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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image006Contemporary antifascist flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Fascism in Australia: An interview with slackbastard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brigadaaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race & Reaction in New Zealand 1880-1950

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

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

By TYLER WEST

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

White New Zealand Policy 1880s-1930s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racial Supremacy Leagues 1890s-1920s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distant Early Warning: Joe Kum Yung and Lionel Terry

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

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

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

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

Jewish Refugees and Anti-Semitism 1930s-1940s

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

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

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

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

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

Two Movements: New Zealand Legion and Social Credit League

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

New Zealand Legion

nz-legion-cartoon

Cartoon depicting NZ Legion leader Campbell Begg

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

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

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

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

Social Credit League

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is fascism? An introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Final part: Germs of Red-Brown; what can we do about it?

 


[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.

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.

 

 

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.