The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART THREE

This is the final part of a major article by DAPHNE LAWLESS to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Part one is here, part two is here. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

III._Weg_b
Placard from a German Red-Brown party, Der III. Weg (“The Third Way”). The slogan reads: “For a German socialism!”

The Germs of Red-Brown Politics

Germ 1: Political confusion and despair

I now wish to return to the question of the agent of the Red-Brown zombie plague, that is: what are the political weaknesses of the existing Left which led to them being drawn into this modern Querfront?

Part of the answer is a misrecognition ofthe situation. Red-brown politics is sometimes called “confusionism”, as it relies on a consciously anti-fascist Left being confused about what a fascist or reactionary movement means in practice. As I said in the previous article, fascism acts like a social parasite, blending into its host to exploit it. The activist Left has spent the past 30-40 years fighting neoliberal globalism, which seeks to abolish not only any borders to capital and trade, but also the welfare state as we used to know it. As I said in “Against Conservative Leftism”, this long-running defensive battle has meant that much of the Left cannot see a socialist horizon beyond a return to 1960s-style social democracy (hence, the giddy, uncritical support for popular proponents of such politics like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn).

As to “fascism”, the term has become loosely used to describe the authoritarian wing of neoliberalism – the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, or the Right-wing neoliberal success of the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. So when the smarter modern fascists emphasise their opposition to “free trade” and “globalism” and talk about “supporting sovereign states against foreign intervention”, it is not surprising that many of the current activist-Left fail to recognize that these are our worst enemies. It’s worth quoting from my “Against Conservative Leftism” on this issue:

We do not argue that conservative leftism is the same as “red-brown” politics. What we argue is that it offers no intellectual defence against it. The argument is that “red-brown” politics (and its cousin, outright fascism) have increasingly gotten a foothold in activist movements worldwide precisely because conservative leftism has no way of arguing against it. For example, conservative leftists in Aotearoa/New Zealand happily publish memes originating from far-right factions in the United States or Britain, because they have no way to tell the difference between radical and reactionary anti-globalisation.

On the international scale, red-browns and conservative leftists join together in cheerleading the Russian bombing of Syria and the strangling of its revolution in the name of “fighting Islamist terror”, and the belief that Russian bombs are somehow better than American bombs. Similarly, conservative leftist Islamophobia (including, sadly, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt) supported General al-Sisi’s military coup against the democratically elected Islamist-backed Morsi government in Egypt in 2012. (WiCL, pp. 18-19)

Another possible factor in the Leftist embrace of geopolitics as a guiding principle is despair at the impotence of actually-existing working-class or revolutionary forces, and thus a vicarious identification with any force which seems capable of offering any kind of an alternative to neoliberal globalisation. Moishe Postone described a similar phenomenon of a previous generation of activists:

the new glorification of violence of the late 1960s was caused by a severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world. That is, it expressed an underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency. In a historical situation of heightened helplessness, violence both expressed the rage of helplessness and helped suppress such feelings of helplessness. It became an act of self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation…

The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted or of the politics of the resistance involved — that is, the character of determinate forms of critique, opposition, rebellion, and “revolution.” The notion of resistance frequently expresses a deeply dualistic worldview that tends to reify both the system of domination and the idea of agency.

This quote – written before the invasion of Iraq – seems to perfectly describe the current period, where the religious totalitarian leaders of Iran describe their support for the secular totalitarian dictatorship in Syria as part of an “Axis of Resistance” – and many Western activists and writers on the Left are prepared to take this self-description of oppressive regimes seriously, as if Assad or the Iranian mullahs spoke for their people rather than exploiting and victimising them.

A third factor is perhaps the simplest – the tiny size of the activist Left, and its isolation from the communities it theoretically speaks on behalf of, leads not only to the pressures of “groupthink” (an unwillingness to stand apart from majority opinion), but of a kind of “nihilism” where the most popular narratives are those which tell the community what it wants to hear, accuracy or even truth be damned. This is, of course, a miniature version of the business model of FOX News. American journalist Charles Davis comments:

Little white lies don’t serve grand ends when the means are perceived as an expression of one’s true politics. When delivered with smug flair, they do keep those who aren’t alienated in high spirits, however, and the clicks on news that is fake, left media criticism teaches us, always exceed clicks on the (enemy) analysis that corrects. That ensures a steady stream of digital red meat, misleading content and algorithmic takes garnering more donations to the Patreon in the bio and so on and so forth until we all log off for the very last time.

This brings to mind Jodi Dean’s comment in Crowds and Party that, in the fragmented Left social-media scene of the 21st century, the ostracism and persecution of dissenting views and the willingness to put ideology in front of the facts are sometimes worse than the obedience within a monolithic old-style Stalinist party (p. 219 – see my review) .

A final factor may be an “optimistic” appetite to paint any popular groundswell against the neoliberal centre as being progressive in origin; from this point of view, to suggest that racist, misogynist or even fascist ideas might be popular with (particularly white) voters is interpreted as an unacceptable slander against the working class. This can probably most justly be put in the category of “wishful thinking”.

Germ 2: “Proletarian nations” – the ML/fascist convergence

Some argue that the real problem is the influence of “Stalinist”, “Marxist-Leninist” or “tankie” politics – that is, nostalgia for the Soviet Union and defence of contemporary states such as North Korea, Cuba and sometimes even China. Obviously, historically the Stalinised Communist Parties of the West had heavy influence on social democratic and liberal opinion, pulling them towards at least a “lesser-evil” position on such states. English socialist Ben Watson writes concerning British left politics during the Cold War:

The idea that Russian state capitalism was qualitatively different from Western capitalism led to an abstract politics that passed over the atrocities of Russian military imperialism and its atom bomb; in Britain, it encouraged a reformism that abandoned class struggle in favour of Labour Party electoralism and the promises of nationalisation (Art, Class and Cleavage, p. 67)

The parallels to the “revolutionary socialists” who have become uncritical supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party should be obvious. But how does this politics have any relevance to the Russia/Syria situation? Russia is clearly now a capitalist state, run by a right-wing strongman with extremely strong ties to billionaire oligarchs and organised crime, whose only link to the state founded built by Joseph Stalin is nostalgia for superpower status. In Syria, it’s true that Hafez al-Assad nationalised a lot of the Syrian economy, but then he started privatising it again in the 1990s, and his son Bashar has followed suit. What could be persuading Marxist-Leninists – who did not support authoritarian nationalist regimes such as Assad’s in the 1980s – to do so now? And what about the influence on – for example – the British SWP and splits from it such as Counterfire, who once proudly declared “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” in the Cold War and refused to defend any authoritarian regime?

A recent article by a US activist group calling itself the “Left Wind Collective” suggests that it’s not as simple as blaming “Stalinism”. They identify two groups as the backbone of what is called “ML” politics in the United States today:

  • Groups tracing their heritage back to the “New Communist Movement” of the 1970s, who were more or less critical supporters of Mao Zedong in China (such as Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party);
  • Groups tracing their heritage back to Sam Marcy, who led a split from the Trotskyist US Socialist Workers’ Party, over the US-SWP’s opposition to the Russian invasion of Hungary. The “Marcyists” later formed the Workers’ World Party (WWP) from which later split the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSL). It is crucial to note that WWP and PSL activists are extremely central to anti-war politics in the United States (through the coalition ANSWER); and have been the most forthright with a pro-Assad, pro-Russia position on the Syrian conflict.

The fact that one of the US’s major “Marxist-Leninist” trends in fact comes from the Trotskyist position complicates the idea that the issue here is the same as 1980s and 1990s style sectarian struggles. In fact, what holds the two factions – which we might call “post-Mao” and “Marcyist” trends – together is the very attitude to imperialism which we examined above. Writing in 1966, British socialist Nigel Harris describes Soviet geopolitics under Stalin as follows:

What class struggle remained prominent was transferred from the domestic to the international scene where it became identified with a nationalist struggle. Class was then attributed to groups or individuals according to their international position, or, more specifically, their attitude to the Soviet Union… Ultimately, the struggle was said to take place between ‘proletarian nations’ and ‘bourgeois nations’ which, in practice, signified nothing about those countries’ domestic class structure for ‘proletarian’ meant only poor, predominantly peasant (not at all ‘proletarian’) countries driven explicitly by nationalistic revulsion from imperial exploitation, and ‘bourgeois’ meant only anti-Soviet rich countries…

Li Dazhao [an early Chinese communist who died in 1927] who was similarly disinterested in the dynamic role of domestic Chinese classes, placing complete emphasis on the anti-foreigner, anti-imperialist struggle; he also identified China as a whole as a ‘proletarian nation’ and the white races as the world ruling class.

Accordingly, the American RCP used the concept in 1973 to describe African-Americans as “a nation made up mainly of workers: a proletarian nation”. Compare this with Left Wind’s description of the Marcyist concept of “Global Class War”:

In this formulation, the world is increasingly polarized into two “class camps”: one of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the other of the global working class, the socialist countries, and the national liberation movements.

Thus, Sam Marcy, coming from a Trotskyist position that Stalin’s repressive bureaucratic leadership had betrayed the Revolution, ended up supporting Russian tanks crushing the workers’ uprising in Hungary in 1956. The strength of the Soviet-led military bloc was more important than the class struggle of Hungarian workers against their local Communist Party bureaucracy. It only remains to add that the idea of a “proletarian nation” struggling against “bourgeois” ones was also embraced by Fascist movements. It actually originated in the writing of Italian nationalist Enrico Corradini and was later adopted by Mussolini himself, to argue that Italian imperialism in North Africa was justified and morally superior to the imperialism of the “Plutocratic Nations” such as Britain or France.

I believe that this idea of “proletarian and bourgeois nations” – subordinating or even eliminating the class struggle or democratic movements within countries – is the essential programmatic agreement between Fascists andtankies[iii]. The arguments used by the Italian “proletarian nationalists” about their country are mimicked by those on both Left and Right who bemoan the historical “humiliation” (i.e. fall from superpower status) of Russia, to defend its right to intervene in Ukraine and Syria and to annex Crimea. The difference between “Left” and “Right” versions of this narrative would be the difference between describing Russia as an “exploited, non-imperialist” or even “proletarian” nation, standing strong against US / Western European hegemony, and describing Russia as the embodiment of Christian traditionalism, standing strong against both Islam and secular globalism. They both end up in the same place.

This analysis of the standard “anti-imperialist” argument as “Red-brown” – in the precise sense as being indistinguishable from a Fascist argument based on the rights of national sovereignty – is echoed by many others on the Left. As if to confirm this analysis, the “Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances” blog post quoted above documents the WWP’s alliances with explicitly Red-Brown parties in the former Soviet Union, such as the Russian Communist Workers’ Party or Borotba in Ukraine.

In the words of one Twitter critic:

most of what passes for leftist “anti-war” reasoning today resembles what had been a rightist critique of hegemony and unwittingly carries on the forgotten tradition of fascist anti-imperialism

And another:

When ML Twitter talks about imperialism, it sounds less like structural analysis of imperialism based on Marxist-Leninist theory and more like they copied the script of the folks who believe there are ‘globalist’ conspiracies everywhere

If this were confined only to self-described “Marxist-Leninists” -or to Twitter – it would be a curiosity of interest only to students of the Left-wing subculture. But as I explained in a previous section, this “common sense” idea of imperialism as being identical to “US-EU hegemony” is replicated by mainstream Left voices, and increasingly, by the leadership of the British Labour Party in which so many Leftists have placed their hopes. This is the real problem.

Germ 3: Islamophobia and West-centrism

Veteran US Marxist Louis Proyect suggests, at least as far as Syria and Libya are concerned, that another factor involves:

…deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist [Syrian] state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because [the former Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda] has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

In the Iraq War period, the Left completely rejected “War on Terror” rhetoric when it came from George W. Bush and Tony Blair in 2003. We rejected the idea that bombs, occupation and invasion were the correct response to small networks of Islamist nihilists who had adopted the tactic of attacks against Western civilian populations. However, when very similar rhetoric comes from Vladimir Putin concerning Syria (and, for that matter, Chechnya), much of the Left is happy to accept it – even to the barbaric point where even chlorine gas bombing against civilian targets can be accepted if those civilians can be made out to be “Islamists” or “Salafists”.

The Left-Islamophobic undercurrent of this pointed out by Australian academic Ghassan Hage:

An Assadist is someone who believes in the ‘dictatorship of the seculariat’. They think that the ‘secular’ bit in the concept of ‘secular dictatorship’ far outweighs in importance the ‘dictatorship’ bit.

The history of the relationship between socialist and Islamist currents is a long and complicated one which this article cannot go into in detail (although one slightly outdated attempt from 1994 may be useful to some readers). This history is a deeply contradictory one, but an adequate rule of thumb would be to say that – much like political activism motivated by Christianity – “Islamism” may take on democratic or authoritarian, progressive or reactionary forms. To instinctively take the side of “the secularists” in any such conflict is a gross form of Orientalism which excuses Western leftists from actually understanding struggles in a non-Western society. Scottish-Egyptian journalist Sam Charles Hamad sums it up thus:

The fundamental point is not that we skate over the parts of the politics of ostensibly Islamist or Islamist-rooted forces that we disagree with, but to recognise that in liberation struggles against secular tyrannies or oppressors, Islamism is a major expression of the opposition to this whether we like it or not, with a popular base rooted in the same demands for liberty that shape these revolutions themselves.  This is as true in Syria and Egypt as it is in Palestine.

In fact, one of the great ironies of the reaction of the left to the Syrian revolution is the contrast in the way it relates to the Palestinian struggle.  While the fact that the only active resistance groups to Israel are all Islamist, with the largest, Hamas, being Ikhwani Islamists, committed initially to Islamic democracy but forced to suspend democracy after almost immediately being attacked by Fatah, backed by Israel, the US and UK.  Then you have the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, originally set up as the Palestinian branch of the Salafist Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but now much more akin to Hamas in terms of ideology – Islamism intertwined with Palestinian nationalism.

To some degree, this Islamophobia is a disguised form of Ayoub’s “essentialist anti-imperialism” as described above– the Western Left putting its parochial concerns and priorities over the needs and the experience of foreign people who don’t speak our language. As one Twitter commentator noted: “By centering all conflicts around the West, these “activists” strip second and third world (particularly brown folks) of all moral agency.” Robin Yassin-Kassab agrees:

This habit of thought – whereby the real torments of far away people are dwarfed in significance and impact by the imaginary machinations of the only state that matters, the American one – is depressingly common…Strange and part-way racist, as if white people’s words enter the cosmic fabric so inevitably to determine brown people’s history for years to come. The writings, protests and battles of Syrians mean nothing in comparison.

As does his co-writer, Leila al-Shami:

This pro-fascist left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners – only white men have the power to make history.

We therefore have a combination of Islamophobia with “alt-imperialism” and extremely one-sided anti-neoliberalism. For Trump’s US forces to carpet-bomb “Islamic State” targets with Russian backing is seen as no big deal, whereas Obama and Clinton’s miserly support for Syria’s democratic movements (some of whom might have been Islamists) was seen as a provocation to nuclear war. This is the point where the fascist and near-fascist Right finds unity with much of the existing Left, whether of Marxist, social-democratic or anarchist background.

What is to be done?

Robin Yassin-Kassab, whom we have repeatedly quoted, gives his own suggestion in a recent blog post:

If people who consider themselves leftists want to have any positive influence whatsoever in the future, they need to drive genocide deniers (and the conspiracy theory mindset which replaces facts with convenient myths, analysis with demonology, and human compassion with racism) out of their movement completely.

The failure to distinguish between truth and lies is a prerequisite for fascism. Just as Stalin and Hitler had their shills, so today British priests, … journalists like Fisk, and rightist and leftist conspiracy theorists are busy parroting victim-blaming fascist narratives.

I think most people (not just leftists) think my position is too extreme. If that’s you, well, let’s wait for the coming years and decades and see. Syrians are targeted by these lies today, Bosnian Muslims yesterday. In the future it could be any other group, including ‘leftists’ and even priests. Once you accept the notion that ‘the narrative’ is sexier than the reality, you don’t get to choose which narratives gain most traction.

From a revolutionary Marxist point of view, of course, the idea of “driving out” people who’re expressing Assadist or other red-brown ideas from our already tiny, beleaguered and isolated movement is extremely hard to swallow. Some critics have even accused Fightback of reviving the old Stalinist “social fascism” hypothesis (see article in this issue) – with Western Assadists, in this metaphor, being driven out of the movement by unjust accusations of fascism. This reminds us of nothing else than Donald Trump calling the continuing investigation into his links with Russia a “witch hunt”. It’s only a witch-hunt if there are no witches. As I suggested above, the great weakness of the contemporary activist Left is defined by its drawing a simplistic boundary around “opposition to neoliberal globalisation”. Without further precision, that includes fascists. Perhaps in the 1920s and 1930s, some might have been excused for not understanding the consequences of accepting ethno-nationalists, whose contempt for democracy and social equality is barely disguised, as allies of socialism. There can be no such excuse today.

Another variation of this argument has been expressed to us as “why is Syria the hill you’re willing to die on? Isn’t this cranky and sectarian?” As I hope we have explained in this article, Syria is not so much as a “hill” as the tip of the iceberg of a whole series of ideas pointing towards a Fascist view of the world. In the famous metaphor of Leon Trotsky, a scratch may develop into gangrene if the necessary medical attention is not given. A contradiction between working-class solidarity when it comes to local politics, and support for oppressive State brutality overseas (even denialism of the worst acts of such brutality) must be resolved in one direction or another sooner or later. Ignoring when a comrade is expressing ideas which put them in the camp of global reaction is not only not comradely, it is criminally irresponsible in an era when the Right is on the rise – putting our friendships and working relationships ahead of calling out horrible politics when we see them is, to coin a phrase, how Trump got elected.

Canadian socialist “Lucy Antigone” gave testimony of the dangers of blurring between Leftist and nationalist-Right discourse in a recent Facebook comment:

Honestly it’s alarming the extent to which conservatives, conspiracy theorists, prominent leftists on my feed share the same articles, premises, slogans. And more so that this is done it seems unwittingly by the left, more tactically on the right, so that we now have a Trumpist-Conservative running in a high-profile provincial election on the Corbynist platform of “For the many, not the few,” and no one bats an eye at the mention of the Rothschilds vis western imperialism and Syria. Okay, not *no one* – but almost that many.

Further, for the accusation of “sectarianism” to stick, it must be expanded to mean any political debate within the Left. Fightback makes no excuse for our platform of no platform for fascism, and no tolerance for Red-Brown convergence of ideas. We will confront these ideas where-ever they are raised, and whoever raises them – even if the person raising them is a popular activist with an admirable track record of struggle. Of course, most activists on the Left who hold these ideas are not consciously fascists. If they were, we would not bother debating them – we should shun and isolate them, as we do to all fascists.

We take Robin Yassin-Kassab seriously when he says that a Western left that fails to stand in solidarity with all the oppressed of the world (because of a Red-Brown notion of “geopolitics”) has no hope at all of being part of a global revolution. Fightback’s strategy is to form a pole of opposition against these ideas where-ever they appear on the Aotearoa or Australian left. We are aware of other comrades in Britain, the United States and elsewhere who are waging a similar struggle on the Left. We also stand in solidarity for everyone who stands up for the oppressed and murdered in Syria, who are mostly not socialist Leftists themselves – and why would they be, given what they’ve seen from the socialist Left on this issue?

The bottom lines for such a global realignment of the Left that we suggest are:

  • Popular internationalism; solidarity with all exploited and oppressed people, globally; solidarity directed towards peoples in struggle, not towards nation-states or their governments.
  • Cognitive openness: the old slogan of “scientific socialism” in this era cannot mean the dogmatic, mechanistic schemas of the past, but on the contrary a socialist/working-class movement which embraces the cutting-edge of scientific thought and theory, no matter its source; this against the “echo chamber” mentality when only voices who are already “within our movement” are heard or, even worse, only those which agree with our prejudices. Remember what a cunning mimic fascism is.
  • A radical, sustainable, forward-looking programme for social equality; nostalgia and traditionalism are debilitating illnesses for those who really wish to change the future.

We encourage all who feel the same way to join Fightback or to support our publications and our work, and either way to get in touch.


[iii]  Note here that I wish to use “tankie” in its correct historical sense – not to describe all Marxist-Leninists or Stalinists, but precisely those who justify and support imperialist attacks by those nations seen as opposed to the West. A “tankie” would mean one who supported the Russian tanks rolling into Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan – and now their bombs levelling most of Syria – while decrying all Western imperialist interventions. These are the people who can argue with a straight face that “Russia was invited into Syria”, while somehow not thinking the US presence in Vietnam was a good thing even though it was requested by the Saigon government of the time.
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Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

poorpenny

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

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

Ben argued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We might use the following shorthands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Personal experience from Facebook discussions.

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

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

By Joe Nathan

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

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

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

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

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

“Our resistance is THEIR crisis!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion and action together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the wall at the European Central Bank!

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

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

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

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

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

Auckland & Wellington: Actions against Israeli whitewashing & pinkwashing

In solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, Fightback (Aotearoa/NZ) endorses the Palestinian-led call for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel.

Cultural boycotts are a part of BDS. These boycotts target cultural products & activities designed to promote Israel, and supported by Israeli institutions.

On the 22nd of February 2014, two actions in different cities in Aotearoa/NZ promoted the cultural boycott of Israel.

Wellington: Don’t dance with Israeli apartheid!
In the capital, Aotearoa BDS Network challenged a performance by Israeli dance troupe Batsheva (touring an event entitled Deca Dance as part of the NZ Festival). Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs describes Batsheva as “perhaps the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture,” and their performance in Aotearoa/NZ was sponsored by the Israeli embassy.

After letters to the NZ Festival and the Minister of Foreign Affairs curiously failed to produce results, Palestine solidarity activists organised an action outside the performance.

Chants of “Boycott Israel/Boycott Batsheva,” “Shame” and “Free Palestine” accompanied banners & placards including “Queers against Israeli apartheid” and “Jews for a free Palestine.” Demonstrators also handed out informational leaflets and discouraged patrons from attending.

Zionists mobilised a counter-demonstration to support Batsheva. This counter-demonstration appeared to be mainly stacked with evangelical Christians from out of town, although notable Wellington Zionists including David Zwartz were also in attendance.

Counter-demonstrators affirmed the message of Aotearoa BDS Network, that supporting Batsheva means supporting Israel. In 1981, the peak of the Aotearoa/NZ movement to “halt all racist tours” from apartheid South Africa, supporters of the Springbok tour called to separate sports from politics (impossible, as politics always shape sports). By contrast in 2014, evangelicals supporting Batsheva wielded placards declaring Israel “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

The combination of Christian Zionists on one side of the entrance, and Palestine solidarity activists opposite, certainly worked to disrupt the event.

On Facebook, a staff member at the venue commented:

“This is beyond stupid, they actually ended up obstructing the performance they’re trying to support, we had to send patrons down the disgusting fire escapes so they could leave the building.”

15 patrons decided to forego their tickets, to applause from demonstrators. The Aotearoa BDS Network will maintain the pressure discouraging NZ Festival, and other organisations, from supporting Israeli apartheid in future.

Photo by John Paul.

Photo by John Paul.

Auckland: Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
While protesters and counterprotesters clashed at the Batsheva Dance recital in Wellington, Israeli pinkwashers1 tried to pull a fast one at the Auckland Pride Parade on Ponsonby Road.

The night before the parade, the Israeli embassy put out a bizarre, gloating press release announcing that they would have a float in the parade, “whilst BDS Campaigners have fled in their minivan to Wellington”.

This is all part of the “Brand Israel” campaign, aiming to portray Israel as a progressive, diverse Western democracy – and Palestinians and other Arabs as backwards, homophobic savages.

Thankfully, Queers against Israeli Apartheid weren’t going to let them get away with it. When the Israeli “float” – actually four men on a car with rainbow and Star of David flags – drove up Ponsonby Road, about 10 peaceful activists disrupted the parade to block them.

The activists unfurled banners and placards saying “No Rainbow Big Enough To Cover The Shame of Israeli Apartheid” and “Pride in Resistance, Not in Oppression”.

One Israeli participant ended up yelling at a protestor “You should go and live in Tel Aviv, it’s the gay capital of the Middle East”. The protestor she was yelling at was of Palestinian origin herself – the people who were cleared out of what is now the State of Israel in al-Nakba (the Catastrophe) of 1948.

After a few minutes, police and security dragged the protesters out of the way and let the Israeli float proceed. But hopefully this made enough of an impression that next year’s Pride organisers will think twice before letting “pinkwashers” use our parade for their propaganda.

1“pinkwashing” means using an image of gay and lesbian rights to conceal abuses, such as the ongoing brutality of the Israeli occupation

Stop Rape Now: National day of action against rape culture

stop rape culture now wellington

Recently, an organised criminal group called Roastbusters were exposed as a gang-rape organisation who targeted intoxicated and underage girls, then publicly shamed them online.

The police knew about this group’s action since 2011 but failed to stop them and claimed that they were powerless to act because none of the girls who were raped are ‘brave enough’ to lay a formal complaint. It has since transpired that 4 complaints were ignored.

The Roastbusters fiasco is another explicit reminder that there are huge problems with the way our society addresses sexual violence. We demand an end to rape and all forms of sexual violence. We demand that survivors of rape and sexual violence are supported, and that those responsible for raping and sexually violating people stop their actions. We demand that this extend to actions beyond examining the police force.

On Saturday 16th of November there will be a national day of action, calling for an end to Rape Culture and to stop groups like Roastbusters from ‘getting away with it’.

Wellington
The Bucket Fountain, Cuba Mall, 2.00pm, November 16th
BYO Placards, noise makers
[Facebook event: http://tinyurl.com/mydnntl]

Auckland
Queen Street, 12:30pm, November 16th
[Facebook event: http://tinyurl.com/l4843bh]

Christchurch
Bridge of Remembrance, 12pm, November 16th
[Facebook event: http://tinyurl.com/mydnntl]

Strike Debt – Occupy Wall Streets latest campaign

Kelly Pope

After some months getting off the ground, Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, has grown fast in its efforts to alleviate poor communities from debt. The idea of tackling the issue of debt was first discussed at the encampment at Zuccotti Park, and since then has been developed by protesters including those with banking and legal backgrounds. The basic aim the campaign is to buy debt, which is split up, packaged and sold for much less than its’ worth, and forgive it.

Part of the reason for the slow start to the campaign was the consultation which had to be carried out with the tax department and legal advisors. Packaged debt is usually bought by debt collectors, after which the purchasers make every effort to see the debt repaid, with no thought of the welfare and personal circumstances of those owing money. Contrastingly, the campaign’s goal was to buy debt, but not to attempt to recover it, and through a legal loophole the purchase of debt with this intention was possible.

As a trial run, the campaign bought some of the cheapest debt, and wrote off $14,000 worth of medical loans which it had purchased for a mere $500. Organiser David Rees announced the financial viability of the action saying “as you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!”

Since then, the movement has grown, and has been targeting communities hardest hit by the recession. With the donations of financial supporters, the movement managed to buy up and forgive further debt to the value of $500,000 by November 14th. This was the figure on the day before the campaign’s biggest fundraising effort.  [Read more…]

“Nazi-Free Zone” : Anti-Semitism in the 99%

Ian Anderson

Many readers will have heard about the fascist vandalism at Symonds Street Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Auckland. Swastikas, 88 signs, and the slogan Fuck Israel[1] were scrawled across the gravestones of people who died before Israel was founded as a state. This was not the first time fascists in this country have vandalised Jewish gravestones; similar attacks occurred in 2004.

The weekend after the Symonds Street vandalism, members of the community gathered in the cemetery to state their opposition to fascism and anti-Semitism. Some associated with the Aotearoa not for Sale campaign played a role in organising this event. Placards bore the slogan, “Nazi-Free Zone.”

The following week, three men were arrested in connection with the crimes. One of the accused, Nathan Symington, spoke to the press denying his guilt, stating “I’ve got all my alibis worked out.” For some, the next shock came when it turned out Symington had slept at Occupy Auckland and marched in the Auckland stretch of the Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi.

Symington’s Facebook profile features swastikas, pictures of him performing a Nazi salute, and racist status updates. Whether or not Symington is a vandal, he is a fascist and an anti-Semite. When he attended the Aotearoa is Not For Sale march, he bore a skateboard with swastikas chalked on to it; on Facebook he captioned this, “nationalism is the key.” [Read more…]

Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group

In recent months a new space has opened up for radical women in Christchurch to hold discussions and organise around social issues.

The Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group first met several months ago when Occupy Christchurch remained active, but general assemblies had become tense and the safer spaces policy overlooked.

Over the course of the movement, Occupy became a difficult space for many activists to work in with its increasing inward focus, disorganised and poorly attended meetings and individuals dominating the discussion with their own agendas, often unsupported by the group.

For women in the movement, the atmosphere of Occupy Christchurch was discouraging and, at times, openly confrontational.

Though these dynamics were not limited to the movement in Christchurch and were noted by womyn around the country (see  Why Have Women Left the Occupy Movement in the April 2012 issue of The Spark or online at http://bit.ly/HZoOCy), Christchurch activists have worked to create a welcoming space alongside the wider Occupy group to discuss issues specifically impacting on womyn in our communities. [Read more…]

Safer Spaces in Political Organising

“Safer spaces” began in forms such as consciousness-raising groups

Kassie Hartendorp is a Workers Party member, founding activist of the Queer Avengers, and works as a youth worker for a queer youth organisation. This article is adapted from a talk presented at the Workers Party annual conference.

What is a safe space?

As background, safe spaces began in forms such as consciousness-raising groups within the second wave feminist movement. These were spaces which allowed women to openly discuss the discrimination or abuse they were subjected to and strategise ways to fight against issues relating to sexism. The safety of these spaces was important as they provided an opportunity for women to come to terms with issues such as domestic violence or sexual abuse, within a supportive environment. They were also a space that addressed the issue of male domination within wider political groups and as such, often excluded men with the intention to minimise the chances of abuse or marginalization, so that those involved could move forward in their fight against oppression.

Nowadays, safe spaces are often associated with the women’s movement and the queer community. They were formed on the basis that women and queer people were often not physically safe within mainstream groups, and in these environments, people could feel confident expressing their identity or just existing without the threat of violence or verbal abuse. [Read more…]

An oral history of Occupy Christchurch

Byron Clark is based in Christchurch and is the current coordinating editor of The Spark. He has a BA in history from the University of Canterbury. This will be his first oral history project.

Recently I began fundraising for the equipment needed to record an oral history project on Occupy Christchurch, and subsequently publish that project in book which will be donated to Christchurch City Libraries, The Alexander Turnball Library, Archives New Zealand and the Canterbury Museum archive. Of course, copies of the book will be available to the public as well, and the whole project will be published online. The goal is to make the stories of Christchurch’s Occupy protesters as widely accessible as possible.

To raise the funds I am using the crowd-funding platform PledgeMe. Crowd funding provides a platform for projects to raise funds though a large group of people giving smalls amounts. With the money already raised, this project requires just a $5 donation – so long as that $5 donation is made 195 times by 195 people. Crowd funding has been made use of largely by creative people such as filmmakers and musicians, but has also been used for social movements. ‘Occupy the Movie’ is being financed through crowd-funding, as is the documentary adaptation of ‘The Spirit Level’ a book examining inequality.

What is oral history?

A basic definition of oral history is ‘the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events’. Beyond that, it is a form of ‘peoples history’ well suited to the Occupy movement. I have been asked on multiple occasions what qualifies me to write the history of Occupy Christchurch. My answer is that I am not writing the history but recording it. As someone involved in the movement I could write down my recollections but that would just be one person’s history, I plan to tell the stories of approximately one hundred people.

I have also been asked if I will be interviewing people who opposed the Occupy movement. I am interviewing people who were involved in the movement, this includes people who left on less-than-good terms and will no doubt result in a wide range of opinions being expressed thoughout the book. But I am not going to be interviewing people opposed to the movement from the outset. This could result in cries of bias or an unbalanced history, but I am not setting out to write a definitive history of Christchurch in 2011-2012, merely to add to the historical record.

Whatever voices are loudest in the present will also be the loudest in the history of this time. Opposition to Occupy came from politicians and media pundits- The Press the largest circulation newspaper in Christchurch printed an editorial stating the protesters should leave the camp site (and reprinted it several weeks later when they were still there) The opinions of the mayor and city councillors were also widely reported. Through no fault of historians, our recent history is already biased in favour of the powerful, whose voices are not just louder, they are amplified.

Local stories

I have also been asked why I am just doing this project about Occupy Christchurch, and not Occupy New Zealand. The main reason is the costs involved; the current fund raising target is to cover a broadcast-quality digital recorder and an initial print run of one hundred books. The travel costs, not to mention the necessary time off work, would make covering the whole country overly ambitious.

A possibility is that money made from book sales could be used for a grant to an oral historian in another city to conduct a similar project; of course this depends on demand for copies of the book.

The earthquakes that hit Christchurch over the last two years also make the story of its Occupy protest unique. With the central city uninhabitable, protesters were able to remain in their chosen location longer than other New Zealand occupations, and the housing crisis meant that the Occupy camp swelled with homeless who became radicalised as they mingled with socialists, anarchists and
others.

If you want to contribute toward this project, you can pledge at https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/Crowd/Details/313 there are ‘rewards’ available such as copies of the book, and the opportunity to be listed in the dedication as one of people who made it possible. If you are not in a position to pledge money, you can help out by spreading the word and helping reach people who can.