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

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

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

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

a way out

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

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

Andrea Dworkin1 1977

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

Radical Women2 2019

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

Courtney Desiree Morris3 2010

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

Lora Mathis4 2015

a . b . c . a boys club

Let me be clear.

I do not want this to end in a suicide.

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

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

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

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

walking into a wreckage

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

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

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

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

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

an heirloom, transmitted & maintained

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

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

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

welcoming sharing learning

Let me be clear:

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

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

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

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

Where are the flowers? the river? the love?

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

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

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

counter the death cult with care

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

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

support systems, softness

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

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

struggle within

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

Andrea Dworkin6

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

Let me be clear:

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

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

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

Stuck. Not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

collective healing

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

Courtney Desiree Morris7

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving people alone is a betrayal.

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

rape, race & resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

feminism = the opposite of fascism

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

Hope Worsdale8

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

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

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

a dare: don’t run

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

Eve Ensler9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We insist on it, we require it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

we actually want you to change your behaviour.

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

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

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

Try being different to your father, your grandfather.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay right where you are.

Listen,

Look

You fucked up, now

FRONT UP


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennai Bundock1 2015

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

Kurdish Women’s Movement2 2018

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

Barucha Peller3 2013

We believe in your humanity, against all the evidence4

Andrea Dworkin 1983

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

good looks good person

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

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

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

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

flat stomach

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

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

you find out gradually

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

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

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

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

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

all the men in the family are alcoholics

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

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

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

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

body pain / getting sick

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

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

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

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

burying it in your head

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

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

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

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

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

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

tearfulness

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

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

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

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

telling people

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

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

help the healing

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

No. No more.

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

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

spill over / we’re not separate

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

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

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

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

spare some solidarity?

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

never a side issue

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

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

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

which side are you on, boys?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

men’s meetings

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

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

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

try, care

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

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

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

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

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

I have come close to, but not lost faith.

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

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

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

Educate, agitate and organise against patriarchy.

Only then, can we be on the same side.


1 The Hidden Cost of Patriarchy vimeo.com/100087331

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Introduction: ‘Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism’ Special Issue

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To order our pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for $20, please contact us at Fightback.australasia@gmail.com, or subscribe to our publications at Fightback.zoob.net/payment.html.

This Special Issue began as a response to the events of March 15th in Christchurch New Zealand, the murder of 50 Muslims by a far right terrorist.

On a personal note, a week or two before the attack I visited a local mosque to purchase a book. One old man, perhaps sensing a nonbeliever, kept saying “We are one people, Homo sapiens.” The awkward attempt to be inclusive was appreciated. The story of the old Afghani man at Al Noor mosque whose last words were “welcome brother” reminded me of this. Muslims welcome strangers into their places of worship, yet are not welcomed in so many countries.

We argue that stopping events like the March 15th attack from happening again requires that wider social processes are identified and stopped – particularly the spread of Islamophobia.

We also seek to undermine the false dichotomy between fighting Islamophobia and fighting anti-Semitism. Both reinforce each other, both are key building-blocks of fascism, and both are interlocked with all other forms of oppression and exploitation.

Despite the cries of ‘religion not race’, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are racist: race is not a genetic category, it is a social one, and religious minorities are racialised by white supremacists. As for claims that Islam is inherently regressive, the Arab Spring proved that Muslim-majority countries are crying out for radical democracy, although the revolutions have now collapsed.

All forms of racism do not operate identically. The US regime, still the most powerful nation on Earth, promotes Islamophobia to justify its expanding military and surveillance state. Anti-Semitism has not apparently enjoyed the same level of structural support – although Trump recently dog-whistled about George Soros, reflecting his general tendency to not so much widen the Overton Window as tear it off its hinges. Russia, a nascent imperialist power, encourages both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as part of its strategy of courting the international far right.

Anti-Semitism poses a distinct kind of threat for the left. As Marxist theorist Moishe Postone highlights, anti-Semitism does not rely on a myth of inferiority like most racism, but rather a myth of superiority – the myth of a conspiratorial elite. This myth has found a new lease on life in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. This means while anti Semitism is not distinct to the left, and not the only form of racism that leftists reproduce, it can pose a special threat on the left, because it appears superficially to match a class critique of capitalism – yet it covertly replaces class with ethno-nation, a dangerous swap that lets many exploiters off the hook while scapegoating many of the exploited.

This collection comprises two Fightback articles, and two reprints. The first three pieces form a chronology of responses to the Christchurch attack; first, Faisal al-Asaad’s “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organise”, published the day after on Overland; second, a Fightback analysis of the processes that led to the attack, published a week after; finally, a piece reflecting on the relationship between Islamophobic attacks and anti-Semitic ones, published just over three weeks after.

The fourth and final piece was first published in 2014. This offers a more general perspective on how to criticise Israel – a key promoter of Islamophobia – without being anti-Semitic.

We hope this collection helps foster the solidarity needed to finally overcome the nightmares that continue to plague humanity.

Ani White, coordinating editor

‘Feminism for the 99%’ book review: Neither femocrats nor fascists?

argentina ni una menos march

Argentinian women’s strike against femicide.

Review of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser (https://www.versobooks.com/books/2924-feminism-for-the-99)

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

When Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser announce that their “manifesto”, Feminism for the 99%, is consciously inspired by perhaps the most famous Manifesto of our time – Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party (582)1 – you can only applaud their ambition. Certainly, one of the (few) hopeful features of the global radical scene today is how many women, queer and gender-queer authors and analysts are standing up to offer new thinking and possible ways out of the impasse into which our movement has sunk, in the twilight of neoliberalism and the era of Trump and Brexit.

This short book is divided into the “Manifesto” proper, and a “Postface” which goes into more detail about the intellectual basis upon which their authors make their political proposals. The authors set themselves the task of combining modern “intersectional” feminism with Marxist political economy – a necessary task in the modern era, which they sum up as follows:

As feminists, we appreciate that capitalism is not just an economic system, but something larger: an institutionalized social order that also encompasses the apparently ‘noneconomic’ relations and practices that sustain the official economy. (619)

The roots of their analysis lies in Social Reproduction Theory. The authors use an excellent turn of phrase to sum up the division that this theory makes between the two spheres of work in capitalist society: “profit-making and people-making work” (230). “People-making” work (aka social reproduction) includes housework, care for children, the sick or the elderly, emotional labour, and all the other little things which go together to make life under capitalism (barely) liveable. The great trick of capitalism as an economic system is that capitalists only pay for profit-making work, and that for less than it is worth; families and individuals are stuck with the responsibility and the costs for performing essential people-making work (excluding some meagre support in countries with a welfare state). The authors rehearse the analysis of the Marxist tradition, starting with Engels, that capitalism deliberately encourages gender oppression and the institution of the patriarchal nuclear family, which keep women docile and isolated, thus ensuring a continual supply of unpaid people-making work.

The crucial advance the authors make is to argue that, since people-making work is as vital to the survival of capitalism as profit-making work, that the weapon of the strike – workers withdrawing their labour – is potentially as powerful in the people-making sphere of society as it is in the profit-making sphere, and even more so in the current neoliberal era where workers’ organisation at the point of production has been so run down. They point to two major “Women’s Strike” waves in different part of the world – a Polish women’s strike against that country’s laws against abortion, and an Argentinian women’s strike against a court ruling acquitting two men of the rape and murder of a teenage girl (75) – which later linked up as part of an “International Women’s Strike” on International Women’s Day, 2017. It was working on this very strike which brought the three authors of the book together (607).

The authors point to this phenomenon as not only an extension of the strike weapon into the people-making sphere of society, but its reinvention in a new context:

this burgeoning movement has invented new ways to strike and infused the strike form itself with a new kind of politics. By coupling the withdrawal of labor with marches, demonstrations, small business closures, blockades, and boycotts, the movement is replenishing the repertoire of strike actions, once large but dramatically shrunk by a decades-long neoliberal offensive. At the same time, this new wave is democratizing strikes and expanding their scope – above all, by broadening the very idea of what counts as “labor”. (91)

The authors are very clear that the idea of a “women’s” or “feminist” strike is not a new form of the separatist-feminist politics of the 1980s.

Not only women and gender-nonconforming people, but also men have joined the movement’s massive demonstrations against the defunding of schools, health care, housing, transport, and environmental protections… Feminist strikes are thus becoming the catalyst and model for broad-based efforts to defend our communities. (116)

strikes belong to the working class as a whole – not to a partial stratum of it, nor to particular organizations. (802)

The Manifesto proper is divided into eleven “Theses” which mark out an explicitly intersectional approach. “Feminism for the 99%” is, the authors say, not only essentially anti-capitalist, but internationalist, anti-racist, and ecosocialist. They draw a very convincing parallel between the exploitation of women’s unpaid “people-making” work and the dispossession of indigenous people: “the racialized expropriation of unfree or dependent peoples has served ever since as a hidden enabling condition for the profitable exploitation of ‘free labor’” (433). And this is in turn paralleled by the ransacking and degradation of the global environmental “commons”:

women occupy the front lines of the present ecological crisis… [and] are also at the forefront of struggles” against it… women model new, integrated forms of struggle that challenge the tendency of mainstream environmentalists to frame the defense of ‘nature’ and the material well-being of human communities as mutually antithetical. (470–488)

One of the authors’ most sharp criticisms of neoliberal feminism is the observation that privileged women in the Global North have only managed to liberate themselves from the social obligation to provide unpaid people-making work by passing the burden down a “global care chain” (758). Their relative economic success allows them to pay for women from the Global South to take up this labour as nannies, cleaners and carers – to the extent that some Southern countries, at the behest of the IMF and similar institutions, have made a positive policy of sending women overseas to perform such labour, thus depriving their own communities of carers. “The overall result is a new, dualized organization of social reproduction, commodified for those who can pay for it and privatized for those who cannot” (766). The Global North not only imports women’s care work, but exports women’s oppression – as in the Export Processing Zones of northern Mexico, whose mainly female workforce is disciplined in part by sexual violence (332).

Critique

One very curious omission is that the book makes no reference to sex work or sex workers. This omission is particularly puzzling given that sex workers were a vital part of the International Women’s Strike which brought the authors together (see https://www.redpepper.org.uk/on-international-womens-day-sex-workers-are-going-on-strike/). The book’s existing analysis of “global care chains” could easily be expanded to consider women from ‘peripheral’ nations trafficked or economically migrating to ‘core’ nations, so it would be interesting to see the authors comment on this. Additionally, the Women’s Strike strategy enables sex workers to take action for their own interests, rather than paternalistically being regulated by the state as both conservatives and sex-worker exclusionary ‘radical feminists’ advocate.

But by far the greatest weakness of the book in the sense of practical politics is an attempted equivalence of “reactionary populism” and “progressive neoliberalism” as twin enemies against whom this new movement is to be built. There seems to be a clear disconnect in the Manifesto between its very convincing Marxist-feminist analysis and its political appeal to a language of populism. The very turn of phrase, “the 99%” (which came out of the Occupy movement at the start of the decade) indicates a populist rather than a class analysis, appealing to “anti-elite” sentiment while deliberately glossing over precisely who the “1%” are. As is shown when it is taken up by the populist Right, this slogan can be directed against the “fancy” lifestyle habits of the urbanized, professional middle-class rather than the real culprit of our misery, global capitalism and the class which embodies it – or a fictitious “cabal” of ethnic, political or sexual Others who are believed to have seized control.

One example of this is the authors’ acceptance of the argument of Right-wing populists, and their fellow travellers on the “alt-left”, that Donald Trump is now the President of the United States because “Hilary Clinton failed to excite women voters” (51).  This is an extremely tendentious reading of the 2016 election, which Clinton would have won by a clear margin if the United States elected its President by global standards of democracy. The other major fact ignored by this analysis is that, according to exit polling, 52% of white women who voted in the 2016 US presidential voted for Trump, the “pussy-grabbing” candidate of white supremacy and misogyny.Perhaps there might be other reasons that white women would vote for a white-supremacist candidate other than “the less racist candidate didn’t excite them”, particularly their whiteness and racism.

It is quite distressing in this context that the authors use “anti-elitist” tropes which are clearly associated with right-wing attacks on the Clinton campaign, such as dismissive mentions of “pant suits” (139) or even “brunches” (78).3 The authors have every right and justification to criticize the politics of what they call “femocrats” – the Sheryl Sandbergs (and yes, the Hillary Clintons) of this world who simply want more women to get ahead under capitalism. But such glib re-use of the slogans effectively used by Right-populism by people arguing for a Left political project is not just lazy. In the current conjuncture, it is dangerous. It does not draw a line between class opposition to the hollowness of neoliberalism’s promises of equality and diversity, and Right-populist attacks on those politics altogether. The authors themselves recognize this danger when they discuss “those currents of left-wing parties in Europe that propose to ‘co-opt’ the Right by themselves opposing immigration” (414). What shall we then say about co-opting the Right’s culture-war sneering at “pant suits” and “brunch”?4 It seems particularly strange in a context where the authors praise the success of the #MeToo movement, which began among women working in Hollywood, a subculture which seems particularly “brunch-prone” (332).

The danger of “99%” populism which concentrates too much on opposition to liberal hypocrisy is shown when the authors discuss what rights women currently have under progressive neoliberalism:

The only way that women and gender non-conforming people can actualize the rights they have on paper or might still win is by transforming the underlying social system that hollows out rights. By itself, legal abortion does little for poor and working-class women who have neither the means to pay for it nor access to clinics that provide it… laws criminalizing gender violence are a cruel hoax if they turn a blind eye to the structural sexism and racism of criminal justice systems. (150)

From Marx onward, socialists’ opposition to the rhetoric of bourgeois democracy and human rights has been that these promises are but a shadow of what real liberation would be like. But that cannot allow us to believe that bourgeois democracy and rights mean nothing. Just because abortion rights in the United States are de facto restricted (financially and by local reactionary laws) doesn’t mean that it is a matter of indifference as to whether the Supreme Court, including one Trump appointee who has been credibly accused of sexual assault as a young man, overturns the Roe v. Wade decision and abolishes that bourgeois right altogether.

To describe bourgeois democracy and rights as a “cruel hoax” does not take serious account of what would happen to women and the gender-queer in a world where such laws and rights were swept away, or where the bourgeois establishment stopped even pretending to pay lip service to them. One possible answer can be seen before our eyes in Putin’s Russia. The replacement of progressive neoliberalism with reactionary populism or fascism is not a matter of indifference to the most vulnerable workers. It has been previously noted that the leading voices who put the critique of progressive neoliberalism ahead of hard opposition to Right-populism – what Idrees Ahmad calls the “alt-left” (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/8/25/the-alt-left-is-real-and-its-helping-fascists) are white (mainly male) media professionals, the kind of people who are not only not the first targets of fascism, but if they are smart and/or cynical enough, may be able to make a good living as regime publicists5.

Although the authors are correct that we have to build a movement which fights “reactionary populism but also its progressive neoliberal opponents” (193), we cannot be indifferent between these two evils here and now – especially when our own forces are so weak. The authors blithely announce: “We reject not only reactionary populism but also progressive neoliberalism. In fact, it is by splitting both these alliances that we intend to build our movement” (542). The question of who “we” is in this paragraph is an important one. It presupposes an anti-capitalist, pro-democracy global movement which has sufficient social weight to fight both these evils. It is imperative to build this movement, independent of and critical of progressive neoliberalism – but the support shown by (at least) a plurality of white women voters in the United States for the Trump movement shows how difficult it will be to “separate working-class communities from the forces promoting militarism, xenophobia and ethnonationalism” (552)6. Note the problematic formation here – the section of the working-class which (in Western countries) either active or passively supports reactionary politics are overwhelmingly white. The black and Latin@ working class did not vote for Trump, neither did black or Latina women. Racist ideas will destroy any working-class or feminist movement, and they don’t go away simply by blaming the progressive liberals for not fighting them hard enough. The fate of socialists in Britain who thought they could “piggyback” on the momentum of the Right-populist Brexit movement to shift it in a socialist-international direction should be a warning for everyone.

Conclusion

Arruzza, Bhattacharya and Fraser stake out a convincing claim for a revolutionary socialist, internationalist and anti-racist feminism which rejects both right-wing populism and the “progressive” wing of neoliberalism. But the fact must be faced that, at this point in history, it is the former who are in ascendancy and the latter who are on the defensive. It is certainly easier to turn a mass of excluded, despairing workers and poor people against this class of managers and privileged workers than against an abstract global “system”; but this is precisely what the populist Right and its fascist fringe is doing right now.

The authors are correct that “a crisis… is also a moment of political awakening and an opportunity for social transformation” (194). It is also, as we have seen, an opportunity for all manner of fascist and fascist-like monsters to crawl out of the gutters of history, to attack the very ideas of diversity and equality that progressive liberals pay lip-service to. Thus, the Left cannot hope to cynically reuse the Right’s attack lines for our own ends. We have to promote a message of fulfilling the promises of progressive liberalism, opposing their hollowing-out by neoliberal economics; not treat the femocrats and the fascists as if there were no choice between them. Thankfully, the authors’ call for the reinvention of the tactic of the mass strike for the 21st century, extending it into the “people-making” sectors of society, is a cogent and intelligent one, which will hopefully be taken up by the broader radical Left.

Our movement today finds itself rehashing the arguments of the 1920s and 1930s of how anti-capitalists should react to a situation where a growing Right-wing populist and fascist trend threatens bourgeois democracy. The first reaction of the global Communist movement, which had come under the domination of Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian government in Moscow, was the “Third Period” analysis (1928-1933) in which Communist Parties performatively rejected both liberal democracy and fascism – helping smooth the path for the latter, and thus their own path into the concentration camps. In some cases, as in Germany, Communists actually worked side-by-side with the Nazis to put pressure on the establishment parties. Once the true horror of fascism in power became apparent, Stalin decreed a switch to the equal and opposite error – where the Communists joined a “Popular Front” against fascism with the bourgeois establishment, suppressing their own independent politics and thus throwing workers’ interests under the bus. Although Leon Trotsky’s alternative tradition of revolutionary socialism can be seen as problematic for many reasons, his insistence on rejecting both these cynical approaches in favour of united working-class anti-fascist action is still a guiding light for those who want to stop the rise of global fascism before it’s too late.

1 References are made to Kindle locations in the e-book edition.

2 Other polling analysis has cast doubt on whether the 52% figure is accurate, but still comes up with a preference by white women voters for Trump over Clinton: see http://time.com/5422644/trump-white-women-2016/.

3 See an interesting article suggesting that using “brunch” as a target of political derision is in itself misogynistic: https://www.glam.com/lifestyle/reasons-to-love-brunch/

4 It becomes even stranger when you realise that all three of the authors are professional academics at universities in New York and London – surely members of precisely the class whose consumption habits they are ridiculing? I would be surprised if the authors had a personal objection to eating brunch or wearing pant-suits in their day-to-day lives.

5 It is possibly significant that this Manifesto has been published by Verso Books, who have come under fire from many leftists and liberals for publishing authors who push an anti-neoliberal message which comes perilously close to apologies for right-wing authoritarianism and populism – for example, Max Blumenthal, the propagandist for Putin’s imperialist war in defence of Syria’s Assad regime (see https://twitter.com/im_PULSE/status/1113640209516781568). As Marxists and therefore materialists, we must critically interrogate whose voices get amplified by professional publishers and institutions, and what the material incentives behind such decisions are – even on the self-described “Left”.

6 Dutch author Flavia Dzodan’s exposé of “alt-right feminism” is worth reading in this context: https://medium.com/this-political-woman/alt-feminism-and-the-white-nationalist-women-who-love-it-f8ee20cd30d9

From Pittsburgh to Christchurch: Why we must fight Islamophobia and anti Semitism together

Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA - 29 Oct 2018

Left: Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch. Right: Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburgh.

By Ani White.

Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. To buy a copy for $20, please get in touch at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe by PayPal or credit card here.

On the 27th of October 2018, a fascist terrorist killed 11 attendants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, USA. Five months later, on March 15th of this year, another fascist killed 50 worshippers at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It should now go without saying that both attacks reflected an international upsurge of the far right. Despite targeting different faiths in different countries, both attackers were motivated by transnational far right ideas fuelled by mainstream dog-whistles, and incubated in ugly corners of the internet. Both posted their plans on niche online forums just before carrying them out.

However, the links between the attacks are more intricate than this simple observation. After the Christchurch shooting, the Tree of Life synagogue released the following statement on their website:

We stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence. We will continue to work towards a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”1

The group also established a gofundme to support the Muslim community in Christchurch, raising over $60,000 at the time of writing.2 In the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, Muslim organisations raised over $200,000 for the victims.3

The Tree of Life synagogue’s solidarity with Christchurch Muslims was a continuation of a long-standing policy. In fact, their support for Muslims and refugees played a role in motivating the choice to target Tree of Life. The shooter posed the following statement to white supremacist-friendly social media site Gab:

HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people.

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics, I’m going in.4

The post refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which helps resettle refugees in Pittsburgh. Although the HIAS was founded to help Jewish refugees, in the 2000s the group expanded to help refugees from all backgrounds. Seven days before the shooting, the HIAS led Jewish groups in a ‘Refugee Shabat.’5 After the attack, HIAS senior vice president Melanie Nezer released a statement saying: “[T]here’s no denying that this is a devastating moment… But I don’t think it lessens our resolve. If anything, it makes us feel more strongly that we need to stand up for what’s right.”6

As pointed out in a Vox article at the time, an old conspiracy theory about Jews populating ‘white’ countries with refugees and immigrants motivated the attack:

The obsession that appears to have tipped the gunman over the edge was a conspiracy theory insinuating that the migrant caravan currently making its way through southern Mexico, and which President Donald Trump and conservative media have treated as an existential threat to the United States, is a Jewish plot.

His response was an attack that was both anti-Semitic — an attack on Jews and Jewish values — and characteristic of Trump-era xenophobia, which is generally expressed toward Muslims and Latinos.7

In other words, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism fed eachother in motivating the attack. This contrasts with accounts that Israel’s crimes motivate the rise of anti-Semitism: the far-right’s Islamophobia undermines such an explanation. In fact some on the far right have come to support Israel as a bastion against Islam, in spite of their continuing anti-Semitism.

It’s essential that we have a sharp analysis of the far right. Unfortunately, many left-wing responses to the situation are grossly inadequate. After the Pittsburgh shooting, a branch of the UK Labour Party voted down a motion to condemn the Pittsburgh shooting and anti-Semitism in general.8 At best this reflects a fight over the definition of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, prioritising factional battles over the principle of opposing violent anti-Semitism everywhere. At worst, the decision reflects genuine anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The most convicing way to discredit accusations of anti-Semitism is to not behave anti-Semitically. A dispute over what constitutes anti-Semitism may be legitimate, but not a dispute over whether to condemn anti-Semitism.

Conversely, Israeli reactions to the Pittsburgh shooting were also inadequate. First of all, Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi David Lau refused to recognise the Tree of Life synagogue as a synagogue, since it does not follow Orthodox Judaism.9 Secondly, Israeli officials refused to condemn Trump for fuelling racial hatred, reflecting a recent tendency to actually befriend racists and anti-Semites outside Israel. Finally, Israeli opposition leader Avi Gabbay said the attack should motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel rather than staying in the USA.10 An article in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper, suggested that “American Jews may never forgive Israel for its reaction to the Pittsburgh massacre.”11

In part, these inadequate responses reflect a strategic perspective of Zionism (note: modern political Zionism can be most usefully defined as support for a Jewish state, on Palestinian land). For Zionist leaders, there is no point in fighting anti-Semitism in the diaspora, rather Jewish people must migrate to Israel. In this account, the colonisation of Palestine is the only way to ensure Jewish safety. In this sense, anti-Semitism in the diaspora fuels Zionism, as Israeli leaders take advantage of anti-Semitic attacks to call for escape to Israel. It’s often pointed out that Israeli propagandists weaponise accusations of anti-Semitism to discredit legitimate criticism, but their refusal to fight genuine anti-Semitism in the diaspora is a subtler strategy. Combating anti-Semitism in the diaspora is therefore essential to undermining the Zionist colonial project.

The need to fight Islamophobia and anti-Semitism together is not only ethical, it is practical, as they reinforce eachother. The solidarity between Pittsburgh and Christchurch, in the face of attacks that seek to divide, is a model for all who seek liberation. The Jewish diaspora slogan “wherever we live, that is our homeland” must be demonstrated in practice, by ensuring Jewish and Muslim communities are safe and welcome everywhere.

See also

‘Fighting Islamophpbia and anti-Semitism’ pamphlet to be released

In the wake of the Christchurch tragedy, Fightback plans to release a pamphlet on Fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

If you would like to pre-order a copyfor $20, please contact us at fightback.australasia@gmail.com. Subscribers will also receive a copy, you can subscribe here: https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Christchurch terror: How did this happen?

Hajid Daoud

Haji-Daoud Nabi, whose last words were “welcome brother.”

By Byron Clark, Daphne Lawless, Tyler West, and Ani White.

You’ve heard the news: on March 15th, 2019, Aotearoa/New Zealand experienced its largest mass shooting since the colonial massacres, a coordinated terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch. Throughout the day the death toll climbed; first 6, then 27, then 40, and finally 49 (with more passing away in hospital beds in the ensuing days). Victims included resettled Syrian children, fleeing terrorism in one place only to encounter it in another.

In the aftermath, many said “This is not Aotearoa.” However, while the attack may not have represented Aotearoa, it did represent the ugly underbelly of white New Zealand.[1] We cannot simply blame the involvement of an Australian – for one thing, Christchurch has long been the city where the far right is strongest in this country. Although the attack is unprecedented, it did not come out of nowhere.

When Tūhoe Māori activist Tame Iti noted the legacy of colonial violence which this attack echoed,[2] many in comment threads called this ‘segregation’ or ‘divisiveness.’ However, if we don’t identify the roots of racist violence, it will only happen again and again.

We will examine four factors that should be considered in comprehending the incomprehensible; 1) The history of far-right groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 2) The alt-right internet’s incubating role, 3) Activist-left complicity in Islamophobia and 4) Complicity of the coalition government parties. We must “clean house” if we are to stop this from ever happening again.

Always present: NZ’s far right in history

The savagery and scale of the attacks in Christchurch are without a doubt unprecedented in recent New Zealand history. Attempts to reach for a comparison must go as far back as the 1943 Featherston POW massacre, the 1918 Surafend massacre, or further still to the 19th century colonial wars. However, whether the motivations and violent nature of these attacks are unprecedented in New Zealand is another matter entirely.

Research on New Zealand’s far right is scarce, but what does exist puts the immediate lie to claims by the likes of Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and National Party MP Gerry Brownlee that white supremacy has not been a problem in Christchurch (or, by extension, New Zealand). The origins of New Zealand’s far right as an organized force lie with the emergence of racial exclusion leagues over the 1880s to 1920s, and the development of interlocking immigration laws which became known as the White New Zealand Policy.

While the origins of white supremacy lie with the confiscation of Māori land and the bitter wars of the mid-19th century, its cohesion as a conscious doctrine originates in the fears of immigration eroding said power towards the end of the century. The early exclusionary leagues acted as relatively simple lobbying groups and utilized entirely legal means to further their aims, which in practice acted to reinforce and extend an increasingly whites-only border policy. Through the 1880s to 1900s groups with names like White Race League, Anti-Asiatic League, and Anti-Chinese League began to appear; generally garnering popular support.[3] At the same time, the lattice of immigration law which upheld the White New Zealand Policy started to be enacted.

A non-exhaustive list of that legislation includes[4]:

  • Restrictions on non-British gum diggers in 1898, 1908, and 1910; specifically aimed at Dalmatian (sometimes referred to as Croatian, Yugoslav, or just Slav) labourers who had entered the industry.
  • Undesirable Hawkers Prevention Bill 1896 which was aimed at Syrian and other Arab immigrants, while acting broadly as a roundabout way to slow immigration by non-white British subjects.
  • Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act 1919 placing special requirements on immigrants from the former German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
  • Immigration Restriction Act 1899 which acted to impede all non-British immigration.
  • Over two dozen pieces of legislation aimed specifically at Chinese migrants. Poll tax increases in 1881, 1888, and 1896; naturalization bans in 1892, and 1908; additional language tests in 1907; and thumb printing in 1908 are among the most notable.
  • Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1920, which acted as the formalization of the White NZ Policy and functionally ended non-white immigration.
  • Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1931, which severely impeded attempts by Jewish refugees from Europe attempting to enter New Zealand

These racial leagues and the immigration restrictions eventually created the atmosphere that resulted in the infamous murder of Joe Kum Yung, an elderly Chinese miner, on Haining Street in Wellington on 24th September 1905. The killer, Lionel Terry, was a relatively popular racist agitator of a British merchant family and military background who’d been promoting his manifesto/verse booklet The Shadow leading up to the murder. The murder shocked the country, but crucially had no effect in blunting the popularity of whites-only immigration to NZ and a great many continued to support him.[5]

This atmosphere also culminated not only in Yung’s murder in 1905 and the formalization of the White NZ Policy by the Act passed in 1920, but also in the founding of the most notorious of the racial exclusion leagues, the White New Zealand League. While the politics of this league were functionally little different to earlier leagues, it was the most explicit about ensuring New Zealand be a white state. With the common belief that Māori were either a ‘dying race’ or destined to be assimilated into white NZ, this meant that like previous groups the White NZ League focused near exclusively on Asian immigration.[6] As a marker of the League’s incredible popularity, through the mid-1920s it sent requests to 200 local bodies around NZ asking them to pass resolutions supporting the aims of the League. They received positive replies from 160 of these local bodies, representing some 670,000 people (about 47% of the population at the time).[7]

Anti-Semitism, while rarer than anti-Asian sentiment, was far from unheard of either. Within the Social Credit movement in particular, which had strong support especially from the ‘old petty-bourgeois’ (rural small-landowners, typically farmers), anti-Semitism was rife in the 1930s. A survey of Social Credit publications from the 1930s-1980s by sociologist Paul Spoonley reveals a persistent slew of anti-Semitic content, even after the Social Credit Political League itself expelled its extreme right-wing in 1972.[8] Social Credit acted as a harbour for anti-Semitism until the post-war period from the 1950s onward, when the far right began to fully develop and new organisations appear.

A full chronology of all the organisations of the far right in New Zealand established since the 1950s would be fruitless. Suffice to say that from 1954 with the formation of a NZ wing of the British League of Empire Loyalists (primarily based in Auckland and Christchurch) through to his writing in 1987, Paul Spoonley recorded the formation of nearly 100 far right organisations in a 33-year period.[9] Plainly, many more have formed in the interim 32 years.

While none of these groups have managed to become a mass movement or electorally successful party, some have attained significant support. Organisations expressing solidarity with white rule in Southern Africa, particularly South Africa and Rhodesia, began to appear in the 1960s and grew rapidly over the coming years.[10] Meanwhile the League of Rights, cousin to the Australian group of the same name and a home for the extreme right exiled from the mainstream Social Credit party, garnered surprising success in spite of their notoriety as an anti-Semitic and virulently racist organization. After its 1971 formation the League had a stable membership and support base of around 200 people for the duration of the decade, which soared to at least 1000 in the early 1980s as a result of the 1981 Springbok Tour and the rapid social changes of the time. The League further established numerous front-groups and operated in coalition with more mainstream conservatives over issues like abortion and homosexual law reform, giving them access to the political mainstream and some hard-line MPs. Estimated yearly expenditure for the 1980s, primarily funded by large volumes of book & paper sales, was as high as $50,000; a figure packed up by the publication of massive numbers of pamphlets, such as 250,000 copies of one titled New Zealand First in 1981.[11]

From the 1960s onward an openly fascist wing of New Zealand’s far right began to operate, sometimes trailing into violence (National Socialist Party founder Colin King-Ansell was convicted of firebombing a synagogue in 1967). This fed in later years into the rise of often violent white power gangs in the 1990s which declined but persisted into the 2000s.[12] Arguably the most notorious, the Fourth Reich gang attracted national horror when a number of partially-ideologically motivated murders occurred after its expansion from a prison gang into a number of South Island centres in the late 1990s. Members were responsible for the murders of Hemi Hutley, James Bambrough, and Jae Hyeon Kim (and possibly more) in and around Westport from 1997-2003; Hutley and Kim for their race, and Bambrough for his sexuality.[13]

Kyle Chapman, arguably New Zealand’s most notorious contemporary neo-Nazi, confessed to numerous race-related attacks on Māori people including firebombing a marae in Invercargill in the early 1990s. After confessing and ‘leaving’ the scene in the mid-1990s Chapman led a trust in Christchurch where he was tasked with steering skinhead youth away from the white power movement, which ended when he was discovered to be using his position to distribute neo-fascist material to his wards.[14]

Chapman would go on to lead the National Front in the 2000s at a time when their supporters vandalized Jewish graves and attacked immigrants in Wellington, and later founded Right Wing Resistance which operated in Christchurch in the early years of this decade. Other stalwarts of the movement like Colin King-Ansell and Kerry Bolton (who was a member of the National Socialist Party in his teenage years, going on to be a leader in numerous neo-fascist organisations) are still active today, like the rump of the white power scene in the 1990s.

Though only a few instances of fascist terror have been elaborated here, historically New Zealand has had a demonstrably active far right subculture which has always bubbled not too far below the surface. And while it has never managed to attain mainstream success or political power in New Zealand, it has often hovered alarmingly close to that political mainstream or launched sporadic and opportunistic acts of violence from the fringe.

Internet’s incubating role: The writing on the guns, and New Zealand’s alt-right

Before he began his shooting spree, the Christchurch terrorist shared photos of his weapons on his (now deleted) Twitter account. On the guns used in the massacre he had written the names of other mass shooters, as well the phrase “14 words” a reference to the fourteen-word slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” a statement attributed to American David Lane, founder of the white supremacist terrorist organisation The Order.

On another gun he had written “here’s your migration compact!” a reference to the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This compact is a non-binding agreement around migration that was developed in the aftermath of the 2015 refugee crisis following the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was unanimously supported by all UN member states in September 2016.

The compact, relatively benign as well as non-binding, would likely have also been supported by all member states, if not for what happened next.

Beginning in September 2018, the far-right began to spread distorted information, conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about the pact. According to Laurens Cerulus and Eline Schaart, writing for Politico (see “How the UN Migration pact got trolled”[15]):

The burst of activity, including tweets, videos and online petitions, prompted politicians in several countries to take notice of the previously uncontroversial pact and revise their views. In Belgium, the controversy led to the collapse of the government.

The rapid move from online activity to political reality is an example of how a process can be hijacked by what researchers describe as a global network of nationalist, far-right activists. In this case the efforts were spearheaded by popular YouTubers and political “influencers” such as Austrian far-right activist Martin Sellner, then coordinated via chat groups and hyper-partisan websites.

The institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which monitors extremism, analysed the 100 most popular YouTube videos about the migration pact and found that 75 were created by people that they had classified as right populist, anti-migration campaigners, far-right extremists or conspiracy theorists. This online network of hard-right content creators, along with far-right members of parliaments were able to sway several European countries to vote against approving the compact, along with the US, Israel and Australia.

New Zealand was not left out from the global right-wing backlash against the compact. While her own YouTube video, entitled “WAKE UP NEW ZEALAND’ BY Carol Sakey -MUSLIM WORLD, NZ’S OPEN BORDERS.[16]” was nowhere near popular enough to be among the sample analysed by ISD, the parliamentary petition Carol Sakey started did gain some traction. The petition was shared by local right wing Facebook pages such as South Island Independence Movement, run by Timaru based Solomon Tors-Kilsen, who self-identified as alt-right when questioned by the New Zealand Herald’s Kirsty Johnson for her July 2017 investigative report on New Zealand’s far right[17] and One Nation NZ, the party founded by former New Zealand First candidate Kym Koloni to contest the Northcote parliamentary by-election in 2018.

In the hours following the shooting in Christchurch, the One Nation NZ Facebook page disappeared. It’s unclear whether it was removed by Facebook or whether it was pre-emptively taken down by Koloni (or someone else in the organisation). The page frequently shared articles fear mongering about Islam and immigration.

A bigger player in New Zealand’s far right social media ecosystem, however, is the larger and -relatively speaking- more moderate New Conservative party. The New Conservatives, who trace their origins to the Conservative Party founded by disgraced millionaire Colin Craig, have rebuilt the party as a less Christianity orientated but more conservative organisation. They are a registered party, meaning they will be on the ballot at the 2020 election, and occasionally show up in polls at around 1% of the vote.

The party has been able punch above its weight, Deputy Leader Elliot Ikilei has been a semi-frequent guest on TVNZ’s Breakfast programme as well as the Radio Live and Newstalk ZB talk-radio networks. In a video about the UN Compact on Migration posted to his Facebook page on November 25th 2018[18] Ikilei tells his audience:

Almost every sentence can be found in almost any or every sci-fi dystopia type thriller type movie type book. Almost every sentence is an incredibly dangerous clause, wish list, desire, and the fact that our leader, Winston Peters, I mean Jacinda Ardern, is all good to sign it, when other countries are aware of the absolute insidiousness of this document is just incredible.

Ikilei doesn’t quote a single word from the document, but claims “this doesn’t get any worse actually, this document, this is end game type of stuff…if you care about New Zealand, this document cannot be signed. This is the type of thing that we need to unite against, it is vicious”

He then thanks people who have sent him links and reviews, significantly he says “thank you also to the person who sent me Stefan Molyneux’s take on it, I haven’t watched it yet…I’m looking forward to watching that as well.”

A Facebook follower posts a link to Molyneux’s video in the comments, Ikilei and a few others like the comment. Molyneux is a Canadian white supremacist[19] who promotes discredited pseudoscience regarding the link between race and intelligence[20]. He came to New Zealand in 2018 as part of a speaking tour with Lauren Southern, another Canadian far-right activist.[21]

When the pair were barred from speaking at Auckland Council owned venues, Ikilei and the New Conservatives became some of their most vocal supporters. A July 7, 2018 press release[22] reads “New Conservative staunchly supports the free speech that has been occurring year after year after year at our Auckland Council venues, and utterly rejects the flawed attempt to label Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux as having views that are ‘hate speech’.”

Southern, it should be noted, has a small part in the story of the Christchurch shooting as well. In the Anglophone world, she has been one of the biggest proponents of the conspiracy theory known as “The Great Replacement” a term coined by French anti-immigration writer Renaud Camus to describe the “replacement” of Europeans by non-white immigrants.

The Great Replacement narrative influenced protesters at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia who chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and it influenced the Christchurch shooter, who titled his rambling manifesto “The Great Replacement” and wrote that “Millions of people [are] pouring across our borders … [i]nvited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce”[23]

In the hours following the shooting, Southern’s YouTube video “The Great Replacement” appeared to have been removed from the internet[24], though at the time of writing it is online.[25]

A December 5th, 2018 Facebook post on the New Conservative NZ page[26] promoting a rally against the Migration Compact states:

We were the first political party to publicly stand staunchly opposed to signing the UN migration pact. We were the first political party to publicly stand against the restrictions on free speech earlier this year, and we were on TV, radio, debates with a consistent and clear message about free speech and sovereignty.

It was through that mix of social and traditional media coverage that New Conservative was able to take the narrative on the Migration Compact that originated on the far-right conspiracy theory parts of YouTube, and inject it into mainstream political discourse.

On December 4th the mainstream conservative National Party announced it would oppose voting for the compact and pull New Zealand out of it if elected in 2020:

The Government appears to be relying on the UN to set its migration policy rather than making its own decisions. While a number of countries are pulling out of the agreement as the extent of its potential impact on the decision-making of individual countries is realised, our Government is refusing to outline its own position. For these reasons, National will not be supporting this agreement and we will reverse the decision if this Government signs up to it.[27]

Gerry Brownlee told Newshub that the migration compact would result in “pretty much open borders”.[28] Opposition to the UN pact was no longer confined to fringe far right groups but had become the policy of New Zealand’s main opposition party.

As he opened his interview with Foreign Minister Winston Peters on December 20, 2018[29] Newstalk ZB host Mike Yardley stated “the [legal] advice says that it will not compromise sovereignty nor is it legally binding, but there are still a lot of people worried about implications”. Peters, a man who it should be said has built much of his political career on anti-immigration populism, noted that the National Party had supported the compact when in government, and that the debate around it started “all of a sudden because of the alt-right and a few uniformed people…I can’t have you on national radio…repeating this uninformed drivel!”

But by then it was too late, the meme had already spread. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true, people believed it was true, or felt they could win the votes of people who believed it was true. The National Party even went so far as to create its own petition, encouraging their supporters to “to stand with National and stop this Govt from signing NZ up to this agreement”.

While the Migration Compact was signed in December, National had left the petition up on their website. That is, until they took it down- some time on the afternoon of March 15th. A copy of the page from Google’s cache is still accessible, the most recently available snapshot is from the 15th, 1:39pm New Zealand time. Archived just around the time New Zealand was starting to come to terms with the fact that we had just experienced our first alt-right terrorist attack.[30]

Islamophobia and the Left

The mainstream Right in New Zealand bears most of the responsibility for refusing to combat the spread of white-supremacist, Islamophobic, and migrant-baiting ideas, or even exploiting them for electoral advantage. We rightly mock conservative politicians and media figures shedding crocodile tears over 51 dead Muslims. But sadly, these ideas have not been absent from the activist and radical Left in this country either.

A diagram on the first page of the Nazi murderer’s manifesto (apparently taken from the defunct US fascist group, the Traditionalist Workers Party) lists “anti-imperialism”, “environmentalism” and “workers’ rights” among his principles, and the murderer later equivocates on whether he would describe himself as a “socialist”. This has been enough to allow some of the more extreme Right US websites to try to categorise him as actually far-left.[31] But it is in fact just the latest example of the phenomenon of red-brown politics – fascism adopting left-wing slogans as “camouflage”, which sadly intersects with sections of the activist Left passively or actively going along with conservative-populist ideas. Fightback has previously warned of the massive dangers of an unwitting convergence between “Conservative Leftism” and the Red-Brown movement, allowing fascist ideas to circulate within our own movement.[32]

Martyn Bradbury, proprietor of the prominent centre-left Daily Blog, was quick to come out on social media with “FUCK ISLAMOPHOBIA” after the massacre. This is exactly the same Martyn Bradbury who less than two years ago wrote: “The impact of the Asian-NZ population tripling in the space of 20 years and overtaking Māori has political, economic and cultural ramifications that haven’t been discussed yet it’s a debate that is already running.”[33]

In New Zealand discourse, “Asian” generally refers to East Asian (mainly ethnically Chinese) people, rather than from the Indian Subcontinent or the Middle East. But Bradbury’s fretting about “invasion” and “colonisation” by migrants only differs from the paranoid rambling in the Christchurch Nazi murderer’s manifesto by which ethnic group of migrants in particular he is disturbed by. If your only difference from Nazis is in which ethnicity you suspect of being a fifth column stealing the country from within, you should be excluded from the Left. The parallel with European colonisation is also dubious, given that Europeans showed up with guns, continue to own most of the property and now presume to regulate new arrivals.

The fact that Syrian refugees were among the dead adds an extra layer of irony to the participation in the outpouring of grief, rage and activism by some activist Leftists who follow a “campist” politics of identifying the USA and its client states as the main source of wickedness in the world, and apologising for or denying the imperialist ventures of Russia, China and their own client states.[34] All people with basic human decency in Aotearoa would be disgusted at the gabbling of the US conspiracy theorists who claim that the mosque murders were a “false flag” designed to justify some nefarious State plot. And yet, parts of the activist Left here in New Zealand have resorted to similar “false flag” conspiracy theories when confronted with tragedies with politically inconvenient consequences – for example, in reaction to the Assad regime’s chemical attacks in Douma, Syria, in April 2018 which killed at least 70 people.[35] Willingness to adopt conspiratorial explanations for tragedies, if they challenge our political presuppositions, puts us in danger of a slide into reactionary ideologies. It is worrying that few other activists thought that this was at all a shocking or outrageous thing to say regarding the Douma attacks; many supported the statement.

The genius of both the Russian and Chinese state-backed propaganda networks has been to recycle Western “war on terror” propaganda, demonizing Muslims as terrorists and subversives, into an anti-imperialist framework which makes it acceptable to Left-wing opinion in the West. This propaganda narrative combines Western post-9/11 Islamophobia with the older narrative that Islamist resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a creation of/funded by the West, rather than an indigenous movement.

Many Western Leftists have been sucked into repeating poisonous Islamophobia by accepting the story that every resistance movement to Russia, China or their client states which resorts to Islamic imagery are CIA funded terrorists. In this way, the whole Syrian resistance, along with Uighurs in China or the Rohingya people in Myanmar/Burma, can be equated with actual terrorist movements such as ISIS/Da’esh and al-Qaeda.[36] Murderous dictators like Bashar al-Assad or Muammar Qadhafi can be upheld as victims of imperialism and as bulwarks of “secularism” against the jihadi menace.

It must be stated plainly – when New Zealand leftists (for example) refuse to condemn China’s “re-education” camps for Uighurs, or repeat smears that 9-year old Syrian refugee Bana al-Abed’s father is an ISIS operative, they are promoting Islamophobia, whether they realise it or not. In many parts of the world this kind of “ISIS-jacketing” is a death sentence for those smeared – like “snitch-jacketing” or “cop-jacketing” in the USA. Just like the Christchurch Nazi murderer, the Russian and Chinese states characterise Muslims as tools of a Western imperialist (or “globalist”) conspiracy. Most of the New Zealand left has simply refused to debate these issues, characterising those who worry about them as sectarian obsessives. But anyone who rightly cries over 51 murdered in Christchurch while dismissing 70 murdered in Douma as a “false flag” is not showing internationalism. Campism is neither internationalism nor anti-imperialism; and supporting current Russian or Chinese foreign policy means aiding and abetting murderous Islamophobia.

The radical left must promote and listen to the voices of Syrians – as well as Arabs and Muslims generally, facing an international backlash that crosses the lines between geopolitical ‘camps.’ Resettled Syrians live in Aotearoa: this is not simply a distant geopolitical issue.

Ruling parties’ complicity

To start on a positive note, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern correctly and surprisingly identified the Christchurch attack as ‘terrorism.’ This is unusual in an international context where white male terrorists are generally depicted as unhinged lone wolves, while Muslims and Arabs are ‘terrorists’ even before perpetrating any crime. It may be that the coordinated nature of this action made it harder for authorities to pretend it was an act of a lone wolf, but it’s a refreshing acknowledgement all the same.

However, the Government and pro-Government parties – Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens – share varying degrees of complicity with processes that led to this tragedy.

So-called ‘anti-terrorism’ efforts, under successive Labour-led and National-led governments, focused on seemingly everyone but the far right. It’s no surprise that the Christchurch terrorists were on “nobody’s radar” in Australia or New Zealand,[37] despite the rapid expansion of the surveillance state in the 21st century. In 10 years of Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) public documents there was no mention of far-right groups.[38] The list of NZ-designated ‘terror’ groups includes no far-right groups, and some legitimate resistance groups such as the Kurdish PKK.[39]

In 2002, the Labour government passed the ‘Terrorism Suppression Act’, comparable with the US Patriot Act, which saw state overreach in the wake of 9/11.[40] It’s worth noting here that white men are the most common perpetrators of terrorism in the USA despite the outsize focus on Muslims,[41] and there have been no Islamist attacks in Aotearoa at all.

As in so many countries, Muslim and Arab communities experienced profiling. As highlighted by Faisal al-Asaad in a piece for Overland entitled “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organise”:

I’ll never forget the many meetings and roundtables I attended, alongside other Muslim advocates and leaders, where we argued and pleaded, pointlessly it seems, with different government agencies to turn their attention from our communities and mosques to the real threats in this country. I’ll never forget the empty reassurances, let alone the smirking faces as someone dismissively joked, in reference to the far right and white supremacists in New Zealand: ‘It’s hard to take these guys seriously.’…

Today we need to grieve and mourn, so let’s do whatever we can to support each other and, most importantly, the immediate victims of yesterday’s atrocity. But tomorrow, we need to ask some hard questions and hold people to account for the sheer horror they enabled.[42]

The state also harassed Māori and left-wing activists. The most well-known application of the New Zealand state’s post-9/11 powers were the 2007 ‘terror raids’, in which anarchist and Māori activists were rounded up across the country.[43] Police shut down the rural, predominantly Māori town of Ruatoki, with armed officers reportedly boarding school buses full of children.[44]

Just this year, a Department of Corrections plan to fight terrorism identified “Māori nationalist groups” as a special threat, earning a rebuke from Māori Labour Party MP Kelvin Davis.[45]

In 2004, sources revealed that the SIS were investigating the newly formed Māori Party, a parliamentary party unlikely to be planting any bombs.[46] Meanwhile, the same year saw National Front members knock down Jewish gravestones,[47] and thousands of ordinary people protest against a combined march of the National Front and Destiny Church, including a student strike.[48]

It’s been left to small anti-fascist groups, lacking the resources of the surveillance state, to monitor the activities of fascists on a voluntary basis, with occasional outbursts of popular counter-protest against fascist mobilisations.

Ultimately, the complacency of the political class has allowed fascism to fester and turn septic. In the unlikely event they changed course and cracked down on far-right groups, we may not trust the surveillance state, but we certainly would not cry for the fascists.

In addition to their lopsided ‘anti-terrorism’ letting the far right off the hook, the ruling parties have also engaged in populist migrant-bashing.

New Zealand First, Labour’s coalition partner, is particularly infamous for migrant-bashing. We should be wary of simplistically labelling NZF leader Winston Peters ‘New Zealand’s Trump’, as some international commentators have.[49] Rather than a billionaire populist entering politics in a time of crisis, he is a long-term member of the political class who plays to an older conservative audience. Peters is also Māori, and has a significant rural Māori base, making it difficult to directly map the US situation onto NZ. We have pointed out in the past that Peters emerged from the “Muldoonist” faction of the National Party – anti-neoliberal and socially conservative, in the tradition of 1970s Prime Minister Robert Muldoon – and that a lowest common denominator anti-neoliberalism has led some on the broad left to work with Peters.[50]

However, none of that stops Peters pandering to fascists, or creating an atmosphere conducive to fascism. In 2005, the neo-Nazi National Front endorsed New Zealand First.[51] During the 2017 election, Peters posed with a picture of Pepe (a cartoon frog adopted as an alt-right mascot) at a student event, and defended the “European Students’ Association”, a front for white nationalists.[52]

Since the formation of NZF in 1993, Peters has pressed anti-migrant buttons too many times to count. In a grimly relevant example, Peters called for New Zealand Muslims to “clean house” and turn in any extremists after the 2007 London terror attacks.[53] We await calls from the ruling coalition for white or Christian communities to “clean house” in response to the events of March 15th.

Labour has also engaged in its own migrant-bashing. In the 2017 election, party leader Andrew Little called for cutting “tens of thousands” of migrants, a position Ardern did not reverse.[54] Infamously in 2015, Labour MP Phil Twyford highlighted the “Chinese surnames” of Auckland home buyers, not distinguishing between international buyers and citizens.[55]

Of all the parties in the ruling coalition, the Greens have by far the best record, for example opposing the abuse of surveillance powers, and introducing New Zealand’s first refugee-background MP to parliament.[56] However, even the Greens have engaged in their own migrant-bashing at times: current co-leader James Shaw controversially advocated capping migration at 1% of the population[57], a policy that was based on “statistical nonsense.”[58] Fortunately, James Shaw later retracted this statement and apologised to the Federation of Multicultural Councils,[59] after criticism both inside and outside the party.

We support attempts by Labour and Green members to challenge anti-migrant politics in their parties (although Winston Peters seems singularly unlikely to recant). Unfortunately, many on the broad left look the other way when these parties engage in migrant-bashing, or actively defend them against criticism. In the 2017 General Election, Fightback did not endorse any party, instead helping launch the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC) to challenge populist migrant-bashing across the political spectrum.[60]  MARRC spokesperson Gayaal Iddamalgoda had this to say at the Wellington vigil on March 17th this year, honouring the dead of Christchurch:

I have so many questions, hard questions that I think need to be answered by all of us..

Why was our Secret Service busy surveilling our innocent Muslim neighbours and not the extremists who sought to victimise them?

Why have the Police in this city spent more than a $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to attack peace activists protesting weapons conferences and arms dealers, while letting racist terrorists acquire semi-automatic weapons?

When will Politicians left and right own up to the fact that they have for years scapegoated and blamed migrants and refugees for social and economic problems that they are not responsible for?

And when will they admit while they have been doing this they have allowed unspeakable hatred to brew under their noses?

I want answers, I want accountability and I want something to change, but right now while I wait for these answers I want to do something to cancel out the hateful paranoid vision of these extremists and offer instead a vision of hope.[61]

Fortunately, hundreds have attended anti-fascist demonstrations in recent years (since the peak of 2004), and thousands have attended solidarity demonstrations with Christchurch. While we can and should press the ruling parties to do better, we ultimately cannot rely on them, and must mobilise ourselves to stop creeping fascism directly.

In the days following the attack, Milo Yiannopolous was banned from Australia, venues reversed course on hosting a musician with a Nazi past, and Newshub announced they would not tolerate hate speech on their Facebook page. Let’s do everything in our power to ensure this state of affairs is permanent, rather than being a passing stage of grief.

Thanks to Cam Walker for help with research on ‘anti-terror’ policy.

Recommended:


[1] Aotearoa (“land of the long white cloud”) is an indigenous name for these islands; we distinguish it from “New Zealand”, the colonial-settler state founded by the British Empire here.

[2] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12213575

[3] Paul Spoonley, The Politics of Nostalgia: racism and the extreme right in New Zealand, (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1987), 52.

[4] A short but adequate summary of these restrictions can be found on Te Ara Encyclopaedia, but more extensive analysis can be found in the PhD thesis The making of the White New Zealand policy by Phil Ferguson. Ann Beaglehole, “Immigration Regulation,” Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 18th August 2015, accessed 20th March 2019, https://teara.govt.nz/en/immigration-regulation; Phil Ferguson, “The making of the White New Zealand policy: Nationalism, citizenship and the exclusion of the Chinese, 1880-1920” (PhD, University of Canterbury, 2003), https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/4589

[5] Again, the Te Ara biography is more than adequate, however its author Frank Tod also wrote the book length biography of Lionel Terry which is the go-to for more in-depth reading. Frank Tod, “Terry, Edward Lionel,” Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, first published in 1966, accessed 20th March 2019, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t27/terry-edward-lionel; Frank Tod, Lionel Terry: The Making of a Madman, (Dunedin: Otago Foundation Books, 1977).

[6] Angela Ballara, Proud to be White? A Survey of Pakeha Prejudice in New Zealand, (Auckland: Heinemann, 1986), 88-89.

[7] Spoonley, The Politics of Nostalgia, 52.

[8] Ibid, 58-60, 291-296.

[9] Ibid, 71-72, 299-308.

[10] Ibid, 73.

[11] Ibid, 109-119. $50,000NZD in 1980 is roughly equal to $250,000NZD today.

[12] Ibid, 150-151. Jarrod Gilbert, Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013), 142-144.

[13] Gilbert, Patched, 143-144. “West Coast communities held captive by fear,” Stuff, 31st January 2009, accessed 20th March 2019, http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/feature-archive/510082/West-Coast-communities-held-captive-by-fear

[14] Gilbert, Patched, 144-145.

[15] https://www.politico.eu/article/united-nations-migration-pact-how-got-trolled

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFByD3rGlMY

[17] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11888810

[18] https://bit.ly/2Y27jdQ

[19] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Stefan_Molyneux

[20] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/02/the-unwelcome-revival-of-race-science

[21] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lauren_Southern

[22] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1807/S00097/a-line-has-been-crossed.htm

[23] https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/16/the-inspiration-for-terrorism-in-new-zealand-came-from-france-
christchurch-brenton-tarrant-renaud-camus-jean-raspail-identitarians-white-nationalism/

[24] https://twitter.com/shaun_jen/status/1106515317063331840

[25] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTDmsmN43NA

[26] https://bit.ly/2TWRsxK

[27] https://www.national.org.nz/national_would_pull_nz_out_of_un_migration_pact

[28] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/12/migration-pact-will-result-in-pretty-much-open-borders-brownlee.html

[29] https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/mike-hosking-breakfast/audio/winston-peters-peters-blames-alt-right-for-un-migration-pact-criticism/

[30] https://bit.ly/2HrO73W. Since then, National Party leader Simon Bridges has claimed that the petition was taken down by an “emotional junior staffer”. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12214180

[31] For example, Natural News (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/NaturalNews).

[32] See https://fightback.org.nz/2016/02/15/against-conservative-leftism/ and https://fightback.org.nz/2018/05/09/the-red-brown-zombie-plague-part-one/

[33] https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/10/05/waateanews-how-do-Māori-respond-to-the-next-wave-of-colonisation/

[34] https://fightback.org.nz/2015/11/05/against-campism-what-makes-some-leftists-support-putin/

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douma_chemical_attack. See the report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: https://www.opcw.org/media-centre/news/2019/03/opcw-issues-fact-finding-mission-report-chemical-weapons-use-allegation

[36] In fact, it was the Assad regime itself which cynically promoted Islamist terrorism to divide the opposition forces, by releasing from prison at the start of the uprising many of those who went on to become leaders of ISIS or other jihadi groups. https://www.newsweek.com/how-syrias-assad-helped-forge-isis-255631

[37] https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/on-nobody-s-radar-anywhere-terrorist-escaped-australian-authorities-20190316-p514rw.html

[38] https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/385173/no-mention-of-right-wing-extremist-threats-in-10-years-of-gcsb-and-sis-public-docs

[39] https://www.police.govt.nz/advice/personal-community/counterterrorism/designated-entities/lists-associated-with-resolution-1373

[40] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_Suppression_Act_2002

[41] https://www.vox.com/world/2017/10/2/16396612/las-vegas-mass-shooting-terrorism-islam

[42] https://overland.org.au/2019/03/today-we-mourn-tomorrow-we-organise/

[43] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_New_Zealand_police_raids

[44] https://www.webcitation.org/5Skemn9eI?url=http://www.stuff.co.nz/4243621a10.html

[45] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12204491

[46] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0411/S00144.htm

[47] https://www.theage.com.au/world/jewish-graves-vandalised-in-nz-20040807-gdyeuy.html

[48] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0408/S00249.htm

[49] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11925795

[50] https://fightback.org.nz/2018/11/01/new-zealand-first-and-the-global-far-right/

[51] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10343503

[52] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/10/opinion-whistling-on-migration-yet-leaving-migration-high-what-s-winston-peters-playing-at.html

[53] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11870566

[54] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11841890

[55] https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/70155168/null

[56] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/election/2017/10/golriz-ghahraman-nz-s-first-refugee-mp-in-parliament.html

[57] https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/315879/greens-would-cap-migration-at-1-percent-of-population

[58] https://fightback.org.nz/2016/10/22/green-vomit-and-statistical-nonsense-the-lies-you-hear-about-immigration-and-the-auckland-housing-crisis/

[59] https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2017/07/james-shaw-sorry-after-immigration-policy-slammed-as-racist.html

[60] https://fightback.org.nz/2017/10/20/racial-populism-and-the-2017-new-zealand-general-election/

[61] https://vimeo.com/324771849

 

Germany: The far right, conservative leftism and how to get rid of that shit

la gauche

Top: Die Linke’s Sahra Wagenknecht, text translates to ‘left-wing anti-immigration.’ Bottom: German antifascist flag.

By JoJo, a Fightback correspondent based in Germany.

This article will be published on Fightback’s upcoming magazine on International Perspectives. To subscribe, please click here.

In this piece, I attempt to analyze some strategies against the rise of the far right in Germany, including conservative leftism. I will argue that in order to push back fascism as well as conservative leftism, we will need to develop a new progressive leftist narrative that not only connects current struggles but also explores ways to overcome capitalism and what a post-capitalist society might look like. I’m using examples from the German context as it is the one best known to me but since developments are similar elsewhere, I hope folks might find this piece helpful.

In Germany, like elsewhere, we have seen a normalization of the far right over the last couple of years. In Fightback’s magazine on “Migrant and Refugee rights” from June 2017 I wrote about the rise of the AfD, the “Alternative for Germany”, Germany’s far right party1. Things haven’t changed a lot since then, the AfD now has seats in all regional parliaments as well as the national parliament and is scoring around 12-15% in polls nation-wide and over 20% in East Germany. This is still accompanied with far right mobilizations on the streets, most notably last August in Chemnitz (a town in East Germany) where Neo-Nazis and other far right activists exploited the killing of a 35-year old man for their racist agenda because of the suspect’s refugee status, leading to large racist demonstrations and riots.

The Left was not able to stop this development, despite some successful antifascist mobilizations. Until last year, confronting the AfD was mainly the job of the radical leftist activist milieu alone, other forces did seldomly show up or organize counter-protests. But Chemnitz among some other factors seems to have changed that: In October, a demonstration under the motto Unteilbar (“undividable”) mobilized almost a quarter million people in Berlin. It was mainly targeted against the AfD, but also made a clear point that the social question and the cause for open borders are not to be played out against each other. Trade unionists, migrants, queers and feminists marched together as they saw their interests connected to each other. In addition, demonstrations of Seebrücke (“sea bridge”), demanding the decriminalization of NGOs who rescue refugees in the Mediterranean, also brought surprisingly high numbers of people to the streets.

Other progressive social movements have been growing as well: The climate movement is becoming bigger and more successful, mainly around the struggle to save Hambach forest which is being cut down to make place for an open cast lignite mine, but also with the school students’ “Fridays for Future” protests. There can also be seen a rise in feminist organizing, leading up to a women’s and queers’ strike on March 8 (international women’s day).

Also, within the Left, there are some interesting debates going on around “new class politics”2. Those who argue for “new class politics” want the Left to return their focus to class issues, to organize and push forward class struggles, but without just repeating “old” class politics. Instead, the Left should take into account today’s composition of the working class and see feminist and anti-racist issues connected to the class struggle.

These developments, in theory as well as in praxis, signal a shift from mere antifascist counter-activism towards more actively pushing forward an own agenda, an own narrative of solidarity. It will be crucial to develop class struggles and connect them with feminist and anti-racist issues, since the far right attempts to play out the white (and mostly male) working class against migrants and other minorities. Even though the AfD is a cross-class project and has indeed a quite neoliberal program, it seems to be attractive for white male low-income workers who over-proportionally vote for them. This has of course a lot to do with their attempt to save white and male privilege, but is also connected to their class position. Without a visible and believable left anti-capitalist narrative, a far right populist program gives people the opportunity to express their diffuse anger which is rooted in their miserable situation and exploitation, but is then being redirected against migrants and “corrupt elites”. Of course, determined AfD supporters will not be convinced by left wing ideas and the connection of class struggle with feminism and anti-racism. “New class politics” is rather a strategy that aims to make a left narrative visible on the long term, so that this anger can be rationalized and directed towards the proper goal, before it is even redirected by far right populism.

However, the debates about how to react to the rise of the far right does not lead everyone on the Left to take a stance of borderless solidarity with all oppressed and exploited people (which is basically what “new class politics” and the social movements briefly described above have in common). Just like in the Anglosphere and in other countries as well, some on the Left think that they can win back right-wing voters by compromising their stance on migration issues and focusing primarily on the “white working class” (to be more precise, they sometimes do not even focus on the “white working class”, but abandon class analysis all together for a mere populism of positioning “the people” against “the elites”). The most prominent figure of this development in Germany is Sahra Wagenknecht, parliamentary leader of the party Die Linke (“the Left”). Over the last couple of years, Wagenknecht repeatedly draw attention with anti-refugee remarks. In October 2016, she even took part in a double interview with AfD-leader Frauke Petry in which she agreed with her on some points. Her positions are heavily debated within Die Linke, however the party still doesn’t throw her off her chair, probably because they are afraid to lose votes, as Wagenknecht is currently the party’s most notable and charismatic politician.

Last year, Sahra Wagenknecht launched the self-acclaimed movement Aufstehen (“Stand Up”) together with other politicians mostly from Die Linke, but also from the Social Democrats and the Greens3. Aufstehen claims to be a collective movement of the Left, bringing together members of different parties and non-party members. It is inspired by La France Insoumise, a similar movement in France launched by left-wing nationalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the Momentum platform for Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Aufstehen has so far not been particularly active in any protests, but has already around 167,000 members (as of December 2018). It is a perfect example of conservative leftism, defined by Fightback’s Daphne Lawless as “a reactionary, undialectical opposition to various aspects of neoliberalism” which “essentially consists in trying to apply yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems”4. With Aufstehen this means trying to bring back the social welfare state of the post-war years, while ignoring that this kind of social welfare state could only exist in this certain historical moment, with a Fordist production model and the system competition with the Eastern block. It could also only exist in the framework of the nation state, was based on the exploitation of the Global South, and was also deeply connected with traditional gender and family norms. It is thus only consistent that Wagenknecht and Aufstehen are mostly ignoring gender, sexuality, race and migration issues if they are not openly opposing these emancipatory struggles. Aufstehen did not take part in the big Unteilbar-demonstration and Wagenknecht said this was due to Unteilbar’s position in favor of open borders. However, some local branches took part in the march nevertheless and criticized Wagenknecht for her announcement which they had no say in, since Aufstehen so far still does not have a democratic decisionmaking process. So it would be false to accuse all Aufstehen members of red-brown politics, as some on the antifascist Left do. Instead, it might be interesting to examine why it is so successful in gaining members.

Aufstehen does professional social media work that addresses issues of social inequality in a relatable and understandable way, often with personal examples of Aufstehen supporters and offers easy ways to get organized, online as well as in many local groups. This is a level of accessibility often lacking within the radical Left. It is also not a big surprise that in lack of a progressive anti-capitalist alternative, the answer of many people who are discontent with neo-liberalism is to return to some way of social welfare state, especially if they still grew up in such a welfare state.

So I would argue that even though it is necessary to critique conservative leftism, the best way to overcome it is to actually offer a progressive alternative to it.

What could such an alternative look like? As a Marxist, the answer is of course that I do not want some kind of more “social” capitalism, but that capitalism should be abolished. However, this cannot stay a mere slogan. Instead, we need to think about what capitalism is and what can replace it. The traditional Marxist models of state socialism has certainly failed and cannot be repeated (that attempt would be just another kind of conservative leftism). To develop new strategies of overcoming capitalism it is helpful to look at the critiques of “actually existing socialism” made by ultra-left currents such as the Communization or the Value-Critizism current5. According to them, traditional Marxists’ fault was and is to reduce Marx’s theory of capital to class struggle. The goal thus became for the proletariat to take over state power from the bourgeoisie leading to a nationalization of value production, to state capitalism, instead of the abolition of capital. Instead of reducing Marxism to a question of power relations between two classes, the ultra-leftists developed a fundamental critique of the basic categories of capitalism such as commodity, value, work, money, capital and state. In a capitalist society, these appear fetishized (a concept developed by Marx in the first chapter of Capital Vol. 1), which briefly means they seem to be natural, a-historical and thus unchangeable categories to the “common sense”, but are actually the product of specific social relations. Fetishism does not mean that the capitalist class somehow tricks the workers into thinking that these categories are unchangeable, but rather it is a process that happens “behind everyone’s back” and affects workers as well as capitalists. To abolish capitalism would then mean to abolish these basic categories, to establish a mode of production where things are not produced as commodities, where they are not exchanged and where therefore would be no money (or no equivalent such as “labour time vouchers” as in some traditional Marxist and anarchist models of economy). Instead, it would be the realization of Marx’ slogan “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.

In their recently published book “Kapitalismus aufheben”, Simon Sutterlütti and Stefan Meretz, both coming from a background of Value-Criticism as well as Critical Psychology, elaborate what such a society might look like6. They call it “commonism”, a play of words with “communism” and “commons”. Commons are resources that no-one owns, but that are available for everyone to use for free, often self-managed in a non-hierarchical way by those who are using it. They are a form of economy that exists beyond state or market. Commons exist already under capitalism, e.g. in form of open source software, and actually precede capitalism, as under feudalism, meadows and forests were often used as commons. The project of commonism would then be to extend these already existing commons and to replace private property with commons. The internet will probably play an important role here, not only because many forms of modern commons are being developed here, but also because it offers possibilities to manage the commons and to coordinate different commons-projects in a flat-hierarchical manner. This does however not replace the revolutionary expropriation of the resources that are now in private hands and need to be made common. In a commonist society, everyone would be able to feel safe since everyone’s needs would be fulfilled instead of the fulfillment of needs being dependent on market mechanisms, that always leave people behind, as in capitalism.

Capitalism produces misery and fear on a daily basis, especially since its fundamental crisis that’s been going on since 2008. It is no surprise that in a society based on competition and exclusion this leads to authoritarian reactions and people’s diffuse anger often being directed at scapegoats. So in order to tackle the rise of the far right, mere antifascist counter-activism, even though it is necessary, is not enough. Instead, the Left needs to push forward an own narrative of universal solidarity. The diverse social movements described above as well as the approach of “new class politics” are a starting point of that. However, they often lack a clear vision about how capitalism can be overcome and what can replace it. Without such a vision I think a discontent with the neoliberal status quo often tends to lead to conservative leftist reactions as it is much more satisfying to cling to a “better past” than to have no idea what we’re actually fighting for at all. I suggest that the concept of commons could be such a progressive vision, not only because they fulfill the communist promise “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, but also because they are prefigured already today and thus are not just some abstract idea, but something that people can already experience in some niches. In fact, social movements often tend to produce social dynamics of commoning, when people come together in solidarity, establish protest camps, share food and other resources according to people’s needs or squat buildings or squares and thus make them common.

To be able to win against the far right and against conservative leftism, we need social movements of universal solidarity and a progressive alternative to capitalism as offered by the concept of commons.

2Mostly within the undogmatic leftist monthly newspaper Analyse&Kritik, e.g. see here (unfortunately only in German): https://www.akweb.de/ak_s/ak627/18.htm

3https://aufstehen.de/ for those who understand German

5English texts by the German value-critizism journal Krisis are available here: http://www.krisis.org/navi/english/

6The book can be read online at commonism.us unfortunately again only in German

Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe (Book Review)

 

murdoch exhibition

Pataka gallery exhibition by Murdoch Stephens.

By Giovanni Tiso.

The successful campaign to double the New Zealand refugee quota began with an exhibition. It opened at the Pataka gallery in Porirua, in 2013, and consisted of a collection of photographs of Afghan nationals that Murdoch Stephens had recovered at an abandoned refugee detention centre in Iran. Placed within a larger exhibition on migration, the display of black and white photographs without names or any other identifying information attached was a powerful signifier of the loss of personal and collective history that the displacement of people almost always entails.

Having become the temporary custodian of this archive – which is now housed with the Afghan Centre at Kabul University – was one of the sparks that motivated Stephens to launch his campaign and articulate the demand (‘double the quota’) which became synonymous with it. It was by no means a radical demand: it didn’t ask of the country to fundamentally alter its existing approach to refugees, but merely to expand a commitment to resettlement that was very low by international standards and had not been increased in decades. However, at a time of hardening of the borders, even such apparently modest demands can be radical in outlook and force us to look critically at our place in the world.

I thought about the collage of nameless photographs I saw at Pataka as I read Lights in the Distance, Daniel Trilling’s new book on the European response to what most of us are liable to calling ‘the refugee crisis’. Trilling suggests it might better be described as a border crisis and proceeds to illustrate a system whose principal aim is to defend Europe’s borders as opposed to protecting people’s lives. Crucially, the book delves into the extraordinarily opaque and convoluted workings of this system not by means of policy analysis and journalistic reporting but rather through the first-person accounts of actual migrants.

This approach has two distinct virtues: firstly, it makes the subject matter knowable at all, since any attempt to forensically dissect the permanent and temporary measures enacted piecemeal by European nations over the last decade would defy any writer and deter all readers; secondly, and I think more importantly, it restores the personhood of the people targeted by those measures. This has an explicitly political intent. As Trilling writes, ‘the starting point should be the migrants themselves, [whose] experiences are often treated as secondary to the question of what to do with them.’

Jamal, who fled Sudan as a teenager; Zainab, who left Iraq with her three children; Ousmane, who was born in Guinea, studied in Senegal and tried to find work in Mauritania; Caesar, who hails from southern Mali; Fatima from Syria, the Ahmeds from Afghanistan and several others meet on the pages of this book because of a thing they all have in common: having attempted to make a new life in Europe. But there are just as many things that set them apart. They all have distinct motivations, aspirations, social resources and networks of support. They all speak in a different voice. Trilling met them over the course of the years he spent covering the issue and travelling to its hot spots: the port town of Calais, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine.

Often we encounter the same people in different countries and at different stages of their journey. Some of the stories end well. Others, not so well. Some others are still nowhere near a resolution of any kind. But it’s important to take note of the things they have in common.

The first one is the constant state of existential danger. People fleeing extreme poverty, war or persecution wishing to reach Europe are met first of all with the perils of the journey itself, be it as they attempt to cross the Sahara to get within sight of it, or as they sit in smugglers’ boats which are not worthy of the name – leading to thousands of drownings every year along the route from Libya to Southern Italy alone. Almost every path is potentially deadly. A visit to the migrants’ graveyard in Sidiro, Greece, bears testimony to the hundreds of people from Asia and Africa who failed to cross the Evro river to safety: some of them drowned, others froze to death during the winter months.

The danger doesn’t cease once the migrant sets foot in Europe. Trilling visits the Afghan community gravitating around Saint Panteleimon Square, in Athens, during the campaign of violence carried out by Golden Dawn. The attacks followed a chilling script:

At night, when crossing the square in small groups or alone, Afghans would be approached by a child. The child would ask them where they were from. If they said, ‘Afghanistan,’ a group of adults standing nearby would come over and assault them. Sometimes it would be kicks and punches, other times it would be a plank of wood or a broken bottle.

People without rights, without the protection of the law – often exposed, in fact, to the random brutality of the police – must constantly work to maintain a level of basic safety that the rest of us take for granted. And this is the second thing the migrants in the book have in common: save for the occasional period of confinement in a facility, camp or actual prison, they all have to spend an enormous amount of labour in order to continue to survive, to keep moving and to retain some control over their lives, whether it is by foraging for food inside of skips, re-selling state-supplied phone cards for loose change, begging, or trying to hitch a ride on the underside of a truck. This last form of work – requiring constant vigil and the ability to evade a number of protective measures – exemplifies the utter lack of both security (in a social sense) and safety (in a physical but also psychological sense) to which irregular migrants in Europe are subjected to. It takes Jamal four years to succeed in stowing himself under a truck and then onto a ferry from Patras to Venice. Having reached Calais, after months of failed attempts he finally gives up on his plan of ever reaching Britain. It takes the time of a ferry ride, if you are legally entitled.

This leads us to the third and most important shared experience of the characters in Lights in the Distance: the almost ritual erasure of identity.

The migrant who wishes to enter Europe must become undocumented in order to maximise his or her chances. If a false passport was secured, it will have to be jettisoned after use. If a temporary document was assigned, it will be destroyed before crossing into the next country, as will the SIM card in the migrant’s phone. For the policing of the borders is also a policing of identities.

The Eurodac police database allows European countries to enforce the Dublin Regulation dictating that asylum must be sought in the country where one first entered the EU. Often, however, these are also the border countries that take the longest to process applications and offer the least welfare in the interim. Thus, the migrant who plays by that particular rule and lets their point of entry be recorded on the database may be forced into homelessness while they wait indefinitely for their ‘turn’ to have their application heard. In one of the most dramatic episodes recounted in the book, one of Trilling’s interviewees tells him of how fellow Sudanese migrants camped outside Calais would attempt to burn off their prints by pressing their fingertips onto a red-hot iron – all to prevent detection by Eurodac.

Such literal acts of mutilation are the mirror of the demand placed on migrants to forget who they are, so we may forget that they exist. In what is perhaps the cruellest consequence of this demand, those who cross the border without documents expose themselves to the risk of having their death rendered anonymous and go unreported among their loved ones back home. As Trilling notes, the graves in the cemetery at Sidiro are all nameless, like the photographs in the archive found by Murdoch Stephens.

There is immense political value in allowing migrants to tell their own stories and restoring the full and often staggering complexity of their experience. Think of the prohibition for the media and NGOs to speak to the prisoners at Nauru or Manus Island, and how concealing their humanity contributes to erasing their rights. And think of the effect that a single photo had, when the lifeless body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi shook the collective conscience of Western nations more than the mass drownings that preceded it.

The historical comparisons have political value, too. Lights in the Distance ends in the past tense, with the story of the author’s grandmother – a Jewish refugee who had first her Russian, then her German citizenship revoked between the two wars, thus was made twice stateless, undocumented by two different acts of government before finding fortuitous asylum in London on the eve of global disaster. It is a grim but instructive parallel, and a fitting conclusion for this important book.