Patriarchy on the Radical Left, Part 2: a way out

Just after International Women’s day we are pleased to bring you part two of Kyra’s essay on patriarchy on the radical left. These discussions are important so please consider sharing. CONTENT WARNING: this article discusses topics that can often be difficult including sexual and relationship abuse, suicide, and addiction.

KYRA GILLIES has been involved in the radical left in her city and country for five years. She is a woman/genderfluid survivor of multiple intimate partner rapes from men. The most recent being from a man who is a member of the International Socialist Organisation. Passionate about our planetary health the author has been involved in Students for Environmental Action, supported School Strike for Climate and is currently involved with Environmental Justice Ōtepoti. They have been involved in anti-violence and alternative approaches to prisons as a founding member of Students Against Sexual Violence and a former member of People Against Prisons Aotearoa. They have volunteered for LGBT youth organisation InsideOUT and supported Dunedin Pride Month as an MC and poet for the Pride Poetry Night. They have been involved with the International Socialist Organisation Dunedin branch for more than 2 years, attending meetings, study groups and giving a public talk on anti-capitalist feminism, though never joined the organisation formally due to concerns about a culture of (white) male dominance and sexism. They are currently part of the Tauiwi mō Matike Mai Aotearoa kaupapa.

Fightback is pleased to publish Kyra’s thoughts on this subject, which are very close (though perhaps not identical) to our own on the problem of macho or patriarchal behaviours on the activist Left. This is the second in a two-part series of articles from Kyra; the first was published on the Fightback website last Monday.

a way out

the male dominated left, feminist antifascism and the need for men to front up

As feminists, we must view the nonfeminist Left as a reform movement. We must marvel at its moral bankruptcy, at the poverty of its revolutionary consciousness.

Andrea Dworkin1 1977

[Sexual/ gender violence] is not a secondary or tertiary question. It is the main issue facing the global Left.

Radical Women2 2019

Radical movements cannot afford the destruction that gender violence creates… [and] dismantling misogyny cannot be work that only women do. We all must do the work because the survival of our movements depends on it.

Courtney Desiree Morris3 2010

Radical softness as a weapon means that to present your emotional self is a political act, one which works against Western presentations of toughness. Vulnerability is a sign of strength. Sharing difficult experiences creates healing spaces and allows for others to feel less alone. 

Lora Mathis4 2015

a . b . c . a boys club

Let me be clear.

I do not want this to end in a suicide.

I do not want this to result in bullying or shaming.

I do not want the focus to be on him, some past tense ‘us’ or me. This is so much bigger than this relationship, this group, this city or this country. If the focus is purely individual, that lets the system(s) off the hook. Then we don’t look at or challenge the organisations, the cultures, what’s taken for granted. Male dominance: often cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, educated, almost always white. Male dominance and its conspirators are not just within an individual, it is a network, a collective effort. The old boys club, as they say. You can’t challenge one boy; you have to challenge the whole club.

This is the second time I have survived multiple sexual assaults from an intimate male partner. I am sick of surviving, I want to live. I am sick of men making messes and women doing the cleaning up. Men5 do the raping and then women, queers, nonbinary people do the supporting of their friends, their daughters while they cry and rage. Men do some clean up work for a change. We are exhausted. Maybe then if you do the clean up work you will understand more about sexual violence, partner rape. The impact. You will hear the stories about anal rape, getting raped when you’re sick, the mental and emotional control they assert. How they apologise afterwards, tell you it won’t happen again. The pressure to be sexy, fun and up for anything. To compete with other women, with his previous sexual partners. How isolated we become, even and especially in rooms filled with other people.

Not only do other people tell us to put our struggles second, but we learn to put ourselves as a lower priority. We tell ourselves to wait, that now’s not a good time, he’s usually such a good guy. Don’t rock the boat, so a good time never comes. We internalise it, we hear the excuses and then we start to make them ourselves. We tell ourselves don’t detract from his good work. Don’t cause a breakage or drama, as if their rape wasn’t the cause of breakage. I’m sick of making myself a lower priority and of women being a lower priority. I am done supporting a ‘revolution’ that does not support us. A ‘revolution’ that does not care about women is no revolution at all. You’re lost. Women as a bottom priority is simply the patriarchal status quo, and the thousands of years of male supremacy which preceded this moment. Boring.

walking into a wreckage

I know I’m not the only one. I am writing this as a flare in the dark, to signal to other women. We are isolated, but not alone in our experience. Many women have experienced abuse from male partners, ‘comrades’, ‘friends’ in the radical left.

This is not about me. Always, I wanted to struggle to create space for other women, for it to be safer and better for them, for those young women and queers who come along after me. I wanted it to move along. That’s the thing about patriarchy, it evolves, yet is so stagnant, too. I know if women and queer’s engagement is up, the whole group, the whole world is richer for it. We have more insights, more ability to make change. Don’t get it twisted. I want our movement to flourish.

I came in to the radical left at 18 or 19. I came in hearing about this man who beat this woman, this man who threw this woman down the stairs, this man who raped this woman. I came in hearing about how poorly these rapes and beatings were handled. Hearing about how socially destructive it was, as well as to the woman herself of course. I came hearing about the years of ongoing fall out, the splits, fractures in groups, social circles. Yeah, sometimes the man was kicked out of the organisation he was part of, but did the culture in which it occurred change? Was there ever any reflection, repair? Did the man ever understand what and why he did wrong? Did he learn how to do differently? Did the trauma ever heal? or did it just linger, unspoken, unacknowledged.

I came in to almost exclusively men in meetings. Like walking into a wreckage. Knowing damage was down but not being there to have seen it. An aftermath which hung in the air. I would look around and never find many women. I walked into the direct consequence of men’s violence. Women’s political engagement is heavily impacted by men’s violence. You only need to look around and see who is there and who isn’t. How women left groups and cities and countries and never came back. I heard the whispers from women about how it’s hostile, it’s not safe. A full spectrum ranging from talking over you and talking down to you to rape and beating. I felt, I saw the absence of other women. That is what I mean when I say this is not about me. It is about the women before me, the women and queers after me. All of us. How the gender based violence is a filter, a border guard maintaining a near exclusively male* space.

Fuck you I don’t want to drop out. Fuck you I don’t want to leave a movement I care about. I want it to be better.

an heirloom, transmitted & maintained

The context in which I experienced control, verbal abuse and sexual abuse from an intimate male partner who was a member of a socialist organisation, was not isolated or out of nowhere. I had been vocal in challenging the male dominance in the organisations meetings. I had spoken repeatedly to members of the organisation. I tried to raise women’s and indigenous issues in meetings where only workers in some vague abstract sense were being talked about as some genderless, raceless human, who by default ends up being a white man. I was often shot down for these attempts and not supported by anyone. This happened in a context in which there were not many other women around, because it was an inhospitable environment. The other women/genderqueer people who spoke up got shot down too, or were too scared and unconfident to speak up due to what they’d seen happen to others. Male dominance has a disciplining function, it chills and silences. I found out later also that the man who mentored the man who abused me, mentored another man who also abused their partner. That’s not individual, that’s a pattern. That’s a power structure. Focusing on ‘individual perpetrators’ is a nonsense. It will never be enough. How is patriarchy/ male dominance taught? How is it handed down? Transmitted? Normalised like the air we breath, who talks about air? It’s just air, this is just life. How is patriarchy inherited? reproduced? we must disrupt patriarchy when and where it is reproduced.

No more ‘he’s a great man’ ‘he has all this experience; he does/has done so much’. Even men with much experience have much to learn. Perhaps we should be asking why, if they’ve been involved in the struggle for so long, they’ve never interrogated the patriarchy in themselves. No more protecting egos. No more ‘loyalty’ and ‘respect’ as a code for maintaining patriarchy. Leaving patriarchy intact, unchallenged and leaving the women in it’s wake. How much are you expecting us to bare? to hold in our bodies silently as we become sick and tired. And you wonder why there are few women at meetings, like you’re not the cause.

Even when women are silent publicly, we whisper, we know. There may not be many formal complaints or comments to your men’s organisation, but boy oh boy is there a reputation. Deftly circulated whispers about what its like in your meetings, to be in relationships with you, why we won’t go back and why we wouldn’t recommend it.

welcoming sharing learning

Let me be clear:

…sexual abuse, rape, verbal abuse, control, talking over women and queers, telling us we’re overreacting. This is all part of a spectrum of patriarchal behaviour. Each behaviour is not the same but they all contribute to trying to control and keep down women and queers, they sustain male dominance.

Beyond that, male dominated organisations lack welcomingness, lack hospitality, lack care, warmth. This is patriarchal macho bullshit and it is a deeply colonised way of being. Where is the loving greetings and smiles? The acknowledgement of people, land, those who have passed, the gifts of the earth? Do you ask people how they are? Where they’re from? Check in on them, get to know them. Be curious, empathetic. Don’t just act like they are objects for you to insert information into. Like they’re just people/ workers/ potential recruits who you need to teach something. You have something to learn from everyone, their lives, experiences. They have insights too, they could teach you. They’re not a hopeless human being and useless political subject until they’ve read Das Kapital or State and Revolution. It could be an exchange instead of an imposition.

Make people cups of tea. Don’t just leave it to the women. Have feminist books and Māori books, māna wāhine books, books on disability justice, art, earth, animals, parenting, education. There are so many ways to approach liberation, it can be joyful and life affirming. It doesn’t have to be so dry and harsh and cold.

Your posters don’t always have to be red and black and shouting!!!

Where are the flowers? the river? the love?

Even men such as Che, who so many macho leftists admire, said that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love for the people. Where is your love? show it. Live love in your actions.

True love is revolutionary, is anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and there can be no love under patriarchy, only delusion.

Communism is about sharing. Share your food and tea, welcome people, care for them. Share your time, listen and share stories. Connect. Capitalism is a brutal system of compartmentalisation. It is radical to connect. To resist isolation. To truly cultivate relationships of depth and intimacy. So we have a strong base of love, care and friendship from which to wage our struggle against the system, for love of life.

counter the death cult with care

Patriarchy is a death cult. War, violence, rape, addiction, self annihilation, neglect and destruction, unaddressed trauma cycling through to violence and more trauma. Colonial capitalist patriarchy will have men kill each other, kill women, children, kill animals, the earth, oceans and of course have men kill themselves. A death cult can only be countered with that which affirms life. Counter necropolitics with caring for each other and ourselves. Nurturing, loving.

Patriarchy is fuelled and sustained by generations and generations of violence and trauma stacking, compacting and cycling on and on and on. Being passed down, continuing. Transmitting the worst of our family histories forward: the alcoholism, the beating, the rape, the yelling, the betrayal, the heartbreak. We must be the generation(s) that stop it. That heal. That insist on ending violence against women, children, queers, men, earth. That fight to address addiction. Part of the struggle is for housing and food and clean water, enough to live, yes. Within that process is the struggle to treat each other well. To not inflict harm in spite of our stress, fear, crisis and pain. To be patient, to be gentle, to communicate. To take time out. To be honest with each other when we are frustrated, to acknowledge when we are struggling. To be aware of our emotions and how that could affect how we engage with each other. To ask for help when we need it. To support each other, mutual aid, to live and struggle in interdependence.

support systems, softness

I read once that when it comes to suicide, women’s ‘weakness’ is their greatest strength and men’s ‘strength’ is their greatest weakness. What does this mean? Women attempt suicide at higher rates than men, but die less. Men attempt less but die more by suicide. That’s the gender paradox. What keeps women alive partly it is believed, is that women have greater social support with friends, family and also reaching out for formal support. Women are more likely to have grown more friendships often with greater intimacy and depth. Men are at risk because they do not create such support systems for themselves and each other. Women talk about their feelings and ask for help more and this is seen as ‘weak’ yet it is a protective factor. Men are seen as tough/ strong for suppressing their feelings, bottling it up, manning up, being a tough guy, yet this is part of what puts them at risk. Whilst also functioning to outsource the labour of emotional support for men onto women.

In many ways, for men it is not toughening up but softening up that is needed. What is called radical softness, could be truly revolutionary. Softening up, being caring could be part of suicide and violence prevention as well as part of addressing trauma and addictions.

struggle within

If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. 

Andrea Dworkin6

We can struggle together better, more sustainably and continuously when there is trust, respect, when we are safe to be around each other. This is fundamental. We need to be able to work together, to struggle effectively to overthrow this capitalist, colonial patriarchal clusterfuck of a system. To work together at our best there needs to be no abuse (this is an aspiration to work towards here and now, there’s no perfection but we must try). The struggle is against the system(s). The systems are inside and outside of us. The struggle is to work together against the system(s). To address trauma and addiction, to prevent violence and abuse so as to be able to work together to struggle against the system. There are struggles within struggles; ultimately it is one struggle.

Let me be clear:

I am not doing this for revenge, to take someone down. It would be disingenuous to interpret my actions as such.

Saying it’s just personal, is patriarchal nonsense. Saying it’s a private matter, it’s revenge, she’s overreacting, she’s vindictive, she’s crazy, is sexist nonsense. This is personal, yes, thanks for noticing. It’s also very fucking political, it’s historical, it’s systemic.

I am doing this because while male dominance, abuse and women’s silence reigns, a movement for liberation remains quagmired in mud.

Stuck. Not moving.

Not much of a movement at all. I am doing this for growth, because I want us to get somewhere. Fuck, look past this as a personal attack, as being about your image or reputation and realise that gender based violence is you sabotaging the revolution you claim to care so much about. Show us you’re more than just lost boys using politics as an escape. I am inviting you to try to be a revolutionary not merely a hypocrite. I’m not saying I’m perfect, none of us are. Imperfection is no excuse for not trying and striving. This is a struggle isn’t it? Struggle with me, struggle together. We were never made to struggle alone.

Within every struggle, we have a gender/sexual violence struggle to contend with as well.

Housing. Women fear and experience violence in their home from man partners, friends, family members and flat mates. Women fleeing violence often become homeless or are unable to flee because of financial dependence, poverty. There is a feminisation of poverty, which is to say wealth is masculinised.

The climate crisis. Women especially the indigenous, experience rape, harassment and murder for struggling to protect the earth. The water. Women earth protectors often must struggle against capital and their own men.

The Workplace. Women experience harassment sometimes rape. Lower pay especially for pacific and Māori women.

Leftist meetings, conferences. Women are often spoken over, spoken down to, disrespected, demeaned, often harassed, sometimes raped or beaten.

Protests, blockades with police. Women and gender minorities often experience sexual and gender based violence from the cops, touching their breasts, invasive searches.

We have all the problems you men have as working people under capitalism and more.

collective healing

we must support women and queer people in our movements who have experienced interpersonal violence and engage in a collective process of healing.

Courtney Desiree Morris7

Sexual violence is a wound. It takes time to heal and recover. It’s a wound no one can see and it’s a lot of energy to tell people about it. Being wounded takes you out of the struggle as you struggle to cope. It can make you struggle to eat, to sleep, to go out in public. Make you self isolate, self harm and neglect, feel suicidal and depressed. Experiencing sexual violence has made it hard for me to stay working to address the climate crisis, to work in solidarity for Māori sovereignty. Experiencing intimate partner rape takes my energy and focus away from things because I’m trying to sleep and eat. Trying to cope with crying all the time and flashbacks and this all consuming rage at the unfairness of it.

I wish I could just focus on the climate crisis, Māori sovereignty, welfare, housing, the union movement. But I can’t ignore what is so disabling.

So often we hear about the important work men have done as a plea to not challenge him on his behaviour. What about women’s contributions? We contribute so much. Other people fucking with our ability to participate in the struggle should be of concern. What about the women taken out of the struggle, lost to rape and domestic violence? Why is it being looked at as if it is men who are the only ones contributing? Or the only ones whose contributions matter. Count us.

I refuse to bare this pain alone, in private. To bare it in private, would be an injustice on top of what is already unjust. I loved someone, they abused me. It’s the emotional pain that’s the worst. The sense that safety is unattainable. That trusting other people is just something you do which endangers yourself. I refuse to give up on trusting other people, what else do we have available to us but each other? It’s not just pain from one individual, it’s pain of feeling profoundly let down by a whole community. Feeling like not enough is being done or was done to prevent and address gender violence. Like the silence is screaming at me. This experience has made me feel so alone, so unsupported. So let down.

Can’t we collectivise pain? Collectivise healing, too? Isn’t change meant to be a collective project?

Leaving people alone is a betrayal.

As a woman in radical circles, I feel trapped. We’re not allowed to call the cops because we’re meant to oppose them. It’s not like I want to, or that I think the cops would help. But just because we’re prison abolitionists doesn’t mean we don’t want justice, nor does it mean you can abuse us with impunity. Just because I don’t want to go the cops doesn’t mean I don’t want this to be addressed, for you to be accountable. As if the cops would address it anyway, if you don’t address this you’re no better than them.

rape, race & resources

It tends to be women and queers who are indigenous and/or of colour who bare the brunt of sexual violence. Yet, it is white women’s ‘victimhood’ that is cared about, responded to, more than others, if at all. White women might not get listened to much, but if anyone is more likely to be listened to at all it’s us.

Men of all races are sexually violent, abusive. That’s patriarchy, it has cultural specificity but also is cross cultural. Yet it is often the white / wealthy / cis-het / men who most often evade accountability. Their position of power insulates. Often people are unable or never dare to fight the well off white men, with their social status, their connections, their money, the esteem they are held in. It’s easier to speak of the less powerful men and their violence. The institutions of media, criminal justice, are willing to convict and punish men of colour, to print their images in newspaper, to parade it across the TV screen. Fear the black and brown rapist, they say. Feeding into shaping the view that it is non-white men who are the violent ones. That it’s the poor and brown men who are violent, ‘uncivilised’, ‘backwards’ and ‘uncouth’. Men of colour are not unique in their violence. They are just more likely to be reached in their position of relative less power, in this nexus system of race, gender, class+.

I do not want men of colour to be the only ones challenged on gender based violence. But I do not want men of colour to go unchallenged either. White men, men who sit on higher positions of the ladder must be challenged especially.

We can’t pursue the issue of sexual and gender based violence without being critical of racial power dynamics, failing to do so would be destructive. Any anti-sexual violence struggle worth it’s salt must be anti-racist. It’s a false dichotomy to act like we must choose between caring about white women or men of colour. White women or white men. That is a bind. Women of colour, indigenous women matter. No men and their violence should be let off the hook.

If this is what a white able bodied women (/genderfluid person) goes through, then I know it’s likely to be much worse for disabled / trans / migrant / women / of colour / poor / sex workers / single mothers.

There is energy required to ‘speak out’ to talk, to write. It requires time. It requires a certain amount of financial, mental, emotional stability to be able to focus on gender based violence and challenge it. Rather than just focusing on surviving. I have a secure enough income, job and living situation. I have some supportive friends and family. I can usually afford to go to the doctor. I’ve been able to access free counselling. When I’m exhausted and struggling I have the money to buy easy food: soup and smoothies or order in pizza. If I feel like shit and am in crisis I can go drive my car to the beach or a friend’s place. I have a certain amount of money, resources and connections. I don’t want to use what I have available to me merely for my own comfort or advancement. I have been sick, sore and struggling, in emotional turmoil. I’ve had months and months of going round and round and up and down. A cycle of coping and crashing, but with what I have available to me and my own efforts, I’ve been able to get to a point where I can take the time and energy to write about this. Like most people in this world I occupy a position of oppressed and oppressor, for all my faults and flaws, I am committed to fighting that simultaneously, for women and queer liberation AND against white supremacy, the able bodied, class dominated society.

feminism = the opposite of fascism

sexism and misogyny are [central] to the far-right’s political agenda… fascism and the patriarchy are two heads of the same snake

Hope Worsdale8

Recently in my city there have been some effort to do antifascist organising particularly in the wake of a white supremacist terrorist attack. Even though most white supremacist and fascist attacks and organising is by white men, there is virtually no discussion or acknowledgement of this fact. Women’s political engagement has been low in this area and it has stayed man, mostly white man, dominated. Even an attempt at doing a karakia to close a meeting was dismissed as silly and ‘cultural’ rather than ‘political’. Tell me, man, what kind of space are you trying to create?

A key part of fascism is the male dominated family, household. A return and longing for the strong man. Seeking to push women/keep women in their place, in the home, as housewives, mothers. They seek white women to support the ‘great’ white men, to fuck him, birth his children, raise them, cook and clean, nothing else. White women are revered in the fascist perspective, we are revered in a subordinate role. To serve to enable the white man. We white women will survive if we serve, cook, fuck, clean. Others women of colour, queers, the disabled, fat people do not have that option. They are seen as ‘degenerate’, ‘inferiors’ to be gotten rid of, purged/ cleansed, whatever hideous language they may choose or mask in codes. Fascism is hetero-patriarchal. It is patriarchal white supremacist to the extreme. Fascism cannot be countered by a white man dominated left. You pour water not gasoline on a fire. You cannot counter something with something, that is from the same root. Challenging fascism and white supremacy necessarily requires challenging white / man dominance in all it’s forms, including in the white / men of the left.

These men are worried about this outside threat of white supremacy and fascism. But they are not concerned about their own domination which they sit atop of. If they really were to effectively challenge fascism and white supremacy, they would be challenging its root. They would be challenging a key pillar. Not just out there, but in themselves also. This is not an either or. Personal change or political change. We struggle simultaneously on both or multiple fronts, it’s time white / men did too. Women, queers, particularly women of colour’s, political leadership and participation will only strengthen antifascism. Improve it, refine it, hone it. Make it the powerful life affirming force that it needs to be.

a dare: don’t run

I haven’t seen a single man reckon with what he’s done.

Eve Ensler9

I dare you to face up to what you’ve done.

I dare you to face up to your complicity, your actions and your failure to act.

I dare you to acknowledge the harm you’ve done, the other men’s bullshit you’ve supported, enabled, looked the other way for, made excuses.

I dare you to challenge yourself to really investigate why and how you did what you did. Where it came from? How you’ll stop it.

I dare you to address your trauma, your addiction, your anger and all your other feelings you’re so uncomfortable with.

I fucking dare you to confront other men. You’re scared of him? Me too. How do you think we feel? But still we try to confront you anyway, what other choice do we have?

I dare you to support other men. To expect better of them, to hold yourselves to a higher standard.

Don’t you see, us women, us queers, us vengeful feminist bitches, we’re the ones who believe in you the most. We believe in your humanity, your capacity for growth, transformation, healing.

You’re not doomed to always be rapists, perpetrators, oppressors.

We insist on it, we require it.

We dare you to live up to our hopes for you.

We dare you10 to front up to it, don’t run away, dodge or hide. FRONT UP.

All this guilt and fear you have, of us ‘coming after you’ trying to ‘take you down’ that it’s a ‘witch hunt’. You’re delusional, you’re projecting. If this was a witch hunt you’d be burning at the stake, smelling your own flesh, right now, but you’re not are you? That’s because we have far more restraint than you have. We are merciful.

You can be free of your guilt, your fear. You don’t have to live always glancing over your shoulder, paranoid, like eventually you know you’ll get what’s coming. You can be free of your paranoia, if only you FRONT UP.

I will make you a promise now, far more than you deserve. Despite all the offers I’ve received, I will not send someone round to your house to beat the ever living shit out of you. I will not have your house egged or bricked. I will not beat you up myself. I will not tell you to kill yourself. As angry as I am, I do not want that. I have felt violence in this world. I have no desire for violence to cycle on. I want peace!

Stop being so fucking narrow minded about this all; imagine something other than violence. Why is it so hard to understand that

we actually want you to change your behaviour.

I am giving you a way out. You don’t have to move countries to some new scene where no one knows what you did, you don’t have to kill yourself. I don’t want to push anyone into a corner from which there is no coming back, there is no redemption, there is only death.

You may think there is no coming back from what you’ve done. We’re telling you you’re wrong. Redemption is possible, if only you work to have redeeming behaviour.

We are giving you a way out. If only you would take it.

Try being different to your father, your grandfather.

Thank us for the olive branch, you silly, silly men and take it.

We dare you to break the cycle. That would be fucking revolutionary!

Am I vindictive now? I am insisting on your life.

Perhaps more than I have seen you do so for yourself. Grasp life, live it. None of this living dead self annihilation bullshit. I told you patriarchy was a death cult. You’re the king of a prison. Get out. The top of a pyramid in a cage. Step down.

I won’t kill you, or beat you. But I will speak about what you did to me. And I will demand it be addressed. Don’t you fucking run away from me, from us, from this. Despite all your urges to hide, to bury yourself in drugs, escapism and self destruction. I want you to keep your feet firmly rooted in the ground,

Stay right where you are.

Listen,

Look

You fucked up, now

FRONT UP


1 Andrea Dworkin, Marx and Ghandi were liberals: feminism and the “radical” left archive.org/stream/Dworkin_Marx-Ghandi/Marx%20and%20Ghandi%20Were%20Liberals_djvu.txt

2 Radical Women, The meltdown of International Socialist Organization: How anti-feminism, racism and bureaucracy led to its demise radicalwomen.org/ISO%20demise.shtml?fbclid=IwAR2BmdVeG132deOercwl5YNVTQ1EX4XaA21jkqzhPgtoqJlyRfIYQOR94

3 Why misogynists make great informants: how gender violence on the left enables state violence in radical movements incite-national.org/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-informants-how-gender-violence-on-the-left-enables-state-violence-in-radical-movements/

4 Radical Softness as a Weapon loramathis.com/kipp-harbor-times

5 Yes, men are victims too, yes women and non-men rape sometimes too. However, it’s mostly men to mostly women and femmes. Don’t derail.

6 Andrea Dworkin, I want a 24 truce during which there is no rape nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

7 Why misogynists make great informants: how gender violence on the left enables state violence in radical movements incite-national.org/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-informants-how-gender-violence-on-the-left-enables-state-violence-in-radical-movements/

8 Antifascism is a feminist issue. redpepper.org.uk/anti-fascism-is-feminist-issue/ 2018

9 Eliana Dockterman, I Visited Eve Ensler to Talk About Her Sexual Abuse. I got a Therapy Session Instead. time.com/5581726/eve-ensler-the-apology-book-review/ 2019

10 Inspired by Barucha Peller’s Patriarchy in Radical Movements, and a Call to Men (unpublished)

If you found this article difficult and/or are struggling with similar issues, please consider talking with your whānau, friends and/or contacting: Lifeline, Depression Helpline, Women’s Refuge, Shine Helpline, HELP Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors, OCASA (formerly Rape Crisis), Safe to Talk Sexual Harm phone line, and/or the Alcohol/Drug Helpline.

Patriarchy on the Radical Left, part 1: struggling to be on the same side

CONTENT WARNING: this article discusses topics that can often be difficult including sexual and relationship abuse, suicide, and addiction.

KYRA GILLIES has been involved in the radical left in her city and country for five years. She is a woman/genderfluid survivor of multiple intimate partner rapes from men. The most recent being from a man who is a member of the International Socialist Organisation. Passionate about our planetary health the author has been involved in Students for Environmental Action, supported School Strike for Climate and is currently involved with Environmental Justice Ōtepoti. They have been involved in anti-violence and alternative approaches to prisons as a founding member of Students Against Sexual Violence and a former member of People Against Prisons Aotearoa. They have volunteered for LGBT youth organisation InsideOUT and supported Dunedin Pride Month as an MC and poet for the Pride Poetry Night. They have been involved with the International Socialist Organisation Dunedin branch for more than 2 years, attending meetings, study groups and giving a public talk on anti-capitalist feminism, though never joined the organisation formally due to concerns about a culture of (white) male dominance and sexism. They are currently part of the Tauiwi mō Matike Mai Aotearoa kaupapa.

Fightback is pleased to published Kyra’s thoughts on this subject, which are very close (though perhaps identical) to our own on the problem of macho or patriarchal behaviours on the activist Left. This is the first in a two-part series of articles from Kyra; the second will be published on the Fightback website next Monday.

Men who think they don’t have anything else to learn [are] very dangerous men.

Jennai Bundock1 2015

We believe in the need for a transformation of men…that means a male revolutionary or socialist has the responsibility to liberate themselves from patriarchy… [to] study and analyse how patriarchy is reproduced in their personality and try to overcome it.

Kurdish Women’s Movement2 2018

We dare you to own up to the damage you have caused, and then to actually change. We dare you to call other men out and to figure out how to prevent patriarchal behaviors and dynamics. We dare you to participate in feminist class struggle.

Barucha Peller3 2013

We believe in your humanity, against all the evidence4

Andrea Dworkin 1983

Being comrades means being on the same side5. With so much sexual abuse perpetrated by men on left, we are not yet on the same side.

good looks good person

I can’t tell you how much I blame Disney. The Disney films I ingested in my childhood made me equate good looks with being a good person. They directed me to seek out conventionally attractive men for relationships. I’m trying to figure out how to pay attention to other traits.

I dated this guy who was good looking, like Prince Eric from the Little Mermaid, Aladdin kind of good looking. Nice dark hair, nice skin. Like many leftist men, he had that kind of Che Guevara military style. I thought he was cute. He was in a socialist organisation, involved in a local union. He smiled and laughed a lot. He was funny. I liked that he cared about workers, the cause, y’know. I asked him out. We went on a couple dates, it was nice. He complimented me a lot. Said that he thought I was beautiful.

After a while I realised that all the compliments were on my looks, my body. (Maybe Disney had got to him too). You’re beautiful, you’re sexy. Then more specific. I like the way your stomach looks. You have a nice ass.

Eventually I started to feel uncomfortable. Do you like anything else about me? Like other qualities: my intelligence or passion, qualities that aren’t looks. Looks aren’t an achievement, it’s just a lottery of birth. It doesn’t mean anything. ‘But you are beautiful,’ he’d say. I know but I don’t care.

flat stomach

You have to understand I’ve spent more than half my life being terrified of being anything other than skinny. I’ve cycled through binge eating and skipping meals. I’ve been threatened that one day my metabolism will catch up on me and I should ‘be careful’ I don’t get fat. I meet the conventional standards of beauty when it comes to size, sure, but my god it hasn’t been enjoyable, or healthy. I don’t want to be congratulated for it. I’ve visited friends in hospital who have nearly died from anorexia. Answered their phone calls while they’re delirious, starved. A flat stomach is not comforting; neither is you affirming it.

We’d have political discussions often, he’d tell me that he thought that women’s oppression is purely reducible to economics. As if women’s oppression is ‘out there’ somewhere. Not right here, right now, between us two in bed while I’m in my underwear being looked at like all that matters is that my stomach is flat. So sexy.

you find out gradually

I started going out with him. As the months went on I discovered progressively how much of an addiction problem he had. Mostly weed and alcohol. He was always on something: coffee, his phone, video games. Apart from me and the guys at the almost exclusively men’s socialist group, he didn’t really have any friends or support people in his life.

I found out he’d been suicidal, was depressed, had anxiety. He didn’t really give a shit about himself, had no sense of trying to take care of himself. It was like he was trying to kill himself, but slowly. If I was going be going out with him then I was going to watch him do it. But, I believed in transformation, I thought he did too. He claimed to be a revolutionary, he wanted to change society, just not himself. Personal transformation is not always neoliberal bullshit. Jordan Peterson thinks people should tidy their room, focus on themselves, before trying to change the world. I think we can try and do both at the same time. We don’t have to choose between the individual and the collective, we need to integrate them both as a balanced whole. Trust a bisexual to answer both when given two options.

I believed in supporting people, not throwing people away. So I poured love and care into him. I’d try get him into eating nice meals with me, get him to go outside, get fresh air, go for a walk. After months and months, I started to get burnt out and frustrated. I was serving people at work. I would finish a shift and feel like I was serving him too. Burning the candle at both ends, I was exhausted. I’d spent my whole girlhood seeing my mother exist in service to other people, mostly her man partner and her children. I’d taken that in and was self-imposing it. I think he expected me to care for him too. Fuss over him, dote on him.

We started fighting quite a bit. I didn’t like that he wasn’t present when we were spending time with each other, always on his phone. A few months in he started to be late and forgetful. He was on time to start with, but he could only keep that up for so long. I think he was smoking weed every day, but I’m not sure.

He would get jealous when I’d go to see friends of mine who were men.

all the men in the family are alcoholics

I was around him a couple times when he got really drunk. I told him how that affected me. It brought up my child hood trauma, how my dads an alcoholic. How I’ve been sexually abused by drunk men. He said ‘yeah, yeah, you know I care about you, it’s fine’. He made promises he couldn’t keep, that I never asked him to make. ‘I won’t drink tonight. Oh, but what if I drink a little, do you mind? Is that okay? I know I said I wouldn’t, but everyone else is drinking’. I’m not your fucking mother, I’m not your minder or your babysitter. You can do what you want and you obviously do. It’s up to me whether or not I want to stick around for it. I told you, your drinking makes me uncomfortable. You told me you’re an alcoholic, like your dad before you. Much like my dad and my grandfather before him. I’ve told you I don’t feel safe and you’ve made your choice.

I tried so hard for so long, in spite of the stress and exhaustion because I longed for a companion. I longed for a relationship of equality and mutuality. I wanted to believe you could grow. We could grow together. I wanted someone to love me. The absent-father-abandonment-issues set me up very well to be vulnerable to abuse. Longing for love, with low expectations.

I invited him out for dinner with my mum. Afterwards my mum said ‘he seems nice, but was he high during dinner?’ I said I dunno, yeah probably. I was always too scared to ask.

We had a big argument at a party. I was going to be staying at his house that night. He was drunk. I wanted to be by myself and go home. I told him I was going to go. He wouldn’t let me leave. He followed me to my car. He was yelling at me “have I mistreated you? have I abused you?” Dude, you’re yelling at me right now. Of course I don’t say that, I’m worried about ‘making’ him more angry.

body pain / getting sick

I got burnt out. I was exhausted from work and from him. I was seeing my friends a lot less, so tired and busy with him. Often he would tell me I was wrong or overreacting. I was getting cut off from my own perspective or any perspective other than his.

I started getting pain in my stomach and back. It hurt to stand. I couldn’t cook. I went to the doctors to get tests done. I went to the emergency room. I thought my appendix was going to burst. I had to take a lot of time off work. I didn’t know what was wrong. Irritable bowel syndrome? Fibromyalgia? The doctors don’t know.

We hadn’t had sex in a while. I think I missed it, but also felt like he would start to be frustrated with me, so felt pressure, to have sex with him soon.

I think it was the first time we were having sex since I’d been sick that I told him to stop during sex and he didn’t. He pushed me down and kept going. I said ‘no’ and ‘stop’ a couple times. I was in disbelief that he would ignore me like that. I’d been to SlutWalk and Take Back the Night, up until then I had thought the slogan ‘no means no’ was a little silly, like too obvious.

burying it in your head

When he ignored my no, I knew I couldn’t tell a friend or say it out loud, unless I was ready to break up with him. If I told a friend, they would be on my case to get out of the relationship. I was so embarrassed, unsure and gutted that he abused me, that I buried it in my head. I didn’t speak about. He acted like nothing had happened. I carried on, like I’d forgotten.

A couple weeks later, I was still recovering from being sick. Still feeling pressure to be this sexy, fun girlfriend, not wanting him to lose interest. We started having sex. I was trying really hard to be energetic and upbeat, even though I’d been exhausted for weeks. Sometimes during sex we would hit or choke each other. It would go both ways. I’d told him him multiple times. ‘I’m only into it or okay with that if you ask me first, or if I ask you to. I don’t always feel like it’.

So it’s pitch black, he’s on top of me. No warning, he starts hitting and choking me. I went into shock. I thought for a split second about saying no. But I remembered that he didn’t stop last time I said no, so I didn’t say anything. I was too scared he would ignore me again and then I’d really know he was assaulting me. I was too scared it would get worse. So I waited for it to be over.

I was completely spaced out once he stopped. I had disassociated so rapidly I was nauseous. I wanted him to not be there. For me to be in bed by myself. But I was scared trying to get him to leave would make it worse. So I rolled over and went to sleep with him beside me, too exhausted to do more.

If women’s oppression is purely economic, why do I feel unsafe in my own bed?

If women’s oppression is purely economic, why do I have more money than him but it still feels like he has more power?

tearfulness

I ran into a friend a couple times around the time of the two assaults. Each time I had either just been crying, or was about to cry. My friend said, ‘you really haven’t been okay lately’. I was like yeah, I haven’t, why is that? I’ve been crying so much.

I had suppressed both the assaults and was trying to go back to work.

Then, I remembered that tearfulness was an early sign or consequence of rape. I remembered how tearful I was the first time I was raped in high school. Oh shit, it’s this again. This inexplicable crying. It’s not inexplicable. I’ve been violated and it’s scattered my mind and body.

I knew many women who are raped often experience a second sexual assault. I knew that leftist men rape too. I knew that the most common place women experience violence is in their own home, in relationships with men. But I was still shocked. I’d spent 4 years processing the previous rape. I’d worked so hard to try to be okay, to trust, to have sex, to try another relationship. Here I was again.

telling people

We had the overlapping social circles. We knew people in socialist groups, environmental groups, unions. We’d gone to rallies and blockades together. We met during a strike. He knew I’d been raped before by another man I was in a relationship with. He knew because he knew I’d been involved in anti-sexual violence activism. He would talk to me about the sexual harassment and assault of his women colleagues where he worked, he was so upset and disgusted by it. His mother had had to flee an abusive relationship. He claimed to support women’s liberation. Interestingly, he’d only read from the canon of men. Just Marx, Lenin, Mao, Trotsky. I wondered if he thought women’s liberation was important, why it was such a low priority, why he never got around to studying it. But he did the dishes and he gave me head more than I gave him head so I told myself this was pretty good.

Telling people how he’d treated me seemed like an exhausting task. I worried about being accused of bitching or trashing him. I worried about him killing himself and me being blamed for that. I worried about being accused of attention seeking, that I was just me trying to make some feminist point.

help the healing

I’m not saying he’s a monster, or a totally bad person, or that he’s vastly different from other men. The problem is that he’s much the same. What he did was mundane and unfair. I want to not be the only one insisting on his healing and growth. Unlearning is harder than learning. Insist with me, that he work and be supported to never do that again. That is how you stop cycles of violence, intergenerational cycles. Give us women and genderqueer people healing; the comfort, the peace of mind and body to know another wound is not coming for us. Ostracism, condemnation, denunciation doesn’t do that, but it’s so much easier isn’t it? To say they’re terrible and we’re not like that. We’re not like them.

No. No more.

No more ‘but we’re nice guys’, ‘the good guys’ and ‘not like those guys’.

We insist, you men and all people of the left do the hard, necessary, work of healing and stopping violence. Supporting people in accountability, in finding alternative ways of dealing with pain, trauma and anger. Alternatives that don’t involve abuse, escapism, self destruction and addiction. Alternatives that involve social support, nature, arts, creativity, expression. Aren’t we meant to be revolutionaries? Revolutionaries are meant to be inventors, creators with big imaginations. We are trying to create other worlds.

spill over / we’re not separate

Self-destruction will eventually spill over and hurt other people. You can’t neglect and abuse yourself without eventually mistreating others, you just can’t. There is a reason why substance abuse is a risk factor for sexual violence perpetration. Are we ready to have a conversation about substance abuse problems in the radical left and its connections to sexual violence? We’d better be.

I thought bout telling his organisation. I knew many women and non binary people who have found the organisation to have an inhospitable macho environment. But I couldn’t be bothered. It seemed like a lot more harm and risk to me, while my health was already so poor.

So I broke up with him. I wouldn’t go to the socialist meetings every week anymore. I was trying to challenge the male dominance in the organisation, support other women’s engagement, try and form a feminist bloc. Get a foothold. If they want a men’s only, or male dominated group so badly they can have it. In the words of Shulamith Firestone “We have more important things to do than to try to get you to come around. You will come around when you have to, because you need us more than we need you. . . . The message being: Fuck off, left. You can examine your navel by yourself from now on. We’re starting our own movement.6

People still added me to group chats and events that he was in. I weighed up, agonised, over if I should tell the people, that we were no longer together and why. I decided not to. I was worried about being accused of gossip. Not speaking about misogynistic violence because you’re worried they’ll dismiss you out of misogyny, the irony is not lost on me.

spare some solidarity?

I’m struggling to still be able to go and participate in ‘left’ meetings. It’s hard to talk about the environment and capitalism when you feel heartbroken, ashamed and dissociated. Like you just want to be hugged and not touched at the same time. Sometimes, I want to, when asked if I have an agenda item, put men’s violence against women on the agenda. Say: frankly, I am this close to not being able to come to meetings. I need extra support right now and here’s why and I know I’m not the only one. Before I can even participate, I have to do the basic recovery work for myself to be even slightly okay. It’s not fair and I need some help. I need some fucking solidarity. Is this the left or not? Is solidarity just a word or is it a practice? do you speak in catchy slogans? or do you show up and live and breathe the ethos of supporting one another?

never a side issue

Patriarchy, misogyny is not a side issue. It has never been a side issue. The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in the United States collapsed because of a man raping a woman and it not being addressed properly7. The Socialist Workers Party in the United Kingdom had a similar collapse. The anarchist movement where I live has collapsed because of sexual violence, mostly by cisgender heterosexual men, mostly to women and genderqueer people. Fucking hell, when will you wake up and realise this is the centre. How we are treated, how we can relate to each other is the fucking centre. It cannot be secondary, or at the bottom of a list of priorities, it can’t come eventually after you’ve read Marx’s collected works. If we don’t have trust and respect, we have nothing. We have tried to trust, now you men of the left need to give us a fucking reason to.

No excuses. You’ve been abused by your parents? Me too. You have depression? Me too. You’re struggling with poverty? Been there. But do you know what I haven’t done? is sexually abused an intimate partner.

We can’t be comrades, if you abuse us. We’re not on the same side if you abuse us. We want to work together, but you’ve ruined it. Start unruining, start the reparations, the self-evaluation, the healing. Decades ago Andrea Dworkin invited men to go out and organise a truce. A 24 hour truce without rape8. Stillyou have not done it. We are waiting, we are waiting.

which side are you on, boys?

You fundraise for the bus drivers and the port workers. But you don’t fundraise for the Women’s Refuge or the Rape Crisis centres. We are waiting.

You come to the talks on capitalism and climate change, but not to the talks on feminism and class struggle. Still we are waiting.

You accuse us of identity politics because we have the audacity to want to live. To be respected, to live free from violence. You see yourself as a worker not a boss.

But whenever you laugh at us, dismiss us, abuse us. You are behaving exactly like that class you claim to hate so much.

You want to seize the means of production. We want to seize the means of reproduction. We want our bodies for ourselves. Autonomy. I thought that was a word that you stood for. We are waiting.

We are not vindictive. We are fucking heartbroken. You have no idea how much we want to be able to work together. But with your counterrevolutionary rape, you destroy our bonds. We can’t trust you. We can’t work together. You make us have to struggle within the struggle and it’s exhausting.

If you men ‘seize’ power without us, without more than half of the worlds people. it will be nothing more than a coup d’ètat among men9. I am sick of the great men. Sick of paternal authority. Sick of macho bullshit. Did you know caring can be revolutionary? You don’t have to be this big, strong, hard man all the time? And there’s often a fall out when you are.

men’s meetings

Is this what happens? Is the consequence of men meeting together weekly to discuss political issues, as if they are separate and outside of themselves? When they meet to discuss Palestine, Syria, the housing and climate crisis, but they won’t ask each other how they’re doing. Won’t talk about how they practically all have substance abuse problems. Won’t talk about why? Why is that? Is it because you’re depressed and anxious, suicidal? and why is that? Is it because you don’t have close friends? Your parents abused you? You’ve got intergenerational trauma from alcohol abuse and witnessing your mother being beaten? Do you ever talk about something other than what strike and picket line is coming up? (I’m not saying that’s not important).

Politics isn’t just outside of you. It’s in you. I know it’s hard to look at yourself, to sit with your thoughts and feelings. Politics can be an escape like any other. But weren’t you the ones who said revolution was never going to be easy? Weren’t you the ones talking about dialectical materialism. How we need to analyse the contradictions, the antagonisms and push. Enough of 1900’s Russia, can’t we analyse here, now, in this country, in this meeting, in this house, in this bedroom? It’s not for lack of contradictions, so why haven’t you analysed and disrupted it yet?

Perhaps you’re a reformist, not a revolutionary like you like to think. The non-feminist left is a patriarchal reform movement10, but we’re inviting you to join us.

try, care

Men urgently need to do care work. Feminism as a project has never been just about women doing work. Men need to care for themselves and each other; men need to learn how to care. Women know how to care because we’ve been taught, forced and expected to since we were young. Men need to provide emotional support to each other. To develop intimacy in their friendships. Actually check in on each other, so that women partners and friends of men aren’t the only one who knows he’s suicidal. Aren’t the only one that knows he’s addicted to substances, was abused as a kid. Is acting like he’s fine, this man who’s got it together. When he needs support far beyond what one person can give.

Self care and care for each other can be how men ensure they don’t put the work of care solely on to women. Men’s wellbeing is not women’s responsibility. We are willing to support you, that should be obvious, since we have been doing it for so long. But you need to have solidarity with each other, men support each other. You’re good at having solidarity in maintaining male supremacy, in supporting and covering up abuse, in making excuses for each other. Apply your solidarity towards emotionally supporting each other.

Most women I know are exhausted, much of that burn out is from you, men. I believe in mutual aid. It’s not just aid. That first word matters. Mutual. right now y’all are acting like bosses just taking our labour. Give.

a glimpse of the world we’re trying to get to

I have been part of starting a women’s group to develop our own confidence, consciousness and ability to work collectively, independent of men’s political organisations. Some men comrades have started a group for the transformation of men, for men to study, analyse and overcome patriarchy in themselves. We hope their initiative will be accountable to us and that we can guide and support this project.

I have come close to, but not lost faith.

I went to an amazing worker’s hui11 last year. When I was asked what was good about it, I said ‘they gave me my own room to sleep in and no one tried to sneak into my bed at night…The men cooked soup and did admin work, wiped tables, made tea for everyone. It was like another world.’

Another world is possible; I could have cried from relief.

Men of the left, you’re organisers aren’t you? Organise a truce.

Educate, agitate and organise against patriarchy.

Only then, can we be on the same side.


1 The Hidden Cost of Patriarchy vimeo.com/100087331

2 Introductory Speech by Kurdish Women’s Movement worldwomensconference.org/blog/2019/04/introductory-speech-by-the-kurdish-womens-movement-on-womens-liberation/?fbclid=IwAR1CQkqc_OlABjCUQcBto3N10159cmgkfCKypRpGOku2LfSWoh-awx5t8vE

3 Patriarchy in Radical Movements, and a Call to Men (unpublished)

4 I want a 24 truce during which there is no rape nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

5 This definition of ‘comrades’ is taken from Jodi Dean’s book of the same name.

6 Susan Faludi, Death of a Revolutionary about Shulamith Firestone newyorker.com/magazine/2013/04/15/death-of-a-revolutionary

7 Radical Women, The meltdown of International Socialist Organization: How anti-feminism, racism and bureaucracy led to its demise 

radicalwomen.org/ISO%20demise.shtml?fbclid=IwAR2BmdVeG132deOercwl5YNVTQ1EX4XaA21jkqzhPgtoqJlyRfIYQOR94

8 Andrea Dworkin, ‘I want a 24 truce during which there is no rape’ nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

9 Concept from Robin Morgan in the book Sisterhood is Powerful! (United States: Random House 1970)

10 Andrea Dworkin, Marx and Ghandi were liberals: feminism and the “radical” left http://archive.org/stream/Dworkin_Marx-Ghandi/Marx%20and%20Ghandi%20Were%20Liberals_djvu.txt

11 Thanks to the Health Sector Workers Network and Unions Otago for organising the hui.

If you found this article difficult and/or are struggling with similar issues, please consider talking with your whānau, friends and/or contacting: Lifeline, Depression Helpline, Women’s Refuge, Shine Helpline, HELP Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors, OCASA (formerly Rape Crisis), Safe to Talk Sexual Harm phone line, and/or the Alcohol/Drug Helpline.

Fightback withdraws from Organise Aotearoa

A statement approved by the Fightback Editorial Board and sent to the National Secretary of Organise Aotearoa, 14th January 2020.

When Organise Aotearoa was launched, it appeared potentially the healthiest socialist organisation in the country. The only organisation not to emerge from a split, the largest, and youngest – all promising signs. Fightback – an Australasian socialist media project – agreed to get involved in the organisation.

Yet issues have emerged that seem unlikely to be resolved, especially on questions of internationalism. Even though the OA leadership has changed personnel over the last year or two, the prevailing politics of that leadership on what they call “internationalism” could be best described in our terms as “soft campism” (see our 2015 article, “Against Campism”: https://fightback.org.nz/2015/11/05/against-campism-what-makes-some-leftists-support-putin/)

Members of the leadership have specifically stated that they feel that “internationalism” for Leftists in New Zealand should mean only opposing imperialist actions by the New Zealand state and explicit allies of the New Zealand state (e.g. the USA or the UK). Some have even argued that for us to criticise the People’s Republic of China in particular – even on the subject of the attempted genocide of the Uighurs and the repression of popular protest in Hong Kong – implies a certain “colonialism”. This misuse of radical theory to suggest that Western imperialism is the only imperialism, or to support authoritarian capitalist nationalism in “non-Western” countries, is in opposition to Fightback’s basic principles.

However, being in a minority position on internationalist questions alone would not be enough in itself to cause us to break with OA. The breaking point for us has been a culture within OA of avoiding honest and comradely debate, and on characterising political disagreements in terms of personal attacks.

Attempts to debate the question of what internationalism means have been met with either studious silence, or negative personal characterizations of Fightback members. Instead of seeking clarity on these questions, the approach of the OA national leadership has consistently been to seek a lowest common denominator “fudge”, where positions are taken on the basis of minimising any opposition or sharp debate.

For example, after our extensive internal discussion documents arguing for support for the Syrian revolution were met with no reply, Fightback members proposed a motion at the last national AGM condemning all intervention in Syria – US, Turkish, Russian and Iranian without distinction. Two different arguments were given by its opponents, who had the majority at the AGM:

  1. The now-National Secretary of OA submitted a document arguing that the central issue as far as they saw it was to oppose “US imperialism” (given that Turkey is a member of NATO) – even when, as any unblinkered observer could tell you, the main imperial power causing damage, destruction, murder and oppression right now in Syria is Russia.
  2. It was also suggested at the AGM that it would be premature for OA to take a position when there’s disagreements among members – an explicit admission of OA’s culture of fudging important political questions.

Fightback are not the only comrades to point this out. Last year, one of us co-wrote a position paper with a Marxist-Leninist OA member, who disagreed entirely with Fightback’s internationalist position but agreed that:

Currently, nothing is being done to collaboratively increase the political acumen of OA members on both theoretical and practical issues, beyond what comes up planning events. In fact, there is a culture within some parts of the organisation that disregards this vital part of any left organisation in favour of a forced, sterile ‘unity’ – in effect, sweeping political differences under the carpet.

OA currently seems to instinctively “duck for cover” on issues around which there are strongly conflicting views upon within the organisation. There have been several issues, particularly around internationalism, where debate has simply been shut down and deferred until an unspecified “right time”; or alternatively, debate has been avoided with specious arguments that (for example) certain issues are simply “out of bounds” for our group because the New Zealand state is not directly involved in them.

The issue of the Syrian conflict – which has come up multiple times in discussion on internationalism – is a glaring example of this. Anyone who has followed these issues will know that the two authors of this document have had completely contrasting positions in this debate. However, we now find ourselves united in frustration and opposition to the way in which the leadership and many other members of our organisation have not wanted to have the debate at all.

As of time of writing, nothing has changed in terms of the lack of political education for OA members. It is simply the case that if an organisation’s political unity relies on a continuous process of “fudge”, there can be no internal political education because all the hard questions must be avoided.

Most distressing in OA is the culture where criticisms of the leadership or their political line are met with personal attacks. At the AGM, a Dunedin member who raised issues with the problematic behaviour of a leading member was met with a shockingly dismissive attitude, accused of trying to launch a ‘weird coup.’ The Dunedin member’s recommendation of a No Confidence vote was voted down. Later, on social media, members of the OA leadership responded to criticisms from a Fightback member with negative characterizations of that member’s character and tone, refusing to deal the political issues altogether.

While Organise Aotearoa remains the largest socialist group in this country, it appears to have no plausible strategy to grow further, let alone found a mass party as was the stated aim. Many observers (including those with no connection to Fightback) have described the attitude of the OA leadership as “grandiose” – that is, that they have an unrealistically high vision of OA’s potential and power, which is bound to lead to disappointment and disillusionment if they don’t reassess their capacities more modestly. Discussions of local body strategy in Auckland, for example, seemed to massively overestimate the ability of OA to gain large votes or even win seats in working-class South Auckland. The organisation seems to have no interest in learning from the past experience of socialist and communist groups in this country.

With a political line in turns campist and confused and with no realistic strategy, it is no wonder that the OA national leadership can only respond to political disagreement with personal attacks and the other moves of “clique politics”. At this time, Organise Aotearoa only has its size to recommend it – with members taking frankly terrible positions on international issues, exhibiting problematic behaviour, and no culture of open debate or accountability that could address these issues. While we believe we were right to attempt to get involved in the project initially, we believe our time and energy would be better used to work with organisations who are prepared to engage in honest, respectful debate.

Fightback members are therefore withdrawing our membership from Organise Aotearoa as of now. We are sorry to be stepping away from our friends and good comrades within the organisation, and we look forward to working closely with Organise Aotearoa comrades in the movements and on particular projects. But we believe that our withdrawal will be a relief to both Fightback and the Organise Aotearoa leadership.

Preserving Aotearoa/NZ’s revolutionary literature

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Radical Aotearoa Digital Archive (or RADAR) is a project to preserve the publications and media of the radical left in New Zealand. This archive is intended to serve as the central hub for efforts to digitise the many print publications of the radical left in New Zealand produced over the years – from the major newspapers & magazines, to individual pamphlets or leaflets, and eventually perhaps even rare books. Daphne Lawless, member of the Fightback editorial group and former editor of Socialist Worker Monthly Review and UNITY (2005-2011), was invited to give a talk to the launch of RADAR in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 2 February – the following message was read out.

Revolutionary greetings to comrades and friends at the launch of RADAR. I would have liked to be there, but travel expenses with a wife and toddler in tow were prohibitive.

For my sins, one of the many tasks with which I have burdened myself is cataloguing and sorting the Red Kiwi Library – the books and periodicals collection of the Communist Party of New Zealand and its successor, Socialist Worker, of which I was a leading member. To some extent, for me this has been similar to sorting through the effects of a deceased relative. Nostalgia, combined with occasional delight of discovery, and sadness for what might have been.

I caught myself wondering on several occasions – is this what nearly 100 years of revolutionary socialist activism in Aotearoa/New Zealand amounts to? A hundred or so boxes of paper, much of it nothing but trash, most of the rest only of interest to sad obsessives like… well, like the people who’ve made it here today?

“Publishing the revolutionary paper” has been a nostrum of Lenin’s school of revolutionary politics since its beginning. The idea was not only the question of getting The Truth (or, in the Russian, pravda) into the working class’s hands, but that writing, producing, distributing and financing the paper were the “scaffolding” around which a revolutionary party might be built that would seize state power.

Far too often, though, The Paper (and revolutionary publishing in general) became not a tool for building the party; rather, the party becomes a mechanism for keeping The Paper alive, and thus giving a few committed socialist writers/editors something to do with their spare time. You’ve got to wonder: what is the point of a “revolutionary paper” which is funded by the revolutionaries themselves, rather than by the audience they hope to reach? The financial question is a political one.

I was part of the last major attempt at a mass socialist paper in this country, Workers’ Charter. I personally believe it was an excellent broad-left paper. But the working masses who read it clearly did not think it was vital enough to support it financially – and we quickly ran out of our own resources.

Clearly basing our activity around a paper publication would be woefully insufficient in the Internet era. (Workers’ Charter didn’t even have a website!) Gone are the days when we could sneer at social media and websites as “petty bourgeois”, the kind of thing that REAL WORKERS don’t waste their time with. Workers under 30 are digital natives. And workers over 30 are increasingly having to catch up with them. (One interesting tangent is how the online growth of conspiracy theory can be traced to people who grew up pre-Internet getting online late in life – without having developed the ability to recognize trolling, scamming and disinformation.)

To be frank, these days a Facebook post will probably reach as many workers as standing on a street corner selling a newspaper – and it takes less time, effort and expense. So is revolutionary publishing dead? Well, as I see it, it’s a lot like the music industry, and not just because it seems to rely in practice on exploiting the labour of the young and enthusiastic. No, it’s because it requires alternative revenue streams to function. Crowdfunding, Patreon and similar online initiatives are one possible solution to this. But there’s also the issue that it’s hard to get people to pay money for a non-physical good. So, the link between support for the content and handing over some capitalist currency so it can keep being produced needs to be re-established.

I would also say that one advantage that paper has over electrons is permanence. Electronic publications can be reproduced infinitely at no cost. But storage and bandwidth do cost, and are impermanent. On my office desk now are CPNZ publications going back to 1934. They sat in various offices for 85 years, gathering dust but otherwise intact. Can we be sure that the YouTube videos and podcasts which are now the cutting edge of leftist media outreach will even be still available in 10 years, let alone 85? The impermanence of the online medium is actually considered a benefit for people who don’t want to have their teenage Xena: Warrior Princess fan-fiction following them around as adults. But that’s the opposite of what socialist publishing needs.

Because there is another major problem in the actually existing socialist movement, and that is the lack of continuity. Over the last 10 years in New Zealand politics, all but one of the major revolutionary socialist groups collapsed. To make a broad summary: the “baby boom” generation who’d been carrying these organisations on their backs for 50 years were not able to continue, and the “Millennial” generation weren’t interested in carrying on in the old ways. (And there weren’t nearly enough of the in-between sort, like myself.)

New organisations and media projects have arisen. But there’s no organisational continuity. The “tacit knowledge” that literature on education in organisations talks about hasn’t been passed down. And most of the “explicit knowledge” contained in publications isn’t read by the younger generation. They don’t think they need it. It’s almost like 1969 again – “never trust anyone over 30” (and also, all the people who were anarchist hippies yesterday seem to be turning into Marxist-Leninists!) We seem to be re-inventing the wheel in some cases.

Which is where RADAR comes in, by at least providing some kind of permanence to electronic revolutionary publications in Aotearoa/New Zealand over the last 25 years. I hope that there will be synergy between this project and my own of making the “Red Kiwi Library” available to the movements once again. There’s a hell of a lot of dusty old polemics sitting in my office that could use scanning. Since the revolutionary groups have either collapsed or ossified, it seems to be left to us (amateur) historians and archivists to keep the ideas of the past alive.

A website of ancient blog posts, or a bunch of dusty old boxes of books, might not be a great legacy, but they are what we have. And you know what they say about people who forget the past.

The struggle continues.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.