Aug 6, 2019

Extra-state violence and right-wing strategy: a conversation

Wall with spray-painted graffiti: "Zona Antifa"
Where is the rightist onslaught headed and how should we respond? These days, horrific events keep piling on top of each other so fast it’s hard to keep up. In an attempt to get a bit of long-term perspective, Bo in Seattle initiated the following dialog recently on Facebook. We republish it here in hopes it will offer some useful pieces of a larger picture and stimulate further discussion.

What is happening now? How does it compare to things that happened earlier? What might we see on the horizon? What should we do?

Though much of it is secular, today’s US far-right represents the spread of the success of the strategy of the religious right post-Vietnam. In the 80s and 90s you had shootouts and bombings of feds and abortion doctors and sometimes deadly conflicts with racist skinheads (“boneheads”), but it was the more above-ground organized militancy of Operation Rescue and later the patriot/militia/minuteman movement who really showed how their side could work to change society. They had success even under triangulators like Bush 1 and Obama, and now with figures like Cruz and Trump on the national stage they can take it further.

For the first time in at least 40 years organized non-state actors are being encouraged and excused by both some local cops and some national politicians to commit physical attacks on multiple categories of oppressed people, the activist/political left, and parts of the extended state (public lands, Planned Parenthood). “Liberal” cities drained of their working (and street-fighting) classes by deindustrialization and gentrification can now be fought for block by block by the likes of the Proud Boys. They have had failures but also successes in getting the media to parrot their narrative of the fight. Trump has rallied and remade the middle levels of the Republican Party after him and will likely win re-election.

The erosion of the right to vote by gerrymandering, excluding felons and the undocumented is important-maybe even more important ultimately, but the organized extra-state political violence seems like the really new thing in this moment.

How well can the Proud Boys, the Christian/patriot/militia movement, Trump, the Republican Party, and law enforcement stick together? (There is also the factor of the super hard right like former members of the Nationalist Front or the lone wolves continually attempting various shootings and bombings, but as with the 80s and 90s I expect the more above-ground groups to have more impact.)

Who are these organized far rightists, and who do they hate (us, obviously)? The “free helicopter rides” set can be okay with some people who aren’t exactly the titular hero of “American Sniper,” but at least 40% of the population are better off dead in their eyes. The winking OK to get physical with us is a dream come true for them.

With Trump we have something like Reagan, Roberston, and Buchanan in one person: Both a successful national politician/president and someone who at least excuses a far-right movement, even if he doesn’t always lead it. There’s another way these days are different from the Reagan era too, though: This time it’s the US military instead of the Soviet one that is grinding its gears in Afghanistan and overstretching itself elsewhere. This means we have to be attentive to new shifts in the landscape of production/trade, terrorism/war, and climate change that could affect the state, the far right, and our organizing in ways that will surprise us all, presenting new dangers and opportunities.

Unless we fight for and win an egalitarian alternative, the next way of organizing global society with likely be some kind of ruined barbarism in which people are directly owned, which I take as a feature of both absolute monarchy and fascism. And American history.

The Proud Boys (at least) are (at least) proto-fascist in their love of the nation and organized activity to directly subjugate the oppressed and repress the political left. They say “go make me a sandwich, b*tch” and beat women activists bloody in front of Planned Parenthood while cops watch. This is the heart of their politics. So I feel comfortable calling them and anyone to their right “fash” as short-hand.

However, getting at what the hell is going on and what we should do doesn’t really map onto 1919 Germany or Italy (or Amerikkka) in any super-clean way that is immediately illuminating. We need to keep thinking, keep organizing, and keep being totally honest about our politics. It will definitely mean at least trying to be prepared for physical confrontation. It definitely won’t mean silencing our criticism of various reformist and opportunist currents, or getting wrapped up in the electoral spectacle.

For now we have to be able to mitigate the far-right threat to left freedom of assembly/organizing/movement. We should deal with it as a necessary element of all our organizing. We defend ourselves because we need to organize, we organize because we need to rebuild consciousness and power, we need consciousness and power to fight for and win the world we want. So when we work to defend our organizing from the far-right we need to do defense in a way that builds consciousness and power to those revolutionary ends (i.e. don’t rely on the law). We need to survive, fight, and grow all at once, and under our own power. When we build unions of tenants or workers, without hitching them to (some section of) the ruling class and its state, and while being totally open about our politics, we need to be ready to take on not just the bosses and the law but also the extra-legal far-right, who are one more hardship against us after the time card, the rent, the prison cell, and the border wall, making our self-organization both more challenging and more necessary.

I have a few thoughts in response to this piece -- not disagreeing but delving a bit more into some of the issues raised:

1. The upsurge in violence by non-state actors with support from sections of the state points to the potential return to vigilante repression as a major part of the U.S. system of social control. Vigilante repression (pogroms, lynchings, and countless daily smaller attacks against members of oppressed communities) has always been integral to U.S. society, while for most of U.S. history the repressive power of the state itself was relatively small. For the past half century, however, many forms of vigilante repression have been delegitimized, a shift that’s been coupled with a massive growth of the state’s repressive apparatus. Vigilante repression’s resurgence now should be seen in relation to current trends with regard to the state, which are in some ways contradictory: the repressive apparatus is still growing and (through rapid developments in IT) taking on functions that were previously unimagined, but in other ways the state is also shrinking and fragmenting, partly due to sustained rightist and business-led drives for deregulation and privatization of state functions (including police, military, and prisons, among others).

2. The political right in the U.S. isn’t nearly as unified as it’s often portrayed. There’s a broad agreement on wanting to roll back the social, political, and cultural changes associated with the 1960s and its aftermath, and to re-intensify traditional lines of oppression, but there’s a lot of disagreement about ideology, strategy, and whether the existing political system is salvageable. And because U.S. society has changed a lot in the past half century, and because sectors of the right have absorbed and co-opted elements of these changes in various ways, we’ve seen new developments and seeming contradictions, such as the Christian right mobilizing large numbers of women, or Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, etc. recruiting men of color in significant numbers. It would be strategically dangerous for us to ignore these complexities.

3. The relationship of the ruling class to all this shouldn’t be taken for granted, and we should be skeptical of the standard leftist assumption that the right serves capitalist interests. Significant sections of the right genuinely hate the ruling class as much as leftists do, and those that don’t often have other priorities. Trump won the presidency although capitalists favored his opponent by a large margin. Capitalists obviously have lots of influence within the right, but they are often reacting to pressures from below as much as pushing their own agendas. We should assume that capitalists will pursue multiple and to some extent conflicting political strategies, including both rightist and anti-rightist ones.

I believe point #3 is often overlooked by the left. Without it we have no way to understand how Golden Dawn has failed in Greece despite the left ALSO failing. It seems the center has continued to hold by offering both carrots and sticks to both left and right.

Point #1 reminds me that police killings of Black people have overtaken the most deadly years of lynching. When I read that stat some years ago it occurred to me: The police have replaced vigilantes as the extra-legal executioner whose very public killings terrorize a whole population. But the extra-legal part is making a comeback as well- some white supremacists have said they were "radicalized" (I read it as emboldened) by George Zimmerman. In this ongoing tradeoff between state and non-state violence we can understand the US a lot better by looking at other settler states like Mexico and Israel than by looking at Europe. 

Photo credit: Albertomos, 15 November 2011 (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 7, 2019

Some thoughts on fascism and the current moment

Image of graffiti art showing a person smashing a swastika with a guitar.
This is the text of a talk I gave at the Left Forum in New York City on 29 June 2019, as part of a panel entitled “What Is Fascism and How Do We Fight It.” The panel was sponsored by the NYC-based group United Against Racism and Fascism, and the other presenters focused on that group’s organizing work. I’ve added a postscript to my talk that addresses some of the questions and criticisms raised during the discussion period.

We are living in a dangerous and frightening period in U.S. history. We have lived through two and half years of the most right-wing and authoritarian presidential administration in living memory. We’ve seen an upsurge of militant rightist forces with an array of repressive and supremacist agendas—alt-rightists, white nationalists, Patriot groups, Christian rightists, and others. And we’ve seen a rise in supremacist violence by the state and by forces outside the state—against immigrants and refugees, against people of color, against Muslims, against trans people, against Jews, and against others.

So it makes sense that people have been talking about fascism, as we try to understand these threats and mobilize against them. This is what I want to focus on in my talk this morning: How can we use the concept of fascism to better understand the current situation in the U.S., and to better organize to change it?

Clearly, at least some of the forces we are facing are fascist, but which ones? Neonazis for sure, but what about the Proud Boys, who celebrate “western chauvinism” but include men of color as a significant fraction of their membership? What about Christian right groups, whose supremacist politics centers on gender and sexuality rather than race or ethnicity? And what about Donald Trump—is he a fascist? Is the Republican Party? Is the whole U.S. political system? There are a lot of different ways that people are answering these questions.

Some of the talk about fascism has been helpful, but a lot of it has been vague or confusing or distracting.

Some people use “fascism” to mean any dictatorship or any racist politics. As political rhetoric that speaks to the sense of urgency that we need to stop these things now—but as political analysis it’s too broad to be helpful. Not every dictatorship is fascist. Hitler’s or Mussolini’s dictatorship was very different from an absolute monarchy or a theocratic regime or a military junta, and if we call all of them fascist, we hide those differences.

And not all racism—not even all genocide—is fascist. Institutionalized racial oppression and mass killing have been foundational to the United States from the beginning, and white supremacist ideology has been dominant in the U.S. for most of this country’s history. That history is interconnected with fascism, and it has helped to inspire fascists such as Hitler, but if we say that the United States has been fascist throughout its history, then the term loses meaning.

Recently, some writers have started using the term “neoliberal fascism” to describe the right-wing upsurge. It’s a term that represents a broad unity of right-wing forces, from pro-capitalist think-tanks, which focus on things like deregulating industry and privatizing government services, to the Trump administration with its border repression and trade wars, all the way through to neonazi gangs, which want to build an all-white ethno-state. The idea of neoliberal fascism is that all of these forces are basically pulling in the same direction. The problem is—that’s really not true. Most of the groups in the U.S. that I would call fascist loathe and despise neoliberalism and the business interests it’s intended to serve. And most neoliberals oppose things like border walls and trade wars—not to mention white ethno-states—as incompatible with their vision of a free market where capitalists can exploit workers wherever and whenever they want.

Right-wing forces in the United States are not united. They disagree profoundly about what they want to achieve and how they want to get there. They pose different kinds of threats to our communities and our movements, and they require different strategies to combat them. We need a concept of fascism that clarifies and illuminates these differences—not one that hides them under language that’s too broad and too vague. So I want to offer some suggestions on how to use the term fascism in a way that’s analytically meaningful and strategically helpful in our current situation.

I think it’s important to get away from the idea that there’s some objectively true definition of fascism out there. Unless we’re talking about Mussolini’s movement in Italy —Fascism with a capital F—we’re talking about fascism as a general category, and we’re making determinations about which movements and regimes should be included and which should not. And there’s nothing objectively true about how we draw those boundaries. Rather, it’s a question of whether a certain concept of fascism is useful or not —whether it helps us understand political connections and political differences, and helps guide us to act more effectively.

To be useful, conceptions of fascism should be specific enough that they don’t lump everything together, but they should be flexible enough that they allow for diversity within the fascist current, and flexible enough to cover changes in fascism over time. In the 1930s and 40s, Italian Fascism and German Nazism had a lot in common, but they also had important differences in what they believed and what they did. And today, even groups that directly lay claim to the heritage of 1930s fascism differ from it in important ways.

Without getting too focused on precise wording, I want to outline a few features that I think are key elements of fascist politics in the U.S. today. Those features are:
  • contradictory relationship with the established order, 
  • rejection of the existing political system, 
  • a totalizing effort to transform society, and 
  • independent, organized mass mobilization. 
Let me break those down. Contradictory relationship with the established order means groups or movements that aim to intensify social hierarchy, oppression, and exploitation but also challenge established elites in real ways. It’s a combination of repressiveness and rebelliousness that can sound like a weird mix of conservatism and radicalism, and it speaks primarily to people who feel threatened from both above and below. These folks hold some degree of power or privilege in society, which they fear is being challenged by oppressed groups rising up, but they also feel beaten down by political, economic, or cultural elites above them. This is the classic dynamic of right-wing populism, and it describes a whole host of political currents in this country, only some of which are fascist.

The second feature I mentioned is rejection of the existing political system. I think a key dividing line within the U.S. political right is between those forces that are basically loyal to the existing political system and those forces that want to secede from it or overthrow it altogether. Translated into leftists terms, it’s a division between reformists and revolutionaries. In the early 1980s, a section of the white supremacist movement decided that they could no longer achieve their goals within the framework of the United States, and literally went to war with the U.S. government. That same shift can also be found, less dramatically, in sections of the Christian right and other currents.

The third feature that I think is key to fascism is a totalizing effort to transform society. This is partly about exerting political violence and moving toward a dictatorship, but it’s not just about suppressing dissent—it’s about reshaping society according to a whole ideological vision. In classical fascism that vision was about national or racial renewal. In today’s fascism, I would argue, it can also be about religion or some other all-defining set of beliefs. And the dictatorship doesn’t have to be a massive nation-state or empire. Many of today’s fascists actually advocate breaking up political entities into smaller units, and exercising totalizing control through small-scale institutions such as local government, church congregations, or the patriarchal family.

The fourth and last key feature is independent, organized mass mobilization. Fascism doesn’t just repress people—it energizes and activates them, and it organizes them in formations built outside established political channels. In the 1930s, a lot of that was paramilitary formations such as the Black Shirts and the Brown Shirts. Today it could be online chat rooms—or homeschooling networks. As in the past, independent organization is partly about developing dual power challenges to the established political order, and partly about directly transforming society at all levels.

If we’re trying to map fascism’s key features, it’s also useful to highlight some of the points that I didn’t include—points that people often associate with traditional fascist politics. One of these is white supremacist ideology. All U.S. fascist currents bolster racial oppression to a greater or lesser degree, but not all of them uphold old-school explicit white supremacism. Some of them, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, have shifted to color-blind ideology, which bolsters racial oppression by denying its continued reality.

Another feature I didn’t mention is militaristic expansionism, because a large swath of the U.S. far right, whether fascist or not, is staunchly opposed to most U.S. wars and has been for decades.

Glorification of the strong state is not on my list of fascism’s key features, because as I mentioned, many of today’s fascists advocate authoritarianism on a small scale, although some (the LaRouchites again) still uphold the nation-state.

Lastly, I don’t think fascist politics is defined by a defense of capitalism, although many Marxists have considered this axiomatic for generations. There’s a much longer discussion to be had here, but briefly I think it’s an open question whether fascism necessarily upholds capitalist relations or may replace them with qualitatively different forms of economic exploitation. In any case, we should take fascists seriously when they talk about capitalists as an enemy—as for example Christchurch mass murderer Brenton Tarrant did in his online manifesto this past winter.

What does all this mean for today’s political landscape? I would apply the fascism label to some portions of the militant right, including white nationalists (by which I mean those who want to establish an all-white nation), the Lyndon LaRouche network, and hardline Christian right currents such as Christian Reconstructionists, who want to establish a full-blown theocracy. Fascism in my view does not include system-loyal rightists such as most Christian rightists (who function mainly as a pressure group within the Republican Party) or groups such as the Proud Boys (who have tried to position themselves as vigilante allies of the police). Patriot movement groups may or may not be system loyal but generally lack a totalizing drive to reshape society as a whole.

That said, all of these forces have at least definite fascistic tendencies and affinities, and in many cases direct ties with organized fascists. This highlights the point that fascist politics doesn’t exist in isolation. It grows out of an oppressive social order and it exerts its influence largely by interacting with other political currents.

What about Donald Trump? Trump has promoted many elements of fascist politics, and his election was interconnected with a rise of fascist forces. But I don’t think it’s helpful to label him or his administration as fascist. He doesn’t offer any real vision for transforming society, and he hasn’t made any moves to build an independent organizational base, so even if he wanted to overthrow the existing political system, he doesn’t have the leverage needed to do it. At the same time, Trump is an authoritarian, a racist, a misogynist, and he has escalated demonization and scapegoating in ways that are poisonous to the political climate. He is not a fascist, but he is making it easier for fascism to gain ground.


During the discussion period, several people challenged or criticized some of the points in my talk. Without trying to summarize the discussion, I want to address a few of the most substantive issues raised.

1. One person countered my approach by summarizing Leon Trotsky’s theory of fascism, more or less as follows: Fascism is a mass movement of the middle classes and unemployed, whose purpose is to wipe out working class organizations, and that serves the interests of finance capital. The key to fighting fascism is working class mobilization and staying independent of the capitalist state and pro-capitalist organizations.

I think Trotsky was right to emphasize fascism’s character as a mass movement, and his call for Communists to join with Social Democrats in an anti-fascist bloc without abandoning revolutionary politics was much better than what the Stalinist parties advocated in the 1930s—either the Third Period claim that Social Democrats (not the Nazis) were the main enemy, or the Popular Front policy of abandoning revolutionary politics in favor of supporting the reformist wing of the ruling class. But an analysis of fascism should be based on a study of what far rightists are actually doing, not on the received authority of what Trotsky or anyone wrote eighty years ago and mechanically applying it to the present.

In the United States today, unlike Germany in the early 1930s, there are no mass-based Social Democratic or Communist organizations, and the whole context for a fascist resurgence is very different. The idea that U.S. fascists’ main target is organized labor just isn’t supported by the evidence. You can find examples from recent decades of fascists attacking unions, but overall their main targets have been people of color, immigrants, LGBT people, Muslims, women, and Jews.

The idea that fascists are acting in the service of the capitalist ruling class has long been a self-evident dictum for Trotskyists and many other Marxists. But another current within Marxism, stretching back to the 1930s or earlier, argues that fascism represents an autonomous right-wing force that aims to take political power away from capitalists and clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. That’s a more accurate summary of what fascists did historically and it’s a much better starting point for understanding U.S. fascism today. For more on this, see my 2008 essay, “Two Ways of Looking at Fascism.”

2. Another audience member argued that the concept of fascist politics I outlined is so broad that it included leftists like himself. He opposes existing elites, he wants to overthrow the existing political system and systematically transform society, he supports independent mass mobilization, he even advocates a dictatorship—the dictatorship of the proletariat.

With this talk I was primarily countering the widespread idea that fascism is basically just a more extreme version of the mainstream right. In the process, I emphasized fascism’s revolutionary side—not revolutionary in any liberatory sense, but in the sense of advocating a sharp and systematic break with the existing order. That’s a reality that makes some leftists uncomfortable because it can seem very close to home, but it’s crucial for understanding fascism’s appeal and the specific danger it poses of pulling support away from liberatory visions of revolution. The key difference, which I tried to make clear in the talk, is that a fascist revolution aims to bolster and increase social hierarchy and oppression, whereas a leftist revolution is about the opposite—at least in theory.

3. A couple of people suggested that my concept of fascism doesn’t adequately take into account fascists’ tendency to hide their beliefs by cloaking them in mythology, and more specifically that some of Europe’s right-wing populist parties systematically disguise fascist agendas behind a populist facade. This is an issue that I think doesn’t have an either/or answer. Certainly, many fascists hide their beliefs, at least in public. In the United States, David Duke and Willis Carto are prime examples of this. But a lot of fascists are extraordinarily frank about their beliefs, however horrifying they may be. The Turner Diaries, William Pierce’s fantasy novel about a genocidal nazi revolution, is a prime example of that—not just for what it says but also for how it became one of the most widely circulated texts in white nationalist circles. A striking feature of the alt-right upsurge of recent years is that many fascists simply abandoned their longstanding impulse to tone down their beliefs for mass consumption. So I think fascists’ honesty about their politics depends on the context and the particular historical situation. We shouldn’t just take people’s political pronouncements at face value, but we should take them seriously and try to learn from them.

4. On Facebook, a couple of people have asked what course of action this analysis points to. Here's how I addressed that question in a talk last year: "To defeat the far right, part of what we need is broad, inclusive coalitions where there is room for people to act in different ways and with different politics—militant and non-militant, leftist and non-leftist. In these coalitions, as Anti-Racist Action put it in their Points of Unity almost thirty years ago, we need to practice non-sectarian defense of antifascists—set aside our differences to support those who are serious about confronting this threat we all face. However, this does not mean that our efforts should be purely defensive, or that we should set aside systemic change in order to 'defend democracy.' Alongside broad coalitions, we also need radical initiatives which target established systems of power and the two major political parties that protect them. In these violent times, when millions of people are angry and confused and frightened, we cannot allow far rightists to present themselves as the only real oppositional force, the only ones committed to real change."

Photo credit

"No Nazi." Photo by r2hox, 6 April 2012 (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Jun 24, 2019

How the Irish Became Troubled

by Kristian Williams

The May 23 issue of the London Review of Books contains a lengthy article by Clair Wills, briefly sketching out a different sort of three-way fight during the Troubles in Northern Ireland: "The Catholic community’s reasonable demands for an end to discrimination were met with a violent backlash, orchestrated by Protestant extremists and supported by a sectarian police force [until the] . . . British army brought peace to the streets."

Relatively quickly, one of these parties became definitely aligned with another, creating a more straightforward bipolar conflict: "on one side [were] 'Tories,' the RUC, the army, the military police, Paisley and his supporters, and [the legislature at] Stormont," and "on the other were moderates, socialists, republicans, and . . . 'hooligans'." But then, again, a third force emerged: "the women's peace movement.

Wills' abbreviated history also contains many cautionary points about the tendency of violence to become self-perpetuating with little ultimate gain, the uneasy relationship between ethnic identity and economic inequality, and the inadequacy of "power-sharing" arrangements that "institutionalized rather than transcended sectarianism."  Undoubtedly there are lessons here that might reach beyond the context of the six counties.

The full article by Wills, originally at LRB, can also be found at the website, Portside

Excerpts from the article,
Eamonn McCann’s War and an Irish Town was published some months later. It is an account of how the working-class revolution McCann had hoped to bring about in Derry in 1968 developed, by the early 1970s, into sectarian warfare. Reissued last year, to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the October 1968 civil rights march in Derry, it is a study in the messy history of violence. There are no clear beginnings to this story and, as we were reminded by the killing of Lyra McKee on 18 April this year, there is no clear end either...

 Yet looking back from a distance of nearly fifty years what is most striking about War and an Irish Town is the clash between the clarity (and simplifications) of its account of Northern Ireland’s past, and McCann’s confusion over the meaning of the present. He tells a detailed history of the events he has just lived through, including the IRA split in 1970, the growth of republican sentiment among the protesters, the effects of the programme of mass internment in 1971, of Bloody Sunday in January 1972 and the introduction of direct rule from Westminster in March of that year. He acknowledges the part played by ‘old’ republicans, as well as the newer kinds – socialist republicans in the Official IRA, and irreconcilables like Martin McGuinness, who joined the Provisionals. He describes how the British soldiers took on the role of the RUC, until they became indistinguishable from it. (‘The only difference between the army and the RUC was that the army was better at it.’) But the story he tells is also of people caught up in events, rather than orchestrating them. Even as the crisis unfolded ‘outsiders’ kept trying to determine who started it, but for McCann that is the wrong question: ‘The controversies which occupied hours of parliamentary time and acres of newsprint, about which side threw the first stone or whether the soldiers, when the fighting started, had acted impartially – were of little interest to the rioters and potential rioters of the Bogside and the Creggan.’

Jun 13, 2019

Federal Judge Grants Defense Motion and Dismisses Charges Against Members of the Nazi Organization, Rise Above Movement

The following comes from some discussion contributors to Three Way Fight have had after, on June 4th, a federal judge granted a defense motion and dismissed charges against three members of the Nazi organization, Rise Above Movement (RAM). The two count indictment, under the federal Anti-Riot Act, were deemed by the presiding judge to be a “violation of the First Amendment”. After the State made multiple arrests and the charging of RAM members - including the FBI’s seizure and extradition of a RAM leader back to the US from Mexico - what does this dropping of charges mean?
R.A.M. - Photo by Brian Feinzimer
It’s Going Down posts a good article outlining those questions and the cases potential relation to U.S. based revolutionary antifascist movements.
For us, the main impact is that one of the tools the State could potentially use against our movements took a very significant hit, which is always good news. – IGD interview
To be clear, the charges were dismissed by the court - not dropped by the government. The attorneys for the RAM defendants filed motions arguing that the indictments should be dismissed because the federal Anti-Riot Act is unconstitutional. The government opposed those motions and lost. The dismissal is certainly a defeat for the government and a victory for the militant far-right and white nationalists.

The ruling is notable should the government charge anti-fascists and other Leftists under the federal anti-riot statute; the government might re-consider using this statute in the future and stick to usual strategies.
It’s also at least arguable that they were looking to test out the Anti-Riot Act to see how it would hold up. The Anti-Riot Act is incredibly broad and covers a lot of conduct, which eases the evidentiary burden on the prosecution, but it’s also rarely used and relatively untested from a legal standpoint. - IGD interview
In light of the dismissal we should imagine the far-right is celebrating this ruling. 

The outcome makes the point that while the ruling may embolden far rightists in the short term, it weakens one of the legal repression tools that the state can use against the left.  Also, and of specific relation to revolutionary antifascists, the IGD interviews last section calls for "rejecting the reductive logic of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'" and "continu[ing] to articulate how the State vs. fascist drama is a power struggle between two poles that both have incredibly destructive designs for us."

For more background on the RAM case, read the October 17, 2018 article Autonomous Antifascism, State Repression & Arrests By Northern California Anti-Racist Action

May 25, 2019

Book review: Bring the War Home by Kathleen Belew

A key moment in the rise of the modern U.S. far right took place in the early 1980s, when many white supremacists went to war with the U.S. government. Bring the War Home is a valuable but flawed treatment of this history.

Cover of Bring the War Home, showing man pointing automatic weapon with KKK robe in background
Kathleen Belew’s 2018 book Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America traces the roots and development of a white supremacist revolutionary underground in the United States, covering the period from the late 1970s to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago, has put a decade of research into this book, and she gives valuable accounts of Ku Klux Klan activism in Texas in the 1970s, the 1979 Greensboro massacre of leftists by a coalition of Nazis and Klansmen, U.S. white supremacists’ involvement with mercenary networks in Central America and elsewhere, and movement activists’ pioneering use of computer bulletin boards in the early 1980s. Bring the War Home provides a lot of detail that was new to me, and corrects at least one significant error in my own work. (In Insurgent Supremacists I described the prison-based Aryan Brotherhood as “primarily a criminal syndicate rather than a political organization,” but Belew argues persuasively that the organization was an important supporter of Aryan Nations in the 1980s, supplying both men and funds.)

What makes Belew’s book especially valuable is that it centers on the shift by many white supremacist groups from “vigilante violence,” which reinforced the existing state and related hegemonic structures, to “revolutionary violence,” which sought to overthrow the state (x, 106-107). The shift was spearheaded by the underground organization known as the Order, which formed in 1983 and carried out a series of killings, robberies, bombings, and other illegal activities over the next two years, but also involved several other paramilitary groups, such as the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan/White Patriot Party; Arizona Patriots; and Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord; as well as support and feeder organizations such as Aryan Nations. As Belew notes, the rise of these groups “has often been misunderstood as a simple resurgence of earlier Klan activity” (8), when in fact it represented a dramatic break with past activity—a recognition that the movement’s explicitly white supremacist goals could no longer be achieved within the existing political framework. When former Klansmen such as Robert Miles, Louis Beam, and Frazier Glenn Miller went to war with the U.S. government, they belied the simplistic slogan that “the cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” Today, when some leftists portray all rightist forces as working in concert, this is history that we need to understand.

Belew calls her subject the white power movement, and I’ll follow her usage in this review. She argues that “white power” is the best descriptor, and that “white nationalism” is a misnomer because “this movement did not seek to defend the American nation” (2). This is an odd misreading of “white nationalism,” which in my view succinctly captures the point that its proponents identify with a white nation rather than with the United States. “White nationalism” emphasizes the shift from the old-school, segregationist version of white supremacism to a new vision of an all-white society created through migration, mass expulsion, or genocide, while “white power” emphasizes the continuity between the two. “White power” has a slightly archaic feel; it evokes the 1960s American Nazi Party (which promoted the slogan in response to Black Power) but is rarely used by movement activists today.

The book’s title refers to Belew’s contention that the Vietnam War’s memory and legacy played a key role in unifying the white power movement and fueling its shift into paramilitarism, as leaders such as Beam urged fellow activists to “bring it on home” by waging war not on communists abroad, but on the United States government. Belew details how movement activists (many of them military veterans) used Vietnam War stories, symbols, and even equipment to help frame their new struggle as an extension of the old. She also suggests a larger connection between war and white supremacist activism across U.S. history, noting that since its founding after the Civil War, “Ku Klux Klan membership surges have aligned more neatly with the aftermath of war than with poverty, anti-immigration sentiment, or populism, to name a few common explanations” (20). Generalized this way it’s a weak argument, because many upsurges in racist activism didn’t follow wars, such as the wave of anti-black lynchings in the 1890s and 1900s or the explosive growth of fascist political groups in the 1930s. White supremacist violence has been too deeply rooted in this country at all levels for us to think of it as “overspills of state violence from wars [that] spread through the whole of American society” (21).

But when it comes to the Vietnam War influencing the white revolutionary underground, Belew is onto something. Because unlike all previous major wars, Vietnam represented a military defeat for the United States, and there is good reason to think that this collective patriotic trauma (coupled with civil rights legislation and other 1960s reforms) spurred many white supremacists to view the federal government not as weak, but as the enemy. The claim that Washington politicians betrayed the common soldiers by refusing to let them win echoed the “stabbed in the back” myth of why Germany lost World War I, which helped galvanize the German far right in the 1920s. In theoretical terms, the white power movement’s response to military defeat exemplifies Roger Griffin’s argument that fascist ideology centers on a myth of palingenesis (collective rebirth) and the need to rescue the nation or race from a profound crisis or decline.

Rescue workers standing in front of building ruins
Oklahoma City bombing, April 1995
Belew is rightly critical of those who portray attacks such as the Oklahoma City bombing or Dylann Roof’s massacre in a South Carolina church as isolated acts of violence rather than expressions of a movement. But her own account focuses so heavily on paramilitary activities that it doesn’t really describe the movement as a whole. She doesn’t mention Willis Carto’s sizeable propaganda operation centered on the Liberty Lobby and its newspaper Spotlight, says little about David Duke’s electoral activism, and discusses Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance (WAR) only in relation to underground operations, passing over Metzger’s distinct strategy of organizing racist skinheads into a street-fighting force. There’s no discussion of the white power music scene, or activists’ wide range of views on religion or capitalism, or many of the other issues that white power groups addressed, such as ecology and AIDS. Belew offers valuable insights into the movement’s gender politics and the role that women played both as symbols for and unsung participants in the paramilitary network. But she doesn’t mention the ways that some movement women—such as the WAR-affiliated Aryan Women’s League or neonazi Molly Gill, publisher of The Rational Feminist newsletter—appropriated elements of feminist politics in the service of white supremacy. It’s perfectly valid and useful for Belew to write a book about the white power movement’s paramilitary wing with an emphasis on its underground activities, but misleading for her to claim that the book “captures the entire movement as it formed and changed over time” (15).

A more central problem concerns Belew’s treatment of leaderless resistance, the decentralized organizational form that Louis Beam and many others advocated to protect the white power underground against infiltration and repression. Belew presents leaderless resistance as a consensus approach within the movement and a seamless extension of the revolutionary strategy detailed in William Pierce’s influential novel The Turner Diaries. In reality, while leaderless resistance has played a key role in white power paramilitarism, it has also been fiercely debated within the movement. Pierce himself, who built the National Alliance into the biggest white power organization before his death in 2002, rejected leaderless resistance in favor of a top-down organizational model. In one 2000 article, Pierce declared that leaderless resistance was “simply an excuse for losers, cowards, and shirkers to do nothing except talk to each other” (quoted in Martin Durham, White Rage, p. 108).

Belew herself notes that Robert Mathews, who was a National Alliance member before founding the Order, “had a long-term plan for bringing the broader white power movement together under the command of the Order” (118). This plan was directly at odds with Beam’s argument in his “Leaderless Resistance” essay that a centrally directed cell system was “impossible” under U.S. conditions. Belew glosses over this disagreement by stating that leaderless resistance was intended to “obscure the coordination behind white power violence” (127)—rather than to eliminate the need for such coordination in the first place, as Beam himself argued.

My biggest criticism of Bring the War Home is that it portrays the militia movement as an outgrowth of the white power movement rather than a coalition where many different rightist currents interacted. There’s no question that white power groups such as Posse Comitatus heavily influenced the explosion of citizen militias in the 1990s, but so did Christian Reconstructionists, right-wing Mormons, John Birch Society conspiracists, gun rights activists, and Wise Use anti-environmentalists. When Belew writes that “the militia movement shared its leaders, soldiers, weapons, strategies, and language with the earlier white power mobilization” (191), she is only telling part of the story. She cites several early militia leaders who came out of white power groups, such as Militia of Montana founder John Trochmann, but doesn’t mention leaders who didn’t, such as Samuel Sherwood (who founded the Idaho-based U.S. Militia Association), Jon Roland (co-founder of the Texas Constitutional Militia), or Norm Olsen (who cofounded the Michigan Militia). And while some militia groups promoted blatant racism, others barred white supremacists from joining or even confronted white power groups directly. J.J. Johnson (who co-founded the Ohio Unorganized Militia) was himself African American and called the militias “the Civil Rights Movement of the '90s.” Belew might argue that all of this was secondary to the militias’ white power influences, but she can’t simply ignore the movement’s complexity on racial politics.

Many reviewers have praised Bring the War Home unreservedly as a powerful and carefully argued work of scholarship. One of the few dissenters is Mark Potok, formerly of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who calls it “a worthwhile book that makes many good points [but] is marred by a number of minor factual errors and a larger number of major, interpretive errors.” Potok criticizes Belew for ignoring factors other than war that have fueled white supremacist upsurges, and for relying on questionable sources in her account of the plot behind the Oklahoma City bombing. But in his concern to honor historical complexity and rigor, Potok dismisses what’s most important about Belew’s book—her recognition that in the early 1980s previously hostile white power factions coalesced as one movement and declared war on the state. Bring the War Home is by no means a definitive history of the modern white power movement, but it enriches our understanding of how it came into being.

Photo credit:
Oklahoma City, OK, 26 April 1995 -- Search and Rescue crews work to save those trapped beneath the debris, following the Oklahoma City bombing. FEMA News Photo, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Apr 18, 2019

The Christchurch massacre and fascist revolutionary politics

The manifesto posted by the accused New Zealand mass murderer isn’t just a racist, Islamophobic screed. It also puts forward an anti-egalitarian critique of capitalism and a strategy of fascist revolution through destabilizing society.

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the March 15 massacre at two New Zealand mosques, published an online manifesto that offers a rationale for the atrocity and urges others to follow his example. Titled “The Great Replacement” (which I’ll abbreviate to TGR), the document warrants close attention as a work of fascist ideology and propaganda, which both reflects and may help to shape political developments within the white nationalist movement internationally.

Cards, flowers, and drawings of sympathy and support attached to a fence
Flowers and tributes at Linwood Avenue memorial
for Christchurch mosque shootings
Useful discussions of Tarrant’s manifesto
Some critics have derogated the manifesto’s coherence by describing it as “bizarre,” “sloppy,” or  “rambling [and] strangely written,” and some have worried that reporting too much about its contents will just be helping the shooter to spread his message. But if we want to understand how Tarrant has been influenced by—and may exert influence on—larger currents on the far right, we need to study what he has to say.

Fortunately, several helpful discussions are available that take Tarrant’s politics seriously. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Michael Edison Hayden posted a useful overview that emphasizes how TGR draws on ideas promoted by various rightists, from racist and Islamophobic YouTubers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux to the defunct neonazi online forum Iron March. Historian A. Dirk Moses offers an in-depth analysis of TGR’s ideology, centered on the “white genocide” claim and its roots in both far right and conservative thought. Moses notes the absurdity of a white Australian such as Tarrant, citizen of a European settler colony “founded on the genocide and enslavement of Indigenous peoples,” castigating immigrants of color as “invaders.” Moses writes, “In an act of brazen displacement, [Tarrant] barely mentions Australia and instead trains his focus on Europe so he can cast whites (and himself) as the indigenous people overwhelmed by non-whites.” (For an Australian antifascist perspective on Tarrant, see “antifa notes (march 20, 2019): From Christchurch to Canberra” on Andy Fleming’s SlackBastard blog. On the history of white supremacism in New Zealand, see “The land of the long white stain,” by Scott Hamilton, who blogs at Reading the Maps.)

Historian Kathleen Belew points out that Tarrant’s manifesto and the Christchurch massacre highlight the “profoundly transnational” character of what she prefers to call the white power movement. (She argues that the term “white nationalist” masks this transnationalism. I disagree.) Belew notes that TGR’s “highly stylized, idyllic images of white mothers and children” resonate with the movement’s “intense emphasis on white reproduction” and fears of declining white birthrates (which Tarrant warns about at the beginning of his manifesto). Belew also points out that when “the attacker writes about how he hopes to spur a seizure of guns that would enrage the right in the United States and provoke further conflict,” he is borrowing strategy directly from William Pierce’s neonazi utopia, The Turner Diaries. I’ll come back to this connection later.

Journalist Jason Wilson further helps to contextualize Tarrant’s manifesto. He relates Tarrant’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” to a larger far right subculture in which “eco-fascists are proselytizing for genocidal solutions to environmental problems.” Elsewhere, Wilson notes a connection between Tarrant and the Identitarian movement, a political current strongly influenced by the European New Right’s makeover of fascist ideology that is active in many European countries, North America, and New Zealand. Not only does Tarrant’s use of the “great replacement” theme echo Identitarian anti-immigrant propaganda, but it appears that he donated 1,500 Euros to the Identitarian Movement of Austria.

While these writers offer valuable insights into Tarrant’s politics, I believe more work is needed to understand his critique of power and his strategic framework. These elements are key for understanding Tarrant’s actions not simply as acts of “hate,” but as efforts to bring about fascist revolutionary change.

Third Position anti-capitalism
One of the manifesto’s most distinctive features is its strong emphasis on anti-capitalism. Like most current-day white nationalists, Tarrant opposes neoliberal policies and globalized markets as a threat to European racial autonomy. But the manifesto’s opposition to capitalist power goes much deeper than standard conspiracist rhetoric about “globalists.” TGR identifies the capitalist demand for cheap labor as the main force pulling non-Europeans into Europe en masse; decries corporate greed, the profit motive, and the sanctity of private property; denounces capitalist control of the state and media; and calls on white nationalists to “KILL YOUR LOCAL ANTI-WHITE CEO.” The manifesto also calls for increased workers’ rights, labor unionization, and a higher minimum wage to “break the back of cheap labor.”

All of this identifies “The Great Replacement” as an expression of Third Position fascism, a political current that took shape in Italy and Britain in the 1970s in opposition to both capitalism and communism. The roots of Third Positionism trace back to the German Nazi movement’s “left” wing, associated with the brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser, which emphasized class struggle against conservative elites and capitalists, and to the National Bolshevism of figures such as Francis Parker Yockey, who urged post-World War II fascists to ally with the Soviet Union against the United States. In the 1980s, Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance helped make Third Positionism a force within the U.S. far right, but the current has had little organized presence in the United States since the collapse of the Traditionalist Worker Party last year. Internationally, Italy’s Casa Pound has been one of the most successful Third Positionist organizations in recent years.

At the same time, TGR is uncompromisingly hostile to leftists. Zeroing in on the profound underlying difference that separates left-wing and right-wing anti-capitalism, the manifesto declares, “Egalitarians and those that believe in hierarchy will never come to terms.” In this same passage, which has been widely quoted, the author tells “Antifa/Marxists/Communists”: I do not want to convert you. I do not want to come to an understanding.... I don’t want you by my side... I want you in my sights. I want your neck under my boot. SEE YOU ON THE STREETS YOU ANTI-WHITE SCUM.” This means that “The Great Replacement,” unlike some branches of the far right, is squarely against any sort of red-brown alliance building.

Accentuating Tarrant’s anti-capitalism, his manifesto is almost completely silent about Jews. Most white nationalists (and even most Third Positionists) regard Jews as their principal enemy, but Tarrant says simply, “A jew living in israel is no enemy of mine, so long as they do not seek to subvert or harm my people.” Nowhere does the manifesto assign any special blame to Jews for orchestrating mass immigration (as, for example, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter did last year) or for the forces that Tarrant believes have saddled Europe and its outposts with a “dying, decadent culture,” such as individualism, consumerism and the decline of traditional values. TGR’s analysis certainly doesn’t preclude anti-Jewish interpretations, but the fact that Jews are not named as a scapegoat leaves capitalists—as a group—shouldering even more of the blame.

Tarrant’s positions on these issues have received little attention outside the far right. A. Dirk Moses goes further than most, mentioning in passing that Tarrant “does not subscribe to antisemitic conspiracy theories,” and describes him as “a vehement critic of neo-liberal capitalism.” Michael Edison Hayden notes the manifesto’s anticapitalism but not its virtual silence on Jews. Writer Emily Pothast, in an otherwise insightful discussion of the manifesto, garbles Tarrant’s beliefs into “a globalist conspiracy theory in which ‘marxists’ exact corporate control over the markets, media, academia, and NGOs,” which “more-or-less amounts to garden variety anti-semitic dogwhistles.” No discussion I have found outside the far right itself delves into what Tarrant’s discussion of the power forces supposedly behind white genocide tells us about his relationship with the larger white nationalist movement.

It’s notable in this connection that Tarrant cites Anders Breivik as one of his chief sources of inspiration. Breivik is the Norwegian far rightist who massacred 77 people in 2011 and, like Tarrant, he posted a political manifesto that vilified Muslims and the “Islamization” of Europe. Although Breivik’s manifesto included elements of white nationalist ideology such as a diatribe against “race mixing,” it also endorsed Israel, called for an alliance with those Jews who oppose multiculturalism, and denounced the Nazi genocide. As I wrote at the time, Breivik’s politics largely mirrored those of pro-Zionist “counter-jihad” organizations such as Pamela Geller’s Stop Islamization of America and Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom, as distinct from neonazi or other white nationalist groups. Tarrant’s praise for Breivik doesn’t necessarily mean that he shares Breivik’s views on these issues, but it raises questions.

Destabilization strategy
The political strategy put forward in “The Great Replacement” also warrants more attention than it has received. Tarrant is unequivocal that violent revolution is needed and that white nationalists should abandon all dreams of finding a “sheltered meadow” where they can rebuild the white race without conflict. The manifesto is peppered with exhortations such as “Don’t run from the fight, run towards the fight” and “Do not expect to survive, the only thing you should expect is a true war and to die the death of a true soldier.”

Tarrant advocates the killing of racial “enemies,” from Marxists to capitalists, from politicians to drug dealers. But in concrete terms, it is Muslims (both immigrants and non-immigrants) who were his actual targets. The manifesto claims to have no quarrel with “turks” (i.e., Muslim non-Europeans) as long as they stay in their own lands, but if they “invade” “the West” they have no right to live: “Any invader you kill, of any age, is one less enemy your children will have to face.”

The manifesto describes the Christchurch massacre forthrightly as a “terrorist attack.” But the attack wasn’t just intended to instill fear—it was a political action calculated to serve specific and complex goals:
to agitate the political enemies of my people into action, to cause them to overextend their incite violence, retaliation and further divide between the European people and the invaders currently occupying European soil, [and] finally, to create conflict between the two ideologies within the United States on the ownership of firearms in order to fuel the social, cultural, political and racial divide within the United States. This conflict...will ultimately result in a civil war that will eventually balkanize the US along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.
Here is a revolutionary strategy based not on organizing and mobilizing large masses of people—for example through a general strike—but rather on using violent, sensational acts to sharpen conflict and disrupt society. “Destabilization and Accelerationism: tactics for victory,” Tarrant titles one of his manifesto sections. (This use of “accelerationism” differs from neoreactionary Nick Land’s use of the term.) The SPLC’s Hayden notes that Tarrant’s strategic approach was heavily promoted on the former Iron March neonazi forum. But it also strongly evokes the approach laid out in The Turner Diaries, William Pierce’s novel about a genocidal neonazi revolution, which has deeply influenced the white nationalist movement since its publication in the 1970s. Compare the above passage from “The Great Replacement” with the following quote from The Turner Diaries:
[O]ne of the major purposes of political terror, always and everywhere, is to force the authorities to take reprisals and to become more repressive, thus alienating a portion of the population and generating sympathy for the terrorists. And the other purpose is to create unrest by destroying the population’s sense of security and their belief in the invincibility of the government.
TGR urges white nationalists to “destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible” and “encourage radical, violent change regardless of its origins” in order to foment conflict and weaken established authority. For example, “a vote for a radical candidate that opposes your values and incites agitation or anxiety in your own people works far more in your favour than a vote for a milquetoast political candidate that has no ability or wish to enact radical change.” Disruption and conflict, the manifesto argues, are the key stepping stones to seizing power: “destabilize, then take control.”

White nationalist responses
To what extent do Tarrant’s politics resonate with the larger white nationalist movement? In public, at least, white nationalists’ responses to his manifesto and the mosque killings have varied widely, with some praising Tarrant’s actions and others criticizing them as wrong or counterproductive. Of particular interest to me here are comments by other white nationalists that speak to Tarrant’s critique of power or his strategic approach. Although I can’t assess the relative popularity of different positions within the movement, some of the discussions are worth summarizing.

Unlike mainstream journalists, academics, and leftists, white nationalists have had a lot to say about Tarrant’s near silence on “the Jewish Question.” On a Stormfront discussion thread about "The Great Replacement — Manifesto of New Zealand Mosque Shooter," “Bergvagabunden” left the brief comment: “The only thing I’d criticize [about Tarrant’s manifesto] is he doesn’t name the Jew...” In the Unz Review, Max Parry contended “It is likely that Tarrant, like Breivik, is not anti-semitic and actually views Jews as ‘allies’ in a civilizational crusade against Islam.” Several Stormfront commenters found Tarrant’s apparent lack of antisemitism suspicious. “SaintPhillip” wrote on the same thread as Bergvagabunden, “I'm seriously thinking there is a jew behind this somewhere- Mossad? maybe the dude was guided into this or maybe hes more than he seems or maybe i'm just paranoid about jews these days.” But Travis LeBlanc, writing on Counter-Currents, suggested that not denouncing Jews may have been a tactical choice. “If [Tarrant’s] goal was to rope moderates into the fight, this was the right move, since normies have a knee-jerk reaction to anything ‘Nazi.’” And commenting on LeBlanc’s essay, “blackacid” saw the manifesto’s silence on Jews as strong evidence against claims that the massacre was a false flag attack: “I have a very hard time imagining our enemies creating a ‘meme shooter’ who would refrain from going full-bore on Jews in his meme manifesto.”

By contrast, the white nationalist discussions I’ve seen have all but ignored Tarrant’s vocal anti-capitalism—not endorsing it but not denouncing it either. This is a striking omission, but it’s hard to know how to interpret it or how much weight to attach to it. It may reflect the relative weakness of Third Position politics (at least in the United States), or it may just be that the relevant discussions have been happening in darker corners.

On Tarrant’s strategic approach, white nationalists seem to be deeply divided. Colin Liddell on Affirmative Right (formerly Alternative Right) wrote that “associating oneself in anyway with this kind of violence is a totally losing strategy” because “most people will be quite simply repulsed by...the slaughter of unarmed civilians.” Brad Griffin (“Hunter Wallace”) of Occidental Dissent warned that “the bloodshed in New Zealand will simply be used to further demonize Whites, deplatform pro-White voices from social media, and fuel the push for gun control.” VDare’s John Derbyshire conceded that a government crackdown on far right “dissidents” was “just what Tarrant hoped for in his manifesto,” but rejected the “Leninist principle” that “the worse things become for moderate, non-crazy dissidents, the better the prospects for violent revolution.”

On the other side of the debate, The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin praised Tarrant’s manifesto as “a very humorous, insightful and informative document” and rejected the idea that the massacre was “bad optics.” Anglin, whose political strategy seems to be to make neonazism as offensive as possible, called the Christchurch atrocity “by far the funniest” mass shooting he has seen.

Travis LeBlanc wrote that he opposed terrorism but saw “silver linings” in the Christchurch massacre: “it has actually sparked a dialogue favorable to our cause” and had succeeded in its goal of “forc[ing] the establishment to overreach” by suppressing voices favorable to Tarrant. Neonazi blogger Karl Radl declared “the lesson of Christchurch” was that “accelerationism works”: “The disproportionate response from governments—such as New Zealand’s attempt to seize its citizen’s guns...—only serves the cause of nationalism by ratcheting up the pressure on Aryans across the world by another notch or two, thus engendering more attacks as more and more people reach their breaking point...” Radl suggested that white nationalists who distance themselves from the massacre were cowards more interested in making money from the cause than in “promoting a truly nationalist revolution in the West.”

Radl’s post was republished by neonazi Billy Roper of the ShieldWall Network, who is best known for praising the 9-11 al Qaeda highjackers for being “willing to drive a plane into a building to kill jews.” In February 2019, just a few weeks before the Christchurch massacre, Roper wrote that a Yugoslavia-type civil war is “grimly inevitable” in the United States. This conflict will involve large-scale population shifts resulting in separate, ethnically homogeneous states—an outcome Tarrant’s manifesto also looks forward to. Like Radl and Tarrant, Roper endorses the principle that sharpening political conflict is the path to fascist victory. “If a truly triggering left wing radical is elected, polarization will be accelerated, since Republicans act as steam pressure release valves to postpone the inevitable.” Roper concluded, “Do you think it’s better to re-elect Trump, or another ‘conservative’, and kick the can down the road longer while the White percentage of the population grows smaller and smaller?... Or, would you rather see the whole shithouse go ahead and go up in flames, so we can have White ethnostates and start over clean?”

*          *          *

The debate between white nationalists about whether Christchurch and other mass killings help or hurt their cause is not a debate between extremists and moderates. It’s a debate about the best way to create states where people defined as non-white are not only systematically subordinated, but have no right to live. It’s a debate about fascist revolutionary strategy.

The white nationalist far right includes people, such as Brenton Tarrant, who favor dramatic acts of violence and others, such as Gregory Hood and James Lawrence, who favor long-term, systematic efforts to build mass support. Both of these approaches grow out of a sense that their movement is weak and isolated, and that it cannot rely on politicians or elected officials—even those who share many of their views. Hood and Lawrence, for example, might well agree with Tarrant’s answer to the question whether he supports Donald Trump: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”

Tarrant’s portrayal of the power that must be fought—his denunciation of capitalists and virtual silence about Jews—fits into white nationalist debates as well. Most white nationalists blame Jews for white genocide, but there are some within the movement who have argued that if all Jews move to Israel they would no longer threaten the West and could be allies in the war against Muslims. And while anti-capitalism is relatively weak among white nationalists currently, it has a long history in the far right. Whether or not Tarrant has strengthened these positions within the movement, he has at least raised their visibility.

Photo credit
Photo by Paul Cull, 23 March 2019 (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons. 

Mar 28, 2019

Trump’s election and capitalist power – an exchange

In February 2019, Three Way Fight published the essay “Trump’s shaky capitalist support: Business conflict and the 2016 election,” by Matthew N. Lyons. In this exchange with Matthew, Don Hamerquist explores some of the larger issues raised in that essay regarding the dynamics of capitalist power.

Don Hamerquist comment
I agree with Matthew’s emphasis on the “shaky” character of Trump’s capitalist support. He points out that, “…Trump has been forced to bring many establishment figures into his administration, and to implement elements of both neoliberalism and nationalist populism, or at least oscillate between them… [However] neoliberalism (and the related internationalist/interventionist foreign policy stance) still enjoys majority support within the U.S. ruling class and among political elites in both major parties … the situation seems likely to feed, not a calculated march toward dictatorship, but a sharpening mix of repression and instability.” This is quite distinct from the prevailing narrative on the North American left. Consider for example, Henry Giroux’s version of the “fascist creep” thesis, that pictures Trump as “…a fusion of the worst dimensions and excesses of gangster capitalism with the fascist ideals of white nationalism and racial supremacy.”

However, while accepting most of Matthew’s political conclusions, I have reservations about the Ferguson “investment theory of party competition” that is incorporated in his argument. In my opinion such approaches are useful – but only within clear limits. (I would make similar criticisms of Page and Gillen’s argument supporting their conception of oligarchy.) Ferguson’s campaign contribution metrics can roughly measure the efforts of particular capitalists to gain access to and influence on government, but they gloss over important contradictions that underlie alternative ruling class approaches to the strategic direction of society. To adequately understand the organizational cohesion and the political “will” of the ruling class fractions that support and/or oppose “Trump,” it’s important to avoid reducing class politics to financial and technical self-interest within an essentially “given” national framework.

U.S. capitalism is part of a developing transnational system with an institutional and ideological trajectory and momentum that transcends national politics. The changing relationship between class profit and class power in the global capitalist system overdetermines the political, economic, and ideological posture of particular capitalist fractions– at times transforming them dramatically. This leads to the hollowing of capitalist state institutions and to growing challenges to capitalist hegemonic ideology – to a broad range of popular grievances and a heightened and more generalized instability. While capitalist fractions will continue to pursue narrow national and corporative interests through the parliamentary process, the more significant strategic elements of the ruling class response to the problems confronting capital increasingly will be shaped in global economic and political institutions and processes outside this framework – where the left challenge should be located as well.

In 2008, at the depths of the global financial crisis, the factors setting the politics of capitalist fractions in this country were quite different from 2116 when Trump had his improbable triumph in the late stage of a capitalist recovery. These factors are likely to be very different again in 2020. In 2008, the destabilizing risks of concessions to nationalist populism – even concessions that were mainly symbolic or rhetorical – would have been overwhelming. In 2016, nearly a decade after capital had responded to its existential crisis with generalized austerity and mammoth institutional bailouts, a very different set of potential risks and responses had emerged. The overall system was no longer enmeshed in crisis – although there were warnings on the horizon – and the limited elements of nativist populism hinted by Trump posed minimal risks for capital. Concessions in this direction might provide something of a release valve for mass discontent – a ruling class feint with potentials to pre-empt more disruptive oppositions before the business cycle took its next dive.

In this view “Trump” appears as something of an accident, like Brexit, but that also doesn’t adequately explain the dynamics at work. The elements of “populism” in “Trump” have been almost totally eclipsed by the embrace of neo-liberal economics and garden variety capitalist reaction. The MAGA nationalism is likely to wilt if it is confronted with any indication of major problems in the global economy. Despite this, the most noteworthy feature of current politics is the frantic way a major sector of capital and much of the institutional weight of capitalist state power is organizing against Trump, notwithstanding his remarkably incompetent “populism” and his routine vanilla conservatism. Certainly this indicates a ruling class fear of major pending dislocations in the global system, including an expectation of more substantive populist challenges. This dictates an accelerated need for a transnational ruling class perspective that can enforce a capitalist consensus on competitive sectors of the ruling elites and develop some better tools to incorporate and diffuse potential mass oppositions from both left and right. Trump is a distracting infection in the emergence of a global ruling class. The over-reaction of ruling elites to the Trump phenomena is an element of the birth pangs of a capitalist new world order.

Head shot of David Koch
David H. Koch, right-wing businessman.
He and his brother Charles Koch oppose
Donald Trump on immigration and trade.
Matthew Lyons reply
I appreciate Don’s comment and I think his criticism is very helpful. I agree that Ferguson’s “investment theory” is not an adequate framework for analyzing ruling-class politics and internal conflict, and agree in particular that we need to bring in the international dimension. Still, I want to offer a couple of caveats. First, while Ferguson’s quantitative analysis is limited, to me it’s a welcome contribution in a context where so many leftist analyses of capital are based only on selective use of anecdotal evidence, or on out-and-out distortion. (I’m thinking for example of Floris D’Aalst’s recent piece in Insurgent Notes, where he claims that the Koch brothers are Donald Trump’s allies, although in fact they have consistently and very publicly opposed Trump on both immigration and trade issues.)

My other caveat is that while Ferguson’s framework here is indeed national, it would be a mistake to see his investment theory as just “reducing class politics to financial and technical self-interest.” Ferguson and his co-authors combine the data from electoral campaigns with other evidence to develop larger analytic themes. For example, in their article about the 2012 presidential election, they draw a connection between Obama’s cordial relationship with high-tech firms and his active continuation of the “national surveillance state” policies he inherited from George W. Bush. And one of the main reasons I got interested in Ferguson to begin with is because of his work from the 1980s on intra-capitalist debates around FDR’s New Deal. Ferguson argued that firms and sectors that had relatively low labor costs (and thus had more flexibility to negotiate with organized labor) and/or were oriented toward international markets formed the core of a new historical bloc that backed FDR, restabilized U.S. capitalism, and created a new hegemonic set of policies that persisted for forty years. This analysis is far better than anything else I’ve seen on the subject.

Again, I think we need to look beyond Ferguson’s approach – to examine, for example, how “the changing relationship between class profit and class power in the global capitalist system overdetermine the political, economic, and ideological posture of particular capitalist fractions,” as Don puts it. One of the questions that Ferguson et al. pose – and by their own admission aren’t really equipped to answer – is why Trump's (and Sanders’s) politics captured mass support in 2016 and not earlier. I’m partly sympathetic to Don’s suggestion that “in 2008, the destabilizing risks of concessions to nationalist populism...would have been overwhelming,” whereas in 2016 the system had restabilized to the point that it could allow and benefit from “a release valve for mass discontent.” However, to me this raises a question: what is the mechanism whereby “the system” makes these choices? Do they reflect conscious strategic decisions by sections of the ruling class, and if so where do these happen and what evidence do we have for them? Or is there some other “objective” mechanism at work? Either way, I’m wary of ascribing too much rationality to the system. I think the system has a tremendous capacity to adapt to unexpected pressures, and this seems like one of those times that the ruling class was blind-sided and had to scramble to adapt. On this question, I would ask Don if he could elaborate on his somewhat cryptic comment that “‘Trump’ appears as something of an accident...but that also doesn’t adequately explain the dynamics at work.”

Don Hamerquist added comment
I wouldn’t speak of “mechanisms,” “system,” and “rationality” in this context. The U.S. nation state is a rapidly changing complex entity that is impacted by a range of conflicting and contradictory interests and forces; some essentially internal and some not so much, many of which aren’t clearly delineated or competently advanced. These are expressed within an array of structures that have their own weight and momentum, and they are mediated through a range of ideologies with their histories, fans and fanatics.

Rather than “conscious strategic decisions by sections of the ruling class,” political outcomes and policy stances in capitalist states are the resultants of a variety of different factors that interact at various levels and in different ways. Financial and commodities markets both determine and are determined by changing state policies – at times via conscious ruling class intervention and at times in spite of it. A definite inertia and momentum is provided by the internal state and quasi-state bureaucracies and apparatuses that have developed to implement capital’s control, but that increasingly fail to reflect interests of particular capitalist fractions in a stable and continuing fashion. The increasing weight of transnational capitalist institutions and policies that deal with trade, finance, countercyclical policy, and various accumulated social costs of capitalist development provide another set of causal factors that have real effects on internal politics, independently of the relative political strengths of domestic capitalist fractions – generally overriding them in most countries – sometimes even here.

As you point out U.S. capitalism has a well-demonstrated capacity to adapt – or to say it differently, it is a system fortunate to have produced oppositions with demonstrated capacities to self-destruct. But despite its good fortune in enemies, U.S. capital has no clear adaptive path. Its various efforts will “work” in places and at times, but usually at the cost of worsening problems elsewhere or, perhaps, later. This leads to a daunting multitude of unavoidable problems and adds to the difficult gestation of a legitimate transnational capitalist elite.

Nevertheless, the process is not all chaos and confusion. There are certain strands of policy that are clearly embraced and enforced by the dominant sectors of transnational capital. The most important of these is their organized opposition to any of the destabilizing populisms of either the right or the left that threaten to emerge from the dilemmas of global capital. These policies are developed at Davos and Valdai, and in the think-tanks of Washington, Brussels and London, and we will shortly see, I think, from Moscow and Peking also. These are shared visions of a capitalist global order with common ideas about what forces and tendencies would be problematic for that order and a common concern with maintaining both the power and the legitimacy of transnational capital. I recognize the importance of differences over the significance of sovereignty and between visions of a uni-polar or multi-polar structure for the global system, however these have strategic importance mainly for relatively weaker capitalist interests that are more reliant on access to specific elements of state power.

It’s possible to discern the potential elements of a global strategy for capital in this framework. In the first place it includes developing viable transnational institutions and understandings to deal with the predictable effects of the reversal of the business cycle and, more important, to deal with the increasingly critical aspects of secular crisis in capitalist production and bourgeois civilization. In the second place it requires developing some basis of “consent” from among the masses that will not be among the beneficiaries of any global capitalist order. I’ve dealt with these issues elsewhere and won’t go into further detail here.

The imperatives of this strategy underlie ruling class attitudes towards Trump, towards Brexit, towards Bolsonaro. You say about Trump, “I think this was one of those times that the ruling class was blind-sided and had to scramble to adapt.” I agree for the most part, but what I think is most important is the content that the “adapting” scramble assumed. Perhaps we will have to argue this point elsewhere, but, beginning with the presidential primary and continuing through the first half of Trump’s term I think that it has taken the form of a thinly disguised attempted coup that risks the viability of the party system and parliamentary structure in this country. It’s difficult to explain the magnitude and urgency of the organized ruling class effort to displace Trump who was swiftly neutralized into an ordinary reactionary – if he was ever something more. What calculation explains this effort against Trump, more of a comic figure than a populist demagogue.

Photo credit:
Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.