Is there a ‘middle class’ or ‘Professional-Managerial Class’?

By ANI WHITE

This article was written for Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on class. Subscribe to the magazine or e-publication here.

A podcast discussion based on this article can be heard at Where’s My Jetpack.

In common vernacular, the concept of a ‘middle class’ has currency. 70% of Americans think of themselves as ‘middle-class.’1 It may seem bluntly obvious to many that there is a middle class. But what is the middle class?

Classical Marxists have tended to define the working-class as those who draw their income from work rather than capital, which would include most who self-identify as ‘middle class.’ Conversely, sociologists have tended to divide society into multiple classes by income, status, and other indicators. Recently, the concept of a ‘Professional-Managerial Class’, or PMC, has gained currency on the left.

So, is there a middle class? Is this the same thing as the ‘petite bourgeoisie’, or the ‘Professional-Managerial Class’? What might the answers to these questions mean for those of us who aim to take on capitalism?

Professional-Managerial Class

We will start with the concept of the Professional-Managerial Class, currently popular in ‘democratic socialist’ circles around Bernie Sanders. This concept was originally coined by Barbara and John Ehrenreich, founding theorists of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), partly to address a descriptive limitation in classical Marxism.

Although the Ehrenreichs do identify a historical dynamic needing further investigation, one central problem with the PMC category is the equation of professional and managerial. Professional simply means ‘high-skilled’, admittedly by a definition that devalues the skills of other workers. This may include a nurse, a tutor, or an IT worker, and any of these may be employed under poor conditions. Managerial simply means managing workers: it includes those who manage the nurses, tutors and IT workers categorised as ‘professional.’

In a classical Marxist conception, capitalist society ultimately polarises into two classes: workers who sell their labour, and capitalists who exploit it. Although there is a ‘petite bourgeoisie’, comprising mainly small business owners but also other middle strata, classical Marxists have tended to argue they will dissolve into one of the two major camps, often because economic insecurity would lead to proletarianisation. The Ehrenreichs argued a new class had emerged over the 20th century: the Professional-Managerial Class, defined as salaried, educated workers who do not control the means of production but are relatively privileged, and employed to reproduce capitalist social relations.2

Managers are generally expected to enforce the company line, so even if they don’t own capital, they may perceive contradictory interests with subordinate workers. Furthermore, managers may also wear a blue collar. So, you can be a professional without being managerial, or managerial without being a professional. Who does the average IT worker manage? Is the average IT worker in the same position as their office manager? The assumption that anyone wearing a white collar plays a managerial role does not stand up to scrutiny, but the PMC category does not make the distinction.

The PMC was the target of the recent book Virtue Hoarders: The Case Against the Professional-Managerial Class by Catherine Liu, which is an influential in circles such as popular socialist magazine Jacobin.3 An excoriating critique of Liu’s shallow historical account and populist politics can be found on Libcom’s article “The PMC and the Tucker Carlson Left”,4 but I want to zero in on the author’s facile culturalist assumptions about class. These are asserted in the introduction:

The much-maligned Hillary Clinton was honest in her contempt for ordinary people when, in 2016, she dismissed Trump supporters as “deplorables.” Their 2016 defiance of PMC and liberal nostra has only hardened into reactionary antiauthoritarianism, which another reactionary demagogue will seek to exploit. PMC virtue hoarding is the insult added to injury when white-collar managers, having downsized their blue-collar workforce, then disparage them for their bad taste in literature, bad diets, unstable families, and deplorable child-rearing habits.

Liu, Catherine. Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional-Managerial Class. University of Minnesota Press. 2020

The equations here are revealing – Trump supporters equal blue collar working-class, liberals equal white-collar managers. What data does the author marshal to back up this argument? Nada. We in Fightback have argued before, on the basis of exit polls and other data, that Trump’s support is primarily among the petite bourgeoisie and wealthier sections of the working-class5 – putting it simply, those earning over 50k tended to vote Trump, those earning under 50k tended to vote Democrat.6 In keeping with the hoary cliches of the Conservative Left,7 Liu goes on to attack the PMC for their ‘culture wars’:

When the tide turned against American workers, the PMC preferred to fight culture wars against the classes below while currying the favor of capitalists it once despised.

Liu, Catherine. Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional-Managerial Class. University of Minnesota Press. 2020

If anything is an insult to low-paid workers, it’s the assumption that they are on the conservative side of the culture wars, in other words opposing rights for various social minorities. Once again, the author marshals precisely no hard evidence for this, only her own assumptions. In fact, a majority of Americans support progressive measures such as marriage equality.8

Liu contends that the shift towards capitalist-led ‘culture wars’ occurred after 1968. If there is a kernel of truth to the critique, it’s that capital has appropriated progressive symbols for its own benefit. However, this is in large part a concession to social movements, and would not work as branding if progressive social change did not have popular support. Discrediting Black Lives Matter because corporations post the slogan on Twitter is like discrediting Che Guevara for appearing on T-shirts. It’s admittedly true that at the height of neoliberalism, neoliberals were able to win over swathes of leftish-liberal middle class support, however this apparent consensus has been in crisis since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

Liu comes to the point when she associates Elizabeth Warren’s campaign with ‘PMCs’, and Bernie Sanders’ campaign with resistance to their dominance. However, this perceived gulf between Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s politics reveals a limited political imagination. For all his rhetoric, Bernie Sanders equates ‘socialism’ with the police and army,9 as mayor of Burlington supported the arrest of anti-war protestors,10 and has repeatedly backed the centrist candidates openly loathed by his vocal left flank.11

Accusations against PMC Democrats can be diagnosed in many cases as projection. This echoes the old-fashioned sectarian Marxist deployment of ‘petite bourgeois’ as pejorative for anyone the sectarian disagrees with, by such a broad definition that it usually encompassed the people making the accusation. Catherine Liu herself is an academic, undoubtably a position that would be attacked as PMC if she supported Warren. The term PMC itself is hardly used beyond prolific Twitter users, who constitute around 2% of the US population and tend to be higher income than average (in a statistic worthy of Occupy Wall Street, 10% of Twitter users create 80% of the tweets).12

Liu admits to her membership in the PMC herself, and casts herself as a traitor to her class. However, without anything in the way of an empirical analysis of economic class, or an admission that the PMC in general are politically divided, casting herself as a noble exception is precisely the kind of individualistic moral positioning that she denounces, albeit with a more militant rhetoric in line with the times. In general, Liu’s insistence on her anti-liberalism is protesting too much, as she’s ultimately backing a Democratic electoralist strategy with no perspective for building working-class self-organisation.

The reality is that the various middle strata of class society are divided by liberal, conservative and even radical politics (especially during periods of upheaval). It’s not even necessarily true that left liberalism is predominant in the middle class as Liu and many others contend: upper-income workers and the petite bourgeoisie tend to support right-wing populism. Likely as a Humanities academic, Liu has encountered many leftish liberals without a serious critique of capitalism, but this is just one slice of the various professions identified as PMCs. Liu’s ‘class analysis’ essentially replicates the arguments of mainstream right-wing populism, repeating Murdoch talking points such as casting anti-sexual violence campaigns as irrational panics, rather than conducting an independent empirical investigation of class composition.

Although Liu’s book does outline the basic political economy of the global financial crisis, it does nothing to define economic class, ironic for an author who insists on the ‘antimaterialist’ nature of her political opponents. Liu justifies this theoretical looseness with a rhetorical gesture that her approach is polemical rather than ‘objective’, as if that lets her off the hook of actually analysing class society.

What is class composition today?

It should be obvious to anyone familiar with socialist, or communist approaches to class that an analysis of its economic character is the necessary starting-point. As previously outlined, classical Marxists tend to define class in terms of relation to production. More popular definitions tend to focus on income, or consumption habits. So how do we conceive class composition today?

Taking Sydney as their case study, Political Scientists Lisa Adkins et al argue that contemporary class should be conceived in terms of financial assets – particularly housing – rather than income.13 This argument draws on the influential work of Thomas Piketty, who emphasises the accumulation of wealth over income.14 The Anglosphere has very inflated housing markets – Aotearoa New Zealand has the second fastest growing house prices in the world15 – against a backdrop of steep inequality.

Marxists also define class based on property rather than income, but whereas classical Marxists emphasise the property of employers, Piketty’s followers emphasise assets such as housing. In studying the financialisation of everyday life in Australia, political economists Dick Bryan and Mike Rafferty conceive of class as having both industrial and financial dimensions. They note that industrial and financialised views of capitalism can be complementary:

The industrial, workplace-centred view and the financialised view are compatible in many ways. People work for wages or income and produce a surplus and also live in households and absorb risk. In this dimension the financialised view is just adding a new emphasis.

Bryan, Dick; Rafferty, Mike. Risking together: How finance is dominating everyday life in Australia. Sydney University Press. 2018.

This new emphasis on financial assets is partly due to a shift within the composition of capital. Financial capital has come to predominate over industrial capital.17 Related to this financialisation, it seems hard to deny that the inflation of housing assets in recent decades has created a ‘middle class’ relying on assets rather than wages (Daphne Lawless’ article in this issue goes into the implications of this for recent clashes over housing in Aotearoa New Zealand).

Sociologists also distinguish between economic capital and cultural capital.18 Cultural capital refers to accumulated signs of status: say being fluent in formal English, owning a Lexus, or grinding your own coffee. This notion of cultural capital undoubtably underlines the attack on ‘PMCs’ hoarding cultural signifiers of virtue, whether or not adherents of the theory admit to this concession to culturalism. Yet in identifying cultural capital with class position, they imply an automatic relationship which doesn’t necessarily exist. Academics, for example, are sharply divided on many political questions. In general middle, or mediating strata are divided over cultural, political and economic questions.

So, returning to the initial question, is there a middle class? Perhaps, to a point, we can accept the common sociological argument that there are many middle classes, or middle strata. There are small-business owners, managers in various industries, white-collar salary workers, self-employed contractors, union officials, those retired but owning housing assets – these are all different positions that could fit into the ‘middle-class’ box, but may have clashing interests and politics (e.g., whereas small-business owners have an interest in reducing tax, public sector workers have an interest in redistributive policies). The most you can say in general is that they do not straightforwardly fit into the binary of industrial worker and capitalist, but rather play various mediating roles.

Decline of ‘middle class’

Although many popular talking points about class are misleading, the widespread talking point of the ‘decline of the middle class’ has more truth to it. Young adults across the Anglosphere are less likely to own homes than their parents,19 face a more insecure labour market,20 and are more saddled with debt.21 In short, even many from relatively privileged backgrounds are downwardly mobile.

In their work “Death of the Yuppie Dream”, Barbara and John Ehrenreich place this ‘decline of the middle class’ in the context of a capitalist offensive beginning in the 1970s. Ehrenreich notes that alongside the gutting of working-class power that even undermined the position of many PMCs, there was also a cultural offensive against the ‘liberal professions’ such as academia (the inverse of Liu’s argument in Virtue Hoarders that PMCs were waging a cultural offensive against workers on behalf of capital). Following outsourcing of industrial labour, information technology increasingly facilitated outsourcing and automation of white-collar labour. Conditions in tertiary education were undermined. All of this was exacerbated, of course, by the global financial crisis. The Ehrenreichs argues this undermining of the PMC may be a basis for radicalisation22:

In the coming years, we expect to see the remnants of the PMC increasingly making common cause with the remnants of the traditional working class for, at a minimum, representation in the political process. This is the project that the Occupy movement initiated and spread, for a time anyway, worldwide.

Ehrenreich, Barbara & John. “Death of a Yuppie Dream”, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Feb 2013 (tinyurl.com/pmc-decline).

Yet in Virtue Hoarders, despite drawing on the Ehrenreichs’ concept of the Professional-Managerial Class, Liu is dismissive of their thesis regarding the decomposition and radicalisation of the PMC, largely justifying this dismissal on the basis of Occupy Wall Street’s failure. However, for all the limitations of Sanders’ and Corbyn’s politics, downward mobility is central to the revival of socialism among young people that has made these previously obscure backbenchers household names. Liu’s positioning of herself as an honourable exception to the PMC rule precludes an analysis of this shift in class composition and subjectivity.

Conclusion: Political transformation over moralism

In Marxist Georg Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness, Lukács disputes the notion that revolution would be ‘purely proletarian.’ By necessity, any mass social transformation must draw in various sectors, including middle strata. Moreover, this will not happen automatically, rather it requires the organisation of middle strata in the meantime:

Ay revolution will not be a purely proletarian affair; it will not be solely and clearly be a conflict between Capitalism and the Working Class. A revolution is a swirling grey affair, populated with clashing strata from all across the framework of society… At that point when the heat is on, we can’t be spending our time educating our newfound allies, we need to have done the work beforehand, it is too late to be trying to collect our hand when the hand needs to be played.

Lukács, Georg. ‘Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organisation’ in History and Class Consciousness. Merlin Press. 1967

The aim of a principled socialist critique of class society is not to moralise, but to transform. Sectarians attacking comrades on the basis that they are ‘petite bourgeois’, or the contemporary variant of PMCs trolling other PMCs on Twitter, are forms of point-scoring that do nothing to advance the cause of social transformation. Clearly there are middle strata in class society, with a greater degree of relative privilege than the most oppressed sections of the working-class. However, many can be organised, on the basis of a common programme encompassing the interests of all oppressed and exploited people. Past revolutions and social movements show that a section of the middle strata will join the right side of history, and the question must always be posed: which side are you on?

1 Martin, Emmie. “70% of Americans consider themselves middle-class – but only 50% are.’ CNBC, Jun 30 (tinyurl.com/cnbc-middle).

2 Ehrenreich, John and Barbara.” The Professional-Managerial Class”, in In Between Labor and Monopoly Capital (Pat Walker ed). South End Press. 1979

3 Liu, Catherine. Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional-Managerial Class. University of Minnesota Press. 2020

4 Comrade Motopu. “The PMC meets the Tucker Carlson Left”, Libcom, 21 Feb 2021 (tinyurl.com/libcom-pmc).

5 White, Ani. “What is the base of right-wing populism”, Fightback, 17 Mar 2021 (tinyurl.com/populism-base).

6 Zhang, Christine; Burn-Murdoch, John. “By numbers: how the US voted in 2020”, Financial Times, 8 Nov 2020 (tinyurl.com/trump-2020-base).

7 Lawless, Daphne. “Against “conservative leftism”: why reactionary responses to neoliberalism fail”, Fightback, 16 Feb 2016 (tinyurl.com/conservative-leftism).

8 PRRI Staff. “Dueling Realities: Amid Multiple Crises, Trump and Biden Supporters See Different Priorities and Futures for the Nation”, PRRI, 19 Oct 2020 (tinyurl.com/majority-marriage).

9 Healey, Patrick. “Preparing to Define Democratic Socialism, Bernie Sanders Points to Public Libraries and the Police”, The New York Times, 19 Oct 2015 (tinyurl.com/police-socialist).

10 Seelye, Katharine Q. “As Mayor, Bernie Sanders Was More Pragmatist Than Socialist”, 25 Nov 2015, The New York Times (tinyurl.com/bernie-protestors).

11 Sullivan, Eric; Sullivan, Kate. “Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president”, CNN, 14 April 2020 (tinyurl.com/bernie-biden).

12 Wojcik, Stefan; Hughes, Adam. “Sizing Up Twitter Users”, Pew Research Center, 24 Apr 2019 (tinyurl.com/very-online).

13 Adkins, Lisa; Cooper, Melinda; Konings, Martijn. “Class in the 21st century: Asset inflation and the new logic of inequality.” EPA: Economy and Space0(0), pp. 1–25, 2019. Sage Publications.

14 Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press. 2014.

15 Bell, Miriam. “NZ number two in international house price growth ranks.” Stuff, 4 Jun 2021 (tinyurl.com/nz-no2).

16 Bryan, Dick; Rafferty, Mike. Risking together: How finance is dominating everyday life in Australia. Sydney University Press. 2018.

17 Peet, Richard. “Contradictions of Finance Capitalism.” Monthly Review, 1 Dec 2011 (tinyurl.com/mr-finance).

18 Bourdieu; ibid.

19 Nova, Annie. “Here’s why millions of millennials are not homeowners”, CNBC, 30 Aug 2019 (tinyurl.com/millenials-usa); Stats NZ. “Homeownership rate lowest in almost 70 years”, Stats NZ, 8 Dec 2020 (tinyurl.com/millennials-nz); Savage, Michael. “Millennial housing crisis engulfs Britain”, The Guardian, 28 Apr 2018 (tinyurl.com/millenials-uk); Chau, David. “House ownership is out of reach for ‘disenfranchised’ millennials, says CoreLogic property analysts”, ABC News, 28 Sep 2019 (tinyurl.com/millennials-aus).

20 Martinchek, Kassandra. “Young Millennials and Gen Zers Face Employment Insecurity and Hardship during the Pandemic”, Urban Institute. 18 Dec 2020 (tinyurl.com/yz-insecurity).

21 DeMatteo, Megan. “How Much Debt Do Millennials Have?”, CNBC, 19 Mar (tinyurl.com/millennial-debt).

22 Ehrenreich, Barbara & John. “Death of a Yuppie Dream”, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Feb 2013 (tinyurl.com/pmc-decline).

23 Lukács, Georg. ‘Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organisation’ in History and Class Consciousness. Merlin Press. 1967

Intersectionality and class

By BRONWEN BEECHEY

This was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on class. Subscribe to the magazine here.

The concept of intersectionality originates from a 1989 article by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law studies professor and one of the founders of Critical Race Theory. While Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become one of the latest spectres haunting the right-wing in the US, it originated in the 1980s and 90s among a group of legal scholars, including Crenshaw, who took issue with the liberal consensus that discrimination and racism in the law were irrational and “that once the irrational distortions of bias were removed, the underlying legal and socioeconomic order would revert to a neutral, benign state of impersonally apportioned justice.” Crenshaw and other CRT founders argued that racism was not an aberration that could be legislated out of existence, highlighting the continuing economic inequality between whites and minorities, and the lack of minority representation in supposedly “colour-blind” institutions such as universities. Instead, Crenshaw wrote, discrimination continued due to the “stubborn endurance of the structures of white dominance” – in other words, the American legal and political system was inherently racist.

The concept of intersectionality came from the ideas debated in CRT. Crenshaw’s 1989 article, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”, published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum, centred on three legal cases that dealt with issues of both racial and sex discrimination. Each case, Crenshaw argued, demonstrated the limitations of a single-issue analysis of how the law considers racism and sexism.

For example, DeGraffenreid v General Motors was a 1976 case where five black women sued General Motors over its seniority policy. General Motors never hired black women until 1964, and so when seniority-based layoffs occurred after a recession in the early 1970s, all of the black women were laid off. The women argued that General Motors seniority policy was discriminatory on both racial and gender grounds. However, the court refused to consider the two categories together, stating in the words of the judge that “black women” could not be considered as a separate, protected class, as to do so would open up a “Pandora’s box” of minorities who would demand protection by the law.

Crenshaw argued that the 1976 case and others ignored the specific challenges facing black women as a group. She wrote:

The point is that Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and that the contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.

In a 2017 interview, Crenshaw said that “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times, that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

Intersectionality is also linked with the development of identity politics, a concept that was first articulated in a public statement by a black feminist social work, the Combahee River Collective. The statement highlighted the need to “develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of black men.” It concluded:

Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work. This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.

Identity politics was criticised by many on the left, on the basis that it encouraged an inward-looking focus that elevated differences between activists and emphasised the importance of lived experience over the development of solidarity between different groups. It was also criticised for creating “hierarchies of oppression” where the more types of oppression an individual suffered from, the higher their status. Others pointed out that identity politics was co-opted by the mainstream political parties, allowing them to present progressive legislation on women’s rights and LGBT+ issues while continuing their austerity policies toward workers and the poor. Intersectionality can be seen, at least in part, as a response to the limitations of identity politics, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

The concept of intersectionality was quickly picked up by other academics, who applied it to queer theory, feminist legal theory and numerous studies on race, gender and sexuality. Over time, it began to appear outside academia. In 2015, “intersectionality” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and shortly after the term became widely, though not always accurately, used in mainstream media. It quickly became associated with North American feminist campaigns such as Me Too and the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. As a result, “intersectionality” was added to the vocabulary of right-wingers as a term of abuse, along with “political correctness”, “cancel culture” and “privilege checking”. It was variously described as “a new caste system”, “a conspiracy theory of victimisation”, and representing a form of feminism that “puts a label on you. It tells you how oppressed you are. It tells you what you’re allowed to say, what you’re allowed to think.”

Interestingly, a number of conservative commentators have acknowledged that intersectionality as an idea or legal concept is valid. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, who has described intersectionality as “really dangerous,” told Vox that “the original articulation of the idea by Crenshaw is accurate and not a problem” The issue for conservatives is the application of intersectionality beyond the academic sphere, where it is perceived as an attempt to invert an existing hierarchy of oppression so that white, straight, cisgender men are on the bottom. In response, Crenshaw points out that her aim is not to replicate existing power dynamics but to remove those power dynamics altogether. She adds that “There have always been people, from the very beginning of the civil rights movement, who had denounced the creation of equality rights on the grounds that it takes something away from them.”

Less predictably, intersectionality has also been criticised by left-wing and Marxist commentators. These critiques are focused on the role of class, which is recognised in intersectional theory as a form of oppression, but not given any more importance than other forms such as race, gender or sexuality; whereas Marxism traditionally views class as the primary form of oppression. Some of these arguments have been crudely reductionist, arguing that any discussion of race, gender and sexuality is a diversion from the class struggle. These arguments seem to assume that the working class is composed primarily of white men, a situation that has not existed for at least the past 30 years, if ever.

Other Marxist scholars, such as Barbara Foley, Eve Mitchell and Asad Haider, recognise the importance of anti-racist, feminist and queer issues, but argue that these “identities” are largely a product of capitalist social relations. According to Foley:

…the ways in which “race” and gender—as modes of oppression–have historically been shaped by the division of labor can and should be understood within the explanatory framework supplied by class analysis, which foregrounds the issue of exploitation, that is, of the profits gained from the extraction of what Marx called “surplus value” from the labor of those who produce the things that society needs.

Eve Mitchell describes intersectional theory as in part, a response to the marginalisation of women of colour in the 1960s and 1970s feminist, Black Power, and other anti-racist organisations. She states:

It is important to note that identity politics and intersectionality theorists are not wrong, but they are incomplete. Patriarchal and racialized social relations are material, concrete and real. So are the contradictions between the particular and universal, and the appearance and essence. The solution must build upon these contradictions and push on them…Embracing womanhood, organizing on the basis of blackness, and building a specifically queer politics is an essential aspect of our liberation. It is the material starting point of struggle.

However, both Mitchell and Haider argue, the essential next step is to move beyond organising around identity and towards an understanding that solidarity between all those oppressed by capitalism is the only way to defeat it.

Other Marxist commentators argue that there is no incompatibility between intersectionality and Marxism. Sofa Saio Gradin, a queer non-binary Marxist, writes:

Radical queerness and anti-racism are not forms of identity politics; and class struggle is not free from questions of identity. All forms of social life are already coded by class, race, gender and disability, so there are no forms of politics or struggle that exist outside these structures of social power. The claim that intersectional critiques distract from the ‘real struggle’ or are divisive is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of both intersectionality and socialism: the question is not whether the two can be integrated, but how.

In her 2020 book, Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under Contemporary Capitalism, Ashley Bohrer also argues that “a thorough analysis of capitalism requires insights and tools from both Marxist and intersectional traditions.” She adds, in a recent interview:

We can’t understand race (in its gendered, sexualised, ability-laden senses) without understanding that the modern notion of race was invented in a capitalist world, that we all experience race in a capitalist world. There is no separating any of these categories from capitalism and there is no separating capitalism from race, gender, sexuality, ability or nationality.

The role of intersectionality in Aotearoa New Zealand is particularly relevant in a nation that Marxists describe as a colonial-settler state. Like Australia, Canada and the United States, Aotearoa New Zealand was settled by Europeans as part of an imperialist project, where the colonising nation (England) displaced and often physically extinguished the indigenous population with the aim of seizing its resources. Later waves of migration brought other nationalities in, particularly Pacific Islanders who were used as a cheap labour force following the post-Second World War boom. As a result, a large percentage of the working class in New Zealand (if not the majority) are Māori, Pasefika or other ethnicities such as Chinese or Indian. This has given class struggle an intersectional dimension. To give one example, the support of unions for the occupation of Takaparawhau/Bastion Point in the 1970s was instrumental in ensuring that, even after the occupation was violently ended by police and army, construction was not able to proceed.

The effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa NZ also can be seen through an intersectional lens. The most affected community in the wave of the delta strain has been the Pasefika community. This is due to several factors. Firstly, many of the “essential workers” who have been working through the lockdowns – medical staff, retail workers, supply chain and transport workers – are Pasefika or Māori and therefore at greater risk. These workers are low paid and generally live in substandard, overcrowded housing. It is also customary in Pasefika and Māori cultures for elderly family members to be cared for at home by relatives, meaning that COVID-19 (particularly the Delta variant) spreads rapidly and affects both the old and the very young.

The importance of the church to the majority of Pasefika families has resulted in super-spreader events at large church services, and some churches have shared anti-vax conspiracy theories among their followers. Historical memories of the Dawn Raids and racism has created an understandable distrust of government; and there are many in the community who have overstayed work visas and are reluctant to go to vaccination or testing centres (although there is no restriction on eligibility due to immigration status).

Added to this is the chronic underfunding of health services, particularly in South Auckland where the majority of Pacific peoples live.

The low vaccination rate among Māori can also be explained by the legacy of colonialism, where Māori were dispossessed of their land and food sources, had their language and culture suppressed and lost thousands to diseases introduced by the settlers. Māori in rural areas have limited access to health services and transport. Disinformation about vaccines has also had an impact, feeding into general distrust of government and health policies that have disadvantaged and discriminated against Māori in the past.

Taking an intersectional approach means supporting efforts by Māori and Pasefika communities to organise vaccination and testing at marae, churches and other sites where community members feel comfortable, and to develop resources in their own languages to encourage vaccination and counter disinformation. It means supporting efforts by Māori and Pasefika to counter food insecurity. It means calling on the government to increase benefits and wages and build more public housing. And it means supporting the fight against climate change, which in many areas is already being led by Pasefika and Māori youth.

The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us that capitalism is prepared to sacrifice millions of lives to keep its profits coming. The majority of those lives are those of the poor and people of colour. At the same time, there have been countless examples of solidarity in responding to the pandemic. This solidarity can be built upon a basis of understanding that different people experience oppression in different ways, as well as understanding the common cause of that oppression – a system that considers certain lives to be expendable so that the rich can survive.

Book review: Culture Warlords

Image of Talia Levin via Shondaland.

Book title: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy
Author: Talia Lavin
Released: 2020
Review by: Will Howard

Culture Warlords functions as a look at some hard truths of the world. It’s not very fun to be immersed in white supremacy, so I shy away from it. I let them have their corners, and fight them when they come near my spaces, but there’s only so much time to be sad and angry in life, so I don’t want to constantly give them my attention.

Talia Lavin makes a good case for why we MUST give them our attention, why we need to look at what they’re doing, and why antifascist activism must include monitoring and shining a light on the activities of white supremacists and those who unwittingly support them.

Several things surprised me about this book, that I should have already known but somehow had missed:

I had managed to not realise that white supremacy depended so much on anti-Semitism as a stalking horse for all of the world’s problems. Maybe this shows my sheer naivety, the same way that I felt stripped of innocence the first time I truly understood the level of threat my female friends go through on a daily basis, that our society bakes in with ever present sexualisation, and therefore ever-present danger scanning for sexual assault/

White supremacy depends for a chunk of its power on being unacknowledged. Simply naming these people, showing what they are doing and how they are organising, robs them of essential power (as it makes them less terrifying), but it also makes them less likely to recruit.

Lavin encourages us to be aware of the radicalisation of people via social media such as YouTube, and the seduction of found communities that embrace despair. People who long for imagined golden ages are prime targets for far-right recruitment. Anti-Semitism is used as a glue to hold together a bunch of theories that make no sense if you look at them closely.

People who may have correctly identified capital as the enemy are instead encouraged to hate “The Jews,” who are portrayed by the far-right as insidious elites in control of global capitalism.

Reading the book will give you a familiarity with terms associated with the alt-right such as “the Boogaloo” a meme about a second civil war in the United States, and “incels” or involuntary celibates, a deeply misogynistic community which overlaps with the alt-right, particularly in their online spaces where hatred of women is intertwined with racism. Lavin also examines the role the spectre of “Antifa” plays in the psyche of the alt-right, and why we hear so much about them.

Culture Warlords is a wild ride through a lot of seriously unfun stuff. But I came away from reading it mostly hopeful that the nightmares I’d just read about can be resolved.

Essentially, this is a great book to have around if you want a primer on the alt-right and white supremacy to show to others. It doesn’t pull punches on describing exactly what’s going on in the darker parts of the Internet. At the same time, it shows that these people want horrifying things, and hatred is sadly not something we have left in the past.

It’s a great book for getting angry, and for inspiring you to do something with that anger. And for showing that your anger CAN make a difference. That the nebulous forces of modern-day fascism, racism, and chauvinistic anti-feminism can be countered, and while they’re great at making noise, they’re not as big as they try to make themselves appear. Lavin describes many of the things we can do to fight:

Catalogue those who take part in white supremacy. People still in general know it’s wrong, it is rare for someone to be willing to back up their statements of intent, and people know there are consequences when they are named as part of these kinds of hateful groups.

Interrupt their planning/infiltrate their spaces. While I would leave this particular tactic to people with more energy than me, it’s recounted in the book, and definitely works.

Find ways to shut down their “dark-web” sections. As an IT professional, I feel that calling the places reported on here the “dark-web” is mystifying them, as in most cases these are websites and messaging applications anyone can go to. The more we can deplatform racism, the harder it is for white supremacists to connect openly and plan.

Support the efforts of any who humanise the other. Do your part to know other cultures, don’t accept racist jokes, make people think about the things they say, and help each other. Find a way to de-escalate people who have started falling into this stuff.

Point out that it’s capital that’s the enemy, not “the Jews.” Fight coded messages about bankers and rich families. Don’t let racist assholes derail the very real villainy that’s contained in the wealthy by mislabelling it as a Jewish conspiracy.

Come up with alternative communities to slide the disaffected into. So that they are not preyed upon by the far-right.

Talia hints at most of the above, though this book is intended as a guide, not a manual for disassembling the structures of power that white supremacy and anti-feminism are living on. Her words are heartfelt, and her descriptions poignant. This book catalogues what kind of hate is out there in the world, and gives a lens to view it. It calls for action, because inaction is to surrender. We should hear that call and unite to fight for a world worth living in.

All in all, I’d say it’s an excellent book for either stoking your rage, targeting your rage against the kinds of assholes who want to watch the world burn, or perhaps to give to friends or family members to provoke discussion. I’m not sure it will give you easy discussions, or that it will definitely sway anyone who’s already bought into white supremacy. But I think it might be the wakeup call that some people need to recognise the ills of our modern world.

These Nazis aren’t going to deplatform themselves, let’s get to it.

ANZACs vs Jihadis? Examining the far right’s WWI narrative

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on the far right. Subscribe here.

Article by Byron Clark.

On April 30, 2019, the website Right Minds, operated by Diewue de Boer, published an article headlined “Christian Man Threatened With Arrest For Anzac Day Sign”.1 The sign in question featured pictures of the man’s uncle accompanied by the text “Died of wounds incurred at Gallipoli fighting against the Islamic Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire — fighting for God, King, and Country.” The reverse side of the sign read “Allah has no Son and so cannot be the God & Father of Jesus Christ — the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob — the God of the Holy Bible — your Creator & mine. Honour our Fallen Soldiers — Resist Tyranny — Fight for Freedom.”

According to Right Minds, the man had been told by police, “people are feeling intimidated and unsafe”. Those feelings would be an understandable response to a man making an explicitly anti-Islam statement a mere six weeks after a far-right terrorist murdered fifty-one Muslims in Christchurch. It should be noted that de Boer, the co-founder of Right Minds, told Stuff that he had read parts of the shooter’s manifesto and agreed there are points where it overlaps with his movement, despite his opposition to terrorism and violence.2 (In early 2020 police raided de Boer’s home over a suspected illegal firearm.3)

The man attending ANZAC day commemorations in Titahi Bay, identified only as Aaron, was promoting the idea that the First World War was a clash of civilisations between the Christian and Islamic worlds. There are elements of truth in this narrative – for example the Sultan-Caliph of the Ottoman empire proclaimed an official “Great Jihad” on 14 November 1914 – but as is usually the case with the kind of historical narrative that can fit on two sides of a plywood board, the reality is much more complex.

When the war began, 90% of the world’s Muslims resided in lands colonised by Europeans.4 The Ottoman empire, where most of the remaining 10% resided, remained uncolonized but was highly sought after by the European powers. The Dutch Orientalist Christiaan Snouck wrote in The Holy War, Made in Germany:

The competition with England, France, and Russia again made it desirable for all parties that their spheres of interest should be determined. Before the war the understanding had come so far that they were expected in the present year to reach an agreement, by which England would receive Southern Mesopotamia as its economic territory, France; Syria, Germany; the part of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor which is bounded on the one hand by the 34th and 41st degrees of east, longitude, and on the other by the 36th and 39th degrees of northern latitude, whereas the northern part of Asia Minor was to be given to a French-Russian combine for railway construction.”5

The Ottoman Empire in 19146

Snouck goes on to write “For this economic sphere of influence Germany would have felt slightly grateful, but by no means satisfied.”

Germany alone can save Turkey, and she has a huge interest in doing so since only the preservation of the complete integrity of the Ottoman Empire will make it possible for Germany to protect and to develop the economic position which she has gained in it. Besides, Germany is the only one among the large powers with which Turkey has to count who would not wish to annex a single foot of the country, and could not even if she wanted to. Germany’s geographical position would prevent her from effectively protecting such possessions and deriving profit from them. That is why during the twenty-five years of her more intimate relations with Turkey, Germany has always been the only trustworthy friend of the Empire of the Sultan-Caliph. There is between the two countries, apart from all questions of sentiment, a natural community of interests, whereas the interests of all the other large powers can only be furthered at the cost of Turkey’s welfare, and finally of her existence.7

For Snouck, the declaration of jihad was a ploy to further German colonial interests. His work Holy War Made in Germany is primarily a polemic against the writing of the German politician Hugo Grothe.

[T]he question remains whether, as Grothe hopes and expects, the Mohammedan nations under European rule will really be so charmed by the call to arms issued in the name of Sultan Mehmed Reshad, that they will attack their masters ”here with secrecy and ruse, there with fanatical courage.” Grothe already sees in his imagination how ”the thus developed religious war”—so he openly calls it—is to mean especially for England ” the decline of her greatness.”8

A goal of German strategy in the war was to have the Muslim populations of the British and French empires rebel against their colonisers – all in aid of Germany’s own imperial interests. To this end the Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient (Intelligence Office for the East) was established. Max von Oppenheim, the head of this office, produced reports with titles such as “Die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete unserer Feinde” (Bringing about a Revolution in the Muslim Territories of our Enemies).9 In a memorandum titled “Exploitation of Muslim prisoners of war” (“Benutzung der kriegsgefangenen Muhammedaner”, dated 2 October 1914 he suggested that a mosque be constructed in the prisoner of war camp where Muslims were being held.

The Intelligence Office for the East suggested the construction cost should be funded at least in part by Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II in order to present the mosque as a gift from the German Kaiser to the Muslims. Due to resistance from the treasury, the mosque’s construction was financed from the regular budget of the military administration of the prison, but the mosque was still used for German propaganda efforts. Newspapers at the time described the good treatment of Muslim POWs “nearly as guests of the German people” (“fast als Gäste des deutschen Volkes”).10 A newspaper produced by the Nachrichtenstelle titled al-Jihad was produced in numerous languages and distributed at the Halbmondlager (Half Moon Camp) where Muslim POWs from the British and French armies were held, and the camp in Zossen that was used to hold Muslim POWs from the Tsarist army.11The success of this propaganda effort was severely limited. Some former POWs were sent to the Ottoman empire as Jihad volunteers, where they were deployed mainly at the Iraqi front. They were expected to write enthusiastic letters to their fellow jihadists still remaining in Germany describing their successful inclusion in the Ottoman army and the weakness of the British enemy. In reality though there was a lot of dissatisfaction due to inadequate accommodation, lack of food and poor treatment by the Ottoman officers, which led to insubordination and desertion. Besides that, the Ottoman authorities had preferred Germany to send settlers and workers instead of soldiers. The Jihad propaganda was ended at the end of 1916.12There was divided opinion among Muslims regarding the war. The Islamic reformer Rashid Rida heavily criticised the Committee of Union and Progress, the ruling party in the Ottoman empire, describing them as “enemies of Arabs and Islam.” Highly sceptical of German colonial ambitions in the middle east, Rida believed if Germany succeeded in building their planned Berlin to Baghdad railway, then British military power would never be able to “stop the stream of German greed.”13While Rida was an advocate of full Arab independence – from both the Ottoman Empire and European colonialism – he regularly stressed that Britain was preferable for many Muslims to Russia, Germany and France for the justice and the religious freedom given to British subjects in the colonies. Throughout the war, Rida attempted to persuade British Intelligence in Cairo of his ability, through the Decentralization Party, to influence Arab officers in the Ottoman army to rebel against their Ottoman and German commanders. He was eager to replace the Ottoman Caliphate with an Arab one after the war. While he later confirmed his allegiance to the Ottoman Caliphate (which he distinguished from the CUP government) this was only after British authorities were unwilling to provide the Arabs with any support.14When looking more deeply at the historical context of Islam in the first world war, the idea that the war was some kind of clash of civilisations between Islam and the Western (or Christian) world is hard to justify. It may be true that the uncle of the man who brought his homemade sign to the ANZAC commemorations in Titahi Bay was “fighting against the Islamic Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire;” however the British Empire, of which New Zealand and Australia were part, was not in a religious war with an Islamic caliphate but in a war of rival colonial powers in which the interests of one of those powers, Germany, were aligned with the interests of the Ottoman empire.

Few of the world’s Muslims conceptualised the war as a religious conflict either (Rashid Rida for example saw the conflict as a “greedy” materialistic war which had nothing to do with religion.15) with most of the world’s Muslims living outside the Ottoman empire and many fighting alongside the allied powers.

Simplistic black and white narratives of history are pushed by those who seek to wield history as a weapon in the interests of power or the ideology of nationalism, they rarely – if ever – tell the complete story. This has implications for the present. Erik-Jan Zurcher writes in the introduction to Jihad and Islam in WWI, a collection of conference presentations first given on the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Snouk’s book, that what fuels the fear of Jihad in the western world today is not so much the acts of extreme and demonstrative violence that occur, but the uncertainty about the degree of support for the Jihad among the large Muslim communities in European and American countries.16 It’s this fear that was exploited by Donald Trump when he campaigned on instituting “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”; closer to home, individuals like Aaron attempt to grow that fear.

1 “Christian Man Threatened With Arrest For Anzac Day Sign”, Dieuwe de Boer, Right Minds 30-04-2019, Archived at https://bit.ly/3rR22DR

2 “Radical losers and lone wolves: What drives the alt-right?”, Philip Matthews, Stuff, 23-03-2019. Archived at https://tinyurl.com/deboerstuff

3 “Far-right activist’s house raided over suspected illegal firearm”, Matthew Theunissen, RNZ, 11-01-20. Archived at https://tinyurl.com/o2kowvz4

4 Snouck Hurgronje, Christiaan. The Holy War, Made in Germany. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1915, p.9. Available at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Holy_War,_Made_in_Germany

5 Snouck, p.20

6 ‘Map of Ottoman Empire in 1914’, Ministry for Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/map-ottoman-empire-1914, updated 14-Aug-2014.

7 Snouck, p.21

8 Snouck, p.22

9 “Introduction” in Zurcher, Erik-Jan (ed.), Jihad and Islam in WWI, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 20

10 Gussone, Martin, “Architectural Jihad: The ‘Halbmondlager’ Mosque of Wünsdorf as an Instrument of Propaganda”, in Zurcher (ed.), p.189

11 Ibid. p. 23

12 Ibid. p.211

13 Ryad, Umar, “A German ‘Illusive Love’: Rashīd Ridā’s Perceptions of the First World War in the Muslim World”, in Zurcher (ed.), p. 312

14 Ibid p.321

15 Ibid p.316

16 “Introduction” in Zurcher (ed.), p 27

The genocide that inspired the Christchurch shooter

ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images)

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on the far right. Subscribe here.

Article by Byron Clark.

At the start of the livestream video that accompanied the terror attack in Christchurch, (quickly deemed an objectionable publication) the shooter plays the song “Karadžić, Lead Your Serbs”. Karadžić refers to a Serbian war criminal dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” by the media in the 1990s. The song is also known as “Serbia Strong” and “God Is a Serb and He Will Protect Us”, or in the online far-right spaces the terrorist frequented, as “Remove Kebab”. It’s a jingoist folk song dating back to the conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, which culminated in the largest genocide on European soil since the Holocaust.

The Royal Commission report into the shooting notes that while the terrorist travelled in the former Yugoslavia in late 2016 and early 2017 it’s “at least possible that he visited some places because of their association with historical events in which he was interested”1 describing his travels as not the cause of his mobilisation to violence, but as the setting for it.

The individual was thus in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina between 25 December 2016 to 31 January 2017. It was during this time that he wrote to the Bruce Rifle Club, which we see as the first tangible indications of his mobilisation to violence.

This article will examine how a nationalism with a specifically anti-Muslim character, and a lack of historical remembrance of the Bosnian genocide created an inspirational story for the modern far-right, specifically the man who murdered fifty-one Muslim worshippers in Christchurch.

Historical background: constructing a nationalist narrative

The Balkan region was a kind of geographic midpoint for the different religious groups of Europe and the near east. After the great schism in Christianity in the eleventh century, the region contained the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Western Catholic Croats. There has been a history of armed conflict between these two groups, largely confined to the 20th century.

The region’s Muslim population dates back to the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, the idea that Slavic Muslims and Serbs are ancient enemies, prominent during the wars of the 1990s, is much more recent; it was constructed by nationalist Serbs in the nineteenth century and projected back to the 1389 battle of Kosovo (and then back even further.)2In the five centuries following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, Muslims and Christians coexisted in what was a relatively tolerant environment for the times. Under Ottoman rule a formal charter guaranteed the freedom of the region’s Christians to practice their religion, and Ottoman Sarajevo provided sanctuary to Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.3The battle of Kosovo was fought between the invading Ottoman Empire and a Serbian army led by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, who ruled the most powerful state on the territory of the disintegrated Serbian empire. The way history remembered these events has changed in recent times.

The battle was not the central theme of Serbian historical stories. Prince Lazar would become a significant historical figure only in the nineteenth century, when his story was taken up by Serbian nationalists. It was later also taken up by the Christchurch shooter, who wrote Lazar’s name on one of his guns.4Nations are not things that occur naturally; they are always socially constructed. The Serbian nationalists of the nineteenth century could have taken a cross-cultural, cross-religious view, and based their nationhood on language. This was the approach of philologist and linguist Vuk Karadžić (1787-1865). For him, Serb nationality was a function of the language; all speakers of the South Slavic dialects, whether Catholic, Muslim, or Orthodox, were considered Serbs.5This contrasts with the views of poet and prince-bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1813-1851) For Njegoš, the region’s Muslims could never be part of the nation. By converting to Islam , Njegoš insisted, Slavic Muslims had “Turkified,” adopting not just the religion of the Ottomans, but actually transforming themselves into Turks. By converting to a religion other than Christianity, Njegoš believed people were converting from the Slav race to an alien race.6After gaining its autonomy and then independence from the Ottoman empire in the 1910s, Serbia as a state expanded. In his book Genocide in Bosnia, Norman Cigar writes of what this meant for the region’s Muslim population.

In the territories acquired during this phase, the Muslims were forced to convert, leave, or be liquidated. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Kingdom of Serbia had been largely cleansed of native Muslims and of the Turkish minority. The problem re-emerged, however, after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when Serbia was able to seize and annex two predominantly Islamic provinces from the hapless Ottoman Empire: Kosovo and the Sandzak, as well as Macedonia, which had a large Muslim population.7The establishment of Yugoslavia in 1918 united all Serbs in a single state, but significantly this wasn’t a Serb nation state. In 1933 during a reshuffle of internal borders, Yugoslav President Milan Srskic explained changes saying it was “Because of the Turks [Muslims]. I cannot stand to see minarets in Bosnia; they must disappear.”

By the late 1930s, these ideologues were encouraged by the rise of intolerance in many parts of Europe, and the situation had reached the point that plans were drafted for the mass expulsion of Yugoslavia’s largely Muslim Albanians. Yugoslavia, at the time, didn’t have the political or military power to put this plan into action.

During World War II, fascist states allied to Nazi Germany were established in Croatia and Serbia. In addition to the pro-Nazi state established in Belgrade, other Serbian nationalists organised the Chetnik movement, led by Draza Mihailovic. The goal of the movement was to establish a Greater Serbia in the Balkans.8Operational orders provided by Mihailovic to his field commanders made the Chetniks’ intent toward the Muslim population clear:

Point 4. To cleanse the state territory of all national minorities and anti-national elements. Point 5. To create a direct, continuous, border between Serbia and Montenegro, and between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing the Sandzak of the Muslim inhabitants and Bosnia of the Muslim and Croatian inhabitants.

The objective was clarified further in instructions sent from Mihailovic’s headquarters to the commander of a Chetnik brigade:

It should be made clear to everyone that, after the war or when the time becomes appropriate, we will complete our task and that no one except the Serbs will be left in Serbian lands. Explain this to [our] people and ensure that they make this their priority. You cannot put this in writing or announce it publicly, because the Turks [Muslims] would hear about it too, and this must not be spread around by word of mouth.

The defeat of the Chetniks by the Communists in World War II left them unable to complete their nationalist programme, but as a compromise Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito granted Serbia control over several areas in the region, and Serbs were given a disproportionate share of posts in the federal bureaucracy, military, diplomatic corps, economic infrastructure, judicial system, and Communist Party – a situation which prevailed until the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Modern History: Nationalism in the late 20th century

By the time Yugoslavia disintegrated, a ready-made nationalist ideology was available for exploitation. But the re-emergence of nationalism was not inevitable. Cigar writes:

The transformation in interethnic relations needed for the mass mobilization of the Serbs in support of a more confrontational relationship, including vis-à-vis the Muslims, was neither spontaneous nor unavoidable. Instead, a preparatory phase, marked by an intensive and methodical top-down political and information campaign in the 1980s, was required to change the value system of an entire generation of Serbs.

Well before the actual breakup of Yugoslavia, influential figures in Serbia had begun to shape a stereotypical image of Muslims as alien, inferior, and a threat. The novelist Vuk Draskovic in his book Noz, wrote Muslim characters as treacherous, cold-blooded murderers. The book even contains an explicit denial of the Muslims’ existence as a legitimate community. One future commander of the Serbian Guard militia spoke of the influence the novel had on him:

I beat up many Muslims and Croatians on vacation in Cavtat because of his Noz. Reading that book, I would see red, I would get up, select the biggest fellow on the beach, and smash his teeth.

Anti-Islam ideology become prominent among Serbian intellectuals. When, for example, Belgrade’s Muslim community requested land for a cemetery, political scientist Miroljub Jevtić responded:

From land for the dead, the next step is to conquer land for the living. They will then seek a mosque, fully legitimately, but then, around the mosque, they will seek land on which to settle Muslims. Then, it will not be long before non-Muslims will leave, initially voluntarily but later under pressure. . . . What is planned is to settle Muslims in those areas, and to then step up the birth-rate in order to achieve numerical superiority gradually.

This concern about birth rates among Muslims is a precursor to the modern ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which posits that there is a deliberate plan to overwhelm white populations with people of colour (often Muslims specifically) – the Christchurch shooter went so far as to name his manifesto ‘The Great Replacement’. Much like the modern far-right’s claims of a “white genocide” being imminent, Serb nationalists in the 1980s claimed a genocide against Serbs by Muslims in Bosnia and predominantly Muslim provinces of Serbia was a real possibility. In his book The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia Michael Sells writes:

By the time the Bosnian conflict began, the national mythology, hatred, and unfounded charges of actual genocide in Kosovo and imminent genocide in Bosnia had been shaped into a code: the charge of genocide became a signal to begin genocide.

In the late 1980s Serbian nationalists marched in Bosnian cities with the bones of prince Lazar, and the proclamation “We will do our utmost to crush their race and descendants so completely that history will not even remember them.”

The Bosnian war

Beginning in 1992 Serbian militias began to put this plan into action. When Serbian nationalists came to a predominantly Muslim town, the first people they targeted were intellectual and cultural leaders. Religious authorities, teachers, lawyers, doctors, business people, artists, poets, and musicians. According to Michael Sells, the goal of this was to destroy the cultural memory of the Bosnian Muslims.

In an incident recounted by the Bosnian writer Ivan Lovrenovic, a Serb army officer had entered the home of an artist in Sarajevo. This artist was Serbian but among his works was a piece that depicted a page from the Qur’an. Infuriated, the officer had all the artwork taken out into the street, lined up, and shot to pieces with automatic weapon fire.

The Serbs destroyed the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, which was home to the largest collection of Islamic and Jewish manuscripts in the region, and later the National Library and National Museum. Mosques were another target. Between them, Serb and also Croat nationalists destroyed an estimated fourteen hundred mosques. In many cases the site of the mosques were ploughed over and turned into car parks, all evidence of their prior existence removed. Graveyards, birth records, work records, and other traces of the Bosnian Muslim people were eradicated.

Prior to destroying the recorded history and culture of Bosnian Muslims, Serbian nationalists had been emphasizing their own historical narrative. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo had been elevated to the level of national lore by the nationalists of the nineteenth century. That was still very much the case a century later. In his speech commemorating the six hundredth anniversary of the battle, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic proclaimed :”Today, it is difficult to say what is true and what is legend about the Battle of Kosovo. Today, that is not even important.”

Norman Cigar wrote of this nationalist use of history, not as an actual chronological record of the past and its scholarly study, but as an “ideological club” whose greatest utility was as “a potential mobilization vehicle.” The story was influential not just in the region but worldwide. Cigar writes:

One cannot explain today’s developments, much less the occurrence of genocide, simply by taking a mechanistic linear view of such a milestone as, say, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, in which the Ottomans defeated the medieval Serbian state. This battle, however, has been perceived by many Western observers as the root of an enduring Serbian-Islamic struggle and, ostensibly, the mainspring of the current situation.

Michael Sells writes that when the national mythology was appropriated by political leaders, backed with massive military power, and protected by NATO nations, it became an “ideology of genocide.” A set of symbols, rituals, stereotypes, and partially concealed assumptions that dehumanize a people as a whole, and justify the use of military power to destroy them.

In the city of Banja Luka, it was announced on local television that one thousand Muslims would be allowed to remain in the city (out of over 28,000). All the others would have to go, “one way or another.” By the end of 1993, of the 350,000 Muslims living in the Banja Luka region before the war, only 40,000 remained. In Bijeljina, Serb officials set the appropriate quota of Muslims who could continue to live in the town – 5 percent of the pre-war number. And in the town of Kozarac, houses were color-coded according to the owner’s ethnicity and then “destroyed systematically.” Samantha Power, a journalist covering the Yugoslav wars at the time who later became the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, writes:

Sometimes Muslims and Croats were told they had forty-eight hours to pack their bags. But usually they were given no warning at all. Machine gun fire or the smell of hastily sprayed kerosene were the first hints of an imminent change of domicile. In virtually no case where departure took place was the exit voluntary. As refugees poured into neighbouring states, it was tempting to see them as the by-products of war, but the purging of non-Serbs was not only an explicit war aim of Serb nationalists; it was their primary aim.9

For the next three years as this euphemistically named “ethnic cleansing” went on, the West did little to stop it, and in fact, did much to facilitate it.

Passing on September 25 1991, UN Security Council Resolution 713 imposed an arms embargo that locked into place the vast Serb army advantage in heavy weapons, reinforcing the power imbalance that allowed genocide to be carried out with impunity. The Serbs had access to the resources of the Yugoslav army, who, supported and financed by the Western powers, had stockpiled immense stores of weapons in anticipation of a Soviet invasion that never came The five permanent members of the Security Council; the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China all voted for the embargo.10In the following years it become increasingly clear that what was happening in Bosnia was not a civil war, but a genocide of one ethnic group by another. The international community didn’t completely ignore what was going on. The UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions, deployed peacekeepers, and helped deliver humanitarian aid. What the United States and its NATO allies did not do until it was too late, however, was intervene with armed force to stop genocide.11According to Samantha Power, the US was reluctant to intervene as they had no national interest in the region, unlike in the Gulf War of 1991.

Iraq had eventually threatened U.S. oil supplies, whereas Yugoslavia’s turmoil threatened no obvious U.S. national interests. The war was “tragic,” but the stakes seemed wholly humanitarian. It met very few of the administration’s criteria for intervention.

Within the US establishment there were numerous high-profile resignations in protest at the administration’s inaction. On August 25, 1992, George Kenney, the acting Yugoslav desk officer resigned from the State Department. News of Kenney’s departure made the front page of the Washington Post. “I can no longer in clear conscience support the Administration’s ineffective, indeed counterproductive, handling of the Yugoslav crisis,” Kenney wrote in his letter of resignation, which the newspaper quoted. “I am therefore resigning in order to help develop a stronger public consensus that the U.S. must act immediately to stop the genocide”12It was not as if the atrocities were unknown in the West; rather, they were simply ignored by those with the power to stop them. One of the most poignant demonstrations of this was the 14 January 1994 letter to the New York Times from Louis Gentile, a Canadian diplomat who at that time was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bosnia:

The so-called leaders of the Western world have known what is happening here for the last year and a half. They receive play-by-play reports. They talk of prosecuting war criminals, but do nothing to stop the crimes. May God forgive them. May God forgive us all.“13

The Bosnian war

On 6 July 1995 the Serbs attacked the UN safe zone of Srebrenica. There had been attacks before, but what made this one different was that the Serbs did not just attack the Bosnian Muslims, but surrounded the positions of the UN peacekeepers. Knowing about the UN soldiers’ ‘don’t shoot unless shot at’ mandate, the Serbs never directly attacked them.

Colonel Tom Karremans, the Dutch commander of UN troops, requested NATO air support from his superiors. But because the UN soldiers were not directly under threat, his request was denied. On July 9th, Ratko Mladić, general of the army of Republika Srpska, the Serb- held territories in Bosnia, took over the Srebrenica operation. The next day, the Serb forces pushed forward, with the goal of taking over the enclave. Two subsequent air support requests were rejected, the first because the Serbs stopped advancing until the planes ran out of fuel and had to return to base, and the second because when the planes were refuelled and the Serbs started advancing again, it was too dark. Karremans met with Muslim military leaders that night and assured them that forty to sixty NATO planes would arrive at 6am the next day to stage a “massive air strike.” But that didn’t eventuate.

There is no agreed-upon account of why the planes didn’t come that morning, but they didn’t. Karremans made another request over the phone, and was told he needed to submit a paper form. So a form was filled out, then returned because it was the wrong form. Once the right form was submitted, he was told air support would arrive within 45 minutes, but at 9:45am it was denied. The misunderstanding was that command support said air support *could* arrive in 45 minutes, not that it would. Another request was made at 10am. Again though, Karremans was told he had to submit a form. By the time the air strike could be approved, the planes again had to refuel. This bureaucratic back and forth arguably prevented a decisive change in the course of events.14Mladic summoned Karremans for a pair of meetings at the local Hotel Fontana; he warned that if NATO planes reappeared, the Serbs would shell the UN compound in Potocari, where refugees had gathered. Later, with Karremans looking on, Mladic asked the Muslim representative of the Bosnian government who had been called to negotiate whether the Muslims wanted to survive or “disappear.”

The Serbs had chosen that the Muslims would disappear. What followed was the largest massacre of the war, later ruled a genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. One survivor described what he experienced:

They took us off a truck in twos and led us out into some kind of meadow. People started taking off blindfolds and yelling in fear because the meadow was littered with corpses. I was put in the front row, but I fell over to the left before the first shots were fired so that bodies fell on top of me. They were shooting at us … from all different directions. About an hour later I looked up and saw dead bodies everywhere. They were bringing in more trucks with more people to be executed. After a bulldozer driver walked away, I crawled over the dead bodies and into the forest.

In the town of Kravica, north of Srebrenica, Muslim men were herded into a large warehouse. Serb soldiers positioned themselves at the windows and doorways, fired their rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and threw hand grenades into the building, where the men were trapped. After the soldiers shot bullets into any bodies that were still twitching, they left a warehouse full of corpses to be bulldozed.

Eventually, there were NATO air strikes which did lead to the end of the war in Bosnia. It came too late, though, for the eight thousand dead in Srebrenica. When Serbia began to ethnically cleanse the province of Kosovo, NATO was not as slow to act as it had been in Bosnia.

There was a section of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto about that Kosovo conflict. It wasn’t quoted in any New Zealand media, but it was in Balkan Insight, the website of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. The terrorist criticised NATO forces for what he saw as attacking Christian Europeans who were attempting to remove “Islamic occupiers” from Europe.

This view was held not just by extremists like the terrorist, but by mainstream politicians in Europe and elsewhere. In 2008, the Austrian MP Heinz-Christian Strache argued that Kosovar independence was an attack on Serbia’s identity, that European nations had to band together to protect the “Christian Occident” and that a failing to do so would entail that “Europe is likely to experience the same fate as Kosovo”.15 When the attack happened in Christchurch, Strache was Austria’s vice chancellor.

In the quarter century since the Bosnian genocide the events of the early 90s haven’t taken their rightful place in our collective memory, where we can recognise Islamophobic rhetoric and fearmongering about birth rates and know the end point of this rhetoric is genocide. Instead, we have seen publications such as Renaud Camus’ Le Grand Remplacement (2011) a book whose English title is shared with the shooter’s manifesto, and Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe (2017).

Perhaps more significant though has been the deluge of far-right content on social media, in particular on YouTube. The Royal Commission report into the Christchurch shooting noted that “[the shooter’s] exposure to such content may have contributed to his actions on 15 March 2019 – indeed, it is plausible to conclude that it did.”16 The commission also found that the shooter had donated money to Rebel Media, which employed Lauren Southern, who produced a documentary on the supposed Great Replacement, and Stefan Molyneux, whose YouTube channel promoted discredited ideas about race and intelligence.

Southern and Molyneux travelled to New Zealand in 2018. While they were eventually unable to find a venue to host their speaking tour, the event had sold a significant number of tickets, showing that their rhetoric is resonating here. If we do not learn from the atrocities of the past, we are never far from similar atrocities happening again.

1 https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/firearms-licensing/the-regulation-of-semi-automatic-firearms/

2 Sells, Michael. The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, University of California Press, 1998.

3 Cigar, Norman. Genocide in Bosnia, Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

4 https://www.smh.com.au/world/oceania/christchurch-shooter-s-manifesto-reveals-an-obsession-with-white-supremacy-over-muslims-20190315-p514ko.html

5 Sells.

6 Sells.

7 Cigar.

8 Cigar.

9 Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, Basic Books, 2002.

10 Sells.

11 Power.

12 Quoted in Power.

13 https://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/14/opinion/l-in-banja-luka-terror-seems-uncannily-normal-870200.html

14 Untold Killing podcast, episode 2: “The Fall”

15 Zdravko Harmens, Hans. Karadžić Lead your Aussies?, 2020. https://studenttheses.universiteitleiden.nl/handle/1887/137654

16 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack in Christchurch: https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/firearms-licensing/assessment-of-the-individual-and-the-terrorist-attack/

Aunties Book Review: An essential collection

It was satisfying to receive a Big Red Book in the mail.

Book title: Aunties
Editors: Kassie Hartendorp, Ella Grace, M.Newton, Nadia Abu-Shanab
Released: 2020
Review by: Ani White

The Aunties collection was crowdfunded in 2018, a collection of articles bringing together the perspectives of women, transgender, non-binary, and intersex people involved in political organising across Aotearoa. This was an initiative of editors Ella Grace, M. Newton, Kassie Hartendorp and Nadia Abu-Shanab (although they assert on the website that “we’re not editors, we’re organisers”, the collection is well-edited).

Crowdfunding from the community has allowed this collection to be accountable to the community, rather than to NGOs or even corporate funders who tend to downplay anti-systemic perspectives. For example, the decision to include a prison abolitionist perspective from People Against Prisons (PAPA) organiser Emily Rākete goes beyond what prison reform NGOs would allow.

Although the collection took three years to produce after the crowdfunding campaign, this is reflected in the breadth of the collection, with 25 articles spanning 100 pages. Many articles are brief, but rich. The collection is beautifully produced, with excellent design by Natasha Mead, Natalie Thomson and Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho – and many lovely illustrations and photographs throughout.

The cover is Simply Red, and it was satisfying to receive a Big Red Book in the mail. Although digital media has transformed communication in important ways, and can’t be ignored, there’s something to be said for a print collection in bringing together diverse articles in one lasting place, rather than isolated articles or fleeting 240-character hot takes. That said, for those who can’t afford the collection, there is a free pdf online until the end of the year – a good decision in terms of accessibility, in contrast to the academic approach which locks away important knowledge in subscription journals. The printed collection is also available to purchase for $30, and if you can afford that, it’s worth supporting the work and expense involved in drawing the collection together (international orders are also included).

The introduction accurately captures the conjuncture this collection intervenes in:

We face a number of challenges to our collective survival. We share an awareness of these challenges. Sometimes it makes us feel heavy and lost as we struggle to find our place.

We came together to make this magazine because you’re not alone. You shouldn’t feel like you have to face these things by yourself. You can’t and shouldn’t.

This emphasis on collective self-determination, as a solution to various interlocked crises, runs throughout the collection. Articles include a brief interview with Ihumātao organiser Pania Newton (for international readers: Ihumātao is a struggle for Māori land against property developers), an interview on organisation with beneficiary rights stalwart Sue Bradford (who calls for a “large scale party to the left of Labour and the Greens”), and an interview with veteran indigenous activist Hilda Harawira, among many others.

The collection takes in the perspective of both leading activists, and other contributors who may be erased even in activist politics. Related to the inclusion of these often-erased perspectives, Ihumātao ‘leader’ Pania Newton questions the very concept of ‘leadership’ in movements, as she has in her public speeches.

Although drawing clear political lines in the sand, the collection reflects the complexity and nuance of the various liberation struggles women and gender minorities are engaged in across Aotearoa. In part this stems from the emphasis on lived experience. The collection is also intergenerational, as suggested by the title Aunties.

Given the feminist decision to include only articles by women and gender minorities, often indigenous and women of colour, some may mutter about ‘identity politics.’ This is a bugbear of both the right and, unfortunately, much of the Conservative Left. However, a simple flick through the contents reveals that this collection transcends the tired identity vs class argument, with pieces by union organisers alongside wider community organisers and writers. Working-class self-organisation is not mutually exclusive with challenging multiplied forms of oppression, such as colonisation and sexism, and this collection reflects that fact. As union organiser Tali Williams outlines at the inception of her article:

A lot of the problems women experience stem from what happens at work. That’s why for centuries women have united and organised to confront the boss.

And as union organiser Shanna Olsen-Reeder points out in her article, the abuse she experienced from a boss “was a symptom of the system in which we operate: capitalism.”

All three union organiser contributors offer practical, useful and inspiring accounts of workplace organising, with Tali Williams writing on organising at a major NZ clothing brand, Shanna Olson-Reeder on organising at JB Hi-Fi, and Jacky Maaka interviewed on her work in the health sector respectively. This practicality of the approach to class is also reflected in the decision to include a WINZ Rights Info Sheet. 

That said, there is one weakness in the collection’s class politics: the articles on workplace organising are written by paid representatives, although at least one of them was first recruited from the shopfloor, and another is an elected paid delegate. In part this limitation is simply a reflection of wider conditions: no large-scale rank-and-file movement exists, so leftists tend to orientate towards left officials. Another underlying issue here is that even organised workers run the risk of facing (often illegal) disciplinary action if they speak up publicly, but a strong rank-and-file union movement should be able to back up workers who speak out publicly – perhaps anonymity is another option. I understand there was an intention to include more rank-and-file union perspectives, but this can be difficult to achieve in contemporary conditions  (as Fightback editors can attest).

The point here isn’t to moralistically condemn paid organisers, many of whom are good comrades. However, although organisers place an emphasis on workers’ self-organisation (Shanna Olsen-Reeder asserts that workplace organisers “didn’t rely on a union organiser to come in to our workplace” and Tali Williams asserts that there are “no experts here!”), we only hear the perspectives of paid representatives. This reflects the complex question raised by Pania Newton about the nature of ‘leadership’ in movements. Across the pond in Australia, I’ve been involved in a rank-and-file struggle against the collaborationist approach of the National Tertiary Education (NTEU) leadership, an approach sadly shared by the leadership of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) in Aotearoa – although more militant unions do not necessarily share that approach, the collaborationism during the COVID crisis has not been challenged the way it has in Australia. Bringing in more rank-and-file union perspectives would have strengthened a generally excellent collection, which does tend to otherwise emphasise self-organisation of oppressed and exploited communities.

Another thing which would strengthen the collection is a consideration of how struggles in Aotearoa are interlocked with international struggles, for example the role of labour migration to Australia (recently politicised with the COVD-era backlash against returning New Zealanders, many of whom have lost work in Australia). The question of refugee rights, such as the recent growth of refugees from Syria, also indicates how local issues are interlocked with international ones. That said, even with 100 pages of brief articles, there’s only so much space to include Everything That Matters. Also, work by Pasefika activists and writers, such as Leilani Visesio’s article, does bring an Oceanic perspective to the collection.

Overall, this is an essential collection for anyone looking to learn about liberation movements across Aotearoa, or to strengthen their organising work – perhaps the underlying message of the collection is kia kaha, be strong. We need more work like this, collecting together the experiences and lessons of various connected struggles.

How the far-right found a home in the New Conservative Party

by BYRON CLARK

Candidates | newconservative

“We’ve got some awesome candidates that are stepping up for us,” announces New Conservative Party deputy leader Elliot Ikilei in a video posted to their Facebook page on March 27, 2020. “This is going to be one person over here. Now he is a little bit over there, a little bit over to the far-right…” (Ikilei moves to his left.) “So here we are, and this is a great man, this is a man who many of you will know, and we are so excited to have him on board! Now I’m just going to give it over to him. Sir! What is your name, and tell us a little about yourself?”

“My name is Dieuwe de Boer, and I am a candidate for the New Conservative Party.” announces de Boer. “I’m rather infamous at this point, for my conservative political commentary,” he says to giggles from Ikilei. The joke about de Boer’s infamy, and the earlier double entendre about his location on the far-right, is in reference to an article published by RNZ in January which described him as a “far-right activist”, when reporting on a police raid of his home over a suspected illegal firearm.

Not everyone saw the humour in that headline. Max Shierlaw complained to the Media Council about the use of the term “far-right”. He noted that de Boer was a Christian, a conservative, and a family man who supports gun ownership; these things did not, in Shierlaw’s opinion, make him a “far-right activist”, a term he argued was more properly used for neo-Nazis and racists, which de Boer is not. The Media Council did not uphold the complaint, noting in their response:

It is RNZ’s view that Mr de Boer’s statements put him somewhere on the far-right continuum and the Council agrees that, while ‘far-right’ is an inexact term, it was not an unreasonable description. While not everyone who opposes immigration has far-right views, Mr de Boer has also been openly critical of Islam, saying it was ‘fundamentally incompatible with western values and culture’, has expressed support for nationalism and had supported visiting speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, whose views have consistently been described as far-right. It was also telling that Mr de Boer himself had been quoted as saying that ‘far right’ might not be a bad description of his views.

“All of that makes far-right a rather meaningless and harmless slur.” commented de Boer in an article on his Right Minds website. He’s not necessarily wrong; the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish NGO based in the United States which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, describes the term as “more vague than extreme right or radical right”, the terms they use to describe violent hate groups that exist outside of mainstream conservatism.

While begrudgingly accepting that the far-right label is going to stick, in that same article de Boer announces that his barrister had issued a cease and desist letter for what he describes as “a series of libellous tweets” about him, including one noting that he “regularly appears on Australian hate-monger Tim ‘Pinochet did nothing wrong’ Wilms’s podcast”. Dieuwe de Boer is indeed a regular guest on the podcast in question, The Unshackled, appearing in a weekly “trans-Tasman talk” segment. The slogan quoted in the tweet, “Pinochet did nothing wrong” is one that appears on a t-shirt that Wilms has worn in YouTube videos.

Augusto Pinochet was military dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, and is known for his  persecution of leftists, socialists, and other political critics. In particular his regime is remembered for death flights, a method of extrajudicial killing where dissidents were thrown to their deaths from helicopters. The phrase “free helicopter rides” has become a meme on the alt-right, a dog whistle to those who know the meaning, and a seemingly nonsensical joke to those who don’t.

Wilms’ t-shirt belays another meme to those in the know: the letters RWDS printed across the sleeve stand for Right-Wing Death Squads. While originally coined to describe paramilitaries in Colombia in the 1980’s, the term has been adopted by the modern alt-right. Searching for the phrase will bring up a SoundCloud track by that name featuring a picture of an armed man in silhouette in front of a Black Sun, the symbol featured on the cover of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. One SoundCloud user comments: “Remember lads: Subscribe to PewDiePie”, quoting the shooter’s livestream and echoing another meme appropriated by the alt-right.

Of course, there are several degrees of separation between de Boer and these commenters; he can easily distance himself from them, and even from Wilms. “I am not responsible for Tim’s wardrobe.” he writes, before going on to say, “Tim’s views are generally not too different from mine”.

The Right-Wing Death Squads meme is noted in another of de Boer’s articles. Reporting on a protest he attended in Auckland’s Aotea Square where the right clashed with anti-fascist activists, he writes:

On our side there was someone in a t-shirt that said “Right Wing Death Squad” with a helicopter on it. No one on the other side knew the meaning of the joke, and it is unlikely that everyone reading this would get the joke too, which is why I think it is a terrible one.

He notes that this protestor can’t be labelled a white supremacist because while he would occasionally “yell something in German and talk about physical removal of leftists”, he was ethnically Chinese.

The Unshackled podcast and YouTube channel was previously a joint effort between Wilms and Sydney man Sukith Fernando, but Fernando was dropped from the project after it became widely known he was a Holocaust denier following an article published by Honi Soit, the student paper at the University of Sydney where Fernando was studying at the time. Fernando repeatedly claimed that he “didn’t know” whether the Holocaust happened when confronted by liberal students on campus. He had been part of a ‘Holocaust Revisionism’ Facebook group and had commented “Wow Hitler really did nothing wrong” under a video questioning the holocaust that was posted on his page.

The Unshackled has on numerous occasions provided a platform for one of Australia’s most notorious far-right extremists, Blair Cottrell. Cottrell is the founder of the United Patriots Front (UPF), and later the Lads Society. As reported by ABC News, the man who perpetrated mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques in March 2019 had been an admirer of Cottrell, frequently commenting on his Facebook live streams, referring to him as “Emperor” and donating to the UPF.

Tom Sewell, president of the Lads Society, had – prior to the shooting – tried to recruit the man who was later to perpetrate the Christchurch mass shooting to join a group looking to create a society of only white people. The man, who at this point was about to move to New Zealand, declined. “The difference between my organisation, myself and [the shooter], is simply that we believe, certainly at this stage, that there is a peaceful solution for us to create the society we want to live in,” Sewell told Newshub“If we are not given that opportunity, well, time will tell. I’m not going to give you any explicit threat but it’s pretty fucking obvious what’s going to happen.”

Again, de Boer maintains a degree of separation from these figures, but he has spoken openly about the overlap between the content of the Christchurch mass shooter’s manifesto and his movement. “The overlapping views obviously are that we favour nationalism and have an opposition to the United Nations,” de Boer told Stuff. “We want stronger controls on immigration. We haven’t talked much about replacement, but I would definitely highlight that Western nations in general have low birth rates.”

And highlight those birth rates he has. A 2017 article on Right Mindsis headed with a line graph showing the declining birth rate in New Zealand since the 1960s. Despite saying that Right Minds haven’t talked much about replacement, this article heavily implies that something akin to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, after which the Christchurch mass shooter named his manifesto, is going on. “Every single one of our childless liberal leaders wants to import more immigrants to be the children they don’t have” writes de Boer. “Perhaps these parties should remove their gender quotas, official or otherwise, and replace them with some offspring quotas.”

Coming into the New Conservative fold

Initially de Boer was less than enthusiastic about the New Conservatives. In a June 2018 article he describes them as “boring” and lambasts them as “more green than the Greens” for missing an opportunity “to stand out here to and straight up call out the global warming lie”. In reference to an income splitting policy he asks rhetorically “does that mean a Muslim man can split income between all four of his wives and pay no tax?”, and concludes that the party has “run-of-the-mill socialist policies, much like every mainstream party in New Zealand.” By eighteen months later he had completely changed his attitude.

I got a message from deputy leader Elliot Ikilei, who told me that he had read my critically dismissive review, he thought I had some good points, and he wanted to meet up to talk about it. That one simple olive branch changed my life and I know he’s extended many more like it to others. Perhaps enough to alter the course of this nation.

Rather than ignoring the fringe blogging of a young man who said his party was not pushing climate change denial hard enough while dismissing every mainstream party as “socialist” and throwing in some barely hidden Islamophobia, Ikilei had specifically sought out de Boer. It may be that the politics of New Conservative are not as different from Right Minds as de Boer originally thought. His article endorsing the party praises Ikilei for saying that western culture is superior to all other cultures: “That’s a line you won’t hear from any politician”.

Other figures from New Zealand’s far-right have also been drawn to the New Conservatives. Canterbury man Lee Williams, whose YouTube channel boasts over twelve thousand subscribers, posted a video on July 19th 2019  calling for the small “right of centre” parties opposed to the United Nations Compact on Safe Orderly and Regular Migration (commonly known as the UN Migration Pact) to unite together. Underneath the video, one commenter writes: “A party has been formed”, “New Conservative Party (NZ) Good people here. Check it out.” Williams replies, “I’m in touch with Elliot”.

A few weeks later, he was in Auckland to speak at a Free Speech rally, along with Elliot Ikilei and others. Speakers were introduced by Dieuwe de Boer. In his speech, Williams begins “Well here we are, the white supremacists of New Zealand, according to Patrick Gower and the lying New Zealand mainstream media!”, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Williams is referencing a Newshub piece that reported on members of the far-right attending a protest against the UN Migration Pact in Christchurch. Newshub reports that at that rally the notorious while supremacist Phillip Arps had called for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters to be hanged. Arps has served a prison sentence for sharing the livestream video of the mass shooting at Al Noor Masjid, and had left pigs’ heads at the same mosque in 2016.

Williams was not mentioned in the piece, but has reason to gripe about the story. He was the one speaking at the rally when Arps, who had been standing beside him waving a New Zealand flag, yelled out “Hang him! Publicly hang him!” when Williams mentions Peters. In his speech, Williams states that “Europe and its people are being replaced”, referencing the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, a phrase that New Zealanders would become familiar with a few weeks after that rally when it was used as the title of the Christchurch mass shooter’s manifesto.

It’s likely that the content of that speech, and other videos such as one uploaded two weeks later where Williams claims “these [Muslim] wives are just knocking out babies with baby factories, you know, and vastly outnumbered the birth-rate of native populations – this is in every country in Western Europe”, were the impetus for police visiting him on two occasions after the Christchurch shooting.

After attending a public meeting in Christchurch in August, Williams made a video announcing his endorsement of the New Conservatives.

Anybody who’s informed and they watch what’s happening in Western Europe and they know what’s happened in the United States with the Democrats, Donald Trump if you – if you support Donald Trump, if you’re on one of the secret supporters of New Zealand then I would say you’d probably like New Conservatives. If you’re pro-Brexit, if you’re pro-freedom of speech, if you’re anti-mass migration, anti-United Nations Global Compact on migration, then the New Conservatives is for you.

When a commenter asks if the New Conservatives are “of a similar persuasion to A-M Waters and the ‘For Britain’ party in [the] UK?”’ Williams replies: “yes similar”. The For Britain Party was founded by the anti-Islam activist Anne-Marie Waters after she was defeated in the UK Independence Party leadership election in 2017. Their platform includes reducing Muslim immigration to the UK to near zero.

The New Conservatives have a zero net migration policy that doesn’t single out any particular ethnic group or religion. But the comments from their Botany candidate are not the only time the party has been associated themselves with that kind of ideology. On April 2nd 2019, the New Conservative Facebook page shared a video promoting Douglas Murray’s 2017 book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam,describing it as “a powerful understanding as to why our culture is suffering,” and noted: “We absolutely agree.” The book claims that Europe is under threat from Muslim immigration and higher birth rates, and is popular on the far-right.

Much like Ikilei’s olive branch to de Boer, the party didn’t ignore the endorsement of a fringe YouTube personality who believes – among other things – that the United Nations is run by an “unholy alliance” of Islam and “cultural Marxists”, and that there is a deliberate plot to emasculate western men to weaken white majority countries. Instead, they shared Williams’ video on their Facebook page with the comment: “we are so humbled and encouraged to see critical thinkers jumping onboard.”

In a video uploaded to his channel in September 2019, Williams and an unnamed friend, who also attended that same meeting in August, call on people to vote for the New Conservatives, describing them as “the closest we’ve got to a Salvini or a Viktor Orbán”, referring to far-right politicians in Italy and Hungary. Lee Williams is wrong about a lot of things, but in that instance, he’s probably correct.

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

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

EDITED 2021/07/21: Author’s identifying information removed at their request.

a way out

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

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

Andrea Dworkin1 1977

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

Radical Women2 2019

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

Courtney Desiree Morris3 2010

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

Lora Mathis4 2015

a . b . c . a boys club

Let me be clear.

I do not want this to end in a suicide.

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

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

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

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

walking into a wreckage

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

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

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

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

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

an heirloom, transmitted & maintained

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

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

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

welcoming sharing learning

Let me be clear:

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

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

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

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

Where are the flowers? the river? the love?

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

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

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

counter the death cult with care

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

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

support systems, softness

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

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

struggle within

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

Andrea Dworkin6

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

Let me be clear:

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

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

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

Stuck. Not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

collective healing

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

Courtney Desiree Morris7

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving people alone is a betrayal.

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

rape, race & resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

feminism = the opposite of fascism

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

Hope Worsdale8

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

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

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

a dare: don’t run

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

Eve Ensler9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We insist on it, we require it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

we actually want you to change your behaviour.

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

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

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

Try being different to your father, your grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay right where you are.

Listen,

Look

You fucked up, now

FRONT UP


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDITED 2021/07/21: Author’s identifying information removed at their request.

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

Jennai Bundock1 2015

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

Kurdish Women’s Movement2 2018

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

Barucha Peller3 2013

We believe in your humanity, against all the evidence4

Andrea Dworkin 1983

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

good looks good person

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

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

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

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

flat stomach

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

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

you find out gradually

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

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

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

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

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

all the men in the family are alcoholics

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

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

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

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

body pain / getting sick

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

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

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

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

burying it in your head

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

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

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

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

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

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

tearfulness

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

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

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

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

telling people

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

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

help the healing

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

No. No more.

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

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

spill over / we’re not separate

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

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

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

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

spare some solidarity?

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

never a side issue

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

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

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

which side are you on, boys?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

men’s meetings

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

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

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

try, care

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

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

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

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

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

I have come close to, but not lost faith.

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

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

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

Educate, agitate and organise against patriarchy.

Only then, can we be on the same side.


1 The Hidden Cost of Patriarchy vimeo.com/100087331

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWERF and TERF: The Red-Brown alliance in Policing Gender

Trans communism
Transcommunist flag by NinjaDrawsDBZ

by DAPHNE LAWLESS, from Fightback magazine’s upcoming issue on Socialist Feminism. Subscribe here.

Late last year, a veteran of communist politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand decided to contribute to a march for the traditional working-class demand for reproductive rights by standing outside it with a sign bearing only the words “WOMAN = ADULT HUMAN FEMALE” – a dogwhistle for anti-trans feminists (or “trans-excluding radical feminists”, TERFs). Another veteran from the same organisation now has the same phrase at the head of her Twitter biography – displacing all mention of her record as a socialist and a union organiser. And they’re not the only ones. How has the motivation to punch down on trans people – and defend the “free speech” of fascists and others who do so – come to substitute for the fight for workers’ power and a post-capitalist world in the minds of veteran activists?

Freeze peach

Daphna Whitmore and Don Franks are veteran socialists and union organisers, who were founding authors of the blog Redline when it was set up in 20121. Whitmore’s Twitter account identifies her as part of the “Left Network for Free Speech” (LNFS). The Redline post in which this “Network” was announced says:

As partisans of the working class, we know that the working class has historically been denied democratic rights, including free speech. Even after hundreds of years of struggle, workers today face being fired for expressing, in their own time and on their own computers, views which their employers disapprove of.

Leaving the power to decide what is acceptable speech in the hands of employers and the state disempowers workers and oppressed sections of society such as women, Maori, gay people and migrant workers… Free speech is necessary to expose racism, sexism and bigotry. In contrast, ‘hate speech’ restrictions don’t challenge these ideas. ‘Hate speech’ laws in practice are an arbitrary tool that are used to impose social regulation. They can be used to silence progressives on a range of issues.2

Given their defence of free speech as a weapon in defence of the interests of workers and gay people, it is strange that almost all the articles posted by the LNFS on their Facebook page since it was founded are in defence of Israel Folau – the millionaire athlete who was released from his contract with the Australian Rugby Union after violating his contract by making religiously-based homophobic social media posts – or of “gender-critical” (i.e. transphobic) commentators and academics. The link between these and working-class activism seems thin, to say the least.

Free-speech absolutism on the Left has had a historical record of degenerating, first into tolerance for Right-wing ideas, then actual sympathy with them. The classic historical example of this is the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain, originally a split from the Socialist Workers Party. This organisation – always somewhat of an outlier on the British far-left – began to be distinguished in the mid-1980s by opposing the consensus that fascist movements such as the British National Party should not be given platforms on campus. This clearly prefigures the LNFS’ insistence that state action against “hate speech” in fact makes things worse, as well as its concern about “academic mobbing” of professors who promote transphobia.

The subsequent transformation of the RCP into an outright Right-wing libertarian outfit is quite notorious. Opposing the liberal consensus had become for them an end in itself, detached from socialist principle. The organisation itself wound up in the 1990s, as their Living Marxism magazine was sued out of existence for denial of the horrors of attempted genocide during the Yugoslav civil wars. They cropped up later in the form of the “Institute of Ideas”, promoting climate-change denial through documentaries such as The Great Global Warming Swindle. They continue to exist as Spiked, a libertarian Right-wing website funded by American billionaires the Koch brothers, some of whose writers have recently been elected to the European Parliament for the Brexit Party.3

It is interesting to note that the place where this degeneration began – minimising the threat of fascism in favour of the supposed greater threat of liberal “thought policing” – is a very common trope on the anti-liberal Left, the kind of people whom Fightback has criticised in our previous articles on Conservative Left and Red-Brown tendencies. As we have previously stated, this kind of underestimation of the fascist threat – or even seeing fascist movements as having a positive side, in mobilising opposition to a centrist/liberal consensus – was the kind of thinking from Communists which led to the victory of Hitler in Germany.

The most shocking and disturbing thing on the LNFS Facebook page, however, is the un-ironic posting of this image4:

This is an extremely common meme in online “free speech” circles (and was recently quoted by none other than Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter). But this is not a quote from the 18th century French writer Voltaire at all. It is in fact a quote from Kevin Alfred Strom, an American neo-Nazi writing in 1993. The clue to whom he was really referring is given in the following, full version of the meme:

There is no reason to believe that Whitmore, Franks et al. were aware of the true nasty nature of this meme. But in a way, that makes it even worse. Fightback has previously characterised the spread of “Red-Brown” ideas as like a “zombie plague”, in that socialists or others on the Left who start descending into Right-populist or even fascist politics don’t even realise that they’re doing so. It is a case of losing one’s political (or even moral) compass.

“Progressive” transphobia

Unfortunately, trans-exclusive ideas are not confined to the comrades of Redline/LFNS. TERF politics are very strong on the British left, and one union activist recently arrived from Britain tried earlier this year to defend the free speech of transphobes on the “Unions NZ” Facebook group.6 Prominent veterans of the socialist movement in New Zealand – such as Unite Union stalwart Mike Treen and retired academic David Bedggood7 – have also made social media or blog posts opposing “transactivism” or defending local anti-trans activists such as Renee Gerlich. Such comrades often try to justify themselves by arguing that they are against discrimination against trans people, but that “transactivism/the transgender movement” goes too far. These are not dissimilar in form from the arguments against Gay Liberation from 1970s Communists, which are still used by fringe Stalinist groups like the “Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)”.

This is particularly ironic in an era where some of the staunchest young communists in Aotearoa/New Zealand identify as trans, non-binary or in some other way “genderqueer”.9 As we noted in “Against Conservative Leftism”, incomprehension of new ways of living which have become common among young people in the era of neoliberal globalisation is a common feature among many veteran activists.

Beyond that, many activists have pointed to an extremely strong link between anti-sex-worker (sex-worker-exclusive radical feminism, or SWERF) and anti-trans politics. English sociology professor Sally Hines put it like this on Twitter:

If someone is a trans exclusionary feminist they will almost certainly have anti-sex work and anti-porn politics – and vice versa. The constant is a denial of body autonomy and a feminism that insists it knows what is best for other women (even when told otherwise).11

It is no coincidence that, due to social exclusion from other work, trans women have been disproportionately represented among sex workers. It is rumoured that several prominent TERFs in New Zealand developed their hostility to trans people after getting a hostile response to their anti-sex worker activism.

English trans musician “DeadBitBabe” also comments:

SWERF’N’TERFS can’t acknowledge the autonomy of sex workers because to them power only comes from maintaining the integrity of their fantasy construction of a female body… Are the cries of Lesbian erasure not strangely reminiscent of the fascist’s cries of white genocide?

The “lesbian erasure” trope is an interesting one. The AfterEllen website recently published an article entitled “A Butch Eradication, Served With a Progressive Smile”, claiming that the network of lesbian spaces and business which had been built up since the 1980s had collapsed due to an increasing tendency of “butch” (masculine-appearing) lesbians to identify as trans men. The author laments:

Our lesbian spaces are already dead. Our bookstores, our dances. Everything we built is dead and taken over by the trans nightmare.

If nothing else, this is a change from the usual TERF narrative, which tends to ignore the existence of trans men and non-binary people altogether, and instead to whip up moral panic about trans women “colonizing” or even “raping” cis women’s spaces. What should really make people stop and think about both these TERF narratives is how similarly they resemble fascist narratives about “The Great Replacement”, as made notorious by the manifesto of the terrorist who murdered 51 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch earlier this year.

Following the analysis of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Fightback has previously argued that fascist politics everywhere can be characterised as a movement led by the insecure and frightened middle-class. People who may have worked hard to build a little privilege for themselves under capitalism become terrified that an ethnic or cultural Other (classically, “the Jews”) might take it away from them. The AfterEllen article quoted above mourns for the death of a network of lesbian/woman-identified small businesses. In most cases TERFs tend to be older, whiter feminists who have had some success in academia, writing, or in the bourgeois lesbian community (the most globally prominent example being Germaine Greer).

Analysing TERF politics as a variety of fascist ideology might seem shocking or over-the-top; particularly because to do so would require us to categorize many veteran socialists in Aotearoa/New Zealand to have slipped over into the “Red-Brown” camp. But defining fascism as a movement in defence of the threatened privilege of the downwardly mobile middle class seems to make the parallel unavoidable. As does the habit of TERF ideologues of suggesting that trans people are part of some kind of conspiracy of “elites”, as in the tweet reproduced below:

TERF conspiracy theories on Twitter about "elites backing the trans movement" are not dissimilar to fascist ones.

The full antisemitic force of that term “elites” can be grasped when you read a transphobic academic explicitly name George Soros, the Jewish liberal billionaire who has become a common bad guy in fascist conspiracy theory, as a guilty party. “Deadbitbabe” on Twitter again:

Real talk: the primordially whole female body is to TERFs what the primordially whole nation and its people is to fascists… A mythological fantasy that serves to displace all sorts of anxieties.

The anarchist-communist website LibCom puts it more bluntly: “Transphobic feminists are, for all practical purposes, the women’s division of the global far-right.” Given this, the support given by the fascist and religious-fundamentalist Right for TERFs, described in other articles reprinted in this issue, begins to look less like an “enemy’s enemy” situation and more like a meeting of ideological bedfellows.

Perhaps the final word can be left to the author of the blog nothingiseverlost, in a criticism of the similar descent of the socialist-feminist academic Nina Power into TERF and other forms of right-wing politics: “you never seem to get people becoming less sympathetic to the far-right at the same time as getting into “gender critical”/trans-exclusionary versions of feminism.” It is extremely interesting that Power’s main move in defending her dabbling with transphobic and fascistic memes is an invocation of … free speech.

What is to be done?

Fightback has previously discussed what we see as another irruption of Right-wing ideology into socialist circles, here and elsewhere in the Western world – the demonization of the Syrian revolution. The repetitive argument from such people is that the Syrian people fighting against the Assad regime and its Russian allies are not “real” subjects of liberation (such as, to take a more popular example, the Palestinian people), but instead pawns of some Zionist-jihadi-US State Department conspiracy against Syria’s “national sovereignty”. The really perverse issue is that some of the TERF-adjacent leftists we have quoted– and we might name David Bedggood here – have agreed with us in staunchly rejecting this dehumanizing rhetoric when used against the Syrian people in struggle… only to use similar rhetoric against trans people in struggle.20

At the very least, what this can tell us is that “it’s difficult to be right about everything”. But it also warns us against a sectarian response to SWERF/TERF ideas on the Left – that is, refusal to deal with anyone who might hold such views at the moment. We all live under a suffocating blanket of capitalist ideology, in which it becomes “natural” for different groups of the oppressed to be suspicious or hostile towards each other. Even with the best intentions, it can be very hard to consistently hold to a materialist analysis which can clearly identify patterns of oppression, exploitation and privilege, and not be confused by the “DARVO” (“Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender”) tactics habitually used by fascist movements and domestic abusers.

Fightback believes that to effectively fight capitalism today means to fight fascism, the most dangerous form of capitalist ideology, which is currently on the rise. To fight fascism, we must have a united front of working and oppressed people. To have a united front we cannot tolerate racism, misogyny, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, state-worship or any other ideology which suggests that some oppressed people are “deserving targets” within our united front, because that is literally the thin edge of the Fascist wedge.

The Left has had far too much opportunism recently – refusal to face Right-populist or even fascist ideas within the movements for fear of alienating people, of breaking up the mass movement. We need to hold to a practice of honest, sharp criticism of SWERF and TERF ideas where-ever they are raised, even by “comrades” or “good Leftists”, as contrary to the unity of all the oppressed we need to build a better world. We also need to centre the experiences of trans people and sex workers within our movement in such debates – nothing should be “about them, without them”.

At the same time, it is crucial to build the biggest possible anti-fascist, anti-capitalist united front – which will mean sometimes linking arms with SWERFs, TERFs and even partisans of Bashar al-Assad against a common enemy. No-one said it was going to be easy.

Special thanks to Sage Anastasi, Lisandru Grigorut and Anne Russell for their help with this article.

1 The founders of Redline were former members of the Workers Party of New Zealand – the organisation from which Fightback is also descended. We are aware of the historical ironies involved.

2 For refutations from the Left of the case against hate-speech restrictions, see Max Rashbrooke at Overland (liberal) and R. Totale at LibCom (anarcho-communist).

3 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Marxism, https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Spiked, and https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/07/us-billionaires-hard-right-britain-spiked-magazine-charles-david-koch-foundation

4 If this image is taken down before then, it was accessed July 13, 2019.

6 This post raised strong negative feedback and has since been deleted by the group administrators.

7 Treen has republished several anti-“transactivist” articles on social media, including those from Redline. Bedggood is the author of this blog post.

9 Not to even mention the contribution to the Communist movement over decades by “transactivists” such as the late Les Feinberg.

11 Hines even suggests that SWERFs and TERFs might be brought together under the label “Genital-Obsessed Feminists”.

20 An excellent article on LibCom shows how a Red-Brown conference in Sweden brought together transphobic speakers with some of the most notorious defenders of Assad, such as Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley.