Catalunya and the Coming Flood

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Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

 

He’d sent his favorite painting to his friend in Paris, a friend who’d managed to hide his anti-fascist politics long enough to keep his position in an archive as Nazi bootsteps echoed through the streets of France. He bid auf wiedersehen to his hosts in Marseilles, especially his close friend Hannah Arendt, stuffed the loose leaves of his final manuscript into a valise, and traveled to the small town of Cerbère, at the tip of the southwesternmost part of mainland France.

The Gestapo had direct orders to apprehend him. So, too, did the Stalinists.  There was no where else for him to run but here.

He’d gotten a visa, arranged by an American poet friend. But the Nazis would not let a Jew leave France through any port, and his only hope was to flee by boat from Portugal. To get there, though, he would have to travel through Fascist Spain, and to get into Spain he had only one hope: Catalonia.

Only a year before, Catalonia had been free, the last bastion of anarchist and leftist resistance in Europe as fascism swept through the continent. Many Catalonians still remembered, still resisted, including the former mayor of the town of Portbou, just on the other side of the Pyrenees from Cerbère. The mayor had helped resistance fighters to the fascist Franco regime flee in France, and now he would help the Jewish Marxist philosopher, Walter Benjamin, flee the fascists in France towards safety.

I wish this story ended well.

I wish I could tell you a happy tale of how Benjamin, exhausted and harried, arrived finally at a port in Lisbon and from there sailed from European fascism forever. But he arrived in Portbou one day too late; Franco had just issued a decree that any Jews in Spain without Spanish citizenship should be immediately deported to France, and he was put under house arrest by the Guardia Civil.

Even the still-burning heart of resistance in Catalonia could not save him against the full weight of the Spanish government. But rather than face the gas chambers of Germany, he injected himself with a lethal dose of morphine, the last entry in his journal quoting Kafka:

“There is plenty of hope. But not for us.”

Last year I, along with my best friend who’d been haunted for months with dreams of the dead philosopher, followed the rocky and steep trail Walter Benjamin took across the Pyrenees from Cerbère to Portbou. The path leads ever upward, winding its way through outposts of cork oak and vast oceans of wildflowers, with the blue-green of the Mediterranean always at your back until you reach the dizzying top. But as you descend the Catalonian side, the entire land seems to change around you, massive cactus and scrubby bushes your primary companion. By the time you reach Portbou, you are in a different world completely though barely a few miles as a crow might fly from where you started.

Neither of us ever really quite understood why we made that trek. It was her first mountain climb, my first in years. The whole trip had been one of anxiety–uncertainty why we were there in the first place, confusion about the path, panic about our insufficient plans and the mere handful of coins we’d had between us during the journey. We’d run out of water before we got to the top, arrived exhausted and hurried in Portbou, realizing we had just enough money to take a train out but barely enough time to catch it, and neither of us speak Spanish or Catalan.

Why did we make that trip? Why cross a mountain just to spend brief minutes in the small town where our favorite philosopher died? And why did we feel so much dread that day and the days afterward, fearing something was coming we were supposed to prepare for?

Watching what is happening in Catalonia and the rest of the world now, I suspect I know a bit more of those answers.

“Catalonia is Not Spain”

By now you’ve probably heard about it all. Earlier this month, a vote was held in the semi-autonomous region for independence. The Spanish government declared it illegal and sent out the Guardia Civil (whose insignia is still a fasces) to seize ballot boxes and beat up old women who’d cast their vote. And then, on the 27th of October, at 3:35 pm local time, the Catalonian leaders followed the direction of the voters and declared independence.

In just 24 hours, the conservative Spanish government had moved to depose the independence leaders, had seized control over local police and emergency services, threatened parliamentarians with treason, taken over the public broadcasting services in Catalonia and installed their own leaders over the region.

And as of the writing of this essay, Spain has jailed 9 of the elected leaders of the Catalonian government who partook in the independence move. They are charged with treason and sedition, eight of them without possibility of bail, and must together pay 6.7 million Euros to cover the Spanish government’s ‘court costs’ or have all their possessions seized.

Worse from the government is promised.

But while the Spanish government attempts to punish Catalunya for its desire to be independent of the nation-state of Spain, it is not the only one showing disapproval. Large corporations are threatening to leave Barcelona or have already done so, the same process of “Capital flight” which has brought many a populist and leftist government in the global south to its knees.

And the leaders of the ‘free world’ have made clear which side they are on, and it’s not the people of Catalonia:

  • The United States under Donald Trump issued a statement through the State Department vowing to support “the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
  • Theresa May, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, was even harsher, stating Britain “does not and will not” recognise Catalonia as an independent entity.
  • Emmanuel Macron, the pro-capitalist leader of France, stated: “There is a rule of law in Spain with constitutional rules. Mariano Rajoy wants these rules to be respected and he has my full support.”
  • From Angela Merkel’s government spokesman: “The German government does not recognise such a declaration of independence.”
  • From Turkey, whose leader Erdogan has violently put down Kurdish attempts at independence (including ordering the beating of American supporters of the Kurds): “Turkey will continue to support Spain’s territorial integrity, constitution and political integrity.”
  • And from the president of the European Union, Donald Tusk: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor.”

As of the writing of this essay, the only European government to be somewhat supportive of Catalonia has been the Scottish Parliament, who were blocked from efforts to join the European Union independent of Britain after Brexit by the Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy himself. Belgium, currently ruled by a coalition which includes separatists, made a less supportive statement but has tweeted out instructions to Catalonians on how to seek asylum within Belgium in the likely event of Spanish political repression. The deposed president of Catalonia fled there already with 8 other Catalonian independence ministers.

And what about Russia? In multiple statements since the initial referendum, Vladimir Putin has made clear Catalonia “is Spain’s internal business and must be resolved within Spanish law and on the basis of democratic traditions,” though certainly seems eager to capitalize on the European Union’s double-standards regarding support for independence movements.

That so much condemnation has quickly come from the leaders of the “free world” should give anyone dismissive of Catalonia’s independence bid pause. When Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan all agree Catalonia must remain part of Spain, something else is probably going on here.

That ‘something else’ is much bigger than Catalonia itself. If anything, Catalunya’s desire for self-governance threatens the entire capitalist world order.

The Identity Politics of the Nation

To understand the threat Catalunya presents not just to Spain but to capitalism itself, we need to look at the concept of the nation-state and its relationship to capitalism. But before that, we need to unravel precisely what a Nation is and how it is used to control people.

First, we must remember: most of the modern nation-states in existence are relatively new.  For instance, what we know of as Italy was birthed in 1871; Germany came fully into existence that same year. France as a nation-state was born in 1792, a little after the United States (1776). But even still it is not quite correct to look at any of these nations as being quite so old: the United States has only existed in its current territorial form since 1959 and didn’t fully control the land which is now the 48 contiguous states until 1912. Germany in its current form has only been around 1990 (after re-unification); France is in its 5th incarnation as a Republic (1958), and several European nation-states in existence 30 years ago no longer exist, including Yugoslavia (died 1990) and Czechoslovakia (died 1993), birthing new nations from their ashes.

So the nation-state is hardly an eternal form. They come, they go, they form and re-form, but before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, they cannot be said to have existed at all. What came before were less organized systems of governments (usually kingdoms) attempting to exert control over land and very diverse people through direct force.

The nation-state significantly changed the world, and not just because it created borders and all the modern methods of state violence (police, bureaucracy, etc.).  More than anything, it changed the way people saw themselves, slowly replacing their local identifications with National identity.  For instance, before the birth of the French republic in 1792, there was no real sense of what it meant to be French (and anyway at that point, no more than half of “the French” actually spoke “French”).  Only through long decades of war and government repression of differences did the idea of being French actually take hold in France, and even still some (including Bretons and Corsicans) refuse to call themselves “French.”

The Nation-State, then, is not just a new political construct, but a new way of arranging people and defining their meaning and identity. This identity creates what Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities,” constructed connections between people who will never meet each other but see themselves as part of the same Nation.

In the United States, “American” may not mean the same thing to people on the far left or the far right, to a poor Black woman or an upper class white male, but it’s incredibly rare (except among First Nations peoples) to find anyone who actually refuses to allow themselves to be called an American. That shared national identity binds people who hate each other, binds oppressors and oppressed people together, around a shared sense of membership in the social construct called the Nation.

That definition in places like the United States appears fixed and unquestionable, but in the European nations from which the ancestors of white Americans came, national identity is not monolithic. France, for instance, has at least five other competing national identities within its European territory: Alsatian, Breton, Basque, Corsican,  and Occitanie. Add to this the colonized outremer departments such as Martinique and Guyane and you have many, many more non-French identities.

These identities are not just regional; a Corsican who tells you they are Corsican is not just telling you they live in Corse, they are telling you they do not live in France. Here where I live in Bretagne, it is the same: friends and strangers often vehemently correct me when I say I live in “France.” For them, France is an occupying force, an identity pushed upon them and one they are fully justified in rejecting as they please.

The United Kingdom has a similar internal division: for some Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, and Northern Irish folk, “British” is not just an identity they refuse to be defined with, but it is an enclosure and erasure of their cultural and ethnic identity.

One Nation Under the God-State

For the rulers of Nation-States like France and the United Kingdom, national identity is the primary means by which they are able to get the people they govern to not just identify with each other, but identify with the rulers themselves. The French leader Emmanuel Macron, for example, is the President of the French people. If the people Macron tries to rule do not see themselves as French, the laws he and his government create and enforce cannot adequately control people without using overt violence.

Similarly, Theresa May is the British Prime Minister: if the people in Scotland see themselves no longer British, the only way her government can control what the Scottish do is by direct force. Governments lose their appearance of legitimacy (and much of their power) when the people they are supposed to represent no longer identify as part of the imagined community they were elected to lead.

If you are a reader who considers themselves American, imagine how different your relationship to the United States government (and especially Trump) might be if you did not see yourself as an American. Say, for instance, that your parents were Irish and you see yourself more Irish than you do American, and you were living in an area where most of the people you knew spoke Irish and also didn’t see themselves as American. Your perception of the legitimacy of the United States would radically change.

There are already examples of this alternate identification in the United States. Some First Nations people refuse the label of American and point out that the United States is an occupation on their land, a settler-colonist government which is fully illegitimate. Also, some Black and Pan-African thinkers likewise identify more with Blackness or Africanness than with “American,” though these movements do not (by no fault of their own) have the same ongoing ancestral connection to land that First Nations peoples do and thus often have to reconstruct cultural identity.

From here, it should be easy to understand that what is happening in Catalonia is not some aberration in the history of humanity. And also it should be easy to understand why powerful Nation-States attempt to inculcate a singular constructed identity. But another objection is often raised against regional independence movements, particularly by liberals and some anarchists.

That objection? That Catalonia’s desire for independence is “nationalist,” and nationalism is fascist.

Fascist Nationalism vs. Autonomous Movements

Currently sweeping through Europe and the United States are far-right identitarian movements invoking cultural, ethnic, and racial ‘purity’ to fuel their desire for political power and a future without immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else besides themselves. In the United States, for instance, the so-called “alt-right” has marched openly carrying torches and chanting anti-semitic and anti-Black slogans. In Europe, groups like Bloc Identitaire, PEGIDA, Golden Dawn, Alternativ fur Deutschland, Front National, and others associated with the New Right/Nouvelle Droit have staged rallies, attacked refugees and anarchists, and even gained many seats in parliaments.

Besides their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish rhetoric, these groups have another thing in common: they argue for European states built around ethnic/racial/cultural identity. In this way, they may seem not much different from the movement in Catalonia (or Bretagne, or other places) but for one crucial difference: exclusion. For, while the European far-right tries to redefine the nation along identitarian lines, they also think those nations should only be composed of those identities.

That is, fascist nationalism is primarily exclusionary. On the other hand, the Catalonian independence movement has not said “Catalonia only for Catalonians.” In fact, part of the political platform of an independent Catalonia was the immediate granting of citizenship to immigrants of any ancestry who already had resident status.

More so, fascist nationalist groups have had a horrible time gaining support from independence and autonomous movements. The Front National headed by Marine Le Pen, for instance, did worse in Bretagne during the elections than in more culturally-assimilated (“French”) regions in France, while the far-left/communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melechon, did better in Bretagne than elsewhere.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to Americans unfamiliar with Spanish history, in Catalonia the far-right anti-immigrant/fascist groups are supporting Spanish national unity, not Catalonian independence. There are both historical and ideological reasons for the fascists to take Spain’s side: Spain was ruled by a fascist dictator from 1939 until 1975 (the longest fascist government in history). Spain wasn’t ‘liberated’ from fascism, either–Franco only left power because he died, and the successive ‘democratic’ governments since then never fully (or even partially) purged the fascist sympathisers from their ranks.

Ideologically, though, fascism has much more in common with (and much more to gain from) the Nation-State (and national identity) than it ever would from independence movements. Fascism is at its core both nationalist and statist: none of the far-right movements in Europe are calling for the abolishment of the State or the breaking up of States into distinct cultural regions. Instead, they demand stronger States which exclude, punish, and make war against people who are not like them.

Catalonia has no such plaform, nor does the other independence movement with which I am most familiar, the Breton nationalist movement (mostly made up of communists and anarchists anyway).

So we see here that Catalonia’s independence is both a threat to fascist identitiarian movements as well as the governments of liberal democratic states like the U.S., U.K, France, and Germany. And here’s where our discussion of nationalism finally leads us to the collusion of the Capital and the Nation-State, and why what Catalonia is doing threatens the entire order.

Capitalists and the Nation State: Symbiotic Parasites

There are two things which govern the mutual relationship between Capitalism and the Nation-State. The first is the Capitalist’s desire to gain wealth, avoid risk, and protect their investment. The second is the Nation-State’s need for political stability and wealth in the form of tax-income. These two imperatives function in tandem and make both the Nation-State and the Capitalist mutually parasitic on each other, and thus natural allies.

The first should seem self-evident: investors, corporations, and banks do not like losing money and do everything in their power not to do so.

Economic and long-term investment forecasts aren’t used by the rich the way that the average person uses a weather report. For us, whether it rains next week won’t change much of our lives–we may not plan that trip to the beach with friends or the outdoor barbecue, but unless we are farmers, we don’t significantly change our behavior. For the rich, however, the stability or volatility of a market determines whether or not they are going to keep investments or move them to another market.

Those decisions based on volatility or stability don’t just affect the wealth of the investors, of course. They also determine whether or not people keep their jobs, get to borrow money for houses, or even get to survive at all. So when an investor decides that a market is too risky and decides to move their money elsewhere, that economic chaos can cause political chaos too. Capitalists need to protect their investments (property, primarily) during such times, and also need to protect themselves from political actions from the poor they’ve harmed (riots, assassinations, worker-takeovers, etc.).

A Nation-State is the perfect entity to provide these things for the rich. Through its ability to control markets by laws, policing, and military actions, the Nation-State can guarantee to the capitalist a stable economic climate. Also through its police, judicial, and military powers, the Nation-State can punish people who react violently to decisions by Capitalists to move investments, cut wages, destroy neighborhoods (gentrification), or even outright steal from people.

On the other hand, the Nation-State needs taxes in order to function. Taxes on income and commerce are an easy and difficult-to-oppose means for the State to gain wealth, and thus the economic activity generated by capitalists directly benefits the Nation-State. The more economic activity, the more tax revenue–thus the hyper-consumerism that banks and corporations encourage becomes an addictive drug for the state.

Subsistence farmers or people who only work enough to survive and make most of their own goods cannot produce enough tax revenue for a government to fund massive military campaigns or even run a modern state. Likewise, if a citizenry becomes self-sufficient and self-governing, they rely on the state much less and even begin to oppose it. On the other hand, economically hyper-active citizenry often tend to associate their wealth with the leaders of nation-state itself and become more loyal to it (the way President Bill Clinton or Prime Minister Tony Blair were credited with their respective nation’s economic growth, for instance).

What happens when a Nation-State deviates from this mutual relationship, though?

One need only look at what happened to Argentina and other South American nations who elected leftist or left-leaning governments and platforms to find out. When Argentina in 2001 announced they would no longer pay back debt forced upon them by the International Monetary Fund, capitalists punished the people severely through a process called “Capital flight.” Basically, banks, corporations and large investors quickly pulled their money out of local economies all at once, leading to banks running out of money, millions of people suddenly losing jobs and access to credit, and entire cities suddenly going bankrupt.

So although the relationship between the Nation-State and the Capitalists is mutually-parasitic, the Capitalists are able to do much more damage to the other than the Nation-State can, unless the Nation-State itself seizes the wealth and property of the capitalists (which occurs only during communist take-overs of the State).

The Gates Are Open

Now, back to Catalonia. As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, Capital flight occurred immediately when the Catalonians voted for independence. Hundreds of Spanish corporations left or moved their headquarters, because to stay meant too much risk. Also, the Catalonian independence movement was heavily influenced by far-left politics, further suggesting to the capitalists that they might not get nearly the same profits in the region as they currently do under the conservative and neo-liberal Spanish government.

So both the Capitalists and the Spanish government have punished Catalonia for their desire to determine their own future. And here’s where a floodgate just opened that threatens to drown the entire capitalist world: we all just saw them do that.

Liberal Democracy (the system that the US, United Kingdom, and almost every European nation uses) has been able to function so well and fight off leftist and independence movements for so long because it veils the Nation-State’s collusion with the Capitalists better than any other system. It promises freedom and democracy to its people, but in Spain it literally beat up old women who’d just voted for autonomy and imprisoned democratically-elected Catalonian leaders.

It also claims to be opposed to fascism, but in Catalonia the conservative Spanish government and the “socialist” minority party are doing exactly what the fascists want. Likewise, the widespread condemnation of Catalonia’s independence from the leaders of every other large Liberal Democratic nation have also revealed themselves to be against democracy and in agreement with the fascist movements in their own countries.

The entire world just watched this happen, especially every other independence movement. We have all watched what the Nation-State and the Capitalists will do together to stop anyone who tries to determine their own future. The Scots saw this, as did the Welsh. The Bretons saw this, as did the Basque and the Corsicans.

So, too, did everyone who was under the illusion that the Nation-State is inviolable and eternal, that governments can protect us from the capitalists and that capitalism was not invested in the authoritarianism of the Nation-State. They now know their governments and capitalist class are all ultimately on the same side as the fascists.

Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

What comes next in the world is uncertain. Which groups inspired by what Catalonia has done will try next? Which groups will succeed? And what beautiful alliances will begin to form between all these apparently disparate movements across the world? Will we see Bretons and Scots and the Basque meeting together with First Nations people, co-ordinating mutual aid and international solidarity between their movements?

Or will we see the fascists seize this moment, using the panic of the governments of the world to manifest their dreams of homogenous, exclusive, authoritarian Nation States?

I don’t know. When I think on Walter Benjamin’s last journal entry in Catalonia before he killed himself, that quote from Kafka, I imagine those who’ve put their hope in this first full attack on Spain seeing a glimpse of all the future movements that will arise.

If Catalonia fails, they too may find themselves penning those same words: “There is plenty of hope, but not for us.”


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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Rage Against the Modern World

This is the second part of Wolves In the Interregnum, a series on Jack Donovan, Paul Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland.

Author’s note: In my previous essay, I focused extensively on the aesthetic on Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland, while heavily critiquing the moralistic reactions against that aesthetic. For some, this may no doubt seem unfair, if not outright antagonistic to the very tendencies which attempt to resist fascist movements. Why criticize American social justice and bourgeois/liberal feminism in an essay about a rising fascist threat?

The reason for such an apparent inversion will be made quite clear as we look at how the Wolves and others have rather brilliantly occupied the anti-modern and anti-globalisation politics abandoned by ‘The Left.’

Another World Was Possible…

In the last part of the 1990’s and the first few years of the 21st century, massive manifestations filled the streets of major cities of the world. These protests were part of what was called the anti-globalisation or alter-mondialiste movement, and had the astounding ability to unite people across wide spectrums of political orientation into a common struggle. Environmentalists, immigrants, labor unions, indigenous-rights groups, and even many people traditionally seen as right-wing arrived in major cities throughout the world to fight against governments, multi-national corporations, and global finance organisations.

While it is impossible to distill the myriad of political goals of the protesters, we can more easily summarize the changes in international governance, political distribution, and the regulations of global capital against which they protested.

Brokered by nations and corporate leaders, international trade agreements such as NAFTA and the GATT reduced the power of local governments, communities, and unions over the economic, environmental, and cultural activities of the people which composed or were supported by them. Meanwhile, large international monetary orgaisations like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank used economic crises to force austerity and privatization policies upon nations in the global south, effectively nullifying the popular will of the people through the use of weaponized debt.

All of this was happening at once, all over the world, and the consequences have been myriad. Environmental degradation in South America and Africa, mass suicides of farmers in India, famines, explosive immigration from poorer countries to richer ones, collapses of entire nations, the reduction of diversity in agriculture and the extinction of species, the weakening of trade and labor unions throughout the world, and the destruction of countless communities as local industries were destroyed and factories shut down….all of this is just a part of what the anti-globalisation movement fought against.

Partially due to the all-too conveniently-timed ‘war on terror’ and systematic counter-revolutionary actions, the mass mobilizations of the anti-globalisation movement are long-gone, and few of the critiques remain in the political platforms of any leftist or liberal movement in the United States or the United Kingdom.

However, the damage done did not simply disappear when there was no movement to fight it, and much of the current political turmoil in which we find ourselves now is a consequence both of globalisation and the left’s abandonment of that fight. The rise of fascist, Islamist and nationalist movements, acceleration of climate change, increasing poverty, mass displacement, and countless other crises can be linked to the spread of global capital. The closure of factories, the shift of investment from manufacturing to finance and internet technology, and the obliteration of local economies happened just as the protesters feared, but as with much else, rage against this destruction resurfaced as part of the platform of the fascist right, as well as featuring heavily in the political campaign of Donald Trump and the exit of the UK from the European Union (Brexit).

Just as with other elements of leftist abandonment, the political platforms of the anti-globalisation movement didn’t go away: they are now being wielded towards new goals by fascist, nationalist, and authoritarian movements against which antifascists now find themselves in a losing battle.

One of those groups? The Wolves of Vinland.

Crumbling Empires

As with their aesthetic, The Wolves present an anti-modern ideology, one that rejects Empire (or in Donovan’s words, “The Empire of Nothing”) in favor of societies formed around tribal affinities and self-selection. Crucial to such a transition is the rejection of the hegemonic rule of Liberal Democracy not just over individual and group actions, but also over self-perception and our own modes of thought. As the manifesto of Operation Werewolf puts it:

“It is not a political statement, but a bloody fist shaken in the face of all institutions of control- a furious bite to the hands that seek to leash or enslave. It is not right or left, but free of these shackles of modern dualistic thinking- it operates under the assumption that the Kings of this world have become so through the forked tongue of finance and fear, and it rejects their offerings. The warriors who make up Operation Werewolf know that the true heroes are those who are self made, physically and mentally strong, free thinkers and free doers who are both untamed and unrepentant.”

While Waggener gives very little time to political analysis, Jack Donovan does much more (it was he, after all, who was invited to a European New Right think tank). Operation Werewolf functions primarily as the self-improvement wing of The Wolves, while Donovan’s writing focuses much more on political theory. Consider Donovan’s response during a Reddit ‘ask me anything’ to a question regarding why tribalism has “a bad rap”:

“The anti-tribalist/anti-racist hysteria promoted by the progressive media is too convenient for wealthy elites.  They are, for the most part, protected from the negative consequences of the “melting pot.” The wealthy can afford security, and they can afford to live wherever they like, and they can afford to send their children to whatever schools they prefer. The representatives from other groups that they and their families interact with most are often going to be very well socialized or very successful. It’s the lower and lower middle class proles who are forced, whether they like it or not, to interact with groups of people who have radically different values or cultures.

Tribalism is inconvenient for wealthy globalists. To begin with, it creates instability that can threaten their investments. They can also make more money when they are free to outsource labor, move a factory, or import goods made in places with a lower standard of living.

If people are convinced that they are “world citizens” and shouldn’t expect any kind of local or national loyalty, globalist elites won’t have to be confronted with any sort of crisis of conscience when they sell out their neighbors and countrymen.”

Any reader who was politically-active during the WTO protests or any of the other manifestations comprising the anti-globalisation movement will recognize much of this rhetoric. For The Wolves, Empire is almost identical to what (anarchists) Hardt and Negri outlined in their books, as well as what most autonomous Marxists, post-colonialists, many Green Anarchists, and anti-civ theorists criticize: Liberal (Capitalist) Democratic hegemony. But also, something is obviously off, racialized, about their rhetoric.

Immigrants As Victims, Immigrants As Weapons

First, let us acknowledge the core problem which Donovan cites in his response: the mobility of global capitalism has made it impossible for local politicians and small communities to fight capitalist policies. No matter how strong the local resistance to the closing of a factory in the rust belt of the United States is, as long as the owner of that factory can re-invest their capital in another market, local protest—even violent protest–is useless. As long as cheaper labor can be found elsewhere, and provided no punitive tariffs on re-imporation are levied by governments, it will always be a good business decision for a corporation to move its production to a cheaper labor market. Because of the success of capitalist globalisation, no local political movement can effectively exert control over global capital.

Simultaneously, so-called ‘Free Trade’ agreements destroy the local economies outside the United States even more than within. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed into law in 1994, ravaged the economy of Mexico, leading to massive spikes in immigration (‘legal’ and otherwise) to the United States. For instance, in 1990, the amount of Mexican nationals living in the United states was 4.3 million; in 2000 on account of Liberal capitalist policies, that number more than doubled to 9.17 million.

It is impossible to understate the effect that adding so many more workers into the United States had both on wages and on unions, as well as the ‘cultural’ disruption 5 million more people (in a country of 280 million) would represent. Similar changes occurred in Europe as well.

Here, though, we must make a distinction between the far-right analysis of such events, the liberal one, and the (currently abandoned) leftist understanding. While the right often sees the immigrants themselves as the problem, a liberal sees only the anti-immigrant racism of the people (white, Black, or otherwise) in the communities into which they migrate as the problem. Both focus entirely on the matter of the immigrants themselves, rather than the forces which cause people to become immigrants in the first place.

PEGIDA, one of the many far-right nationalist groups who have risen to prominence in Europe.

From a Marxist view, immigrants are doubly-exploited people who function both as victim of oppression and political tool for the capitalist. Liberal economic policies (and foreign military actions) destroy the economies of other nations. Those people make the obviously difficult yet economically-inevitable decision to leave their countries to find work elsewhere. Yet when they arrive, they then function as a ‘reserve labor force’ to drive down wages in the country to which they moved, breaking the power of organized labor.

Racial tensions greatly help this process. When Black or white workers in the United States begin losing jobs or finding their wages stagnating, they accurately note a relationship between their deteriorating economic conditions and the sudden influx of immigrants. However, they miss the larger processes which entrap both the immigrants and themselves, and they can be somewhat forgiven for this failure: relentless media hype about illegal immigration, conservative politicians happy to employ racial fears for votes, and liberal politicians eager to dismiss white workers’ complaints as anti-progressive or downright stupid, all helped to insure neither the immigrants nor the workers united against the primary cause of their common suffering.

To understand how this process works, consider the plight of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing violence to Israel, where they are then given land in occupied territories and used by the Israeli government as a buffer against Palestinian rage. Or, further back, Europeans fleeing Capitalist enclosure of land to America, then given “free” land in return for helping to kill Native Americans. In both cases, the initial displacement which victimized the people who became immigrants was later wielded to turn the immigrants themselves into weapons of Capital.

None of the current political movements accurately address quite what is happening. Unfortunately, the social justice framework is particularly shallow here: it sides with immigrants not on economic grounds, but on the field of identity and oppression (precisely as the far right does, but in inverse). While immigrants absolutely face racist oppression, the social justice political strategy ignores that this oppression is a continuation of their economic exploitation, rather than a mere moral issue. The economic exploitation of immigrants is bound-up in the same capitalist machinations which deteriorate the economic conditions of the working-class whites which Social Justice activists see as the alpha-oppressor. So while the Left stopped addressing the economic suffering of whites as the ‘working class’ (in favor of focusing on social oppression), their economic suffering continues regardless, making them a ripe field for harvesting by far-right ideologues like Donovan.

Here we can see that, as in so much else of his writing, Donovan is not really wrong in his analysis. The ‘wealthy elites’ to whom he refers do not encounter the refugees and immigrants displaced by their policies or for their profit. None of the politicians who voted for NAFTA, none of the executives of multi-national corporations, and none of the finance brokers of large investment banks experience the direct effects of their decisions, cultural or otherwise. Neither, though, will the investors who reap dividends from those moves, nor will many of the urban liberal bourgeoisie (be they tech workers or hipster business owners) even encounter the immigrants or the disgruntled working-class who directly experience these shocks except as the house-cleaners, construction workers, janitors, or the countless other manual servants who support their lifestyles.

Donovan is not really wrong, but he is also not really right, either. The ‘wealthy elites’ against which he warns benefit both from anti-racism and racism alike. “Elite” (Bourgeois) liberals and conservatives both manipulate the poor beneath them; the Capitalist class wields racist rhetoric to manipulate poor whites against Blacks and immigrants at the very same time that it wields identity politics against those whites. With both hands, the capitalists ensure those upon whom the entire system is built never unite against them.

Conservative-inspired white violence against immigrants ensures that those immigrants remain passive and compliant victims of global capital; Liberal social justice identity politics makes sure that the circumstances and primary cause of that violence is seen not as a result of capitalist policies, but as a result of the white (cis/able-bodied/hetero/male) it identifies as alpha-oppressor. It is a game in which capitalists have bet on both teams, and while the Left stands in the stadium slack-jawed, Donovan has been picking their pockets.

The Violence of the Gilded Age

It is here where we can begin to see that the threat the Wolves poses to antifascists is not what any of his critics think. It is not his virulent brand of misogyny, nor his intoxicating aesthetic, nor even his increasing influence and popularity. Rather, it’s that he’s beating the Left at their own politics, occupying ideological and intellectual territory they forgot they even once possessed, and building a racialized movement with the tools we left behind.

Nowhere is this best seen than in the speech he gave at Schollenrode to a New Right think-tank in February. The 20 minute presentation, called “Violence is Golden,” outlines his primary critique of Liberal Democracy and the modern world.

“We all live by the sword. Every law is a shaking sword, a glock at close range, a hungry pair of handcuffs. Every hate speech law, every anti-discrimination law, every tax that extorts the money you earned and gives it to someone you would never willingly help, who may even hate you, is backed by the threat of violence. IThe people who say they want safe spaces and peace and love will send men with guns to threaten to kill you if you do not do what you want.”

“The prevailing narrative of the Empire of Nothing—the phrase I use to describe the network of governments …is that ‘violence is evil, violence is something others do, violence something that outsiders do, something that criminals and outlaws and sick people do, violence is a disease some kind of affliction that can be cured…they believe it is a symptom of ‘toxic masculinity.’

…old rulers were proud of what they won.and defended using violence…those that give names in modern democratic states obscure that violence…

State violence is euphemized and obscured by terms like law enforcement when a criminal shoots someone its violence, when the police shoot someone its law enforcement.

Democratic violence must be presented as a reluctant, nurturing correction When acts of violence are morally sterilized in this way, good, modern civilized people can absolve themselves of the reality that the laws and regulations they depend on are obeyed only because wielding tasers tears gas batons and firearms. When you accept and internalize this narrative that violence is evil done only by outlwasd what the state does is something else, you wash the blood from your hands. It is easy to convince yourself that you live nonviolently, that you have evolved beyond violence.”

If many of these statements sound in any way familiar, they should. They are the same arguments once used by the Black Panthers, by indigenous resistance movements, by insurrectionist anarchists, by autonomous Marxists, and by every other leftist critic of Liberal Democratic hegemony in the 20th century. They are the core analysis of state violence inherent in anti-civilationist critics and the essential thrust of Ward Churchill’s deconstruction of liberal ‘nonviolence.’ You can find variations of the same statements in the work of European critical theorists like Zizek and Badiou, as well as in my own writing. In fact, last year I wrote critiques both of the way social justice relies on state violence to enforce hate crime legislation as well as how we help Liberal Democracy obscure the violence it commits on our behalf.

Whether or not Jack Donovan reached this analysis through exposure and study of leftist revolutionary theorists or came upon it through his own path, the fact remains that he wields it better than what passes for the Left in the United States. Mass movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and the mobilizations against Trump and white supremacy expend extraordinary effort to avoid direct criticism of Liberal Democracy, contorting themselves into almost absurd positions. A coalition of activists involved in Black Lives Matter, for instance, produced a platform that skirted completely the connection between the police and liberal democratic violence, offering police reform as their most radical position. Even the manifestations against white nationalists and alt-right groups by antifascist coalitions refuse to make the connection between the police who protect the fascists and the urban ‘progressive’ social order which prosecutes hate crimes on their behalf.

While anti-fascists heavily rely on ‘no-platforming, this complete leftist abandonment of revolutionary attacks against Liberal Democracy actually gives the far-right their platform. It is as if Leftists built a stage, set up a mic and speakers, and brought in a massive audience, but while they became distracted by Liberal Democratic crises (the war on terror, the 2016 presidential elections) and glittering distractions (gay marriage, identity politics), men like Donovan stumbled upon the script and the live mic and began improvising before an eager crowd.

Because while Jack Donovan and the other theorists of the New/Fascist Right are deeply intelligent, their ideas are completely derivative. They are experts at salvage and refurbishment, but aren’t actually able to create anything new. In this way, they are hardly much different from the Nazis who borrowed endlessly from whatever mythic past they could find, repurposing Leftist critiques and even Liberal Democracy itself, into a deadly configuration.

The Gods Are What Has Failed To Become of Us

Most important of the Wolves’ work—and least understood by their critics, is their reclamation of a mythic, anti-modern spirituality in the form of Heathenism. Antifascists, liberals, and conservatives alike tend dismiss these aspects as mere oddity or primitivist nonsense, missing that it is from there they derive their true power.

It is useful here to remember first that before Jack Donovan was a hyper-masculinist Heathen, he was Jack Malabranche, a Satanist who spent much of his time in endless troll-sessions with trans women on internet sites. Those who remember him from that time recount a completely different man, one so insecure with his masculinity and beliefs that he could become enraged at the slightest friendly jab about his figure or perceived intelligence.

In his Heathen incarnation, Donovan finally found a milieu in which he could operate, a mythic system more easily-accessed, and something that Left-Hand path work couldn’t offer: a framework of community. Unlike most Pagan, Witch, and Magician paths, Heathenry in the United States emphasizes familial and friendship bonds, a complete moral code of tribe-based solidarity, and a pre-existing masculinist aesthetic into which even the most awkward, socially-inept man can find a sense that he is something more than just a capitalist failure.

Like the rest of his ideas, Donovan’s Heathenry is largely derivative. The tattoos on his chest are standard: the Black Sun, Icelandic staves: nothing every Black Metal-loving suburban kid doesn’t get by the time he’s 19. His occasional quotations of the Eddas or recounting of Odinic tales to illustrate a point are almost awkward to read: they have a greeting-card quality to them, rather than of someone actually initiated into Odinic mysteries.

Paul Waggener and Operation Werewolf are the more dominant influence. Waggener’s esoteric work, however, is more aesthetics than serious magic—for instance, Vakandibok—a Taufr of Awakening, is frankly not much different in scope than the useless drivel that comes out of major pulp-occult publishers like Llewellyn. However, aesthetically it is significantly different: darker, more primitive, and with significantly less New Age ‘bullshit.’ It also offers a cultural aesthetic far less worshipful of hyper-capitalist modernity than most of what non-racialized Paganism offers.

Ultimately, however, the “ancient” spirituality of the Wolves is a political aesthetic. Here we must remember: it’s too easy to dismiss the aesthetic of romanticist primitivism used by groups like the Wolves of Vinland as “mere” aesthetic, as if aethestic had no power. Vikings, European tribalism, return to simpler and more embodied ways of relating to the world, unsubstantiated and patently false notions of racially-pure pasts cannot be dismissed merely because they are aesthetics divorced from historical fact. So, too, the pretensions of modern life, the religious assurances that technological progress, endless growth, and hyper-consumerism have brought peace and equality are likewise mere aesthetic with no reference to truth. Its falsehood is irrelevant to the truth it creates.

What the Wolves are creating through their spiritual aesthetic is of course not a return to ancient ways of being, but an aesthetic of ancient return against a wholly-alienating capitalist, modern present. Whether they believe themselves to be returning or not is not the point; only that, given enough power, the return will happen in their (false yet now-true) ancient way.

Baudrillard’s point that it is impossible to rob a bank in an ‘inauthentic’ way is important here. You cannot simulate a hold-up: regardless of whether you really mean the gun in your hand, you were honest in your written note to the teller, deeply and truly meant to kill hostages if the money were not delivered, or truthfully meant to return the money afterward, the bank is robbed regardless. Authenticity and faithfulness to the original do not matter: everything is always reproduction of an unapproachable and missing original.

Against The Modern World

Thus, whether or not the Wolves are faithfully copying ancient Germanic religion and culture is a question only a liberal (themselves forgetting that Democracy is likewise inauthentic) might find relevant. For the rest of us, the primitive return to Odinic rites and sacred warrior brotherhoods that the Wolves propose must be seen as a wholly political aesthetic akin to the Marxist creation of the proletariat or the Nazi fabrication of the volk, as well as the social justice creation of the oppression identity. Nation, Race, Gender, and Religion are all likewise political aesthetics whose power is undeniable.

The question thus isn’t whether or not the primitive, Heathen aesthetic of the Wolves is true, but why it has power. Here is where we see yet again another deep failure of the Left, a great abandonment of territory occurring at precisely the same time as the Left largely abandoned anti-globalisation. The globalist (neo-liberal, or actually just Liberal) political transformations that have occurred in the last two decades have done for societies now what Marx noted was accomplished by the bourgeoisie in the 19th century:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

Alienation of the body, destruction of local cultures and communities, destruction of religious systems and moral frameworks around which people cohered: these are all the effects of capital’s globalized spread in the name of civilization:

“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

Whilst Marx and Engels argued that such transformations were inevitable and would lead to worldwide class revolt, the Messianic promise never manifested. The industrialisation of work under the religious banner of modernity nevertheless succeeded in disrupting every social relation, destroying every cultural form which stood in its way (indigenous, ancient, or otherwise).

The recent rise of new-old religious and cultural forms (such as the Wolves’ anti-modern Heathenry), then, is a political reaction to global capital, regardless of whether or not they identify it as such. There is nothing actually fascist about such reactions; the Left mistakes anti-modernism as fascist only because it has drank the bloody offerings at Capitalism’s altars of progress. Walter Benjamin noted this in his criticisms of the bourgeois-left political formulations in Europe against which the Surrealists fought, especially their dogmatic belief in the conquest of nature and the march of history:

“Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race travelling in the train applies the emergency brake.”

The world of global capital means more environmental, social, and cultural destruction in the name of progress, modernity, and civilization; thus an anti-modern political aesthetic such as what the Wolves utilize is essentially a reaction to capitalism. But it is not quite an anti-capitalist politics, or isn’t any longer now that these critiques are abandoned by the overly-credulous and hyper-modern Left.

These critiques originate in anarchist, socialist, post-colonialist, and anti-imperialist thought, and were once a primary feature of mass movements against global capital. Anti-imperialism, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America has always made as one of their foundational critiques the overthrow of French, American, and Anglo attempts to ‘civilize’ the conquered natives. Marxist and Anarchist theories, stripped of their European exceptionalism, transformed alchemically into autonomous movements embracing traditional and indigenous ways of being, and where they became strong enough to influence or transform government (as in Bolivia), their aesthetics were ultimately anti-modern (as for instance Evo Morale’s enshrinement of Pachu Mama as an entity with legal rights).

As with the questions of gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy mentioned in the previous essay, the Wolves and other fascist groups have merely squatted aesthetic political territory ceded by the Left.

Here, much more than elsewhere, American Leftists deserve the fiercest of criticisms. A peculiar sort of American urban exceptionalism has arisen which belittles those who do not partake in bourgeois hipsterism. Those who are not part of urban realities, who do not know (or care) about the latest social media frenzy, who experience the modern as relentless alienation and are slow to be educated into the latest pronoun-shifts or poly-bi-non-pan sexualities are ultimately written-off as reactionaries, just as the political cries of those whose material existence has been shattered by global capitalism’s destruction of factories and communities are dismissed as backward or inherently racist.

Stealing Back What’s Stolen

With no leftist alternative to the relentless death-march of globalisation, what the Wolves of Vinland propose is actually an attractive option. A new-old ancient aesthetic built around familial ties, moral codes, re-approach to the land, tribal community, and ethics of self-fulfillment and the reclamation of the body is precisely what Capitalism cannot promise but what resistance to Capital requires. With the exception of Green anarchist, primitivist, anti-colonial, and indigenous movements, the left dismisses such political aesthetic as fascist or least reactionary. But it is neither, except that it is a ceded territory now occupied by fascists.

The primary weapon of anti-fascist organising in the United States has been the use of protests and disruption to silence the voices of fascists and white supremacists. Such tactics, however, can only suffice if those doing the silencing have something equally compelling to say. Unfortunately, few if any of the political aesthetics antifascists offer speak any longer to the crises caused by these new expansions of global capitalism.

It is not enough to say that immigrants must not be discriminated against. Without a conceptual framework which acknowledges how the economic destruction which causes mass immigration in the first place is tied to global capitalism and the policies of the Democratic party in the United States, the left, by focusing their energies only on the racist aspects of anti-immigrant sentiment, is only treating a tertiary symptom of a systemic disorder. Both the horrible economic plight of the immigrant as well as their structural exploitation as weapons against community coherence must be addressed simultaneously, directing our politics back against the capitalists who initiate and maintain the cycle.

So, too, the left can no longer hope that condescension and belittling of anti-modern politics will suffice to stop those politics arising in the first place. Social alienation, the reduction of the human to worker and consumer, the flattening of urban and non-urban life into a great worldwide market in which the same products and same cultural forms annihilate local difference: all these cultural and societal destructions caused by global capitalism will not go away just because urban leftists have made peace with their Instagram accounts and daily lattes, their iPhones and hip clothing made possible by capitalism’s conquest of the entire world.

Particularly the refusal of American leftists to make connections between the police and military violence which gives them access to the resources of the world must be acknowledged and then fought. The hyper-modern urban existence, cluttered with the technological spoils produced by the very same Capitalist exploitation which destroys both indigenous cultures in the global south as well as those of the poor white worker in the United States, must be abandoned. No longer can we pretend inter-connected existence through Facebook and Twitter are adequate replacements for the resilience of local communities and distinct cultural experiences which they displace.

From there, a solidarity can arise with the colonized peoples who have been fighting to preserve their land, culture, and distinction against Empire’s commodification of the world. From such a solidarity, racist and nationalist rhetoric will be easier to fight; when a Mexican immigrant or a Syrian refugee is seen as an ally of the out-of-work American worker against global capitalism, we will no longer need to silence fascists: the poor white worker will no longer have a reason to listen to them.

Unfortunately, we have few examples of what a re-invigorated, anti-modernist, anti-globalist political aesthetic might look like in America except the Wolves of Vinland, and they are not a model we should emulate, but rather a warning of what is replacing us because we fail.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He lives in Bretagne.


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Barbarians in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This is the first part in Wolves in the Interregnum, a two-part series.


“The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Here in the interregnum arises morbid systems.”
–Antonio Gramsci

“Increasingly, people are restless. The engineers group themselves into competing teams, but neither side seems to know what to do, and neither seems much different from the other. Around the world, discontent can be heard. The extremists are grinding their knives and moving in as the machine’s coughing and stuttering exposes the inadequacies of the political oligarchies who claimed to have everything in hand. Old gods are rearing their heads, and old answers: revolution, war, ethnic strife. Politics as we have known it totters, like the machine it was built to sustain. In its place could easily arise something more elemental, with a dark heart.”
–The Dark Mountain Manifesto

The Wolf Trap

In what is now Germany, particularly in the area called Lower Saxony, a certain symbol appeared etched on stones and trees, demarcating forests left wild for hunting. In such old forests, the wolf, that heavily-culled European apex predator, still ran free, threatened only by ritualized royal chases in which an iron hook was used to trap them. The shape of the trap inspired those border symbols, which also bore its name: Wolfsangel (Wolf-Hook).

Wolfsangel_1.svgCenturies later, peasants angry at the increasingly authoritarian rule of princes and their refusal to honor ancient land-use customs revolted, wielding the symbol as their banner. In the early part of the 20th century, its most well-known use began, this time not as as symbol of revolt but of authority and Empire itself. Inspired by the 1910 German novel Der Wehrwolf, the Nazi Party and many military regiments adopted its use, which is how most of us know of it now.

The wolfsangel (also the Elder Futhork rune Eihwaz) perhaps best explains the struggle for mythic and ideological territory that has defined many of the conflicts between political forces since the birth of Liberal Democracy. Symbols, myths, and ideas seem to change hands, disappear from one place and reappear in another. Old gods and politics are re-tooled for new, darker uses, then again stolen back. The swastika appears on the feet of the Buddha, also the flag of the Nazis; Gramsci’s formulation of metapolitical change becomes abandoned by European leftists and picked up by the European New Right.

In a recent essay at Gods&Radicals, Peter Gaffney examines this process through Foucault’s reading of Nietzche:

“This is how Foucault understands Nietzsche’s concept of Entstehung, which he translates as l’émergence – or alternately as les points de surgissement (the moments, stages or positions of arising)–, by which a discourse always appears anew in the hands of historically contingent forces:

“Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalized; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose. The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing the rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them; controlling this complex mechanism, they will make it function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules.”

There is a simpler and more raw way to envision this process, that of wars over land or sacred territory. Pope Boniface advised his priests to build their churches upon ancient pagan sites; old sacred wells where people prayed to Pagan goddesses in Europe are now all dedicated to Catholic saints and the Virgin. The sites remain, the power means something beyond the colonization and struggle. The poor and faithful still visit the sites of Druid mountains and Pagan temples, still utter prayers, but the words are different, serving different sacred orders.

It matters who holds that territory, and the wars of occupation and reclamation are fiercest at times when Empire loses its grip. Each of the three Fascist uprisings in Europe occurred at times when Liberal Democracy began to crumble, the ‘interregnum’ in which Gramsci warned ‘monsters’ (or morbid systems) awoke.

We are in a similar period.

In each previous instance, Communists and Anarchists relentlessly ceded mythic territory to the nationalist forces. Fascists have always better understood the relationship of power and aesthetic, because they have no qualms about using them. Leftists still fail to heed Gramsci’s analysis, and rather than employ their own mythic imaginings to awaken a new world against the dying of the old, they choose now (as they did last century) to side with the Empire, that “Liberal center,” which in all three instances proved not only to be poor allies, but eager assassins when the fascist threat finally manifested.

Liberal Democracy is failing again. Capitalism has entered another crisis stage, desperately seeking new resources to extract from ever-dwindling wells. The altars of Progress and Modernity demand offerings, and the priests who tend them are sharpening blades, ready to begin new sacrifices.

Eilhwaz, the wolfsangel, is a powerful symbol. It symbolizes Yew, the graveyard tree, the acceptance of death’s inevitability that leads to heroic acts of reckless courage. As a boundary marker it warned those outside the wild that past its etched symbol roamed death, while granting permission to all those on the other side of it to use violence against what passed from its boundary into the settled lands.

From experience, I also know it to be a most powerful warding rune. It trips up those who stalk your secret meetings, protects from surprise, guards territory, and acts exactly as its name suggests:  hooking wolves into a struggle to the death. No counter-magic have others found against my uses of it, though those thus trapped can, with a strong enough will, try to use it to tug back (an ensuing struggle much like we might imagine a wolf hooked by a chain held in the hands of a man might have been).

The Wolfsangel was first shown to me in a vision, the last in a series of four glyphs I learned to use during ancestral work. I have used it since, even after I learned a year later that it was symbol co-opted by the Nazis. While the antifascist ‘left’ has shown themselves quite willing to cede territory in order to keep their liberal allies, I have no intention to, anymore than I will give up the use of the wolfsangel.

That stubborness, that refusal to give up what is mine, what is ours by right of ideological and revolutionary ancestors (of blood or otherwise), is the guiding strategy of this essay. It is also the only way to neuter a threat which exists only by our permission.

Empires Crumbling

On the 18th of February this year, several hundred people gathered to hear a man speak, one who’s dedicated years to studying unpopular European philosophers, seeking knowledge from gods of death and war, and cobbling together an analysis of Modernity’s failings and what might be built from its ruins.

Actually, two men spoke on that subject that day, to two different crowds on two different parts of the planet. Both speakers were ‘gay’ men, though reject that identity in favor of self-determination. Both shape their politics of the world around an aesthetic of wild forest, unrestrained humanity, and a refusal to accept Liberal Democracy’s pretensions of peace and progress.

The first man (whose name I will withhold for a short time) presented an hour-long speech on the west coast of the United States. The other presented a 20-minute talk called “Violence is Golden” in a castle beer hall to a group of European Identitarians at the Institut für Staatspolitik. His name was Jack Donovan.

Jack_Donovan
Jack Donovan. Image use info here.

By now you have probably heard his name. You will read (and I will write) it much more than I or you prefer. So be it, though—to look away is to hide from something we ourselves have birthed and empowered, and something only we can stop.

I will not repeat the clumsy, panicked mistakes in the various recent exposés running through your news feed. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s piece in March was deeply flawed, Slate’s piece just last week was even more a failure. These two articles, as well as many other criticisms, have failed completely to explain his appeal while simultaneously missing the core threat of his ideas. These and many other failures betray a deep and intentional blindness particularly within American anti-fascist and ‘leftist’ thought, the product both of a marriage to Liberal Democratic hegemony and an almost ecstatic abdication of revolutionary territory.

Thus, one cannot accurately criticize Jack Donovan without also criticizing the anti-fascist left who has taken upon themselves the task of (ineptly) opposing him. Likewise, one cannot speak about the dangers the Wolves of Vinland (and Paul Waggener’s “Operation Werewolf”) without also telling long-stifled truths about modern society and the various Pagan, Environmental, and Anarchist movements which the Wolves of Vinland are currently poised to supplant.

This is not a comfortable task, and it is ironic that there is more risk to me in this essay than to its intended targets. That risk is not from the Wolves of Vinland’s brutalist-sculpted ‘warriors’ or their aesthetic of violence. I do not fear the muscles and fight-training of Waggener or Donovan (come at me, bro). Rather, it is from the established orthodoxy of American antifascism and its slavish worship of Liberal Democratic conceits that the vast majority of criticism for this work will likely come.

Already my admission that I am intimately acquainted with the Wolfangel has put me at risk of being considered a crypto-fascist, because many antifascist theorists police their borders not with an eye towards reclaiming lost territory, but with a terror of what lurks beyond the well-lit street lights in the dark forests into which the light of cities can never reach.

Despite the risk, I need to write this essay. Not just because I foresee further territory being abandoned as the American left cuts out its insurrectionary heart and offers it on the altars of progress, praying that the Empire can be saved. Nor do I write this only because the future Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland crave is one I do not want to see in this world. More than anything, I write this essay because, on the same day that Jack Donovan helped provide the intellectual justification for violence to a strengthening European Identitarian movement, I did the same thing for a growing Pagan anti-capitalist movement. I was the other speaker that day, 6000 miles away.

Since noting the dark poetry of such simultaneity, I’ve given extensive time to reading Donovan’s work and regretting that our similarities did not end there. It’s precisely these similarities, however, which both demand that I write this essay while also making such an essay dangerous. We occupy similar territory, outside the urbs of Liberal Democratic empire where barbarians and wolves dwell, past the boundary markers where the reach of the civitas and the polis is declawed.

I know this land, these gods, and these ideas. And I will not give them up.

Barbarians in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

–Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

“In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also embrace fascism, and history will be left to repeat itself.”
–Alley Valkyrie, Propaganda in the Age of Fascism

No discussion of Jack Donovan, the Wolves of Vinland, or Operation Werewolf can truly begin without focusing on their aesthetic. Many have tried, reducing their images to caricature, missing their sublime and intoxicating coherence, dismissing it all as if image had no power. We shall not make the same mistake.

Take a few minutes and scroll through Jack Donovan’s Instagram feed. Linger on the photos. Feel what they convey, let them wash over you. Try to enter the world they narrate. While doing so, note the repeated use of certain filters, the austerity of the backgrounds. Greys, sepias, overuse of ‘Structure’ edits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Donovan wants you to see is that the Modern world is too new, too garish, that there is no place within it for people like him nor for people like you. One imagines he hates the imposed efficiency of florescent lights, prefers the slant of sunlight at the end of day, would use lanterns if his eyesight were better, and is allergic to gaudy colors. His is not the aesthetic of a consumer. The exact polar opposite of his proposed milieu is a Walmart, bright lights glaring off the cellophane-wrapped chemically-colored products which define most American lives. Instead, behind him are unfinished concrete walls in gyms or forests, the decayed urban or the feral wild, an old-world feel clipping out the $6 latte area of Portland, Oregon where he until recently lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aesthetic is narrative. Aesthetic tells a story, and Jack Donovan’s story is of anti-modernism. It is not just because he is anti-modern, but he also senses what his increasing fan-base knows and most anti-fascists refuse to admit: the modern is fucking awful. The modern is alienating, full of empty images and promises after which we all chase. Progress brings us a new iPhone each year and more flavors of Doritos, jobs in front of screens and new identities to try on and less and less land in which to play tribe with your friends.

The paradox, of course, is that it is precisely because of the modern that we experience his anti-modern vision, the same convoluted trap in which any critic of Liberal Democratic empire finds themselves. As Walter Benjamin noted, we are never in relationship to the subject of an image, but rather in relationship with a lens and a screen. We only ever interface with the production of images, the machinery of mass-aesthetic.

Donovan’s aesthetic attempts to escape this, but it cannot. What Donovan portrays is crafted just as any other selfie is, posed, selected, filtered and cropped, uploaded into The Feed for us all to see. It is an anti-modern aesthetic made possible only by the modern, a resistance to Empire generated by Empire like Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein waiting with Big Brother’s pre-scripted revolt. In this way, though, he is no different from any of us. The Antifa selfie, the anti-capitalist meme: we do the same.

This paradox in which we are all trapped is not limited to the mere reproduction of the anti-modern by modern means. It is an oppositional aesthetic, crafted constantly in response to the modern. What is anti-modern is determined by the modern itself, just as what is anti-oppressive within social justice is determined by the oppressive, what is ‘left’ is determined by what is ‘right.’

Audre Lourde’s statement that “the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house,” while originally an attack on the bourgeois goals of white feminists, just as easily describes the perpetual paradox of all resistance to the Modern.

A Body Politic

Key to understanding Donovan’s aesthetic, then, is that he is merely retooling the master’s narrative, determined not by some mastery of the will but an almost adolescent act of opposition. Inverting Lourde’s point, Donovan attempts to look like the master himself, becoming what his chosen enemies fear him to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towards this end, his physique is his primary weapon, one that can command erotic respect from fully hetero-men as well as gays. He wants–needs–you to think he is hot, and even his feminist critics often write slobberingly about his body even as they then attack it.

This is his success: the masculinity he wears is bold, brazen, unapologetic: it draws the sort of followers he desires while offending those socialized to find such displays of virility indicative of ‘toxic masculinity.’

 

 

This aesthetic politics of the body is part of the core ideology not just of Jack Donovan but also of Operation Werewolf, a site run and founded by Paul Waggener. To understand its appeal, the imagery of its manifesto must be approached the same way the visual aesthetic must be: fully felt, with an eye on the backgrounds and filters:

“Operatives can be found in countries across the world, dripping sweat on the floor of their spartan-style garage weight room, leaving blood on the dirt in the backyard boxing ring, or bringing their feral competitive style to powerlifting meets, MMA events, bars, back alleys and the savage streets of crumbling cities. They are not products of their environment- instead they change the landscape and environment around them, forgers of destiny, architects of their own becoming. They make the flesh strong, knowing that it is the only fit conveyance for a strong mind and an iron will- theirs is a mindset that accepts no weakness.

Some are solitary practitioners, performing the rituals of life and death amongst the ruins of modern civilization, lone wolves howling songs of destruction and new growth in the woods that encroach on the edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall. Others have made it their mission to seek each other out, forming militaristic divisions, chapters led by their strongest member, creating a war-band that seeks to carve its own myth, to create its own saga of power and might- men and women challenging each other to strive ever higher.”

Like this manifesto (powerful, until you realize it’s a sloppy pastiche of Dark Mountain’s manifesto and Peter Grey’s Rewilding Witchcraft), the articles on Operation Werewolf exort the reader towards a vision of self-fulfillment on the “edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall.” Again, sweaty gym-forged bodies with wild forest and concrete as backdrop, perfectly selected sepia filters assuring you they aren’t currently huddled over screens masturbating to porn.

Readers for whom the notion of sweat, brawls, and ‘accepting no weakness’ is off-putting should be reminded that it is supposed to repulse you. It is not to you whom they are writing, any more than it is to the civilized urban feminist that Jack Donovan bares his torso.

Resist, however, the inclination to dismiss this as negative: while Operation Werewolf is not the body-positivity of urban social justice, it is nevertheless the positivity of a body stretched, strained, and repeatedly broken to test its limits and ‘forge the will.’

Here, many critics fall back upon accusations of ‘ableism’ or ‘fat-shaming.’ Without doubt there is no place inscribed into their aesthetic for the overweight person, nor for the chronically-ill, yet such critiques (however true within the framework of liberal social justice politics) fall utterly flat. They are not attempting to build an inclusive ideology, but rather one of difference and exclusion. Dismissing them on these grounds, however morally-satisfying, is utterly useless.

Antifascist responses to such rhetoric through the social justice framework not only fail, but expose an ignored and suppressed difference in their own ranks, best seen within the difference between Liberal and Leftist feminism. The former, which is the predominate form within Social Justice, argues that patriarchal violence is the primary cause of bodily oppression. On the other hand, Leftist iterations (Marxist, post-colonialist) locate the cause of such oppression (anti-disabled, anti-fat, etc.) in the Capitalist’s need to turn humans into workers and the State’s need to turn humans into subjects.

From a Liberal feminist (‘bourgeois’ or ‘white’ feminism) view, any politics or ideology which does not treat all bodies as equal is patriarchal, and each oppression (ableism, transphobia, etc.) is an additional variant of patriarchal rule (consider Liberal feminist statements such as “homophobia is rooted in hatred of women”). To undermine the patriarchy and achieve equality within that framework, all bodies must be accorded the same worth and access, since every exclusion is a reproduction of patriarchal oppression.

Marxist and post-colonial feminist frameworks dismiss such utopianism in favor of the abolition of the conditions which equates the worth of bodies to what can be derived from them: that is, Capitalism. A disabled or chronically-ill person is ‘worth less’ (paid less) under capitalism because they can produce less for their bosses (who are usually men, but often also women). They are valued less because their labor cannot be exploited as easily.

To a Liberal feminist, patriarchy is the problem and the problems of capitalism derive from the patriarchy, not from capitalism itself. Within the feminism of Marxists and post-colonialists, Patriarchy is merely the functional aesthetic of the oppression of bodies, while capitalist control of the body is the core problem.

What Operation Werewolf advocates does not directly conflict this latter, insurrectionist feminism. If anything, people of any gender hoping to be physically strong enough to fight the inevitable police and military backlash against revolutionary actions could benefit from such exortations. If you want to learn to fight Nazis, you’ll need first to learn how to fight.

Too often, though, discussions regarding expanding the capacity of the body are dismissed, labeled ‘ableist’ or ‘fat-shaming,’ and even potentially fascist.

A particularly poignant example of this is the reaction to an essay from Peter Grey last year, a writer and publisher who has repeatedly held the line against fascist incursions into esotericism, including pulling his work from use in publications wherein fascist writers appear. Within Pagan, witch, radical, and esoteric communities, his essay Forging the Body of the Witch was held up by some as proof that the (very not-fascist) writer was potentially fascist, or at the very least engaging in ableism and fat-shaming.

Another case in point: Silvia Federici’s essay, In Praise of the Dancing Body, was similarly attacked as ableist because she advocates dancing as a form of bodily resistance and suggests that capitalism has alienated us from our bodies through extensive medicalization.

Anti-civilizationist, autonomous Marxist, anarchist, and other radical writers have similarly come under such friendly-fire attacks so that, as of now, the only people actually putting forward a framework in which the potential capabilities of the body are fully-embraced are men like Jack Donovan and Paul Waggener.

This is the first example of how Leftists have ceded territory in which fascists can thrive. Leftists abandoned a political framework which embraces the body–both in its weaknesses as well as its strengths–in favor of one which disfavors (and even attacks) any celebration of human capacity as inherently oppressive.

In such a world, the muscular bodies of a factory, farm, or construction worker—the very people whom Leftists once saw as a revolutionary force—are to be hidden, minimized, or even derided, lest those who do not have such bodies or cannot get them feel excluded from insurrectionist discourse.

This is why antifascist criticisms of Donovan (etc.) fall flat. There is nothing inherently fascist about the body work he and Operation Werewolf advocate: indeed, it is also something embraced by many suppressed forms of feminism as well. It is only territory they occupy, colonized by a fascist aesthetic. Such territory once belonged to the Left who have become all too long happy to abandon it.

Doing so means that fascists are then allowed to run free through it and claim it as their own.

Ad Hominem

Many essays attacking Jack Donovan particularly center their critique on his aesthetic masculinity, effectively reducing his threat to his maleness. While the Slate piece devotes extensive time to his aesthetic of virility, even to the point of slobbering affection (“A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl…he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause,”) the SPLC’s essay reduces his entire appeal to that of his overt maleness, inscribing him into Alex Di Branco’s thesis that it is misogyny itself which is animating new fascist movements.

Both make precisely the same mistake and only strengthen the allure of his raw, uncivilized male aesthetic.

For a constructed masculine aesthetic to be a political aesthetic, it must have a nemesis. Fortunately for him, his critics easily supply that role, reducing him to his masculinity in precisely the same way they accuse men of doing to women. For most of his critics, Donovan is a meat-head, a thug, a dumb man who probably doesn’t use deodorant. Such reductions reproduce the same ‘patriarchal’ modes of dismissal: a woman is just her tits, Donovan is just his muscles.

Like an Antifa protester lobbing a tear gas canister back at the police, Donovan is able swiftly to redeploy these reductions to expand his audience. To understand how, consider the sort of people to whom he appeals: men like him, displaced, uncomfortable in the world, first unsure of and then later angry about the absurd rules of civilization, unable to find meaning except by escape into romantic notions of heroism and courage now that the jobs are all gone overseas.

To such men, seeking something mythic, something to make them feel like they have a place in the world, ridicule of their masculinity only further entrenches their sense of alienation. When a critic ridicules his, Donovan need only hold up their insult before his audience, and suddenly his male tribalism doesn’t even need a sales pitch.

Further, Jack Donovan’s deep intelligence is easily missed by critics who are tricked by his aesthetic. On Instagram he stands shirtless, inked, holding a chainsaw; elsewhere he is wearing hunting gear, or grunting in a gym, drilling wood, wearing a baseball cap. He looks rural, the sort of working-class man urban liberals dismiss immediately as smelly, uneducated, and crass.

Here Donovan is able to leverage an inherent prejudice within what passes for the Left in America: its anti-rural, anti-working class sentiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donovan presents as the sort of man who drives large trucks, thinks forests should be clear-cut, drinks Budweiser in front of football games, and would bash the head in of a man at a rest stop who stared at his crotch. As such, he becomes too easily dismissed, his arguments reduced to mere grunts in, as the SPLC article put it, the “chorus of moaning that emanates from the “Manosphere.”

Donovan is no doubt aware of this, and wields these prejudices deftly against his critics. It is a trick I know well myself: I am a 6 foot 1, gruff-voiced, ‘masculine-presenting’ man who talks more like a ‘bro’ than a theorist. The disconnect between my appearance and my intelligence often puts critics and fans alike off-guard. Thus when my critics attempt to reduce my arguments to my male appearance, they will often appear shallow or uninformed in public forums. This same mechanism works in Jack Donovan’s favor.

More so, by targeting his masculine presentation, critics also re-inforce liberal urban elitism and undermine any other critique they offer. To reduce Donovan to his maleness is to reduce him to his perceived identity, alienating those who see misandry as unhelpful (or even dangerous) as well as lower-class men for whom muscles, power-tools, and backyard construction projects are inherent parts of daily life and work, rather than cultivated threats against women.

This is another territory ceded by the Left. The bodies (and the accompanying concerns of the body) of poor and working-class men–unless their maleness can also be shown to intersect with at least one other oppression identity– are all but completely dismissed in American leftist discourse. It should not surprise us, then, that the aesthetic of overt, unapologetic masculinity which Donovan, Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland celebrate would appeal to those ignored men.

For such men, the aesthetic of brute maleness accompanied by deep thought and independent will shall always be more appealing than what Liberalism has to offer. Marxists and Anarchists once offered them something too, but if they still do, it cannot be found in current American antifascist discourse.

Squatter’s Rights

To see how well Donovan reclaims Leftist territory for his own, consider Donovan’s book on male desire, Androphilia. Written in 2006, it advances a vision of homosexuality not as a genetically-deterministic identity class, but of a variation or subset of male desire. The consequences of such a view are that male-male desire is a manifestation of human choice, rather than the current Liberal dogma that gays are ‘born this way.’

Within the vast majority of gay-rights organizing, the insistence that homosexuality is determined by biology rather than being a choice has become divine law. This ironically leaves only anti-homosexual Christian Evangelicals asserting that gay men actually have any agency in their sexual desire (by insisting it can and should be changed.)

The historical reason why it became Liberal consensus that homosexuality is an innate, essential, and biologically-determined identity has nothing to do with science. As in most cases, scientific theory follows political will, and this position was politically strategic.

In order to counter the moral arguments against homosexual sex, gay-rights activists presented homosexual desire as an immutable, scientifically-determined way of being. In such a framework, since gays had no choice but to engage in homosexual behavior, moral arguments that demanded they change their behavior made no sense.

This strategy certainly helped gays gain legal status within most Liberal Democracies, but it also stole from gays belief in their agency. Thus, I as a man who desires men actually have no say in the matter, because my genes make me desire men. The “Leftist” position now, at least the Social Justice position, depoliticizes will and individual choice, adopting the very same Nazi logic which located social-identity (Homosexual, Jew) in the body and then destroyed the body to destroy the identity.

Donovan’s arguments in Androphilia cunningly leverage this transposition. Arguing that male homosexual desire is just another configuration of male desire is really the more liberatory position. Even more (unfortunately) to his credit, rather than arguing to heterosexual men that they should accept male-male desire on account of Liberal Democratic rights, he argues that heterosexual men should embrace their already-existent desire for males.

 

 

 

 

The territory here that Donovan is able to claim—and the primary reason his ideas have so much resonance—is precisely what was ceded by Leftists who hitched their liberatory politics to the dreams of Liberal Democratic progress. While no doubt forged from a sense of pragmatic urgency (homosexuals were—and are—killed at rather high rates), the political subjectivity and loss of agency such a politics created cannot be easily undone.

Attempts to offer another narrative are often virulently attacked. I have never felt I was ‘born this way,’ yet to write openly about this is to elicit some rather intense rage from social justice activists who see such a position as a sign of my ‘heteronormative privilege,’ that I am not ‘queer enough’ to speak on such matters, or that I must have ‘internalized homophobia.’

In a situation where the leftist position insists sexual selection is innate and pre-determined, it should not surprise anyone that, as according to the Slate article, gays are being attracted to fascism. But contrary to the conclusion of the author, Donovan’s position offers homosexuals back the agency that Liberal Democracy stripped from them in return for protections.

This is not due to anything revolutionary or even original in Donovan’s thinking, but the same abdication of territory (in this case, an abdication of will) that leftists have elsewhere enacted.

Masculinity as Simulacrum

Returning to the matter of Donovan’s particular aesthetic: Donovan presents a vision of a man who is fully in touch with his will, comfortable with his desire for other men, unapologetic about his body, and unconcerned with what anyone thinks of him. In his books we see this aesthetic turn into an entire ethic, a religious redemption of the masculinity which bourgeois feminism sees as the primary cause of oppression.

Here we can re-introduce crucial discussion regarding Donovan’s misogyny, and also see how all these abandoned leftists positions re-animate into something quite morbid. Donovan loathes women. Androphilia blames almost every horrible thing on women; gay men shop because of women, gay men kill themselves because they are trying to be like women, trans women are men who have internalized everything that feminists told them about themselves.

His later books, The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarian, both repeat this same ressentiment. Men are soft because of women, men stay at home instead of adventure because of them. Men don’t have enough men-only spaces because women expect to be everywhere, etc.. It all starts to sound so absurd that it’s easy to miss that he is parodying the excesses of bourgeois feminism in reverse.

In fact, his entire construct of hypermasculine existence could have been constructed by bourgeois feminism itself. If there is anything truly tragic about Jack Donovan’s vision of maleness—the one which fills the pages of his books and his Instagram feed–it is that it was created by the very same feminism which he so deeply loathes.

Such a reality, however, does not reduce its power.

Jean Baudrillard expanded Walter Benjamin’s work on aesthetics by noting how, now that we only have reproduction of art, we now also only have reproduction of politics. The ‘real’ we imagine is always a copy, a simulation of the real. Those copies and simulations become how we determine what is real, affecting our behaviour and the construction of our identities.

Whereas once the aesthetic was the visual representation of a way of being, the aesthetic is now our only blueprint. We do not know what it is like to be masculine except by the representation of the masculine, anymore than we know what it is to be anti-modern without representations of the anti-modern.

More dangerous, however, is that the negatives of images reproduce themselves as well. The aesthetic of hyper-masculinity from which Donovan and Waggener build their politics is produced from the negative space of liberal feminist critiques which reduce men to enemy, alpha-oppressor, toxic, and dangerous.

But negative space is never truly empty, just as territory no longer claimed is never truly vacant. We should be hardly surprised, then, that Wolves have moved into the places we have abandoned, inhabiting ideological homes which were once ours.

It is not clear, however, that many have the strength or will to kick them out.


Part Two, on ideological abandonment, here


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He lives in Rennes, Bretagne.


Like Fascism? Love Capitalism? Then whatever you do, don’t pre-order Dr. Bones’ new book, Curse Your Boss, Hex The State, Steal Back The World…

Not Climate Agreement, But Climate Revolt

“The withdrawal by the United States, the nation with the second highest carbon output in the world (behind China, whose per-capita emissions are less than half those of the US), seems deeply catastrophic.

It is catastrophic, yes. But not for the reasons we might think.”

Environmental and political analysis, from Rhyd Wildermuth

“Philosophers of freedom were mainly, and understandably, concerned with how humans would escape the injustice, oppression, inequality, or even uniformity foisted on them by other humans or human-made systems. Geological time and the chronology of human histories remained unrelated. This distance between the two calendars, as we have seen, is what climate scientists now claim has collapsed….

The mansion of modern freedoms stands on an ever-expanding base of fossil-fuel use.”

Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Climate of History


The world awoke to the news on Thursday that President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the COP 21/Paris Climate Accords.

Environmentalists and the environmentally-conscious everywhere are reacting with horror and panic, as are politicians and leaders of many of the largest industrialized nations. The governors of several states within the US announced they will still voluntarily partake in the accord, the mayors of Montreal, Paris, Mexico City and many other massive metropolitan areas ordered official buildings to be lit green in defiance:

Climate change is a catastrophic problem. Already thousands of species go extinct each year, islands flood, entire ecosystems die off, and disruptions of long-term weather patterns are causing famine, resource wars, and death. Many saw the agreements reached during the Paris COP 21 summit as the last best hope humanity had of slowing and finally stopping the damage. So the withdrawal by the United States, the nation with the second highest carbon output in the world (behind China, whose per-capita emissions are less than half those of the US), seems deeply catastrophic.

It is catastrophic, yes.

But not for the reasons we might think.

 Waste Management

Climate change occurs through human activity. “Greenhouse gas emissions” (primarily CO2 and methane) are the product of burning fossil fuels like oil and coal through automobiles (and other transport), industrial production (everything from toilet paper to ‘smartphones,’), and all the activities which go into sustaining modern civilization (including the data servers hosting this essay).

To put this as plainly as possible, all our economic activity produces carbon in the same way that everything we eat produces shit. The more we eat, the more we defecate, and all that left-over needs to go somewhere. Those emissions go into the air.

Emissions are the primary problem, but other activity speeds up the process. Deforestation, for instance, decreases the ability of nature to ‘sink’ carbon: each tree, each plant, and each of us is composed of carbon, and our very existence locks carbon out of the atmosphere until we decompose and release it again. Plants, trees, and plankton are much better at this than animal life: when we replace plant-life with asphalt and forests with agricultural land, we speed the carbon output cycle while reducing the ability of the earth to ‘fix’ carbon out of the air.

Likewise, pollution, soil erosion, development, and the damming of rivers decreases the ability of the earth both to absorb carbon output as well as magnifying the effects of climate change. In Florida and Louisiana, for instance, much swampland has been drained to make way for new housing developments and industry. Swamps hold intense rainfall better than any other bio-region, so with the increasing hurricanes caused by climate change, flood-damage, pollution run-off, and erosion are amplified, weakening other linked ecosystems such as the Gulf of Mexico as well.

To pick up the fecal metaphor again, it’s like all septic tanks are full and overflowing, the sewage treatment plants over-capacity, and the overflow is leaking everywhere, polluting everything else.

This process of cascading damage is repeated in  every bio-region in the industrialised world. Not just industrialised regions, either: some of the countries with the least damaging economic activity, who have contributed only a tiny fraction to the carbon output of the world, suffer the most damage.  Nauru, and other tiny Pacific island nations, are sinking under the rising ocean levels caused by the melting ice-caps. Caribbean islands such as Haiti (per-capita yearly income $800 US, rank 123/141 in per capita carbon emissions) see relentless death from stronger and stronger hurricanes.

Industrialised nations tend to be more resilient against these changes, precisely because they are richer. But there’s a paradox here: the wealth they have that helps them recover from and accommodate to climate change was gained from the very activity which caused climate change in the first place.

With all this in mind, the goals of the COP 21/Paris agreement seem both sound and charitable:

“The deal requires any country that ratifies it to act to stem its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming century, with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. Countries will aim to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F).

The deal will also encourage trillions of dollars of capital to be spent adapting to the effects of climate change—including infrastructure like sea walls and programs to deal with poor soil— and developing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. The text of the agreement includes a provision requiring developed countries to send $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts beginning in 2020. That figure will be a “floor” that is expected to increase with time.

The agreement gives countries considerable leeway in determining how to cut their emissions but mandates that they report transparently on those efforts. Every five years nations will be required to assess their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them.” [Source]

Investing $100 billion dollars annually to undeveloped nations (such as Haiti and Nauru) to help them accommodate to climate change seemed to be a significant start, especially since it would represent the beginnings of a transfer of wealth from the countries most responsible for the damage to those least responsible. Without such aid, many people may die.

We can also read that provision as: “sorry we are making money by dumping our shit in your water supply. Have some of the money to help clean it up.”

This humanitarian element of the agreement is the part which seemed most ‘radical,’  a proof that the wealthy nations of the world were serious about being sorry for what they’d done.  Thus the United States’ decision to no longer participate seems particularly malevolent.

“As Soon As Possible”

Read the above summary of the agreement again. Did you happen to catch the words in quotes? (If not, they’re in this subheading.)

One of the two greatest problems with the Paris accords is that no specific timeline is outlined for the reduction of carbon output, or even the ‘peaking’ of greenhouse gas emissions. That is, there’s no regulatory or binding aspect to the agreement and no promises made as to when the industrialized countries in the world will stop increasing their output, let alone reducing it.

Instead, signatories agreed to stop increasing carbon pollution ‘as soon as possible,’ which is about as meaningful as an abuser telling you he’ll stop hitting you “when I’m done.”

The other targets (keeping global warming below 2°C/3.6°F and ideally below 1.5°C/2.7°F) are just as nebulous, and set to a future date so far away that it is guaranteed not a single person who negotiated the agreement will be alive to answer to their failure: the year 2100.

Climate agreements often suffer from an overdose of Realpolitik, the idea that while certain ideals are worth striving for, we must be pragmatic. Make the agreements too ambitious and (the reasoning goes) no countries will sign to them. Make them binding, with economic penalties for those who cheat, and no leader who agreed would ever get re-elected.

That pragmatism, however, conceals something more insidious, what is rarely spoken of by liberals (who often spearhead such agreements) or even leftists: climate change is not merely some global problem to be managed by the governments of the world, but the very result of the global economic systems by which those governments exist in the first place.

The High Cost of Living

Capitalist expansion, Liberal Democracy, and the increasing availability of technology to help humanity live longer, communicate over vast distances, and have access to the products of far-flung lands at any time of the year have come with the mass extinction of species, deforestation, melting ice-caps, polluted water supplies, and all the other cascading cycles of damage we call “Climate Change.”

We have smartphones and the internet, personal automobiles and life-saving pharmaceuticals, plastics and global travel, social media and strawberries in winter. We also have flooding islands, eroded top soils, resource wars and super-storms. These are not separate aspects of modern existence; they come by means of the very same thing, and the former produces the latter.

Again with the toilet metaphor: the ‘progress’ which we embrace is the food we eat; the climate destruction the Paris Accords promised to address is the shit that comes after.

That is, the agreement which Trump endangered by withdrawing the United States from its provisions was a sham in the first place, a dazzling illusion meant to assure the billions of humans upon the planet that we could continue on our present course of “progress” and not die from rising temperatures and oceans.

Thus we should not see the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accords as a blow to the planet. Rather, it is a crippling wound to Liberal Democratic global capitalism. COP 21 represented the last hope for those who wanted to eat their cake and not see the shit too, but it was no hope at all. The United States pulling out is the final blow to the Liberal Democratic promise that both Capitalism and humanity can continue together.

And anyway: voluntary reductions ‘as soon as possible’ with nebulous targets negotiated by people who will be long dead by the time anyone could judge their failure or success? That was not a plan, it was a hoax.

We know what causes climate change. We know the connection between our economic system and the CO2 it shits out into the atmosphere. We know that our entire ‘way of life,’ our religious faith in progress, and endless capitalist expansion is killing us, and it will kill the poorest people of the world first. And more than anything, we know that the only way to stop it is to pull the emergency brake on the capitalist train hurtling us into destruction.

It’s time to pull that brake. We cannot rely on governments and corporations to do the right thing, nor can we afford to delude ourselves that there is another way to stop the destruction of the natural world.

It’s time we stop putting our hope in climate agreements, and become the climate revolt.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch, and shirtless selfies occasionally seen on his FB. and also his Instagram


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Propaganda in the Age of Fascism

“In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also embrace fascism, and history will be left to repeat itself.”

Political and aesthetic theory, from Alley Valkyrie

Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs.

– Guy Debord


One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in France last summer is that battles were being waged on multiple fronts.

There was the most obvious battle, the one that the media was covering, a nationwide uproar over a set of controversial labor reforms that were widely viewed as a betrayal of the working class on the part of a supposedly left-wing government.

There was a secondary battle playing out alongside that uproar, a guerrilla battle against capitalism and international finance waged by leftists and anarchists in the form of smashed bank windows and repeated violent confrontations with police.

And then there was the battle for the imagination, the battle of dueling narratives that leftists and fascists alike were waging on every blank surface imaginable, from street poles to mailboxes to the walls of boarded-up buildings. As opposed to the aforementioned battles, the battle for the imagination was one that the leftists were obviously and solidly winning.

The words and imagery that adorned pretty much every conceivable surface passionately and effectively reflected the world that could be, the world that they were trying to build. With stickers and graffiti and street art, those who believed that ‘another world is possible’ were successfully appealing to the hearts and minds of the populace.

 

That success was reflected not only in the physical presence of a leftist culture, but in the widespread public acceptance of many of their ideas and visions and how those ideas manifested in the physical world. Actions that would be almost universally condemned in the United States, such as the repeated destruction of ATMs, were met with an attitude that ranged from indifference to gleeful acceptance.

Even those who disapproved often expressed their sympathies with the sentiments behind such actions, even when criticizing the actions. They understood why the battle was being waged, and their understanding was in part closely connected to the consistent anti-capitalist messaging that they were exposed to on a daily basis.


Politicizing the Aesthetic

“The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able to mobilize the masses.”

– Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’

In the above-quoted essay, arguably his most well-known and influential work, Walter Benjamin characterized a primary component of fascism as the politicization of the aesthetic and argued in favor of the revolutionary potential of art. Written in 1936, and grounded in his observations of the role of aesthetics as employed in Hitler’s rise to power, Benjamin detailed the transformation of art as a medium through the technologies of reproduction.

He explained how such modernization had created the potential for the utilization of art as a means to influence the masses, but also pointed out how that potential would be used for repressive and totalitarian purposes when the means of reproduction was concentrated in the hands of the few. When the means of reproduction were democratized, art could hold the same power as a tool of resistance that it held in Germany as a tool of manipulation.

While his point had always resonated with me, the truth of his statements became plainly evident after my interactions with the countless propaganda-covered street poles that I constantly encountered throughout France. But there is American precedent for this too.

“More than anything, Hillary [Clinton] forgot that Obama owed his first victory to an image, to an idea.”

I heard the comment as I walked past an art student, talking on the phone as he was waiting for the bus outside of PNCA in northwest Portland. I knew immediately what he was referring to: Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘HOPE’ poster, which was a near-ubiquitous image during the 2008 presidential campaign.

barack_obama_hope_poster

While his actual campaign promises and proposed policies were undoubtedly a factor in his success, one cannot underestimate the degree to which his victory was on account of his winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of a disillusioned populace through the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change.’ The strength of Fairey’s image and the resonance of the message inspired voters to hit the polls in record numbers.

It was many of those same voters, especially those from rural areas, living in poverty and once inspired by the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ who switched parties and voted for Trump eight years later.

They flipped in large part because the changes that they had hoped for and expected did not materialize for them, and their hearts and minds were then subsequently captured by a very different but equally captivating message.

But this time, instead of abstract concepts like ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ this message provided not only concrete promises but definitive scapegoats.


The Intoxication of Narrative

“The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”

– Walter Benjamin

Among other factors, fascism gains its traction on account of a compelling narrative.

Fascism takes advantage of crumbling social conditions, evokes a false nostalgia for the ‘good old days,’ and frames the current material conditions as a ‘fall’ from that greatness. It then scapegoats specific parties as the cause of the fall, and promises a restoration to greatness if and only if the people place their trust in an authoritarian leader and give that leader free rein to rid us of the scapegoats that are responsible for the ‘problems.’

To its credit, liberal democracy also presents a compelling narrative. The promise of ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity’ and ‘rights,’ especially as it is contextualized within the idea of the ‘American dream,’ has captured hearts and minds for generations now. While it is a narrative that realistically has only ever applied to certain segments of the population (mostly able-bodied white people), over the past few decades the promises of that narrative have repeatedly failed even those who had previously been granted that dream .

The ideology of fascism was birthed out of the ashes of World War I, birthed of the anger of a generation in which working-class people throughout Europe were brutally slaughtered in a war that was mainly fought in the interests of the ruling classes and in the name of democracy. It was the betrayal and failure of the narrative and the promises of liberal democracy in Europe that caused large segments of the population to embrace the narrative of fascism.

Although its been mostly forgotten in the mainstream retelling of history, the present turn of events in the United States is not the first time that the narrative of fascism has captured the interest of the American public. Fascism first rose in America in the years after the Great Depression, the last time that the narrative and promises of liberal democracy were proven to fail en masse throughout the North American continent.

While there were multiple factors that were able to overpower the pull of fascism in America that first time around (such as the effects of the New Deal), it was ironically the economic boost that came from the war against fascism in Europe that acted as the nails in the coffin for the power of the fascist narrative in America.

Out of that war came the resurgence of liberal democracy in even greater forms, from the recognition of the United States as a global superpower to institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.

It is the crumbling and decline of those powers in the present day which has ushered in the current wave of fascist tendencies. History demonstrates very clearly that when the contradictions of liberal democracy start to weigh heavily enough to crack the foundations of that system, those who have profited from that system and its contradictions will inevitably embrace fascism in order to secure their wealth and their safety.

In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also embrace fascism, and history will be left to repeat itself.


The Spectacle

Il est interdit d’interdire (It is forbidden to forbid)

– Situationist slogan, May 1968

In the summer of 1968, revolutions and revolutionary tendencies echoed throughout the Western world, with varying degrees of success and lasting power. Among the most well-known uprisings of the time was the series of events in May of 1968 in France, which at its peak brought the entire French economy to a standstill and nearly toppled the national government. While history generally characterizes the French uprisings as being fueled by violence and physical resistance, the underlying current which sustained the uprisings was based in artistic expression, most notably the tactics and aesthetics of the Situationist International.

The SI was formed a decade earlier, a fusion of libertarian Marxist ideas and the ideologies and aesthetic expressions of the surrealist and dada art movements. Arguably the strongest idea to come forth from the situationists was the concept of the ‘spectacle,’ which Guy Debord described and defined as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

The concept of the spectacle was in itself a deep critique of capitalism, specifically the ways in which commodity fetishism had shifted society away from social relations based on direct experience and instead created an arena where individual expression was primarily exercised through the consumption of commodities. The aim of the SI was to reverse that trend, to prioritize and emphasize direct experience and to replace the manufactured desires of capitalism with actual and authentic desires.

This philosophy was central to the artistic and symbolic expressions that fueled the uprisings of May ’68. The emotional appeals of the SI, which stressed personal freedom, social authenticity, and political liberation, created a climate in which many believed that a new world was truly possible. Despite the eventual failure of the uprisings to foment an actual social revolution, the ideas and tactics of the SI left its mark on an entire generation of French youths, who continued with and passed on those ideas into the modern day.

“It is forbidden to forbid”

The propaganda and messaging that is currently seen throughout every major urban area in France, as well as the understandings and philosophies behind it, is a direct and often obvious descendant of the imagery and emotion that characterized the SI and the events of May ’68.

Fascism: Liberal Democracy’s Shadow

When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany;” it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.

– Halford E. Luccock, as quoted in the New York Times, 1938.

Many tend to position liberal democracy and its inherent values as the antidote to fascist tendencies, just as they consider the same system to be inherently opposed to the narrative and the promises of fascism. The values expressed in fascism are framed as the antithesis of democracy, and it is stressed that it is the failure to uphold the values of democracy that inevitably will lead to fascism.

But in reality, they are two sides of the same coin.

Liberal democracy is the clothing we put on to hide the obscene nature of the body exposed, so to speak. When the actualized brutality and obscenity that is necessary to uphold liberal democracy is revealed, such as the violence recently witnessed at Standing Rock, it is demonstrated for all to see that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In that moment, liberal democracy is then maintained and upheld by the portion of the populace that continues to praise the emperor on the beauty of his garments.

“The system is broken,” they say, when the actual truth is that the system is being exposed for its true and brutal nature, momentarily stripped of all its trappings and distractions.

It is in those moments that fascism and anti-capitalist leftism are actually in agreement, united in contradiction to the liberal democratic narrative, that in fact the system is working exactly as intended. The fascist praises and encourages the mechanics of empire as a justified means to an end, while the leftist argues that the means do not justify the ends and that the only ethical response is to abolish the system altogether.

When the lies of liberal democracy are exposed for what they are, when the child comes forth and finally points out to the crowd that the emperor is naked, it is the narrative of either the fascist or the leftist that holds the potential power to define what is accepted as reality.

Which side actually gains power in that moment is dependent on many factors, but among the strongest factors is the ability of their respective narratives to capture the imagination.

Logical arguments do not hold much sway in those moments. Instead it is a matter of which side wins the hearts and minds of the masses.


Absurdity and Spectacle

The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified. 6. The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society.

— Guy Debord, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’

While most corporations and retailers used Black Friday as a way to convince people to buy tangible items at rock-bottom prices, the folks at Cards Against Humanity had a different idea.

They decided to dig a literal hole in the ground for three days straight, with an appeal to the public to pay for the digging by the minute. They had a live video feed of the hole, and a running tally that looked no different from any other crowdfunding campaign.

Despite its absurdity, the stunt resonated with people on several levels, not only as a commentary on consumerism and the existential bleakness of the modern day, but as a painful and arguably hilarious example of what people were willing to actually spend money on. Excerpted from the website’s FAQ:

What do I get for contributing money to the hole?

A deeper hole. What else are you going to buy, an iPod?

Why aren’t you giving all this money to charity?

Why aren’t YOU giving all this money to charity? It’s your money.

What if you dig so deep you hit hot magma?

At least then we’d feel something.

In the same country where thousands are dying on the streets without aid and thousands more are suffering from lack of medical care, after three days, the ‘holiday hole’ brought in over $100,000. As has been shown countless times before this one, the plight of the suffering has nothing on the draw and the temptation of the spectacle.

Aside from the obvious resonance in terms of the current sociopolitical climate, my first thought was of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies showering Wall Street with dollar bills and then laughing while the hapless traders on the floor abandoned their tasks in order to scramble for every dollar, disrupting the machine of capitalism with the very substance that fuels it.

While such tactics and stunts owe an certain debt to the situationists and the idea of the spectacle, its important to recognize that the theatrical tactics of the American ‘New Left’ were arguably responsible for replacing and displacing the last vestiges of actualized radical struggle in the United States. Once political theater became mainstream in terms of both public acceptance as well as expectation, militant tactics were for the most part abandoned by the mostly white, college-educated left in the United States. This eventually led to a massive loss of political power and social capital, which contributed to the rise of neoliberalism and the post-civil rights era conservative movements that now dominate the political landscape and control much of its discourse.

Moreover, the movements and organizations that did not abandon militant radicalism, such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement, were left standing alone and subsequently targeted and destroyed from both within and without by the likes of COINTELPRO.

While the humor of such political theater doesn’t lead to direct and actualized change, the potential effect that such humorous spectacles can have on the masses should not be understated. Cards Against Humanity just proved that to the tune of $100,000, and while part of me winces at that reality, another part of me wonders if and how that tendency can be manipulated in favor of a spectacle that creates an actual means to an end.


Towards a New Propaganda

“Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”

– Jean Anouilh

We tend to interpret the word ‘propaganda’ as information that is inherently untrustworthy. We refer to “Soviet propaganda” or “anarchist propaganda” with the understanding that those folks likely aren’t telling the ‘truth.’

Historically, propaganda was generally regarded as a neutral force, holding true to its Latin roots. ‘Propaganda’ derives from propagare, meaning ‘to propagate,’ and propaganda was recognized as a powerful weapon that could be wielded in the name of countless agendas. It was only with the rise the phenomenon that Benjamin observed, of authoritarian governments that disseminated mass propaganda through the means of mechanical reproduction in order to manipulate the public in favor of repressive tendencies, that the word took on a permanently negative connotation.

While our tendency is to distrust anything that we consider to be propaganda, we place a rather impressive amount of trust in the great corporate propaganda machine known as advertising. The assumption is that the unsanctioned graffiti or flyer or poster is trying to pull one over on us, but we tend to accept that four out of five dentists recommend Crest without much thought or criticism. We generally grant the benefit of the doubt to the claims made by advertising, despite widespread knowledge of the degree to which that medium is manipulating us.

And yet, just as the only true difference between ‘militarism’ and ‘terrorism’ is legitimatization on the part of the state, the only difference between what we consider to be ‘advertising’ and what is disparaged as ‘propaganda’ or ‘graffiti’ is legitimatization on the part of society and our acquiescence to the various ways in which the state and capital control the commons. Our trust in one over the other is rooted not in fact or substance but in our cultural programming, in our tendency to trust authority.

Those who condemn political graffiti generally do not reserve the same criticism for corporate and/or political advertising, and in that inconsistency they further strengthen the power that capital has over the commons and by extension over our thoughts and our minds.

The ubiquity of advertising in modern society and the tight control of access to that medium and the spaces it inhabits act as a current reflection and confirmation of Benjamin’s observations concerning the effects of the means of reproduction when concentrated in the hands of the few.

While the idea of ‘reclaiming the commons’ is usually centered on occupying public space and ‘commoning’ activities such as community gardens, reclaiming and rewriting the messages that currently define the modern commons is an overlooked and necessary component of creating a narrative that has the potential to challenge that of the status quo.

If fascism relies on the aestheticization of politics, fascism needs to be fought by politicizing the aesthetic.

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.

Banksy


Alley Valkyrie

Alley Valkyrie is an writer, artist, and spirit worker currently living in Rennes, France. She is one of the co-founders of Gods&Radicals and has been interacting with a wide assortment of both gods and radicals for nearly twenty years now. When she’s not talking to rivers and cats or ranting about capitalism, she is usually engaged in a variety of other projects. She can also be supported on Patreon.

 

Anarchism and Kabbalah

A Reflection On Walter Benjamin & Alejandro Jodorowsky, from Jesse Brent


Today, more often than not, people who have heard of Kabbalah associate the mystical branch of Judaism with celebrities like Madonna, Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher. Like other forms of mysticism, Kabbalah has been co-opted by capitalists and marketed as a new age fad for rich people (especially by the opportunistic charlatans of the Kabbalah Centre). However, this capitalist bastardization is a direct contradiction of the essential message of Kabbalah.

In Kabbale: Vie Mystique et Magie, a book about the history of Kabbalah in Morocco, Haïm Zafrani argues that Kabbalah is revolutionary because it treats the sacred text of the bible with “total liberty”, directly opposing orthodox readings of the bible. Moreover, Zafrani demonstrates the anti-aristocratic and egalitarian spirit of Kabbalah, quoting from the Zohar, the preeminent Kabbalistic text: “Take your money and distribute it to the poor and to the orphans.”

In fact, there is a strong affinity between the mysticism of Kabbalah and the revolutionary politics of anarchism, demonstrated in the works of the philosopher Walter Benjamin and director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History and Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain are startlingly relevant for our current moment and the conflict between fascism.

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish philosopher who committed suicide in 1940 on the French-Spanish border, while attempting to escape from the Nazis. Theses was his last major work before killing himself, and it offers some of the best advice that has ever been written on confronting fascism. Benjamin writes, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” Rather than call for a return to the liberal norm, Benjamin recognized that any effective response to fascism must radically overthrow the edifices of bourgeois respectability on which fascism grows and flourishes.

In one of the most famous passages from Theses on the Philosophy of History, Benjamin uses a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus to write about what he calls the Angel of History, who “sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.” This catastrophe is “that which we call progress.” Benjamin thus fundamentally calls into question all of “Western civilization,” which the Nazis saw themselves as the inheritors and indeed the culmination of.

Benjamin is pointing out that the rise of fascism and the Holocaust is not an anomaly, but part of a long chain of oppression, as “progress,” a term that has always been used to justify capitalism, depends on exploitation, slavery, and colonialism. Directly preceding this passage, Benjamin quotes from his friend, Gerhard Scholem, a scholar of Kabbalah. In an article called “Walter Benjamin, the Kabbalah, and Secularism,” Kam Shapiro argues that through Scholem, Kabbalistic mysticism became a profound influence on Benjamin’s philosophy, both in terms of form and content. In fact, Kabbalah, surrealism, and anarchism were all significant influences on Benjamin’s philosophy. Despite being more often associated with Marxism, Benjamin expressed a great respect and admiration for anarchist philosophy. In an essay from 1929 called Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia, Benjamin writes, “Since Bakunin, Europe has lacked a radical concept of freedom.”

Other authors have pointed out how Benjamin’s ideas about theology, revolution, and class struggle are infused with anarchist thinking. In “Anarchist All the Way Down: Walter Benjamin’s Subversion of Authority in Text, Thought and Action,” James R. Martel writes,

“Benjamin is perhaps unique in that he covers all the bases, he engages in various dimensions of anarchism in such a way that they all correspond. These elements work together to give us a model for anarchism that is, to use his own words once again, “useless for the purposes of fascism.” This is a model that cannot be coopted because it engages only in failure, only in the certainty that human actors are radically on their own and must make their political and legal judgments accordingly.”

These three influences on Benjamin’s writing style and philosophy–Jewish mysticism, surrealism, and anarchism–converge in their rejection of Enlightenment values of so-called “rationality” and “progress.” Unlike fascists who exalted mythical ideas of national pride and culture, Benjamin used anarchist and Kabbalist ideas as a basis for rejecting “tradition” in favor of an avant-garde form of humanism. As Shapiro writes, “Benjamin not only contemplated the dissolution of cultural traditions but also undertook to reassemble their fragments in new configurations. He also suggested that modern subjects might learn to take part in collective acts of assembly, generating new habits and meanings. He explicitly set this task against the cultural restoration promised by the Nazis.”

Still from Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain

Surrealism, mysticism and anarchism also converge in the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean-French director of Jewish descent, who, in proper anarchist style, sparked a full-scale riot when his debut film, Fando y Lis premiered at the 1968 Acapulco film festival. Jodorowsky is an avowed anarchist, who is quoted by Ben Cobb in the book Anarchy and Alchemy, as saying, “The slogan of anarchy is ‘Neither God Nor Master.’ But I only apply this to the external world. In the depths of my spirit, I have made anarchy my ‘Internal God and Master.’” In his autobiographical film The Dance of Reality from 2013, Jodorowsky’s youngest son Adán plays a character called Anarchist.

Jodorowsky’s third film The Holy Mountain, which premiered at Cannes in 1973, is an astonishing masterpiece that features many direct references to Kabbalah, as well as other forms of mysticism, such as tarot and alchemy. In an interview with Ilan Stevens, Jodorowsky says that he was initiated by Kabblah experts after first studying tarot and learning about the 19th century French occultist Eliphas Levi, who practiced both tarot and Kabbalah.

Like Benjamin, Jodorowsky used mysticism and surrealism to comment on fascism, which he saw as inextricably linked to the history of colonization. In one classic scene from Holy Mountain, the “Great Toad and Chameleon Circus” performs “The Conquest of Mexico.” One of the circus ringleaders wears a bow tie and top hat with a swastika on it. The performance takes place on an elaborate model of Aztec pyramids with horned lizards dressed in bright Aztec clothing. They are bombarded by giant toads, dressed in silver armor and brown robes like Spanish conquistadors and monks. The invasion turns into a bloodbath, as huge streams of blood flow down the pyramids, which are eventually blown into pieces. The scene begins with the sound of pan flutes and transitions, as the toad conquistadors invade, into a Nazi marching song.

Jodorowsky connects fascism not only to colonialism, but to modern capitalism, organized religion, and state power. The title of The Holy Mountain refers to a mythical mountain, to which the most powerful people from each planet set off to in order to find the secret of eternal life. One of the mountains Jodorowsky references when he introduces the Holy Mountain is the “Kabbalistic mountain of San Juan de la Cruz,” a reference to Ascent of Mount Carmel, the spiritual treatise by Saint John of the Cross, a Christian Kabbalist from a converso (descendants of Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity) family. Among the planetary representatives is Axon (Richard Rutowsky), the chief of police of Neptune, who castrates his followers, collecting their testicles in a collection of 1000 jars. After castrating one boy, he hands him “the holy book” and tells him to “learn to believe in me.” Axon’s scene culminates in his police force attacking student protesters, with colored scarves and birds flying out of bullet wounds.

Jodorowsky represents the brutal inhumanity of capitalist logic through the character of Lut (Luis Lomelí), an architect from Pluto. Lut remarks, “A man doesn’t need a home, all he needs is a shelter. If we can sell him on the idea of a shelter, we can make millions. A worker will come here only to sleep; he won’t need electricity or water. He won’t have to cook; we’ll condition him to eat at the factory.” Jodorowsky also connects capitalism to authoritarian state power through Berg (Nicky Nichols), financial adviser to the president on the planet Uranus. Berg reports to the president: “to save the country’s economy, we must eliminate four million citizens in the next five years.”

Ultimately, Jodorowsky presents an anarchistic message in opposition to fascism. Jodorowsky’s own character, The Alchemist, who has organized the journey to the Holy Mountain, reveals this message to The Thief (played by Horacio Salinas), a character who accompanies the more powerful characters on their journey to the Holy Mountain. Earlier in the film, The Alchemist tells The Thief about these powerful characters: “They are thieves like you, but on another level.” As the film concludes, Jodorowsky tells The Thief to leave behind the quest for eternal life and instead return with the two characters who have devotedly followed him on the journey, a prostitute (Ana de Sade) and an ape: “Forget the summits, reach eternity through love. Return to your country. I leave you my tower and my alchemical rooms. This is your family and your people. Change the world.” Rather than turning his shit into gold (as the Alchemist teaches the Thief how to do earlier in the movie) or seeking eternal life, Jodorowsky is telling The Thief and viewers of The Holy Mountain to change the brutality, oppression, and coldheartedness of the capitalist, statist world that surrounds them–which he connects to both the legacy of colonialism and the ever-present danger of fascism.

In the era of Trump, Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History and Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain are quite relevant for their powerful reflections on the destructive force of fascism and its connection to colonialism and capitalism. Unlike the Kabbalah peddled by the phony capitalists of the Kabbalah Centre, Kabbalah, as it is represented by Benjamin and Jodorowsky, provides a mystical view of the universe that directly opposes orthodoxy, inequality, and injustice. This makes Kabbalah a natural companion to anarchism and opponent to capitalism and fascism.


Jesse Brent

Jesse Brent is a writer and radio/podcast producer, who lives in Brooklyn. He is currently working on a master’s thesis on cultural hybridity and liberatory politics in contemporary Moroccan music.

There’s more about Walter Benjamin and anarchism in A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred.

We Are The Real Emergency

Not so long ago, we had the governments of the world terrified, their leaders trapped in a hotel, begging for soldiers to rescue them.

 


I‘m not so old. Almost 40. Not so old I that I can remember the 80’s very well, but the 90’s are a lot clearer. The beginning of alt-rock, the birth of web-browsers, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO’s obliteration of Yugoslavia. The world changing rapidly, globalisation and cell-phones and this strange exuberance repeated by the leader of every Capitalist country in the world that we were at the “end of history.”

That idea comes from a man name Francis Fukuyama, a policy advisor to Ronald Reagan. He wrote an essay in 1989 on the topic, and then later an entire book on it in 1992.  His main premise is pretty simple. Let me quote him:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

I bolded the last sentence. Mind if I pull it apart for a moment?  First, he says that we’re witnessing:

 “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.”

Though you can’t really apply evolutionary theory to ideas, that’s never stopped people from trying. In fact, it’s the basis for all of Western political and economic thought since the Enlightenment. Before men like Hobbes and Locke and Bacon and Descartes, we were all stupid and backwards and primitive in our thinking. After them, because of them, we’re basking in the light of reason. That’s why it’s the called the ‘Enlightenment,’ after all.

The important part of Fukuyama’s theory is the end point.  You see it in the next part of that sentence, where he tells us we’re now going to see:

“the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Final. You hear that?  We’re done. We arrived. Liberal Democracy is the end point of history, our final form. All that’s left is to keep making it better and spreading it to the rest of the world. Ideology doesn’t matter any more. Western capitalist government is the height of all our human evolution!

Sound ridiculous?  Well, it is. The thing is, everyone believed him, or acted like they believed him. The Liberal Democratic leaders from the 90’s and early 2000’s, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Chirac, Schroeder, etc., all treated this as true.  Democracy won. Capitalism won. Now we just all needed to wait for the rest of the world to catch up and evolve.

But, well, something else was happening…


The Revolt of Turtle Suits and Fairy Wings

In the last months of the 90’s, 60,000 people stood around in the grey, rainy streets of Seattle, shouting at international bankers and world-leaders inside a hotel.  Inside that hotel, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was meeting, a Liberal Democratic body created by a trade-treaty called GATT.

60,000 protesters is a lot for any city, but Seattle had just under 540,000 people, so this was 11% of its total population. And Seattle also only had 1000 police officers, so 1 cop for every 60 angry people.

You seeing this in your head? 60,000 angry people. Some of them dressed like sea turtles, others held massive puppets. Some wore union t-shirts, some wore fairy wings, some wore black hoodies and masks. All of them shouting, demanding a better world. That’s pretty intense.

wto_protestors_1999_20680767813
World leaders were terrified of this.

Long story short, they shut the meeting down. The US Secretary of State at the time, Madeline Albright, was trapped in the hotel and called Bill Clinton, demanding he call up the national guard. So he did, and tear gas filled the streets. Soldiers chased protesters uphill from downtown Seattle into the gay neighborhood. Queers leaving bars got gassed, while old women and drag queens threw bottles out of windows at the soldiers and cops.

It took weeks to clean up the city afterwards. The police chief was fired, the mayor didn’t get voted back in, and the WTO eventually began meeting behind large concrete barriers topped with razor-wire.

Seattle in 1999 wasn’t the end of this. In the years that followed, the G8 meeting of world-leaders saw even larger protests wherever they met. In the United States, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions were also under a constant state of siege. Everywhere the wealthy and the political-elite met, regardless of where they were in the world, they were attacked.

Not everyone believed history had ended.


An Other-World Is Possible

Many of those protests were called Anti-Globalisation protests. That was the way the media and the politicians spun them, anyway.  In Europe, the same movement was called Alter-Mondialisme or Alter-Globalisation, a better name. It meant ‘alternative’ or ‘other’ globalisation, and its rallying cry everywhere was the phrase, “Another World Is Possible.”

What’s Globalisation, though? The definition is pretty varied, depending on who you ask. Some (especially if you believe Silicon-Valley Tech CEOs) see it as the breaking-down of distance between peoples, the spread of technology and information. Facebook is supposed to be part of that, and Twitter, and all those companies that make lots of money from our communications with each other.

No one in Seattle was protesting the spread of information, of course. In fact, the WTO makes spreading information harder, enforcing patents and copyrights across the world. Worse, it makes it easier to claim common knowledge as private property. A company patented Basmati rice, for instance, something that had been grown for thousands of years in India. Indigenous healing knowledge, too: using tumeric as a medicine was patented by a US company until 2013. If globalisation were just about the open spread of information, it would have been the rich who were protesting it, not the poor.

Globalisation is actually the term for Liberal Democratic trade policy. Powerful and rich countries need open markets for their products and cheap supplies of resources (including workers). So, Liberal Democracies push for free-trade deals so they can exploit poorer countries. Coltan (essential to smart-phones) from Africa, cheap labor from China, and the destruction of local economies and environments all over the world are the result of free-trade.

Free-trade make things truly global. From here:

coltan7
Don’t worry, these aren’t African child-laborers. They’re just kids playing the popular children’s game, “Mine-the-Coltan-Or-Get-Shot.”

To here:

foxconn
Casual day assembling iPhones in an open-plan office at Foxconn industries in China.

To here:

Impoverished Stanford students desperately trying to eke out a living at the end of history. Or was that the end of the supply chain?

Liberal Democracy claims to be the highest evolutionary political state of humanity. If that were true, then of course it should spread throughout the world, and globalisation is the way it’s supposed to happen.

One of the excuses for globalisation is that it supposedly creates peace. Large white Liberal Democracies don’t go to war with each other very often. The United States and Canada don’t fight each other, because it would destroy each others economies. Same with France and Germany.

Of course, they still go to war, just with small African, South American, and Middle-Eastern countries that can’t really defend themselves. Darker skin helps make this palatable. So, too, does the oil and other resources those countries are sitting on. It’s okay to attack them, in the same way that you couldn’t attack other Christians in Europe during the Middle-Ages, but Muslims and heretics were fair game.

If all these wars seem to go against the very nature of Liberal Democracy, it’s only because we’ve bought the lie they sell us, just like we buy their products. Liberal Democracy is first and foremost capitalist government, and free-trade only ever favors the rich.

Privileging capitalism and free-trade is supposed to make all our societies more free and more democratic. But like other things, there’s a religious belief behind this: when the wealthy do well, everyone does well. A ‘rising tide raises all ships,’ or so they say.

Sounds nice, huh? It doesn’t work, though, because tides always go out, the rich always want more, and anyway the poor can’t really afford boats.  Never mind that capitalism is raising sea-waters through global warming, either.

Those massive protests in the last decade weren’t trying to stop a rising tide; they were trying to stop the theft of the world, the expansion of capitalism, and the destruction of the planet.

All those people in the streets knew this, and they created an emergency…


In Case of Emergency…

Let’s go back to Madeleine Albright.  Being stuck in a hotel in downtown Seattle with hundreds of other world leaders, corporate CEOs, oil execs, and heads of banks seems pretty scary to me. For Madeleine Albright, though, what was scarier were the tens of thousands of people on the streets (with puppets and fairy wings and turtle costumes) demanding living wages, environmental protections, and fair trade, rather than free-trade.

Maybe not so surprising she was scared. She is, after all, the same woman who  told millennial women they were going to hell because they voted for Bernie Sanders, and also said this about half-a-million dead Iraqi children:

(this is what Liberal Democracy looks like)

So, Albright called the President and demanded he send soldiers to save her and everyone else in the hotel. And next thing you know, there’s a State of Emergency, the National Guard is deployed, and the beatings began.

States of Emergency are what leaders declare when they need to suspend regular laws for a little while. Liberal Democracies promise rights and protections and due-process, but they can suspend those at any time. Of course, they always say it’s just a for little while, but there’s little to stop them from making them permanent.

They do this more frequently than you might think. The United States currently has 32 declared National States of Emergency in effect. Some of them are old: one is from 1979, declared by Jimmy Carter. Another was passed at the end of 2001, in response to the terror attacks in New York City. Obama just renewed that one a few months ago.

It’s not just the United States that does this, though. Every Liberal Democracy in the world has the ability to suspend any part of its constitution for a ‘temporary’ period, and to renew those suspensions until the emergency is over (including Canada: check out the ‘notwithstanding clause‘). And almost every one of them passed some sort of emergency declaration in the last decade to fight terrorism.

“Terrorism” is a funny word, though. Like globalisation, it’s a cover-word for something else. Suicide bombers are terrorists, but so are people who release trapped minks on a fur farm. Mass-shooters are terrorists (well, when they’re not white), but so is someone who damages a bulldozer being used to uproot a community garden.

You can’t really fight terrorism. Terrorists aren’t part of any government. They generate spontaneously. They also spread quickly, especially each time a drone strike kills children at a wedding or a Liberal Democratic bomb kills women at a funeral. You could stop the wars that create them, but then you wouldn’t get the oil and other resources those bombs are meant to secure. No Liberal Democracy is going to do that: like Madeline Albright said, half-a-million dead children is “worth it.”

So, if they won’t stop the reasons for terrorism, what can they do?  They declare States of Emergency. There’s a problem here: suspending certain freedoms, certain rights, increasing surveillance, making lists and checking them twice, setting up secret prisons, torturing suspects…none of that actually stops terrorism.

So, why do it?


Counter-Revolution

Pretend you’re a capitalist or a world leader for a second. Imagine what it must have been like in 1999, being trapped inside a hotel by people wearing masks and turtle suits and fairy wings.  History was supposed to be over, Liberal Democracy had won, and most of all, you were the saviors of humanity.  Yet people were revolting. Liberal Democracy, capitalism, Free-Trade: that’s supposed to be our final world, but somehow, everywhere you tried to meet, more and more people kept showing up to stop you.

This was a revolt. Of course, no leader would want to admit this. Calling it a revolt might have inspired more people to join in. This would have given the poor the idea that they they were winning. Liberal Democracy couldn’t just do nothing, though. The protests were getting bigger and it was getting harder and harder to stop them. Without a State of Emergency, Liberal Democracies couldn’t break enough of their own rules to stop the revolts.

Good thing the terrorists showed up, huh?

In the name of fighting terrorism, every Capitalist government could develop massive surveillance networks, increase the armaments of their police forces, curtail previously-promised rights, and arrest anyone who fit into their ever-expanding category of terrorist.  Of course, this was all officially to protect us from dark-skinned Arabs who hated our freedom. But terrorism wasn’t the real emergency, though.

We were.


The Real Emergency

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency…

-Walter Benjamin

Every Liberal Democracy has been building up massive police and surveillance states for the last two decades. The police have been militarized, governments collect data on almost everything we do, and each government has claimed the right to do even more. Though they’ve been telling us it’s to protect us from terrorism, they’ve actually been doing it to protect themselves from us.

To turn from a Liberal Democracy into an authoritarian state, you need only one thing: a State of Emergency. Every Liberal Democracy has that power. Suspend the usual rights and protections for a little while, promise it’s only temporary, and you can do whatever you want. Just like Mussolini did, and Hitler, and Franco. After all, Italy, Germany, and Spain were Liberal Democracies before they became fascist.

Every Liberal Democracy is one “Emergency” away from fascism. All those surveillance powers, suspensions of rights, and increased police and interrogation authority they’ve been building up for the last 20 years can quickly be turned on us. Watching what’s been happening at Standing Rock, or in the Black Lives Matter uprisings, it’s pretty obvious they’ve already started.

We’re what they’re afraid of. All our massive protests in the last decade scared them to pieces, and they’ve been trying to make sure we can’t do that again. Because they believe they’re the end of history, the highest evolutionary form of government, they pretend like their sudden mutation into their dark fascist twin is just a temporary state, a response to an emergency.

We should take heart, because that emergency is us.

Not so long ago, we had the governments of the world terrified, their leaders trapped in hotels, begging for soldiers to rescue them.

That time is coming again.

If this sounds scary, difficult, and overwhelming, don’t worry. Just remember Madeline Albright screaming into a phone at the president, begging him to save her and all the other world leaders and CEOs trapped in a hotel, surrounded by people dressed up like fairies and sea turtles.

Like, seriously: I think we got this.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthRhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarch, or you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.  He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.


Like this essay? You’ll really like Christopher Scott Thompson’s book, Pagan Anarchism, then.

Heretics

The Witch

On a cold Sunday evening a few months ago, I left the warmth of my room and my lover’s side, threw a few books into my bag, and took a bus north to meet The Witch.

We’d corresponded a few times before but had never met in person. That happens often when you are a writer–you read someone’s words, you strike up a conversation with them, and talk for quite awhile without embodied relation. So many of the writers I enjoy live in far-flung lands, as do many of the friends I’ve made through my writing, yet we rarely meet. But The Witch was in town for a very brief stay, and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see what had gotten so many others enraged at her existence.

InstagramCapture_678e3600-2c50-4484-8125-a2502bc22e3bThe Witch had written something about a goddess, and it made a few people very, very angry.

Many of those people were writers whom I generally thought highly of, who’d positioned themselves as authorities on that particular goddess. But Authority doesn’t like heresy, and the words of the Witch were heresy, and they decided she needed to be stopped.

The attacks mounted against her. Some said she was an idiot, others claimed she had no Authority to speak about that goddess. Others joined in, perhaps eager to appear loyal to the authorities, or perhaps just eager to join in the pogrom.

I really wanted to meet this Witch. The attacks on her writing had been so fierce that her ability to weather them made me suspect she possessed some intense magic. After all, the people who’d assaulted her public presence were quite formidable. Authors of books on that same goddess, powerful priests or shamans with secret initiations, charismatic men claiming endless years of training –the Witch’s power was certainly at least equal to theirs, if her words warranted so many attacks.

prisonsI entered the coffee shop and saw her sitting in a corner by the window. It was her, I was certain, but it was hardly who they thought she was. She had power, definitely, but not the sort that they had.

I wanted to laugh at myself for believing the fear of others, but I also wanted to cry.  Seeing her there, suddenly understanding what the war against her heresy had really been about felt like a death.

What particularly struck me, sitting across from The Witch in this cafe, was how different she looked from her critics. She was diminutive, almost elfish, Soft-spoken, a bit timid, but evincing exactly the sort of embodied power I’ve come to notice in people who relate with gods and the land. She didn’t dress the part of a priestess of a powerful deity; she dressed the part of a highly-literate, well-centered, deeply-embodied woman who had nothing to prove to the world, who just wanted to write about the really awesome experiences she was having with gods.

Also, I was in awe with her awe. A lightness of being surrounded her, a curiousity, a wonder unmarred by the cynicism and fundamental certainty of those who’d attacked her. That her open heart remained open despite the onslaught, the smears, and the violence marshaled against her ideas proved to me more than anything that she was, indeed, the Witch they had so feared.

We talked for an hour, this beautiful, timid, bookish, soft-spoken and graceful woman. I drank a latte despite the hour, she had peppermint tea. She had an interview the next morning for a librarian position at a University, and so we talked about books, and Seattle, and the city where she lived, and then I finally admitted the perceptual jolt I experienced when I finally saw her in person.

“That was awful,” she said, regarding the relentless attacks. “I had to stop looking at the internet for awhile, and wanted to stop writing.”

What we didn’t talk about was the other thing those priests attacked her for. The Witch was also a Jew, and as some stated she had no ancestral right to talk about her goddess because of this, very few defended her.

The Jew

InstagramCapture_eed3f908-ab7a-4bcd-a50d-f765f504a5ab Alley Valkyrie and I sat at the base of a Cork Oak in the Pyrenees, grateful for the unexpected cold beneath its branches. Along the Mediterranean side of those mountains, Cork Oak clings to ledges and cliffs, and where they stand they create a shadow deeply welcome in the early summer heat of southern France. The sun shines strongly, baking the skin and the bare rocks, but under the Cork Oaks the temperature drops almost 20 degrees, With the wind which whips through the passes, it can actually get quite cold.

We were glad of it, sweaty and overheated from the strong sun searing through our skin as we picked our way over loose rocks. We were following Le Chemin Walter Benjamin, an old smuggler’s path through the Pyrenees between France and Spain renamed for the most famous person to follow that path.

Walter Benjamin was a mystic, a Marxist theorist, a trained astrologer, and the bane of several Authoritarian regimes because of his theories on history. Also, he was a Jew.

Benjamin is responsible for two revolutionary–and thus dangerous–ideas. The first is that of the Jetztzeit, the mystical moment which coalesces at some point in time where the direction of the world can change. It’s the ‘revolutionary moment,’ before which the world is one thing and after which, if the moment is recognized and acted in, the world is an entirely other thing.

Importantly, the Jetztzeit is a moment recognized best not by political theorists or authoritarian regimes, but by the poets, the artists, and the bardic current in any social struggle. That is, only those with a mystical awareness can see in the shifting tide the point at which the act can change the world.

The Jetztzeit, then, is the moment of the heretics.

While much Marxist and Anarchist thought at the time sought to distance itself from mysticism, Walter Benjamin danced between those worlds and others, or the Other.  And regarding that Other is the other concept for which Benjamin is best known, the “Angel of History”:

240px-Klee,_paul,_angelus_novus,_1920A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Benjamin saw plenty of wreckage in his lifetime. He was friends with the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt (another whose ideas I use a lot in my writing), and both watched the relentless pile-up of carnage in Europe as war broke out. They were together in the city of Marseille as France unsuccessfully fought the German advance. As France fell to the Nazis, the Vichy government forbade exit permits from the country for Jews, trapping him and many others.

Benjamin had received a visa for the United States and had hoped to escape there. Because he could not leave from a French port, the only way to do make the voyage would be to travel through the mountainous regions of Spain (by then fully ruled by Fascist dictator General Franco) to Portugal, where he could take a boat across the Atlantic.

InstagramCapture_395c2d48-0615-4193-a08a-646e9e4896e1
Banyuls-Sur-Mer from Le Chemin Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin left Marseilles for a small town on the border with Spain called Banyuls-sur-Mer. Some communists knew of a route across the mountains to the Spanish town of Portbou, earlier used by leftists in Spain to escape the Fascist round-ups of anarchists.

That’s why Alley and I were on that mountain. We left Banyuls-sur-Mer in the early afternoon and followed his route, past massive Heather, Juniper, Broom and Cork Oak, across loose scree and sudden explosions of wildflowers.

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InstagramCapture_895ca90a-0883-42ff-918e-81485b9e1301Every guide had stated it was a four hour, 7 kilometer hike across the Pyrenees.  Every guide had lied. It’s 4 hours and 7 kilometers to the top of the mountain. We didn’t know it at the time, but It’s another 7 kilometers and three more hours to the end of the trail in the Catalonian town of Portbou.

We’d already drank most of the several liters of water we’d brought with us. We had to catch a train the 50 kilometers back to our campsite in a few hours. We maybe should have turned back at that point. But Walter Benjamin had made that journey as a 48 year old man with a severe heart condition, fleeing from the Nazis with a large suitcase containing his most prized possession, a completed manuscript which did not survive any longer than he did.

It seemed hopeless for us to get there on time, but it had been more hopeless for him, so we continued.

Where really could he have found sanctuary? His Marxism made him an enemy of many in Francoist Spain, his anarchist leanings made him an enemy of Stalin, his Jewishness made him an enemy in France and Germany. Had he even made it somehow through Spain to Portugal, entry into the United States was hardly a guarantee even with a visa, especially because he was a Marxist. No other country in the world has a longer history of violent suppression of Marxist and Anarchist thought. It was no country for heretics.

Walter Benjamin died when he arrived the day after he arrived in Portbou. The Fascist government in Spain had just passed a law that day which would require him to return to France. He could not escape, and he died in his hotel room, possibly of an overdose, possibly by assassination from Stalinists or the Gestapo.

Quoting Kafka on his last day, Benjamin wrote in his journal:

“There is plenty of hope, but not for us.”

I think every heretic has been so hopeless. I was, until I met the Anarchists.

The Anarchists & The Queers

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A spring along Le Chemin Walter Benjamin

I’m drunk and fucking happy. He’s in my arms, soaking through my skin. I can taste his soul, I’m drinking in his magic. The world has fallen away, or become more world, our bodies locked, our jaws locked in feral mauling. All is passion, all is joy.

We’re in Rennes, France, outside of an anarchist bar. I’d just met my companion a few days before, an anarchist witch like myself, and gay, and hot. He’d taken me the night before to this bar, we were now there with Alley, sitting outside with Breton anarchists laughing, drinking, playing music, discussing revolution and magic and the rise of Fascism in France and America.

Things are bad for leftists everywhere, and really awful for anarchists. In Rennes, though, even as their hope dwindles, Alley and I could see how strong they still are. That day was gay pride, and the government had forbidden demonstrations to punish the leftists. But instead of obeying the Authority of the government, the gays marched anyway, supported by large leftist trade unions and anarchists.

Here, for at least a little while longer, heretics stand together.

Dionysos Rennes
Anarchist graffiti on a church in Rennes, France

My companion and I were being a bit…exhibitionist, perhaps. Never in the US had I felt so comfortable with another man on the street, nor had I ever felt that I was amongst so many people accepting of our passion.

But then I heard from behind us:

“Pédé.”

 

Faggot.

I turned to look at them, three men walking by, disgusted by our heresy. How could two men do such things with their bodies? How could others tolerate such profaning of the sacred? I rolled up my sleeves. I didn’t have my passport on me, I knew what would happen if I got arrested for fighting these men, but I didn’t care. And I knew that in France, just like every other country in the world, Authority does not give a shit for sexual heretics.

But just as I steeled myself, ready to defend my world, I watched all the people around me stand and shout.

I was, after all, sitting at an anarchist bar.

What happened after was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my entire life. The homophobes hurled bottles at us, glass shattering at our feet. I was still ready to fight, but before I could even move eight men tore after them faster than I could ever hope to run.

The attackers fled, running just as fast, terrified of what happens when heretics defend each other, stand together against those who would stamp them out.

The Pagans

How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless…How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing…

…I will not be part of this process, because to do so is to be complicit with the very forces that are destroying all life on earth. It is time for Witchcraft not to choose, but to remember which side it is on in this struggle.

Peter Grey, “Rewilding Witchcraft”

When Gods&Radicals dared confront Fascist and Authoritarian sympathies within Paganism & Polytheism, we got a chance to see precisely the hatred that Authority has for heretics.

A former leader of a Druid tradition warned of the death of Paganism because of our challenge to self-proclaimed elders squatting on their tilting thrones. Polytheist leaders called me and others enemies of the gods and Marxist infiltrators, declaring crusades against the heretics threatening their Authority over the gods, over witchcraft, over druidry, over the sacred. Someone bought the URL’s of my name to sabotage my identity, others called for boycotts, some made threats against supporters of Gods&Radicals and its writers…all because we challenged their Authority.

But while white American Pagans and Polytheists try to protect their petty empires from heretics, the world around us is in a greater conflict.

Capitalism is confronting a crisis of its own making. Climate change is undeniable, mass extinctions increasing. Capitalists know they are the cause, and are starting to realize that the heretics know this too.

When the rich are threatened, they rely on Authority to sustain it. And we don’t need magical sight to see how governments everywhere have tightened their control of their citizens, even as resistance against their hired thugs and murderers explodes in increasing fury. The uprisings of Baltimore and Ferguson in the United States are siblings of the uprisings now in Europe, and on both sides of the ocean Authority tries to displace that rage, strengthening the Nationalist and Fascist tendencies I warned about.

Capitalism needs us to be exhausted, terrified, eager to work for little, eager to fill our worlds with products to replace what it has stolen from us. It needs us to ignore the damage it does to our lives, to nature, to the sacred. And it needs us obedient, docile, afraid to resist, eager to blame whatever scapegoat is puts before us.

It needs us to stop questioning its Authority, and it needs us to hate the heretics who dare suggest otherwise.

Once, Paganism and Witchcraft dared challenge Authority. Once, Pagans and witches knew who they were, enemies of the religion of Capitalism. Once, we knew the weapons we held in our hands and the power of our magic.

Once, we were also heretics.

It’s time to be heretics again.

The Witch I mentioned at the beginning of this essay survived all the attacks against her, becoming stronger as those who who tried to silence her were shown for the thugs they were. Walter Benjamin did not survive, but the heresies he bore into the world are a foundation for everything I write. And in watching a group of anarchists show love for the desire of two gay punk witches against thugs, I’ve seen the seeds of the revolution.

Authority and Capitalists need us to doubt ourselves. They need us to think we cannot experience the world without them, cannot think for ourselves, cannot do for ourselves. They need us to fear death, to fear each other, to fear ourselves.

But it is they who should fear us.

They should fear our magic and our will. They should fear our ability to create a world without them, to create a world where there is no place for Authority or Capital, no place for the rich, no place for the state, no place for the Fascist or the homophobe, no place for the racist or the anti-Semite.

They should fear such heresy.

And they will.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd AuthorRhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s currently trekking about Europe for the next three months. Follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.