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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART TWO

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

How did we get here?

For an infection to spread, you need both a germ (a virus, a bacterium, a spore or similar) and a vector (something to carry and transmit the germ). It is my analysis that the agent of the Red-Brown plague is a political weakness on the radical Left which is at least as old as the shock of the September 11 2001 terrorist outrage in New York, and has roots going all the way back to the Russian revolution. I also argue that the vector of that plague – the reason it has suddenly blown up now – has been the weaponization of social media by very well resourced reactionary propaganda organizations, both those belonging to the Russian state and by far-Right Anglo-American moneyed interests. The second story is easier to tell, so we’ll start there.

Vector 1: Information warfare, Russian and otherwise

The story is increasingly coming out of the extremely strong influence on not only the newly ascendant nationalist Right, but of much of the activist Left, of an extremely sophisticated propaganda and messaging operation led on one hand by agencies of the Russian state, and on the other hand by shadowy networks of right-wing billionaires. Recent exposés of Cambridge Analytica, the “big data” firm owned by the Mercer family (who also own the Breitbart network of white nationalist websites), have exposed its influence not only on the US presidential election of 2016, but on the UK “Brexit” referendum of the same year. These were the biggest victories for right-wing nationalism in decades, even if some factions of the Left have attempted to claim them as victories for our side (an analysis I have rejected in previous articles – WiCL, pp. 33-40).

While the Mercers, and other US activist billionaires such as the Kochs, are mainly interested in dismantling liberal or neoliberal institutions which get in the way of their profitability, the Russian state-owned television news channel RTand a whole network of websites and social media “troll farms” are openly or secretly devoted to opposing to neoliberal globalisation and to US/EU interventionist foreign policy. US journalist Casey Michel gives an example of how this works in practice:

Consider one of the flagship magazines of the American left, which, for all its support of gay rights, government transparency, and voting rights as they pertain to U.S. society, has developed a notoriously soft spot for a regime that violently opposes all of the above.

The Nation’s coverage of Russian affairs is a national embarrassment. RT is a website that hosts neo-Nazis as “expert” commentators. Yet that does not stop The Nation from publishing whataboutist articles in defense of the propaganda channel; articles pushing the same argument, with the exact same headlines, as those found in white-nationalist publications.

The Nation’s crop of Russia watchers have lately busied themselves by lending credence to the “autonomy referendums” in eastern Ukraine, thus legitimizing illegal and neo-imperialist land-grabs, or notions that the entire Ukrainian crisis was “instigated by the West’s attempt… to smuggle [Ukraine] into NATO.”

That these views bizarrely mesh with those of Trump and his Breitbart-friendly advisers is perhaps another oddity of an age of ideological psychosis. Stephen Cohen, The Nation’s lead Russia analyst (and husband of the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel), has even been endorsed by David Duke and the wife of white-nationalist Richard Spencer, the intellectual godfather of the pro-Trump “alt-right,” as a rare voice of sanity when it comes to U.S.-Russian relations.

At times, the substance and style of what has been dubbed the “alt-left” are indistinguishable from that of its counterpart on the other end of the political spectrum. And Moscow’s info-warriors appear to appreciate the resemblance, as the American arm of Sputnik exhorted supporters of Bernie Sanders to vote for Trump (as did Trump himself, repeatedly).

On Syria in particular, this Russian mediasphere has played the major role in amplifying the most despicable forms of conspiracy theory and victim-blaming about Syria, such as the British blogger Vanessa Beeley. One common misconception, however, is that this is mainly a network of “bots”. Rather, the information warfare is as often or not carried out by real people, such as Ian Shilling or Maram Susli. British journalist Jonathan Freedland bemoans the efficacy of social media in discrediting traditional journalism:

It fits that social media is the weapon of choice. Its algorithms are proven to favour virality over veracity, spreading false stories faster and wider than true ones. A mysterious pro-Assad tweeter, with no other traceable existence online, has nearly as many followers as the BBC’s Middle East editor. Meanwhile, the top story on Google News the morning after the US presidential election hailed Trump as the winner of the popular vote – even though he had lost it by nearly 3m votes. The tribe tells itself what it wants to hear.

French political scientist Anton Mukhamedov adds:

It is worth remembering that at the same time as imprisoning and torturing Russian leftists, the Russian state has been issuing calls for a “multipolar world”, a euphemism for a coalition of traditionalist and deeply reactionary “Eurasianist” powers fighting off what Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian National Bolshevik ideologue with ties to the Kremlin, refers to as “Atlanticism”, hence the support for far-right identitarian parties in Europe, white nationalists in the US, but also those anti-war groups who see collaboration with Russia as key to ensuring global peace. While Putin’s vision seems to be that of hegemonic powers left alone in their own sphere of interest, RT and other state outlets have been advancing the threat of a “new Cold War” to urge the political right and the political left to unite behind Russian power.

Amar Diwarkar suggests in his excellent article “The Permutations of Assadism” that the model for this Russian discourse about Syria is in fact Israeli hasbara (“explaining”) about Palestine:

this technique embodies a public-private partnership which links information warfare with the strategic objectives of the Israeli state. Multifaceted and tailored to the digital age, it is deeply aware that perception shapes reality. While rooted in earlier concepts of agitprop and censorship, hasbara does not look to jam the supply of contradictory information to audiences. Instead, it willingly accepts an open marketplace of opinion. What it seeks to do in this context is to promote selective listening by limiting the receptivity of audiences to information, rather than constricting its flow…

It is unsurprising then that Assadism has successfully incorporated the hasbara playbook into its arsenal. In a tragic twist, many voices that are acquainted with Israeli deflection and denialism on Palestine likewise emit a deafening silence towards the Assad’s counter-revolution against Syrians. Negation is couched in terms of ‘security’ and ‘counterterrorism’, lesser evil and Islamophobic rationalizations, while routinely leading to conspiratorial allegations in desperate attempts to exonerate a bloodstained rump state.

The importance of the growth of Russian personal influence over long-term Left leaders must also be recognized. The Marxist Left was totally marginalized in the West from the collapse of the Warsaw Pact states in the late 1980s until the Iraq War/global financial crisis era, 15-20 years later. At the time, many saw it as positive that the Russian state wished to amplify anti-war voices. But a Russian supply of paid media gigs and being taken seriously has become an addictive drug, which many US and UK Leftists are now “hooked” on. Worse, this addiction has the side-effect that their critiques of US/EU imperialism are now increasingly indistinguishable from those of far-Rightists like Alex Jones, who is also promoted by Russian media. Casey Michel again:

Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”

Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy.

It is important to understand that neither the Russian state, nor the Mercers or the Kochs, are particularly interested in supporting “fascism” any more than they really want to promote Green politics. They are interested in using sophisticated media strategies to build a populist bloc against liberalism and for the unfettered sovereignty of nation states. Russian media, in particular, encourages “anti-globalization, anti-imperialist” voices on the Left to the extent that they might turn Western audiences against interference with Russian foreign policy.

However, the answer is not a simple as “it was Russia wot did it”. Conspiracy theories about how mass movements and uprisings around the world are “CIA proxy wars” reveal an incorrect and chauvinistic assumption that nothing can happen unless some Great Power or other makes it happens. In this case, it’s important to point out that we wouldn’t have Brexit or President Trump if there weren’t a sizeable mass audience for xenophobic, reactionary ideas. It is the contention of this article that the Left has failed in its historic mission by becoming part of the audience for onesided antineoliberalism which aligns with fascist messaging.

image002

Alex Reid Ross’s diagram of the interplay between the Russian propaganda apparatus and fascist or Red-Brown groups – from https://hummusforthought.com/2018/03/16/the-multipolar-spin-how-fascists-operationalize-left-wing-resentment/

Vector 2: actual Red-Brown networks

Another part of the puzzle is a real and growing network of, not groups or activists which are influenced by Red-Brown ideology, but self-conscious Red-Brown activists – that is, people who want to create an alliance or fusion between the radical Left and the nationalist/fascist Right. This growing network was exposed in an extremely long, but thorough and eye-opening pseudonymous blog post earlier this year entitled “An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances”. [ii] The author’s introduction confirms our suspicion that Syria is “Ground Zero” of the outbreak of Red-Brown politics:

This long post started as an investigation about the Left and Syria which I started after I read the Sol Process blog’s publication of three posts concerning shady pro-Assad sources used in leftist circles … and which later expanded into a more extensive investigation as well as an internal leftist critique of the Left’s present crisis from a radical leftist internationalist and anti-fascist perspective.

The article deserves full reading, but a few points are worth excerpting here:

  • It explains the tradition of “Third Position” politics (that is, a position that is anti-capitalist as well as anti-communist)– a fascism which includes socialist-sounding rhetoric and an alliance with Third World anti-colonialist movements such as those of Qadhafi, Robert Mugabe or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Crucially, some of these fascists actually ended up seeing the Soviet Union as the lesser evil – as French fascist intellectual Alain de Benoist said in 1982, “Better to wear the helmet of a Red Army soldier than to live on a diet of hamburgers in Brooklyn”. This should be a sober warning to anyone who thinks Soviet nostalgia is in itself a defence against fascist sympathies.
  • It notes that fascists attempted to take over the West Berlin branch of the Green Party in 1980 – an event with ominous echoes for the current dominance of the Jill Stein / David Cobb tendency in the Green Party USA. Meanwhile, the Greens’ 2008 presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, is also a long-standing purveyor of “Rothschild/Soros” conspiracy theories which are thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
  • It mentions the long-running Lyndon LaRouche movement, whose acolytes can be seen selling their leaders’ work on the streets of Melbourne. LaRouche began in American Trotskyism, then pulled his cultish following over to an embrace of the far-right; fresh from accusing Barack Obama of being a new Hitler, they now push a pro-Trump, pro-Putin line.
  • It discusses the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), an honest-to-goodness old-school fascist party which is part of Bashar al-Assad’s governing coalition in Syria, and which was recently revealed to be funding prominent left-wing US Democrat Dennis Kucinich.
  • It describes several international “think-tanks”, websites and conferences against neoliberal globalisation which are sponsored and supported by left-wing anti-war socialists, Right-wing and fascist conspiracy theorists, and those who have evolved into a strange blend of the two.
  • It details strong ties between many of these Querfront activists and “Novorossiya”, the separatist states in the east of Ukraine which are supported by Russia. (Jill Stein’s repeated defence of Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine on the grounds that “Ukraine used to be part of Russia” raised eyebrows in the 2016 election).

If you can make it all the way through this extremely long article, you will be left in no doubt that fascism is a chameleon which is able to insinuate its way into socialist, green, anti-colonialist and all other kinds of progressive movement to spread its message of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism – if not exposed for its true nature as soon as possible.

Anton Mukhamedov goes into more detail:

… the threat of red-brown convergence is looming large in the wake of Syria strikes, as the recent anti-war protests have reunited self-described leftists and those individuals whose careers revolve around attacking leftists and minorities.

The former British National Party leader Nick Griffin proclaiming conditional support for Jeremy Corbyn, in case the latter continued to impute Assad with the responsibility for the latest chemical attack in Douma, must be a cause for concern. Instead of taking a look at what in Labour leader’s platform might attract British nationalists, some leftists claimed that Griffin simply “saw the light”.

Even more alarming, the Neo-Nazi blogger Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska”, who previously attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, appeared alongside Los Angeles ANSWER coalition at a march featuring Syrian regime flags. Several Stop the War marches were also inundated with images celebrating Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Rather than “seeing the light”, the reactionaries infiltrating left-wing spaces are instead remaining loyal to their positions and attempting to subvert movements deeming themselves progressive in favour of a pseudo anti-imperialist and reactionary approach to geopolitics, which lacks any concern for civilians and promotes, under the guise of secular anti-imperialism, a ruthless and sectarian dictator who has executed thousands and continues to commit crimes against humanity….

A month ago, a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center depicted a political scene ripe for barely hidden collaborations between the far right and a fraction of the Western left, such as the American ANSWER coalition or Party for Socialism and Liberation embracing similar foreign policy talking points as white nationalists. The author described a surprising connection over Syria, mediated by movements such as the Hands Off Syria coalition and think-tanks (inspired by a Russian fascist ideology going by the name of “Eurasianism”), all sharing the same affinity for Russian military intervention in Syria. Soon enough, the piece—written by Portland State University lecturer and fascism expert Alexander Reid Ross—was retracted due to a litigation threat issued by one of the actors mentioned in the article [Max Blumenthal – DL].

Some other prominent Western voices calling for a Querfront between the radical Left and the Trumpist/nationalist Right against neoliberal globalism include Cassandra Fairbanks, a social media anti-police activist who publicly switched allegiance from Bernie Sanders to Trump. Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone has become something of a celebrity for her calls for the Left to collaborate with the Trumpist right against “the establishment” (i.e. neoliberal globalism):

“We lefties need to attack the establishment at every turn and circulate awareness of what’s really happening in the world, and when this means collaborating with the right wing, we should do it … Cernovich and I probably disagree on more things than we agree on ideologically, but where we do agree it’s absolutely stupid for us not to work together” (quoted here)

Michael Cernovich, for those who don’t know, is an alt-right blogger and one of the main promoters of the “Pizzagate” hoax, a baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats being part of a child-trafficking ring. Johnstone’s other claim to fame has been repeated articles claiming that the Trump-Russia collusion enquiry is an entirely bogus Clintonist scam. Johnstone now has the claim to fame of having been recommended by none other than British musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. The latter, a long-standing leftist and pro-Palestine activist, has recently been repeating Syrian chemical warfare denial and Russian-sourced conspiracy theory live on stage (something which is probably not unrelated, again, to the platform he has been given for his political views by the RTnetwork).

Alexandr Dugin was briefly mentioned above, but American geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser explains his central role in modern Red Brown politics in another excellent article which deserves quoting at length:

Dugin is widely regarded as very influential in Russian policy circles – his Foundations of Geopolitics remains a required text for Russian military officers ….

One of Dugin’s most important works is The Fourth Political Theory (4PT), a pseudo-intellectual manifesto of fascist politics that eschews 20th Century political labels in favor of a “new synthesis” for a new century…. The essence of 4PT is just a repackaged variant of third positionism from an openly fascist perspective. It calls for direct alignment and alliance of forces on the far left and far right to attack the center. Even the homepage for the book states “Beyond left and right but against the center.” Sound familiar?

…his 21st Century 4PT politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.

… this is precisely the Duginist strategy, to penetrate the left via anti-imperialism and marry it to the far right, with the two united in a common pro-Russian outlook. That’s Dugin’s agenda, and people like [Caitlin] Johnstone become very useful to that end. Just looking at the number of alleged progressives who rightly reject US corporate media narratives unless they’re backed by hard evidence, while at the same time believing reports from Russian media and Kremlin press releases as holy writ tells me that that strategy is somewhat effective.

Still to come: Germs of the Red-Brown Virus; What is to be done?


[ii]   An excellent news source on Red-Brown and Querfront activities was the Ukraine-based blog Reft or Light (http://reftlight.euromaidanpress.com/), which reprinted some of Fightback’s previous articles on this theme. Sadly, it does not seem to be updated any more.

The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART ONE

 

The Red-Brown “zombie plague”: how fascist ideas are becoming popular on the Left – PART ONE

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

is this marxist

This is part one of three of a major article to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

UPDATE 2018/08/13: A Spanish-language translation of this piece by Jaume Allioli is now available. Una traducción al español de esta pieza por Jaume Allioli ya está disponible.

 

Preface

This analysis follows on from that in three previous articles of mine which have previously appeared in Fightback publications:

The second and third articles are collected in our Fightback pamphlet What is Conservative Leftism?. In what follows, references to articles in that pamphlet will be cited with WiCL and the page number.

Introduction: Conspiracy theories and “pod people”

When I wrote “Against Conservative Leftism” just over two years ago, I considered it disturbing that socialists would rally to support New Zealand’s colonial-era flag. If I was disturbed then, there are no words left to describe how to feel in an era when committed revolutionary activists – people who have an honourable track record of struggle in favour of a classless society and against all oppression – are happy to argue that the recent chemical warfare attacks against rebel-held towns in Syria are a “false flag”, something faked by the US state or its allies to justify an invasion. Even one of my favourite musicians has recently repeated such baseless slander from the concert stage.

It’s a toss-up whether this version is more sickening than the alternative line, that the attacks were real but were carried out by the rebels themselves – that is, the rebels murdered their own children in order to manipulate foreign opinion. This is not the place to take these conspiracy theories to pieces – this has been admirably done already by many sources, for example Bellingcat or Snopes. The British ecosocialist writer George Monbiot also ably dismantled previous Syrian regime chemical warfare denial last year. The question – among others – that I wish to deal with here is of the similarity between this behaviour and the behaviour of the Right-wing conspiracy theorists who regularly yell FALSE FLAG to every mass killing in the United States – from the 9/11/2001 attacks in New York to the depressingly regular mass shootings in schools.

It’s common sense in liberal and Left circles that ideas like “9/11 Truth”, the theories that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was forged, or that the victims of the Sandy Hook or Parkland school shootings were “crisis actors”, are wild fantasies either made up by the bigoted and ill-informed to justify their prejudices, or else false narratives being deliberately fed to such people (for profit or political gain) by unscrupulous media operatives such as FOX News or Alex Jones’ InfoWars. We are appalled when parents of school shooting victims are harassed by unhinged strangers calling them conspiracy operatives and telling them that their dead children never existed.

And yet this is precisely what much of the Western Left has been doing to the people whose children died of chlorine poisoning in the basements of Douma, Syria. Experienced Western journalist Robert Fisk even took a trip to Douma – courtesy of the Syrian government – to find an anonymous doctor who would confirm such fantasies. This, while actual Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors were still barred from the site, so that the regime and its allies could make the evidence disappear.

The motivation is clear. “False flag” theories are based on the idea that elaborate lies are being told by a secret conspiracy to manipulate public opinion, and that mainstream sources are part of this conspiracy. Alex Jones claims that school shootings are arranged/faked by the US state (or a secret faction within it, known as the “Deep State”) to take away US citizens’ rights to bear arms. The Left argues the same about atrocities in Syria, only the goal of the conspirators is to build support for a “regime change” invasion of Syria. Similar stories are currently circulating on Leftist social media about the protests against social welfare cuts in Nicaragua, and their murderous suppression by that country’s government (search “Nicaragua CIA” on Twitter). The far-Right and the Left end up with the same narrative – there is a conspiracy within the current US State to fake atrocities and protest movements so as to expand its influence, which must be pushed back. In fact, American fascists are just as keen as any on the US Left to deny chemical attacks in Syria – the Snopes article cited above reproduces a tweet from alt-right celebrity and star of the famous “punch in the face” video, Richard Spencer, doing just that.

The question is not whether states have ever faked attacks to justify interventions (there is evidence that the US intervention in Vietnam began with one. The question is the willingness of the Left to act like FOX News or InfoWars followers, to use the logical fallacy known as the “argument from consequences” to deny inconvenient facts and reporting. The fallacy goes like this: if X is true, it would lead to political consequences I oppose; therefore, X cannot be true. And any evidence that X is true is, as Donald Trump would put it, “FAKE NEWS”. If all we wish to do is to oppose US intervention in the Syrian war (ignoring for the moment that the US has been involved in the Syrian war since 2014, launching over 1000 air strikes against the “Islamic State” group), then denying the Assad regime’s chemical warfare atrocities is simply not necessary. All we have to do is argue that US attacks on the Assad regime would not prevent such atrocities, or otherwise make things worse.

Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author of the essential text on the Syrian conflict Burning Country, recently discussed his run-ins with Western activists bending his ear about how “the Rothschilds” or “pipelines” were the secret behind all Middle-Eastern conflicts, and commented:

Arabs and Muslims are notoriously vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking, in part because in a previous generation so much politics was actually done by conspiracy, and in part through intellectual laziness. It’s always been simpler to blame ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Shia’ for all ills than to actually address the ills. But not really simpler. Conspiracy theories don’t merely promote complacent inaction, they create new tragedies too. In north western Pakistan, for instance, where word spread that the polio inoculation was a UN poison to render Muslims infertile, a new generation has been stunted by the disease.

Perhaps there’s more excuse for conspiracism in regions where the people are subject to the traumas of poverty, dictatorship and war. If so, its increasing prevalence in the educated, prosperous West is more difficult to explain.

So, what is behind the enthusiasm of the Western activist Left for these denialist narratives? The argument that I wish to make in this article is as follows:

  1. the growing willingness of Left activists to believe ideologically-convenient conspiracy theory over well-supported reporting is part of a growing convergence of Leftist and farright rhetoric, in particular around the ongoing war in Syria. While – with some exceptions to be discussed – Leftists do not openly or consciously align themselves with fascists, many increasingly accept ideas that are disquietingly close to fascist narratives. The idea of a politics which unifies Leftists and fascists has historically been known by many names, including Strasserism, Third Position or Querfront (German for “cross-front”). In this article I will use the well-established term redbrown; brown taken from the Nazi “brownshirts” (stormtroopers).
  2. This “Red-Brown” convergence is based on a political misrecognition of neoliberal globalism as a conspiracy of the US and other Western countries for global domination, rather than a strategy adopted by the global capitalist class as a whole. This has led the Left into an “anti-imperialism” which is in fact nationalism under another name; which leads to programmatic unity with fascists who support authoritarian “ethno-states”.
  3. This is a problem which cuts across the “revolutionary/reformist” division on the Left. A strong base of this thinking is found in the revitalised “Marxist-Leninist” (ML) trend on the Internet, but the acceptance of nationalism, traditionalism and anti-rationalism which I have previously called “conservative leftism” has a long history in both the social-democratic and Communist traditions on the Left, including the support base of British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
  4. This convergence is encouraged by the propaganda/intelligence branches of the Russian state, for its own geopolitical reasons. But it is also perpetuated by an unwillingness for socialists (who have lived through decades of isolations) to struggle among themselves over political line; or, worse, a more-or-less conscious rejection of international solidarity in favour of keeping the biggest “broad front” at home. Finally, there is a small contingent of people associated with the Left who have discarded anti-fascist principle and now actively support a Querfront (with the Russian state, the US “alt-right” and even the Trump administration) against neoliberal globalism. While this explicit alliance makes up a minority of the left, it must be actively fought.’

Some Leftists on social media have expressed their bemusement at their erstwhile comrades coming out with conspiracy theories in support of the brutal authoritarian regime in Syria. Some have jokingly used the term “pod people” – an image taken from the old horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where people are replaced by clones grown in pods by alien invaders. I prefer to use another science-fiction trope – that of a “zombie plague”. As I see it, Red-Brown politics is the intellectual equivalent of an infectious disease that has taken hold in a lot of the Left and led to a lot of good comrades taking up positions which have led to them supporting fascist positions. I continue to believe that there is a “cure” for this plague, that good activists can be won back from such positions, and that articles such as this one may play a part in doing so.

Class politics or geopolitics? – against “alt-imperialism”

In a piece from August last year, British-Pakistani academic and journalist Idrees Ahmed ably summed up what he calls as the “alt-left” trend in Western politics. His article is worth reading in full if you’re not already aware of the situation () but here are some salient extracts:

…a strain of leftism that sees liberalism rather than fascism as the main enemy. It is distinguished mainly by a reactionary contrarianism, a seething ressentiment, and a conspiracist worldview.

In its preoccupations it is closer to the right: More alarmed by Hillary Clinton winning the primary than by Donald Trump winning the presidency; more concerned with imagined “deep state” conspiracies than with actual Russian subversion of US democracy; eager to prevent a global war no one is contemplating but supportive of a US alliance with Russia for a new “war on terror”.

Like the right it disdains “globalists”, it sees internationalism as liberal frivolity, and its solidarity is confined to repressive regimes overseas….

For the alt-left, Hillary Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone to protect Syria’s civilians was proof that she wanted a global war. Donald Trump on the other hand was going to protect America from WWIII because of his “non-interventionist mindset” (Glenn Greenwald).

Jill Stein and Susan Sarandon both insisted that Trump was “the lesser evil”. Even his bombings were “consistent with the particular ‘non-interventionist’ outlook” (Greenwald & Tracey).

These arguments turned out to be convincing to a small but significant minority of the US voting population – which was enough to set us down the path we are on now. The 10% of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary who went on to vote for Trump in the general election may well have tipped the balance.

As suggested above, I do not believe that this kind of politics is becoming more and more prevalent because of a conscious softening to fascism (in the majority of cases). In part, it is an outcome of the developing logic of the “conservative leftist” arguments which I have argued have become hegemonic on the Western Left – arguments based on nationalism, traditionalism and anti-rationalism. But more recently, these ideas have been assiduously propagated by extremely well-resourced media networks (both state-directed and corporate), which has led even staunch anti-fascists to adopt positions and arguments which agree with fascist principles.

The most pressing issue, as I see it, is that a sizeable part (perhaps a majority) of liberal and Left opinion in the West has adopted a one-sided view of imperialism, which has more to do with fascist ideas than the socialist tradition. In Vladimir Lenin’s classic analysis, made against other socialists who thought that capitalist globalisation would lead to world peace, imperialism is “the most recent phase (also translated “highest stage”) of capitalism” Against Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalist globalisation might lead to an end to war, Lenin argued that the international expansion of capitalist firms and their fusion with state power would inevitably lead to military rivalries for markets and resources.

However, it seems much of the Left has (openly or quietly) has instead adopted an idea that “imperialism” only applies to the United States, or the group of advanced capitalist countries of which the US is generally seen to be the leader. States like Russia or China, by this analysis, cannot be imperialist by definition. And as neoliberal globalisation is seen as only the latest ploy by US-centric imperialism to achieve global domination, neoliberalism, globalisation/“globalism”, imperialism and “Western” power are all collapsed into meaning the same thing. This conspiratorial analysis of neoliberal globalism views the phenomenon as a ploy of one state, faction of states, or actors within a state to gain global domination. On the contrary, a systematic analysis of neoliberal globalism, following on from Lenin’s, reads neoliberalism and globalization a reaction of the global capitalist system as a whole to expand its profits. The latter points towards global solidarity of the oppressed; the former puts the Left in the same camp as fascists. (I will discuss what I see as the intellectual origins of this interpretation of “imperialism” on the Left later on in this article.)

The most obvious “outbreak” of this Red-Brown zombie plague is the debate on the ongoing conflict in Syria. Since the foreign policy of the US state under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (the high point of neoliberalism to date) was to confront Russian expansion and give support (if half-heartedly) to the “Arab Spring” liberation movements, then these movements have become seen as enemies (“US proxies” and/or “terrorists”) by many Leftists. To be blunt, for much of the “anti-imperialist Left”, for Bashar al-Assad to gas children to death in a basement is preferable than for the United States or other Western countries to interfere with this in any way. But Russian or Iranian interference to support Assad is not a problem worth talking about, let alone demonstrating about. In this, the “alt-imperialist” Left is precisely mimicking the arguments of the fascist Right – as seen when fascists march alongside Left anti-imperialists against Western intervention in Syria, both carrying pictures of Assad and Putin.

In what follows, I wish to take a deep dive into a couple of articles from Leftists – not among those consciously supporting the Assad regime or Russian foreign policy, but what are on the surface “anti-fascist” articles repeating as common sense the very ideas that have allowed fascist activists to walk hand-in-hand with anti-imperialist Leftists on the Syria issue.

My first example is respected US Marxist John Bellamy Foster. In the middle of a generally excellent article arguing that the Trump administration is indeed neo-fascist, the author gives the following summary of US foreign policy over the last decade:

The push of NATO into the Ukraine, supporting a right-wing coup in the attempt to check Russia as a reemerging superpower, led to a Russian pushback under Vladimir Putin, with the annexation of the Crimea and intervention in the Ukraine along its borders. Russia further responded by aggressively intervening in Syria, undermining the attempt by the United States, NATO and Saudi Arabia to bring down the Assad regime by supporting surrogate pro-Salafist forces (committed to the creation of a fundamentalist Sunni state) … The main part of the ruling class and the national security state was strongly committed to a new Cold War with Russia, with Hillary Clinton vowing to introduce no-fly zones in Syria, which would have meant shooting down Russian as well as Syrian planes, bringing the world to the brink of global thermonuclear war. (emphases added)

The talking points emphasised above – that the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych’s government by the “Euromaidan” movement in Ukraine in 2014 was a “right wing coup”; that the Syrian rebels are “pro-Salafist… fundamentalist Sunni”, and that a pushback against Russian support for the Assad regime would risk “thermonuclear war” – could have come straight from a Russian Embassy press release. A cursory Google search will show that they are at best misleading half-truths and at worst nothing but Russian propaganda. To give an obvious illustration, Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane over Syria in 2015 – and Donald Trump conducted missile strikes against Assad regime targets in April 2017 and in April 2018. Yet, curiously, thermonuclear war hasn’t broken out yet.

Similarly, Australian anarchist academic Ben Debney approvingly quotes Gary Leupp writing on the website Counterpunch, a website which has been a source for a lot of Assadist propaganda over the last five years, that among good reasons not to support Hillary Clinton over Trump were:

various U.S. interventions during the “Arab Spring;” the U.S./NATO assault on Libya that destroyed that modern state, etc. (emphasis added)

Debney goes on to argue that “the fifty-three percent of white females who voted for [Trump] might have felt that having a woman president of the order of a Neocon [neo-conservative] by Any Other Name wasn’t the most liberating option on the table for women”. Similarly, Bellamy Foster argues that the Obama/Clinton pushback on Russia led to a pro-Russian split in the ruling class, whose interests are expressed through Donald Trump.

The argument that both writers are making is that the rise of Trumpist neofascism, or protofascism, was in part fuelled by the neoliberals’ “hawkish” foreign policy. By this, they mean supporting the insurgency which brought down Muammar Qadhafi’s dictatorial, murderous “modern state” in Syria; supporting certain rebel forces in Syria (some of whom but not all could be described as Islamist or “Salafist” [i]); or pushing against Russian interests in Eastern Europe.

Worse yet, Trump is sometimes even seen as a lesser evil – not because he is any less militaristic than Obama or the Clintons, but because he is on the same side as Russia. Every bomb dropped on “Islamic State” targets such as Raqqa is fine by Leftists who are only concerned about whether Russia supports such mayhem or not (and it does). One particularly confused American Marxist-Leninist organisation put it like this:

… a Clinton presidency would have been more dangerous for the international working class and the oppressed peoples of the world… A President Clinton could have led in short order to a major war between Russia and the USA… (Ray O’Light Newsletter, November-December 2016, p. 4).

Fascism as a lesser evil to confrontation with Russia? Firstly, as American journalist Charles Davis has written on several occasions (for example), Trump’s foreign policy was openly more militaristic than Clinton’s. He actually promised before the election to expand the existing US/allied bombing campaign against “Islamic State” targets in Syria. No-one who had a principled position against US military interventions could have supported Trump over Clinton. But it was certainly possible if you supported Russian policy in, for example, Ukraine and Syria, and wanted the US to fall in line with that policy.

Curiously absent, too, from these criticisms of neoliberal “hawkery” is any concern with the interests and agency of the people of the territories concerned themselves. NATO intervened to support an uprising against Qadhafi; but why was there an uprising? Why would Syrians form armed factions, even ones with a conservative “Salafist” programme, in opposition to their regime? Why would many Ukrainians support parties seeking to join the NATO imperialist alliance as a “lesser evil” to domination by Russian interests? Surely that’s the first thing that socialists or anarchists, devoted to radical democracy from below, should be asking? (I will return to this “Orientalist” view of the Middle East later.)

Writing 20 years ago, the late American socialist academic Moishe Postone set out the argument against this kind of politics:

What the Cold War seems to have eradicated from memory … is that opposition to an imperial power is not necessarily progressive, that there were fascist “anti-imperialisms” as well. This distinction was blurred during the Cold War in part because the USSR aligned itself with authoritarian regimes, for example, in the Middle East, that had little in common with socialist and communist movements, that, if anything, had more in common with fascism than communism and that, in fact, sought to liquidate their own Left. Consequently, anti-Americanism per se became coded as progressive, although there had and have been deeply reactionary as well as progressive forms of anti-Americanism.

Examples of pre-Cold War “fascist anti-imperialism” could be Imperial Japan’s appeal against British and French imperialism to justify its expansion into east Asia, or Lehi, the Zionist paramilitary group in British-ruled Palestine who were explicitly fascist at some stages and Red-Brown at others.

What Postone is calling out here is what I have previously called out as “campism”, but which could also be called RedBrown antiimperialism – or even, on the model of Idrees Ahmed’s “alt-leftism”, altimperialism. This is the politics where imperialism is seen only as coming from one country, or one alliance of countries, and is contrasted to the “national sovereignty” of various regimes – no matter how autocratic, rather than in favour of the self-determination and autonomy of peoples. Lebanese journalist Joey Hussein Ayoub has given the name “essentialist anti-imperialism” to the same phenomenon: “defined solely in relation to [one’s] own governments rather than on the basis of a universal opposition to all forms of imperialism.”

Amar Diwarkar argues that this is not so much a conscious embrace of Fascist politics, but:

a tactical tolerance of the far-right’s nativist anti-establishment logic to accelerate the dissolution of the ruling order and bring about a transitional phase preceding social transformation. However, by eliminating the dimension of the international from its purview, what remains is a strikingly non-radical relativism. Its underlying logic is one that is infused with a colonial unconscious; a conviction that Western agency is the eternal subject and locus of motion – the prime mover of History.

Thus, although Debney is an anarchist who strongly criticises the Soviet state in Russia, his arguments about how “neoliberalism helped lead to Trump” are in fact in line with that very state-centric Cold War leftism which supported the USSR as the “lesser evil” against capitalist imperialism. Struggles of ordinary people in the Middle East and Eastern Europe are seen in this framework entirely through the lens of whether US “power” is extended thereby. The governments of Assad in Syria, Qadhafi in Libya or Yanukovych in Ukraine are not seen in relationship to the people over whom they claim authority, but whether they support or oppose the supposed designs of United States foreign policy. The argument is not over “militarism”, but of instinctive support for any state which is seen to oppose US foreign policy – and if they are supported by Russian foreign policy, so much the better.

Bellamy Foster and Debney demonstrate that even those Leftists who recognize the warning signs of fascism in his “base” see Trump as a possible counter-balance to those parts of the US federal government who supposedly plot global domination via neoliberal globalization. In another recent example of this, Senator Bernie Sanders, the great “left-wing” hope in the 2016 election against Clintonite neoliberalism, expressed qualified support for Trump’s protectionist economics. Whether the bad guys are called the “military-industrial complex” or “the Deep State”, the argument is precisely the same as that offered by those Rightists who admit Trump’s failings but see him as an “anti-politician” going into Washington to “combat the elites” and “drain the swamp”.

Bellamy Foster and Debney both make arguments that, in one way or another, “neoliberals did it to themselves”. This also mirrors an argument made by pro-Trump and other far-right forces. The Rightist version of the argument is to point to any support for multiculturalism, feminism or queer/trans rights and say: “This is why people voted for Trump” (Google that phrase for examples). A subtler one – heard on the Left as well as the Right – is the rightly-mocked “economic anxiety” argument, that Trump voters were motivated by poverty and insecurity caused by neoliberal economics. All these narratives have the same ideological basis – to provide an alibi for Trump voters, to argue that Trump voters didntreallysupport their candidates stated xenophobic, militaristic platform and his misogynist behaviour.

The final word has to go to Ray OLight Newsletter, who agree with Debney and Bellamy Foster, in a simpler and more extreme form:

In our view, a fascist was elected U.S. president, but strong elements of fascism had already arrived here long before Trump’s election… with Trump as President, promoters of harmful illusions about Obama, Clinton and the Democrats… will be in a weaker position… It should not take too long before the white working masses who voted for Trump have had enough experience to begin a serious struggle against this reactionary billionaire. (November-December 2016, pp. 4-5).

In other words, the German Communists’ boast: after Hitler, us!, updated for a 21st century audience.

Thus we see parts of the Left reading the victories of the far Right as an obstacle to or “payback” for neoliberal globalist overreach – or performatively shrugging, on the grounds that nothing real has changed or even that opportunities are opening up for the Left. They share a belief that Western imperialism is the great threat to the world, rather than Russian or Chinese expansionism or smaller authoritarian states; they agree that democracy is not to be trusted if it might be exploited by Islamist movements. They are state-centric (even anarchists such as Debney, or Noam Chomsky) and prize “stability and order” against democracy and self-determination. Their main interest in the growth of far-Right and Fascism movements globally is to use it as a stick to beat neoliberalism with. It’s as if 1933 never happened.

Still to come: Vectors and Germs of the Red-Brown Virus


[i]                       “Salafist” or “Salafi” means a “fundamentalist” Muslim who wishes to return Islam to the practices of Prophet Muhammad and his Companions (salaf). However, in popular articles about the Middle East it is used generally a “snarl word”, meaning any devout Sunni Muslim of whom the author does not approve. Michael Muhammad Knight’s Why I Am A Salafi (2014) is a good introduction to these issues: see a review here.

Good articles on campism and the “alt-left”

e-anonymous-id-vxtmrbmc-07-07-16-thu-13-59-08-no-80110559-is-there-a-3012640

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning with Conservative Leftism: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit

by Daphne Lawless

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

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

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

Brexit is reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corbyn’s successful fudge

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

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

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

Throwing migrants under the bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Faulkner on Britain’s Left Unity website adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

EU or UK: which is more reactionary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for the rest of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrants are welcome – Leftist xenophobia is not

refugees-migrants-welcome-here

By Daphne Lawless

When I was a young Alliance activist in Wellington in the 1990s, I knew Frank Macskasy well as a staunch colleague in the fight against the neoliberal assault on workers. It’s very sad to see him now promoting the xenophobic agenda of Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, known as the “Breitbart of the NZ Left”.

TDB is part of the current which I’ve called the “conservative left” – those activists who have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude to the rise of Right-wing populism worldwide, including the Brexit movement in Britain and the Trump movement in the US. I’ve argued that many activists, having spent so long fighting neoliberal globalization, have ended up in a position where they think that anything neoliberals want must be bad. Most unfortunately – in the NZ context – this has turned into a belief that since neoliberals want more immigration, the Left should want less.

Frank’s TDB post harps on the idea that the National government is encouraging immigration as an easy way to “artificially stimulate the economy” (an argument heard recently out of the mouth of New Zealand’s master of xenophobic politics, Winston Peters). The first obvious question should be: if it were that simple to grow the economy, what would be wrong with it? What is wrong in principle to allow anyone willing to come here, work hard and be part of our community to do so? In particular, no Pākehā New Zealander should have the bald-faced cheek to suggest that migration to this country should be treated with suspicion.

Frank skates over the contradiction between the idea that immigration “stimulates the economy” and the idea that it’s problematic “at a time when unemployment was still high.” A stimulated economy means more work available… right? Leaving aside this little problem, Frank goes on:

“The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.”

Both Frank’s links go to NZ Herald articles. The first is a column concerning the last Budget, which contains the comment:

“The rise in net migration, on top of natural increases, is putting pressure on the health system, schools, housing and transport.”

I’ve underlined the bit that Frank seems to have missed out. The issue is that population growth is putting pressure on our infrastructure. In Auckland in particular – despite the scare stories from the xenophobic Left and Right – “natural increase” (that is, people having babies and not dying) is a significantly greater contribution to population growth than migration. So where is Frank’s worry about that section of population growth? Why is he not calling for a Chinese-style one-child policy, if the issue is really just about “more people” – rather than the murkier issue of “more people not born here”?

Frank’s second link goes to a report on advice given by Treasury – not generally considered a reliable source of good economic advice by Leftists (except when it confirms their prejudices?) There is of course a real problem with cheap migrant labour. But it’s nothing to do with “New Zealanders being priced out of low-waged jobs”. Firstly, just like it’s always been in this country, migrants tend to do the low-status jobs that New Zealanders don’t want to do – fast food workers or security guards, who might be qualified professionals in their own country, can tell you about that. Secondly, the reason migrant labour is cheap is because of employers cheating the system. We’re talking about migrants having their passports confiscated, and forced either into virtual slave labour, or work of a kind they never wanted to do (such as sex work).

These are real problems. But they are not problems caused by migration. It is caused by migrant workers not getting a fair shake on the basis as all other workers in this country. Get rid of the incentive for human trafficking provided by the current immigration scheme – by giving all those who want to work here the legal right to do so, cracking down on unfair labour practices, and encouraging migrant workers to join unions and fight alongside all other workers for their rights.

Frank and his colleagues at TDB are irresponsibly stoking the forces of racism and xenophobia in this country. Some may be doing so out of nostalgia for a simpler, less culturally diverse New Zealand of the pre-neoliberal era. Some may be doing so out of cynical calculation that migrant-bashing is a way to defeat the hated National government. But it’s a slowly growing sickness on the Left in New Zealand. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has been set up by socialists, unionists and migrant communities who want to stand up and say unashamedly that we are pro-immigration, and pro-worker, and we can’t allow the conservative left to speak for the rest of us.

On Conservative Leftism: A Conversation between Daphne Lawless and Gregory W

Reprinted from the Communist Rupture blog.

Gregory W.: In the article, Against Conservative Leftism, you suggested that “21st century revolutionary classes will not look like those of the 1840s or even the 1980s,” and that “the left should seek to build on the new social forces and ways of living that neoliberal globalisation has thrown up, to create a post-neoliberal, post-capitalist future.”

This part of the article jumped out at me as being particularly important. It seems that the article is peppered with references to new or emerging revolutionary subjects. But I would like for you to elaborate on this point and maybe give some examples that are shaping your thinking.

 

Daphne Lawless: Right. During the changes of the last 40 years – the neoliberal/globalization era, or the “post-Fordist production” era, whatever you want to call it – traditional working-class communities and institutions in the advanced capitalist countries have atrophied and dissolved. The social-democratic parties have become hollow shells and the labor unions have become increasingly “professionalized”, run along the same lines as NGOs by full-time organisers. BUT: if you still find the Marxian critique of political economy useful, this does not mean there is no more proletariat in the Western countries.

You have a disorganized proletariat of service workers, or what’s sometimes called “the precariat”; and then you have a more privileged layer of workers in technology-based industries. Neither of these are going to behave or see the world in the same way as a unionised auto worker of the 1950s. But by Marxist definition they are still proletarian, or in the process of being proletarianised. And you can see emerging radical and reactionary tendencies in both of these groups.

To take the tech workers for example, the “open-source” communities were one prefiguration of how communist labor relations might work. Then you had the brief flowering of Anonymous as a “meme”, an idea, a method of organising among technological workers, which took off at more or less the same time as the Arab Spring, Occupy, etc. Of course after the defeat of those radical movements you had the swing to the reactionary sides of those movements – the neo-reactionaries, alt-right, 4chan /pol/ kind of thing.

But one hallmark of what I would call the “conservative left” is the assumption that the radical workers’ movements of the 21st century will look like those of the past. You have this tendency towards LARPing, to try to recreate forms from the past. It simply won’t work. New forms of capitalist exploitation and oppression require new forms of organisation, and a Left which doesn’t keep up with the actual formations crystallising RIGHT NOW is an irrelevant circle-jerk.

Gregory W.: I find this whole aspect of your analysis very compelling.

I’m reminded of the speculative science question, “if we were confronted with alien life, would we recognize it when we see it?” It seems like there’s something similar going on when it comes to recognizing radical political breakthroughs because we’re expecting things to look a certain way.

There has been some promising stuff in the U.S. in recent years with service industry workers organizing and going on strike. That in itself is an example of working class movement, or even of a proletarian subset, which doesn’t fit the conventional mold. Still, it’s on a spectrum with labor struggles that we’re apt to recognize.

But there’s stuff that’s even more alien. We may rightly bemoan the fact that there hasn’t been a general strike in the U.S. in a long time (and it’s not even clear what that indicates, given that France has them pretty often and yet things aren’t going so well over there). But in 2016 we had a historic, nation-wide prison strike with solidarity actions in some prisons internationally. What does that mean?

The prison system is a huge part of the neoliberal economy in the U.S., arising with the war on drugs and the rollbacks on social guarantees. The vast majority of prisoners were workers in the outside world. In prison, many continue to do low-wage work and on top of that, they are generating value just by being housed, to the benefit of a whole web of corporate and state bureaucracies.

What does it mean that prisoners were able to coordinate such a strike? And you also have to think about the fact that most prisoners will eventually be released, and will likely be employed at low-wage jobs, and/or work in the informal economy. What does it mean if someone who was involved in a nation-wide prison strike now works at Wal-Mart? What insights and skills could that person bring to organizing outside of prison? If I were developing a revolutionary cadre organization, I might want to recruit some of these people, or else connect up with them in some way – talk to them, work in a coalition with them, or whatever.

     Inmate labor at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP
Daphne Lawless: Oh, certainly. Of course the prison-industrial complex in the US is reasonably unique, so I’m loathe to try to talk about it in any detail, but there are similarities in New Zealand – whereas 50% of the prison population in the US is African-American, so 50% of the prison population in NZ is Māori. But from what I gather prison labor is far more widely used in the US – though I don’t know in what areas of the economy it is important. The paradox is the more important prison labor becomes, the more potentially powerful labor organising in prisons becomes.

I know that some people from the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist tradition have made organising among prisoners a top priority. I don’t know how close you are to that.

As to the service industry workers, yes, we’ve had great strides forward in this country in that. Basically, the UNITE union was founded by social-democratic political veterans who had been excluded from the neoliberalized Labour Party and their compliant trade-union apparatuses, and started with the goals of (a) rebuilding a base for social democracy; (b) bringing Seattle-era social-movement methods of organisation to unionism. They also scored a coup by recruiting organizers from young communist groups – people motivated from ideology will work harder and sometimes for less pay!

So by those means, UNITE have been effectively able to organise workers at many fast food chains, and other overlooked workers such as security guards, casino staff etc. However, the price for this is a certain institutionalisation, rapprochement with the older unions/Labour Party etc. And the problem with giving committed revolutionaries a “day job” doing labour organising is that you risk turning into an NGO-model, where it becomes all about the young educated radicals (who by virtue of being union organisers are inherently middle-class from a Marxist point of view) as the protagonists rather than the low-paid precarious workers they’re organising [Ben P from UNITE writes: This contains important falsehoods which I think should be clarified: It implies that Unite is built purely around young radicals, rather than members of the class. This is untrue. Of the 14 current organisation staff at Unite, 9 started off their political involvement as shop-floor members of the union. A third are Māori, another third are from migrant/Pacific backgrounds. 10 are women. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe less than 6 of them have a tertiary degree or higher. The article implies that the organisers are middle class highly educated types at a distance to our members. This doesn’t correlate to the actual demographics of our organisation. All organisations face political problems as they develop, grow and evolve, and Unite is not immune to these problems. But Unite’s problem at present is not that we are overloaded with over-entitled campus Marxists.]

So to some degree, as long as the basic economic structure remain the same, it’s “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”  – attempts to REPLACE the old reformist labor structures will lead to becoming SIMILAR structures. You can see this with what happened in Greece – the radical SYRIZA replaced the neoliberal PASOK, at the price of becoming neoliberal themselves. These are the limits of working for reforms within the system – you will get reforms and nothing but.

Gregory W.: First off, I am interested in learning more about organizers who are prioritizing things like prison work (also, immigration as a fault-line)…You bring up a lot of good points. It is interesting to hear about the differences and similarities between New Zealand and the U.S. What you’ve said underscores my overall feeling that we are still in a very difficult period in terms of devising radical strategy, with so many of our previous verdicts turning up short. At the same time, masses of people are on the move and we need to be in the midst of it, learning from these developing struggles.

Earlier we talked about new and emerging revolutionary classes and how that relates to your analysis of conservative leftism. The basic idea is that capitalism is a dynamic system. It changes. The advanced neoliberal capitalism we face today—with global markets and no actually-existing socialist blocs—is very different from what movements faced over the course of the 20th century. As you said, a defining characteristic of the conservative left is to assume that today’s radical working class struggles will look like those of the past. You suggest that this is not an adequate orientation, and is in fact doomed to fail.

We discussed some examples of emerging forces that break with previous patterns. We discussed recent attempts to organize service industry workers in both New Zealand and the U.S., and how the dynamics of that differ from the organization of 20th C. industrial workers in the advanced capitalist countries (e.g., unionized auto workers). We also discussed the significance of prisoners organizing in the U.S., as the prison industrial complex is a key feature of contemporary U.S. capitalism, arguably having a much greater weight than it would have at any time in previous decades.

That being said, your critique of conservative leftism seems to cover multiple levels. I’m not sure how you would want to characterize the “level” I summarized. It has to do with our forces on the ground, radical organization, and the like.

Another level we might call geopolitics. Is that fair? You discuss how the left orients itself to changing global configurations—for example, how the left positions itself in relation to the Syrian civil war. I personally find this whole piece of the analysis more difficult to grapple with. My hope is that you could provide a sketch here of some of the broad problems, tackling the question of why we are finding the current geopolitical situation so disorienting, and how we might position ourselves in a way that’s forward-looking and effective.

Daphne Lawless: Right. I think what you’re getting at is what I categorize as “campism”. This is when the Left replaces the class struggle with a geopolitical struggle as the centrepiece of its analysis – that the fight is between “good” and “bad” nation-states. There were historically two Left-wing versions of this: the Stalinist version where what was good for the USSR/Eastern Bloc was good for the workers of the world; and the Maoist version where what was good for China and its “non-aligned” allies was best for the oppressed peoples of the world. The former had Leftists cheering as Soviet tanks went into Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan; the latter had Leftists supporting the rapprochement with Nixon, supporting counter-revolutionaries in Angola, the Shah of Iran, or even Khmer Rouge.

Simply put, it’s a left-wing gloss on Nixon’s apocryphal comment about Somoza – “he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”. I wrote about this in an article before the concept of conservative leftism coalesced – https://fightback.org.nz/2015/11/05/against-campism-what-makes-some-leftists-support-putin/

In the first Conservative Leftism article I mentioned “Cleek’s Law” – that modern conservativism is simply the opposite of whatever liberals want. Given that, Conservative Leftism is simply the opposite of everything neoliberalism wants. Similarly, “campism” means reflex opposition to whatever one geopolitical “camp” wants. Up until the Trump era, for most of the Left, this of course meant a simplistic attitude of “US imperialism bad, every target of US imperialism good”. That might be more difficult to intellectually justify that Trump is trying to build an alliance between US imperialism and its Russian counterpart, its historic opponent.

The high point of the current incarnation of the global Left was 2002-3; the opposition to Bush/Blair’s wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, the thing was that this brought together several different strands of opinion on the same side. Liberals objected to an “illegal war” fought on a humanitarian pretext. Old-school socialists opposed US/UK imperialist power in general. Conservative “realists” objected to the “destabilisation” of the Middle East by removing the dictator Hussein. Conservative “isolationists” objected to the US getting involved in overseas interventions of any shape and form. Worst of all, fascists supported the “national sovereignty” of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and ranted about the evil Islamic hordes which were being held back by his “secular” dictatorship.

The problem came when the Left – due to the poverty of its own analysis – started internalising Right-wing arguments (realist, isolationist or fascist) as its own. The isolationist or fascist arguments also coincided with the old Cold War campism which assumed that everything which the neoliberal global order was attacking must be a good thing. Soon after the Iraq debacle, the theory of “colour revolutions” started gathering adherents on the Left.

According to this, apparent democratic movements in countries which were being stubborn in the face of neoliberal global orders were actually puppets of the CIA, or possibly George Soros, seeking not freedom but to destroy national sovereignty and surrender to neoliberalism. This flattened out the difference between countries attempting a Left opposition to globalisation (Venezuela, Cuba) and shitty kleptocratic dictatorships – such as Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, or of course, most of the Arab countries.

This meant when the Arab Spring hit, much of the Left turned its back on democratic movements struggling against dictatorships on the streets as agents of neoliberalism and sided with their dictators – Qadhafi, Assad, recently al-Sisi. The logic ran: “neoliberalism doesn’t like this shitty dictator; therefore this shitty dictator must be supported; therefore the demonstrators are enemies of the people”. To this, in the Arab context in particular, was added a huge dollop of Islamophobia uncriticially inhaled from the fascist-Right, the idea that secular dictators were preferable to democratic forces where men wore beards and might say Allahu Akbar occasionally. Here’s a message a comrade of mine sent recently:

“spent my saturday night fighting with a tanky for hours
and holy shit i was trying to channel your good self, but to limited effect but the underlying theme was that US imperialism was wrong, therefore anything they attack/undermine was right.
fucking mad binary
Gadaffi was a good guy
super good guy
even when shelling his citizens in the city he was a great guy, best guy”

Simply put, then: the campism which leads to apparent Leftists supporting Syria’s regime bombing and gassing its own people, and the horrible regimes of Iran and Russia giving it their full support, is the exact analogy of conservative leftism, in that it simply assumes that any shitty dictatorship which stands up against the neoliberal global order is to be supported – that is, it can no longer tell the difference between socialism and fascism. This uncritical embrace of nationalism is echoed in Europe by the fascist and conservative-Left alliance pushing for the breakup of the European Union.

It is fundamental to my analysis that – just like capitalism as a whole – neoliberalism is CONTRADICTORY, that it has a progressive tendency as well as an oppressive tendency, and that socialism for the 21st century will build on that progressive tendency (globalisation, the breakdown of the nuclear family, networked rather than hierarchical forms of power) rather than try to turn the clock back to the era of nation-state autarky. To do otherwise is opening the door to fascism.

So basically I want to revive that good old slogan of Third Camp revolutionaries: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_camp

Gregory W.: If we wanted to put this in a formal-theoretical way, we might say that class struggle and geopolitics are relatively independent of one another. There is a disjunction between the two, or a gap between two levels of activity (and therefore two levels of analysis). We have to be able to think through the ways that these two levels intersect and condition one another, but it can’t be in an automatic or unchanging way.

And building on what you’ve said, I would also like to emphasize the importance of epochal shifts. One thing that’s clear is that, after the Russian revolution and the consolidation of the Soviet state, the gravity of world revolution shifted to the anti-colonial struggle or movements for national liberation. There were all kinds of forces interacting in this context on multiple continents: socialists, communists, liberal modernizationists, kleptocratic opportunists, billions of people with countless hopes…everything from the Bandung forces to guerrilla insurgencies were caught up in this huge wave. Communist revolution tended to combine with this anti-colonial struggle. And within a couple decades, classical colonialism was defeated almost everywhere.

As you’ve pointed out (here and in the article on campism) there were shifting international alliances, the two main revolutionary poles being those of the USSR and China. Both countries absolutely did back revolutionary and progressive movements all over the world – so there is a real basis for some of the strategy of this era – and both backed reactionary regimes and movements at different times. My concern would not be to go through every realpolitik decision that these regimes and movements made, saying yea or nay. I just want to emphasize that there was an epochal context for these decisions, and that the context is now over.

The 20th century form of anti-colonial struggle is over and both the Russian and Chinese revolutions have been defeated. It is odd to see some on the left discuss the foreign policy of these countries as if they were still socialist and backing world revolution.

I want to bring up the book, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity, by the Chinese “new left” thinker, Wang Hui. In that book he discusses the post-Mao reform era in China, and how “the old socialist stance of internationalism gradually faded from the scene.” He says that, “there is nothing that demonstrates this problem better than the 1999 NATO (American) bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia: in the extraordinary meeting of the United Nations discussing the bombing, not only did the Western alliance stand together, but the traditionally sympathetic Third World alliance was unwilling to voice support for China.” This was almost 20 years ago and the whole thing had already fallen apart.

Daphne Lawless: “the gravity of world revolution shifted to the anti-colonial struggle or movements for national liberation.” – well, you know, I might argue with that. You can say that was part of the process, in that there was a shift away from the struggle of the organised industrial working class in the advanced capitalist countries. BUT the advanced capitalist countries also saw an eruption of struggle from youth, women, oppressed ethnicities/races, and the queer communities. And that has had pretty earth-shattering effects, we have to admit.

Part of conservative leftism is running down these movements, suggesting that – for example – gay marriage, limited recognition of indigenous peoples, even women being allowed to get credit cards in their own name means nothing alongside the neoliberal demolition of traditional working-class organisation. But the hard thing to recognize is precisely that traditional working-class organisations were complicit in the oppressive features of the post-war social democratic consensus. Let’s give all credit to the pro-Soviet CP in the US who were the only white people seriously pushing for desegregation in the 1930s. But the mainstream workers’ movement (in NZ as in the US) was no more woman- or queer-friendly or less dominated by (unacknowledged) white supremacy until the social movements forced them in that direction from the 60s onwards.

I strongly argue that neoliberalism would have had a tougher time destroying the Western workers movements if they had worked WITH the social movements, rather than against them, using the familiar “but muh white working class” rhetoric you still hear from conservative leftism today. That the neoliberals were smart enough to eventually co-opt indigenous, feminist, queer, even trans struggles just shows that they were smarter than the traditional workers movement, not that there was anything inherently neoliberal about those struggles. So we need a better mass workers movement today.

Anyway, back to the rest of what you were saying…!

Gregory W.: What you just said is a good argument against theoretical overstatement, which you see in the programs and agitational material of many groups (e.g., “U.S. imperialism is the main enemy in the world today”). We should be more careful.

I do agree with your analysis above. I definitely had in mind eruptions like the Algerian war, which are such a big part of the post WWII story. But it should also be borne in mind that sweeping radicalization in the western countries happened at the same time. These are interrelated at every level. And I think it is wrong to say, for example, that the western ‘68 wasn’t revolutionary. The things you mention are a big deal. And maybe that’s even more apparent now than it has been in some time, precisely because so many gains are under attack. And we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed into a class vs. “identity politics” dead end.

Daphne Lawless: Hah, that particular overstatement leads you directly into supporting Assad, Putin, Mugabe, Qadhafi, Kim Jong-Un, any sleazy exploitative dictator.

Of course “identity politics” can’t be separated from class politics. What proportion of the working class are actually white, cis-het, male, able-bodied, speaking the dominant language, etc? Well less than 25%, I’d wager. Class struggle has to be intersectional or it’s simply social-chauvinism.

“It is odd to see some on the left discuss the foreign policy of (Russia and China) as if they were still socialist and backing world revolution.” – precisely. It’s debilitating nostalgia, even LARPing (live action role-playing). The ability to analyse the world as it is has been replaced by a dogmatic adherence to categories from the past. This is how you build a religion or a sect, not how you build a global movement. One is reminded of the Byzantine Empire in its last days, whose poetry described the encroaching Turks as “Persians”, referencing a war from 2000 years previously that the Greek-speakers won. It will never be 1917 or 1949 or even 1975 again. We need a new internationalism for the globalised era.

Gregory W.: Indeed and without that new internationalism, we get new Strasserism. “Sad,” as Trump would say.

workers-of-the-world-unite

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Globalization to “Globalism”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Myth and Reality of George Soros

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

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

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

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

soros-leaks-575x575

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Right Needs These Myths

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

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

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

Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

poorpenny

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

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

Ben argued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We might use the following shorthands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Personal experience from Facebook discussions.