Jul 9, 2018

Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups (interview)

In this interview with Truthout, I discuss several topics related to the U.S. far right, such as fascism, populism, relations with federal security forces, and Donald Trump’s politics. The interview follows Truthout's publication of an excerpt from Insurgent Supremacists. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.
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Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.
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As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.
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Photo credit: By Tiffany Von Arnim. August 13, 2017 Patriot Prayer and Solidarity Against Hate demonstrations in Seattle. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 5, 2018

The Far Right Regards Human Inequality as “Natural” (book excerpt)

This book is about far right politics in the United States. It is an effort to understand movements such as the alt-right: what they want, what they do, who they appeal to, and how they interact with other political forces. It is also an effort to place these movements in historical context, to analyze how and why they have developed over the past half-century, and how current circumstances affect their strengths and limitations.
Truthout.org has made Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire its latest Progressive Pick of the Week and has published an excerpt from the book's introduction. Here are a few more snippets:

Before 2015 or 2016, most mainstream reporters and political pundits had never heard of the alt-right, and they scrambled to figure out what the movement was and what it stood for. Because alt-rightists didn’t look or act like stereotypical Neo-Nazis, people accused them of trying to hide their white supremacist politics behind a “benign” label, even though in fact many of them went out of their way to sound as offensive and bigoted as possible. Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many Neo-Nazis criticized it. And because some “anti-globalist” conservatives started using the alt-right label, many critics missed the distinction between fellow travelers and committed adherents — between those Trump supporters who wanted to reclaim control of the American republic for white Christian men and those who hoped for the republic’s collapse. Although media coverage of the alt-right gradually improved, this initial confusion underscored the need to rethink superficial, overgeneralized, and outmoded conceptions, and to recognize the far right as a dynamic, changing collection of movements.
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Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, my approach begins with a specific historical turning point: in the 1970s and 1980s, for the first time since World War II, rightists in significant numbers began to withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right’s traditional role as defender of the established order, as one of the forces helping economic and political elites to maintain social control. In my view, the resulting division between oppositional and system-loyal rightists is more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, economics, or other factors.
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The far right presents multiple kinds of threats. In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several more immediate reasons to take the far right seriously. First, far rightists carry out harassment and violence against targeted groups, and they encourage other people to do the same. Second, far rightists create more space for system-loyal forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, both by offering an example for system-loyal groups to learn from, and also by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look legitimate by comparison. Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Fourth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them.
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Photo credit: By Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA (Charlottesville-1520282) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

May 23, 2018

"The alt-right wants to replace the USA with an ethno-state": interview with Matthew N. Lyons

The German leftist newspaper Junge Welt recently published an interview with me by Gabriel Kuhn, under the title "Die 'Alt-Right' will USA zu Ethnostaat umwandeln" [The "alt-right" wants to replace the USA with an ethno-state]. The interview refers to my 2015 book Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen: Die extreme Rechte in den USA [Aryans, Patriarchs, Supermen: The Far Right in the USA], which Gabriel translated into German and which was published by Unrast Verlag. An English language version of the interview is below.

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Kuhn: When your book Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen was released in 2015, few people understood how relevant it would be only a year later. How strong are the connections between Donald Trump and the far right?

Lyons: More than any other major presidential candidate in decades, Donald Trump benefited from far right support and emphasized themes that appeal to far rightists, such as Islamophobia, scapegoating immigrants, and a populist attack on the Republican Party’s conservative leadership. His ties with the alt-right, although indirect, were particularly strong through advisors such as Steve Bannon. After the election, alt-rightists proclaimed themselves the vanguard of the Trump coalition. However, alt-rightists never saw Trump as one of their own, but rather as someone who could slow down “white genocide” and open up political space for them to promote their own message. They have been increasingly disappointed as the Trump administration has largely pursued a conventional conservative agenda on issues such as taxes, health care, and deregulation of industry. Trump’s military strikes against the Syrian government shocked and angered alt-rightists and also many Patriot movement activists. They saw the strikes as proof that Trump has been pressured or bought off by neoconservatives and globalist elites, forces which alt-rightists (but not Patriot activists) explicitly identify with Jews.

Kuhn: Which are the forces that constitute the "alt-right"?

Lyons: The alt-right originated around 2010 as a convergence of several rightist forces that were hostile to mainstream conservatism. Major influences included the French Nouvelle Droite and the European New Right more broadly (which began as a post-1968 effort to make fascist ideology more palatable by incorporating elements of liberal and leftist thought, such as an emphasis on “diversity”) and paleoconservatism (an American current that emphasized economic protectionism, cultural nationalism and opposition to most military interventions). Starting around 2015, the alt-right got a big influx of activists from the so-called manosphere, an antifeminist online subculture that promoted intense misogyny and developed coordinated online harassment as a powerful tool for attacking women and their allies. Most alt-rightists embrace some form of white nationalism, involving calls to replace all or part of the United States with a white ethno-state. Some of these activists identify with the tradition of National Socialism while others do not.

Kuhn: What does your new book Insurgent Supremacists add to Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen?

Lyons: Insurgent Supremacists updates Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen’s analysis by three years and combines it with a lot of other material, such as a chapter on the origins and development of the alt-right. There are chapters on several themes that cut across different sections of the far right, such as gender politics and anti-imperialism. Insurgent Supremacists also explores the complex interactions between the far right and certain other forces, including federal security services such as the FBI, as well as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration. Lastly, there are discussions of fascism both as a theoretical category and as a term of political debate that has often been misused against authoritarian conservatives or liberals, or against the existing U.S. government.

Kuhn: For many years, you've been involved in the blog Three Way Fight. Can you tell us more about the three ways fighting here?

Lyons: Three Way Fight argues that revolutionary leftists face two major poles of opposition: (1) the existing socio-economic order that centers on global capitalism and related systems of oppression, and (2) fascist and other far right forces that grow out of the existing system but also clash with it in real ways. We need to combat both, but they require different strategic responses. Far rightists aren’t simply tools of the ruling class, but rather form an autonomous political force that wants to secede from or overthrow liberal-pluralist political systems such as the United States and replace them with a harsher and potentially more genocidal political and social order. At the same time, by presenting themselves as the only real opponents of established elites, far rightists exploit popular grievances and seek to rally mass support away from any liberatory anti-capitalist vision.

Photo credit: Photo of Richard B. Spencer in 2016 (cropped). By Vas Panagiotopoulos - 19 November 2016, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Colors have been altered.

May 19, 2018

At the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair: Workshop on far right anti-statism

I will be doing a workshop at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair next weekend, on the topic “Anti-State Politics on the Far Right.” The book fair takes place in Montreal on May 26-27 and is free and open to the public. My workshop will be on Saturday the 26th at 11:00 am.

The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair is “for people curious about anarchism and wanting to learn more.” According to the event website, there will be “over 100 booksellers, zinesters, distributors and groups from all over Montreal, Quebec, North America and beyond, sharing their publications and materials, most of which are hard or impossible to find at mainstream book stores.” There will also be an Anarchist Film Room, displays of works by anti-authoritarian artists, and workshops and presentations in English and Franch. “Some are intended as introductions to anarchism for those who are new to anarchy, while others explore an anarchist-themed subject in some depth.”

Here’s a brief description of my workshop:

Anti-state politics on the far right
In recent decades, some far rightists have combined anarchist language and symbols with white supremacist or other anti-egalitarian philosophies, under labels such as National-Anarchism, anarcho-pluralism, and Autonomous Nationalism. Focusing on developments in the United States and Europe, this workshop will explore these groups’ ideologies, political roots, attempts to recruit or ally with left-wing anarchists, and relationship with broader trends within the far right.

Here is a longer description:

This workshop will explore the appropriation of anarchist themes and other leftist themes by sections of the far right. In recent decades, various sections of the far right – under labels such as National-Anarchism, anarcho-pluralism, and Autonomous Nationalism – have harnessed anarchist language and symbols to political philosophies that promote racial or class oppression or other forms of anti-egalitarianism. Focusing on developments in the United States and Europe, this workshop will explore the following issues related to far rightists’ appropriation of anarchist themes:
  • Opposing centralized political power doesn’t necessarily mean opposing social hierarchy and oppression. 
  • Far right anti-statism has varied ideological roots, including Third Position fascism, the European New Right, and libertarianism. 
  • Far right anti-statism partly reflects a general tendency by far rightists to use distorted versions of leftist politics – such as anti-imperialism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism, or feminism – to present themselves as a radical alternative to the status quo. 
  • Far right use of anarchist themes also reflects a broader trend toward political decentralism among many different far right currents. While fascists traditionally celebrated big, centralized states and top-down organization, many far rightists now advocate leaderless resistance, political secession, small-scale theocracy, or federations of “tribal” communities. 
  • Some anti-statist far rightists have tried to ally with, recruit from, or infiltrate left-wing anarchist circles around shared opposition to the existing state. It’s important to expose and reject these overtures. 

Apr 1, 2018

Insurgent Supremacists – a new book about the U.S. far right

My book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is due out this May and is being published jointly by Kersplebedeb Publishing and PM Press. It draws on work that I’ve been doing over the past 10-15 years but also includes a lot of new material. In this post I want to highlight some of what’s distinctive about this book and how it relates to the three way fight approach to radical antifascism. I’ll focus here on three themes that run throughout the book:

1. Disloyalty to the state is a key dividing line within the U.S. right.

Cover of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire, by Matthew N. Lyons
For purposes of this book, I define the U.S. far right not in terms of a specific ideology, but rather as those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, inevitable, or desirable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. That includes white nationalists who advocate replacing the United States with one or more racially defined “ethno-states.” But it also includes the hardline wing of the Christian right, which wants to replace secular forms of government with a full-blown theocracy; Patriot movement activists who reject the federal government’s legitimacy based on conspiracy theories and a kind of militant libertarianism; and some smaller ideological currents.

Insurgent Supremacists argues that the modern far right defined in these terms has only emerged in the United States over the past half century, as a result of social and political upheavals associated with the 1960s, and that it represents a shift away from the right’s traditional role as defenders of the established order. The book explores how the various far right currents have developed and how they have interacted with each other and with the larger political landscape.

I chose to frame the book in terms of “far right” rather than “fascism” for a couple of reasons. Discussions of fascism tend to get bogged down in definitional debates, because people have very strong—and very divided—opinions about what fascism means and what it includes. Insurgent Supremacists includes in-depth discussions of fascism as a theoretical and historical concept, but that’s not the book’s focus or overall framework.

As a related point, most discussions of fascism focus on white nationalist forces and tend to exclude or ignore other right-wing currents such as Christian rightist forces, and I think it’s important to look at these different forces in relation to each other. For example, critics of the Patriot/militia movement often argue that its hostility to the federal government was derived from Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist and antisemitic organization that played a big role in the U.S. far right in the 1980s. That’s an important part of the story, but Patriot groups were also deeply influenced by hardline Christian rightists, who (quite independently from white nationalists) had for years been urging people to arm themselves and form militias to resist federal tyranny. We rarely hear about that.

2. The far right is ideologically complex and dynamic and belies common stereotypes.

Many critics of the far right tend to assume that its ideology doesn’t amount to much more than crude bigotry, and if we identify a group as “Nazi” or as white supremacist, male supremacist, etc., that’s pretty much all we need to know. This is a dangerous assumption that doesn’t explain why far right groups are periodically able to mobilize significant support and wield influence far beyond their numbers. Yes, the far right has its share of stupid bigots, but unfortunately it also has its share of smart, creative people. We need to take far rightists’ beliefs and strategies seriously, study their internal debates, and look at how they’ve learned from past mistakes. Otherwise we’ll be fighting 21st-century battles with 1930s weapons.

For example: because of the history of fascism in the 1930s and 40s, we tend to identify far right politics with glorification of the strong state and highly centralized political organizations. Some far rightists, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, still hold to that approach, but most of them have actually abandoned it in favor of various kinds of political decentralism, from neonazis who call for “leaderless resistance” and want to carve regional white homelands out of the United States to “sovereign citizens” and county supremacists, from self-described National-Anarchists to Christian Reconstructionists who advocate a theocracy based on small-scale institutions such as local government, churches, and individual families. One of the lessons here is that opposing centralized authority isn’t necessarily liberatory at all, because repression and oppression can operate on a small scale just as well as on a large scale.

This shift to political decentralism isn’t just empty rhetoric; it’s a genuine transformation of far right politics. I think it should be examined in relation to larger cultural, political, and economic developments, such as the global restructuring of industrial production and the wholesale privatization of governmental functions in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We need to take far rightists’ beliefs and strategies seriously, study their internal debates, and look at how they’ve learned from past mistakes. Otherwise we’ll be fighting 21st-century battles with 1930s weapons.

As another example of oversimplifying far right politics, it’s standard to describe far rightists as promoting heterosexual male dominance. While that’s certainly true in broad terms, it doesn’t really tell us very much. Insurgent Supremacists maps out several distinct forms of far right politics regarding gender and sexual identity and looks at how those have played out over time within the far right’s various branches. Most far rightists vilify homosexuality, but sections of the alt-right have advocated some degree of respect for male homosexuality, based on a kind of idealized male bonding among warriors, an approach that actually has deep roots in fascist political culture.

In recent years the alt-right has promoted some of the most vicious misogyny and declared that women have no legitimate political role. But when the alt-right got started around 2010, it included men who argued that sexism and sexual harassment of women were weakening the movement by alienating half of its potential support base. This view echoed the quasi-feminist positions that several neonazi groups had been taking since the 1980s, such as the idea that Jews promoted women’s oppression as part of their effort to divide and subjugate the Aryan race. This may sound bizarre, but it’s a prime example of the far right’s capacity time and again to appropriate elements of leftist politics and harness them to its own supremacist agenda.

3. Fighting the far right and working to overthrow established systems of power are distinct but interconnected struggles.

A third core element that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart is three way fight politics: the idea that the existing socio-economic-political order and the far right represent different kinds of threats—interconnected but distinct—and that the left needs to combat both of them. This challenges the assumption, recurrent among many leftists, that the far right is either unimportant or a ruling-class tool, and that it basically just wants to impose a more extreme version of the status quo. But three way fight politics also challenges the common liberal view that in the face of a rising far right threat we need to “defend democracy” and subordinate systemic change to a broad-based antifascism. Among other huge problems with this approach, if leftists throw our support behind the existing order we play directly into the hands of the far right, because we allow them to present themselves as the only real oppositional force, the only ones committed to real change.

Insurgent Supremacists applies three way fight analysis in various ways. There’s a chapter on misuses of the charge of fascism since the 1930s, which looks at how some leftists and liberals have misapplied the fascist label either to authoritarian conservatism (such as McCarthyism or the George W. Bush administration) or to the existing political system as a whole. There’s a chapter about the far right’s relationship with Donald Trump—both his presidential campaign and his administration—which explores the complex and shifting interactions between rightist currents that want to overthrow or secede from the United States and rightist currents that don’t. During the campaign, most alt-rightists enthusiastically supported Trump not only for his attacks on immigrants and Muslims but also because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. But since the inauguration they’ve been deeply alienated by many of his policies, which largely follow a conservative script.

Three way fight analysis also informs the book’s discussion of federal security forces’ changing relationships with right-wing vigilantes and paramilitary groups. These relations have run the gamut from active support for right-wing violence (most notoriously in Greensboro in 1979, when white supremacists gunned down communist anti-Klan protesters) to active suppression (as in 1984-88, when the FBI and other agencies arrested or shot members of half a dozen underground groups). This complex history belies arguments that we should look to the federal government to protect us against the far right, as well as simplistic claims that “the cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” Forces of the state may choose to co-opt right-wing paramilitaries or crack down on them, depending on the particular circumstances and what seems most useful to help them maintain social control.

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Insurgent Supremacists isn’t intended to be a comprehensive study of the U.S. far right. Rather, it’s an attempt to offer some fresh ideas about what these dangerous forces stand for, where they come from, and what roles they play in the larger political arena. Not just to help us understand them, but so we can fight them more effectively.

Mar 17, 2018

Fascism Today Conversation Part 2: author Shane Burley interviews Matthew N. Lyons

Cover of book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It
This is the second half of a dialog between Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, and myself, author of the book’s foreword. In the first half, I interviewed Shane about the book. Here Shane interviews me about various related topics.

Burley: Your more recent work has looked heavily into how the far right has gained ground in creating alliances in the anti-imperialist left. How did this trend start in the far right? Where have white nationalists and “identitarians” made inroads in larger anti-imperialist struggles?

Lyons: The roots of the trend go back to the very origins of fascism, or even earlier. In Italy, one of the groups that helped to lay the groundwork for Mussolini’s Fascist Party was the Italian Nationalist Association, which in the early 1900s promoted a theory that Italy was a “proletarian nation” in conflict with more powerful “capitalist nations,” especially Britain and France. It was a way to reframe the idea of class struggle so that Italian workers and capitalists were on the same side against external enemies. And it was a way to claim that Italy was suffering from imperialist oppression while also claiming that it deserved to expand its own colonial possessions in Africa. The Fascist Party absorbed the Nationalists and embraced their idea of proletarian nations.

Since then, anti-imperialism has been a recurrent theme in fascist politics. During World War II, the Nazis forged ties with right-wing factions within the Palestinian and Indian nationalist movements that were struggling for independence from British rule. During the cold war, the majority of fascists sided with the United States and other western powers against the Communist bloc and against leftist insurgencies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But some fascists, such as the National Renaissance Party and Francis Parker Yockey, argued that the movement should ally with the Soviet Union and anti-colonial struggles against western imperialism, which was supposedly controlled by Jews. Later forms of fascism, such as Third Positionism and the European New Right, developed the idea of fascist anti-imperialism further and adapted it for new conditions after the Soviet Union collapsed.

In recent decades, far rightists have periodically tried to link up with leftists around anti-imperialism and related issues. The 2002 book My Enemy’s Enemy is primarily an exposé of far right forces and tendencies in the anti-globalization movement. In 1999, for example, Matt Hale of the neonazi World Church of the Creator voiced support for the anti-globalization protests in Seattle. A couple of years later, William Pierce’s National Alliance sponsored a front group called the Anti-Globalism Action Network. Since the start of the civil war in Syria, fascists in both North America and Europe have converged with some left groups such Workers World Party around shared support for Assad’s government as a supposed bulwark against western imperialism. In Italy, leftist and rightist supporters of Assad have held demonstrations together. It’s a poisonous development that’s seriously damaging for efforts to advance a genuinely liberatory anti-imperialism.

Also seriously damaging is that critiques of imperialism rooted in far right ideology have circulated and gained legitimacy among a lot of people who think of themselves as on the left. A lot of right-wing conspiracy theories about “globalist elites” (which is often a code-phrase for Jews) have been repackaged to appeal to leftist audiences, by outfits such as GlobalResearch.ca and the Voltaire Network, and by researchers such as Webster Tarpley and William Engdahl, both of whom are former members of the Lyndon LaRouche network. The recent report on red-brown alliances by the anarchist blogger “Vagabond” (which I recently reviewed on Three Way Fight) includes extensive documentation about this.

Burley: One of the successes that the European New Right (ENR), and by extension the alt-right, had was in reframing fascist politics in leftist jargon. They focused very heavily on post-colonialism, supporting national liberation movements and issues like indigenous sovereignty. Is this simply a disingenuous attempt at entryism? Have they actually had any success connecting with indigenous resistance movements? At the same time, how can anti-fascists take a strong analysis of colonialism into that work?

Lyons: To some extent, the ENR’s embrace of “indigenous sovereignty” and “diversity” is disingenuous, in that it is a calculated move to deflect charges of racism. So for example, European New Rightists such as Alain de Benoist have argued that, in calling for ethnic separatism and exclusion of non-European immigrants, they are simply defending “indigenous” European cultures against the oppressive cultural homogenization being forced on them by global capitalism. Some far rightists, such as Guillaume Faye and Michael O’Meara, have actually criticized this as a hypocritical concession to liberalism. As far as the alt-right goes, there’s been less hypocrisy, in that most alt-rightists really aren’t concerned about hiding their white supremacist beliefs.

But it’s not just a matter of hypocrisy. Because far right ethnic separatism really does clash with the policies and interests of global capitalist elites. This conflict with global capitalism isn’t about dismantling economic exploitation, but it’s a disagreement about how economic exploitation will be structured and how the benefits will be distributed. This genuine conflict is important and we tend to miss it if we only focus on the hypocrisy.

Has the ENR or the alt-right had any success connecting with indigenous resistance movements? Not that I’m aware of. But I certainly wouldn’t discount it as a possibility. It depends on what you mean by “indigenous resistance movements,” but there are plenty of right-wing political organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and some among communities of color in Europe and North America, and some of them share the ENR and alt-right’s combination of anti-egalitarianism and hostility to “globalist elites.” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was popular among Third Positionists, and he hosted neonazis at some political conferences. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam met with neonazi leader Tom Metzger in the 1980s and had a cordial relationship with the Lyndon LaRouche organization for a while in the 1990s. It’s not hard to imagine similar dynamics happening again.

How can antifascists put forward strong anti-colonial politics? For one thing, it’s crucial to analyze colonialism and imperialism as systems of exploitation and violence – rooted in the system of capitalism – rather than try to explain them in terms of subjective factors such as greed, or a specific policy such as neoliberalism, or the secret machinations of some group of evildoers. Those are all superficial, subjectivist explanations, and are the space where liberal (i.e. non-leftist) and far right critiques of the established order converge.

Coupled with that, we need to look critically at who the supposed anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist forces are and what they stand for. Just because they’re at odds with the U.S. government doesn’t make them anti-imperialist, and just because they’re anti-imperialist doesn’t mean they represent any sort of liberatory alternative. If the Ba’ath government of Syria is anti-imperialist, why did it torture people for the CIA? Why did it impose neoliberal policies? Why does it have a history of massacring Palestinians—not to mention Syrians?

Burley: Can there be a non-white fascist movement, or is it owned entirely by white supremacists and colonialism?

Lyons: How you answer this, of course, depends on how you use the term fascism. To me fascism isn’t necessarily built on a racial or even a nationalist ideology. I see fascism as a current that sets out to radically transform the political system and the culture through popular mass mobilization. It aggressively promotes an ideological vision that’s deeply hierarchical, exclusionary, and often genocidal, but also disruptive of the old order, old elites, and old mores. To me there’s a basic difference between authoritarian conservatism, which represents capitalist ruling-class interests in basically top-down fashion, and fascist movements, which may cut a deal with capitalists but represent an autonomous, right-wing force—not a ruling-class tool—and conflict with ruling-class interests in significant ways.

To get back to your question: internationally speaking, I don’t think there’s any question that fascist movements can exist and have existed outside of Europe and its settler offshoots. In the 1930s there were strong fascist movements in a number of Latin American countries, many of which had ideologies and organizational forms pretty similar to classical fascist movements in Europe. India’s Hindu nationalist movement, which is probably the largest right-wing movement in the world, is built around an organization that’s either fascist or something close to it, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was founded in 1925 around a vision to reshape Indian society based on a kind of authoritarian corporatism. It has spearheaded mass terrorism against Muslims, including some of the most horrific street violence seen in recent decades. Today its affiliate, the Bharatiya Janata Party, leads India’s coalition government, and the movement has branches among the Indian diaspora in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.

Certain sectors of the Islamic right, such as the Taliban and the Islamic State, also fit my concept of fascism, although their ideological vision is defined in religious rather than nationalist terms. You can find a lot of non-European examples that have some but not all elements of fascism. The Mengistu government in Ethiopia had a lot of fascistic features, although it’s not clear to me how much it actively mobilized a mass movement. The 969 Movement in Myanmar or Burma, which has helped to foment murderous hatred of Rohingya Muslims, is a populist mobilization but doesn’t really challenge the old order as far as I can tell.

In the United States, the system of white racial oppression as an immediate, pervasive reality makes for a very different context, but here too there are right-wing groups based in communities of color that have at least important fascistic tendencies, including a combination of militant anti-establishment politics and conspiracist scapegoating. A prime example is the New Black Panther Party, which has been repudiated by veterans of the original Black Panther Party because of its antisemitic and racially based ideology. These groups aren’t particularly large, but they have the potential to grow if people perceive them as the main oppositional force and don’t see a radical leftist alternative that speaks to them. Don Hamerquist, in “Fascism & Anti-Fascism,” urged leftists to jettison the assumption that fascist movements have to be white supremacist or even that they have to be based among white people, and he envisioned scenarios where white and non-white fascist organizations collaborate, compete, or conflict with each other. (There’s nothing says fascists can’t go to war with each other. We’ve seen that in the Ukraine in recent years, where fascists have worked in coalition with other forces on both sides of the conflict.)

Another point is that a few predominantly white fascist groups, notably the Lyndon LaRouche network, have disavowed white supremacy and made efforts to recruit people of color. The LaRouchites uphold a kind of cultural racism, glorifying “western civilization” over other cultures, but they also present themselves as champions of civil rights, and were able to recruit at least a couple of 1960s civil rights movement veterans, including James Bevel, who was their vice-presidential candidate in 1992. On a much larger scale, New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a movement that's genuinely multi-ethnic in its membership (but still mostly white led). It’s rooted in the Pentecostal and Charismatic branches of evangelical Protestantism. NAR advocates a Christian theocracy and embodies a kind of authoritarian mass politics, but it kind of straddles the line in terms of working within the existing political system or trying to dismantle it, so I would not call it a full-blown fascist current.

Burley: The alt-right has been floundering quite a bit as it heads from the world of message boards and podcasts and into real-world activism. They seem to be attempting to mimic the "identitarian" movements in Europe, but do you think that they could have the same kind of success? What potential for growth could they have in the coming few years?

Lyons: The alt-right has suffered from having its violence exposed in Charlottesville last summer, and from losing a lot of its online platforms. It’s suffered from infighting and from conflict with alt-lite groups. And it’s much more alienated from the Trump administration than it was a year ago. One of the things that alt-rightists loved most about Trump was his attack on establishment conservatism, and while they’ve applauded some of his moves, they’ve been disappointed by how much his administration has followed a conventional Republican line in practice.

So the alt-right is arguably weaker than it was a year ago, but its setbacks haven’t fundamentally undermined its longterm “metapolitical” strategy, which calls for transforming the political culture and shifting the parameters of acceptable discourse as a prelude to transforming institutions. Alt-right groups are actively recruiting on college campuses. Alt-right activism both fuels and is fueled by the current sharp upsurge in supremacist violence and scapegoating. And the movement has the potential to rebound or lay the groundwork for another incarnation of far right politics. The alt-right is small, but it has a huge reservoir of potential supporters in the millions of white men who feel threatened by immigrants of color and Black Lives Matter and feminism and LGBT activism. Even if most of those folks gravitate toward system-loyal political forces in or around the Republican Party, some fraction of them may be drawn to groups that have rejected loyalty to the United States in favor of ethno-state white nationalism. As Trump betrays and abandons people who looked to him to turn things around, the alt-right may benefit.

Burley: There seems to be some confusion in the terms that we talk about the alt-right, Trump, and populism. Given your extensive work on populism in America, how do you define the term? What does Trump have in common with the rise of populist movements in Europe, from Brexit to the AfD and Marine Le Pen? What role does populism play in the rise of fascism?

Lyons: In Right-Wing Populism in America, Chip Berlet and I used Margaret Canovan’s definition—populism combines two elements: celebration of “the people” and some form of anti-elitism. I still think that’s a good definition. It means that populism is a broad political category that encompasses many different specific forms. All kinds of populism tend to oversimplify social conflicts, but some of them challenge real structures of inequality and oppression to varying degrees, while other kinds of populism bolster these structures by diverting popular anger and frustration into anti-elite scapegoating—blaming oppression on groups that aren’t actually the main oppressors, or may not be oppressors at all.

John Judis in The Populist Explosion boils down the distinction between left-wing and right-wing populism this way: left-wing populism frames the struggle in binary terms, as “the people” versus “the elite,” while right-wing populism sees the people as targeting both the elite and one or more outgroups (such as immigrants or people of color), who aren’t seen as powerful but rather as tools being use by the elite to attack the people. This is similar to the framework Chip and I offered, although Judis puts it more succinctly. So Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was an example of left-wing populism, because it tended to frame everything in terms of a big binary economic struggle, which was meaningful but also tended to gloss over a lot of other important social divisions such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Donald Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, exemplified right-wing populism, in that it invoked anti-elitism in both economic and cultural terms, but combined it with quite blatant scapegoating of outgroups, starting with Muslims and immigrants and continuing from there.

There are definitely parallels between Trump’s rise and the upsurge of right-wing populist movements in Europe: all of them draw strength from people’s economic frustrations and anger but channel it into anti-immigrant and Islamophobia scapegoating, coupled with a distorted kind of anti-elitism that doesn’t challenge the underlying systems of power. Similarly, there are parallels between the left populism of a Bernie Sanders and European left-wing populist parties such as Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, all of which avoid right-wing populism’s focus on ethnoreligious scapegoating but also offer only a simplistic anti-elitism. That kind of binary politics is inadequate for addressing the dynamics of oppression—for example, the ways that many people can be genuinely angry at the rich and also scared of losing their own relative privilege over other groups—and it’s inadequate for developing a radical alternative.

What role does populism play in the rise of fascism? In my view, all fascist movements are examples of right-wing populism. We tend to focus on fascism’s terroristic and repressive side, but fascism also centers on a drive to actively and continually mobilize large masses of people outside of traditional channels, to reshape the culture and institutions according to the fascists’ ideological vision. In classical fascism that mobilization happened in a number of different ways: through mass ritual and spectacle, through paramilitary street fighting organizations, through groups for specific constituencies such as youth and women, and through mass political parties. Two of the main reasons I think it’s a mistake to describe the Trump administration as fascist are that you don’t have that kind of mass mobilization, and you don’t have a substantive challenge to the established political order. The two reasons are connected. During the Trump presidential campaign there were mass rallies, but there was no effort to build a lasting organization. Once he came into office, Trump had no independent base of his own, no organized counterweight to the conservative establishment and governmental bureaucracy he had railed against. So whatever his intentions, he didn’t have much choice except to rely on the organized forces that were already in place.

*                    *                    *

Cover of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire, by Matthew N. Lyons
Several of the points in this post are addressed in more detail in my forthcoming book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (PM Press and Kesplebedeb Publishing, forthcoming April 2018).

Feb 4, 2018

Major report on red-brown alliances from new anarchist website

Marchers carrying flags with black hammer and sickle in a white circle on a red field
Demonstration of the National Bolshevik Party in Russia,
9 May 2006
The term “red-brown alliance” refers to political collaboration or synthesis between fascists and radical leftists. Such alliances strengthen the far right, spread ideological poison and confusion among left-minded people, and are disastrous for building liberatory movements. Fascists have been pushing red-brown politics for generations – sometimes openly, sometimes by repackaging their ideas to sound leftist. Unfortunately, sections of the left have repeatedly gone along by forming coalitions with far rightists or offering platforms for far right propaganda.

Principled leftists have criticized this dynamic repeatedly, for example with regard to anti-Gulf War activism, the anti-globalization movement, Occupy Wall Street, and leftist media. However, the problem has continued and in some ways arguably has gotten worse.

Last month a highly detailed and informative new report appeared, titled “An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and the Western Left.” The 46,000-word report is the first post on a new blog, Ravings of a Radical Vagabond, whose author, “Vagabond,” is identified simply as “an Anarchist [who is] currently unaffiliated to any party, group or organization.” This means that the report (which I’ll call “Red-Brown Alliances” for short) can only be judged on its own merits. In my view, “Red-Brown Alliances” is a major contribution that’s based on careful research and solid politics, as witness the following excerpt from the conclusion:
“[P]olitical confusion [specifically referring to far right conspiracist ideas presented as left wing analysis] is dangerous as it serves as recruitment for fascism, which is obvious in how...the American neo-fascist movement is explicitly aiming to attract leftists by using anti-capitalist rhetoric, and how sections of the so-called ‘anti-imperialist Left’ repeat the same positions as fascists, for example concerning Syria, Libya and Ukraine, while remaining in denial about this fact and labeling all criticism of their reactionary positions as ‘McCarthyism’.
“As radical leftist anti-fascists, anti-racists, anti-colonialists, and anti-capitalists struggling for liberation, we can fight against imperialism, against racism, and against fascism at the same time, and we can oppose the American war machine and oppose colonialism without siding with reactionary and oppressive entities. We can support liberation in Palestine, Bahrain, India, Venezuela and everywhere else where people are struggling against oppression without allying to fascists or allowing them to try co-opting our movements. Unfortunately sections of the radical movement have failed or have been purposely misled by crypto-fascists.... [W]e badly need to do better, comrades.”
As corollary to the above, Vagabond emphasizes the importance of opposing both “the nationalist and colonialist ideology of Zionism” and the racist ideology of antisemitism – including hatred and scapegoating of Jews that is presented in the name of anti-Zionism.

“Red-Brown Alliances” begins with historical background on “some lesser known forms of fascism” that advocated an alliance with the Soviet Union or a synthesis of anti-capitalism with antisemitism and other far right themes. These included National Bolshevism and Strasserism in Germany of the 1920s and 30s, Francis Parker Yockey in the 1940s and 50s, and the origins of the European New Right and Third Positionism in the 1960s and 70s. The report continues with sections on Duginism and other fascist currents centered in Russia, the Lyndon LaRouche movement, Syrian far right groups such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and Mussalaha, and conspiracist organizations such as the Voltaire Network and the Centre for Research on Globalisation. There is extensive documentation of researchers and activists who have been featured on leftist media yet have far right politics. The last part of “Red-Brown Alliances” focuses on leftist organizations (such as Workers World Party and its offshoot the Party for Socialism and Liberation) and ostensibly left-leaning individuals (such as Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney) who have long patterns of making common cause with fascists and other right-wing authoritarians in the name of anti-imperialism.

“Red-Brown Alliances” includes an extraordinary amount of information, and I can’t evaluate all of its statements, but for topics on which I am knowledgeable nearly everything rings true. For example, the report includes an unusually rich and nuanced discussion of the LaRouche network, noting its shifting uses of racism, complicated relationship with the Russian far right, and ripple-effect influence through former members (and still active conspiracists) William Engdahl and Webster Tarpley. On Ramsey Clark, the report doesn’t just detail his decades of support for LaRouche and other far right figures, but also notes that as U.S. attorney general in the 1960s, Clark set up coordination between the FBI’s COINTELPRO and the CIA’s own illegal domestic surveillance program.

In recent years, red-brown politics has often taken the form of far rightists and sections of the left converging in support of, or collaboration with, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, policies, and international allies – notably the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – because they clash with U.S. and western imperialist interests. Three Way Fight has addressed these convergences in the past, for example here, but Vagabond does so far more systematically and in greater detail.

“Red-Brown Alliances” emphasizes that Russia is under a right-wing capitalist state and “the very idea that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin might be anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist is pure propaganda with no basis in reality....” At the same time, the report warns against “Russophobic hate” and liberal conspiracy theories that blame right-wing successes in the United States on Putin’s secret manipulations. For example, Vagabond criticizes 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for meeting with Putin and whitewashing the authoritarian nature of his rule, yet cautions that “the claims of American liberals that Stein is a ‘Russian asset’ are clearly conspiracy mongering meant to deflect from Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss due to her own mediocrity as a neoliberal candidate by scapegoating third party voters....”

In a report of this kind and on this scale, it’s to be expected that there will be some factual errors. So far, all I’ve found is that Vagabond garbles the name of the Bharatiya Janata Party (political vehicle of India’s fascistic Hindu nationalist movement and dominant force in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing coalition) as “Bharat Janatiya Party” and incorrectly says it supported the Axis powers during World War II. (In fact the BJP was only created in 1980, but leaders of its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS], openly praised Hitler and the Nazis.) Hopefully Vagabond will correct such mistakes as they are identified. [Note: Vagabond immediately corrected the two errors in response to this post.]

“An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances” is an important work that deserves to be widely read and discussed on the left. It has already been picked up by some other leftist sites, such as libcom.org. For supplemental links in English and French, see Tendance Coatesy blog’s useful commentary.

Thanks to John Garvey for alerting me to the “Red-Brown Alliances” report.

Photo credit: 

By Psalti Michel - 9 May 2006, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been flipped to display flag emblems more clearly.