Fightback’s Pre-History in the New Zealand Left

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by DAPHNE LAWLESS

Since Fightback’s analysis and articles have been getting more attention from international comrades, we regularly get questions asking what “tradition” or organisational pedigree we belong to – are we Trotskyists, Marxist-Leninists, left-communists, or what? This very brief historical sketch aims to show how messy and complicated our background is. We feel, though, that this is a source of pride rather than embarrassment – in intellectual tendencies as with animals, hybridity often leads to vigour, while a “pure” pedigree is another word for inbreeding!

Fightback traces most of its ancestry back to the original Communist Party of New Zealand, founded in 1921. During the splits between the various Communist-led states of the 1950s-1970s, the CPNZ distinguished itself by being the only CP in an advanced capitalist country to side with China against the Soviet Union; and was even more unique in siding with Enver Hoxha’s Albania after its split with China in the late 1970s.

The paradox of taking such a hard-line “Stalinist”/”anti-revisionist” line was that the CPNZ’s brand of “Hoxhaism” was forthright in condemning both the USSR and China as imperialist countries, not dissimilar in their global role to the US-led bloc. After Hoxhaist Albania surrendered to liberal democracy in 1991, after a period of confusion, the CPNZ produced an analysis (not dissimilar to that of another ex-Hoxhaist party in the US, the Communist Voice Organization) that all the so-called Communist countries had in fact been state-capitalist bureaucratic dictatorships since the time of Stalin.

This formerly super-Stalinist party had therefore came to the same conclusion as several tendencies coming out of the Trotskyist tradition. In a huge historical irony, after decades of strident anti-Trotskyism, in 1995 the former CPNZ, now known as the Socialist Workers Organisation, formally adopted the analysis of one of these state-capitalist tendencies with roots in Trotsky’s analysis – the International Socialist tendency, led by the British Socialist Workers Party. However, the SWO was always something of a “black sheep” within that tendency, in that it steered a very independent course from the London “mothership”, and at various times included members openly identifying with different Marxist trends, including from an “orthodox” Fourth Internationalist background.

Meanwhile, in 1990 CPNZ veteran Ray Nunes – who had split over his old party’s Albanian turn – formed the Workers’ Party of New Zealand, which described itself as “Marxist-Leninist, pro-Mao but not Maoist”. Over the years it continued CPNZ tradition by railing against their former comrades in the SWO for their capitulation to Trotskyism… Until in the 2000s, in another historical irony, the WPNZ fused with a “pro-Trotsky but not Trotskyist” group around the magazine revolution. (Some documents from the WPNZ before and after its fusion with revolution can be found on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online.)

Both parties reached a crisis in 2011-2012. Socialist Worker had broken with the authority of the British SWP, but could not come to a consensus on a new political line and strategy, and decided to wind itself up in 2012. Meanwhile, the former leading group of the Workers Party – from both “Mao-ish” and “Trotsky-ish” tendencies – had decided that building a Leninist party in New Zealand’s contemporary conditions was impossible, and had quit in 2011.

At that point, after decades of hostility, several former members of Socialist Worker realised that they had a lot in common with the remaining Workers Party members – in particular commitment to a non-dogmatic revolutionary socialism, which combined activists coming from several different Marxist traditions and sought an analysis unique to Aotearoa/NZ’s conditions. The combined organisation renamed itself Fightback in 2013.

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Housing accessibility and human rights

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by NIKKI STOKES

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming September issue on Accessibility. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

When our landlord issued a 90 day notice of intent to take back occupation of the home my young family had been renting for two years, I did what most people in my generation have had to do at some point; I spent hours of my time desperately scouring real estate websites, publications and new paper listings in hopes of finding another home to rent at a time when demand significantly outstrips supply.

Unlike the majority of hopeful tenants, however, I dismissed most of the available properties without forwarding an application. Instead I went into the Ministry of Social Development and applied for social housing in hope they could make up for the lack of private rental houses that would be even minimally accessible to my mobility impaired daughter.

I was advised to continue looking for private housing and to keep my daughter’s disability a secret to prevent any discomfort from potential landlords. The wait time for social housing would be months, perhaps years, and emergency housing providers would unlikely be able or willing to accommodate a family with our requirements.

By luck we were able to secure a private rental and with some hefty funding for a temporary ramp, hoist system and fancy shower chair, the house was made minimally accessible to her basic care needs.

Housing and erasure

While stories like this are seldom heard in the well chewed-over discussions on housing challenges and solutions, they are hardly isolated.

In October 2017 the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing presented a report on the right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities1. The report highlights the fact that globally, the right to adequate housing remains beyond reach for most persons with disability and that legislation and policy have generally ignored the need for action to protect the right to housing for disabled people.

For people with disabilities, being unable to access suitable and secure housing compromises the choices available to them within their communities. If housing cannot be secured, a person may be forced into living with family members beyond a time period that they feel is appropriate. If housing is not suitably accessible, or cannot be reasonably modified to enable independence, a person may find themselves reliant on disability support workers. If housing is not located convenient to community facilities, support, employment or reliable and accessible public transport, a person with disabilities may find themselves isolated and struggling to participate fully in society.This creates vulnerability as disabled people are forced into situations where they cannot fully exercise their human rights. and reinforces harmful narratives of the burden of disability on society.

In such a society disabled people are actively erased. While 2013 census data estimated that a total of 1.1 million people, or 24% of New Zealanders were disabled it is estimated that only 2% of our housing stock is accessible. As the United Nations report says: “Most housing and development is designed as if persons with disabilities do not exist, will not live there or deserve no consideration”.

While numerous organisations and consumer groups representing various disabled groups have highlighted the urgent need for minimum accessibility standards and action for access to adequate housing, little meaningful action has occured at Government level. Housing accessibility is protected in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities2, to which New Zealand is a signatory. It is therefore fundamental to our responsibilities to Disabled People that any future policy or initiatives intended to address housing be centred around ensuring a minimum level of accessibility.

Is KiwiBuild accessible?

The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life3. When comparing the cost of incorporating Universal Design into new builds against the cost of retrofitting those same builds, it soon becomes clear that failure to ensure accessibility in housing policy and initiatives is not only creating undue hardship to to persons with disability, but it is a poor economic choice in the longterm. According to the research, testing and consulting organisation BRANZ (www.branz.co.nz), building using concepts of Universal Design would add little additional cost (around $3,000 per dwelling). Yet retrofitting a building that has not been built to an accessible standard may well cost over $20,000.

The much-lauded KiwiBuild programme has made no assurances to or carried out consultation with any of the organisations representing disabled people. This seems at best counter productive to the purpose of state funded housing projects, and at worst a significant breach of Human Rights. A society that intends to be inclusive must begin with fully accessible communities, including access to housing for disabled people, and also “visitablity” – the ability to access the homes of friends, family and community members to ensure full and uncompromised participation in society.

The costs of not building new homes or carrying out renovations to a minimum standard of accessibility are significant, and in New Zealand that cost falls upon our already very stretched Health system. Funding for modifications is difficult and time-consuming to access, has strict limits that place financial burdens on disabled people and their families, and is not accessible to people who are unable to secure stable long term accommodation.

Recently Phil Twyford, the Minister championing the Kiwibuild programme was invited to speak at the Universal Design Conference of 2018. While his speech conveyed his recognition of the challenges of access to housing to that disabled people face and a need to ensure a diversity of housing stock to meet a diversity of need and family structure, it is concerning that no firm commitment has been made to ensure that a minimum standard of accessibility will be applied to the Kiwibuild programme.

Community connections

It was also announced in September this year that a new social housing development has been planned for Otara, incorporating features to meet the needs of disabled tenants. While 71 apartments have been planned for the development, only seven ground level apartments have been specifically planned to accommodate mobility impaired individuals. While there are many disabilities and needs beyond mobility impairment, this does not reflect that 14% of New Zealanders (over half of the disability community) have a mobility impairment.

Moreover, for people with disability, the ability to maintain connections with their communities and supports are vital. Creating separate communities for disabled people to exist in, rather than ensuring all housing provides the ability to accommodate all disabilities, forces people with disabilities to be cut off from their supports, their communities and to remain invisible.

As a carer the strain of inadequate housing cannot be understated. It has created an ongoing cycle of instability and crisis for our family. The struggle to find adequate housing in our local community has forced us to sever ties with our support networks, deal with transfer and inconsistency of service provision and case management, feel frequently vulnerable and exposed having unfamiliar care staff coming into our home, and struggle to find inclusive social situations. The lack of access to fully accessible housing or to state funded modifications has required that my physical safety and the safety of my child be compromised in the process of providing basic care.

Leaving disabled people vulnerable and without choices, and placing additional strain on their families and carers by failing to ensure adequate housing, continues to result in terrible human rights abuses for people with disabilities. We have a responsibility and the capability to ensure that adequate and secure housing is an accessible right for all.

Toi Ora: Making the arts accessible

tishyartby Tricia Hall

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming September issue on Accessibility. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

When we talk about accessibility too often the discussion ends with the basics of food and shelter. But to be a fully accessible society for all we need to consider people in a holistic manner. Providing for physical emotional and spiritual needs can mean different things to different people, and how easily people can get these needs met also varies.

For those who have experienced Mental Health or other issues, accessing something like the Arts comes well down the priority list after shelter, food, medications and other treatments, transportation – all things that cost money in our society. However, it is precisely access to arts and community that people find allows them to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. We need to recognise the importance of having access to community – whether that is arts, sports, spiritual or something else, and that this is a fundamental human right for all.

For some years I have been a part of a community called Toi Ora, both as an artist, tutor and part of the strategic board. Toi Ora is an art space in central Auckland which provides classes across the spectrum of arts for people who have experienced Mental Health or substance abuse issues.

Toi Ora was set up in 1995 by a group of artists with lived experience of Mental Health issues who recognized that an important part of living well was finding something you liked doing and a community to support you to do it. Unlike so much of the health system, particularly those parts dealing with Mental Health, Toi Ora is not about what is wrong in people’s lives, but rather what is right. People are artists, musicians, writers – not whatever label society or the system may have placed upon them.

How Toi Ora works

Toi Ora provides a schedule of regular classes during term times in the visual arts, drama, music, creative writing and more. Members are encouraged to be part of running the studio in volunteer roles. The staff at Toi Ora have either their own personal experiences of unwellness, extensive training in mental health and/or the arts, or both. All tutors are practicing artists, writers or musicians.

Members do not pay to join Toi Ora, and professional-quality materials are provided. People who join are signed up for one or more classes and fill in an enrolment form for each term. When they first join, a staff person will give them an orientation to ensure they understand what is expected of them, including what is appropriate behavior whilst using Toi Ora services.

Toi Ora’s membership criteria are personal experience of mental unwellness, which means a diversity of members both with long-term illnesses, and those who have recently had their first episode of unwellness. Members’ artistic abilities also vary, and Toi Ora is able to cater for a range of levels from absolute beginners to established artists.

There is some provision for space for independent projects to take place alongside classes, and there is also usually at least one artist in residence supported by the Toi Ora Trust. When Toi Ora moved to its current premises in 2009, we acquired gallery space in which to showcase our members’ artwork with regular exhibitions.

A large part of Toi Ora’s funding comes from the Auckland District Health Board, which only covers the central part of Auckland – so we are not able to admit new members who live in the western or southern parts of the Super-City. The service has regular audits to ensure that the DHB is getting “value for money”.

Other sources of funding have come through applying for philanthropic or other grants, usually for specific projects including the Express Yourself youth programme, October Gig, events promoting Mental Health Awareness Week, The Outsider Art Fair and more. Some of these have been organized in conjunction with groups or organisations such as Circability, Mapura studio, Mental Health Foundation, Clubhouse, Studio One Toi Tū and others within both Arts and Health fields.

Safety and accessibility

It can sometimes be challenging to cater for the varied needs and abilities of members in such a way that Toi Ora remains accessible for all. Alongside Mental unwellness there is an element of risk, and Toi Ora has strong policy guidelines for managing this.

All members sign an agreement when they first join to adhere to these guidelines, and if staff notice someone showing signs of potential unwellness they will speak to that member to encourage them to take appropriate steps to look after themselves. Toi Ora is a supportive community, and while not specifically therapy oriented, sometimes people may find that emotional triggers may occur during their time in the studio or classes. When this happens, either peers or staff will usually support the distressed person, and if necessary involve other support people if appropriate.

Tricia’s story

When I first came to Toi Ora around 2001, I was coming out of a period of ill health that had really shaken my confidence. I had dropped out of university and moved back in with my parents. Coming to a couple of classes a week at Toi Ora provided the beginnings of routine, a place to be, and understanding people to connect with.

Quite early in my time at Toi Ora I volunteered to be a member of the Trust Board. Part of the initial deed when Toi Ora was first set up included that the Board should have a percentage of members who had personal lived experience of Mental Health issues and were current members of Toi Ora. I was a part of the Board for several years, including as Chairperson until I stepped down as part of my maternity leave.

When one of the long-term tutors left, I was offered the role of art tutor for the beginners’ painting class, initially as a shared position. I have also filled in tutoring other classes such as Mosaics, Printmaking and Creative Writing and worked as a tutor with groups of young people across various arts as part of the Express Yourself programme (this is not currently running anymore due to lack of available funding)

Over the years I have also has support and opportunities from Toi Ora in various forms. I have been part of group exhibitions and performances both at Toi Ora and other galleries/venues and was able to put together a solo exhibition in 2011. I have also been supported as a delegate to conferences, and supported in learning New Zealand Sign Language, as Toi Ora extended a welcome to the Deaf community with specific workshops and exhibitions.

When my now feisty two-year-old daughter was born, I took maternity leave as a tutor for a year, but during that time stayed in contact with the studio. I even attended a few classes with my baby in tow, recognizing the importance for me of remaining connected with other adults and my own interests as I navigated to first year of my daughter’s life and struggled with mild post-natal depression. I have since returned to tutoring one day a week.

During 2017 I also had the privilege of being a participant on the Be Leadership programme, a leadership programme set over 10 months including some residential components. Participants develop new frames of thinking around leadership through having new and challenging conversations with each other and prominent leaders throughout New Zealand. I was fortunate to be able to attend the programme with my baby (who was 4 months old at the start of the programme) and to be a part of discussions around accessibility for all.

In defence of meds (and neurochemistry): Notes from a bipolar socialist

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by Ani White

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming September issue on Accessibility. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

Content warning: This article discusses a range of mental health conditions, including bipolar and suicidality.

Bipolar (definition): A mental condition characterised by depression and mania.

Mania (definition): An abnormally elevated mood state characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behavior.1

“…depression isn’t about brain chemistry at all, it’s about social context.” This turn of phrase, coming from a friend over dinner, set off immediate alarm bells. At all? Isn’t that simplistic? Surely brain chemistry and social context interact? My friend was recommending some fellow published in The Guardian, so while arguing back I agreed to look into it.

In the article2, author Johann Hari does actually acknowledge briefly that brain chemistry is a factor, and that medication can help, but strongly emphasises that improving peoples’ social conditions is necessary to alleviate depression and anxiety. I agree with all of this. High rates of mental distress in our society result from a brutally exploitative system that alienates us from ourselves, and a kinder (socialist!) society would result in better mental health outcomes. My point here isn’t about Hari, the ethics of his behaviour3, or the details of his work (I should admit upfront to not having reading his book, only the article). It’s about the popularity of his work, and the dangers associated with a simplified interpretation of it. I should also acknowledge that friends of mine with bipolar and borderline personality disorder find Hari’s work useful, so this is not intended to speak for all bipolar people.

However, I personally believe that what Hari says is most accurate and pertinent for people suffering from situational depression and anxiety. We should be careful about extending Hari’s arguments too far. They should not be blindly mapped onto all mental conditions. And I don’t accept that all mental illness is socially determined – Hari does not argue this, but it’s a common leftist outlook that Hari might appear superficially to confirm.

I’m bipolar (see byline for definition). One of my uncles experienced schizophrenia and committed suicide, another uncle experiences bipolar, my sister has experienced hypomania and depression. The evidence seems clear that bipolar is heritable,4 and given my family history it seems pretty likely my bipolar is inherited. This doesn’t mean social context is irrelevant: changes in my life have helped trigger my manic episodes for example. However, the phrase “depression isn’t about brain chemistry at all” isn’t useful for my situation, including my depressed periods. My brain does chemically have a greater tendency towards ‘imbalances’ than other brains, and my treatment has to acknowledge that. It’s common that bipolar is initially misdiagnosed as simply depression/anxiety, leading to treatment that can make the situation worse: for example, antidepressants can set off mania, as they did in my case. Our brains are simply not like other brains (this is not distinct to bipolar people – patterns in brain chemistry vary widely).

My bipolar diagnosis made a big difference to recovery, enabling a more appropriate treatment plan (including appropriate meds, talk therapy, and broader changes in my life). After 28 years with undiagnosed bipolar, the 2 years since my diagnosis have been marked by significant recovery. Over that time, I’ve also found that while many people are aware of how depression works, mania (again, see byline) is not widely understood.

Mental health advocates around the world have launched a number of prominent depression awareness campaigns. Depression is a common issue: about 15% of Australians will suffer from depression, compared to about 1.8% experiencing bipolar. With overstretched and underfunded mental health systems, there are inestimable challenges facing mental health advocates, and raising awareness of the most common mental health disorders does make sense as a priority. However, people with rarer mental health conditions exist, and our conditions remain widely misunderstood.

Reactions to Kanye West are a case in point (hear me out). The recent announcement of his bipolar diagnosis did not surprise me at all. What’s notable, unusual about Kanye’s manic episodes is that they’re broadcast across the world. Every manic person embarrasses themselves, most do not do it on the evening news. Kanye’s episodes are otherwise quite typical of mania: delusions of grandeur, ranting, a general disconnection from the social body. I do not mean to excuse everything Kanye has said, particularly his endorsement of the alt right. Kanye has millions of dollars, not something most bipolar people can claim, so this probably factors into some of the disconnected ideas he expresses. Bipolar people must take responsibility; I myself have fucked up, behaving inappropriately while manic. Manic people may lack filters, but the ideas we express do come from our brains.

However, it seems to me that many who would not mock a celebrity’s depression will mock a celebrity’s manic behaviour. In a mental health support group online, I saw a comment dismissing Kanye as on the ‘delusion train.’ It struck me as unlikely that anyone in that space would dismiss someone on the ‘depression train’ (even a multi-millionaire such as Robin Williams).

In my experience, even those who do not mock manic delusions understandably find them confusing. This is not just because the ideas manic people express are confusing, though they often are; it’s also that there is no script for dealing with these episodes the way there is for depression.

During a video posted on Facebook, Johann Hari repeatedly emphasised that “you’re not crazy.” This is affirming for many. However, I prefer to acknowledge that manic episodes are crazy. They involve delusions, incoherence, reckless behaviour. For some of us, it may be more useful to acknowledge that insanity is part of the spectrum of human behaviour than to imply that nobody is crazy. Perhaps talk of ‘insanity’ is stigmatising, and I don’t insist everyone use it; my point is more that we need to be frank about the realities of mania.

Brains will always be diverse. This may manifest as mood imbalances. Moods and perceptions would not all be stable and identical under socialism. It may be that periods of lower energy and mood – what we call depression – would be accepted, not punished as ‘unproductive’, a punitive approach that only exacerbates depressive spirals. In other words, yes, mental distress would be alleviated, likely leading to lower rates of depression and anxiety. But this would not mean the eradication of complex, varied, sometimes ‘imbalanced’ brains – and meds would likely continue to help.

Perhaps a defence of neurochemistry and medication is unnecessary; meds continue to be the mental health system’s first port of call. However, my concern is that those who rightly call attention to social context do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Is Auckland’s public transport becoming more or less accessible?

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By Daphne Lawless

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming September issue on Accessibility. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

Increasing the use of public transport – buses, trains, ferries and trams/light rail – and reducing reliance on private cars is recognized by most on the Left and centre as an essential part of the transition to a sustainable, post-capitalist future. Capitalism’s devotion to private cars and the roading needed to make them usable has – as previous Fightback articles have explained1 – contributed to the destruction of working-class and Pasefika communities in Auckland, as well as making large areas of land unusable for agriculture or housing. That’s not even to mention the huge waste of resources and labour going into road-building, or the toll of deaths and injuries on our roads.

But consider the public transport you actually know in your city. Is it good enough to enable you to live life to the fullest? Or would you not be able to function in life if you didn’t have your own private car? The real goal of a public transport system should be to make working, living and playing Accessible to all citizens, whether they own a car or not – and whatever their physical or mental health, or their family needs. It doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that current (run-down, under-funded, inefficient) systems don’t cut it – but what kind of changes do we need?

Economic accessibility

Since the “Super-City” amalgamation of Auckland in 2010 – 1.5 million people under one council – many steps have been taken to throw 60 years of motorway madness into reverse gear. Some of the most significant have been electrified trains and recent rationalisation of our bus services into “New Networks”. But is there a danger that improvements in public transport – and other recent reforms to housing and urban design, aiming for a more sustainable and liveable city – might end up becoming yet another public good “captured” by the already privileged – either socio-economically, or in terms of physical mobility?

The current Labour-led government recently granted a long-standing request for the Auckland Council to impose a fuel tax to pay for further public transport improvements. From a mainstream economic point of view, putting up the price of petrol is an efficient “polluter pays” system which not only earns money but gives an “economic signal” to people to not use their cars so much.

Unfortunately, driving less is simply not an option for many working people. Many will tell you that owning a private car is simply compulsory – it’s like a tax. Because of shift work or the location of many large work sites on the city fringes, public transport simply won’t get you there efficiently or reliably, and you’ll get fired. Then there’s the need to do shopping, take the kids to school or to sports, and so on.

These things are of course much simpler if you work an office job in the city and you’re able to live within walking/cycling distance of schools and shops. But – with Auckland’s property market out of control, to the benefit of those who gentrified the inner-city neighbourhoods in the 1980s – living somewhere you don’t need to own a car has become, paradoxically, a privilege of the mainly Pākehā middle classes.

As previously discussed, “economic apartheid” over the last 60 years has restricted working people, especially from migrant communities, to sprawling, auto-dependent outer suburbs. And the current property bubble only makes things worse. Worse still, it is these very privileged suburbs who have gotten the lion’s share of the benefits of recent transport improvements2:

Auckland’s public transport accessibility is performing “poorly”, a newly released report says. Using 2013 census data and 2015 public transport data it found Auckland’s network performance was significantly lower than Brisbane, Perth and Vancouver.

Highest levels of accessibility tended to be centralised within Auckland, while its fringes, especially to the south and east, were worse off.

Accessibility was determined by a commuter’s ability to reach their workplace by bus, train or ferry within 30-minutes during peak morning traffic.

Low-income families tended to be confined to distant neighbourhoods with less public transport infrastructure, meaning they had fewer opportunities to find good jobs.

Greater Auckland editor Matthew Lowrie said Auckland’s public transport system had been largely focused on improving connections to the centre city, with the fringes seeing little improvement.

Auckland councillor Efeso Collins, from the working-class and multicultural Manukau ward, had this to say in a recent article:3

Due to low household incomes, my community doesn’t have the luxury of paying additional tax now, to benefit future generations. For those who are struggling to provide basic necessities for their whānau, further tax, no matter how well-intentioned in principle, can seem impossible…

Sam Warburton, an Economist and Research Fellow for The New Zealand Initiative… identified that less fuel-efficient cars are likely to be owned by low-income families. Sam makes specific mention of Māori and Pacific Island families who tend to own big vans and cars that are typically not fuel-efficient, which will result in a disproportionately high fuel tax contribution. From my experience growing up in Ōtara, I would absolutely agree with this sentiment.

User-pay schemes are fair in practice when users have alternative options at their disposal. If you live closer to centralised services, it might be a very easy choice to make, to ditch your private vehicle for a bus, train or even bike. Or, you might earn enough to barely notice the relatively small increase to your petrol costs and make the choice to continue to drive. However, this argument doesn’t always stack-up when you consider the average Manukau commuter.

Public transport advocates in Auckland – such as those associated with the Greater Auckland lobby group – do not dismiss concerns like those raised by councillor Collins. But their main counterargument is that there is no political alternative to the fuel tax. Raising income taxes – or establishing a capital gains tax – are politically excluded under this centrist Coalition government which is terrified that those who are doing well out of the asset bubble will desert them at the ballot box. At the Auckland Council level, an increase in rates (property taxes) targeting the millionaire beneficiaries of the real estate bubble would seem fair – and would be just as politically impossible.

We are left, then, with an impossible choice – either we are stuck with the inefficient, unhealthy, polluting and deadly status quo; or we get already impoverished working people to pay for the improvements we need. Only if working people become politically organized so that our voices become as loud and as clearly heard as those of the gentrification millionaires of Herne Bay and Westmere will we be able to get out of this trap.

Physical accessibility

Public transport is all the more necessary for those with special mobility needs, who would often have to pay for special adaptations to a private car to be able to use one. But – especially in cities with established public transport networks – massive investment is often needed to make it possible to make public transport physically accessible. For example, in Wellington, some ramps leading to train stations are too steep for wheelchairs – and upgrading them is “not a priority”.4

Auckland Transport has trumpeted that its “New Network” – being rolled out gradually over Auckland – will effectively deal with many of the problems of socio-economic accessibility mentioned above. By moving to a system where people transfer between buses or trains at major hubs – rather than taking long journeys on a single bus – they argue, much more frequent and useful bus services are possible to outer areas using equal or lesser resources.5

Although Auckland’s New Network hasn’t been as disastrous as the recent reorganization of bus services in Wellington6, it has attracted criticism precisely because of its reliance on transfers. Many of the complaints about the New Network have been about the need to cross busy roads to make transfers; or about the safety issues with having to wait at isolated bus stops after dark.7 Issues of safety are, of course, accessibility issues in themselves, and reasons why the “steel box” of the private car might become more appealing.

We are therefore faced with the possibility that changes to public transport to make it more economically accessible might paradoxically reduce physical accessibility – if sufficient care is not taken with the details. One example of the possible blindness of Auckland Transport’s leaders to these physical/safety accessibility issues was an infamous comment made by City Rail Link project director Chris Meale in an interview with The Spinoff’s Simon Wilson, last year. Wilson wanted to know why the only entrance to the Karangahape Road underground train station would be some way down relatively steep Mercury Lane8:

I asked why there won’t be escalators rising to Karangahape Rd itself.

“That’s not a difficult walk,” he said. “It’s good for you.”

Not difficult for him or me, perhaps, but moderately fit adults are not exactly the benchmark for ease of use.

Thankfully, the uproar about this comment seems to have shifted some thoughts and a second, more level entrance to the station is now planned.9 But this – combined with Wellington’s ramp slope issues mentioned above – emphasise how much accessibility to public transport is not so much about the vehicles themselves, but about the “last mile problem” – actually being able to get to or from the stops and/or stations.

The New Zealand Transport Agency offers a service called “Total Mobility” which offers “subsidised licensed taxi services to people who have an impairment that prevents them” from using public transport safely or effectively, mostly because of the “last mile” problem .10 However – as with many Government welfare initiatives – it is poorly advertised and many people who would benefit from this system don’t even know it exists, let alone how to apply for it.

What is to be done?

Even though it was an initiative of the conservative-populist New Zealand First party, the “Super Gold Card” – guaranteeing free public transport to the over-65s – shows how socially beneficial such universal entitlements (without having to jump through the hoops of needs-testing) can be. Reducing the need for all elders to drive is good not only for their own health and safety, but for that of the wider community. It came as a shock to this writer to find out that there is no equivalent scheme for the physically impaired in this country – “Total Mobility” only offers a partial subsidy for public transport.

As this article has discussed, public transport must become both physically accessible (including safety at stops and stations) for all, as well as becoming socio-economically accessible. Socialists have long pushed “zero fares” as the simplest means of achieving the latter goal; but making public transport useful by providing more and better services for people living and working in the far-flung suburbs is surely equally important.

Some other ideas were suggested a few years ago in a discussion document from Australia’s Socialist Alliance11:

  • Some people with disabilities need to be accompanied on public transport by an attendant, in which case the attendant should also be able to travel for free.
  • Regularly retrain all customer service staff in the rights, needs and entitlements of all people with disabilities.
  • Re-open all station toilet facilities and build new facilities on platforms and at tram/bus
  • Test out all vehicle destination signs and other written information by running them past committees of vision-impaired and elderly passengers.
  • Stop the misleading spin on accessible public transport and tell the truth about whether people with disabilities can easily access these vehicles without assistance, whether they really feel comfortable accessing these services, whether there is enough room for wheelchairs and guide dogs or enough assistance in using the services.
  • Develop faster, more energy efficient, and more robust electric wheelchairs and scooters so that people with disabilities can make short trips without needing public transport or cars, and with less need to recharge or service their chairs.

Fighting the Fash since 1932: a history of Antifa in Germany

This article by JOJO, a Fightback correspondent based in Germany, appears in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

image005Communist Party of Germany (KPD) headquarters with the historic Antifa symbol, 1932

With the global rise of far-right movements, socialists and other leftists are looking for strategies to combat these forces. Especially in the US, where the presidency of Donald Trump encouraged Neo-Nazis to be more active on the streets, threatening Jewish and Black people, People of Colour, Queer folks and leftists, interest has been growing in Antifa strategies and these have been debated widely, outside and within the left. Most prominent is probably the question of violence, connected to the cliché of the masked Molotov-cocktail-throwing Antifa activist. However, this is just one aspect of Antifa activism. Antifa strategies were developed in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, but their roots go back until the 30s. In the following article, I will briefly summarize the history of Antifa in Germany and discuss anti-fascist strategies.

In the 1920s and 30s, before the NSDAP (Nazis) came into power, fascists already posed a threat, with two coup attempts and militias like the Nazi SA (“stormtroopers”) having a presence on the streets. Nevertheless, left parties and especially the Stalinized KPD (Communist Party of Germany) were torn between fighting the fascists or building alliances with them against capitalism (which of course involved accepting a shortened and anti-Semitic critique of capitalism). Smaller independent socialist parties and individuals called for a united front against fascism, but neither the KPD nor the mainstream-left SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) were willing to cooperate. The KPD temporarily even held the position that the SPD were the actual fascists.

However, on a local basis, grass roots activists of both parties did cooperate in forming defence groups against SA attacks. On 25 May 1932, the KPD called all workers to form local, independent defence units. This was the birth of Antifascist Action and the famous symbol with the two flags. Back then, both flags were red, one representing the KPD and the other the SPD, with the KPD-flag in front, claiming a leading role. The SPD leadership did not join this call for several reasons and remained in the Eiserne Front (“iron front”), an alliance with several trade unions and bourgeois parties, which failed to resolutely oppose the NSDAP. Apart from Antifascist Action, anarcho-syndicalist youth groups also carried out militant attacks against the SA.

All these obviously did not succeed in preventing Fascism, but the concept of local independent cross-faction militant anti-fascist groups was born here, and would later be adopted by anti-fascists in the 1970s and 1980s.

image006Contemporary antifascist flag

In the 1970s, the “old” Nazis who were active in the fascist party NPD were joined by Neo-Nazis. In order to counter fascist demonstrations, the Kommunistischer Bund (KB), an organisation with roots in Maoism, developed a concept that would become the starting point for the Antifa movement. They formed local and regional initiatives which were open to anti-fascists from all factions, but did not form alliances with other organisations. Their activism involved counter-protests and militant attacks against Nazis and the police that protected them, as well as research about Nazi organisations, their supporters and networks. Other typical Antifa concepts such as the Black Bloc or “Rock against the Right” concerts were also initiated by the KB.

The 1980s brought a new cycle of left wing struggles, such as the peace movement, the antinuclear movement and the squatters’ movement. A lot of radical leftists favoured loose, flat organisational structures in opposition to the so-called K-groups (such as the KB). These were known as the “autonomous” left, referring to the similar Autonomia movement in Italy. This included autonomous Antifa groups that were founded all over the country in the 1980s. In November 1981, KB and other K groups as well as autonomous Antifa groups from northern Germany formed the Northern-German Antifa Meeting to coordinate their actions and exchange information. This was the first regional Antifa organisation.

Autonomous Antifa groups and KB both saw their antifascism in connection with a critique of capitalism, imperialism and the bourgeois state, but did not always share a consistent program. One major conflict was, for example, the question if Antifa should focus more on reacting to Nazi demonstrations and activities with militant direct action, or if it should politically campaign for a ban on the NPD. Nevertheless, further regional Antifa alliances were formed in southern and western Germany. Antifa magazines that exposed Nazi organisations or published discussion papers were also founded in the 80s.

In the 1990s, the annexation of the GDR (East Germany) triggered a rise in nationalist sentiment and therefore also Nazi movements. Nazis as well as ordinary citizens carried out pogroms against asylum seekers and other migrants in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, Hoyerswerda and other places. In reaction to this, more people joined Antifa groups.

At the same time, the group Autonomous Antifa (M) Göttingen expanded traditional Antifa strategies and started doing professional press work and artsy agitprop actions. They also published a discussion paper on autonomous organising that called for a more formalized way of organising and the formation of anti-Nazi alliances with other groups and organisations. Practically speaking, they also formed broad alliances to protest against Nazi centres, but were still present as a black bloc within these protests.

Together with several other Antifa groups, Autonomous Antifa (M) formed the Antifaschistische Aktion/Bundesweite Organisation (AA/BO, Antifascist Action/Nationwide Organisation). The AA/BO did nationwide campaigning oriented around the ideas of the AA(M)’s discussion paper. Besides their anti-fascist commitment, member groups shared a loosely formulated anti-capitalism, but not a consistent program. Their symbol was an interpretation of the historic Antifa logo that looked slightly different, with the flags facing the right side, symbolizing the attack on the far right from the left. Also, the minor flag was now black, representing Anarchism instead of Social Democracy. This is still the most common Antifa symbol world-wide today. Other Antifa groups, who found the organisational structure of the AA/BO too strict, formed the Bundesweite Antifa Treffen (BAT, nationwide Antifa meeting), that was organised more loosely, but also included more groups than the AA/BO. The BAT dissolved in 1999.

Antifascists also faced repression, most famously with the police investigating the AA(M) under Section 129a of the German Criminal Code (forming a “terrorist organisation”).

In the early 2000s, Antifa faced two new developments that questioned their existing strategy. One was the new SPD/Green coalition government publicly taking a stand against Neo-Nazis and calling for an “uprising of decent people”. For many Antifa it was unclear how to react to this, since so far Anti-fascism had been an exclusive feature of the radical left. The other was the debate between the Antideutsche (“anti-German”) faction and the Anti-Imperialist faction. This debate is quite complex and specific in the German context. For this article, we can only summarize that Antideutsche are pro-Israel while Anti-Imperialists are pro-Palestine.

Due to this debate, a nation-wide Antifa conference in 2001 failed and the AA/BO dissolved. However, this debate became more and more unimportant in the following years, with most Antifa groups identifying as undogmatic or anti-nationalist instead of Antideutsch or Anti-Imperialist. Some radical leftist organisations such as Ums Ganze and Interventionistische Linke were formed[iv]. However, despite many of their member groups being (former) Antifa groups, especially of Ums Ganze, these do not focus solely on anti-fascism and thus are not typical Antifa organisations. Despite not having a nation-wide organisation, Antifa did have some major successes, especially in shutting down Europe’s biggest Nazi demonstration in Dresden with the alliance “Dresden Nazifrei”. In this alliance, Antifa groups abandoned the practice of militant attacks in favour of an action consensus of passive sit-in blockades that made this broad alliance possible, involving even SPD politicians.

In recent years, more and more Antifa groups such as the Antifaschistische Linke Berlin dissolved, and activists shifted their focus to other struggles such as fights against gentrification, based on the analysis that anti-fascism alone is not sufficient in building a revolutionary movement. At the same time however, Germany, like many other countries, saw a rise of far-right populist movements and a new far right party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Traditional Antifa tactics, which worked quite well on rather small Nazi organisations, could not stop the rise of a party with such a large membership base, which is also increasingly seen by the media and political establishment as a legitimate and democratic party. One attempt to modify traditional Antifa strategies is the campaign “Nationalismus ist keine Alternative” (NIKA, “nationalism is no alternative”), initiated by Ums Ganze. NIKA combines small local creative actions against the AfD that are designed for attention on social media with nationwide mobilisations against AfD party conferences. It also connects the critique of the AfD with the critique of the “fortress Europe” anti-migrant policy and its supporters from all parties[v].

Traditional Antifa strategies have been successful in fighting Nazis, combining researching their organisations, publicly outing Nazi cadres, attacking them and blockading their demonstrations. However, as I have shown above, they have always had to adapt new developments. In the US, Antifa tactics have been lately adopted successfully and led to fascist Richard Spencer claiming that “Antifa is winning”. However, many of the strategies working well in the US at the moment have stopped functioning in Germany. For example, police are nowadays sufficiently prepared that actual blockades of Nazi demonstrations are becoming very rare. In addition, an exclusive focus on anti-fascism is not enough to build a revolutionary movement. While traditional Antifa strategies are totally necessary to fight Nazis, they often demand secrecy and cannot involve large numbers of people. While the left needs to be determined to fight Nazis, it also needs to build a broad base for the struggles of the working class and all exploited and oppressed groups.


Fascism in Australia: An interview with slackbastard

Andy Fleming, aka slackbastard is a minor internet celebrity with a range of platforms promoting radical politics, particularly focusing on anti-fascism. Fightback’s ANI WHITE interviews him about fascism, anti-fascism and politics in Australia today. This interview appears in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

Ani: Your online platforms cover a range of issues, but particularly focus on anti-fascism. Is there any reason you consider this work to be particularly important?

Andy: I began blogging in earnest in late 2005, while the Facebook page went up in 2010 and I’ve been Twittering away since 2009. Since I began, the primary focus of the blog has gradually evolved into anti-fascism, which in this case means monitoring the activities of various far-right actors, mostly of Australian origin, and with a particular focus on Melbourne (where I live). One of the main reasons for this is the relative absence of other forums in which this discussion might take place. Basically, there are very few public resources dedicated to monitoring fascism and the far right in Australia, and over time the blog has become a (I hope useful) resource for those wanting to explore this world. Certainly, anyone who jumps online and searches for information about fascism and the far right in Australia will sooner or later (generally sooner) stumble upon the blog. As a result, particularly since the emergence of ‘Reclaim Australia’ in early 2015, but also preceding it, I’ve been contacted by numerous journalists, researchers, students and so on, who want to be backgrounded on and seek orientation towards the contemporary antics of the far right. In a sense, it’s developed its own momentum, and the blog’s contents reflect what it is that others identify as being especially interesting and useful about it in its coverage of this domain. Beyond this, I identify as an anarchist, and from this perspective fascism is deeply antithetical to my own political commitments. Further, I suppose I’m one of those who believes that there is actually scope for a fascist or proto-fascist movement to develop in Australia. This is informed by the country’s status as a British penal colony which, at the beginning of the twentieth-century and its establishment as the Commonwealth of Australia, formally adopted white nationalism as state policy, a policy abandoned only relatively recently. In other words, I think Australia is relatively fertile ground upon which a fascist movement might develop, and historically-speaking, its relative absence is in large part due to the role of the state in already having captured that political territory. This essay covers more of this territory.

Ani: What are the defining traits of neo-fascism?

Andy: Well, that depends: in one sense, neo-fascism may be traced back to the immediate post-WWII era, in which the defeated forces of fascism in Europe were forced to reassess, regroup, and rearticulate their politics. But I suppose in the more immediate historical and social context, I’d suggest that the ‘newer’ expressions of fascist doctrine and movement are shaped, in critical ways, by the inauguration of the (seemingly endless) ‘War on Terror’ in 2001 and attendant spike in Islamophobia, neoliberal crisis and, in the Australian context, the punitive measures adopted by both major parties with regards the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees: ‘Fortress Australia’ (see below). This is the political and social backdrop against which newer fascist political formations have arisen, and whose political expressions are variations on older and generally familiar themes: racism and white supremacy, ultra-nationalism, the cult of masculinist violence, and so on. (For what it’s worth, I think Roger Griffin’s concept of ‘palingenetic ultra-nationalism’ remains a key reference point for understanding generic fascism.)

Ani: What neo-fascist groups are operating in Australia today?

Andy: There’s a small number of formally-constituted groups — political parties like the ‘Australia First Party’, neo-Nazi grouplets like ‘Antipodean Resistance’ and ‘Nationalist Alternative’ and so on — but by my reckoning, most of these groups operate on a more informal level, as part of wider social networks which have as their chief platform social media (especially Facebook). In other words, while documenting the moments when groups formally constitute themselves as groups is important (see A (very) brief guide to the Australian far right (December 2016 Edition)), it’s also important not to lose sight of the political undercurrents which generate such moments. This, I think, is what gives rise to things like the Cronulla pogrom (see Under the Beach, the Barbed Wire’, Angela Mitropoulos, Mute, February 7, 2006), helps to explain the sudden emergence and eventual collapse of ‘Reclaim Australia’, and other such events. Further, the same kinds of ideas that motivate neo-fascists are also present, to a greater-or-lesser degree, in mainstream politics, and it’s useful to examine, for example, the ways in which various mythologies about ‘Cultural Marxism’ have moved from the political margins to the centre. (See Martin Jay, ‘Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe’).

Ani: Can you tell us about the new group Antipodean Resistance, which appears to be more militant than the existing groups?

Andy: Antipodean Resistance (AR) is a relatively new grouplet which is neo-Nazi, mostly composed of young men in their teens and twenties, and which specialises in provocative propaganda. It’s claimed to have a membership in the hundreds but this seems doubtful. To date, its militancy is confined to its rhetoric. The group emerged in late 2016 and has gained some media attention as a result of it targeting schools, University campuses and political offices with its posters and stickers. It has its origins among a handful of ‘United Patriots Front’ (UPF) supporters in Melbourne but has subsequently extended its reach to other cities and towns in Victoria and to other states. It’s also connected to and models itself upon a handful of other neo-Nazi groups: the banned organisation ‘National Action’ in the UK, the ‘Nordic Resistance Movement’ in Scandinavia, and ‘Atomwaffen’ in the US; this networking took place via the now-defunct neo-Nazi website ‘Iron March’. National Action was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in December 2016; a number of its members have been arrested and charged with preparation of terrorist acts, while the group notoriously celebrated the assassination of British MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Members of the Nordic Resistance Movement in Sweden have been convicted of carrying out bombing attacks upon asylum seeker refuges and a left-wing bookshop, while members of Atomwaffen are currently on trial for a string of murders, the most recent being that of Jewish student Blaze Bernstein in January 2018. Currently, the group is linked to members of the UPF and something called ‘The Lads Society’, which describes itself as a fraternal organisation and which, in October last year, opened up a social centre in the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham. The leaseholder is ex-UPF member Tom Sewell and in January the centre served as the venue for a joint meeting with another racist gang called the ‘True Blue Crew’ based in the Victorian town of Bendigo and the suburb of Melton. (The meeting was called in order to discuss the formation of a vigilante gang to confront an alleged African gang crime-wave.) Outside of neo-Nazi skinhead groups like Blood & Honour and the (Southern Cross) Hammerskins, AR is one of relatively few grouplets that doesn’t bother to disguise its commitment to Nazi doctrines. For those interested, you can read more about AR in the following: Who are Antipodean Resistance?; Jacob Hersant : An Antipodean Resistance Lad; Julie Nathan, “Antipodean Resistance: The Rise and Goals of Australia’s New Nazis”.

brigadaaf

Brigada Anti-Fascista, a Melbourne antifa crew. Photo from the slackbastard blog

Ani: Pauline Hanson’s racial populist party One Nation has had a resurgence recently. What is the relationship between One Nation and more explicit neo-fascist groups, if any?

Andy: In its earlier iteration, this subject was explored by Danny Ben-Moshe (see: ‘One Nation and the Australian far right’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol.35, No.3, 2001). They concluded that, while neo-fascist and other (racist) right-wing actors joined the party and sought to obtain influence within it, this endeavour was largely unsuccessful, and in the end their presence proved to be simply destabilising. One Nation’s return has been accompanied by similar manoeuvres. In terms of policy, fear of being ‘swamped by Asians’ has been replaced by fear of being ‘swamped by Muslims’ — so hey, you can’t say that Hanson isn’t adaptable (though you might also say that she’s a rank opportunist) — but even a cursory examination of its candidates for office reveals an often bizarre amalgam of all kinds of fears and resentments, and the party is, perhaps not surprisingly, still beset by internal ructions. Still, it’s my impression that Hanson is now better able to exert control over the party as a whole, and it exists as a kind of permanent shrine to her endless — and I do mean endless — whining. Naturally, racists have welcomed her and the party’s return; to date, however, the party has failed to break out of its chiefly regional and rural base in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales, where it competes most keenly with the Nationals (the junior ruling Coalition partner) for support. Race and immigration remain key issues for the party and its supporters, whose views on other matters and voting record in parliament otherwise reflects that of the Coalition.

Ani: While neo-fascists seek an escalation of violence against refugees and visible minorities, the Australian state is already exceptional in its brutal Mandatory Detention policy. Can you tell us about Australia’s refugee policy, and about the refugee solidarity movement?

Andy: It’s certainly the case that the Australian state does a good job of brutalising asylum seekers, but its exceptionality may be rather short-lived, sadly, as governments and parties in Europe now look to Australia for cutting-edge methods of controlling population flows. These policies and programs have proven inspiring to the continent’s far right. In general, the policy of mandatory detention, inaugurated in 1994 under the Keating Labor government, has enjoyed bipartisan support ever since, and the Australian public largely supports the measures adopted to penalise those asylum seekers who arrive on Australia’s shores by boat. Occasionally, some noises in opposition will emanate from back-benchers, but it seems as though there are no real cracks in the parliamentary facade, and so the policy will remain in place for some time to come. Of course, some Australians celebrate the state’s cruelty, and workers in the detention industry — which, like other government services, is now semi-privatised — notoriously posed with Hanson at a Reclaim rally in 2015. On the flip side, the relocation of the concentration camps from the cities to rural areas and then to other islands — and the various, generally crackpot schemes hatched in conjunction with regional governments for them to accept some portion of Australia’s inmates — could be read as being a reaction to resistance within the camps, as well as a rational desire to keep torture out of public sight. Currently, the refugee solidarity movement is largely confined to the conduct of periodic rallies and protests, the effects of which are generally minimal outside, perhaps, of keeping the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers in the public mind. Other, related campaigns have sought to attack the underlying infrastructure of the detention industry, especially through divestment campaigns, and specifically by seeking to have union superfunds withdrawn from the industry. This has met with some limited success and lukewarm support from the labour movement, which remains dominated by the ALP. A relatively recent project is called ‘Can’t Stand Buy’, which seeks (or sought) to harness acts of civil disobedience to escalate the economic and social costs of maintaining the regime. It generated some media attention, but not mass public participation. In general, the XBorder blog is a useful resource — one which also attempts to situate the regime within a global complex of institutions and political arrangements — and the ‘RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees’ organisation in Melbourne is a unique presence in the ‘refugee solidarity’ movement, with both it and the imprisoned journalist Behrouz Boochani continuing to be important voices of protest.

Ani: Melbourne cops have recently made headlines for police brutality. What do we need to know about our mates in the Victorian Police?

Andy: The short answer? They’re not your mates! More seriously, there’s a handful of different organisations that monitor police activity in Victoria, one of which is the ‘Police Accountability Project’: I recommend that those interested read its publications. The ‘Melbourne Activist Legal Service’ (MALS) is another interesting and worthwhile project. Of particular relevance to anti-fascists, in early 2017, the Victorian state government introduced a bill to parliament — the ‘Crimes Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017’ — which, inter alia, criminalises the wearing of clothing which obscures one’s appearance. MALS has critiqued the introduction of these and similar laws. Oh, and ‘Sisters Inside’, an organisation based in Queensland, is holding a Prison Abolition conference in Brisbane in November, which readers may find of interest.

Ani: I recently read a mainstream Australian opinion piece which promoted the ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory, a far-right theory that Marxist elites are dismantling Western civilisation. While it’s very flattering to imagine Marxists have anything like that influence, it was shocking for me to see this in a mainstream opinion piece. I recently came over from Aotearoa/New Zealand, and while we certainly have conservative media, mainstream promotion of these kind of outright far-right ideas seems particularly extreme. Can you tell us about the mainstreaming of these ideas in Australian media?

Andy: To begin with, I think Martin Jay’s essay is required reading on this subject; further, I’d recommend ‘‘Cultural Marxism’: a uniting theory for right-wingers who love to play the victim’ and “Chris Uhlmann should mind his language on ‘cultural Marxism’’ by Jason Wilson, which helps to situate the idea in contemporary Australian political discourse. In terms of how this theory has assumed some mainstream prominence, I’d suggest that this is no accident, and demonstrates that the far right is able to produce ideas that, over time, can reach a much wider audience. Much the same can be said of the ‘White Genocide’ meme, especially as it applies to South Africa. In just the last week, the Australian attorney-general, Christian Porter, has urged white South African farmers seeking asylum in Australia to contact his office for specialist advice; previously, the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, had publicly expressed support for the proposal to bring ‘persecuted’ white South African farmers to Australia under a special visa arrangement. (See also: Jon Piccini, “Peter Dutton’s ‘fast track’ for white South African farmers is a throwback to a long, racist history”, and John Marnell, “South Africa: where ‘Australia’ is code for racist”)

I’m unsure how Australian mainstream media compares to that in Aotearoa/New Zealand, but outside of state media, it’s my understanding that private ownership is exceptionally highly concentrated (even for a Western democracy), and Rupert Murdoch (via Newscorpse) rules over a very large chunk of this private kingdom. The only national daily newspaper, ‘The Australian’, has been running at a loss basically since it first began publishing in 1964, but serves as the flagship for conservative politics, a useful political tool for elites. If you examine the proliferation of the term in the pages of ‘The Australian’ (print and online), it seems to have undergone a sharp increase over the course of the last two to three years, and where previously it was closely-associated with the ravings of someone like Anders Breivik (or to be found only in an especially apoplectic ‘letter to the editor’), it’s now considered part and parcel of respectable discourse. The relative popularity of the term is partly attributable, I would suggest, to its flexibility, and each and every ‘progressive’ idea or movement of the last several decades has been attributed to the influence of ‘Cultural Marxism’.

Ani: In recent years some liberals and leftists have bought into the idea that the ‘white working class’ was left behind by multiculturalism. What is your take on this?

Andy: For various reasons, I’m not especially convinced by this line of argument, but I should say at the outset that there’s a wealth of literature on the subject of ‘multiculturalism’ and its meaning for Australian society, and I’m unable to do much more than make a few notes regarding it. In which context, in practice, ‘multiculturalism’ typically means ‘multi-ethnic’, ‘multinational’ and/or ‘multiracial’, and ‘culture’ is understood to be synonymous with these terms. Thus there is ‘British culture’, ‘Irish culture’, ‘Italian culture’, ‘Black culture’, ‘Asian culture’ and so on; further, these are typically assumed to be unitary (which is, in my view, not the case). In other words, I think that there are some conceptual issues with the uses to which this term is put, and addressing these is necessary before the matter can be discussed more sensibly. In the Australian context, ‘multiculturalism’ can refer both to: a) demographic changes, especially in the post-WWII era, in the ethnic composition of an overwhelmingly British and Irish-derived settler-colonial population and also; b) changes in state policy following the abandonment of both the White Australia policy and the assimilationist doctrines which replaced them. More generally, it seems fairly obvious that the ‘(white) working class’ has not benefited from a whole range of state policies, because the purpose of those policies is not to benefit the working class as a class: generally-speaking, the state remains the instrument of the ruling class, and reflects its interests and the interests of those forces which dominate the economy. If there is some truth to the notion that the ‘white working class’ has been left behind by multiculturalism, it’s the proposal that, as state policy, multiculturalism has tended to promote the advancement of an ‘ethnic’ middle class which may/not advance the interests of the specific grouping of which it purports to be the representative. But again, it makes most sense to discuss such matters in their specificities. It’s also, of course, worth remembering that the working class, especially in a country like the US, is disproportionately comprised of non-whites (‘people of colour’) and that, while Trump attempted to pose as a champion of workers, his main support base is drawn from wealthier classes; further, that given the dispiriting alternatives on offer — Trump versus Clinton — a very large proportion of working-class people didn’t bother to vote at all: a similar pattern of working-class abstention is evident in many other electoral contests, in many other countries.

Ani: In the USA, the so-called ‘alt right’ has brought neo-reactionary ideas into the mainstream. Does the alt-right have a coherent presence in Australia? Has it boosted existing groups?

Andy: It’s a rather tired cliche, but yes, as with many other things, the development of an ‘AltRight’ in the United States has encouraged the development of something similar in Australia (and in other countries subject to US cultural hegemony). In this context, I think George Hawley’s recent book ‘Making Sense of the Alt-Right’ is useful, especially for the ways in which it discusses the political recomposition of ‘conservatism’ in the US, and there’s some evidence to suggest that similar developments are or may be taking place in Australia. But it seems to me that if the US AltRight is coherent, the Australian AltRight is rather less so. Otherwise, the far-right has often aped elements of the left, and the AltRight is often interpreted as being evidence of a ‘culturalist’ turn by these political forces, and a response to the supposed dominance of something called ‘Cultural Marxism’. It’s a political nonsense, of course, but it does provide a useful bucket into which reactionaries of all sorts can pour their resentments. Otherwise, the election of Trump has provided a minor fillip to neo-fascist groupings in Australia, but this has yet to really translate into something politically significant. This may yet happen, but perhaps an example of the influence of the AltRight may be found in the political degeneration of someone like Mark Latham. Once a Labor leader and potential prime minister, he’s now largely confined to the fringes of mainstream media, and has even been an honoured guest — twice — on a local neo-Nazi podcast. ‘Sad!’

Ani: What are the international links of neo-fascists in Australia, that you are aware of?

Andy: International linkages are sometimes formal but more often informal. So there are a number of neo-fascist groups in Australia which are franchises (for example, Blood & Honour, Combat 18, Hammerskins) and there are various ‘ethnic’ fascisms (Croatian, Greek, Serbian and so on) which are part and parcel of various diasporas. But in the contemporary era, most of these linkages tend to be informal and conducted by the way of the Internet, and especially social media. (It may be relevant to add that, closer to home, Kyle Chapman’s ‘Right Wing Resistance’ groupuscule has found a few boneheaded adherents in Australia, but as in Aotearoa/New Zealand, it’s basically a shambles.)

Ani: What tactics have proved most effective in smashing fascist groups?

Andy: If by ‘smashing’ is meant effective disruption, I’d say: constant political pressure. So as a general rule, if fascists go marching hurrah hurrah, it’s important that they be countered. If, as sometimes happens, they are gifted a platform by mainstream media, or attempt to weasel their way into some institution, it’s important to be able to expose their real agenda and their actual political commitments. Exposing fascist lies, ridiculing their pretensions to mastery, and presenting life-affirming alternatives to fascist dogmas — alternatives based on other political and ethical principles, such as commitments to equality, cooperation, mutual aid and conviviality — is also necessary. So too, the promotion of critical inquiry and structural analysis as opposed to conspiracist mentalities and political scapegoating. Finally, the following observations by Ken Knabb are germane:

Irrational popular tendencies do sometimes call for discretion. But powerful though they may be, they are not irresistible forces. They contain their own contradictions. Clinging to some absolute authority is not necessarily a sign of faith in authority; it may be a desperate attempt to overcome one’s increasing doubts (the convulsive tightening of a slipping grip). People who join gangs or reactionary groups, or who get caught up in religious cults or patriotic hysteria, are also seeking a sense of liberation, connection, purpose, participation, empowerment. As Reich himself showed, fascism gives a particularly vigorous and dramatic expression to these basic aspirations, which is why it often has a deeper appeal than the vacillations, compromises and hypocrisies of liberalism and leftism.

In the long run the only way to defeat reaction is to present more forthright expressions of these aspirations, and more authentic opportunities to fulfil them. When basic issues are forced into the open, irrationalities that flourished under the cover of psychological repression tend to be weakened, like disease germs exposed to sunlight and fresh air. In any case, even if we don’t prevail, there is at least some satisfaction in fighting for what we really believe, rather than being defeated in a posture of hesitancy and hypocrisy.

Ani: Socialist Sue Bolton recently criticised militant antifascist presence at a broader rally. Could you briefly comment on this?

Andy: I wrote about the event on the blog and some further criticisms were made by Andy Blunden and Lynn Beaton on the ‘Arena’ magazine blog, to which I also later responded. Sue’s account of the events of the day is largely correct in its essentials: there was a rally in the Victoria Street mall in Coburg, and fascists held a rally several hundred metres away in Bridges Reserve. Otherwise: I can’t speak to or for Socialist Alternative’s actions on the day as I’m not a member and was not part of their contingent; I think it was a difficult situation, but my basic position is/was as follows: I think that it was important for Sue’s rally to go ahead without being disrupted by fascists and for the fascist rally to be contained. (In this context, it should be noted that, while the bulk of the fascist rally consisted of members and supporters of the ‘True Blue Crew’, it was supplemented by a handful of ‘United Patriots Front’ members and a scattering of (other) neo-Nazis belonging to ‘Combat 18’ and several boys who later went on to found ‘Antipodean Resistance’.) As it became apparent very early on that Sue’s rally would not be disrupted — both because of police saturation and the distance between the two gatherings — it then seemed to me to be a priority to contain the fascists in the reserve, and to not allow them to march through Coburg as they intended. This was accomplished, despite police action. I suppose it should be added that Coburg is a suburb with a relatively ‘diverse’ population, with about 40% of residents being born overseas (largely Italy, Greece and Lebanon) and a relatively large proportion of Muslims (between 5 and 10%), whereas the vast bulk of those attending the fascist rally came from outside Coburg and the northern suburbs (many journeyed from outside Melbourne and even interstate). In summary, despite a media and police scare campaign, many hundreds of locals, including many younger folks, joined the grouping that directly confronted the fascists to keep them penned in and unable to march — and they’ve not been back since.

Ani: What do you say to those who assert anti-fascism goes too far, or replicates fascism?

Andy: I say, ‘Pull the other one, it’s got bells on’. More seriously: more often than not, I think this arises from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of fascism, one which applies the term to any instance in which someone or something is thought to be ‘authoritarian’ or ‘overbearing’; this reflects the debasement of ‘fascism’ as a sensible political term. That said, I do think it’s incumbent upon anti-fascists (as well, of course, as other political actors) to think seriously about matters of political principle, strategy and tactics, and to be vigilant in terms of not seeking to reproduce in its organisation and activity the forces which it opposes.

Ani: What sources or groups would you recommend people follow to keep up with the anti-fascist movement, in Australia or abroad? (In addition to your own channels!)

Andy: Within Australia, there’s relatively few good sources of information on the far right, but occasionally there will appear some media reportage which is useful. In Melbourne, the ‘Campaign Against Racism and Fascism’ is a campaigning group which is worth following, but I’m unaware of any comparable project outside of Melbourne. There are also several Facebook pages which document fascist and promote anti-fascist activity, for example Anti Fascist Action Sydney and Antifascist Action Brisbane. In the UK, the Anti-Fascist Network is useful, and in the US there are a number of similar, local and regional groupings and projects, for example, New York City Antifa and Rose City (Portland) Antifa. Political Research Associates has published numerous accounts of fascist and far right politics in the US, and Mark Bray’s book ‘Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook’ is recommended reading. Readers may also be interested in the titles being published in the Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right series, especially ‘Anti-Fascism in Britain’. In Europe, of course, there are numerous anti-fascist groups and projects; there’s also beginning to emerge an anti-fascist community in places like Indonesia. Links to these and many other, related items of interest are available on my blog.

 

“Appealing to an audience which no longer exists” – Daphne Lawless at the Left Forum in New York City

dbpb_e8xkaarny1Fightback‘s Daphne Lawless was invited to address (via Skype) a panel at the Left Forum in New York City, hosted by the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, on the subject of Has “The Left” Accomodated Trump (And Putin)? The MHI comrades recorded the whole panel and will publish the video later; here are Daphne’s speech notes.

Kia ora kotou katoa. My name is Daphne Lawless, I live under the volcano Ōwairaka in the city of Tāmaki Makarau, or Auckland, in the land of Aotearoa – New Zealand. I am the wife of Tricia, the mother of Francesca, and a member of the socialist media collective Fightback.

I would like to begin by thanking the Marxist-Humanist Initiative for inviting me to this panel, and making it possible to participate. I’d like to greet everyone else on this panel, everyone attenting at the Left Forum in New York City, and by acknowledging the indigenous peoples of that area, the Lenape and the Munsee.

Right. Formalities completed – let’s start making enemies. I say this because when I say the things I’m about to say in forums in the country where I live, it certainly doesn’t make me more popular!

New Zealand is fortunate among the Anglophone countries in that the reactionary mass movements which have led to Trump in the United States, Brexit in the UK, and a whole mess of racist and Islamophobic nonsense in Australia haven’t found purchase here – yet. In my experience, New Zealand tends to be 5 years behind world politics. Which means we’re due for our own similar phenomenon any year now.

However, New Zealand is a small country – 4.5 million inhabitants, just over half the population of New York City – and our politics are very influenced by what happens in the “imperialist metropolises” in Britain and the United States. Arguments made on the Left in those countries tend to be mechanically applied to local positions – as long as they are arguments which agree with what the locals wanted to do anyway.

So what I want to say is that we see the same processes in New Zealand that let to Trump in the United States.

  • Four decades of neoliberal attacks on working-class organization and living standards;

  • a hugely inflated gap not only between rich and poor, but between the professional middle class and a precarious service-worker class;

  • a growing “racialisation” of poverty, as the working class becomes more multinational and multi-ethnic, while white men continue to dominate the ruling class;

  • the stagnation of traditional class politics combined to the success of “identity politics” which have led, not only to more freedom for women, queers, the indigenous Māori people and previously oppressed groups, but certain job opportunities for those from those groups who have managed to make it into the professional middle-class.

As I say, we don’t have a reactionary mass movement here yet. But what we have in New Zealand – here as overseas – is a Left-wing activist subculture which has lived through 40 years of defeats, and of increasing isolation not only from its own roots in the labour unions and social movements. This has – in my analysis – led to a disorientation of the traditional Left, appealing to an audience which no longer exists, and increasingly talking to itself.

Fundamentally, my argument is that after 40 years of defeat at the hands of neoliberalism, the activst Left as a subculture have ended up believing that nothing could possibly be worse than neoliberalism. A wise-guy blogger a few years ago came up with “Cleek’s Law” of American politics – that “conservatism” is defined as “the opposite of whatever liberals want or do, updated daily”. As far as I can tell, on the activist left in the Anglophone world, all you need to do is substitute “neo-liberal” for “liberal” and that’s pretty accurate.

The obvious problem with this is that some social movements have made some successes under neoliberalism. To suggest that the neoliberal era (like capitalism itself, in Marx’s visions) has had a progressive side as well as a reactionary side causes most NZ leftists to stare at you as if you’ve grown an extra head. But as a queer woman, I can say for a start that 40 years ago, homosexuality (at least between men) was actually illegal in New Zealand. Now, we have same-sex marriage and (unlike in the US) it was no big deal.

Another main achievement of the social movements in New Zealand over the last 40 years is the growing visibility of the Māori people and their culture, and partial restoration of, or compensation for, lands and natural resources stolen from them by the British Empire and its successor, the New Zealand settler state, over most of the last two centuries.

I think part of the problem that a lot of the socialist Left have with such social victories in the neoliberal era is that they’d persuaded themselves that nothing could fundamentally change under capitalism. That you couldn’t have even partial victories for women’s or queer liberation or indigenous movements until the Revolution. So you get a twisted belief that such victories are “not real”, or even “counterproductive” on the basis that they alienate “the white male working class”.

And here is where you get the phenomenon of the Left, seeking to regain a constituency which has been taken over by liberal social movements led by the professional middle-class, actually appealing to reactionary sections of the population, who – while objectively exploited – had some relative privilege under old-style, social-democratic or nationalistic capitalism. I know that the argument that, for example, affirmative action is “bias against white male workers” was being pushed by some sections of the Marxist Left as far back as the 1970s. The small-group radical Left subculture has always had problems, I think, confusing color-blindness with anti-racism, gender-blindness with anti-sexism, and so on and so on.

But it is much more dangerous to hold such opinions in the current era. Let’s be blunt – in my country, and I believe in yours, the socialist Left lost even its basic roots in the workers’ movement and increasingly become a self-sustaining echo chamber of academics, writers, website and magazine publishers and other such “social capital entrepreneurs”, who have sometimes explicitly lost all the belief that their “interventions” can have real political effect. In fact, I got lectured by a local activist with whom I was debating about the Syrian revolution, that because “it’s so far away”, what this comrade said could have no practical effect, and therefore he should be free to say whatever he wanted, any slander, without regard to any basis in fact. This is degeneration. This, dare I say it, is moral depravity.

So we have a marginalised and increasingly self-marginizing Left activist subculture, drifting into complete irrelevance. And on the other hand – a resurgence of Fascist and right-wing populist organisation, under the names of “white nationalism”, “the alt-right”, or even just “populism”. I don’t have time to explain the story in detail if you haven’t noticed, but for 30 years the smarter cookies in this disgusting crew have been leading a “metapolitical” intervention into the areas of popular culture such as populated by alienated youth, to whitewash their genocidal ideology and find forms of imagery and words by which it can become tolerable again in the new era.

In the 1990s, I was part of several struggles to push these people out of Gothic and neo-pagan subculture. Twenty years later, this same scum have taken over the entire Internet subculture of anonymous imageboards, or “chans”, through a more cunning application of the same things they did back then.

So what I believe we have is an intellectual surrender and capitulation of much of the activist Left – in some places, a majority – to the success of right-wing populism. It’s a disgusting opportunism of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” variety, combined with a grudging appreciation of how the Trumps, the Farages, the Le Pens etc are “sticking it” to the hated liberals.

We’ve seen this before. In 1928-1935 we called it “Third Period Stalinism”. Although I think there’s something left out of traditional Left historiography of that fateful era where the Communist International abstained from the fight against Hitler, leading inevitably to the Second World War. It’s that it wasn’t just that the Stalinised German Communists thought that the Social Democrats and the bourgeois liberals were no worse than the National Socialists. It’s that there was a dirty secret, an essential programmatic agreement between the Reds and the Brownshirts over several things – as seen when the Nazis and KPD campaigned together to bring down the Prussian government in 1932.

I’ve written on this subject in several articles over the last few years, which are available at fightback.org.nz. The milder form of this phenomenon I named “conservative leftism” – a left which has given up on the ability to imagine a better future, and can only support a kind of nostalgic return to the certainties of 1960s-style social democracy in Europe, or – in the US – FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society.

Two problems: it’s a dangerous move to compete with fascists in the nostalgia market. They’re much better at it. Secondly: to wind the clock back also means throwing the victories of the social movements in the neoliberal era under the bus. Under the guise of sneering at “IdPol”, they’re willing to say things like “no-one cares about trans rights in Michigan”. Ha ha, because there are no trans people in Detroit?

This is an appeal, not to the downtrodden and oppressed to seize the reins of their own future, but an appeal to the frustrations of the previously privileged who are losing their privilege. This is precisely the opposite of how socialist groups have traditionally tried to organise – by appealing to the vanguard of the struggle, the people who’re organising themselves already, they’re putting the masses into motion, they’re becoming a force to be reckoned with. Because to do that, you would have to look at the LGBT movements, organisations like Black Lives Matter, even the urban liberal-Greens who are winning struggles for sustainable energy, transit, housing, etc. And that’s because the dogmatic activist Left has nothing to say to such movements except to tell them at their victories are not real, “IdPol”, actually part of the neoliberal problem that needs sweeping away.

I call this tendency on the activist Left a “zombie plague”, in that it takes over the minds of previously sound comrades and turns them into the kind of people who can dehumanize and sneer at actually-existing struggles for basic democratic liberties, and cheer on right-wing nationalist authoritarian capitalists as they “do the job”, “the job” being, apparently, outraging liberal sensitivities. We are seeing the birth of an actual Red-Brown tendency – the final form of the monster – in which people who still consider themselves to be socialists call for unity with the right-wing populists (the Trumpists, the Brexiteers, Russian imperialism etc.) on the grounds of bringing down the filthy neoliberal elite. And then you see people using “globalist” as a snarl world, a dog whistle one step down from “international bankers”.

To paraphrase Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense: “I see Red-Brown people, walking around. They don’t know they’re Red-Brown.” We need a recomposition of the activist Left which will once again reach out to the vanguards of struggle, rather than chase after a reactionary trend in the belief that if clever socialists take control, it won’t be reactionary any more. We need to organise the victims of Trumpism, not its supporters.

We don’t need Trump supporters. We don’t need to debate them. We don’t need to convert them, and we sure as hell don’t need to understand them. We need to focus on the millions of people who didn’t vote at all, and involve them. – @mtylermethadone on Twitter

Race & Reaction in New Zealand 1880-1950

This article appears in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

Race & Reaction in New Zealand 1880-1950: A Pre-History of the Far Right

By TYLER WEST

For the most part, New Zealand has missed the kinds of ultra-reactionary mass movements which typified fascist and otherwise hard-line nationalist politics during periods of crisis in various other countries. Classical fascist movements or contemporary populist chauvinism (such as, say, ‘Powellism’ in Britain or ‘Hansonism’ in Australia) has largely failed to attain the same kind of mass following. That said, New Zealand is far from free of reactionary politics as a whole, and the social forces underlying such politics are neither absent nor silent in New Zealand. To understand those forces, and how they coalesced in the early days of their organisation, is to go some way to understanding what a New Zealand fascism might look like today.

White New Zealand Policy 1880s-1930s

The earliest forms of popular organised racist movements in New Zealand began to gain influence in the later decades of the 19th century. In his seminal work on the extreme right in New Zealand, The Politics of Nostalgia, Paul Spoonley identified leagues that formed in response to a growing fear of certain immigrants who they believed were a threat to British racial supremacy. However before getting into the organised groups who formed in response to this perceived threat, it is worth detailing the scope and scale of the legislation they fought to entrench and extend.

A significant amount of legislation passed from the 1880s to the 1930s targeted both specific groups and non-British immigrants in general. From around 1881 onward, the government enacted policies targeting Chinese, Indian, Samoan, Dalmatian, Italian, and Jewish immigrants.

A sizable number of the small Dalmatian community worked in the kauri-gum industry; on this basis legislation to restrict licensing to British gum diggers was passed in 1898, 1908, and 1910. Later, Central Europeans more generally were restricted in the post-war period. After the passing of the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act 1919, people from the former German and Austro-Hungarian empires required a license from the Attorney-General to enter New Zealand. Although the legislative council found more difficulty in legislating against Indian immigrants, given British opposition as they were British subjects, the Undesirable Hawkers Prevention Bill was passed in 1896 with the aim of restricting their movement within New Zealand. In an attempt to work around this British opposition, the 1899 Immigration Restriction Act required non-British immigrants to make their applications in a European language.

The most significant series of legislative actions to be taken were against the Chinese. Beaglehole notes in Refuge New Zealand that some 21 pieces of legislation were passed against the growing Chinese community from 1879-1888 alone. The 1881 Chinese Immigrants Act initiated a £10 poll tax and restricted the number of Chinese immigrants to one per 10 tons of the vessels weight on which they arrived. This was cut in 1888 to one per 100 tons and again in 1896 to one per 200 tons, with the poll tax increased to £100 (a full decade’s earnings for the average Chinese worker). The poll tax remained in place for 63 years, only being repealed in 1944 by the Finance Act (No. 3). Naturalisation laws were altered in 1892 to be free for all immigrants bar Chinese, and again in 1908 to end any path for Chinese to be naturalised citizens. Naturalisation for Chinese only began anew over four decades later in 1952. In 1907, Chinese immigrants were required to undertake an additional English reading test. Then in 1908, Chinese people were required to undergo thumb-printing in order to acquire re-entry permits when leaving the country. They were also barred from receiving several state benefits by legislation passed in the 1890s-1920s.

The ‘White New Zealand Policy’, as it came to be known, had thus materialised out of a complex web of specific and generalised legislation largely but not entirely focused on the entry of new non-British immigrants. It formally came into being through the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1920. This created a requirement to apply for permanent residency before arrival, effectively placing discretion for every applicant at the hands of the Minister of Customs. This was further extended by the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1931 which prevented the entry of the majority of European immigrants from the continent. Although a very small number of immigrants still arrived, the arrival of Asians and Southern Europeans almost halted. It would not be until the aftermath of WWII that these policies would start to relax.

This legislation was not without its critics at the time (albeit small in number); Legislative Council member Henry Scotland was an early, prominent, and vocal opponent to restrictions on Chinese immigration. However, as the democratic state was already implementing hard-line immigration policies, early organised racist groups merely needed to call for existing policy to be maintained and expanded. Both historically progressive and reactionary governments alike pursued such policies; many of the aforementioned pieces of legislation were introduced under the first Liberal government’s five successive terms in office from 1890-1911. William Pember Reeves, who represented the most radical left faction of the party (the ‘state socialists’ as they were dubbed), was a vocal proponent of severe curbs to Chinese immigration. However, the deeply conservative Reform government, who took office with the end of the first Liberal government, introduced the harshest of the White NZ Policy laws. Reform PM William Massey on the White NZ Policy:

the result of a deep-seated sentiment on the part of the large majority of the people of this country that this Dominion shall be what is often called a ‘white’ New Zealand.

Such policies alone do not make NZ any more of a proto-fascist state or any more racist than the Anglosphere or much of Europe at the time. Racism alone does not a fascist make. It did, however, form a template that some fascists in the present day still use as a basis for their vision of New Zealand, and can be considered one of the main pillars of openly ethno-nationalist politics here.

Racial Supremacy Leagues 1890s-1920s

Early racist organisations appearing at the end of the 19th century aligned broadly in purpose with the White New Zealand Policy. The cross-class support within Pākehā society for severe immigration measures formalised largely in anti-immigrant leagues such as the Anti-Asiatic League and the Anti-Chinese League. Campaigns opposed to Yugoslav (Dalmatian) and Indian immigration likewise formed at the same time around the 1890s-1920s. These organisations were far from isolated and did not require front groups to gain public support like later far right formations would. The Anti-Chinese League and Returned Services Association (RSA) forged an alliance which proved a driving civic force in support for the Immigration Amendment Restriction Act 1920, an alliance which drew effective support from both the racial purity obsessed National Defence League and the early Labour Party alike.

Several explicit white supremacist organisations existed alongside the various anti-immigrant campaigns. The White Race League formed in 1907, with the goal of establishing a ‘white race congress’ in Europe to ensure the survival of the white race, considered to be facing an existential threat from Asian immigration. This internationalist outlook of encompassing the entirety of the ever ephemeral ‘white race’ the world over, rather than merely New Zealand, made the League a somewhat unique organisation. In effect, this amounts to the white genocide meme but many decades too early for the term. However, this ideological outlook made little difference in local practice, amounting to anti-Chinese lobbying similar to the anti-immigrant leagues of the time.

The White New Zealand League is the most well-known league from the period, formed by Pukekohe potato farmers in 1925. Their activities mirrored those of similar leagues in the hosting of public talks and publishing of widely-distributed pamphlets decrying the immigration of ‘lowly Asiatics’. The initial thrust of the organisation was to pressure the government to pass legislation further cracking down on Chinese and Indian immigrants, in order to undercut the perceived threat of Asian landowners to the largely white rural farmers. This would develop over time at the behest of the League’s chief ideologue and secretary George Parvin. His own efforts to research and present various internationally-sourced articles on the subjects of eugenics, ‘scientific’ race theory, and ‘problems’ with immigrant communities in other white-dominated parts of the Commonwealth, heavily influenced the thinking and rhetoric of the League. Their most infamous pamphlet, Citizens of the Future are the Children of Today, drew on contemporary figures from Australia and the US. The pamphlet bore a credo reading as though it were a trial run of the 14 words:

Your obligations to posterity are great. Your inheritance was a White New Zealand. Keep it so for your childrens’ children, And the Empire.

In 1926, the league sent a request to 200 local bodies throughout NZ to pass resolutions supporting the League’s aims, for which they received positive replies from 160 of the bodies. According to Spoonley in The Politics of Nostalgia, those 160 bodies represented some 670,000 New Zealanders at the time (about 47% of the population).

The League produced, stoked, and kept alive a national hysteria around the supposed imminent collapse of New Zealand as a ‘white’ Dominion. The League was supported by prominent civil society groups (the RSA, for example), early nationalist groups (such as the NZ Natives Association or the National Defence League), to some extent the Labour Party, and several (particularly rural) MPs. This was largely motivated by fear from the white petit-bourgeois (small-scale business people and landowners) of competition in the local market by (typically Asian) foreigners. Although the League would largely be dead by the 1930s, Parvin remained a vocal figure in Pukekohe politics until the 1950s. The policies of the League would likewise be taken up after its demise by organisations including the RSA and the Pukekohe Federated Farmers (who argued as late as 1952 for the seizure of all Asian-owned land and their forced repatriation).

Distant Early Warning: Joe Kum Yung and Lionel Terry

In establishing the tactics which these erstwhile defenders of the white race were willing to utilize, it is important to cover the 1905 murder of retired Chinese miner Joe Kum Yung by committed racist agitator Lionel Terry. Yung was an elderly retired miner who’d lived in New Zealand for 25 years, crippled from an accident and unable to earn his way back to China. Terry was a recent immigrant, having only been in the country for four years when he shot Kum Yung. Son of a successful English merchant, he’d spent time in the military and traveled to Southern Africa where he fought as a mounted policeman in the Second Matabele War. He also spent time in Australia, Canada, Dominica, Martinique, and the US. His, in his own words, deep hatred for ‘black and coloured races’ was well established by the time he immigrated here. He wrote what is likely one of the first far right tracts produced in New Zealand in 1904 while working for the Lands & Survey Department in Northland, The shadow. Published by Terry himself, the book was mostly verse with a long introduction preaching the need for racial purity and arguing for something approaching a kind of vaguely pre-Strasserist racial class war. From July-September 1905 he undertook a 300km trek from Mangonui to Wellington, distributing The Shadow and giving anti-Chinese lectures along the way. Upon arriving in Wellington, he sought audience from government officials and parliamentarians to hear his views, who heard him out but made no promises as to his proposed policies.

Ten days after arriving, Terry walked onto Haining St and shot Joe Kum Yung in the head, handing himself into police the morning after. If any motivation went into the selection of Kum Yung specifically as the Chinese man he would kill that night, it was likely his age and disability. The day after the killing a letter he sent to The Press was published.

I will not under any consideration allow my rights and those of my brother Britons to be jeopardised by alien invaders: to make this perfectly plain I have this evening put a Chinaman to death.

Terry was convicted and sentenced to death on the 21st November that year, but it was commuted to life imprisonment in a sanatorium on the grounds of insanity a week later. For a time after his imprisonment, he had considerable public sympathy, if not for his actions then for his views. Though dying in 1952 at Seacliff Mental Hospital in obscurity after decades of imprisonment, he has become something of a low-key martyr for some corners of the far right. Terry represents both the logical conclusion of the Sinophobic hysteria of the era, and a distant early warning of the kinds of vulgar nationalism which continue to hold a certain public sympathy over a century later. Likewise, the shooting set a precedent of what could be an ‘acceptable’ amount of political violence without damaging the overall appeal of the ideology. Though sporadic, acts of violence against political opponents and various communities would dot the far right into the latter end of the 20th century.

Jewish Refugees and Anti-Semitism 1930s-1940s

The common conception of New Zealand as a country that avoided popular fascism is often either attributed by the left to the First Labour Government or by the right to a cultural affiliation for a ‘fairness’ driven rational capitalism. The Savage government oversaw the most wide-ranging period of economic and social reform yet experienced in New Zealand, matched only by the reforms of the right under Douglas and Richardson. To put it in very moralistic terms, efforts to ameliorate the suffering experienced during the Depression to some extent robbed potential far right movements of their social base among the petit-bourgeois and possible reactionary working-class allies. At a very surface level this is accurate enough, at least to suffice the question without really thinking about it too much. At most the New Zealand Legion has been suggested as, if not a directly comparable organisation, one which filled the socio-political role of such movements for the local context. However, such an explanation skates over the fact that not only were the socio-economic factors prevalent but a virulent racial politics was at best far from uncommon.

Although refugee humanitarianism is raised as a major pillar of liberal iterations of New Zealand national identity, it would be ahistorical to claim this as the case for much of the 20th century. In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, New Zealand accepted just a thousand refugees from Europe. Bolivia, with a comparable population of around 2.5 million to New Zealand’s 1.6 million, took in fourteen thousand refugees in the same period. This is in no small part because there was no willingness to wind back enforcement of the White New Zealand policy. Refugees were not yet distinguished from other immigrants as any particularly special case, and so still had to meet the extraordinarily strict entrance criteria in place. This was compounded by a direct antipathy toward Jewish immigration. The Comptroller of Customs in the mid-1930s, quoted by Ann Beaglehole, “Non-Jewish applicants are regarded as a more suitable type of immigrant.” Then Minister of Customs Walter Nash put it more tactfully in expressing his concern that “There is a major difficulty of absorbing these people in our cultural life without raising a feeling of antipathy to them.” In 1937 an Aliens Committee was established to consider restrictions on refugees, partially in response to mounting applications by those fleeing Europe and partially in response to the number of pro-Nazi organisations appearing. This led in June 1940 to the policy of “not granting entry permits for aliens to enter New Zealand except in most exceptional circumstances”, effectively closing the door to all further refugees. In October the same year the Aliens Emergency Regulations came into effect, allowing the deportation and internment of ‘aliens’.

Admiration for European fascism was likewise far from uncommon as the 1930s progressed, a topic covered by both Spoonley and Beaglehole. Some publishers were openly sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and major figures on the Australasian far right wrote prolifically to a growing audience at the time. AN Field, son of Reform MP Tom Field, took his place as one of the earliest far right ideologues in New Zealand, and was a strong influence on the social credit movements of Australia and New Zealand. Eric Butler, who would go on to found the Australian League of Rights (and later its Kiwi cousin) likewise began his long career in the 1930s publishing anti-Semitic tracts. Anti-Semitic and pro-fascist sentiment wasn’t restricted to the reactionary fringe however. A radio program for the Hitler Youth was carried on the New Zealand Radio Record listings right up to 1938, among other shortwave broadcasts from Berlin. John A. Lee spoke of his admiration for certain aspects of Hitler and Mussolini’s doctrines in parliament in 1938, and had pamphlets published on the matter as late as 1940. German social clubs drew Kiwis sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and some came under explicitly fascist leadership.

While far from uncommon, this was likewise not universal. A visit by Count Felix von Luckner, part of a two-year diplomatic world voyage sponsored by the Nazi government in 1937, was met with mixed responses. While his lectures were well enough received, his overall visit to New Zealand never escaped a cloud of suspicion and hostility from many who considered him little more than a propagandist for Nazism.

Beaglehole summarizes of the period that “Suspicion of foreigners, and of diversity, was still very much a feature of the New Zealand to which the refugees came.” Most anti-Semitism in New Zealand at the time was, however, diffuse and without organised expression. The one major exception to this was the internal politics of the exploding social credit movement.

Two Movements: New Zealand Legion and Social Credit League

Although fascism is an inaccurate term to give either the New Zealand Legion or the Social Credit League, both are important aspects of reactionary political history though for different reasons. Looking at both gives more an indication where the greatest potential for fascism lay in the 1930s.

New Zealand Legion

nz-legion-cartoon

Cartoon depicting NZ Legion leader Campbell Begg

The Legion came into existence as the effort of a number of dissident Reform supporters, largely farmers, who had become increasingly disillusioned with the ‘socialistic’ response of the sitting conservative government to the worsening Depression. Initially it appeared as the New Zealand National Movement in 1932, after little success renaming to the Legion in 1933 and appointing Robert Campbell Begg the leader. The period saw the growth of new conservative parties and organisations well to the right of the ruling Reform/United Coalition throughout the early 1930s. This was in response to (comparatively mild) interventionist measures being used by the government in response to the economic crisis. The Legion rested on core values of nationalism, individualism, personal morality and sacrifice for the nation; Begg identified moral decay and a corrupt party system as the reasons for the country’s crisis. As to the latter, the Legion proposed to abolish formalised parties and interest groups altogether, returning to a mythologised political dynamic from before the formation of the Liberal Party.

In economic terms the Legion was torn between factions within the organisation who supported proto-Keynesian interventionism, social credit monetary theories, and laissez-faire free market economics. Much of the leadership were free market purists. However, the Chairman of the Legion’s Economic Research Committee, Evan Sydney Parry, was enamoured with the American New Deal and praised Fascist Italy as an exemplar of ‘sane planning or state collectivism’. He was responsible for much of the Legion’s economic policy and produced reading lists for all members which covered writers from founding social credit theorist Major C.H. Douglas to Keynes to the Fabians G.D.H. Cole and Sir William Beveridge.

At times the movement held an air of crypto-fascist aesthetic in its fanatical crusade for ‘national unity’ and desire to abolish interest groups and the party system. But this was underpinned by its individualist ethos, arguing that ‘party dictatorship’ had curtailed the freedom of MPs. Furthermore, the emphasis on national unity and greater autonomy from Britain was merely an extension of this individualism to the scale of the nation-state – an orientation toward national independence. As Pugh puts it in his 1969 thesis on the Legion, they desired for New Zealand a return to “a ‘free age’ assumed to have existed before Vogel’s borrowing policies and Seddon’s state paternalism.” This nationalist ethos was reflected in the organisation on a national level. Though it peaked in 1933 and collapsed through 1934, for a brief window of around six months the Legion peaked at 20,000 members spread across 700 branches organised on a national level into 18 Divisions. For reference the Labour Party had 30,000 members at the time, while the Social Credit League numbered about 4,000; though Begg was well off his predicted 400,000 members, the Legion was for a time a major civic force. Indeed, their early public meetings in major centres such as Dunedin, Nelson, Wellington and Auckland averaged 2,000 attendees. They also did well in smaller towns, meetings in places like Gore and Hastings drawing 500 people were not uncommon.

The Legion had some fascism-adjacent elements, but the historical consensus (for which I agree) is that they were not fascist in any sense of the word. The New Zealand Legion embodied a (frequently incoherent) conservative radicalism that was willing to dabble in militarist tendencies, but in the end was still dedicated to the parliamentarian system. They left little behind when they collapsed in 1934, and conservative reaction funnelled through various conservative formations before eventually channelling into the newly formed National Party a few years later. The Social Credit League had a longer lasting impact. But the Legion was unique in its mass organisation on militaristic lines and nationalist character.

Social Credit League

While not as dramatic a surge as the Legion, social credit theory experienced an explosive growth in New Zealand across the mid-1930s. To do so, it is necessary to understand the class basis for social credit organisations among the rural petite-bourgeois. By the end of the 1920s, the class alignment of the major parties had entered a period of disoriented fracture. This was especially so for the rural petite-bourgeois (largely small farmers) who changed allegiance several times. As an organised political force, small farmers had formed part of the liberal-labour coalition which underpinned the long lived Liberal government of the 1890s-1900s. They had benefited greatly from the busting up of big landowning monopolies and other land reforms over the 1890s. However, they began to drift away and assert political class independence as early as 1899 with the formation of the original New Zealand Farmers’ Union.

Rural political support across the entire farming community was heavily influenced by the Farmers’ Union, which redirected considerable support away from the progressive ‘lib-lab’ coalition toward considerably more conservative politics. This pivot toward open support for property ownership and capitalism entailed in turn a growing hostility to trade unions and socialist ideas and was vital in redirecting support from the Liberals to Reform leading into the 1911 election. During the Great Strike of 1913, Massey’s Cossacks – the mounted strike breaking militia mobilised by Prime Minister William Massey to smash militant workers’ pickets – drew largely from young small farmers. But by the 1922 party dissatisfaction had returned in the form of the newly established Country Party, founded on a mixture of agrarianism and social credit theory by dissidents in the Auckland Farmers’ Union. Though never a major party, it peaked at 2.34% in 1931, it contested five elections from 1925 to 1938 and party leader Harold Rushworth held the Bay of Islands seat from 1928 until retiring in 1938. The party tended to align with Labour in parliament out of a mutual distrust for the financial and banking industries. Though Labour began altering policy to accommodate small farmers from 1927 onward, rural petite-bourgeois support for Labour wouldn’t occur until the mid to later-1930s.

Outside parliament, a growing interest in social credit theory – which had partially been articulated by the Country Party – saw the development of the Social Credit Association over the 1930s. The movement surged in support over the first half of the decade, from 6 branches nationwide in 1931 to 225 in 1935. It was helped in part by a campaign against the Reserve Bank Bill in 1932-’33, and a national tour by the originator of social credit theory Major C.H. Douglas in 1934. Social Credit secured an informal alliance with Labour over the mid-1930s, in some ways mirroring the alliance of the working class and the old rural petite-bourgeois which supported the Liberals in the 1890s. It entailed the rural petite-bourgeois suspending their opposition to trade unions while the Labour Party entertained monetary reforms into the 1935 election. The alliance was brief, and was largely moribund by the later 1930s, though some individual Labour ministers remained sympathetic to social credit ideas. Among them John A. Lee, Frank Langstone, Walter Nash, and William Jordan; Langstone even ran for the Social Credit Party in 1957. In 1942 Social Credit decided an independent electoral front was needed and formed the short lived Real Democracy Movement to contest the 1943 election with 25 candidates. It was a stillborn effort, however, as the RDM dissolved following a weak result of just 0.53% (4421 votes). The foray into electoral politics would be completed by the transformation of the Social Credit Association in 1953 into the Social Credit Political League.

It is now the point to discuss why Social Credit must be considered in a discussion of potential fascism in 1930s New Zealand. In The Politics of Nostalgia , Spoonley records a number of instances of anti-Semitism within Social Credit from the 1930s right through to the 1980s. Conspiracy theories around the financial industry and the banking system were common in New Zealand well beyond the rural petite-bourgeois during the 1930s-1940s. But it was in the pages of publications aligned to the social credit movement such as Plain Talk , Why, New Zealand Social Credit News , and the New Zealand Social Creditor that the link was explicitly made in essays and opinion pieces with “the Jewish problem”. Plain Talk is particularly noted as being the primary distributor of anti-Semitic material during the period, producing tracts with such titles as Is There a Jewish Peril?, The Hidden Hand Revealed and material on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Various papers were responsible for running explicitly anti-Semitic and sometimes pro-fascist pieces (for example a 1935 article in Why praising Hitler, simply attributed to ‘Pro-Nazi’). Although Plain Talk was the only openly fascist publisher at the time, anti-Semitism was rife in the pages of a number of magazines, and within Social Credit at large.

At the time the most important author for both far right politics and the rural petite-bourgeois in general in New Zealand was Nelson born journalist A.N. Field. Son of the Reform MP Tom Field, he began his political publishing as early as 1909 with the conspiratorial magazine Citizen. He continued to write various tracts and books from Nelson from the 1910s right through to the 1960s. While his work was predicated on monetary conspiracy right from the start, it is his publications in the 1930s that pushed open anti-Semitism. Texts such as The Truth About the Slump (1931), The Money Spider (1933), The World’s Conundrum (1934), Today’s Greatest Problem (1938), and The Truth About New Zealand (1939) all mixed social credit theory and anti-Semitism. Also noteworthy are publications like Unmasking Socialism (1938) and Why Colleges Breed Communists (1941), further throwing anti-socialist polemics into the heady mix of crank economic theory and anti-Semitism. Anti-socialism held a position as a central pillar of right-wing reactionary politics, with the invocation of creeping socialism being a key feature in the wider conspiratorial worldview. This proved enduringly useful to groups and figures on the reactionary right given its common political ground with more mainstream conservatism. Though not the only anti-Semite writing in New Zealand at the time by far, A.N. Field is notable for his systematic application of a ‘world Jewish conspiracy’ to New Zealand conditions and the international attention he received in doing so. His books, alongside international acclaim, were wildly popular within Social Credit.

The contraction of the rural petite-bourgeois over the coming decades shrunk the support base for Social Credit, and at any rate few in the movement held revolutionary aims. Many, despite holding conspiratorial anti-Semitic world views and suspicious of the government, had no interest in moving beyond a reformist response to this perceived threat. But it was within the Social Credit Association, and the many figures and smaller social credit organisations that revolved around it, that coherent fascist ideology formed with the capacity to mass publish that message to a wide audience. The support base and membership existed among the rural petite-bourgeois for a genuine fascist movement, while the conspiratorial theory and widespread racial prejudice of the era was conducive to fascist ideology spreading into wider society at large. Though no truly fascist mass movement existed in New Zealand during the 1930s, the conditions for one certainly did.

What is fascism? An introduction

DonaldDuckInNutziLand_zpscc10584aThis article by DAPHNE LAWLESS appears in Fightback’s upcoming issue on “Fascism and Anti-Fascism”. For subscription information, contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com.

Part of the problem with any discussion of fascism today is the widespread ignorance about what that word actually means. This comes from decades after the defeat of the Fascist states in World War 2, since when “fascist” has been used and overused as the worst swear-word possible on the Left (and by parts of the Right). This is the “everyone I don’t like is Hitler” method of arguing, often mocked in internet memes.

A slightly more sophisticated use of “fascism” is just to indicate any authoritarian or dictatorial government. One example of this “10 steps to fascism” which were drawn up by the American writer Naomi Wolf – and were often overused in the period of the Iraq war to be able to “prove” that the US government under George W. Bush was fascist. We can only say now that, if the “Dubya” administration was fascist, then there are no words left to describe the current Trump administration (of which more later).

At the other extreme, there is an attitude that only the regime of Benito Mussolini and the National Fascist Party in Italy from 1922-1945 can be called “fascism”. By these standards, not even Nazi Germany counts as fascism, let alone any other similar regimes across the years – or even the successor parties of Italian Fascism, such as CasaPound or Forza Nuova, which carefully state both their admiration for and their differences from Il Duce and his regime. This means that this method is not useful for our analysis here – which is precisely about how the Left should be responding to “fascist-like” organizations and movements.

The definition of fascism which I am using in this article is mainly based on that of the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who watched the growth of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany with horror at the inability of the Stalin-led global communist movement to counter it. As I’m going to use it in this article, fascism means:

  1. a bottom-up movement, which while it might be funded by some parts of big business, is based on the support and activism of the insecure middle classes and the most impoverished layers of society;
  2. which promotes the idea of the “traditional” nation as one big community, and seeks to defeat and eliminate “outsiders” or “traitors” who are seen as threatening that community. These might be “corporates” or “international bankers” (distinguished from honest local capitalists), “greedy” workers’ unions, LBGT people, religious or ethnic minorities, immigrants or anyone who promotes ideas which are seen to threaten the nation’s traditions – such as socialists, liberals, feminists, “cosmopolitans” (people who see themselves as citizens of the world and embrace cultures and ideas from overseas), or even any kind of intellectual;
  3. which promotes a myth of what British social theorist Roger Griffin called palingenesis, a word meaning “rebirth, or return to the good old days”;
  4. which is not afraid to use, or even glorifies the use of, violence to achieve these goals;
  5. which opposes the ideas of the “Enlightenment” (and of socialism) such as democracy, rationality and equal justice, and promotes a traditional authoritarian model of a (usually male) Leader who is always right. Author Max Bray comments: “…Fascism emerged as a rejection of the rationalism of the Enlightenment… It was really founded on an emotional appeal towards power and domination.”

If you read part 2 above carefully, you might be able to see why the Jewish minority in Germany were a perfect scapegoat for Hitler’s fascist movement. A religious and an ethnic minority at the same time, many of whose members were successful intellectuals and business people, but also including many socialist and working-class leaders, who – as a people scattered across the globe –could not help but be “cosmopolitan”, not 100% “German” in the eyes of many of their neighbours.

Anti-fascist author Alexander Reid Ross, however, points out that fascism is sometimes hard to identify and call out because it has always been a syncretic movement. That means that fascists will take over whatever icons and ideas happen to be popular among the movements, from either left or right, trying to appeal to “all the people all the time”. Ross comments:

[The original fascists] …stole symbols and language from the left-wing workers’ movement, but redirected it towards wildly different goals… this difficulty in forming a definition is built into fascism itself… taking elements from both the political left and right, but always striving towards greater levels of social hierarchy and domination.

For example, fascists might present themselves as anti-Zionist when trying to appeal to a left-wing, pro-Palestinian audience, but on the other hand might strongly support Israel when trying to appeal to an Islamophobic right-wing audience. (Fascism is not necessarily anti-Semitic; and even many anti-Semitic fascists may support the State of Israel because they want all the world’s Jews sent to live there.) In this sense, a fascist group acts like a parasite feeding off the movements – like a cuckoo laying its eggs in other birds’ nests (ironically exactly the kind of metaphor they would themselves use to smear migrant communities).

A recent example in New Zealand is the fascist groups who attempted to join the Occupy movements and the mass street demonstrations against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – attempting to harness public hatred of globalised neoliberal capitalism to their own conspiracy theories about how ethnic “outsiders” (Chinese or Jewish, usually) are to blame for our economic problems and avoiding any critique of “our own” capitalists. It is worth noting that the American far-right uses “anti-capitalist” language to target the liberal-tending Hollywood culture industry, as well as the Jewish liberal billionaire George Soros.

For those of us in the revolutionary socialist movement, it is most important to try to understand fascism as a movement, rather than a regime. This is for three reasons:

  1. No fascist movement has ever seized power on its own – they have always taken power with the support of other right-wing or ruling class forces. Hitler was invited into a coalition government by the big German conservative parties; Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister by the King of Italy. The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco led a regime in which a fascist party, the Falange, was only part of a coalition with capitalist and monarchist forces. Military dictatorships which took on fascist-like traits after they seized power are a different matter
  2. With its violent methods of organizing, a fascist movement can create great damage and terror to workers, leftists and all marginalized or oppressed people, while still being far away from ever taking state power. It must therefore be fought on the streets and in our communities as soon as it raises its ugly head.
  3. The syncretic and parasitic nature of fascism, “blending into the background” of popular movements, means that it is sometimes very difficult to spot when you are not looking for it. Sadly, many sincere Leftists may unwillingly fall for fascist ideology if it is cunningly disguised as anti-capitalist populism. I will attempt to argue in my second article on the “Red-brown convergence” that this is precisely what has happened for a large and perhaps dominant section of the global activist Left in the era of Trump, Brexit and the Syrian war.

The big question you’re waiting for is this: are we saying that US President Donald Trump is a fascist? The question is to some degree not relevant. Donald Trump is clearly a racist, sexist and objectionable person on every level, but it’s impossible to look into his mind and find out what he really believes. He is clearly fuelled by ego and narcissism rather than any properly thought-out politics. But the same is true of Benito Mussolini, who once edited the Italian Socialist Party newspaper.

As for the US government, it is clearly not (yet?) a fascist regime. It is a site of struggle between many different ruling-class and middle-class forces, with some parts of the Federal government backing Trump’s agenda (e.g. the immigration cops) and others resisting (much of the FBI). Trump’s power is still contingent on the sometimes-unwilling acceptance of traditional conservatives in the Republican party, who could unite with their Democratic party opponents to obstruct or even impeach him. However, for now, the big-business backers of Trump (such as the secretive Mercer family) and their willing servants in Congress seem to be willing to go along with Trump, as long as he signs huge tax cuts into law and as long as he doesn’t damage the profitability of their investments.

On the other hand, the Trump-backing movement is – as survey after survey has shown – based not on the “economically anxious” working class, but on relatively well-off whites, especially but not entirely white men (see for example here and here). This social movement is racist and xenophobic, looking back to an American “good old days” which never really existed except in fantasy, motivated mainly by hatred and resentment towards Muslims, migrant communities, African-Americans, feminists and queers. The slogan Make America Great Again is almost the definition of Griffin’s idea of “palingenesis”.

Perhaps most disturbingly, with the help of the compliant FOX News TV channel, Trump has successfully trained his base to rely on his pronouncements (usually via Twitter) as the real truth, no matter what inconvenient facts might be reported elsewhere. The Trumpists angrily reject any mainstream media coverage which disagrees with their prejudices, and happily accept the truth of Trump’s increasingly erratic claims as long as they confirm their own feelings of entitlement and victimhood.

While the Trump administration is so far only a particularly nasty right-wing capitalist government, the base of Trump’s support, the crowds at his rallies, the social media mobs who phone in death threats to people who criticise him, fit our model of a fascist movement almost perfectly. And it is Trump’s incredibly fortuitous victory as President which has encouraged these elements to “come out of the woodwork” and to yell their abuse and commit sometimes-deadly violence in public. This movement may well decide many “primary” elections for Republican congressional candidates in the safe “red” states, and even those Republican Congresspeople who might privately despise Trump and recognize him as a would-be tyrant will pander to his base if and when necessary.

In general, in times of peace and prosperity, the ruling factions in capitalist society want nothing to do with fascists, who are considered unpredictable and uncouth. However, in times of crisis, some parts of big business might see a fascist movement as their ally. The lessons of history show that a sufficiently greedy, venal or frightened ruling class will tolerate a fascist movement’s violence, or even invite it into power, if they think there is political capital in doing so. A fascist movement, based as it is on parasitism and on the shifting prejudices of alienated and despairing individuals, can only take power if invited to do so. With their “God-Emperor” Trump in the White House, American fascism is not in power, but it has a “foot in the door”.

What happens in the United States is often a ghastly foreboding of what will happen in the rest of the advanced capitalist world. The only way, therefore, to defend not only the hopes of socialism but the basic freedoms which come from capitalist liberal democracy, is for socialists to disperse and disrupt fascist movements on the ground, so that they can never accumulate enough social and political capital to be seen as a base worth pandering to. We will return to the question of exactly how anti-fascist activism works in practice, further in this issue.