inherently unpredictable. Attempting to simply will one into being virtually always fails, as Refuse Fascism discovered on November 4th.
Their participants consistently conclude that protest doesn’t get the goods. Occupy’s encampments lasted for weeks, occasionally months. However, even the longest-lived encampments found themselves unable to win any of their goals. The financial system wasn’t slowed; it simply ignored the people in Zuccotti Park, just like George Bush had ignored the anti-war movement. Unfortunately, the Occupiers saw no practical alternative to the protest cycle. So, some joined the activist-networking scene, but most dropped out of politics entirely. Their expressive protests were massive, disruptive, and sustained. They still failed.
So, for radicals, the question of protest attendance during an upsurge is less important than it looks. The most helpful kind of engagement isn’t protesting louder, more often, and with more radical slogans. It’s offering the kind of alternative that the activist subculture won’t.
Most radicals, though, couldn’t provide anything better than sign-waving. That approach enjoys hegemony within the activist subculture for a reason: the Democratic Party and its front groups dominate the scene, and as the anti-war movement showed, it’s uniquely suited to their aims. They want to be benevolent technocrats with a passive base of support. Of course Democrats promote powerless tactics. They oppose mass participation in the exercise of power.
Now, the Left has the opposite goal. But, its expressive-protest orientation keeps it subordinate to the Democratic Party in practice.
When Protests Are Actually Effective
But don’t protests sometimes actually work? For instance, counter-demonstrations against alt-right events materially interfere with their movement by hindering their ability to recruit. Besides, no tactic is useful for everything. Doesn’t protest still have a place in the activist’s toolkit?
Well, in that example, there’s a specific goal that the protest tactic addresses: to demoralize fascists in order to slow their recruitment, facing them with large numbers of people is effective. But how often is the target of an expressive protest not only physically present, but also doing something that gets disrupted by the mere proximity of protesters? For movements on the fringe of public acceptability, losing a community’s goodwill means losing the ability to replenish its membership. Protesting works against fascist events because they’re uniquely susceptible to social stigma – but what about governments and corporations? Bad PR may irritate them, but it doesn’t stop them from doing what they want.
Protesting is like a mountain climber’s axe. Under very specific circumstances, it’s the right tool. Otherwise, it might look impressive, but you can’t build anything with it. All else being equal, it’s probably better to have it in your toolkit than not. But for most jobs, it simply won’t work.
Wielding Real Power
When liberals insist that the point of protest is to “have your voice be heard,” they are actually describing the fascist mode of political participation. To be satisfied with “feeling heard” in and of itself, as the goal of political activity, without pointing that expression toward building real material power, is to be a contented fascist subject.
It’s not the expression of ideas. That’s the fascist bait-and-switch: promising the reality of power, but only delivering the feeling of it, the catharsis of “making your voice heard” and “finally being listened to” by a leader. But liberalism operates no differently, pushing expressive protest as a stand-in for the actual power it restricts to business leaders and state officials.
That’s politics, properly defined – collectively exercising real social power. Revolutionary institution-building is politics; each institution is an instrument through which a working-class community can shape some part of its shared life. Expressive protest is not. Emotionally, it resembles the feeling of politics, but the substance isn’t there. It’s closer to a letter to the editor, asserting a belief without enacting it. Even if it’s impressive enough to make the front page, it doesn’t build mass power.
That’s what the Democratic Party prefers. If the Left wants something better, how much longer can it afford to squander itself on expressive protests?
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I’m sitting in a punk bar in April with an out-of-town socialist. He gets passionate, telling me how disappointing he finds May Day rallies back home – how the local AFL-CIO plays it safe by stumping for Democrats, while other activists demonstrate about immigration, feminism, and “anything besides class.”
“Why can’t this one day be for workers?” he sighs.
Overall, they both claim that US progressivism must pick one of their two competing orientations: liberal centrism or social democracy. Identity politics or universalism – which way forward?
Should workers have a holiday to themselves?
But there’s a flaw underlying the clashing-visions narrative. Both worldviews fundamentally misunderstand the nature of race, gender, class, and capitalism – and they do so in precisely the same way.
But in pre-capitalist society the work of each member of the community of serfs was seen to be directed to a purpose: either to the prosperity of the feudal lord or to our survival. To this extent the whole community of serfs was compelled to be co-operative in a unity of unfreedom that involved to the same degree women, children and men, which capitalism had to break. In this sense the unfree individual, the democracy of unfreedom entered into a crisis. The passage from serfdom to free labor power separated the male from the female proletarian and both of them from their children. The unfree patriarch was transformed into the “free” wage earner, and upon the contradictory experience of the sexes and the generations was built a more profound estrangement and therefore a more subversive relation.
Liberals say that opposing identity oppression means letting class politics go. Social democrats respond that they can walk and chew gum – class-based organizing can and should coexist with a strong anti-discrimination program.
But does either stance square with what race, gender, and privilege materially are?
Under capitalism, most people take part in the work that keeps society running and produces all goods and services. Sometimes that work is paid; sometimes it isn’t. In either case, though, it isn’t controlled by the people who do it. Rather, economic activity is governed by a ruling class of investors and business owners, called capitalists. They accumulate wealth by exploiting the paid and unpaid work carried out by everyone else: the working class, broadly defined. The capitalist class holds power by owning capital (productive property, the objects that workers use to produce goods and services).
The capitalist economy is enormously complex. It requires an elaborate, worldwide division of labor. The ruling class dictates the terms on which that happens. Further, the capitalists know that they don’t actually contribute to the work. Their role boils down to accumulating capital and keeping themselves in charge.
So, when dividing up labor, they hit two targets at once.
But the ruling class has figured out that it can associate different social categories with the expectation and/or requirement that their members will engage in certain types of work. When they do that, the working class itself begins to organically adapt to the capitalist division of labor. The gender role of womanhood, for instance, has unpaid gendered labor built into it. The capitalist class doesn’t send a memo to every individual woman each morning that reads, “Today we need you to clean the kitchen and comfort you boyfriend when he’s upset.” But on the ground, women, not men, are almost always the ones who do that type of work. How does that happen? Well, men have learned a social role that includes having that done for them, and women have learned one that includes doing it. Every time they re-enact those roles, they re-create them; the repeated experience of behaving the way others expect based on gender causes people to internalize those expectations, which then leads them to project them back onto others. The division of labor happens through identity categories, and it plays out in a way that keeps reinforcing them.
Of course, capitalists don’t rely on the working class to keep doing that entirely on its own. They actively intervene in daily life to keep the categories strong. While that does involve the mass media, religious doctrine, and the education system promoting stereotypes and unequal expectations, propaganda is only part of the story. Rather, the ruling class sustains and reinforces identity groups by treating some of them much worse than others. By punishing (legally or socially) those who cross category lines, it keeps the distinctions clear. Racial profiling by police helps keep certain neighborhoods white. When a church excommunicates gays, it ensures that its parishioners’ households are headed by men and produce lots of children.
Additionally, by granting cultural, legal, and material benefits to some identity groups but not others, the ruling class shores up its power. After all, when part of the working class does comparatively better as a result of the division of labor, it’s less likely to unite with the rest of the class to challenge the system overall. That’s how privilege works: it simultaneously emerges from and contributes to the capitalist division of labor, and does so in a way that pits privileged workers against the rest of their class.
Activists must understand the ways that the particular historical experiences of the United States wove race and class together that makes fighting white supremacy central to any revolutionary project. In other words, those who wish to fight against all forms of authoritarianism must understand one crucial fact of American politics—in America authority is colored white.
Race and gender don’t hover out there in the aether, independent of economic reality. If something exists, it exists in the material world. Nothing within the class system is outside the class system. Economics is more than dollars and class is more than tax brackets. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and empire aren’t extraneous features of capitalism. They’re as fundamental to it as selling products on the market. They exist because every day, people make goods and services, keeping society alive according to the division of labor embodied by identity divisions. Combined with unequal treatment, that makes sure the division of labor will still be up and running the next day. Without such a division of labor and disparity of benefits, the working class would not be as productive as the ruling class needs it to be. Without privilege to undermine the basis for class unity, the capitalists would have a revolution on their hands.
My acquaintance in the punk bar, however, didn’t view gender and race as indispensable ingredients of the class system. He wasn’t a bigot, and he supported anti-racism and feminism on moral grounds. Even so, his understanding didn’t root them in the everyday, material life of capitalism. He knew that women workers and immigrant workers are workers, no less than their white male counterparts. But, he still operated with the implicit assumption that capitalism, in general, tries to make workers as interchangeable as possible.
Apart from the skilled trades, the only jobs in which individual qualifications make a substantial difference are professional and white-collar work. Now, it’s true in principle that a less-diverse and less-qualified administrative workforce operates less effectively than one that rewards talent, rather than whiteness and maleness. But a big-box retailer doesn’t need a stocker to have an unusual talent for stacking boxes. The nature of the work is such that most any worker can do it as well as another. For most jobs, unique individual qualifications don’t really make much difference.
As more and more jobs get de-skilled, employers lose the incentive to hire based on applicants’ distinctive qualifications. Over time, specialist knowledge declines as a factor in assigning work. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism don’t. Maintaining those divisions of labor allows companies to exploit non-white, non-Western, and non-male workers at extra-high rates. That then creates downward pressure on privileged workers’ pay. De-skilling doesn’t make the working class less differentiated. It makes it more so.
And every corporation knows that whatever it loses by discriminating against qualified administrators, it makes up a thousandfold by keeping the overall division of labor intact.
Capitalism is a totalizing social system. It’s not just fiscal. Race, nation, and gender are among its components. Without them, it could not function. Had it not imposed them, it would not have been able to come into being. But social democrats and liberals don’t quite grasp that. Instead, they view gender, class, and race as more-or-less independent “vectors of oppression” that might inflect each other when they intersect, but still don’t reduce to any shared underlying cause.
And so, liberals and social democrats end up holding in common the view that class, in principle, is ultimately raceless and genderless. They agree that capitalism and privilege exist, but that opposing one doesn’t require opposing the other. They differ on only one point: social democrats say “both/and” to identity and class, while liberals say “either/or.”
Neither view is adequate. Their shared assumption isn’t true.
White supremacy is a system that grants those defined as “white” special privileges in American society, such as preferred access to the best schools, neighborhoods, jobs, and health care; greater advantages in accumulating wealth; a lesser likelihood of imprisonment; and better treatment by the police and the criminal justice system. In exchange for these privileges, whites agree to police the rest of the population through such means as slavery and segregation in the past and through formally “colorblind” policies and practices today that still serve to maintain white advantage. White supremacy, then, unites one section of the working class with the ruling class against the rest of the working class. This cross-class alliance represents the principle obstacle, strategically speaking, to revolution in the United States. Given the United States’ imperial power, this alliance has global implications.
The central task of a new organization should be to break up this unholy alliance between the ruling class and the white working class by attacking the system of white privilege and the subordination of people of color.
But what difference does this make on the ground? Doesn’t good socialist practice still mean pro-worker economics plus anti-racist, feminist social politics? Whether or not it’s all a unitary system, what is concretely at stake?
If race, gender, and empire are inherent to capitalism, the meaning of “good socialist practice” starts to shift.
If a socialist revolution is to happen, the working class must unite. If the class is to unite, revolutionaries must challenge the material and cultural basis of its disunity. So, every political project the Left undertakes needs to specifically challenge privilege within the working class, not sweep it under the rug to avoid “divisiveness.” If your organizing doesn’t meet that standard, you’re not building class unity. You’re tearing it down. There is no raceless and genderless class politics because there is no raceless and genderless class. So, trying to compartmentalize anti-privilege and anti-capitalist work is implicitly chauvinistic (except when it’s explicitly so!). The Left must reject all politics that doesn’t break down intra-class privilege, even when it comes from “our side.”
The social-democratic revival waxes nostalgic for the postwar welfare state, calling for “universal social goods” with anti-discrimination laws tacked on. Its proponents posit a revival of Scandinavian-style social programs as a bulwark against the populist Right and a viable “long game” anti-capitalist strategy. But welfare nostalgia doesn’t naturally lead towards revolutionary socialism. Due to its backwards-looking frame of reference, it fits more intuitively with welfare chauvinism: the tactic used by far-right leaders, from Marine Le Pen to Richard Spencer, of promising to restore not only the social-democratic redistribution, but also the much harsher identity hierarchies of the pre-70s years. And in practice, even avowedly left-wing social democrats are not immune to welfare-chauvinist temptations. Jeremy Corbyn and Sahra Wagenknecht‘s stated anti-racism hasn’t kept them from demanding immigration restrictions. Angela Nagle‘s claimed feminism doesn’t stop her from scapegoating trans people for the sins of online call-out culture.
The social-democratic “both/and” doesn’t work. Why should it? It attempts to sidestep the question of privilege within the class, not attack it. Opposing privilege as a matter of class-neutral morality rather than working-class strategy leans, over time, towards chauvinism.
For the consequences of the ending of white supremacy, which can only be ended by mobilizing and raising the consciousness of the entire working class, would extend far beyond the point of spreading out the misery more equitably. The result of such a struggle would be a working class that was class conscious, highly organized, experienced and militant – in short, united – and ready to confront the ruling class as a solid block. The ending of white supremacy does not pose the slightest peril to the real interests of the white workers; it definitely poses a peril to their fancied interests, their counterfeit interest, their white-skin privileges.
Does this mean radicals should take a two-stage approach: anti-discrimination now, socialism later?
Both privileged and specially-oppressed parts of the working class have two sets of interests: long-term and short-term. For non-privileged workers, there’s a long-term interest in abolishing capitalism and a short-term interest in eliminating privilege. Privilege is part of capitalism and specially-oppressed workers stand to benefit straightforwardly from getting rid of the system and all of its parts. Privileged workers, though, are in a bind. They share other workers’ long-term interest in ending capitalism. But in the short term, privilege makes their lives better. So, their long-term and short-term interests contradict each other; they share the former with their entire class, but the latter keeps them from recognizing it. Strategically, the trick is to organize privileged workers around their long-term interests – even though that means opposing their own short-term interests.
Liberal anti-discrimination, however, doesn’t do that. It doesn’t want to. There’s a reason it focuses on academia, middle-class professions, and the coverage of media stars with oppressed backgrounds. That flows naturally from its class basis. It aims to remove the barriers that keep middle-class and upper-class members of oppressed identity groups from enjoying full middle/upper-class success. However, that success consists of exploiting working-class people, including those who share their identities.
Privilege and class aren’t separate. The Left’s work against them can’t afford to be, either.
If May Day is about immigrants and feminism, doesn’t that mean it’s about workers?
So how should the Left proceed?
If the unitary view of class and privilege rejects liberal anti-discrimination, it also leads away from standard welfare-statist anti-austerity. Should leftists oppose austerity? They shouldn’t support it, since its implementation (like the welfare state’s before it) is done in a way that strengthens capitalist rule (including by shoring up privilege). But the Left’s goal can’t be a return to the postwar “golden years.” Revolutionaries can’t afford nostalgia.
Rather, directly tackling the basis of class rule (including privilege) can best happen outside the framework of state services and legislation. You can conceptualize it through an anarchist, Marxist, municipalist, or whatever other lens, but in the end, only the dual power strategy‘s institution-building approach allows radicals to confront the capitalist class while challenging the division of labor it imposes.
What does that look like in practice?
Q-Patrol in Seattle, WA claims that gentrification in the gay district is behind the past several years’ sharply-rising hate violence. The influx of wealthy software engineers drives up rent and displaces LGBTQ people (replacing them with sometimes-homophobic tech yuppies). Consequently, the neighborhood’s ability to function as a safe haven declines. Losing that “critical mass” of LGBTQ people makes the area more attractive to straight college students looking for nightlife. So, with more drunk, conservative straight people in the district, increased hate violence isn’t exactly a surprise.
Gay business owners, though, have called for more police in the area to quell attacks. But a greater police presence actually accelerates the process. The people most targeted by homophobic and transphobic assaults are often people of color, unhoused people, and/or sex workers. The police themselves harass and sometimes attack members of those groups. Meanwhile, their ambient presence emboldens the same well-off bigots who are behind the violence in the first place.
Q-Patrol’s solution is a community safety patrol, preventing and intervening in attacks while monitoring the police, Copwatch-style. Q-Patrol therefore resists gentrification (which threatens all working-class people in the area, LGBTQ or straight) by displacing an ostensible function of the police (protecting the community). The institution-building strategy hinges on this kind of function displacement. Capitalist institutions organize different aspects of life in ways that reinforce privilege and the division of labor. If leftists build counter-institutions, people can use them organize those same parts of life in ways that don’t do that.
Because its basic work is preventing hate violence and its roots are directly in the LGBTQ community, Q-Patrol directly challenges straight privilege. However, it does so in a way that simultaneously furthers the interests of the neighborhood’s entire working class, straights included. There’s no “both/and”-ism – it doesn’t artificially pin anti-discrimination onto supposedly raceless and gender-free “class issues.” Instead, its work intrinsically and organically does both at once.
That’s the approach the Left needs. The conflict between social democracy and “identity politics” is a red herring. They share a worldview in which privilege and class exist independently of each other. Because of that, both end up supporting capitalism and privilege, since materially, they are the same system. Neither liberals nor social democrats, though, are interested in attacking that system as the coherent, integrated whole that it actually is. Revolutionaries can’t afford that limited perspective. If May Day isn’t about women and immigrants, then it’s not about class.
The Left must confront the class system itself, challenging the ruling class and its division of labor. Radicals shouldn’t fight one limb of the system in a way that strengthens another. Autonomous working-class politics, based on the dual power strategy of institution-building, has a chance of breaking out of that trap.
If we want a fascist-free world, we need to break from what we have and build a better one.
From O. Berkman
Some Starting Thoughts
I write this piece not to drive people away from anti-fascist movements or to create sectarian division. But, I write this piece instead to draw attention to flaws in our movements and push us—collectively—to be better. If we wish to truly defeat fascism, it cannot come at the expense of the peoples and movements most affected by them and indeed, will not come through means that lack a grounding in material reality (ie. through liberalism).
In the following sections, I’m going to walk you through a synthesis of thoughts which critique liberal approaches to anti-fascism, as I believe these approaches limit our ability to build movements and grow beyond a reactive (usually reactionary) position.
For the purpose of this piece, as well, I wish to make several things clear. Firstly, I will not be making great distinction between white nationalist movements of earlier eras, the classic fascists of the 1930s, and every formulation since. All arise from similar conditions and practices—and indeed, are entirely aligned today. While it may not be precise enough for some, for the purposes of our work here, it is enough to be correct.
Secondly, much of this piece will rest upon this premise: Fascism is the logical, violent, and near-certain extreme of Capitalism and the State. If for some reason you have no will to consider this, then you will find yourself at a crossroads with me. But, I will delve into this in more detail as we go forward.
The Mythologization of Fascism
To begin, let’s set out another simple premise. Fascism is not an incomprehensible evil. To cast fascism in such a way—as an evil outside of human understanding—separates the capacity of humankind to carry out fascistic acts and how those acts build from more deeply ingrained structures of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, et al. In fact, even our own movements have dabbled in such structures historically through scientism and eugenics.
Fascists inject themselves into every subculture they can manage and recruit broadly across class lines—they form real movements and have held real power, bringing about real consequences. The point of this is best described in summary in the introduction to Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem where it is said that
[n]early everybody who attended the trial of mass killers after the war, some of them respected doctors and pharmacists, came away with the disconcerting impression that the killers looked pretty much like you or me. The Israeli court psychiatrist who examined Eichmann found him a “completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him,” the implication being that the coexistence of normality and bottomless cruelty explode our ordinary conceptions and present the true enigma of the trial. In a similar vein, Simone de Beauvoir said that at his trial after the war the French Nazi Pierre Laval seemed commonplace and inconsequential, an unimaginative and feeble little fellow.
While one may not agree with Arendt’s broader perspective in other matters, insights found here and elsewhere regarding the trials of Nazis are illustrative. One could surely make similar observations of most Klansmen, neo-Nazi punks, and online Pepe-pinned ‘western supremacists’—that these people and their movements arise from normal people under the conditions of our world and through the slow embrace of fascist ideology.
This is not to downplay the vileness of fascist acts, but to highlight that such acts are not distant from where we stand or from the everyday. Fascism can grow anywhere under the right conditions and in banal kinds of people. Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” has become somewhat cliche, but its reality is underplayed in liberal discourse.
To portray the fascist as an unspeakable monster is to salve ourselves of the reality that such beings share in our humanity and immersion in the society in which we ourselves were forged. It is but our ethics and convictions which separate us from them, rather than the fascist zeitgeist serving as some Elder God out of the pages of Lovecraft bringing forth people to thralls. For the liberal, this lack of introspection serves to preserve the sanctity of their existing society and cast the fascist as an aberration to be cleansed—rather than as much a part of that system as their own liberalism.
But to hold to such a view weakens the ability of anti-fascist movements to act. With every thought of the fascist as an impossible evil, there becomes less motivation to engage in counter-education or community defence and more desire to rely on State protection. When, in truth, the State will just as-easily defend the fascists as it will our own.
In liberal anti-fascist conceptions then, we are left with an inaccurate depiction of the enemy (the fascist) and limit our own understanding of both how they arise and what tactics can stymie their growth. However, this is not the sole issue created by liberal anti-fascism.
Reduction and the Other
While painting fascist ideology as the creeping shadow beyond the horizon, the individual fascist receives a different look in liberal conceptions of antifascist struggle. Too often, the fascist is passed off as an uneducated working class Joe against an enlightened, if not beloved, liberal elite. And while there are fascists that arise from the working class, too often liberals engage in a class reductionism of the issue and ignore the cross-class nature of fascist ideology. This cross-class nature of fascism is one of the key dangers of the ideology itself—as it displaces class solidarity with solidarity centered on white racial (or ‘western’) supremacy.
One only needs to look at Chris Hedges paean to solely non-violent confrontation with fascism to see this at work. In the hackneyed How ‘Antifa’ Mirrors the ‘Alt-Right’, Hedges decides to needlessly attack anti-fascists who engage in confrontation and bring forward a softening of the fascist image.
In a classic liberal maneuver, Hedges claims that all sides are equal and that “The two opposing groups, largely made up of people who have been cast aside by the cruelty of corporate capitalism, have embraced holy war”. An analysis which engages in the very class reductionism of fascist movements I’ve mentioned earlier. Also, it’s clear that Hedges simply doesn’t understand the history of radical movements on the left.
Why do I malign this so-called Marxist professor so? Because he states that fascists and anti-fascists “mirror each other, not only ideologically but also physically—armed and dressed in black, the color of fascism and the color of death”, which frankly reveals his complete (and likely willful) lack of understanding of black as a colour used by anarchists and other revolutionaries. But this equivocation seems aimed to soften the fascist image.
The softening of the fascist image comes to its furthest extent, however, as Hedges proclaims that “[t]he white racists and neo-Nazis may be unsavory, but they too are victims. They too lost jobs and often live in poverty in deindustrialized wastelands” and so on. Again, Hedges’ oversimplifies fascist movements and engages in a reductive narrative. Why? Because this narrative supports a bland, disengaging liberal fascism. Instead of (or complementary to) the great fascist shadow, comes the notion of sad, white underclasses drawn to fascism without choice. While this leaves out the many who choose not to engage so, it continues to erase the ruling class engagement with fascism.
This narrative of Hedges has a contemporary in the-fascist-as-crazy narrative. While being incredibly ableist, this narrative is meant to remove agency from fascists. Just as in Hedges’ narrative of white underclasses pulled irrevocably to fascism, here the fascist is an aberration and drawn to fascism due to their so-called ‘insanity’ or other ableist garbage. This saneist discourse should be equally and vigorously dismissed—most importantly due to the insult this serves to those engaged with mental health and other disabilities. Othering these peoples as a means to condemn fascists is never justifiable, accurate, or based in anything but a need to deflect from dealing with the systemic roots of fascism. Both of these narratives disconnect people from the fascist struggle, as they are kept outside of it. In turn, liberal anti-fascism remains distant from other, everyday struggles.
Disconnect from Everyday Struggle
As established above, fascism neither creeps in from the shadows or arises out of places centered in liberal condescension. As noted in the first section, these fascists are still part of the societies we live in and grow within those very spaces while violent and vile.
But just as vile fascism is part of the fabric of the societies we live within, so too is resistance within ourselves. However, liberal anti-fascists distance this singular form of resistance from broader struggle. By focusing solely on fascism in a vacuum, liberal anti-fascism robs our resistance of its groundedness in other, deeply related struggles. Fascists feed on Islamophobia, transphobia, and anti-Semitism to recruit and grow their ranks. But the liberal anti-fascist addresses these issues separately or arising solely out of a legalistic narrative of rights bestowed by the State. What people truly desire though, is an anti-fascism that does not leave them behind and connects to deeper, inherent principles of our lives. Replacing a liberal reliance on the State with principles of community defence and resilience can only grow our movements.
Indeed, anti-fascists that tie their work to attacking the structures that oppress our peoples and allow for fascists to thrive, will find they have beaten back more than just the individual or small collectives of the enemy—but opened avenues to uproot them. At Gods and Radicals, the phrase ‘beautiful resistance’ is raised and I think it’s a good one to consider for this struggle. If we do not have a beautiful vision beyond what is, what has allowed the fascist to rise forward, why would people aim to follow us into combatting them and not fall into the all-sides-are-the-same rhetoric used by liberals such as Hedges or fascists such as Trump? Our vision has to come alongside our diversity of tactics.
As well, while Hedges is wrongheaded in his approach, it can be said that fascists feed on poverty and systemic economic inequality—you know, capitalism—in both their targeting of rich and working class folks (though, for entirely different reasons of course). We cannot truly beat back the fascists without grounding in these struggles. We cannot work in a vacuum, as the fascist certainly does not. If we make effort in our work to include tackling what white and western supremacy actually means in the everyday then the resistance to fascism will take on the character of those who fight it. We, those who are left out by liberals and sometimes by our comrades, can fight not just for some idea—but for our communities, for our future, for our lives.
But, if fascism is so tied to our broader struggles, what does that make it in relation to our interlocking systems of domination and control?
Fascism-within-the State and Capital
Fascism exists, as I stated in the beginning, as the logical, violent, and near-certain extreme of Capitalism and the State. The legitimacy of the State and the current arrangement of Capital rests on fundamental grounds that allows for the growth (and regrowth) of fascist movements across Europe, the colonial so-called Americas, and beyond. For this commentary, I’ll bring my focus to the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe shared territories where I currently lurk, but these comments could apply more broadly with some modification.
First, look to the arrangement of territory under the settler colonial state in these territories (and the colonialist mentalities here and in Europe that built them). The scientific eugenics, displacement of territory, and supremacist fervor—all of which express themselves in fascist ideology—were critical to the founding of these colonial states. The State is built, from its first stone, either through such a process or in other territories through the capital generated by such processes. Until these underlying foundations are toppled, fascism will remain a threat.
Second, look to the targeted and vast police brutality towards Black lives—even if many anarchists don’t seem particularly up to that task—and ask yourself, is fascism not bolstered by a State which carries out such violence with-or-without them? Can we be surprised when white nationalists rise up, knowing that the State already well-endorses their program? Sure, this hides behind a liberal facade of bad apples and lone actors—but that’s never quite true, is it? Look at the case of Pedro Hernandez and see one of the few cases where the State is caught out—without an outright body on its’ hands, if not a soul—for another reminder of what the truth is here.
Third, with every monster like Arpaio, there are deportations and restrictions to freedom of movement across these territories everywhere. It can be no wonder that groups like PEGIDA, Soldiers of Odin, La Meute, and countless others can wander these territories with impunity and inspire further violence, when the State has tacitly approved of it. For the liberal narrative, these people—like all the arms of the State above—are fundamentally exceptions and these foundation stones of the State are historical curios. Or, at worst, these things should inspire actionless pity.
But, this should underlie why liberal anti-fascism ultimately falls short. The liberal narrative relies on making the fascist an aberration to the system, rather than a function of it. Particularly comfortable, white, upper and middle class liberals seem to think that if they break down individual fascists, if they talk them out of their immediate actions, if they just say the right words, arrest the right people, and let the system go back on humming then everything will be fine.
This is false. The State rests itself—as all the above attests—on grounds which allow for the fascist to thrive. If we want a fascist-free world, we need to break from what we have and build a better one. We can’t do that just by addressing far right groups in a vacuum, just as much as we can’t ignore the threat they pose. We have to build an anti-fascist movement that allows for a diversity of tactics, yes, but a fullness of objectives. We have to create visions—even if not unified in what those are—that take fascism up from the root, the State, and address the underlying causes that allows them to recruit across class and attack those vulnerable.
To The Liberals Who’ve Read This Far
At the very beginning, I said that my purpose here was not to drive people away from anti-fascist movements or to create sectarian division. But, I wrote this piece instead to draw attention to flaws in our movements and push us—collectively—to be better. And I’ve spent all of that time being fairly hard on liberal anti-fascists. I don’t, for a moment, wish to see this propell you away from anti-fascist organizing. Instead, take a breath. Take a moment.
If you can see from all I’ve said that there is more to this than passively talking to Nazis and ignoring wider systems of oppression, then we’re on the same page again and you know to abandon your previous liberal approach. As an individual, as a collective, you all can take up different ways of approaching this issue of anti-fascism. I’m not demanding that you necessarily close your laptop right now, pick up a brick, find your best black hoodie and hankie, and club the nearest fascist you see (though, what you do is up to you, really). Instead, take up whatever tactics you feel are best—no need to front here—that fit with this wider analysis you’re now considering and the radical group you’d want to work with. Learn from those around you, listen to those who’ve been impacted by the fascists and by the State most—those criminalized and marginalized, those who’ve long-fought fascists and the State with radical and revolutionary perspectives.
But don’t back down now. If you can see that there is so much more work that interlocks with anti-fascist struggle, then it’s time to take stock, reflect, and build a deeper, radical, and effective anti-fascist movement.
Yet, if after all this you still want to maintain the existing order of things and be a liberal anti-fascist. Well, maybe, you’re part of the fucking problem.
O. Berkman is an indigenous anarchist writer on topics of history and currently anti-fascism located in shared territories of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe (so-called Southern Ontario, Canada). They write about other stuff too, but we’ll include that here as we go.
A crowd has gathered around the table. They watched the man who had it before clean the gun, reload it, and place it there. Now, it’s time for them to decide who gets it next, as they wait for the dead bodies to be dragged from the room.
This last guy? He killed people pretty cleanly. Sure, some of them were innocent, some of them were kids. But he did it so politely that everyone could admit it wasn’t so bad this time. They’re all worried though–of the two people who might get the gun next, one of them is really inexperienced, hot-tempered. The people who want him to have the gun also want him to shoot a lot more people than that last guy. The other possible shooter, though–she’s pretty nice. Shifty, not very honest, but she’s got some good points. She warns everyone that if the other guy gets the gun this time, he’ll kill some of the really vulnerable people. He doesn’t like women or Blacks or trans people. He’s said some bad words about the Muslims and Mexicans in the room.
She promises that she’ll use the gun for good. He promises that he’ll shoot the gun well. He’ll make the whole room great again, keep strangers from getting in. She promises she’ll point it at some other countries who have guns too.
While most everyone in the room is arguing about which of them should get the gun, there are the wounded in the corners of the room, bleeding out from the last guy’s charismatic shooting spree. There are also the parents of those that got killed cursing the gun. And a small handful are talking in quick whispers, asking a question no one ever asks. They remember how the last guy broke his promises, how he made sure the gun was loaded before he put it back on the table, and how the two would-be shooters aren’t promising not to use the gun, only promising to use it well…
Liberalism vs. Leftism
If you had trouble following the analogy above, I’ll parse it clearly: The loaded gun is the nation-state, and the two primary camps are the Conservative and Liberal parties in every Western Capitalist Democracy. Those in the corner, of course, are what we generally call “The Left.”
If you live in an English-speaking country, Left and Liberal have probably become synonymous in your mind, but they are hardly the same. This confusion doesn’t occur so much in continental European countries like France, Spain, and Germany: in those countries, Leftist movements and groups (anarchists, communists) have more political power. The strikes last year in France, for instance, were instigated by Leftist trade-unions against a government led by a social-democrat (Hollande); likewise in France, Germany, Greece, and Italy, anarchists and communists fight street battles against fascists and liberal-state police forces simultaneously.
In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, there is no such clear division. At least some degree of this is on account of legislative actions and policing against labor unions and radical organizers: in the United States, the power of unions has been almost completely broken, and Democratic and Republican governments alike have engaged in infiltration, sabotage, and entrapment of anarchist groups for decades, particularly of the green (eco) and red (communal-ist) varieties.
What now passes for ‘Left’ in all these countries looks remarkably like the centre-right governments in Europe. Obama’s domestic and foreign policy was more pro-capitalist and pro-war then Nicolai Sarkozy’s government in France, and Hillary Clinton’s platform was more conservative (and imperialist) than Angela Merkel’s conservative government in Germany.
The Limits of “The Overton Window“
This right-ward drift of American ‘leftism’ is usually explained by means of what is called the Overton Window. In this conceptual picture, politicians and elected leaders can only call upon a limited number of actions and legislation within what is considered an acceptable ‘window’ of ideology.
Those who use the Overton Window to explain why American ‘leftism’ seems ‘centrist’ compared to Europe make two errors. While cultural and societal norms definitely define what appears to the majority of the public as acceptable vs. extreme, political parties themselves wield the power to shift this window through police and legislative actions. By police actions I mean the long-standing suppression of anarchist, marxist, indigenous, and Black resistance groups by the FBI under both Liberal and Conservative governments in the United States, and by legislative I mean (at minimum) the collaborative suppression of so-called ‘third parties’ by both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Likewise, the Overton Window assumes that politicians actually care what the majority of people who elect them want and that liberals would take stronger ‘leftist’ positions if only their people would accept. This is true only if we take into consideration the power of wealth in elections: corporations, banks, and the very wealthy have much more influence over getting politicians elected than community groups or individual electors.
And anyway, the Democratic party in the United States has repeatedly made clear where their own Overton Window is. Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in the US House of Representatives recently re-iterated what every Leftist has known forever about the Democratic party: “we are capitalists.” Hillary Clinton, likewise, made clear to her wealthy donors her support for capitalism against popular opposition to fracking and the Dakota Access Pipeline when she told those private bankers that those protesting such things should “get a life.”
Liberalism, particularly in America, is staunchly pro-capitalist and only cares about the environment when doing so doesn’t scare off political donors.
The Liberal parties in the United States and elsewhere have never been anti-capitalist. In fact, Liberalism is by definition capitalist, though so-called Social Democrats (such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the United States) or the British Labour Party offer select and relatively insignificant socialist policies to mitigate the damage done by capitalism. The programs they argue for — nationalized (so-called ‘universal) health care and direct income assistance (‘universal’ basic income) — do not directly challenge the capitalist system; rather, they merely modify it in order to keep it functioning.
Not only do Liberals not challenge the capitalist system, they are just as nationalist as the conservative ‘opposition.’ Nationalism takes myriad forms, but all instances of it hold one thing in common: the imagined community of the Nation is paramount to all other individual concerns.
We see this best regarding the militarization of Liberal Democratic states, particularly the United States. The US has the largest military in the world, and in 2014 (the latest available numbers) spent $610 billion dollars on it: three times the next highest budget (China) and 34% of the world’s total military spending. In case you need a reminder, Barack Obama was president in 2014. That’s right: that was the budget under a Democrat.
In comparison, the Russian Federation spent 84.5 billion that same year, or 14% of what the United States spent. I bring up Russian for a very good reason: currently, Liberals in the United States are obsessed over the threat Vladimir Putin poses to America, and Democratic Party politicians and operatives seem certain that Trump’s potential ties to Russian business deals and potential Russian involvement in the recent election constitute treason.
Treason is, of course, a betrayal of the state and the people it claims to represent on behalf of a foreign power. It’s a crime against a Nation, not against individuals. That many Liberals now hope Trump’s frightening rise to power can be thwarted by claiming he is a traitor to America might seem at first a mere political move, but it belies something much more frightening: Liberals are Nationalist, just like the conservatives and fascists they claim to oppose.
The Big Red Button
The Nationalist foundations of liberalism can be seen not just in the construction of Russia (a nation which spends 86% less than the US on its military) as a clear and present threat, nor just in the Democratic Party’s military appropriations, but also in the way Liberals have pushed for more government surveillance powers.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York at the beginning of the last decade, then-president George W. Bush presided over the creation of new state-policing powers. The Department of Homeland Security and its subsidiaries (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol), now the primary enforcement arm of Trump’s anti-immigrant (that is, anti-foreigner) orders, subsequently received increased funding under Obama.
But more insidious was the expansion of surveillance powers under a Democratic President, including a peculiar executive order signed just a few days before Obama left office. Executive Order 12333, signed by a president widely seen to be on the side of the people, made it possible for the National Security Administration (the NSA) to make all their domestic intercepts freely available to other police agencies:
The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.
Why would liberals, after Trump was elected and just days before he was to take office, give such an order?
Return to the analogy with which I began this editorial, and you have your answer. Liberals and Conservatives both increase the power of the state because they know they will eventually hold control of that state, just as much as the two camps in my analogy make sure to reload the gun before passing it off to the opposition.
Currently, we in the United States are urged by Liberals to oppose Trump because he has access to the ‘big red button’ of nuclear capabilities, of a massive surveillance state, of a militarized Department of Homeland Security, and all kinds of other “loaded guns.” What they politely fail to mention, however, is that Liberals helped build those nuclear capabilities, increased military spending, expanded the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, and gave the government more surveillance powers.
That ‘big red button’ happens to be in the hands of someone quite terrifying at the moment. But what a Liberal will never allow to be asked is what Leftists — particularly anarchists — demand: why should anyone have access to the means of destruction? What good is a nation anyway, especially if it proves itself repeatedly to be a way of eliciting popular support for wars against others?
Vote For Us, or Your Friends Will Die
Nationalist fears against weaker foreign powers do not constitute the only way that Liberals suppress leftist opposition to capitalism and the state. Their most insidious strategy has been wielding identity politics against the very people the social justice framework attempts to liberate.
To understand this, we need to look first at what is meant by identity politics. In an essay published on Vanity Fair, James Wolcott (a media critic and film reviewer, not a political theorist) warned against the so-called ‘alt-left’ (a constructed term) and an animosity they supposedly share with the fascist alt-right:
Disillusionment with Obama’s presidency, loathing of Hillary Clinton, disgust with “identity politics,” and a craving for a climactic reckoning that will clear the stage for a bold tomorrow have created a kinship between the “alt-right” and an alt-left.
Wolcott ends that essay, incidentally, by calling on the ‘deep state’ (the CIA) to end Trump’s regime, just as many other Liberals now do.
There is no alt-left, though. The term was first floated just after Clinton’s defeat by Liberals who put the blame for her loss on low Black voter turn-out and on leftists who refused to mobilize their groups to vote for a pro-capitalist, pro-war candidate (who’d previously called Black men “super-predators” and told environmentalists to “get a life.”)
The matter of identity politics requires more attention, though. In an incredible retort to Vanity Fair’s piece, Devyn Springer clarifies the leftist stance on identity (emphasis mine):
Because what Wolcott said was the “alt-left” has a “disgust” with identity politics, but what he meant to say was the left has dialectical analysis of the limits of identity politics. Lower the the proverbial fire into the gasoline puddle surrounding this paper-thin article, Wolcott conjures tired and recycled sentiments of ‘Bernie Bro’ leftists with a total disregard for identity politics, intersectional politics, and political theory surrounding the two. While these people do exist, they are but marginal voices among the left, a left largely compromised of people of color, women, disabled folks, queer and trans individuals, Muslims, immigrants, and other otherized individuals who’ve taken a class-analysis to approach the ways in which individuals of different identities are oppressed. It is not an end to identity politics we seek, rather a politic that encompasses the realities of different identities infused with class analysis and observation of power dynamics.
It’s probably important here for some readers to know that the author is in many of the identity groups for which Hillary Clinton was trotted-out as champion:
Let me explicitly say that, as a Black queer Muslim who is the child of immigrants living a low class life in the US south, to ‘loath’ someone both directly and indirectly responsible for millions of people’s oppression is a good decision. The left’s “loathing” of Clinton cannot, and should not, be equated to the right’s simply because they exist in completely different form.
It has been the practice of liberals in both the United States and in the United Kingdom to position themselves as the primary defenders of oppressed minorities within each nation. However, they do not position themselves as our champions against capitalism and state oppression, but rather against conservatives and foreign adversaries (particularly radical Islam, and now Russia). This was in sharp focus particularly during the recent US Election and the so-called Brexit vote in the United Kingdom: in both countries, Liberals painted the vote as nothing less than a hostage situation.
Consider the rhetoric of the Democratic Party in the United States after Clinton was chosen as their presidential candidate. The same ‘you’re either with us or with the terrorists’ dichotomy which George W. Bush used to elicit support for the invasions of Iraq and Afganistan repeated: if you were not voting for Clinton, you were consigning Black, women, trans, disabled, queer, and other minorities to a brutal death. Likewise, the Remain camp in the UK warned of similar fates to oppressed minorities there.
Were such statements only warnings not to vote for Trump or not to vote “Leave,” we could perhaps forgive the rhetoric. After all, the rise of the fascist right in both countries would seem to prove their deep fears have come true. But these were not just arguments against voting for the opposing side: they were indictments of anyone who did not vote, or voted for a third party (in the US). That is: vote for Clinton/vote Remain…or else.
This is why leftists oppose so-called ‘identity politics,’ which can be better called Liberal Identity Politics. Liberals have become quite good at manipulating the competing identities of oppressed peoples for their own benefit. Clinton’s statement about “super predators,” for instance, manipulated [white] women’s fears of out-of-control Black bodies, pitting Black identity against [bourgeois] Feminist identity. Similarly, racism against Blacks was employed by Clinton in her failed bid against Barack Obama for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, just as Barack Obama employed chauvinism against women to win that nomination. Anti-Semitic ‘red-baiting’ was used by the Clinton campaign in 2016 against Bernie Sanders, just as Bernie Sanders’ campaign tried to repeat Obama’s successful use of misogyny against her.
In all these cases, Liberals employed identity politics against other Liberals.
Those of us on the Left (no, Sanders was not a leftist) who watched this have more than enough reason to suspect that the once-liberatory social justice framework now serves the nationalist desires of politicians more than it serves us. Conservatives employ identity politics just as well, especially to drum up support for foreign invasions: the invasion of Afghanistan, for instance, was effectively framed as a war to liberate women from the patriarchal Taliban, regardless of whether or not those women were hoping to be liberated by bombs and occupation. And the fascist right (‘alt-right’ in the United States, ‘New Right’ in Europe) frames their politics now as “Identity Politics for Whites.”
In all cases (Liberal, Conservative, Fascist), identity is used as a weapon and method of control, cynically re-directing the self-description of people back into the machine of nationalist oppression.
The Return of the Left
The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom points both to the rise of nationalism (and soon, fascism). Those events also, however, herald the end of Anglo-Liberalism in both of those countries.
We must see this as good news, and also as a warning.
The complete failure of the Democratic Party in the United States to manipulate identity politics in a way that could win them the presidency (against the most pathetic excuse of a demagogue the world has yet seen) means nothing less than this: the Democratic Party in the United States has little political power any longer.
Insofar as Liberals have set themselves up cynically as the party of the oppressed while building up the power of the state and protecting the interests of capitalism, Leftists in the United States can now build actual anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist movements.
Black Lives Matter and the NODAPL movement at Standing Rock are both signs that indigenous and oppressed peoples have begun reclaiming their own power rather than allowing Liberals to co-opt their revolutionary struggles. Similarly, antifascist organizing against alt-right groups and leaders — despite Liberal attacks against their actions — shows that the Left has finally made a real break from the nationalism of the Democratic Party, and the Democrats are pissed.
That’s where the warning comes in. In every significant Leftist populist movement in the United States, the Democratic Party has shown itself quite adept at co-opting the struggles of the poor and oppressed. Resistance is ‘in’ now, Liberals are already starting to realise their fashion is out of date and seeking new ways to update their image.
How might they co-op these movements? Re-branding our politics as anti-Trump movements, re-directing leftist anger at capitalism and the police-state into electoral and establishment politics. The police were militarized before Trump, the security state exploded in size under Obama, Clinton openly advocated for military engagement in the Middle East, but in our current moment of terror, it will be easy for many to forget this. If a charismatic new Liberal were to rise suddenly, promising an end to Trump, only our memory of Liberalism’s relentless betrayal could stop them.
We who seek a better world must become not just revolutionaries, but keepers of the memories of Liberal betrayal. While Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” Liberals will soon be promising the same thing, a return to the halcyon days where they had control over the military and police, where they got to be the ones holding the gun to our heads, smiling, telling us they were on our side.
When the Liberals try to co-opt us, we must be ready. We must not settle for anything less than the end of the American Empire, the end of Capitalism, and the end of any political system that would promise to point a gun at another’s head on our behalf.
Rhyd is the managing editor and co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He and Alley Valkyrie are currently raising funds to live in France — find out how to help them here.
Like this essay? You’ll probably really like Christopher Scott Thompson’s book, Pagan Anarchism. It, and all our other books, is available here.
I’ve waded through some of the back-and-forth – are Pagans inexcusably blasé towards the extreme right? Does anti-fascist zeal suppress free speech? Is truly apolitical religion impossible, or does putting the Gods first imply leaving social concerns second? Reading these arguments, I started recalling a situation from several years ago, back in college in conservative small-town Texas.
Unsurprisingly, my school hosted a profoundly Christian social milieu, including a large evangelical Protestant contingent. I was the only open trans woman there, and one of only three or so Pagans. My friend, an aspiring goði, audaciously started holding semi-public blótar on Ásatrú holidays, and a community accrued around the celebrations.
Most of us weren’t even Pagan, let alone Ásatrú. However, we all shared a feeling of alienation from the college at large: most of us were disabled people, people of color, and/or queer, not to mention unsympathetic to the hegemonic religious culture. Passing the drinking horn, we built a sense of home.
We shared campus with a sect affiliated to theNew Apostolic Reformation, a theocratic Pentecostal Christian movement with a penchant for military imagery (famously documented in the film Jesus Camp). They taught that being disabled showed that God was punishing you for wrongdoing by not healing you, that LGBT identity indicated demonic possession, and that non-Christian religions represented a Satanic conspiracy. So, they chose to target us. Along with several of my friends, I found myself declared an unholy force, in public and by name, in a proclamation of “spiritual warfare.”
“Spiritual warfare,” it turned out, meant several months of organized harassment and stalking, eventually escalating to the point of death threats and (for some of my friends) physical assault. Our opposition to their divine political-religious order rendered us fair game.
I remember them whenever people downplay religious articulations of fascism.
“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”
Much of the outrage at the New Right essay has referred to McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic, and notions of censorship and “enforced ideological conformity” in general. If the Pagan left is really against fascism, the critics claim, then why do they want witch hunts and political purges?
The article in question actually calls for none of those things. However, that line of thought still falls back on a central moral claim of classical liberalism, the Enlightenment political current associated with the West’s electoral-capitalist governing structures. As expressed by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, classical liberals asserted:
“[T]here ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.“
Mill and his 19th-century fellows mainly concerned themselves with state restrictions on religious meetings and political publications. Nonetheless, the broad acceptance of that ethic has led to its application well beyond public policy. Pagan anti-fascists say that racism has no place in our religions, but we all know that no one is about to get arrestedfor saying “Thor dislikes immigrants.”Censorship, properly defined, isn’t at stake. Rather, the classical liberal “live and let live” attitude has been expanded to suggest that Pagan organizations, events, and communities have no more right to treat certain ideas as unacceptable than the government itself does.
Holding this classical liberal attitude implies little about anyone’s actual political program. Generally speaking, it represents the “common sense” consensus across most belief systems in electoral-capitalist countries. Left, right, or center, virtually everybody in these societies shares the classical liberal sensibility that people should be able to form and express their own particular opinions about things, and no one has any business stopping them. But what does this outlook have to do with the fascist presence in Paganism?
“To disagree, one doesn’t have to be disagreeable.”
The goals of fascists and reactionaries of any sort (whether New Rightists or old-fashioned blackshirts) aren’t liberal in any sense. However, the Pagan far right knows that the classical liberal ethic can be manipulated for their benefit. When reactionaries invoke coexistence, the toleration of disagreement, and setting aside political differences in religious settings, don’t accept it on face value. The far right’s raison d’être is the disempowerment of social minorities. They might pursue this through racist theology in one place and street violence (or electoral politics) in another, but they never genuinely accept inclusivity or tolerance.
However, some currents – for instance, New Right-aligned Pagans – have wised up to the fact that few people who aren’t already reactionaries will accept those goals if they’re plainly stated. So, they get clever. Pagan far rightists know that most other Pagans would never agree with a policy of “whites only, no queers.” They also know that the Pagan left will never stop calling their ideas what they are: racist and misogynistic.
So, clever reactionaries triangulate. They suggest that they only want to coexist with non-fascist Pagans, but that those nasty left-wingers are trying to kick people out just for disagreeing. They invoke the classical liberal conscience of the majority and frame their practices as basically harmless, only a threat to people who can’t handle freedom of speech.
Of course, their practices are not harmless. Reactionaries aim to suppress social minoritieshowever they can. While, through calculated appeals to “free expression,” they use liberal largesse as cover and try to discredit their critics, they keep quietly carrying out their goals all the while. Let’s glance at a few examples:
Folkish Heathens don’t simply advocate for the exclusion of people of color – they practice it. There is nothing abstract about the way that Folkish Heathen groups turn away non-white seekers and tell Heathens of color that they should not practice their chosen religion. While they materially enact a program of racist exclusion, though,their mainline coreligionists shield them by behaving as if the issue at hand is merely one of belief and disagreement. So, for the sake of “tolerance,” racist discrimination continues – and meanwhile, Folkish Heathenry spills over into secular political racism.
Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) don’t limit themselves to rhetorical attacks on trans women. For decades, TERF factions of Dianic Witchcraft have actively turned away trans seekers and told trans women that we have no place in feminism, women’s spaces, or feminist-oriented Paganism. When theyhide behindclassical liberal notions of “reasonable people disagreeing reasonably,” they obscure the reality of discrimination behind their words. And, of course, this alsocontributes to larger public policy; Goddess Movement TERFs align with secular TERFs and even, sometimes, with right-wing Christiansto oppose trans rights. “Civility” is a red herring meant to obscure their actions’ destructive consequences.
As previously discussed on this site, the leadership of the Left Hand Path Consortium, in the name of “opposing censorship” and permitting “controversial” ideas to be expressed, invited a neo-fascist politician to speak at its conference. His graphic threats of violence eventually led them to withdraw the invitation for legal reasons, but they have already publicly equated “free expression” with their collaborating with someone who himself works with the swastika-sporting, sieg-heiling National Socialist Movement.
Each time, we see reactionaries invoking classical liberal ideas to deflect criticism, and successfully winning over large groups of non-fascist Pagans. While lauding tolerance and freedom as a defensive strategy, the reactionaries arealready implementing an agenda of exclusion, discrimination, and targeted disempowerment. Further, in each case, these far rightists are translating their bases of social support within parts of Paganism into larger, secular political projects aimed at imposing their beliefs on everybody.
Most of the people objecting to the New Right essay, like most Pagans generally, believe in free speech as a matter of principle. Intuitively comparing strident anti-fascism to censorship would seem to follow from that value. Fascists, however, don’t believe in free speech. They don’t believe in free and open participation, and their invocation of classical liberal values is purely opportunistic.
Whenever fascists are tolerated, they enact discrimination. When the rest of us put up with them, we become complicit. Who actually threatens free speech and diversity of opinion: the people who actively drive minority groups away, or the people who point out how wrong that is?
The far right is counting on you to pick the latter.
“I, like you, will defend the right of any American to openly practise & preach any political philosophy from monarchy to anarchy. But this is not the case with regard to the communist.”
Pagan reactionaries may reject classical liberal values, but they’re canny enough to manipulate them. However, they know they can’t do the same with radicals who commit themselves to explicit anti-fascism. They know that for reactionary Paganism to flourish, the Pagan left needs to be pushed out.
So, they get shrewd: invoking freedom and pluralism, they mischaracterize the left as anti-liberty and (with no sense of irony) McCarthyite, then sit back. The well-intentioned liberal majority attacks the left for them. Suddenly, there’s no need to spend much time dealing with critics. Instead, they can get back to doing what they wanted all along – implementing their policies of exclusion and building support for racist and chauvinist politics. They outsource their fights to the liberal majority.
The notion that the far left is a uniquely dangerous threat retains enormous cultural resonance. After all, it’s not as if the capitalist-owned media has much inclination to portray socialists and communists as anything but spies and traitors, or anarchists as much besides domestic terrorists. The ownership class’s use of the schools, the government, and the mass media primes everyone to distrust the left. Capitalism would rather you not take its dissidents seriously. So, when far rightists evoke these images, they do so on purpose – they know it works. They don’t themselves enjoy a dominant position within Paganism (much as they’d like to), but they get by without one. They just count on high-minded liberals to punish anti-fascists for them.
Fascists don’t need you to be a fascist. They just need you to pick the same enemies.
“Opponents [of a bill dismantling anti-discrimination protections] would have condemned it, but in doing so confirmed that the modern secular left condemns all religious freedoms that impede their agenda, and that the RFRAtruly has nothing to do with hate or discrimination.”
Back in Texas, my friends and I didn’t take the New Apostolic Reformation harassment without protest. We implored our moderate and liberal Christian friends to speak out against their fellow Christians’ behavior, and even took the situation to the college administration. Every time, we got the same response: the sect espoused “offensive ideas,” but we should “respect their religious freedom” and not “punish them for their beliefs.”
But it was never a matter of belief.No one had to take it on faith that they were threatening us. After a while, the mix of stalking, occasional physical violence, and indifferent peers and administrators wore us down. Some of us dropped out of school entirely. At least one had a full-fledged psychiatric breakdown. I had to take a leave of absence halfway through one semester. And a couple of years later, I found out that most of the sects’ members had moved out of state together, where their group had finally collapsed, revealing rampant sexual abuse and even sparking a murder investigation. “Offensive ideas” indeed.
Most of us can quite happily “agree to disagree.” Reactionaries want you to take that attitude towards them, but they won’t extend it to the demographics they hate. Just as my school’s ignoring religiously-motivated violence allowed it to escalate, so does our tolerating ideologies of violence and discrimination enable their ongoing implementation. Sure, there will always be people with destructive worldviews, and we can’t expect to win them all over. But they can’t enact their agendas alone. Without a social climate that lets them flourish, they would find themselves entirely marginal and effectively too isolated to function.
If each one of us, far left or not, said, whenever we encountered reactionary ideas, “As your coreligionist and a fellow practitioner of our tradition, these notions don’t belong here,” then crypto-fascist groups would be unable to discriminate, unable to recruit, and eventually unable to survive. They need the tacit complicity of the non-fascist majority in order to keep existing (and recruiting). Among Pagans, they’ve been getting it. Of course, the majority retains the power to reject them.
We only need the will.
Sophia Burns is a galla, vowed to serve Attis and Kybele, and a Greco-Phrygian polytheist. After coming out in the small-town South, she moved to Seattle, where she is active in the trans lesbian community. Other than writing for Gods&Radicals, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, attending nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.