Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spencer Sunshine on rightists in the Occupy movement

Spencer Sunshine has a good article in the Political Research Associates newsletter (Winter 2014 issue): "The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement." As Sunshine argues, a broad range of rightists got involved in the mostly left-leaning movement, raising serious questions about inclusiveness and decentralized organizing.

Three Way Fight addressed this issue briefly in a November 2011 post, "Rightists woo the Occupy Wall Street movement." But Sunshine's article is much more detailed and comprehensive. Here are a few excerpts:
"Certainly, Occupy was always a largely left-leaning event. But right-wing participation has been the norm rather than the exception within recent left-wing U.S. movements—including the antiglobalization, antiwar, environmental, and animal rights movements—and Occupy was no exception. Right-wing groups inserted their narrative about the Federal Reserve into the movement’s visible politics; used Occupy’s open-ended structure to disseminate conspiracy theories (antisemitic and otherwise) and White nationalism; promoted unfettered capitalism; and gained experience, skills, and political confidence as organizers in a mass movement that, on the whole, allowed their participation."
                     *                     *                     *
"While few right-wing actors see capitalism as a system to be abolished, many are harsh critics of finance capital, especially in its international form. This critique unites antisemites, who believe that Jews run Wall Street; libertarian “free marketers,” who see the Federal Reserve as their enemy; and advocates of “producerist” narratives, who want “productive national capital” (such as manufacturing and agriculture) to be cleaved from “international finance capital” (the global banking system and free-trade agreements)."
                     *                     *                     *

"The point it is not so much that the Left was significantly damaged by the Right’s presence in Occupy—though its presence did open the movement up to attacks in the mainstream media, which wasted the time and effort of organizers while turning off potential supporters. The deeper problem is that right-wing groups benefited from the Left’s willingness to give them a stage to speak from and an audience to recruit from."
                     *                     *                     *

"Are there any practical steps, then, that activists on the Left can take to minimize participation by the Right?

"The administrators at the forum, the main online location of internal discussions, took one small step after they were deluged by conspiracy theorists and Far Right propagandists. In October 2011, they banned anyone who posted about [David] Icke, [Lyndon] LaRouche, [David] Duke, or [Alex] Jones.

"A more proactive first step would be to endorse an anti-oppression platform at the very start, such as the one created at Occupy Boston. Unlike the relatively vague statement from Zuccotti, Boston’s statement explicitly named the types of oppression that it opposed, including White supremacy, patriarchy, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Arab sentiment, Islamophobia, and anti-Jewish sentiment."
To read more

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

U.S. fascists debate the conflict in Ukraine

The Ukrainian fascists who helped seize power in Kiev three weeks ago have gotten a strikingly mixed response from U.S. far rightists. Like others across the political spectrum, U.S. fascists are struggling to understand and respond to the complex situation in Ukraine, and their discussions reveal some important fault lines and contradictions. Anti-fascists -- take note.

As discussed in my previous post, the two main Ukrainian fascist groups are Svoboda party, whose electoral support surged in 2012 from less than 1 percent to 10.45%, and Right Sector, a paramilitary coalition of far-right groups that regards Svoboda as too moderate. Svoboda and Right Sector are descendants of the Ukrainian fascist groups that collaborated with the Nazis and murdered tens of thousands of Jews and Poles. Both Svoboda and Right Sector played an important role in the western-backed "Euromaidan" movement that toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in a political revolution with real popular support, and they've been rewarded with key posts in the new government.

So you might expect that American fascists would be cheering on their comrades in Kiev. After all, when the Greek neo-nazi party Golden Dawn won 7 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2012 and ramped up its violent attacks on immigrants, LGBT people, and political opponents, U.S. far rightists were enthusiastic. But for the most part, their responses to the Ukrainian upheaval have ranged from ambivalent to hostile, for several reasons. Some American far rightists are unhappy about the prospect of another war between Europeans. Some of them consider the Ukrainian fascists politically suspect because of their involvement in a movement backed by the U.S. and European Union governments. And some of them support the Russian government and its vision of a greater Eurasian Union including at least part of the Ukraine.

Map of Ukraine with Oblast Krim (Crimea) highlighted
The Ukraine conflict is in some ways a throwback to the Cold War, when many fascists -- including the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists -- joined forces with the CIA against the Soviet Union, despite their misgivings about the U.S. and western Europe's liberal political systems. But even in the 1950s, there were some far rightists -- such as Francis Parker Yockey -- who advocated an alliance with Russian communism against the "decadent" West. This position was known as national bolshevism.

Since the 1980s, and especially since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991, the old Cold War alliances have unraveled. To most western fascists, the main enemy is not Russia (or China) but rather the "Zionist Occupation Government" (ZOG) in Washington or western-based "globalist elites" bent on destroying European civilization. Today the main geopolitical debate among western fascists seems to be whether to stake out a "third position" between West and East or to ally themselves with the new post-communist Russian state.

Some fascists outside Ukraine have turned out in support of Svoboda or Right Sector. The Daily Beast reported on March 2 about a Swedish fascist group's initiative to send people and supplies to "support the Ukrainian revolution." But the article's headline, "Neo-Nazis Pour into Kiev," was absurdly alarmist. The lead organizer for Swedish Ukrainian Volunteers admitted, "If we get 50, all in all, I will be very proud."

On Stormfront, the largest neo-nazi bulletin board in the U.S., one contributor announced that he was heading to Ukraine to volunteer his services to Right Sector, and urged other westerners, especially those with military experience, to "come to the aid of fellow nationalists in Ukraine and help found the first nationalist state in Europe, since 1945." But on the discussion thread that followed, nobody else offered to join him, and only some of the comments were supportive. Criticisms included, "If you help Ukrainian Nationalists invade Russian parts of Ukraine, you will put yourself on the wrong side of history" and "This so called 'Ukrainian revolution' is nothing more than the U.S. and the U.K. stirring up trouble AGAIN, in another country."

Other Stormfront threads took a more neutral approach. A second contributor lamented, "Why do White people kill more White people??! Can't they see that ZOG is manipulating them like sheep going to the slaughterhouse?!" while another urged far rightists to brainstorm ways to prevent war and "loss of white life" in Ukraine, such as the idea that Russia could buy Crimea from Ukraine. "This would prevent Ukraine from going to the International (Jewish) Usury Fund and allow also the ejection of some large section of Tartars [sic] (non-white muslims [sic]) from Ukraine."

On the Traditionalist Youth Network website, Matt Parrott of Hoosier Nation called the Ukrainian conflict "ideologically ambiguous" and said he wouldn't pick a side until "one faction or another may unambiguously align with the global identitarian vision." On The Occidental Observer site, Kevin MacDonald, a prominent white nationalist intellectual, wrote that "Ukraine is a textbook case of the costs of multiculturalism, a story of competing nationalisms," but warned Ukraine against allying with the European Union, since EU anti-nationalism leads to "the obliteration of all traditional European national cultures." "A better solution," he suggested," would be to break up states like Ukraine with large ethnic divisions into ethnically homogeneous societies..."

Many American fascists are suspicious of Ukrainian fascists' right-wing credentials. declared "Authentic National Socialists do not collaborate with a regime as corrupt as that of the USA, that supports Israel and is controlled by Jews, and do not allow themselves to be used as geopolitical pawns." On the other hand, the same author wrote that Right Sector "seems to represent authentic National Socialism (I really hope I am right about this)," and praised Right Sector's commitment to vigilante justice. But Michael McGregor of Radix (successor to argued that even Right Sector isn't fascist enough, claiming that the group is "dedicated to a type of civic nationalism where the interests of preserving a more important than that of preserving their race or even that of their own ethnic group."

Writing about the Euromaidan protests before Yanukovych had fled Kiev, Vanguard News Network (VNN) wrote that "the Jews and the internationalists (this of course includes America) are angry because the Ukraine won't 'play ball' with the globalist agenda of free trade, global government, non-white immigration, massive debt via [International Monetary Fund] loans, hate-crime laws, and other horrible things." In a follow-up article, VNN added that "Western governments want to bring the Ukraine under Western influence so they can use it as a possible 'weapon' or at least as a 'watchdog' against Russia [which] too often goes against NWO [New World Order] or Jewish interests, e.g., selling sophisticated missiles to Arab countries like Syria."

Unlike the openly pro-nazi VNN, the Lyndon LaRouche network presents itself as progressive and anti-fascist, and when the Yanukovych government fell, LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review proclaimed "U.S.A. and EU, With Ukrainian Terrorists, Establish Nazi Regime." This is essentially the Russian government line, although the LaRouchites combine it with their own elaborate conspiracy theories, notably that both the EU and the U.S. government are really controlled by the British empire. From this perspective, Ukraine's upheaval was simply a putsch carried out by western government operatives, in which popular forces exercised no agency of their own. The LaRouchites give no credence to the Yanukovych government's corruption and repressive brutality as factors that outraged many Ukrainians and led them to revolt.

A related analysis was offered by U.S. supporters of Aleksandr Dugin, such as Global Revolutionary Alliance. Dugin is the Russian far right's leading intellectual, former theoretician of the National Bolshevik Party, and one of the main figures in the European New Right, which offers a sanitized fascism as a project to defend "difference" and "ethnopluralism." He has close ties with the Russian state and is the founder of the modern Eurasianist movement, which envisions Russia as the center of a new authoritarian "empire." Dugin addressed the Ukraine crisis in a recent interview on the Counter-Currents Publishing website, which blends white nationalism, antisemitism, and European New Right ideology. He argued that members of the anti-Yanukovych movement were united not by a desire for political change or closer ties to the EU, but simply by "their pure hatred of Russia." He also found a way to criticize the Euromaidan movement both for including neo-nazis and for including progressive groups:
"The left wing liberal groups are not less extremist than the neo-Nazi groups.... We find especially in Eastern Europe and Russia very often that the Homosexual-Lobby and the ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups are allies. Also the Homosexual lobby has very extremist ideas about how to deform, re-educate and influence the society.... The gay and lesbian lobby is not less dangerous for any society than neo-Nazis."
Dugin also argued that the hope any Ukrainian fascists might have of pursuing a course independent of major global powers is an illusion:
"There is no 'third position,' no possibility of that.... The same ugly truth hits the Ukrainian 'nationalist' and the Arab salafi fighter: They are Western proxies. It is hard to accept for them because nobody likes the idea to be the useful idiot of Washington....

"There is land power and sea power in geopolitics. Land power is represented today by Russia, sea power by Washington. During World War II Germany tried to impose a third position.... The end was the complete destruction of Germany. So when even the strong and powerful Germany of that time wasn't strong enough to impose the third position how [can] the much smaller and weaker groups want to do this today? It is impossible, it is a ridiculous illusion."
However, Counter-Currents also published a sharply different argument by Greg Johnson, who referred to Dugin as the Russian regime's "apostle and apologist...whose credibility with ethnonationalists should be reduced to zero by now." Johnson offered the most sophisticated far right analysis of the Ukraine crisis that I have seen so far. He argued that "The strife in the Ukraine is not, at root, caused by Russian or 'Western' intervention, for these would find no purchase if Ukraine were not already an ethnically divided nation," and that "even in the absence of outside influence, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had to go [because he] is a crook who plundered his country and was essentially selling its geopolitical alignment to the highest bidder in order to retain his grip on power."

Johnson noted that the far right groups Svoboda and Right Sector had played a remarkably prominent role in the Ukrainian revolution, but as part of a coalition "which also included centrists, Leftists, feminists, gay rights advocates, and ethnic minority agitators, including Jews, Tatars, and Armenians." He argued (echoing Michael McGregor's point quoted above) that Right Sector "falls far short of National Socialism," and that "of all European nationalist parties, Svoboda is probably the most radical and consistent, yet it is also one of the most successful.... Unfortunately, despite an admirable political platform, Svoboda is at present committed to maintaining the artificial Ukrainian state." And unlike Dugin (or LaRouche), Johnson refused to embrace the Russian government:
"Like many White Nationalists, I admire Vladimir Putin because he is an important geopolitical counter-weight to the United States and Israel..., he has sought to address Russia's demographic crisis, and he looks and acts like a real-life James Bond. But Putin is not an ethnonationalist. Indeed, he imprisons Russian nationalists and is committed to maintaining Russia's current borders, which include millions of restive Muslims in the Caucasus."
Johnson conceded that if "Putin were to take back the Crimea, virtually ridding Ukraine of its Russian and Tatar minorities and leaving Ukraine smaller but more racially and culturally homogeneous, it might be a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason." And he hoped that Svoboda and other ultranationalists would eventually bring about "national autonomy for all peoples within the current Ukrainian borders."

These debates highlight the complexity of the Ukrainian upheaval. A popular uprising has replaced a corrupt, repressive government (representing a pro-Russian capitalist faction) with a coalition of “austerity”-promoting neoliberals and fascists (representing a pro-EU capitalist faction), which now faces military intervention in the Crimea by Vladimir Putin’s Russian government. None of these regimes is on the side of Ukraine’s ordinary people. As a coalition of internationalists from Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere has declared, this is a "power struggle between oligarchic clans [that] threatens to escalate into an international armed conflict."

In dealing with this conflict, fascists are all over the map -- some lined up with (or in) the new Ukrainian government, some backing Russia, and some (many in the U.S.) conflicted or wavering in between. This means that calls to support the Russian government in the name of "anti-fascism" are just as misinformed or dishonest as calls to support Ukraine's "democratic revolution."

Image credit

By Sven Teschke [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Who are Ukraine's fascists?

My previous post attempted to make sense of the struggle that recently overthrew Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych. As Tash Shifrin points out, not only did fascist groups play a leading role in this struggle, but their success "set a new benchmark for fascists across Europe."

Right Sector flag, Kiev, 22 February 2014
Both of Ukraine's two main fascist organizations are represented in the new government. Members of Svoboda (Freedom) party were named to the posts of deputy prime minister; ministers of defense, ecology, and agriculture; and head of the general prosecutor's office. The leader of the more hardline Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) was appointed deputy national security director.

Who are these Ukrainian fascists? What do they stand for? How did they become so influential? And where do they fit in the geopolitical struggle that is suddenly making Ukraine a major point of contention between the western and Russian wings of global capital? This post will try to address these questions.

Svoboda was founded in 1991 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) and is a direct descendent of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the World War II-era Nazi collaborators who massacred tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in their quest to create a totalitarian, ethnically pure Ukraine. In 2004, in an effort to clean up its image, the SNPU changed its name to the All-Ukrainian Association Svoboda, dropped the Wolfsangel symbol (which had been used by the Waffen SS), and started advocating populist economic and social measures. Svoboda's program, writes Emanuel Dreyfus, "would renationalise a number of enterprises, introduce progressive taxation on business profits, and seek to reduce the dominance of the oligarchs over the political and economic systems."

Historian Per Anders Rudling writes that Svoboda's makeover followed the example laid down by other European far right parties such as the Austrian Freedom Party and the National Democratic Party of Germany. "Svoboda's official policy documents are relatively cautious and differ from its daily activities and internal jargon, which are much more radical and racist.... Svoboda subscribes to the OUN tradition of national segregation and demands the reintroduction of the Soviet 'nationality' category into Ukrainian passports" (p. 237). According to political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov, "although Svoboda... does not have a worked out doctrine, it is possible to distinguish several different ideological strands most commonly articulated by the party leaders, including anticommunism, anti-liberalism, racism, anti-Russian sentiments, glorification of Ukrainian historical right-wing extremism and fascism, and heterosexism."

Antisemitism is central to the party's ideology. Svoboda head Oleh Tiahnybok claimed in 2005 that Ukraine was ruled by a "Muscovite-Jewish mafia," and, according to Rudling, in 2011 party activists fought with police as part of a protest campaign against Hasidic Jewish pilgrims visiting the Ukraine.

Svoboda got only 0.7% of the vote in 2007 parliamentary elections, but this support jumped to 10.45% in 2012, and the party entered the Rada (national parliament) for the first time with 37 seats. As the BBC reported, "in addition to expanding its traditional base in the country's Ukrainian-speaking west -- it won close to 40% in the Lviv region -- Svoboda made inroads into central regions, capturing second place in the capital Kiev." Svoboda's support is mainly working class in the western Ukraine, but the party also attracted intellectual and middle class people in Kiev, according to Denis of the leftist Autonomous Workers Union.

The other major fascist group is Right Sector, which was formed in November 2013 by activists from several small neo-nazi groups. Right Sector is primarily a street-fighting organization, with an estimated 2,000-3,000 members, that criticizes Svoboda as too moderate. Max Blumenthal writes, "Armed with riot shields and clubs, the group's cadres have manned the front lines of the Euromaidan battles this month, filling the air with their signature chant: 'Ukraine above all!' In a recent Right Sector propaganda video... the group promised to fight 'against degeneration and totalitarian liberalism, for traditional national morality and family values.'"

Svoboda and Right Sector supporters were a small portion of the Euromaidan protesters against Yanukovych, but they gained legitimacy from the nationalism that pervaded the movement. Right Sector militants and their allies physically attacked leftists who tried to have a visible presence in the Euromaidan or join the movement's Self Defense groups. By mid February 2014, the Self Defense forces (including some 1,500 under separate Right Sector command) were confronting police with guns as well as Molotov cocktails. Shifrin writes, "The center of gravity shifted from mass participant in Euromaidan to the organized strength of the fighting force. And the fascists have far greater weight among the fighters than in the protest as a whole."

The resurgence of Ukrainian fascism is very recent, but its seeds were planted years ago. In broad terms, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 many ethnic nationalisms and right-wing ideologies gained visibility and support. In Ukraine specifically, the return of rightist emigres dovetailed with propaganda initiatives of the new government centered on the 1930s and 1940s. Rudling notes (p. 231) that former President Viktor Yushchenko's government (2005-10) promoted a historical myth of the fascist OUN as freedom fighters and democrats struggling to liberate Ukraine from Soviet tyranny, and that ultra-nationalist and antisemitic propaganda have become commonplace in Ukrainian academia. In western Ukraine, especially Lviv,
"ultra-nationalist ideologues have found both effective and lucrative ways to work with entrepreneurs to popularize and disseminate their narrative to the youth, [such as] the Jewish theme restaurant Pid Zolotoiu Rozoiu (Beneath the Golden Rose), where guests are offered black hats of the sort worn by Hasidim, along with payot. The menu lists no prices for the dishes; instead, one is required to haggle over highly inflated prices 'in the Jewish fashion'" (p. 233).
Commemorating the centenary of Stepan Bandera, Kiev, 2009
The modern celebration of the OUN and its military wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), includes public festivals, nightclub events, and the renaming of streets and buildings after OUN leader Stepan Bandera. Rudling sees a basic contradiction in this historical cult: on one hand, ultra-nationalists celebrate the Waffen-SS Galizien, a German military division composed of Ukrainians that carried out many atrocities; on the other, they hail the OUN as resistance fighters against Nazi Germany, who supposedly even rescued Jews (pp. 231, 235).

Ukrainian far rightists today don't just replicate the OUN's classical fascism, but blend it with other currents of fascist ideology. Rudling writes that Svoboda has been influenced by European New Right thinkers such as Alain de Benoist, who have replaced open racial supremacism with the nicer-sounding "ethno-pluralism," and who have promoted the Conservative Revolutionaries of interwar Germany as a far right tradition mostly outside of the Nazi movement. In 2010, Svoboda intellectual Yurii Mykhal'chyshyn published an anthology of key texts that brought together Conservative Revolutionaries (Ernst Juenger, Oswald Spengler), "left" Nazis (Ernst Roehm, Otto and Gregor Strasser), mainstream Nazis (Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg), and Italian and Spanish corporatist theoreticians (pp. 239, 243).

Mykhal'chyshyn has also served as a link between Svoboda and Ukraine's autonomous nationalists, who combine neo-nazi content with styles and slogans borrowed from left-wing autonomists and anarchist black blocks, such as black hoodies, masks, and a straight-edge lifestyle, while glorifying street violence against their opponents. Autonomous nationalism started in Germany as a sub-current within the neo-nazi scene, and has been visible in Ukraine since 2009, according to the German-language Antifaschistisches Infoblatt. The Infoblatt describes this as an effort by young neo-nazis to look more modern and more European. Ukrainian autonomous nationalists are not numerous, but they have worked closely with Svoboda and other far right parties.

Ukrainian fascists' international outlook is especially important, given that the movement which eventually toppled Yanukovych began by demanding a closer relationship with the European Union and not Russia. Svoboda has advocated Ukraine joining the EU, apparently to win favor with its electoral base. Alec Luhn of The Nation reports, "Yury Noyevy, a member of Svoboda's political council, admitted that the party is only pro-EU because it is anti-Russia. 'The participation of Ukrainian nationalism and Svoboda in the process of EU integration is a means to break our ties with Russia,' Noyevy said." Svoboda, along with the British National Party, Hungary's Jobbik, and several other far right parties, is part of the Alliance of European National Movements, which opposes EU centralization.

Right Sector, meanwhile, wants no part of the Europe Union. One of the group's coordinators told The Guardian, "'For us, Europe is not an issue, in fact joining with Europe would be the death of Ukraine. Europe means the death of the nation state and the death of Christianity. We want a Ukraine for Ukrainians, run by Ukrainians, and not serving the interests of others.' Tarasenko said the goal of the group was a 'national revolution' that would result in a 'national democracy' with none of the trappings of the 'totalitarian liberalism' that the EU represents for him."

Despite these sentiments, Right Sector, along with Svoboda, is now tied to a government that represents the pro-EU faction of the Ukrainian ruling class. Assuming that the new government isn't simply forced out by the Russian military, it's unlikely that the fascists could seriously pursue their national revolution against the oligarchs. The Right Sector hardliners might want to try, but I agree with Mark Ames that Svoboda will probably be coopted into embracing pro-Western policies, including EU austerity demands. "Neoliberalism is a big tent that is happy to absorb ultranationalists, democrats, or ousted president Yanukovych."

But that's very different from saying that Svoboda or Right Sector are just tools of the EU, or the United States, who have carried out a successful putsch on behalf of their masters. This is not the Cold War, when Ukrainian fascists were dependent on the CIA and loyal allies of the Reagan administration against the Soviet empire. Today's far rightists have to deal with great power geopolitics, but that doesn't mean they're happy about it. Remember that Osama bin Laden was once a Reagan ally, too.

See also this follow-up post: U.S. fascists debate the conflict in Ukraine

Photo credits:

Stepan Bandera celebration photo by Vasyl` Babych (Own work), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Right Sector flag photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine's upheaval: between fascists, neoliberals, and Kremlin tools

"It is right to be horrified and appalled by the brutality of Yanukovych's -- failed -- crackdown, and the huge death toll. No one should support the violence of the state.

"But nor should we cheer for the former opposition forces who have now taken power.

"This has been a battle that has its roots in the long-term divide in the oligarchy, between those whose interests are best served by a tie-up with the EU, and those who profit from links with Russia."
I think this quote from Tash Shifrin is a good starting point for making sense of Ukraine's recent political upheaval -- the mass "Euromaidan" protests and violent street battles that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this week. Events in Ukraine are still very much unfolding, but whatever happens, it's a critical moment for those of us trying to understand fascism's relationship with popular struggle, state repression, and inter-capitalist rivalry.

Anti-government protest, Kiev, 27 November 2013.
It's easy to find lopsided treatments of the Ukraine struggle in the media. Democracy Now! hosted a debate a few weeks ago between Anton Shekhovtsov and Stephen Cohen. Shekhovtsov declared that the "Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement" and dismissed claims of major involvement by neo-Nazis and antisemites as Russian propaganda. Cohen argued, more believably, that right-wing extremists had in fact taken control of the protests, but portrayed the Ukrainian police as victims of mob violence who "haven't cracked down" despite extreme provocation. Both speakers seemed more interested in picking sides than analyzing the whole situation critically.

The two best articles I've seen so far about the conflict are Shifrin's "Ukraine: no tears for Yanukovych, no cheers for new regime or fascists in its midst" (the piece quoted at the top of this post) and Mark Ames's "Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong." The key points of these two articles are my main focus in this blog post. (A follow-up post will focus more specifically on Ukraine's major fascist groups.)

Both Shifrin and Ames try to go beyond one-sided caricatures. Both argue that the majority of Euromaidan protesters were motivated by real anger at police brutality, political corruption, and economic misery, but have been used by one faction of the elite against another. Shifrin writes,
"Euromaidan was not like the Occupy or Indignados movements -- nor the workers' protests now in Bosnia. Unlike these movements there were no democratic assemblies or forums to debate and formulate independent, working class demands. This movement has been used as a lever by the pro-EU politicians in their power struggle with Yanukovych and his pro-Russian backers."
Ames takes this a step further, arguing that the factional lines within Ukraine's elite are actually quite fluid: "Today's neoliberal ultranationalist could be tomorrow's Kremlin ally, and vice-versa." He points out that Yanukovych had previously embraced International Monetary Fund and EU austerity demands, and that other major politicians had switched sides from pro- to anti-Kremlin forces. "Many of those oligarchs have close business ties with Russia, but assets and bank accounts -- and mansions -- in Europe. Both forces are happy to work with the neoliberal global institutions."

Ames and Shifrin both make good points about the role of fascists within the Euromaidan forces. Ames writes that fascists are
"a powerful minority in the anti-Yanukovych campaign -- I'd say the neo-fascists from Svoboda [Freedom party] and Pravy Sektor [Right Sector] are probably the vanguard of the movement, the ones who pushed it harder than anyone. Anyone who ignores the role of the neo-fascists… is lying or ignorant, just as anyone who claims that Yanukovych answered only to Putin doesn't know what they're talking about. The front-center role of Svoboda and the neo-fascists in this revolution as opposed to the Orange Revolution [of 2004-5] is, I think, due to fact that the more smiley-face/respectable neoliberal politicians can't rally the same fanatical support they did a decade ago."
But Ames also cautions that it's a distortion to think that the right-wing danger is only on one side:
"What's happening in Ukraine is not a battle between pro-fascists and anti-fascists. There are fascists on both sides; the opposition happens to like fascist costume parties more, but watch this video of Yanukovych's snipers murdering unarmed protesters and tell me who the real fascists are in this fight... [WARNING: BRUTAL VIOLENCE]"
Shifrin makes a related point:
"Both the pro-EU and pro-Russia sides are stoking reaction. The fascists' ideology is based on ethno-nationalism and anti-Semitism, as well as worship of the Nazis' ally [Stepan] Bandera. Svoboda's [leader Oleh] Tyahnybok is notorious for his anti-Semitic views while the nazi groups of Right Sector are happily pictured with the White Power and Hitler-loving graffiti common to fascists across Europe.

"The pro-Russian side has also been pouring out anti-Semitic propaganda, such as that on social media sites supporting the (rightly hated) Berkut riot police, which claims that the Euromaidan leaders are all Jews. It also warns that the dangerous liberalism of Europe will mean children will be 'turned gay'."
At the same time, Shifrin emphasizes that the role of far rightists in helping to topple Yanukovych represents a major breakthrough for fascist forces internationally:
"Fascism traditionally has a twin track approach, with both electoral and street fighting wings. In Ukraine, the fascists have made a huge leap forwards -- in addition to their successful electoral breakthrough in 2012 [when Svoboda went from 0.76% to 10.44% of the vote in parliamentary elections], they are now set to enter the government.

"And they now have armed, paramilitary troops -- proven in pitched battle with the forces of the state, and admired as militant fighters and heroes. "While before, Svoboda kept the Patriots of Ukraine [paramilitary organization] at arms length and the nazi groups that make up Right Sector carried out their combat training quietly under the radar, now they are recruiting openly. Right Sector as well as Svoboda is a big player now.

"In recent years, fascists have not achieved anything like this elsewhere in Europe. It is a milestone, a new benchmark."
I think this point is well taken. Certainly, the Ukrainian fascists have gone beyond what Golden Dawn party achieved in Greece, for example.

The fascists' success reflects the left's weakness. Shifrin writes:
"The genuine left in Ukraine is tiny, and has no hinterland of a mass labour or social democratic party to draw on. The main trade union federation is based largely on the old Stalinist state unions. The left has had no meaningful impact at all on recent events -- there is no point in starry-eyed optimism about this situation."
Ames extends the point:
Euromaidan, Kiev, 29 November 2013
"Ukrainians do have a sense of people power that is rare in the world, and it goes back to the first major protests in 2000, through the success of the Orange Revolution. The masses understand their power-in-numbers to overthrow bad governments, but they haven't forged a populist politics to change their situation and redistribute power by redistributing wealth.

"So they wind up switching from one oligarchical faction to another, forming broad popular coalitions that can be easily co-opted by the most politically organized minority factions within -- neoliberals, neofascists, or Kremlin tools. All of whom eventually produce more of the same shitty life that leads to the next revolution."
While I agree with Ames's basic point here, I would add is that maybe "populist politics" is part of the problem, to the extent that it tends to mask class differences and other stratifications within "the people."

One important issue that neither of these two articles deal with much is the politics of Ukraine's fascist organizations. What do they stand for and how they relate to other political forces, Ukraine's oligarchic factions, and the great powers jockeying for influence in the country? I will explore this question in a follow-up post.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
Who are Ukraine's fascists?
U.S. fascists debate the conflict in Ukraine


Ukraine does have some genuine leftist organizations. Here are some recent statements from two of them.

From the Autonomous Workers Union, an anarchist group:

"Ukraine after Yanukovych: 50 shades of brown - Autonomous Workers Union"

"Statement on the situation in Ukraine - Autonomous Workers Union"

From Borotba (Struggle), a Marxist group:

"Communiqué #4 of the 'Borotba' union and Centre of Anti-fascist Resistance: The government of ultraliberals and Nazis"

"Communiqué #3 of the 'Borotba' union and of the Centre of Antifascist Resistance: Ukraine is on the brink of fascist dictatorship"

[Link added 3/1/14:] The following interview offers an excellent and wide-ranging analysis of the anti-Yanukovych movement, including the movement’s class composition, the responses of various left groups, and many other topics:

Maidan and its contradictions: interview with a Ukrainian revolutionary syndicalist

Photo credits

Photos by Mstyslav Chernov (Self-photographed, [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TORCH anti-fascist network forms

Several former chapters of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) have formed a new anti-fascist network called TORCH. They write, "This isn't a fracture or schism coming from internal strife but the result of the realization that the blueprint laid out in a time before the internet no longer serves as a sufficient model for combating fascism.... Because of changes in the current political climate as well as our own political development, our understanding of what fascism is and how it relates to other political entities such as the working class, capital, and the state has evolved. We want to build a new network that fits our needs and politics. One that is more relevant and appealing to a new generation of anti-fascists." So far they haven't spelled out what these political changes are or how they will affect anti-fascist work, but it's early days yet.

TORCH includes affiliate groups in Los Angeles; Central Florida; Central Texas; Bloomington and Lafayette, Indiana; Philadelphia; and Chicago. Its points of unity are closely based on the ARA unity principles, but with some differences. For instance, the first ARA point reads, "We go where they go…. Never let the Nazis have the street!" TORCH replaces this with "We disrupt fascist and far right organizing and activity" -- a shift that might reflect greater emphasis on combating fascist activities online. Also, while ARA's point #3 proclaims a "non-sectarian defense of anti-fascists" despite political differences within the ARA network, TORCH specifies, "We not only support each other within the network, but we also support people outside the network who we believe have similar aims or principles."

For more information about TORCH or to get involved, see

Friday, January 03, 2014

Interface articles on the far right: Part two -- ecology and localism

[This is second of two posts about articles on the far right in the November 2013 issue of Interface. The first post discussed an article about Autonomous Nationalists in Germany.]

For years, the anti-globalization and ecology movements have brought together people from both the left and the right. Some leftists are fine with this, but others regard it as a serious problem, a dynamic that both legitimizes rightist ideology and organizations and also bolsters anti-liberatory tendencies within the left itself. The 2001 book My Enemy's Enemy: essay on globalization, fascism and the struggle against capitalism, was one of the first works to address the issue. With contributions from activists in Europe and North America, My Enemy's Enemy criticized far right involvement in the campaign against the World Trade Organization, eco-theorist Edward Goldsmith's neo-fascist connections, and the anti-globalist collaboration between hard rightist Pat Buchanan and left-liberal activist Ralph Nader.

Since then, there have been a number of other critiques of far-right tendencies within the ecology and antiglobalization movements, such as Regina Cochrane's excellent "Rural poverty and impoverished theory: Cultural populism, ecofeminism, and global justice." (Unfortunately, this article is now hidden behind a pay wall, but part of its argument is summarized in Michael Barker's "Questioning Vandana Shiva."

Now, sociologist Mi Park offers a helpful introduction to this discussion in the November 2013 issue of Interface, a journal "for and about social movements." Her article, "The trouble with eco-politics of localism: too close to the far right? Debates on ecology and globalization," addresses left-right intersections in various countries of the Global North. Although Park doesn't break any new ground here, she offers a good analysis and many useful details.

Park organizes her discussion around three themes: "Cultural diversity should be preserved," "the environment must be protected," [and] "localism is a desirable alternative to globalization" (319). She points out that, although these ideas are often thought of as progressive, many far rightists now use them to promote ethnic chauvinism and inequality. European New Right ideologists and others use the concept of cultural diversity to mask racial bigotry and claim that ethnic exclusion is needed to protect "indigenous" European cultures. Anti-immigrant lobby groups draw on the work of environmental Malthusians such as Edward Goldsmith, who argue, in Park's words, that "to build an ecologically sustainable society,... we must first control our population by reducing birth rates and maintaining zero-net immigration" (326). And right-wing nationalists in wealthy countries use localist rhetoric to fuel xenophobia and "benefit their own business communities against others" (331).

On the left, Park argues, the situation is more complex. As a general rule, left-wing ecologist and anti-globalization groups aim to reduce inequality, not increase it, and advocate inclusiveness and solidarity between ethnic groups, not exclusion and segregation. But Park highlights many "troubling signs" (337). Some left-leaning groups do advocate immigration control, and some have helped to lead localist initiatives that fuel national chauvinism, such as "Buy American" or "Buy Canadian" campaigns. Some ecology groups have promoted "fair trade" agreements that include labor and environmental standards, yet such measures "are either rarely enforced or used very selectively, against economic rivals for geo-political reasons" (336).

Park is especially critical of localist politics on the left. She faults many leftist critics of globalization for framing the issue as a struggle between good local communities and bad multinational corporations and banks. Park rejects "the myth of [the] innocent, harmonious community of small community producers and farmers" (336) and notes that "in the absence of social justice activism, the local can be the arena where xenophobic groups proliferate and thrive." Thus "political localism, contrary to the wishes of some left-wing groups, can undermine the ability of the state to redistribute resources to benefit economically marginalized and poor regions" (333). At the same time, blaming the ills of globalization on greedy bankers or speculators -- rather than capitalism as a system -- dangerously evokes right-wing populist and specifically antisemitic themes.

While there are many problems with relying on centralized state action to benefit oppressed communities, the basic point still holds that political decentralization can bolster inequality and oppression. That's why "states rights," for example, has been a rallying cry for white supremacists against federal civil rights laws and court decisions. Overall, the analytic tools Park offers for assessing ecology and anti-globalist politics are a lot more useful than the tools Raphael Schlembach provides for understanding far right politics in the same issue of Interface. (See my previous post.)

Park's article features examples from a number of countries, mainly English-speaking ones. The recent "New Zealand Not for Sale" campaign brought together the Labour Party, Greens, and other left groups -- along with right-wing nationalists -- against Chinese purchase of New Zealand farms. The NZ Greens also opposed an electronics contract with the Chinese firm Huawei, claiming it was part of a Chinese government strategy "to buy up land and infrastructure" in New Zealand and elsewhere. Park notes that these campaigns have been criticized for fomenting anti-Chinese nationalism, especially given that there has been no such opposition to U.S. or Australian direct investment in New Zealand, both of which are greater than Chinese investment.

The article also includes a substantial bibliography. Park doesn't cite My Enemy's Enemy or Regina Cochrane's work, but she does point readers to other interesting contributions, such as Derek Wall, Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools, and John Moore, "Leftwing Xenophobia in New Zealand." I was intrigued by several quotes from a work cited as "Bonefeld 2006," which is somehow missing from the bibliography but with some digging turns out to be Werner Bonefeld's "Anti-globalization and the Question of Socialism."

Coupled with Raphael Schlembach's article on autonomous nationalism, Mi Park's article is a new departure for Interface. (Judging by the tables of contents, almost none of the articles in previous issues have addressed right-wing movements or rightist tendencies within left movements.) I hope the journal will feature more writings in this area, by both scholars and activists, and from a variety of analytical perspectives.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Interface articles on the far right: Part one -- Autonomous Nationalists

The November 2013 issue of Interface includes two interesting articles about the far right. Interface is an interesting project -- an international, multilingual journal that brings together activists and academics to share knowledge "for and about social movements." The journal's politics are broadly leftist. It's freely available online and has been publishing for about five years.

In a statement titled "Who We Want to Reach," the Interface editors say that they don't want to produce either "pure" theory or simply descriptive accounts. Rather, they aim to contribute to "praxis-centered theorizing" on social movement activity. If the two articles that caught my attention are representative, then the results are promising but uneven. One of the articles does a much better job than the other at providing theoretical analysis that's useful for guiding political work.

The two articles are:
Both pieces are pretty academic in format and language, but both offer useful information and address issues that have been ignored by many leftists. This blog post will focus on the article about Autonomous Nationalists. I'll address the second article in a follow-up post.

Schlembach's article discusses an important sub-current within the German far right that has emerged over the past decade. Autonomous Nationalists are neo-nazi street fighters who have adopted many of the styles and symbols of anarchists and other leftists. They've replaced skinhead-style bomber jackets and combat boots with black hoodies and baseball caps, and favor hip hop graffiti art over German Fraktur. They also emphasize autonomy, decentralism, and DIY culture rather than discipline and honor, are skeptical of personality cults, and promote a "spontaneous aggressiveness" at demonstrations (303) that can put them at odds not only with anti-fascists and the police but even with more established fascist organizations. Autonomous Nationalists have an uneasy relationship with the National Democrat Party (NPD) and other established fascist parties. And, Schlembach reports, while far right violence in Germany has primarily targeted immigrants and asylum seekers, Autonomous Nationalist violence more often targets leftists.

Many far rightists denounce corporate globalization and even capitalism, but some Autonomous Nationalists "call for boycotts of well known neo-Nazi clothing brands that produce clothing abroad [and] attack them for selling out and turning into 'capitalist companies'" (303). And while international networking among fascists is common, "the Autonomous Nationalists make special efforts to integrate foreign activists into their activities in Germany. This, together with the use of new social media and the English language, results in a fast dissemination of ideas and repertoires to other European countries" (312).

The Autonomous Nationalists aren't very numerous (in 2009, the German government estimated they formed about 10 percent of the neo-nazi movement, with 400-500 activists) but they are important because they show vividly that it's dangerous to equate progressive politics with any specific style or even with more substantive values such as autonomy or internationalism. Autonomous Nationalists are the latest version, but fascists have been appropriating leftist politics in distorted form since the time of Mussolini. It's a basic part of what they do.

Schlembach's article is quite useful for its reportage about the Autonomous Nationalists. Ironically, given the article's academic tone, its analysis is much weaker. Despite a few references to other fascists, Schlembach does little to place the Autonomous Nationalists in a larger historical or political context. He makes no effort to relate Autonomous Nationalism to parallel developments such as National Anarchism, which also borrows heavily from current leftist movements. And while the article describes Autonomous Nationalists' racial politics as "ethno-pluralist," there's no mention of the European New Right, which is where the term ethno-pluralism comes from.

To Schlembach, "the principles of networked, decentralized and individualistic organization stand in complete opposition to the stated aim of a national organic order" and thus Autonomous Nationalists' means and ends are in "obvious conflict" (314). That's true if we assume that the fascist ideal is a centralized, totalitarian state a la Hitler's Germany -- in other words, if we overlook the European New Right, leaderless resistance, white separatism, National Anarchism, and many other developments in fascist politics over the past thirty years.

I'm glad that Interface published this article and is addressing current-day rightist tendencies such as Autonomous Nationalism. But as an example of practice-centered theorizing, Schlembach's article falls short. To explore these developments usefully requires a broader and deeper view of far right movements and a more inclusive and dynamic conception of fascism.