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

activestills_febr005

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.

New Zealand First and the global far-right

Winston Pepe

By Daphne Lawless.

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming issue on Migrant and Refugee Rights. To support our work, please consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

The New Zealand First (NZF) Party was founded in 1993 by Winston Peters, formerly a cabinet minister for the mainstream conservative National Party. Since then, under Peters’ continuous and unchallenged leadership, its share of the popular vote has ranged from 4 to 13% – large enough to be a significant player in all but one of New Zealand’s parliaments from them until now, and to have participated in coalition governments with both of New Zealand’s major parties, National and centre-left Labour. It is currently the junior partner in Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led coalition, also supported by the Green Party.

The words used to describe New Zealand First have usually been “nationalist”, “populist”, or – more critically – “anti-migrant” or even “racist”. Ask any New Zealanders what politics Peters is usually associated with, and they will doubtless reply anti-immigrant politics, especially opposition to Chinese immigration1. Given that, overseas observers might scratch their heads at seeing Winston Peters as deputy Prime Minister to Ardern, whose sunnily optimistic social-democratic approach has led to her being labelled “anti-Trump”2. How can a political force which is usually seen as part of the same global trend as Donald Trump, UKIP, and other nationalist reactionaries and fascists be supporting the centre-left?

Some historical background on Winston Peters is probably required to understand this. New Zealand was one of the most enthusiastic adopters of Thatcher/Reagan-style neoliberal economics in the 1980s. However – unlike most countries – neo-liberalism was not at first combined with authoritarianism and social conservativism. Rather, the Labour government of 1984-90 combined privatisation, deregulation and financialisation with an anti-nuclear foreign policy, the legalisation of homosexuality and steps towards reconciliation with the indigenous Māori people. In this way, they were the reverse of the previous 1975-84 National government of Robert Muldoon, which combined social conservatism and an authoritarian style with heavy Keynesian-style state intervention in the economy and trade protectionism.

During National’s period in opposition 1984-1990, leaders Jim McLay and later Jim Bolger did their best to ditch Muldoon’s legacy and to reform their party in the neoliberal image. In this period, Winston Peters (first elected as an MP in 1978) was seen as the leader of the remaining “Muldoonist” faction in the National Party – sceptical of neo-liberal economics, and appealing to the traditional Tory rural and suburban base. When National returned to power in 1990, and quickened the pace of the neoliberalization of the economy started by Labour, Peters was increasingly the main internal critic of this approach. After being sacked as a Cabinet Minister and told he would not be re-selected as a National candidate, he struck out on his own, promising a new party that would “put New Zealand first, second and third”.

The political basis of New Zealand First has always been anti-neoliberal and conservative traditionalist. In an era where both major parties were committed to neoliberal reforms, anti-neoliberalism united former Labour and National voters. NZF quickly pulled significant support away from the Alliance, a broad anti-neoliberal coalition whose major members were the Green Party and a social-democratic split from Labour. I have argued in a series of articles on what I call “conservative leftism” that the perspective of forming a broad anti-neoliberal bloc during the 1990s and 2000s led the activist Left not only into building coalitions with conservative anti-neoliberals such as NZF, but to some extent intellectually capitulating to their xenophobic politics – thus opening the door to the current far-right surge.3

Given all of this, what should the radical Left’s attitude to New Zealand First be? Certainly Winston Peters is no friend of progressive politics. His historical animus with the Green Party – the most progressive of New Zealand’s parliamentary parties – led to them being excluded from formal participation in the current coalition government.4 His party’s latest stunt is a “respecting New Zealand values” law, which “which would legally mandate new migrants to respect gender equality, “all legal sexual preferences,” religious rights, and the legality of alcohol.”5

It goes without saying that an Ardern-led coalition in which the Greens’ James Shaw or Marama Davidson were Deputy Prime Minister would surely be far preferable to the current situation – if the parliamentary numbers were to work out that way. But should we be treating New Zealand First the same way that we would other right-populist, “alt-right” or neo-fascist movements? Commentator Liam Hehir argues that a consistent Left would “no-platform” Winston Peters:

Is Peters really on quite the same level as Nigel Farage? Possibly not (shared interests in Brexit and cricket notwithstanding).

But the big difference between the two is that Farage has a lot less influence over New Zealand than Peters. If you want to ensure migrants and other vulnerable groups feel welcomed and safe, the views of the second most powerful man in the country weigh more heavily than do those of the member of the European Parliament for South East England. Or they should, at least…

For Green MPs, protesting Nigel Farage achieves little but costs nothing. Protesting Winston Peters, on the other hand, might achieve something – but only at the risk of losing political power. It doesn’t take Niccolò Machiavelli to work out who gets protested.6

There is of course no sharp dividing line between traditionalist conservatism and the resurgent far-right, as the career of the UK’s Enoch Powell should show. Peters is famous for a pugnacious, antagonistic relationship with the news media, similar to what we see from Donald Trump. His innate social conservatism led to opposition to the bill legalising same-sex marriage, in favour of a referendum on same-sex marriage – which would have no doubt led to the same extremely divisive consequences as in Australia.

However, Peters draws as much from what has been called in Britain “One Nation Conservatism” – “preservation of established institutions and traditional principles combined with political democracy, and a social and economic programme designed to benefit the common man”7 If you asked New Zealanders who votes for New Zealand First, those who did not immediately answer “racists” would immediately answer “old people”. Peters’ traditionalist-conservative politics have historically appealed older New Zealanders in particular. A significant social reform that he was responsible for in a previous Labour-led government was the “Super Gold Card” guaranteeing free public transport for all over 65s.

Perhaps the best international equivalent to New Zealand First would be the Independent Greeks (ANEL), the conservative-populist party who are SYRIZA’s junior coalition partner in Greece. Peters has not even been averse to using rhetoric which might be called “left-nationalist”. In his speech announcing his decision to join Ardern’s coalition government in 2017, he said:

Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism, not as their friend, but as their foe.

And they are not all wrong.

That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible – its human face. That perception has influenced our negotiations.8

However, a “protean” (vague and shifting) populist appeal to both left and right at the same time is part of Peters’ political strategy, and also part of classical definitions of fascism9 – so Peters’ “anti-capitalist” rhetoric doesn’t let him off the hook there.

The New Zealand far-right have traditionally seen Winston Peters much like they see Donald Trump – if not precisely “one of them”, then at least as a possible ally. The explicitly Nazi National Front named NZF as their preferred mainstream political party in their electoral propaganda in 200510. More recently, during the 2017 election campaign, Peters came out in support of a “European Students Association” (a front for white-nationalist students) which had been closed down at the University of Auckland:

Winston Peters visited Victoria University in Wellington. During his speech to students he questioned the media’s role in causing the “European” group to shut down. He accused journalists of suppressing dissenting voices, and on his way out, unashamedly signed a cartoon of a frog named Pepe – the most popular symbol of the alt-right.

Peters’ actions set the New Zealand 4Chan boards alight.

“Guess who just got my vote!!” one user wrote. “Winston is based”. (Based, loosely, means good).

“Absolutely BASED,” said another. “Winnie has my undying respect.”

“Winston is /ourguy/, right?” another asked. “I want someone to get rid of the Indians and Chinese, those f****** are stealing our country right out from under us.”11

One obvious problem with assimilating New Zealand First to the global “alt-right”/white-nationalist phenomenon is that Winston Peters is himself Māori. The support of a bloc of conservative, rural Māori opinion has always been a vital part of the NZF coalition – as Ani White pointed out in an article for Fightback12, it is precisely rural and small-town voters who tend to be most prone to anti-migrant views. The very first NZF MP other than Peters was elected in one of the constituencies reserved for Māori electors13; and at the 1996 election, NZF made a clean sweep of all the Māori seats. However, as Ani White also points out, Peters trumpets a conservative, assimilationist policy, opposing “special rights for Māori”, and has recently shifted to supporting a referendum on abolishing the Māori seats altogether.

Others have argued that Peters cynically uses anti-migration rhetoric in the same way that pre-Trump US Republican politics have used the issue of abortion – as a way to whip up support on the campaign trail, but having no interest in actually doing anything about the issue once in government. Political commentator Danyl Maclauchlan argues: “He campaigns on the immigration issue every election, but Peters has been in the powerbroker position in government three times now, and each of those governments has seen very high levels of net migration of what his supporters and voters consider “the wrong sort” of people.”14

It would be best to argue that, although Peters no doubt cynically benefits from the far-right resurgence, and has no shame in appealing to racial populism, he is essentially a conservative rather than a fascist “national revolutionary”. He seeks to bolster and defend the traditional institutions of the New Zealand colonial settler state, rather than to incite mob violence against the Establishment. Although New Zealand First has long used the rhetoric of racial populism, in practice Peters and his party are mainly concerned with getting a seat at the Establishment table, rather than raising mobs to overthrow it.


1 New Zealand’s position as a small developed Anglosphere country in the Asia-Pacific region has historically led to a tendency to “Yellow Peril” anti-Chinese politics. For a historical background, see https://fightback.org.nz/2018/05/30/race-reaction-in-new-zealand-1880-1950/

5 The legality of alcohol as a New Zealand value is ironic given that in this country, as in many others, temperance societies were at the forefront of the movement for women’s suffrage, and prohibitionist leader Kate Sheppard is on our $10 bill for this reason.

13 Constituencies reserved for Māori electors were introduced in 1867, when the restriction of voting rights to property-owning citizens meant that many Māori were disallowed from voting, to ensure that Māori had some input regarding the makeup of parliament. Although they were intended as a temporary measure, they continue to this day, and many Māori still consider them essential to ensure representation.

Capitalism is not a Jewish conspiracy

This article is part of Fightback’s “What is Capitalism” series, to be collected in an upcoming magazine issue. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($20 annually) or magazine ($60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. In a 2012 Facebook post, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn defended a mural by New York artist Mear One. The mural depicted a cabal of bankers ruling the world. More recently in 2018, the post was dredged up to prove Corbyn’s anti-Semitism. He quickly apologised, saying he had not paid the mural close enough attention.

What is notable here is not the original event itself, nor Corbyn’s personal views. The issue is the failure of many on the left to detect anti-Semitic tropes. During the controversy, Corbynistas took to Facebook in droves to argue the mural was in fact legitimate anti-capitalism.

Corbyn’s defenders argued that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. However, the mural had no references to either Palestine or Israel – the only useful definition of modern political ‘Zionism’ refers to the state of Israel, not Jewish people in general. Equating Jewish people with Israel is the preferred method of two counterposed groups: Zionists and anti-Semites. Many Jewish people do not support the actions of the Israeli state. The Palestinian cause, like the socialist cause, is discredited by any association with anti-Semitism. There is no good reason to bring up Israel when discussing Mear One’s mural.

Moreover, the mural deployed uncomfortable anti-Semitic tropes. The artist presents a circle of large-nosed financiers, conspiring to rule the world, with an Illuminati symbol in the background. Before analysing this image, it’s worth noting some tropes of anti-Semitism: Jewish people are often depicted with big noses, and as a financial elite conspiring to rule the world.

The use of an Illuminati pyramid is the first obvious clue, reflecting a conspiracy theorist mindset. The noses of the conspirators are also larger than life. The six historical figures sitting around the table are an “elite banker cartel” in the artist’s words, but there are no capitalists from other industries – factory owners, or farmers, tend to get a free pass in the conspiracy theorist mindset – whereas finance capitalists are depicted as a separate race of leeches preying on the productive national economy. The artist includes Baron Rothschild, a significant dog-whistle, representing a Jewish family whose influence in the 21st century is wildly overstated by conspiracy theorists.1 To simplify, compare Mear One’s mural with the Polish Nazi poster below: six large-nosed figures framed by a Star of David, sitting around a table which crushes the global majority (Polish text translates to ‘Soviet Pyramid’). This is not, to put it lightly, an artistic legacy anyone should want to be associated with.

Mear One mural

anti semitic

Australasia’s political culture isn’t immune to these memes. New Zealand’s former Prime Minister John Key, who had a Jewish background, was repeatedly caricatured with a large nose in political cartoons. Dumping the subtlety, some charming individual decided to graffiti the word “Lying Jew Motherfucker” on a Key billboard. There are many good reasons to dislike John Key – his Jewish background is not one.

Although Aotearoa’s billboard defacement is a particularly overt example, subtler forms of anti-Semitism pervade conspiracy theorist accounts of capitalism. If you will forgive an extended quote, Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts explain the problem with conspiracy theorist anti-Semitism well:

[A] critique of capitalism which focuses only on the machinations of the “1 per cent” fails to understand how fundamentally capitalist social relations shape the way in which we live – capitalists and bankers included. It does not grasp the extent to which “real” industrious production and intangible “abstract” finance are inextricably entwined. The pursuit of profit is not a choice in capitalism, but a compulsion. Failing to do so leads to bankruptcy, starvation and death. Nor are banks and the international financial sector an unproductive parasitical outgrowth undermining the vitality of the “real” national economy. They are that economy’s precondition.

The results of this incessant pursuit of profit, facilitated by the global movement of money, are by no means equal, and to that extent Corbyn and his supporters are right to highlight the widespread economic disparities in society. Indeed, the danger of conspiratorial thinking on the left is that it does in some ways “reflect a critical impulse”, a suspicion about the world and its forms of power.

It is also why, as the sociologist David Hirsh has argued, anti-Semitism can present itself as a progressive and emancipatory force, a valiant attempt to rid the world of the evils dragging it down. It replicates the way that anti-migrant racism has become a sign of one’s commitment to a downtrodden “white working class” in the aftermath of Brexit.

Therefore to dismiss the existence of anti-Semitism on the left as a minor problem compared with that of the right is to fail to heed the risks that the two forms can, on occasion, complement each other. A critique of capitalism based on the need to eradicate “globalism” is politically ambiguous at best, able to be utilised by the far-right as easily as the left.

What this lapse from critical to conspiracy theory suggests is that the anti-Semitic tropes which pervade the Corbyn-supporting “alt-media” and activist base, as well as Corbyn’s own dubious brand of “anti-Zionism” and “anti-imperialism”, are not mere contingencies, but the logical outcome of the movement’s morally-charged, personalised critique of capitalism as conspiracy.

This has implications for how Labour addresses the current crisis. The specificity of left anti-Semitism arises partly from a foreshortened critical impulse imbued with a racism that punches upward, rather than down. Building an alternative therefore requires much more than expulsions of “pockets” within the Labour Party.

What is needed is a commitment to education and consciousness-raising capable of replacing bad critiques with good – and Corbyn showed yesterday that he might be prepared to lead from the front. The work of [Jewish Marxist theorist Moishe Postone] would be an excellent place to begin. What it shows is that, if Corbyn is as serious as he says he is about militant opposition to anti-Semitism, his worldview as it is may not survive intact. Rather, it must be radically revised and rethought.2

At a glance, Mear One’s mural could be mistaken for anti-capitalism, and that is precisely the problem. Most capitalists are not Jewish, and most Jewish people are not capitalists: fixation on a minority of Jewish bankers is a dangerous diversion. In a NZ context, locally owned ‘productive’ agricultural companies Talley’s and Fonterra are as craven as any finance company, so the focus on ‘international bankers’ would be a diversion even without the dog-whistle. As socialists, we need to be able to clearly identify and distance ourselves from anti-Semitic tropes, especially those in ‘left’ garb. Perhaps anti-Semites are just bad apples, but the origin of that metaphor goes: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

Those who followed the Corbyn anti-Semitism row are likely aware of the happy ending (well, it never ends). Corbyn attended a seder held by Jewdas, a Jewish radical group. As far-right rag the Daily Mail3 reported in shocked tones, those in attendance held beetroots in the air and cried:

FUCK CAPITALISM!”4

1Brian Dunning, Deconstructing the Rothschild Conspiracy, Skeptoid https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4311

2 Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts, To combat left anti-semitism Corbynism must change the way it sees the world, NewStatesman https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/03/combat-left-anti-semitism-corbynism-must-change-way-it-sees-world

3A publication which literally endorsed the Nazis in the 1930s.

4Andrew Pierce, They raised a beetroot in the year and shouted f*** capitalism…, Daily Mail https://donotlink.it/jl1N