Good articles on campism and the “alt-left”

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Fightback has been warning for a couple of years that, in these times when neoliberalism has run out of steam but the mass movements can’t create a new global system of equality, there is a real danger in the attraction that authoritarian anti-Western regimes, right-wing populist movements and even fascism have for many disorientated Left activists and working people. The latest sick example of this thread is the prominent “Marxist” philosopher Slavoj Žižek calling for an alliance between leftists and the white-nationalist, Trump-loving “alt-right” movement.

Here are some good recent articles from international radical journalists on this distressing trend:

The alt-left is real, and it’s helping fascists, by Idrees Ahmad (Scottish-Arab academic and journalist)

A lesson from Syria: it’s crucial not to fuel far-right conspiracy theories by George Monbiot (British eco-socialist author)

‘Anti-Establishment’: America’s New Syphilitic Politics of the Far Left and Alt-Right by Charles Davis (United States journalist)

The West’s Leftist Male ‘Intellectuals’ Who Traffic in Genocide Denial, From Srebrenica to Syria by Oz Katerji (British-Arab journalist).

Please note that while Fightback does not necessarily endorse everything these authors say, here or elsewhere, we agree with them on the need for working-class, socialist and liberation movements to reject the dead-end politics of “campist” support for authoritarian regimes which happen to be anti-Western, or the wish to engage fascists and racist populists in a rotten bloc against neoliberalism.

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Winning with Conservative Leftism: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit

by Daphne Lawless

maxresdefaultBritish exit from the European Union (EU) is fast becoming a disaster acknowledged on all sides. Theresa May’s Conservative (Tory) Government is making no headway in their negotiations with the EU’s leaders on finding a way for the UK to leave the EU without causing a massive economic crash and social dislocation. The Tories are split between moderates who would like to keep the status quo as much as possible, maintaining many current EU institutions, on one hand; and on the other, a fanatical right-wing who’d prefer a “hard Brexit”. This would entail complete disentanglement from Europe’s laws and institutions, creating some kind of deregulated tax-haven capitalist utopia, leaning heavily on Trump’s USA.

Meanwhile, after shocking the world by winning the British Labour Party leadership in September 2015, veteran left MP Jeremy Corbyn again confounded his detractors by leading the party to a respectable second place in the June 2017 general election. In left-wing politics, after 35 years of global neoliberal onslaught, sometimes victory can be its own argument. The feeling of many activists seems to be that if Labour (or whoever the local centre-left party are) do well in an election, what they are doing must be right and the radical left is obliged to support them.

Certainly there’s been a rush from various British Left groups to join the Labour Party to “back Jeremy” against his opponents within the party. But there’s such a thing as a Pyrrhic victory – winning at such a cost that the win was not worth it. Has “Corbynmania” been purchased at the cost of the British Left’s principles – specifically its internationalism?

Brexit is reaction

There’s a common myth on the Left that the vote for Brexit was some kind of “cross-ethnic working class uprising”, a revolt against the neoliberal elite by the oppressed and excluded. But the British revolutionary group Socialist Resistance said at the time:

Most of the radical left supported an exit vote and the so-called Lexit [Left-Brexit] campaign – which had zero influence on the entire referendum. It peddled the illusion that a left exit was on offer when it was not…  [T]hose in Lexit such as the SWP [Socialist Workers’ Party] claim that it was a “revolt against the rich and powerful” and that the danger from racism “is far from inevitable”.

They failed to recognise the dangers that the mainstream exit campaigns, led by right-wing xenophobes, represented. They were oblivious [to] the racism and hatred that would be generated by them, the reactionary impact this would have on the political situation and the balance of class forces, and dangers involved of being in any way associated with them—particularly in the case of an exit vote.

They chose to ignore (even when challenged) the damaging outcome that an exit vote would have for the 2.2m EU citizens living in this country whose status would have been threatened as a direct result.

This analysis has been borne out by research showing that support for Brexit was “largely determined by authoritarianism, which is itself significantly linked with fear of diversity, novelty, uncertainty, and change.” John Curtice, research fellow at the NatCen research agency, comments:

“Brexit is not an issue that divides those on the left from those on the right. Instead, it divides ‘social liberals’, that is, those who relatively comfortable living in a diverse society in which people follow different customs and social norms, and ‘social conservatives’, that is, those who feel that everyone should share and respect a common culture. Those of the former view typically voted to Remain in the EU, while those of the later disposition usually backed Leave. Not least of the reasons why this is the case, of course, is that one of the central issues in the Brexit debate was and still is immigration…

‘What clearly emerges from our analysis is that Labour’s advance in the 2017 election was strongest not in left-wing Britain but rather in socially liberal Britain…’

‘Labour’s advance in June then does not simply lie in the popularity of the more left-wing stance that the party adopted. Indeed, that may not have been particularly important at all. Rather, in an election in which Brexit and immigration were also central issues, Labour’s advance was strongest amongst those who were keenest on staying in the EU and those who were least concerned about immigration.’

Most tellingly – the only ethnic group to back Brexit were white British. Like a Trump voter, the best predictor of wanting to quit the EU was being white. Leftists trying to cheerlead for Brexit as a radical mass movement are making the same ghastly category error as who claimed that voters for Donald Trump were motivated by “economic anxiety”– out of over-optimism, cynicism or unacknowledged racism, attempting to take a groundswell of white nationalism and “paint it red”.

Corbyn’s successful fudge

Jeremy Corbyn, whatever else you can say, has the virtue of consistency, having opposed British membership of the EU since he became an MP in 1983. However, he toed his party’s line and (unenthusiastically) backed Remain in the referendum. The next year, in the election campaign, the Labour Party cleverly “fudged” the issue of Brexit, seeking to attract both “Remainers” aghast at Tory bungling of the process, and traditional Labour voters in the North of England who had voted Leave or supported the near-fascist UK Independence Party (UKIP). It worked – in that Labour gained a few seats, despite universal media predictions of total disaster. But Labour still lost the election, and the Tories were able to stay in power with the support on confidence and supply of Northern Ireland’s DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), a group of fundamentalist Christian reactionaries.

If some would argue that Corbyn’s performance was an endorsement of Brexit, research shows that voters who shifted to Labour in 2017, denying May her majority, were overwhelmingly “Remain” voters in 2016. More than half of Remain voters backed a Labour government, presumably as the best chance of stopping a hard Brexit.

Corbyn is now considered the credible alternative Prime Minister by the mainstream media – to the extent that apparently some Tories are talking quietly about his rise to power being “inevitable”. Labour’s fudged position allows it to mercilessly attack the Tories’ hapless performance in negotiations with the EU, without exposing its own divisions. But it’s odd for self-described revolutionaries to be talking about the electoral fortunes of the British Labour Party to as if they were the same thing as the interests of the working masses.

Throwing migrants under the bus

Corbyn has stuck to the line taken by the radical left all the way back to the first, failed “Brexit” referendum in 1975. The argument made then by opponents such as left-wing Labour legend Tony Benn was that the EEC (predecessor of the EU) was a “bosses’ club”, a cartel of capitalist states ganging up to impose pro-corporate politics all over Western Europe, in the days when Eastern Europe still belonged to the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.

But a lot of things have changed over 42 years. The biggest difference between the EEC which Tony Benn opposed and the EU which Corbyn wants to leave is free movement of workers between EU countries, which was enacted in 1992. Simply put, any citizen of an EU country has the right to live and work in the UK – just like New Zealanders may freely live and work in Australia. There’s of course no real reason why free movement of workers couldn’t still exist after Brexit, as it does with non-EU countries like Switzerland or Norway. But that would require continuing to abide by many EU rules and regulations– which certainly not be welcome to the reactionary, authoritarian, and mainly white bloc which dominated the Brexit majority.

Citizens of other EU countries now living in Britain – many of whom have put down roots and have families – are terrified for what will happen to them once Britain leaves the EU. The rising tide of hate crime in Britain is an important marker of how Brexit has encouraged racism and the fascist right, in the same way as Trump’s election in the US. American news network NBC reported:

Two words hit Nikola Cugova where it hurts: “Go home.”

That phrase has been directed at the 37-year-old Czech national a lot since just over half of voters rejected keeping the U.K. in the European Union in last June’s “Brexit” referendum.

“I hear English people say, ‘Now it’s Brexit, we’re leaving the EU, go home,’” said Cugova, who moved to the U.K. 13 years ago. “My children were small when they came here. My daughter doesn’t speak Czech and knows nothing about the Czech Republic.”

Neil Faulkner on Britain’s Left Unity website adds:

There has been a permanent shift, underpinned by relentless anti-migrant messaging from the political elite and their media echo-chambers since the Brexit vote, giving confidence and licence to every closet racist who wants to spit at an East European.

It’s important to remember that, no matter on what terms Britain actually leaves the EU, the political effect of Brexit has been a “green light” for the worst racists and reactionaries to come out from under their rocks – which is why the radical left which had no love for the Brussels bureaucracy were right to oppose Brexit. Meanwhile, British citizens who live and work in the other EU countries are waking up to the realisation that they may lose their rights as well.

It’s true that the EU’s policy towards migrants from outside– where refugees are kept out on the borders with Turkey or Morocco with barbed-wire fences, or left no choice but to risk drowning in open boats in the Mediterranean Sea– is barbaric and racist and must be opposed. Is there any hope, though, that a UK “in control of its own borders” would be anything other than even more racist? One of the biggest ironies is,while Jeremy Corbyn has himself always been a promoter of Irish unity, Brexit would quite probably lead once again to a “hard border” (fences and police checkpoints) between the two parts of Ireland – while under the EU, the border between the Republic and the northern Six Counties is nothing more than a sign on the A1 highway.

There have even been some attempts by “Lexiters” to make a socialist case against free movement – which boil down to the old “immigrants drag down wages” argument, that we in Aotearoa/NZ know how to reject when we hear it from our own Labour or NZ First. One particularly disgusting argument on the Labour Leave website (now deleted but available elsewhere) was that migrant workers to Britain were “scabs”, probably the worst insult that any unionist can make about another worker. The author even had the cheek to chide Eastern European workers for not appreciating living behind the barbed wire and concrete walls of Soviet-style “communism” while they had it! (One little-noticed story is how many of Jeremy Corbyn’s major advisors, such as Seumas Milne or Andrew Murray, come from the pro-USSR political tradition.)

Other “Lexit” articles took the tack of depicting migrant workers (and foreigners in general) as an elite, privileged layer, contrasted to struggling native British workers. Such xenophobia, where “cosmopolitan” becomes an insult and nativist bigotry is treated as if it were class consciousness, is not only the exact same narrative used by American writers who want to alibi the racist Trump movement. It becomes the point where the radical left start talking like the radical right.

This is the growing tide of “red-brown” politics which I have warned against in previous articles. Such a Left has totally sold out its principles to jump on a bandwagon which is giving the liberal centre a pummelling – from the fascist direction. Thankfully, a Labour Campaign for Free Movement has been set up to push back against this tide.

EU or UK: which is more reactionary?

Another argument is made by “Lexiters” that the EU stands between a Corbyn-led Labour government and a socialist transformation of the UK. Like many reactionary ideas, Brexit arguments of both left and right portray the UK as a weak victim of EU neoliberalism. However, the UK is in fact one of the EU’s three most powerful members – and, historically, the most neoliberal of them all. Since the election of Thatcher in 1979, it is in fact Britain which has pushed the EU in a neoliberal direction – not the other way around. At the recent Labour conference, Jeremy Corbyn claimed that the EU would prevent a Labour government from nationalising companies – at the very same time that France’s incoming centrist President, Emmanuel Macron, nationalised a shipyard to protect France’s “national interests”.

Economist Martin Sandbu recently wrote in the Financial Times (paywall):

two lawyers have looked carefully at the general structure of state aid laws and how they would apply to the policies set out in the Labour manifesto. Their analysis concludes: “Neither EU state aid rules, nor other EU rules which are distinct from state aid rules but sometimes considered in the same bracket, provide any obvious barrier to the implementation in the UK of the measures contained in Labour’s 2017 election manifesto.”

Lexiters want to make the argument about “democracy”. Firstly, there’s the argument that somehow opposing the outcome of the Brexit referendum is “undemocratic” – as if, once the majority has decided something, that question can never be revisited. Neil Faulkner again:

Both the Lexit Left and the Corbynista Left are arguing that socialists should ‘respect’ the Brexit vote. This argument is false. It is a betrayal of every migrant worker whose status has been threatened by the vote. And it is a massive concession to the racist discourse for which Brexit is now the primary framework.

…Referendums are particularly dubious. There is a long history of referendums being used by authoritarian regimes to enhance their legitimacy.

Who is setting the agenda? Who is formulating the question? Who is supplying the information (or misinformation)? Whose interests are being served? To ask these questions is to underline the critical difference between their democracy and ours – the democracy of parliamentary (mis)representation and the democracy of mass assemblies.

There’s also a populist idea that dismantling bigger entities and empowering smaller communities and countries is always more democratic and better for working people. But British Labour (like its leader) strongly opposes Scotland separating from the UK; while at the same time they are now criticising the EU for not supporting Catalonia’s right to separate from Spain. Similarly, there’s a lot of talk about how the EU has victimised Greece. But Greece’s forcible submission to the yoke of austerity came about because of its membership of the single currency, the euro – not because of the EU itself, which only a tiny minority of Greeks want to leave.

The EU is not a democratic federal state, even to the extent that Germany, the US or Australia are. The European Parliament – which is elected by the people – has little control over the European Commission, who are the real “government” of the EU. The Commission is far more under the control of the various national governments – which is one reason why the Commission is being “leant on” by Spain to oppose Catalan separation, and why – while the UK was a staunch member of the EU – the Commission also opposed Scottish independence.

No matter how much British nationalists might spout romantic nonsense about their “mother of Parliaments”, the United Kingdom has no written constitution, very few guaranteed civil liberties, a crushed union movement and a parliament half elected by the undemocratic FPP system, and half (the House of Lords) which isn’t elected at all. British socialist John Game put it like this on Facebook:

The primary barriers to socialism are British laws, not European ones. Neo-Liberalism is practically in the European context a British invention. It is quite simply chauvinism to suggest anything else. In an odd way, if the old argument was that the EU couldn’t rescue us from the British state, the new argument has become that only the British state can rescue us from the EU. Which is obvious nonsense.

Lessons for the rest of us

  1. Avoid nationalism. No socialist could defend the current undemocratic, neoliberal and racist EU system with a straight face. But no-one could defend Hillary Clinton with a straight face either – until her opposition was Donald Trump, who whipped up racism and fascist currents, making the vulnerable more vulnerable, showing that there are worse things than neoliberalism. The British state is in important ways less democratic, and more racist, than the EU. It is significant that the separatist local governments of Scotland and Catalonia both wish to remain in the EU after independence – precisely because of its guarantees of some basic levels of civil liberties.

So one important point is – as I’ve mentioned in previous arguments – to strongly oppose attachment to “our own” nation state as an alternative to globalised neoliberalism. Not only does this cede important ground to fascism, it also whitewashes the colonial and imperialist bloodshed that set up all the existing nation-states on the planet.

  1. Avoid the pressures of electoralism. Another important point is that for radicals, electoral politics should be one means among many to the end of social change. The real danger comes when all we can see is the parliamentary fight, or even worse, an intra-party factional battle. When socialists and radicals entered the British Labour Party, especially through the “Momentum” network, they immersed themselves deep in th­e cut-throat world of struggle within the bureaucracy of a major electoral party, against the various anti-Corbyn factions (ranging from old Blairites to liberal Europhiles).

One consequence of this – apart from burning out activist energy – is a regrettable consequence of seeing events in the wider world through the prism of that faction fight. When you set out to rebuild the world on new foundations, it’s hard to accept that it all boils down to backroom deals and faction fighting within an organisation that most socialists wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole until recently. The fact that all sides agreed to not discuss Brexit at the recent Labour Party conference doesn’t say much for a democratic culture in that party.

A related pitfall of electoral politics is falling into leader worship. Some have accused the Corbynists of being more interested in propping up “Jezza” as leader than fighting injustice out in the real world. Every issue in the world gets boiled down to “is this good or bad for Corbyn?”– to the point of conspiracy theory, where political events are sometimes argued to have been cooked up by media or the “Deep State” for the purposes of undermining Corbyn’s leadership. Socialists in Aotearoa also have recent experience of being in broad formations where supporting the prestige or authority of a popular leader – for electoral or other purposes – overrode standing by radical principle.

  1. Don’t lie to yourself. “Lexit” is fundamentally a form of self-delusion, caused by a loss of faith in the power of the actually-existing movements to change the world. It is also something of a nostalgia trip for people whose ideas were formed in the 1970s, who are now trying to impose those ideas on the current movement. It replaces hope in the movements of the working class and the oppressed with cheerleading for the colonial, imperialist traditions of the UK against the neoliberal, technocratic EU. Some socialists have deluded themselves into going along with this through some kind of misplaced duty to be “optimistic”– to assume that any bandwagon must be going in a positive direction, just as some tried to paint the Trump movement red. This smacks of desperation to “win” something, anything, even if it is part of a global swing towards the radical-Right which if not stopped would literally mean death to ethnic minorities, LGBTs, or indeed socialists.

A real radical-left movement in Britain would not necessarily want to keep Britain in the current EU structure. But it would support all the social gains of the EU – especially free movement of peoples between countries – while demanding their extension. It would support replacing both the EU structures and the UK state with democratic, responsive organs of power based on solidarity and responsible to their peoples, rather than to multinational capitalism – a true “Social Europe” accepting all migrants and refugees. As the old saying  had it, “Another Europe Is Possible” which would give not one single inch to racist, xenophobic ideas. To bring this about, we must challenge the conservative left and the red-browns who have brought such ideas into the common sense of British Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

George Soros, ‘Globalism,’ and Grassroots Revolt: How the Right Uses Conspiracy Theories to Appear Revolutionary

(reposted from It’s Going Down. This article is from an anarchist viewpoint and thus Fightback does not necessarily agree with all its conclusions. However, it effectively demolishes many of the most important conspiracy theories on which modern fascism and Right-wing populism depend, and show why the Left must fight such ideas even when they claim to be “anti-establishment” or “anti-corporate”.)

In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, a global movement against corporate globalization and neoliberal capitalism developed, with anti-authoritarian and anarchist politics at it’s head. In 1994, the Zapatista insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico against NAFTA made the world sit up, as indigenous people began self-organizing their communities after taking land back from the State in an armed uprising, blending indigenous Zapatismo with Mexican anarchism. Soon, a tidal wave of actions, indymedia projects, and grassroots groups began to be formed across the US, which fed into the growing anarchist movement. When the protests in Seattle of 1999 hit in November against the World Trade Organization, they famously popularized the black bloc tactic, however in truth the anarchist movement in North America had already been growing for years and exploded within the ascending anti-globalization movement, and was much bigger than simply one single tactic. Regardless, along with the anti-globalization movement, anarchism and its ideas grew.

Paid terrorists attack volunteer revolutionaries in the service of global capitalists.

The anti-globalization movement became in many regards, de-facto anarchist; from the ways that people made decisions to how people organized themselves to take action. Moreover, the mobilizations in Seattle were also important because it saw thousands of people join in confrontational demonstrations that disobeyed the leadership of union bureaucrats and NGOs, to say nothing of the Democrats in power or the police. As the government called for a curfew on demonstrations and even brought in massive amounts of body bags, and President Clinton demonized the black bloc as only wanting to attack “small businesses,” the riots grew into popular revolts as whole neighborhoods stood up against the police and began looting stores. Moreover, the combination of street clashes and blockades shut down the WTO meeting; the protesters won. Seattle set in motion a chain of events, as the anti-globalization upheavals continued, not only in size and scale, but also as popular confrontations between the State, it’s security forces, and the general population. While the events of September 11th in many ways sunk the movement, it remains a high point of anarchist organizing in recent memory.

Ironically, when large scale demonstrations like this break out across the social terrain in today’s world, as they often have in the last several years under another Democratic President, Obama, the far-Right simply writes them off. But how and why the write them off is very telling. Generally this first takes the path of conspiracy, as one section of the Right dismisses any kind of popular uprising or resistance as the work of “paid protesters,” almost always under the direction of billionaire George Soros. Another section of the Right will take this even further, and claim that those facing felonies and military grade police weapons are in fact soldiers of the “Zionists,” and are the foot soldiers of the “globalist” order.

But the far-Right did not always see things this way.

As the riots of 1999 in Seattle against the WTO played out, many on the far-Right actually saw what was happening in a favorable light. Beyond that, they even chastised their own movement for failing to live up to the same standard as the people that rioted and shut down the WTO meetings. Although the far-Right framed these actions in terms of conspiracies of the “Zionist Occupied Government, or “New World Order,” they still strangely enough, supported it. Matthew Hale, then the leader of the World Church of the Creator, stated in an essay after the riots:

What happened in Seattle is a precursor for the future—when White people in droves protest the actions of world Jewry not by ‘writing to congressmen’, ‘voting’, or other nonsense like that, but by taking to the streets and throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of the enemy’s machine.

Did the right wing hinder the WTO? No. They were too busy ‘writing their congressmen’—congressmen who were bought off a long time ago, or waiting for their ‘great white hope’ in shining armor who they can miraculously vote into office.No, it was the left wing, by and large, which stymied the WTO to the point where their meeting was practically worthless, and we should concentrate on these zealots, not the ‘ meet, eat, and retreat’ crowd of the right wing who are so worried about ‘offending’ the enemy that all too often, they are a nice Trojan Horse for the enemy’s designs.

Others agreed. Louis Beam, a former member of the Ku-Klux-Klan, and an almost a Subcomandante Marcos figure on the racist far-Right, as well as the person who popularized the concept of ‘leaderless resistance’ wrote:

…My heart goes out to those brave souls in Seattle who turned out in the thousands from both Canada and the U.S. to go up against the thugs of Clinton and those who put him in office. I appreciate their bravery. I admire their courage. And I thank them for fighting my battle…“Soon, however, there will be millions in this country of every political persuasion confronting the police state on streets throughout America. When you are being kicked, gassed, beaten and shot at by the police enforcers of the NWO you will not be asking, nor giving a rat’s tail, what the other freedom lovers’ politics ‘used to be’—for the new politics of America is liberty from the NWO Police State and nothing more.

We mention this history, just as Don Hammerquist did in Fascism and Anti-Fascism, not to imply that there can be some sort of ‘unity’ between white supremacists and anarchists, but simply to point out that the far-Right, at this time, recognized that one of their enemies – anarchists, were actually political agents in a battle against the State and the economic system it is designed to protect. They also understood that this struggle made their own movement appear weak due to inaction and reformism. Also, keep in mind that this was happening at a time of increased anti-fascist organizing, mostly under the banner of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), the very group that were breaking up meetings and beating the shit out of Matt Hale’s Nazi supporters, so these comments were not made without hesitation or reflection.

Things are much different now. For instance, when the African-American community of Ferguson rose in revolt against the police in the summer of 2014, the far-Right across the board condemned the uprising as the work of paid Soros protesters, or an example of the black threat to white civilization. One far-Right group actually even went to Ferguson to help put down the rebellion, the Oath Keepers, a Patriot/militia group, and attempted to act as an auxiliary force to the police. However, upon arrival, some in the group decided they instead wanted to march with guns with the protesters in order to show the police that the citizens were not afraid of them. This about face in position among some members, from wanting to support the State to wanting to support the black citizens of Ferguson, caused a split in the group. Needless to say, the march never happened, but the point remains clear: stand up to the State and its police, especially if you’re black, and the far-Right does not support you. In fact, it demonizes you as the enemy for doing so, or portrays you as a stooge to powers far beyond your control.

The current myths around Soros as the “Puppet Master” mirror the previous views of groups such as the John Birch Society and the American Nazi Party.

These extreme simplifications go back to the 1950s on the far-Right, where anti-communist groups like the John Birch Society painted a world where communists in the service of the USSR infiltrated every group with sizeable influence that was trying to change conditions for poor, working-class, and oppressed people. Moreover, they strongly opposed the civil-rights movement because they saw it as a stepping stone to socialism. Neo-Nazis like George Lincoln Rockwell took these ideas a step further, and proclaimed that civil-rights groups such as the NAACP were actually run by the Jews. African-Americans, Rockwell argued, were not smart enough to organize their own organizations, and thus had to have Jewish leadership. Such leadership, he went on, was proof of Jewish communist plans to ‘race-mix’ white people out of existence. Such ideas continue today on the far-Right, as Neo-Nazis like Matthew Heimbach repeat the same tired lines, while also heralding black nationalist groups such as the Nation of Islam. For the Right it seems, black struggle and organization is always dismissed, unless those involved have anti-Semitic and nationalist politics which mirror their own.

Despite downplaying grassroots resistance, community organizing, and revolt of any kind, the far-Right in the past 8 years has growly increasingly militant and at times, even insurrectionary. It called for Obama to be tried as a traitor. It called for Hillary to be fired and jailed as well. In an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge, a far-Right militia occupation in Oregon called for the end of the federal government and the replacing of the State with the power of the Sheriff and the opening up of all federal lands to mining, ranching, and resource extraction. At the same time, the racist far-Right grew in street militancy, clashing with anarchist and left-wing demonstrators, leaving several people injured, and in some cases, even attempting to kill them.

Throughout it all, if the far-Right was sure of one thing, it was the illegitimacy of any resistance that did not come from the Right itself. Any grassroots mobilization, any strike action, occupation of land, or insurrection against State authority was seen as suspect; written off as the act of provocateurs in the service of globalist elites. While it is easy to laugh off these ideas as the fantasy of twitter warriors, or tin-foil hat Alex Jones fans ranting about “the Lizards,” with Trump now echoing many of these positions, they become less easy to dismiss with a slight of hand.

From Globalization to “Globalism”

“Globalism” has now replaced “communism” and even Islam, as the boogeyman of the Right, while at the same time, still encapsulating both of them as threats within its worldview. The far-Right, and the Right in general is very good at taking very complex systems and reducing them down to simple problems caused by a select group of people. As we will show, the idea of globalism both seeks to attempt to appear populist or even revolutionary, while at the same time, singling out select groups of people who the Right claims further the ‘globalist agenda.’

But where did the idea of globalism come from and what the hell does it mean? After NAFTA was passed, and globalization allowed capital to move freely across national borders while locking workers behind them, as structural adjustment programs slashed social services, took away land, and restructured economies in the service of international capital, the mood began to change in the US among everyday workers against globalization. This anger helped feed into the anti-globalization movement, as large segments of labor joined the fight against free-trade deals. But it wasn’t long until sections of the right began to bring critiques of globalization into their talking points as well, Pat Buchanan being a key example.

On the Right, discussion of global capitalism was turned on its head; into a conversation on the problem of “the globalists.” In short, the problem wasn’t a system, but a set of people, and this problem is almost always described along the lines of a conspiracy. In short, those on the far-Right framed the problem in terms of American nationalism, sovereignty, and power, pitted against the “globalist agenda.” Furthermore, the far-Right, of whatever stripe, always described the elite globalist system as being supported and maintained by a set of non-State actors, which work in it’s service to destabilize sovereignty and attack the ‘Native’ population. For some this is immigrants, for others Muslims, for the racist far-Right, it means black people being controlled by Jews, among others. But for all, it means anti-capitalists and grassroots communities in struggle which fight against the dominant social order and power structure. As Liam Stack wrote:

Globalism is often used as a synonym for globalization, the system of global economic interconnection that has been critiqued for decades by liberal groups like labor unions, environmental organizations and opponents of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But for the far right, the term encapsulates a conspiratorial worldview based on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism…

The term also often explicitly rejects any sort of anti-capitalist analysis of the systems of power and moreover, and instead replaces a class analysis with racial and national overtones:

Lauren Southern, a host on the right-wing Canadian media site Rebel Media, explicitly rejected its use as a synonym for globalization in a video she posted online in September. She said the word meant rule by autocrats — such as President Obama, former President George W. Bush and the United Nations — who value “the false flag of diversity” and “unchecked immigration from the third world.”

Hope Hicks, Trump’s spokesperson defined globalism as such:

An economic and political ideology which puts allegiance to international institutions ahead of the nation-state; seeks the unrestricted movement of goods, labor and people across borders; and rejects the principle that the citizens of a country are entitled to preference for jobs and other economic considerations as a virtue of their citizenship.

For the ‘anti-globalists’ then, the major problems facing everyday people are not pollution, repression, or poverty, but the pooling of State power into umbrella organizations, such as the United Nations, and “the flooding” of countries by immigration. For the Right, this results in a perceived attack on Western Civilization.

And for some on the far-Right, these ideas take extreme forms. For example, Alex Jones (who called globalism “the ultimate form of slavery”) contends that the globalists ultimate plan is a one world government and that they use immigration to flood sovereign States in order to destroy them and rig elections. Jones then goes on to contend that globalist elites also have plans to kill off a massive amount of the population through genocide and extermination for the sake of consolidating their power. Jones also preaches a set of even more hardcore conspiracy theories, some of which are paranormal in character and outright fucking crazy. But in the last year, Jones has crossed over as a Trump supporter, having Trump on his show, and we’ve even watched as Trump has parroted much of what Jones says in his radio broadcasts. It’s easy to laugh Jones off, but clearly his myth of ‘globalism’ is selling.

An image of George Soros from InfoWars’ article on globalism.

The Oath Keepers, one of the biggest Patriot groups also label globalism and globalists as their chief enemy. From the Oath Keeper page:

Arising out of the writings of Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (the Hegelian dialectic), and even further back to Plato, Globalism is a belief in a Utopian world run by wise men who care for the masses with a kind, benevolent hand. This we know is a bunch of crap, because those who are leading, (and have led), the world into this collective dystopia have murdered, “collectively”, hundreds of millions of people, through wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing and eugenics.

Fascism, socialism, communism and crony capitalism are all globalist at their core. meaning the collective is supreme over the individual. It is the battle between collectivism and individualism that we should be focused on, not left versus right,republican versus democrat, or fascist versus communist, but, rather, the collectivists vs. the individual, for collectivists hide in all the political persuasions. If someone wants to take your Creator-given, natural rights from you “for the greater good”, you can be assured they are collectivists. Those who would create the New World Order, are collectivists.

In many ways this critique of globalism simply continues cold-war opposition to communism, or inserts new enemies, such as immigrants or Islam, to make it fit into this idea of globalism as anything that threatens American nationalism and ‘sovereignty.’ The Conservativpedia post on globalism again makes this point:

Globalism is the failed liberalauthoritarian desire for a “one world” view that rejects the important role of nations in protecting values and encouraging productivity. Globalism is anti-American in encouraging Americans to adopt a “world view” rather than an “American view.”

Globalists oppose nationalism and national sovereignty, and instead tend to favor on open borders, free trade, interventionalism, and foreign aid. Globalists virulently opposed Donald Trump in 2016. Instead, globalists preferred Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for the nomination, both of whom have voted in favor of the globalist agenda as senators.

Liberals support globalism because it leads to centralized power, thereby providing liberals with an easier way to gain control. It is far easier for liberals to persuade a handful of people in centralized government to rule in their favor than it is for liberals to push their agenda on a decentralized form of government.

The conspiracy theories of Alex Jones and his critique of “globalism” has been mainstreamed by Trump, who not only came on Jones’ show, but parrots much of his talking points.

This is why immigration is such a huge point on the far-Right, because they see it as “a tool of the globalists” to destroy State sovereignty. Of course, this myth hides the fact that mass migration of people is caused largely by the globalization of the capitalist economy, US involvement in the drug war and foreign policy, and now, climate change and lack of access to water. As The National Interest expands the far-Right position clearly:

Nationalists believe that any true nation must have clearly delineated and protected borders, otherwise it isn’t really a nation. They also believe that their nation’s cultural heritage is sacred and needs to be protected, whereas mass immigration from far-flung lands could undermine the national commitment to that heritage. Globalists don’t care about borders. They believe the nation-state is obsolete, a relic of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which codified the recognition of co-existing nation states. Globalists reject Westphalia in favor of an integrated world with information, money, goods and people traversing the globe at accelerating speeds without much regard to traditional concepts of nationhood or borders.

The overall logic of those opposed to globalism can best be reiterated and understood in simplicity by the Neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, who stated that the coming period will be defined by a war between globalism and nationalism, where nationalists of all stripes will fight against the globalist elites, which in Heimbach view, are manifested as a racialized Jewish global ruling class. If the nationalists are successful Heimbach contends, they will then create fascist States for each of their own races. While Heimbach’s position would be seen as extreme even on the Right, in many ways, this is just the logical conclusion on an idea founded on anti-Semitism. As Stack wrote:

Far-right groups in the United States began to refer to globalism at the end of the Cold War, when it replaced communism as an idea that was an ever-present danger to the nation, Mr. Pitcavage said. They have also referred to it as the New World Order, and soon they saw its tentacles everywhere.

The shape of that conspiracy had distinctly anti-Semitic overtones, in part because many of communism’s foes had historically seen communism as inextricably linked to Judaism, Mr. Pitcavage said. Members of the far right became fixated on prominent Jews like the businessman and philanthropist George Soros.

Those conspiratorial beliefs were bolstered when former President George Bush celebrated the end of the Cold War in a 1991 speech by saying it was the dawn of a “new world order.” His use of the phrase was taken as proof by many that a globalist conspiracy really was afoot.

The problem with all of this talk of ‘globalism’ vs nationalism is that it holds half-truths and full lies. Neoliberal finance capitalism is a global system. Neoliberalism and globalization have left behind billions of people, destroyed the environment, and attacked the living standards of the majority of people at the benefit of a small set of elites. However this is not conspiracy, it is not the creation of a cabal of Jews, and moreover, globalization is not designed to destroy the power of national States in order to create a one world government, nor is it the project of ideological liberal/Jewish/Islamics/Communists, or ‘globalists.’ Globalization and capitalism in general needs States. It needs them to manage and control their populations and lock them in place, even as capital and goods move freely. Finally, States are needed by elites on a variety of levels in order to bring about stability and prevent revolution when revolt and crisis break out. Moreover, just because capital is more globalized, does not mean that there are not competing visions among elites themselves.

But while the myth of globalism exists to explain the world in a way that allows the Right to actually make sense to people, and moreover, to make themselves appear to actually have political agency, it has other myths to describe everyone who resists in the here and now.

The Myth and Reality of George Soros

If there’s one thing Right loves to throw around, it’s the idea that George Soros is behind any sort of social movement, organized protest, or dissent in general against the status-quo. This is something that is held dear by all parts of the far-Right and even the center right-wing. It seeks to make sense of popular struggles and dismiss them as simply the work of people who are paid off by an evil financial capitalist. The myth has links back to anti-Semitic works such as the original fake news piece, The Protocols of Zion, and Soros being Jewish only adds icing to the far-Right’s cake. Moreover, it also side steps the issue of the very real stranglehold that non-profits and foundation money does play in resistance movements, which is negative, that seeks to channel social movements back into politics and the State, as opposed to building autonomous power on a community level.

But who is Soros? George Soros is the chairman of Soros Fund Management and is one of the 30 richest people in the world, making billions on hedge funds and currency speculation. Far from being an anti-capitalist or revolutionary, he’s most known for as “the man that broke the bank of England,” after he neted over $1 billion in currency speculation. Along with being one of the richest capitalists alive, Soros also donates to and funds many liberal non-profits that promote the Democratic Party and it’s bureaucrats. Soros has also backed many Democratic candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In 1984, Soros set up the Open Society Foundation that acts as a grantmaking network, further expanding the amount of non-profits who took on the role of providing social services; filling gaps that were created after Reagan began slashing various programs.

Because Soros does have expansive wealth, donates to what the far-Right describes as “left-wing” groups such as MoveOn.org (a front for the Democratic Party), the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and MediaMatters.org (a large liberal non-profit), along with Democratic career politicians, on top of coming from a Jewish background, those on the Right love to use the image of Soros as a wealthy Jewish elitist to further a wide range of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and in the eyes of the far-Right, every riot, strike, occupation, and disruption ultimately has one man behind it: Soros.

This is also a myth that like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or shows like Ancient Aliens, gets ratings, clicks, and votes. One of Donald Trump’s last campaign adds attacked Soros, along with the head of Goldman Sachs (where ironically Trump’s top advisor Steve Bannon formerly of Brietbart used to work), and the Federal Reserve, along with Clinton, in what many described as having anti-Semitic undertones. In 2010, Glenn Beck released a two part series on Soros, calling him “The Puppet Master,” claiming that he wanted a one world government and for himself to rule it. Again, this reduction of struggle, dissent, and unrest boils down complex situations into easy solutions; and Soros as a wealthy Jew makes an easy devil for the far-Right.

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The far-Right portrays Soros as behind the organic struggles of poor, especially black people, as a way to demonize and downplay them. This plays into the myth that a Jewish cabal controls the world and moreover, that black people are unable to organize themselves without “puppet masters.”

For instance, during the fall of 2014, the far-Right again used the myth of Soros to claim that he was behind the Ferguson riots, and paid people tens of millions of protesters to “riot” in the wake of police murder of Mike Brown, Jr. Later, as black insurgency spread to Baltimore, the far-Right again pushed the line that Soros was bank-rolling the Black Lives Matter movement, which many on the Right simply equated part and parcel with the self-organized uprisings that were organically coming from the black community itselves. As the Movement for Black Lives (in many ways the “official” Black Lives Matter organization) tried to reign in the expanding movement that was becoming more and more militant, it also became awash in grants from the Ford Foundation as Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Not surprisingly, some of the leaders of the official organizations of Black Lives Matter, and its push for policy reforms, Campaign Zero, and ended up endorsing Clinton.

For those on the far-Right, this is evidence that the entire movement was itself funded by Soros, and that the rebellions, protests, mass organizing, and uprisings were all his doing. But what this really shows is that wealthy liberals and powerful non-profits were trying to bring popular and self-organized movements back into politics; to smother them of any revolutionary potential. For instance, in a recent article on Left Voice by Julia Wallace and Juan Ferre argues that this relationship between wealthy donors (like Soros) and non-profits actually moved revolt out of the streets and back into more ‘acceptable forms’:

We may ask ourselves, how did a platform of a movement that swept the streets throughout the US become a set of policy briefs meant to lobby Congress? The undersigned names and organizational affiliations give us a hint: most belong to the world of nonprofits, many are sponsored by the Ford Foundation, George Soros, the Black-Led Movement Fund, and other capitalist funders.

Wealthy philanthropists like George Soros are not friends of popular struggles, foolishly bankrolling their own demise. Organizations like the Ford Foundation are not interested in “liberation,” but rather, appeasement and co-optation. There is a long history of US capitalists intervening in social movements (ie., the Civil Rights movement) with the effect of steering them away from militancy and towards compromise. Philanthropy is a strategy of the rich, who may give up some wealth to fund progressive projects in order to quell social unrest, maintain their position of power, and maintain the capitalist order.

Many organizations that form part of the M4BL have taken donations from corporations, including a $500,000 grant from Google (Ella Baker Foundation). There is plenty of lip service to opposing capitalism, but how much challenge is really being made when the same organizations are accepting money from millionaire capitalists and billion-dollar corporations?

The ever-burgeoning nonprofit industry has a key role to play in contemporary US society. It contains the outrage of the disenfranchised, the most exploited and oppressed. It diverts the thrust of militant activism from disruption to civic procedures. The money and logistics funneled into these movements have a determining influence. In exchange for precious resources, they shape the demands and methods of the organizations they fund to fit the likes of the funders. As progressive as it may seem, the generous influx of money into these movements causes terrible harm. A significant layer of activists becomes “professionalized,” embraces the modus operandi in these settings and reproduces a strategic framework and discourse that leads nowhere.

The far-Right portrays Soros as behind popular revolt because it wants to paint grassroots organizing and resistance as illegitimate.

In short, Soros along with a host of other wealthy and powerful liberals were part of a push to pacify and contain Black Lives Matter and bring it back into the Democratic Party, but had nothing to do with “funding riots,” as the far-Right likes to imagine. The elites that attempt to control social movements with money want them to be political not disruptive.

But these are also myths that aren’t going away anytime soon. Recently, far-Right social media accounts proclaimed that Soros would “use black hate groups to bring down America.” Not surprisingly, these quotes were quickly shown to be completely made up and false. Most recently, the far-Right claimed that Soros owned various electronic voting machines in a variety of states, and thus was possibly rigging the election, while these myths were quickly exposed as simply “fake news.”

Why the Right Needs These Myths

At the end of the day, the myth of Soros and the globalists is helpful to the far-Right because quite simply it explains why people revolt; for the Right, it’s simple: they are paid to and on their own, are too dumb or incapable of organizing anything. This myth goes back to the anti-Semitic and racist views of old, and the anti-communist lines held by the John Birch Society that a select group of puppet masters are playing the good workers and poor in an elaborate scheme for world domination.

But most importantly, the Right has a direct and real need to explain why revolt comes out of human communities because by attacking and discrediting it, it makes itself appear to be revolutionary and at the forefront of a worldwide struggle against “globalism” and overall, justifies themselves taking State power (or supporting it). This combination of dismissal of the capacity of human beings to run their own affairs and struggles, especially the poor and the colonized, while at the same time valorizing one’s own need to rule over those people, runs throughout both the authoritarian Left and the Right, and should recognized as the filth that it is and attacked.

In fighting the far-Right we can’t simply dismiss these ideas, we need to confront them head on.

Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

poorpenny

Penny Bright, perennial Auckland mayoral candidate and conservative leftist, proudly promotes the Assad regime and Russian-backed conspiracy theories on the streets of Auckland. Photograph by Daphne Lawless.

In the 10 months since I introduced the concept of “Conservative Leftism” to the NZ Left, only one argument has been raised against it that seemed to take the idea seriously and be worthy of taking seriously in return. This argument – which has been raised by more than one sincere socialist, at greatest length by Ben Peterson at leftwin.org – is that Conservative Leftism is an “amalgam” which doesn’t really exist, that there is no necessary connection between the conservative strands of thought I identified in the contemporary activist movement.

Ben argued:

While “Conservative leftism” is a thought provoking concept, it doesn’t measure up in reality as a coherent ideological perspective.

“Against Conservative Leftism” lists a range of examples of political positions that derive from its ideological perspective. These including but are not limited to opposition to local council amalgamations, opposition to intensive housing developments, legal crank such as ‘freemen’ theories, backing the Assad dictatorship, anti-Semitism, homeownership and opposition to the NZ flag referendum.

This just doesn’t fit together. It doesn’t make sense to suggest that a person who opposes intensive housing developments is more likely to be an anti-Semite or conspiracy theorist. It doesn’t make sense to put leftist homeowners, and the not very often homeowning ‘freemen’ into the same ideological tendency just doesn’t make sense.

One way of responding to Ben’s argument using Marxist jargon would be to say: “there is a contradiction, but the contradiction is in reality.” I strongly believe that the evidence has in fact become clearer over the course of 2016, that the strands of reactionary opinion among self-identified “Leftists” that I have identified do, in actual reality, go together as a set of propositions which support each other, if not necessarily logically “coherent”.

For the record, I identified three conservative reactions on the self-identified “Left” to neoliberal globalisation:

  • opposition to globalisation in and of itself (nationalism, xenophobia, obsession with “sovereignty”, one-sided opposition to Western imperialism in particular aka campism);
  • opposition to the social changes which have happened in the neoliberal/globalised era (opposition to cosmopolitan urbanisation, anti-immigration, idealisation of “traditional” rural/small-town/working class life, scepticism of newer identities around gender/race which are smeared as “identity politics”);
  • one-sidedly deep scepticism of neoliberal media/academic narratives, reflected in an embrace of conspiracy theory, traditional “common sense” and health quackery.

We might use the following shorthands:

  1. CONSERVATIVE ANTI-IMPERIALISM;
  2. CONSERVATIVE POPULISM;
  3. ANTI-RATIONALISM (or perhaps “intellectual populism”).

The original article – and Ben’s response – was written before what a radical internationalist Left viewpoint would see as the massive catastrophes for people and planet of 2016: the Trump victory; the victory of British exit from the European Union (Brexit) which has led to an explosion of racist violence; the growing strides of neo-fascist movements across the world, from the French Front National to the online lynch-mobs known as the “alt-right”; and the ongoing genocidal destruction of Syria by its own government backed up by Russian imperialism.

It is my contention that this series of disasters has vindicated the Conservative Left idea, in that New Zealand leftists who were expressing Conservative Left ideas at the beginning of the year have either welcomed these developments, or at least seen them as potentially positive developments. To give a few examples from the New Zealand Left in particular:

  • Mike Lee, the Auckland Council member on whom I focussed in my article on the Auckland local body elections as the chief local promoter of conservative-left ideas, issued a Facebook message after the election which expressed thankfulness for the Trump victory, seemingly based on the idea (assiduously promoted by both Trumpist and Russian sources) that Hillary Clinton would start World War 3.
  • Prominent veteran NZ leftist writer Chris Trotter – who was, indeed, one of our major models when we elaborated the idea – announced that “I proudly count myself” as a conservative leftist. Most of this post either ignored the substance of my article, or was an apologia for the Russian-backed Syrian regime destruction of Aleppo, which can be quickly debunked by a quick flick through the resources on any Syrian Solidarity website or Facebook page.
  • Daily Blog proprietor “Bomber” Bradbury, who previously promoted Mike Lee’s anti-intensification and anti-youth politics, has now come out with an explicit anti-immigration screed. He even characterizes pro-immigration policy as an “elite cosmopolitan” viewpoint – a snarl-phrase which could be taken directly from a Stalinist or fascist rant.
  • Bradbury’s co-thinker on Auckland local body politics, perennial mayoral candidate Penny Bright, has been counter-protesting Syrian solidarity demonstrations supporting the Assad regime’s “sovereignty” (see image), and is reported to be sharing links on social media from David Icke, doyen of “Lizard People” conspiracy theory.

From where I sit, this is convincing data. In general, the sections of the New Zealand left whom I had in mind as either “conservative leftist” or heavily influenced by that ideology have been unanimous in – even if not outright supporting Assad/Putin, Trump and Brexit – arguing that these phenomena are not in fact that bad, that they can be seen as expressions of resistance to imperialism and neo-liberalism. This insight has been reproduced by British radical academic Priyamvada Gopal, who said recently on Facebook:

This cleavage in left circles that has arisen over the last six months is a pretty neat and sharp one, with only a few zigzags and crossovers and that generally only around Brexit. How do we read it? On one side:

  • Anti-Assad/Anti Putin/Anti-Massacres
  • Anti-Trump
  • Anti-Brexit

On the other side:

  • Assad Apologetics/Anti-Western Imperialism Only
  • Trump is No Worse than Hillary
  • Lexit

Priyamada’s schema snugly fits two out of the three points of my schema. The Assadist “Left” are clearly conservative anti-imperialists, taking the “campist” position that the main leaders of opposition to neoliberal globalisation are the leaderships of various states, who range from authoritarian to totalitarian in their internal regimes – thus excluding any role for mass action in changing the world, and indeed smearing the Arab Spring uprisings as CIA-sponsored attempted coups. Meanwhile, conservative-left reactions to the Trump debacle have ranged from welcoming it as a blow to neoliberal globalisation (ludicrous, given the identity of the various plutocrats whom Trump is naming to his cabinet), to the less wild-eyed interpretation that a “revolt of the white working class” defeated Hillary Clinton. This latter interpretation conveniently lends itself to calls for a more “traditional” left politics targeting “ordinary” (read: white, male) workers, and throwing not only the feminist movement but oppressed queer, ethnic and religious minority workers under the bus.

Meanwhile, the “Left Brexit” (Lexit) phenomenon showed a combination of both these tendencies. On one hand, it “whitewashed” (we can use the term in full irony) the Brexit movement led by reactionary tabloids and the Trump-like UKIP, seeing it as a working-class revolt rather than a reactionary populist uprising. On the other, it one-sidedly attacked the EU’s neoliberal institutions, trying to put a “left” face on British nationalist isolationism, and ignoring the fact that freedom of movement for workers between EU countries is a vital progressive gain for migrant workers. The consequences of this position were that Lexiters had to argue away the rise in racist abuse and violence after the referendum, either as “exaggerated”, something that was happening anyway, or even outright fabricated by the mainstream media[1]. This rhetorical move was a precursor to the breath-taking denials of reality we have become used to from supporters of the Putin/Assad axis in Syria.

The Morning Star, the daily newspaper traditionally associated with the Communist Party of Britain, has shamefully led the conservative-leftist charge on both these issues, both cheerleading the ongoing massacre in Aleppo as “liberation” and opposing freedom of movement for workers. Some have taken this to mean that conservative leftism is really a reappearance of Stalinism – and certainly there are similarities to the old Western Communist backing of Russian tanks and Eastern Bloc nationalism. However, it is also vital to note that the leadership of the British Stop the War Coalition – who have shamefully refused to promote the cause of Free Syria – are dominated by people who came from the anti-Stalinist revolutionary tradition, mainly former leaders of the British Socialist Workers Party. If the problem was originally a Stalinist one, then the rot has spread.

Where then is the “third leg” of the tripod, anti-rationalism/intellectual populism? Whether someone on the conservative left believes in traditional conspiracy theories, health quackery or other kinds of crank thought or not, the common move in both conservative anti-imperialism and conservative populism is to reflexively reject “mainstream”, “elite” or “establishment” viewpoints, and yet be willing to believe any alternative promoted as “alternative”. This might – for example – lead from an accurate perception that capitalist banking helps increase the gap between rich and poor and makes capitalist crisis more intense, to an advocacy of a fantasy alternative based on a misunderstanding of the real problem such as Social Credit or Positive Money.

In particular, the use of the terms “elite” and “establishment” is a sign of intellectual surrender to Right-wing populism (see Bradbury, above). These are totally empty signifiers which the listener can apply to whichever bogey-group they think are really running things. While a sincere leftist might envision the capitalist oligarchy as “the elites”, a Right-populist will think of liberal academics or gay/female/ethnic minority professionals whom they blame for “keeping them down”; others will think of the “cultural Marxists”, the Elders of Zion, the Illuminati, or hostile UFOs.

Recent analyses have suggested that the intelligence services of the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin are engaged in actively promoting this kind of “radical scepticism”. They argue that Russian propaganda does not aim to promote its own narrative, but simply to undermine the consensus narratives of Western-aligned media and academia. By a staggering coincidence, this is also how conspiracy theories such as “9/11 Truth” also work – not by attempting to prove their own point of view, but by picking at threads in the “establishment” narrative, so as to imply that their own is equally valid. This strategy has also been used in the attempt by Christian fundamentalists to get anti-evolution pseudo-science taught in public schools.

Being prepared to dismiss out of hand any report appearing on the BBC website, yet unquestioningly forwarding videos from the RT website, is essentially little different from the health crank’s high-powered scepticism of “Big Pharma”, combined with a willingness to believe anything presented by alternative-medicine profiteers (what rationalists sometimes call “Big Placebo”). The argument here is not a conspiracy theory that conservative leftism is some kind of Russian plot. The argument is merely that Russian intelligence has deftly exploited the growth of populist anti-elitism in Western countries to promote themselves as the good guys -in the same way that traditional Nazis have exploited the meme culture of 4chan and similar online forums to produce the “alt-right”.

It seems clearer as time goes on that these three strands of conservative anti-imperialism, conservative populism and anti-rationalism/intellectual populism go together, that holding one of these viewpoints is a very good predictor of holding the others. There is thus a clear cleavage between the Conservative Left which rejects globalisation per se and refuses to engage with the new social forces thrown up by it; and the radical international Left which wants ANOTHER kind of globalisation, a workers’ and oppressed people’s globalisation. The latter sees the new proletarian forces and oppressed communities thrown up by existing globalisation as the vanguard agents of change, just as Karl Marx saw the industrial workers as the gravediggers of capitalism, rather than wanting to send them back to the farms. I only wish I had a better word for this necessary alternative tendency than “radical internationalist Left”. Suggestions are welcomed.

[1] Personal experience from Facebook discussions.

Nuit Debout: polishing precious stones…

by Denis Godard, translated by Daphne Lawless for Fightback.. Originally published at  Contretemps (http://www.contretemps.eu)

Nuit Debout: polishing precious stones….

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The movement occupying public squares in France is two weeks old today. Its evolution is difficult to foresee, as it is influenced by many unpredictable factors, even though it has deep roots. There is also no indication, at the time of writing, if the symbolic occupation of the Place de la Republique in Paris will really be able to endure, nor in what form.

It is a characteristic of movements challenging the dominant order that they do not follow a linear trajectory. On one hand, because their very advances lead to new stakes, new objectives, new questions. So after 15 days of occupation, the movement faces questions of strategy on its relationship to repression, its relationships with movements of struggle, its need for expansion, etc. On the other hand, because after the element of surprise wears off, the dominant order reorganizes. Thus, the powers that be are openly seeking to retake possession of Place de la Republique.  All the major parties, from the [centre-left] Socialists to the [fascist] National Front, are now demanding its evacuation by the police. But this unpredictability is also due to deeper reasons involving the crisis of power, as well as the nature of the movement of which Nuit Debout is one of the forms of expression, and which is developing largely outside traditional frameworks.

1-  A movement which came from nowhere

Nuit Debout is the result of several dynamics: general anger, the more or less underground development of different struggles, the emergence of a general struggle against an anti-social law (the El Khomri law, named after the Minister of Labour, also called the “labour law”) and the decision to occupy Place de la Republique on the evening of 31 March, taken outside traditional channels.

Understanding this does not require the work of a movement archivist. It allows us to anticipate the depth and the capacity for reaction of the movement and indicates trajectories for its future.

General anger against the system and the powers-that-be has been expressed for months in different ways: disaffection with the government, but also disaffection with all the major parties. This anger is not necessarily progressive, when it is expressed by voting for the far right. But it is not unambiguous. It is also expressed by the popularity of Air France workers manhandling their director of human resources (tearing his shirt off) last autumn, or the success of a petition supporting Goodyear unionists sentenced to prison.

And over the past year local and isolated struggles have multiplied in the workplaces, a sign of a return of combativeness after years of decline following the failure of the last big social movement in September 2010. These experiences have helped progressively rebuild combativeness, confidence and the need for a global movement.

Subsequently, the last few months have been marked by specific struggles: a movement of solidarity with migrants, and by occupations resisting major projects of the powers-that-be, notably the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. It should be noted that, during the weeks before the beginning of the movement against the labour law, two significant demonstrations took place. One, at Calais for open borders, resonated nationally without being massive. The other, at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, united tens of thousands of demonstrators in support, significantly, of the occupation of land by farmers and activists. We must add to this, after the paralysis caused by the terrorist attacks of 13 November, the beginning of a fightback against oppressive policing measures taken by the government.

It is in this context that the government decided to attack workers even harder, with a law dismantling the labour code even further.

2-  A response launched outside traditional channels

The response to this law was launched outside traditional channels, while the trade union leaderships were preparing, once more, to retreat. At the start of this response, a petition demanding the complete withdrawal of the law was launched on social media, obtaining more than a million signatures. Youth organisations then called, on the same basis (the withdrawal of the law), for 9 March to be a day of general mobilization. The welcoming reaction to this response forced the unions to join in, and to call for a national day of strike action and demonstrations on Thursday 31 March. But it was among youth, in the high schools and universities, that the movement found its motor, with regular days of demonstrations and blockades.

On 23 February in Paris, a meeting of convergence of struggles was held around an independent journal associated with the radical left (“Fakir”), economists (notably Frederic Lordon) and casual entertainment workers. In the same period a film called “Merci Patron” (Thanks, Boss!), supported by the same forces, was showing in numerous places, with debates organised after screenings, to sold-out audiences. The meeting at Paris packed a room at the Labour Exchange (the trade union building in the centre of Paris, near Place de la Republique), which even had to close its doors to overflowing crowds! After this success, its initiators called for a meeting of those who wanted to move on to practical action. While about 50 people were expected, more than 200 attended. At this meeting, the idea was launched that on 31 March, after the demonstration, “we won’t go home”! Progressively, the idea spread of occupying a public place at the end of the demonstration. This would become Nuit Debout and the occupation of Place de la Republique.

3-    Nuit Debout is underway!

More than a million people demonstrated on 31 March all over France. Despite the rain, hundreds of demonstrators came to Place de la Republique. An association for the defence of the homeless, Right To Housing, joined the call-out and decided to remain in the square for several days with their tent, at least until the demonstration which they were organising for the following Saturday. And the ball started rolling after Thursday, with more and more people every day. Assemblies were held with thousands of people on Saturday and Sunday. Committees were put in place, debates with freedom of participation. Place de la Republique made the headlines.

On Sunday, the initiators decided to only call for mass occupation of the square on the following Tuesday and Saturday, which were the days for demonstrations. It was in fact difficult to hold on at nights, with only a few dozen hard-core after the closedown of public transport between 1 and 2 am. They felt that it would be even more difficult during the week when people went to work.

But after Monday afternoon, hundreds of people met again in the square and more than a thousand held an assembly that same evening. A demonstration planned for the square in the afternoon even shared the square with a conference which Prime Minister Manuel Valls was holding right next door. Delegations arrived at the demonstration: refugees, casual and precarious workers… The square was held. On Tuesday, after the demonstration, thousands participated in the popular assembly. This was now the case every evening.

And right from that first week, a qualitative leap was made which grew even larger in the second. Multiple committees were organised on themes and areas of activity (for drafting a manifesto, to take care of logistics, to “organise” democracy, to carry out activities, a medical centre, a kitchen, etc.)

To these were progressively added radio, television, a garden (!). Every morning, the police evacuated the square. Every afternoon, with amazing ingenuity, a village of tents, tarpaulins, and wooden pallets was reborn, and thousands of people participated for hours in a popular assembly. Thematic meetings were held in parallel, stalls for associations, publishing houses and alternative bookstores. The hearing-impaired held assemblies in sign language, popular universities took place in the open air, activities for children, poster workshops, legal training, etc.

But above all, in this square, the movement began to avoid one of the possible stumbling blocks: disconnection from the struggle against the labour law. It established links with the movement which had served as its fuel. Contacts were established with places of struggle, university and high-school students of course, but also railway workers, posties, etc. Delegations were organised from the square to workplaces to organise for the demonstration planned for 9 April against the labour law. Added to this were multiple actions organised in the framework of convergence of struggles which left the square, supporting casual entertainment workers, in solidarity with refugees, to “repaint” the storefront of banks or occupy branches of [the major bank] Société Générale, supporting the homeless, etc.

The cherry on the cake: a practice evolved of wildcat demonstrations every evening, especially at night, to go to police stations to retrieve arrested demonstrators, after an action to dismantle the fences preventing refugees from camping in certain areas or, more simply, to go for “a nightcap with Valls”. While the powers-that-be wanted to close off the space for any protest with the proclamation of a state of emergency, the movement reoccupied the space and joyously made it their own.

And the movement spread with the organisation of Nuit Debout and attempts to occupy squares in many other towns, notably after the 9 April demonstration. On various levels, about 60 towns are involved.

4-  Relations with the police

These successes, as well as the repression which the movement attracted (and also sometimes fatigue), now led Nuit Debout to several immediate questions on its future, which were also strategic questions: that of expansion, of its relationship with the movement and of its relationship with the police as well as violence.

The powers-that-be attempted in various ways to put an end to the occupations of squares, and especially that of Place de la Republique, which played a symbolic role. Media attacks began to multiply on the theme: “place of disorder and organisation of violence”. The police attempted progressively, more every day, to retake control over the square. Demonstrations, especially those of youth and wildcat demonstrations, were more and more violently attacked by the police. Two responses arose within the movement.

The first response, which must be challenged on a principled basis, called for the end of violence and proposed, in different forms, making an appeal to the police to join us. This response risks disarming the movement in the face of repression. It must not be forgotten that at the last (regional) elections, the National Front got more than 50% of the vote among the police and army, rising to 70% among cops in active service. The police and the army are at the heart of power, and their direct violence is the practical expression of the violence of ruling class domination. Without a strategy of confronting the police, the movement will have to abandon its gains and, above all, the squares it has occupied. Moreover, promoting the idea that there could be a possible alliance with the police would become an obstacle to the necessary expansion of the movement to working-class neighbourhoods, to migrants, refugees and the undocumented, to radical unionists, all those directly and very concretely affected by police violence.

The second response is that of direct confrontation with the police. This, coming from various sectors, often called “autonomous”, advocates systematic and violent confrontation with the police and even aims to provoke it. Proof of general radicalisation, especially among youth, this attracts more and more young people at the very heart of the demonstrations and draws increasingly wide support, even if passive more often than not. This strategy aims directly at the heart of the State and tends to deny all those mediations by which a majority of society might be drawn into a general confrontation with the ruling class and its State. To organise a direct and systematic confrontation with the police, in all places, could lead not only to marginalising a minority, rendering it easier to suppress, and intimidating the rest of the movement.

But – and this is characteristic of the movement – the dominant ideas and strategies are extremely fluid. An anecdote may illustrate this. This Monday, while the popular assembly was debating these kinds of questions in particular, the riot police tried to prevent a pick-up truck for logistics entering the square. Quickly, several hundreds gathered to push back the cops, who had to retreat from the square under the pressure of numbers and determination. Among those who yelled “Everyone hates the police” and pushed back the cops, some had been complaining a few hours before, saying “the police should be with us”!

5-  The question of expansion

The second question immediately raised is not unrelated to the first. Weakening the capacity for direct repression of the movement requires its extension and dissemination, geographically as well as “socially’ and politically.

Geographical extension through multiplication of Nuit Debout locations. Nuit Debout events have been launched in different cities. As opposed to Place de la Republique, the initiative seems to come much more in this case from organised activists, in particular members of the (more or less) radical left in the broader sense. The future of these initiatives will depend on the capacity of these militants to let themselves be bypassed and to not “channel” the expression of anger.

Social extension, by the development of Nuit Debout in working-class layers and neighbourhoods, which will occur as much through the themes and demands raised than through places of development. This concern is present at Place de la Republique in Paris, in particular, and is very positive. But this will only happen through breaking with every form of paternalism. The working-class neighbourhoods are not “missionary zones” for militants, places without politics. The connection with Nuit Debout can only be made through the motivating force of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods themselves, and existing networks in these areas. This question is raised in similar terms regarding solidarity with the undocumented and refugees.

Political extension, finally, by the refusal of any “institutionalisation” of Nuit Debout and its objectives. The idea of drawing up a new “Constitution”, raised originally by Frederic Lordon, was rapidly taken up in the assemblies. The seductive aspect of this initiative is the radicalism underpinning it. There would be nothing more to draw from existing institutional frameworks; it would be a matter of refounding real democratic legitimacy “from below”. But there are great risks of a new kind of formalism, forgetting that the rules of a new world cannot be written by a minority, but will be based on the insurrection of a majority. Thus the necessity of political extension to the questions raised in the neighbourhoods, of antiracism, internationalism, struggles against sexism, homophobia and transphobia, etc. Thus the necessity of questions around the role of work, a vector of alienation but also potentially a collective place of struggle and social power.

6-  Relationship with the movement

The dynamic of Nuit Debout is strictly dependent on the movement of struggle and very directly on the struggle against the labour law. This was its first fuel, and an essential fuel. Outside the dynamic of setting in motion, of enlargement, of collective experience and radicalisation, the Nuit Debout phenomenon risks turning in on itself, of losing itself in abstract debates and in minority dead-ends, and/or of falling back, through lack of strength and experience, onto forms of institutionalisation. The risk is there. More than ever, the future of Nuit Debout lies in its capacity to link itself with the struggle against the labour law, to contribute to building a general strike.

Some already spoke of exhaustion and predicted defeat after the demonstrations of 9 April were between two and five times smaller than those of 31 March, even during the high-school and university holidays. But these analyses suffered themselves from the absence of dialectic between the movement of struggle and Nuit Debout. It is significant that it was in Paris, where Nuit Debout is most firmly rooted, that the demonstration against the labour law of 9 April was not significantly weaker than that of 31 March.

On one hand, because Nuit Debout is beginning to potentially represent an alternative “leadership” to the trade union leaderships which retreated, faced with a movement beginning to escape their control and of total confrontation with the government. After 9 April, the trade union leaderships called for a mobilisation… on 28 April. The leadership of railway workers belonging to the CGT [union federation], considered “leftist” (in comparison to the CGT leadership), is now betraying the movement by opposing to it a different “partnership” agenda. The student union UNEF, previously at the forefront, now calls only for intermediary days of mobilisation and congratulates itself on the progress obtained from the government.

On the other hand, because the movement against the labour law is crystallising a much more widespread anger than simply resistance to attacks on labour rights, and any wish to limit this movement to the sole objective of the withdrawal of the law and to channel it will cripple its potential and combativeness. If Nuit Debout depends on the movement of struggle against the El Khomri law, the movement depends on the expression of a global revolt which Nuit Debout is crystallising.

The movement began outside the usual channels. Nuit Debout has substantially extended the possible scope of “outside-channels” activity. If it can link itself more with the more combative forces in the unions, to high-school and university students, it will be able to contribute to a new step beyond the struggle against the labour law, to a strike which would then become a political strike.

7-  The future is not written

While the movement advances and raises these questions, the dominant trajectories of power continue to operate in the direction of reinforcing the police state, in the direction of racism and nationalism, in the direction of social attacks. The monsters are not figments of our imagination, they are really there. One of their forms is the far right. This is also why the trajectory of the movement places it necessarily in radical confrontation with the politics of the ruling class and with the State.

Once more, this confrontation will not progress in a linear manner. The movement will no doubt experience partial defeats and apparent setbacks. Without doubt it will change form more than once. It will sometimes be necessary to know how to change direction in massive and spontaneous flows, to cease beating its head against a wall so as to learn how to demolish or jump over the wall. Sometimes it will depend on initiatives taken by a minority, but which will give a lead to greater numbers.

What is certain is that after years of apparent apathy and advance of all the reactionary tendencies in French society, something has changed which renews hope. The precious stones buried under the hardened lava of previous movements have been brought to the surface by fresh-flowing lava, shining even more brightly.

The times which are coming will be no less hard. But now we are not condemned to take them lying down.

Our contents are placed under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 FR). Any publication may be freely reproduced and shared for non-commercial ends, on condition that it is not modified and the original author(s) and URL are not modified

date: 16/04/2016 – 13:45

Denis Godard 

URL source: http://www.contretemps.eu/interventions/nuit-debout-faire-briller-pierres-pr%C3%A9cieuses

 

 

France: Anti-multiculturalist academic chased away from Nuit Debout

 

Original article by Dounia Hadni here: http://www.liberation.fr/france/2016/04/17/nuit-debout-alain-finkielkraut-chasse-de-la-place-de-la-republique_1446766. Translated by Daphne Lawless for Fightback. For background information on the “Nuit Debout” movement, a movement currently occupying public squares throughout France and elsewhere in Europe, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuit_debout. For background information on Alain Finkielkraut, an anti-multiculturalist and Zionist writer, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Finkielkraut.

Nuit Debout: Alain Finkielkraut chased away from Place de la Republique

 

 

868980-finkelkrautYouTube screen capture of Alain Finkielkraut.

The philosopher was booed at the gathering of protestors on Saturday evening. Videos of his altercation with the participants have been circulating since then on social media. The right and the far right have used this incident to condemn Nuit Debout.

Several dozen “Nuit-Deboutists” on Saturday were clearly not happy to see Alain Finkielkraut, the controversial philosopher, at Place de la Republique [a public square in central Paris] which they have occupied. And they let him know with violence.

In a video posed on social media, cries of “piss off”, “fascist” and insults rain down. Spitting can also be heard. The philosopher, accompanied by his wife, decided to leave very quickly, not without losing his cool. You can hear him shout “bullshit”, “fascists” and “blah blah blah, dumb bitch” at a young woman who insulted him. A person speaking to him asks him to “not make it worse”, to which he replies: “If they insult me, I can respond. I am a human being.”

Some minutes after leaving the square, the philosopher posted to the conspiracy-theory site  “Circle of Volunteers” explaining that he went “to listen” to the demands of the Nuit Debout movement. “I was expelled from a place where democracy and pluralism were supposed to rule, so this democracy is a fraud, this pluralism is a lie. Though I only went to listen, I didn’t go to intervene or to promote my ideas, they wanted to purify Place de la Republique of my presence, and so I submitted to this purification, with my wife,” he added. And his wife added: “It must be said that if there had been no security, you would have been lynched.”

However, according to witness accounts received by Europe 1 radio this Sunday, Alain Finkielkraut was accompanied at the Popular Assembly, before being expelled, at a short distance away in the square near the statue by “a group of ‘aggressive’ persons”. This incident would therefore not have occurred as soon as he arrived, as claimed by a journalist from “Circle of Volunteers”. It should be noted that a few people made an effort to calm the crowd, by surrounding the undesirable intellectual until he left the square.

On the night of Saturday and Sunday, #Finkielkraut reached the top of Trending Topics France, pitting his supporters against his critics.

That same night, the Young Communists congratulated themselves on Twitter for having “thrown out” Alain Finkelkraut. On Sunday, the journalist and essayist Caroline Fourest denounced these “actions of bastards”:
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You can disagree with Alain Finkielkraut, and I do very often, on many issues, but to chase him telling him to “get lost”, insulting him and physically intimidating him, just because he came to Place de la République to hear for himself, these are the actions of bastards.

These collective lynchings are already common enough on the web for us to not want to see them starting on the streets, in our public squares. Not at the Place de la Republique which belongs to all of us, where have our candles of mourning, and which must not be privatised by a few sectarians… Especially not if we want to create a better world.

[Translator’s note: Caroline Fourest is known as a neoconservative and Islamophobic journalist and was formerly associated with the Charlie Hebdo magazine.]

Voices from the right and the far right have taken advantage of the incident to try to discredit the Nuit Debout movement, such as Eric Ciotti: “Hate and intolerance, participants in Nuit Debout show their true face by insulting and expelling Finkielkraut from the Place de la Republique”

Or even Mario Maréchal-Le Pen [niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen]: “When Nuit Debout chases away Finkielkraut, it shows its true face”.

The president of the “pro-sovereignty” party France Arise, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, also rushed to the rescue of the academic: “Total support to Finkielkraut. Intelligence faced with stupidity!”

Write for the Fightback Youth Issue: Redefining Activism

The upcoming issue of Fightback magazine will be giving a platform for young voices to talk about what activism means for us.

The issue will explore narratives of survival and resistance under capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and homophobia/transphobia/biphobia/interphobia.

It asks the questions: what do we see as “real” or “legitimate” activism and why?

How do we challenge negative narratives around youth activism?

Why are older activists so cynical about youth activism and the future of activism in Aotearoa?

At the core of this issue is searching for a redefinition of activism. To do this we are looking at narratives of survival and resistance by youth under capitalism,

colonialism, patriarchy, and homophobia/transphobia/biphobia/interphobia. We want to challenge the idea that youth are disaffected and show the ways in which youth are transforming activism in Aotearoa.

If you’re a young person under the age of 25, who is keen to share their ideas on what survival, resistance, and activism means to you, send us a pitch of what you’d like to write about.

We need 2-3 sentences describing your idea – whether it’s a poem, article, interview or artwork. Please send this pitch in before the 22nd of April, 2016. We’ll let you know soon after that whether your pitch has been selected for the Fightback Youth Issue. You’ll then have three weeks to work on your contribution and send it to us to be published. Each contributor will receive a small koha for your time and work.

You don’t need to have experience with political writing or publishing to submit. If you would like some extra support in getting your idea off the ground, let us know and we can help out.

We are also looking for a cover designer, so if you’re the creative type – flick us a line.

Contact: fightback.aotearoa@gmail.com by 22nd of April, 2016.

 

GERMANY: Blockupy – resistance in the heart of the European crisis regime

From 20 to 23 November, leftists from all tendencies assembled in Frankfurt (Germany) for a festival of discussion, workshops and action against capitalism and the Troika.

By Joe Nathan

About 3000 activists with banners and signs are gathering next to the Christmas market at St. Paul’s church in Frankfurt, Germany. A few of them came from as far as Spain, Italy and Greece. It is 22nd November, almost winter, but still quite warm. After a few speeches, the demonstration sets off for the new building of the European Central Bank (ECB) – the organisation partly responsible for the austerity policies imposed on Greece and other European countries affected by the debt crisis.

The slogan under which the activists assemble is “Blockupy”, the name of an alliance formed in 2012 to take the crisis protests into the heart of the European regime – to Germany and, particularly, Frankfurt. In this alliance, different tendencies of the left came together, including: radical leftist groups such as Interventionistische Linke (“interventionist left”, IL); the anti-authoritarian communist alliance “Ums Ganze!” (“everything is at stake”); parties, youth and student organizations, unemployed movements, unions, Attac (a network which supports a financial transactions tax) and the Occupy movement.

This was quite a new thing for the left in Germany, where the Left has been mired in separatism and dogmatism for years. However, the need was clear for a broad left movement against the ruling class’s authoritarian and neoliberal responses to the Euro crisis. Many activists were inspired by the mass movements of the Arab Spring and in Spain, the Occupy movement, and of course the struggle against austerity in Greece.

Frankfurt was chosen mainly because of the ECB, which forms – together with the EU Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the Troika (a Russian word for “trio”). The Troika imposes austerity policies on European countries that are in debt crisis, such as Greece or Ireland, forcing those countries to privatise state-owned companies, sack public sector workers or cut their pay, and dismantle social welfare and health systems, in return for help with paying government debt. This does not help the population at all, but only the banks that lent money to the government.

These austerity policies deepen the economic crisis and cause unemployment, poverty and lower life expectancy. The government of Germany, as the most powerful EU state, has always strongly supported the Troika and promoted austerity – although it partly caused the Southern European crisis itself with its strong focus on exports, weakening other Eurozone countries.

“Our resistance is THEIR crisis!”

The first Blockupy days of action took place from 16 to 19 May 2012, greeted by huge police repression. A few weeks earlier, in another leftist demonstration in Frankfurt organized by “Ums Ganze!” and IL, many bank buildings had their windows smashed.

The strategy of the Blockupy alliance was to occupy public squares in Frankfurt to use them as a camp and venue for workshops, discussions and cultural events. The activists were organised in various “fingers”, representing different political issues connected to the crisis, such as ecology, migrant rights, militarization, social revolution, food sovereignty, and gentrification. This also included “CAREvolution”, a feminist campaign focussing on unpaid care work, often performed by women.

This strategy brought together activists from different backgrounds and made clear that the protest was not only against the ECB and other banks, but against the whole system of capitalism and other forms of oppression such as patriarchy and racism that are connected to it.

The police banned all demonstrations and gatherings, and even searched buses and trains before they reached Frankfurt. Nevertheless, the activists succeeded in occupying Paul’s Square and Römerberg, the square in front of the town hall, and disrupted the operations of the ECB and other banks. On the last day of action there was a huge rally of 30 000 protesters, the only event allowed by the police.

During the action there were a total of 1430 arrests. The media could not ignore this repressive police response towards peaceful protesters and so – even in conservative newspapers – the reports were quite friendly to Blockupy and condemned police brutality.

It was clear for the alliance that Blockupy could not be a single event, but that there was need for continuing resistance. So they organised a second Blockupy from 30 May to 1 July 2013. They slightly changed their tactics, to creating a stable and legal camp outside the city centre for better infrastructure and coordination.

On the morning of 31 May, the activists set out from the camp in various fingers to the building of the ECB and successfully disrupted its operations again by blocking the roads and stopping employees from going to work. Afterwards, the protesters spread around the city for other actions – such as blockading the main shopping streets in solidarity with sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, or protesting inside the airport, from where many refugees are deported.

The police tried to prevent the rally inside the airport by declaring that only 100 people were allowed in the airport, and that these people should be named by the organizers. But after the airport’s train station had been blocked, the police agreed to just count the protesters and then let them in. Refugees took part in the demonstration as well and spoke about their personal experiences. Many of them came from a refugee protest camp in Berlin that was established after a protest march from Bavaria to Berlin. Solidarity came from a Frankfurt citizens’ movement against aircraft noise.

On the following day there was supposed to be a big demonstration through the bank district, like the year before. However, shortly before entering the bank district, the rally was stopped and the anti-capitalist bloc at the front was surrounded by police – allegedly because a protester had thrown a paint bomb. But this happened after the police had already stopped the rally. It was clear that they just didn’t want to let the anti-capitalist activists, many of whom wore black-bloc-style clothing, into the bank district.

They offered to let the more moderate parts of the rally continue the demonstration, but they refused and stood in solidarity with their comrades, who were being beaten up and arrested one after the other. So even though the demonstration could not happen as planned, there was a really good atmosphere of broad left solidarity.

In May 2014 there was no central Blockupy event in Frankfurt, but instead decentralized actions were held all over Europe. The opening ceremony for the new ECB building was expected in autumn, which was set as the date for a central Blockupy action. The programme for this “May of solidarity” brought activists from the radical left through to reformist groups together – building democracy from below against the Troika’s authoritarian rule, defending and taking back common wealth, and struggling together in solidarity. In Germany, there were demonstrations and direct actions on 17 May in Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Düsseldorf.

Discussion and action together

The ECB did not hold its opening ceremony in autumn, but postponed it to 2015. So instead of organizing a huge action against the opening ceremony, Blockupy decided to hold a festival with workshops and discussions, but also parties and actions from 20-23 November. During these days, working groups with international participants theorised on issues such as transnational networking, struggles on social infrastructure or the reformation of the extreme right as a weakness of the left.

There were theoretical workshops on crisis theory or the role of animals within capitalism, workshops about strategy such as how trade unions could be better integrated into Blockupy or similar movements, or how social and ecological struggles could be connected. Some workshops were also practical, like working on materials for the rally or learning about different kinds of direct actions.

There were also two panels with international guests. On Thursday, Costas Douzinas from the University of London, Sandro Mezzadra from Euronomade (Italy) and Andrea Ypsilanti from “Institut Solidarische Moderne” (a left think tank) discussed left parties participating in parliaments and governments. Andrea Ypsilanti was received sceptically as she is also a member of the SPD (Social Democrats, the Labour Party equivalent). However, she was quite critical of her own party, though she said she “did not want to lose hope”.

When the first Blockupy action days took place in 2012, protests against the Troika in Southern Europe mainly formed an extra-parliamentary movement. But now in 2014, the movement has also formed political parties such as Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece. It is possible that Syriza could form a government of the left after elections this coming January. The panel guests discussed how this could be successful. It became clear that whilst many on the left agree that it is good when left parties take over the government, this is not enough. We also need a strong movement and self-organisation outside of parliament.

On Friday, Ulrike Herrmann, writer and journalist, and Janis Milios from TU Athens, a Syriza member and economist, debated “seven years of crisis in Europe – controversial explanations and perspectives”. On the role of the ECB, Ulrike Herrmann argued that it had done some things quite well under its new president Mario Draghi, like buying government bonds, and therefore should not be targeted by protesters. She added that Blockupy should protest in Berlin, since the German government is the main agent pushing for austerity. Members of the audience, however, argued that the ECB is still part of the Troika, and the moderator suggested that protests could be held in both Frankfurt and Berlin.

When it came to perspectives to end the crisis, the question arose again how a government of the left in Greece, which would repudiate its debt to ECB and thus end austerity, could be successful. When Janis Milios was asked whether a Syriza-led government would be an anti-capitalist project or maybe just another class compromise, he answered honestly “I don’t know”. A member of the audience criticized Syriza stating that its leader, Alexis Tsipras, already said that his government will be a danger to neither the EU nor NATO. Thus, this comrade argued, we shouldn’t put our trust in Syriza but instead argue for real revolution. There were many questions left open at the end of the theoretical part of the Blockupy festival, and maybe they can only be answered in practice.

Over the wall at the European Central Bank!

But the Blockupy festival was not only about theory, but also action. So let’s get back to the 3000 activists marching towards the ECB’s new building. It is not in the city centre, where the old one was, where homeless people hung out and where the Occupy Frankfurt camp took place. Instead it is on the outskirts of the city, away from disturbing elements. At least, that’s what they hoped.

When the rally reaches it, it is announced through the speaker that the demonstration is now officially over. This is the signal. The activists throw packing boxes over the building fence, labelled with things that the ECB represents, such as “austerity” or “poverty”. This is Blockupy’s participation in the ECB’s moving process. But that’s not enough. About 100 activists climb the fence – the police try to stop them with pepper spray, but soon give up – and run towards the ECB. They decorate its front with paint bombs in the Blockupy colours of blue, green and red. During the last few days, the ECB has also announced the date for the official opening ceremony: 18 March 2015. Some activists in front of the ECB are holding a banner saying “18 March – We’re coming!”. Before the police can arrest them, the activists climb back over the fence to their comrades.

This action today was just a little taste of a big Blockupy action in March next year against the opening of the ECB. It will be an interesting time. By then, Greece could already have a Syriza-led government. It is not clear if this will be a real progressive project, but in any case it will be important to have a strong international leftist movement, to fight against austerity and neoliberalism and for self-organisation from below, and to defend the left (especially in Greece) against attacks from the right.

More info on Blockupy (also in English) here. Photos courtesy of German Indymedia.

Joe Nathan is an activist based in Germany who has visited Aotearoa/NZ twice and took part in some Fightback events.

Leslie Feinberg 1949-2014: revolutionary communist, transgender warrior

An obituary offered to The Advocate by Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslie’s spouse.

Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness.

She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation,” and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing.

Her historical and theoretical writing has been widely anthologized and taught in the U.S. and international academic circles. Her impact on mass culture was primarily through her 1993 first novel, Stone Butch Blues, widely considered in and outside the U.S. as a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender. Sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies and also passed from hand-to-hand inside prisons, the novel has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Slovenian, Turkish, and Hebrew (with her earnings from that edition going to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women).

In a statement at the end of her life, she said she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she believed in the right of self-determination of oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.

She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been disrespectful to me with the wrong pronoun and respectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”

Feinberg was born September 1, 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Buffalo, NY, in a working-class Jewish family. At age 14, she began supporting herself by working in the display sign shop of a local department store, and eventually stopped going to her high school classes, though officially she received her diploma. It was during this time that she entered the social life of the Buffalo gay bars. She moved out of a biological family hostile to her sexuality and gender expression, and to the end of her life carried legal documents that made clear they were not her family.

Discrimination against her as a transgender person made it impossible for her to get steady work. She earned her living for most of her life through a series of low-wage temp jobs, including working in a PVC pipe factory and a book bindery, cleaning out ship cargo holds and washing dishes, serving an ASL interpreter, and doing medical data inputting.

In her early twenties Feinberg met Workers World Party at a demonstration for Palestinian land rights and self-determination. She soon joined WWP through its founding Buffalo branch.

After moving to New York City, she participated in numerous mass organizing campaigns by the Party over the years, including many anti-war, pro-labor rallies. In 1983-1984 she embarked on a national tour about AIDS as a denied epidemic. She was a key organizer in the December 1974 March Against Racism in Boston, a campaign against white supremacist attacks on African-American adults and schoolchildren in the city. Feinberg led a group of ten lesbian-identified people, including several from South Boston, on an all-night “paste up” of South Boston, covering every visible racist epithet.

Feinberg was one of the organizers of the 1988 mobilization in Atlanta that re-routed the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan as they tried to march down Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave., on MLK Day. When anti-abortion groups descended on Buffalo in 1992 and again in 1998-1999 with the murder there of Dr. Barnard Slepian, Feinberg returned to work with Buffalo United for Choice and its Rainbow Peacekeepers, which organized community self-defense for local LGBTQ+ bars and clubs as well as the women’s clinic.

A WW journalist since 1974, Feinberg was the editor of the Political Prisoners page of Workers World newspaper for 15 years, and became a managing editor in 1995. She was a member of the National Committee of the Party.

From 2004-2008 Feinberg’s writing on the links between socialism and LGBT history, “Lavender & Red,” ran as a 120-part series in Workers World newspaper. Her most recent book, Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, was an edited selection of that series.

Feinberg authored two other non-fiction books, Transgender Warriors: Making History and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, as well as a second novel, Drag King Dreams.

Feinberg was a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981, and of Pride at Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group. She received an honorary doctorate from the Starr King School for the Ministry for her transgender and social justice work, and was the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Lambda Literary Award and the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award.

During a period when diseases would not allow her to read, write, or talk, Feinberg continued to communicate through art. Picking up a camera for the first time, she posted thousands of pictures on Flickr, including “The Screened-In Series,” a disability-art class-conscious documentary of her Hawley-Green neighborhood photographed entirely from behind the windows of her apartment.

Diagnosed with Lyme and multiple tick-borne co-infections in 2008, Feinberg was infected first in the early 1970s when little was known about the diseases. She had received treatment for these only within the last six years. She said, “My experience in ILADS care offers great hope to desperately-ill people who are in earlier stages of tick-borne diseases.”

She attributed her catastrophic health crisis to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science”—active prejudice toward her transgender identity that made access to health care exceedingly difficult, and lack of science in limits placed by mainstream medical authorities on information, treatment, and research about Lyme and its co-infections. She blogged online about these issues in “Casualty of an Undeclared War.”

At the time of her death she was preparing a 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues. She worked up to within a few days of her death to prepare the edition for free access, reading, and download from on-line. In addition to the text of the novel, the on-line edition will contain a slideshow, “This Is What Solidarity Looks Like,” documenting the breadth of the organizing campaign to free CeCe McDonald, a young Minneapolis (trans)woman organizer and activist sent to prison for defending herself against a white neo-Nazi attacker. The new edition is dedicated to McDonald. A devoted group of friends are continuing to work to post Feinberg’s final writing and art online at Lesliefeinberg.net.

Feinberg’s spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, an activist and poet, is the author of Crime Against Nature, about loss of custody of her sons as a lesbian mother. Feinberg and Pratt met in 1992 when Feinberg presented a slideshow on her transgender research in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the local Workers World branch. After a long-distance courtship, they made their home for many years in Jersey City, NJ, where, to protect their relationship, the couple domestic-partnered in 2004 and civil-unioned in 2006. They also married in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts and in New York State in 2011.

Feinberg stressed that state authorities had no right to assign who were or were not her loved ones but rather that she would define her chosen family, citing Marx who said that the exchange value of love is — love.

Feinberg is survived by Pratt and an extended family of choice, as well as many friends, activists, and comrades around the world in struggle against oppression and for liberation.

The Whale Oil leaks: Anti-politics from above

Prime Minister John Key (centre) with bloggers David Farrar (left) and Cameron Slater (right)

by Daphne Lawless

As we go to press, the election campaign has been turned upside down by a new book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager. Dirty Politics is based mainly on a leak of 2 gigabytes of emails and Facebook messages from “Whale Oil”, the vicious right-wing scandal-mongering blog edited by Cameron Slater.

The book lays out convincing evidence that leading figures in the National Government – including Justice Minister Judith Collins and staff in the office of Prime Minister John Key – have actively worked with Whale Oil and other right-wing blogs to conduct personal smear campaigns on Labour and other opposition parties, including Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom. Nicky Hager is himself presented as one of the targets – another right-wing blogger, according to the book, tried to pass on Hager’s personal details to angry Chinese billionaires.

But it’s crucial to identify the real problem. Hager is not saying there is anything wrong about the National Party feeding information to friendly blogs. Certainly, this is something “they all do”. The “dirt” in Dirty Politics is the reliance on personal attack, vilification and smear. When Cameron Slater declares that he wants evidence of “[opposition MPs] Andrew Williams or Winston Peters drunk… [Auckland mayor] Len Brown rooting in brothels”, he is in fact practising a kind of “anti-politics from above”.

They’re all the same…” – really?

Anti-politics” is a term which has been used for an attitude which has arisen in many protest movements. It’s summed up in the slogan from Argentina, ¡que se vayán todos! (Get rid of them all!) It’s cynicism that electoral politics can do any good; it’s the idea that all politicians lie, that all movements are corrupt, that the whole system of media and democracy is a fraud. Unfortunately, it often slides into “conspiracy theory” about aliens, Jews, or some other bogey being the “real enemy”.

But what we have in Dirty Politics is different from the justified disgust of a repeatedly disillusioned mass. Slater’s anti-politics is a deliberate strategy used by the Right to demobilise and demoralize opponents and potential opponents. Simon Lusk, a National Party strategist and a close collaborator of Slater, argues in a strategy document previously leaked but reprinted in the book that left-wing activists can be best “demoralised”, and their voters demotivated, by personal attacks on their leaders rather than dealing with their politics.

So the strategy is: get some mud to stick to an activist or politician in the news, get people believing “they’re all the same, politics is too dirty, best not to get involved”. And of course that’s what John Key is doing right now, repeating that Hager is a “screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist”, whether those words make any sense or not. And National have been doing this since before Whale Oil became a household name – for example, when cabinet Minister Paula Bennett released personal information to try to discredit protesting welfare beneficiaries.

Dirty Politics recounts Slater’s role in whipping up manufactured political controversies – like how many times various politicians visited Kim Dotcom’s mansion – which effectively distracted attention from policy debate or scrutiny on the Government. More recently, Slater has smeared Dotcom as a “Nazi” who hates John Key for being Jewish and Hollywood corporates for being “run by Jews”. If the purpose of attack-blog anti-politics is to make people quit and disengage from activism, then it makes sense that the German millionaire, who is attempting to rally a new constituency to electoral politics via the Internet Party, should be a major target.

Personal attack

Another target of attack blogging is to personally smear the leaders of opposition parties. Dirty Politics tells one farcical story of Slater desperately trying to get video footage of Winston Peters “drunk” in a Wellington bar. Meanwhile, Labour leader David Cunliffe has apparently been followed around by operatives who record his every word and action, and put anything vaguely embarrassing online for use against him. The book even describes associates of Whale Oil putting embarrassing information on Wikipedia about Labour MPs’ sex lives.

Slater’s buddies apparently gave him the admiring nickname of “The Rush Limbaugh of New Zealand politics”. But Limbaugh – an nasty right-wing radio host in the US – is perhaps a less appropriate parallel than Andrew Breitbart, the recently deceased founder of the Big Government blog and its associated websites.

Breitbart’s websites have become notorious for exactly the kind of personalised attacks based on misleading evidence which Slater is bringing into play in New Zealand. For example, in 2011 they forced the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American agriculture civil servant, after publishing a video of her deceptively edited to make it look like she was biased against whites. Sherrod is currently suing the Breitbart websites. But probably the people at fault in that case were the Obama Administration themselves, who dumped Sherrod without a proper investigation for fear of this Right-wing attack blogging.

The book also discusses how Slater turns his filth-cannon against enemies in the National Party – such as people who get in the way of Simon Lusk’s grand plan to get hard-right candidates selected for safe rural seats. Once this is done, Whale Oil publishes an “utu post” – more or less an explanation of how the victory was carried out, and advertising for political hopefuls to become “clients” of himself or Lusk.

Smears for sale

But Slater isn’t just a political activist – he makes his living by doing the same job for corporate PR merchants. Corporate lobbyists, including the son of a former National cabinet minister, have paid Slater thousands to publish, under his own name, personal attacks on their targets. So, activists for plain packaging tobacco are targeted by cigarette companies. An association of cleaning services who had signed a union contract were mercilessly attacked to break them up. Maritime Union leaders had their details leaked to Slater by Ports of Auckland; and anti-obesity campaigners are smeared and belittled by the Food and Grocery Council. By a staggering coincidence, the latter is also headed by a former National cabinet Minister.

The process of public vilification of those targeted by paying customers is helped by Whale Oil’s regular blog commentators. If Whale Oil is the National Party’s attack dog, then the comments section is Whale Oil’s private school of piranhas. Slater’s personal attacks do not usually extend to death threats and stalking – these come out of the comments boxes instead. Some of the blog’s regular denizens are revealed in the book to be corporate lobbyists under pseudonyms, commenting on the articles they themselves planted.

The last part of the formula is the aggressive and misogynist language used by Whale Oil and his fan club. This atmosphere of continuous rage has the effect of whipping up a lynch-mob atmosphere among readers and commentators, and repressing any tendencies towards reflection or nuance. Hateful language against health advocates as “troughers” sucking at the public teat, or environmentalists as “the green Taliban”, boils over into fanciful macho tough-talk about someone with “a big set… slapping Helen Kelly around the face [with them]”, or – worse – “a bullet in the head” of an MFAT public servant who was (wrongly) identified by Judith Collins as the source of some embarrassing leak.

Thus, Hager’s book lays out a well-thought-out scheme by Slater and other Right-wing bloggers to actually prevent substantive political debate; to drive voters away from all politics and activists away from fighting corporate malfeasance. Personalised attacks demoralise their targets (especially when the commenters add death threats) and evoke uncertainty among their supporters. No-one wants to deal with the “mad dogs” who inhabit the comments of Whale Oil or Kiwiblog on a daily basis. Slater and his mates want you to think that all politics and activism is dirty and everyone trying to change things is a venal scumbag. Then you won’t bother their mates and paymasters any more.

Pollies, journos and bloggers – you scratch my back…

The mainstream media have taken diametrically opposing attitudes so far. Some, like John Armstrong or Fran O’Sullivan – usually reliable National supporters – have declared themselves shocked by the information and firmly stated that John Key has questions to answer. Others, like Sean Plunket or Mike Hoskings, have sneeringly dismissed the idea that there’s “anything in” Hager’s book, and suggested that Hager himself is a “criminal” for using leaked information.

The latter attitude is very similar to the hypocrisy shown by Whale Oil itself. Cameron Slater is quoted in the book as making nastily sexualised comments about women to his National Party mates, but suddenly turns into a morals crusader when trying to force Len Brown out of office for adultery. The attitude, then, is: whatever crime it is, it’s okay when our side do it. This is the politics of total warfare.

But there’s also the problem of what Americans call “the Beltway”. Many of the commentators who are now saying “but we knew all this already” probably did know it already, although only now is the evidence in the public domain. But the general public does not know this. It has not been publicised or printed. It’s only been swapped as gossip among “political insiders”, press, PR flacks and party hacks, who think it’s normal because they make a good living from it.

Cameron Slater is successful because he has realised a simple truth, which is quoted elsewhere in the book as coming from the US Young Republicans: “Reporters are lazy and ill-informed.” Or – to put it kindly – reporters are under-resourced and under intense pressure from their employers to provide copy quickly and cheaply.

It’s much easier to chase up a “hint” from Whale Oil – or Kiwiblog – than it is to do investigative reporting. It’s fair to suggest that those journos who are dismissing Hager’s book enjoy having someone like Slater around to do the dirty work. They can then say they’re “just asking questions” – those questions having been fed to them by political or corporate bigwigs, via the attack blogs – as they make a good living cosying up to the powerful in the Beehive or in the boardrooms.

The media runs on Whale Oil

So what makes Whale Oil tick? Slater is – as anyone who has paid him attention in the past knows – a deeply unpleasant fellow. He is sexist, racist and openly contemptuous to those less fortunate. He has been open in the past about his clinical depression, which often expresses itself in rage. And his rage is directed not just at the Left or at the less fortunate, but at other insufficiently right-wing Nats, or the people who cost his father his job as National Party president (or who failed to get him a knighthood!)

But perhaps most importantly, Cameron Slater loves power. He describes himself in the third person as “the whale”, glories in his influence over MPs and journalists, and is never happier than when he “destroys someone”. When his campaigns succeed, he makes grandiose pronouncements like “I own the news!” or “I’m a one-man union wrecking machine!”

It’s not just about the personal issues of one man, though – David Farrar’s less abusive but cleverer Kiwiblog plays a similar role, as did the now defunct “Cactus Kate”. But it’s also about class. Cameron Slater is the son of a former National Party president, born into privilege, and his distinction is that he says openly what is usually muttered over a brandy in quiet rooms. The people he talks to in these communications – Simon Lusk, Jordan Williams, Aaron Bhatnagar, Judith Collins – never once challenge his assumptions about how the world works, or which human beings are of value.

Power without responsibility, said the British politician Stanley Baldwin, was a perogative misused by the press. But that’s even more so in the age of blogging. One weakness in Nicky Hager’s excellent book is his argument that bloggers – who openly mix “opinion and fact” – are unaccountable for what they do in a way that the mainstream media are not. But it’s the mainstream media, as we’ve argued above, who have lifted Slater from being “a jerk with a laptop” to someone who is relied on by the powerful and feared by their enemies.

The mainstream media do not abide by traditional standards of fact-checking and objectivity, to the extent that they ever have in commercialised journalism. They are under intense pressure to deliver clicks and advertising revenue with stories that grab the attention and are easy to tell. Cameron Slater only has power to the extent that he is used as the middle-man between, on one hand, political and corporate bosses with a story to feed to the public and the ability to pay (in money or prestige); and a news media who have gotten used to stories handed to them on a plate, who have found that telling the stories that the élite like to hear is the best way to make a living.

Learn 2 Internet

Slater is is a symptom, not a cause, of the sick culture of neoliberal ideology reproducing itself in the news media. But in the same way that Slater has run wings around the “old media” and old-fashioned ways of doing politics, so too has he been tripped up by even newer forces. When “anonymous” Internet forces crashed his website in January this year in revenge for his mocking a young man’s death in a car crash, the hard evidence of who asks him or pays him to do what job fell into the hands of those forces and was passed on to Nicky Hager.

Radical forces desperately need our own citizen journalism, supported by institutions who don’t have a vested interest in keeping the public demoralised, apathetic and angry. But to an extent, we already have a surfeit of engaged writers. What we need now is to extend the population of engaged readers. The book reveals that Slater’s attacks often begin as “concern trolling” – posing as a supporter of something who is “concerned” about some manufactured problem, in order to put doubts in the minds of real supporters.

Attack blogging tactics require secrecy and surprise – as Hager says, the victim often doesn’t even know there’s an orchestrated campaign against him until it’s too late. One problem of contemporary internet use is the tendency to believe any information which comes down the pipeline – this author herself has fallen prey to passing on misinformation because it “sounded real”. The Left must support skeptical reading and thinking, even about stories which we would like to be true. The day when we allow ourselves to tell lies because it promotes our cause, we become the equivalents of Whale Oil.

Slater’s supporters yell that “the Left does it too”. This is of course just anti-politics in itself. But if the Labour Party or any other party have also engaged in smears, personalized abuse and other “anti-politics” against their opponents as detailed in Dirty Politics, we should look forward to hearing all about it, as we should the dirt which Slater purportedly has on Dotcom. Progressive and radical forces have no interest in attack blogging, destroying activists or discouraging political participation. The systematic deceit practiced by Whale Oil, his clients and his pet journalists, benefits only the powerful and rich. Only a principled Left, standing with the majority and guided by a skeptical quest for truth, can undermine this strategy.

The Anonymous forces who gave Hager his material are owed our thanks – as is Nicky Hager himself, for putting it in a way that the mainstream media can dismiss, but cannot ignore. Hacktivists and left journalists, in exposing the abusive and deceitful way power maintains itself, are a necessary part of achieving true justice and democracy.