May 7, 2022

Abortion, the Christian right, and antifascism

It’s time for antifascists to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat. 

When the U.S. Supreme Court scraps legal protection for abortion rights—using arguments that also directly threaten legal protections for homosexuality, contraception, interracial marriage, and much more—it will mark a historic victory for the Christian right. More than anyone else, Christian rightists have worked steadily and carefully for almost half a century to reach this goal. They have done this not only because they want to stop pregnant people from making decisions about their own bodies. More broadly, Christian rightists have used abortion as a tool to rally mass support behind their larger agenda to impose patriarchal families, compulsory heterosexuality, and “God-given gender identity” on society as a whole.

Protesters hold abortion rights signs and a large banner that reads "We'll never go back" with a coat hanger crossed out
Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR) clinic defense
at Planned Parenthood on Valencia, San Francisco, 29 September 2011

The Christian right has played a long game, setting aside centuries-old theological disputes, bringing millions of people into political activism for the first time, mobilizing both wealthy patrons and independent funding streams, and gradually building a rich organizational network, from think tanks and lobbying groups to local prayer cells. The Christian right has forged and used alliances with diverse actors, including neoconservatives and laissez faire libertarians, Likudniks and conservative Islamic governments. The Christian right’s embrace of Donald Trump as a modern day “Cyrus”—an ungodly man of power who serves God’s purpose—is a model of realpolitik, and it has paid off in spades.

The Christian right has functioned as a political big tent, encompassing multiple ideological doctrines, strategies, and tactical approaches, and making room for different factions to riff off of each other without tearing each other down. Most importantly, it has encompassed both reformist and revolutionary poles of thought—a creative tension between those working to make changes within the existing political system and those who want to scrap all secular and pluralist institutions and replace the existing state with a full-on theocracy. In this dynamic, the incrementalists have had the numbers but the theocrats have been the trend setters, again and again staking out forward positions that have helped to guide and animate their more cautious comrades.

A pioneering current of theocratic politics known as Christian Reconstructionism—whose “Godly” vision includes disenfranchising women and punishing homosexuality with death by stoning—has played a pivotal role within the anti-abortion rights movement, pushing it toward more violent actions and more militant opposition to the state. Michael Bray, a Lutheran pastor who spent four years in prison for firebombing a series of reproductive health clinics in the 1980s, is a Reconstructionist. So was Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister who murdered a physician and his bodyguard outside a clinic in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994. So is Matt Trewhella, a Pentecostal minister and founder of Missionaries to the Preborn, who in the 1990s defended the killing of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide” and urged Christian rightists to form church-based militias.

The movement’s other leading theocratic current, New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), has combined Reconstructionism’s call for right-thinking Christians to “take dominion” over all spheres of society with authoritarian mass organizing and the Pentecostal/Charismatic belief in divine prophecy and working miracles. NAR leaders have aggressively promoted homophobic legislation, including a notorious bill in Uganda that would have made gay sex punishable by death. New Apostolics have been a dominant force in the Christian Zionist movement and have proselytized Jews aggressively in Israel and elsewhere. NAR leaders staunchly supported Donald Trump throughout his presidency and have played key roles in the fraudulent Stop The Steal campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The Christian right’s theocratic wing falls squarely within my proposed definition of fascism: a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy. Whether you accept that definition or not, it’s clear that Christian theocrats (a) advocate intensified forms of oppression and repression, (b) want to impose their beliefs through a comprehensive transformation of society, and (c) use scapegoating, rituals, and people’s longing for community to mobilize supporters behind their goals. Theocratic organizations are a significant force in their own right, and their role within the larger Christian right give them leverage far beyond their numbers. (One 2013 estimate puts the NAR’s U.S. membership alone at 3 million. Even if that’s off by an order of magnitude, it still dwarfs the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys combined.)

Discussions of right-wing politics are often compartmentalized by ideology. This approach treats Christian rightists separately from white nationalists and the far right, and excludes Christian right politics from many definitions of fascism. That’s better than lumping all rightists into one nebulous category, because we need to understand our opponents’ differences so we can combat them effectively. Unfortunately, in practice many antifascists treat Christian right politics as not just separate from white nationalism, but also less important. Maybe they think Christian rightists are more moderate than white nationalists, or maybe they see issues of gender and sexuality as secondary to issues of race. In this framework, the Christian right gets attention only to the extent that it has a relationship with white nationalism or the extent to which its politics are seen to be “really” about race.

Interconnections with white nationalism are important, as is segregationism’s role in fueling the Christian right’s rise in the 1970s, and the movement’s more complex racial politics today. But those aren’t the main reasons the Christian right is dangerous. For half a century, Christian rightists have consistently placed gender and sexuality—not race—at the center of their program, and those wars need to be fought on their own terms.

Let’s remember: In the 1990s, the Anti-Racist Action Network made support for abortion rights and reproductive freedom one of its four Points of Unity, and ARA activists helped defend reproductive health clinics while also confronting neonazis and racist cops. This is history we can learn from. The fight against Christian theocracy is a fight against fascism. The fight for abortion rights is a fight against fascism.

For further details and references about the Christian right, see Insurgent Supremacists, chapters 2 and 6, and Right-Wing Populism in America, chapters 11 and 12.

Photo credit: By Steve Rhodes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via Flickr.

Apr 24, 2022

The Gilad Atzmon and David Rovics Antisemitism Controversy, Explained

by Shane Burley

Editors’ note: Ideological hatred of Jews is centered in the far right, yet too many leftists continue to tolerate and even promote antisemitic themes when they’re packaged to look and sound radical. For decades, supporters of the Israeli state have falsely claimed that any critique of Zionism is anti-Jewish. Mirroring this lie, many antisemites falsely claim that any criticism of their anti-Jewish beliefs aids Israeli oppression of Palestinians. For both of these reasons, it’s critically important that we learn to delineate between anti-Zionism that embodies liberatory principles and anti-Zionism that embodies anti-Jewish scapegoating, such as the false claims that Jews control U.S. foreign policy or that Judaism is inherently oppressive and violent.

In this guest post, anti-fascist writer Shane Burley analyzes the antisemitic views of Israeli-born musician and writer Gilad Atzmon, and the support Atzmon has received from leftist musician David Rovics despite criticism from Burley and others. Three Way Fight first addressed Atzmon’s poisonous role in the anti-Zionist movement in 2012, when we helped to organize a campaign urging leftist organizations to deny Atzmon a platform to promote his work. 130 leftists in several countries signed a statement in support of this campaign, and 22 Palestinian activists signed a separate statement that denounced Atzmon in similar terms.

*          *           *

David Rovics has been having a problem. “You don’t have to be Mossad to do Mossad’s job,” wrote Rovics in one of the many numerous Twitter screeds, directed at Jewish antifascist writers.[1] This public meltdown came after many, many people raised questions about his conversations with, and public support for, some people widely known as racists and antisemites.[2]

Rovics has been a staple of many radical communities for a couple of decades. Known for his acoustic protest songs, he often plays at demonstrations, writes tracks related to contemporary political issues, and tours internationally and has self-published dozens of albums.

In 2021 Rovics had a YouTube video and podcast interviewing the neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach. The interview is a softball, where Rovics agrees with many of Heimbach’s critiques of the left and challenges virtually nothing Heimbach says, essentially giving him an open forum to state his views. Heimbach has argued that he has reformed, that he is no longer a white nationalist, but both by listening to his views and listening to experts, journalists, and antifascists who know him and his work well, this is an easy lie to dispel.[3]

Then Rovics hosted the antisemite Gilad Atzmon on his YouTube/podcast, where they talked at length about “Jewish tribal politics” and “Jewish identity politics.” Rovics knows well that there has been a great deal of evidence amassed about Atzmon and when he was confronted with it, both recently and historically, he has doubled down, refusing to deny Atzmon his support. Third, he appeared on the conspiracy podcast hosted by Kevin Barrett, who denied the Holocaust while Rovics was on his show; again, Rovics seemed to give him a pass.[4] Barrett is a known antisemite and conspiracy theorist, who describes himself as a “Holocaust agnostic” and who describes the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a witty piece of “satire.”[5]

Rovics has apologized for the Heimbach interview and taken it down. But that is not the issue at the heart of the ongoing controversy. People make mistakes, and Rovics believed Heimbach when he shouldn’t have. I, and all journalists and antifascists, quote white nationalists in stories, sometimes from direct interviews, because we have to prove they are what we allege they are. That is necessary for reliable journalism and the safety of the community. But when I do this I analyze and re-analyze the choices, I get a huge number of eyes to ensure it is being done ethically, and I never give them an open platform to speak up without being directly countered. So, this could be considered an understandable mistake, one which stems from his own arrogance to think that he does not need any expertise or accountability when doing this type of work.

When it comes to Gilad Atzmon, no such apology has been forthcoming, and instead Rovics defended Atzmon’s views and, at times, even reproduced them. While saying he doesn’t “endorse” Atzmon, he has actually done just that and has even published open defenses of him.[6]

Gilad Atzmon playing saxaphone
Gilad Atzmon
Atzmon is a Jewish Israeli who left his country traumatized by his time in the Israeli Defense Forces; he now lives in Britain and makes his living as a well-known jazz performer. He also has a long history as a writer and activist in the pro-Palestinian space, but he was pushed out of the movement for his open antisemitism. For Atzmon, the issue with Zionism is not imperialism (he specifically says that Zionism is not colonialism)[7], but the ideology’s supposed uniquely Jewish roots and nature: it’s not just nationalism applied to Jews, but something distinctly corrosive that emerges from Jewish ideology and Judaism itself. “The never-ending robbery of Palestine by Israel in the name of the Jewish people establishes a devastating spiritual, ideological, cultural and, obviously, practical continuum between the Judaic Bible and the Zionist project. The crux of the matter is simple yet disturbing: Israel and Zionism are both successful political systems that put into devastating practice the plunder promised by the Judaic God in the Judaic holy scriptures,” says Atzmon.[8]

Instead of seeing Zionism as a political ideology that he finds objectionable, or Israel a country engaging in a military occupation of an indigenous people, he sees them specifically as an outgrowth of what he says is a “Jewish tribal identity.” “I do not consider the Jews to be a race, and yet it is obvious that ‘Jewishness’ clearly involves an ethnocentric and racially supremacist, exclusivist point of view that is based on a sense of Jewish ‘chosen-ness,’” says Atzmon, in a distortion of the Jewish religious concept of chosenness.[9] Keith Khan-Harris writes that “[the] problem is that for Atzmon, one form of identity is the ur-identity: Jewish identity. While he does take swipes at other forms of political identity – LGBT identity politics is a particular bugbear – really, his argument is that Jewish identity forms the basis for the poisonous practice of identity itself. It is not just that Jewishness is, and has always been, a form of exclusionary ‘ethnic supremacism’; for Atzmon, Jewishness is the ultimate source of everything that divides and rules us.”[10]

The heart of Atzmon’s antisemitism here is revulsion at the Jews’ stubborn refusal to assimilate and give up their Jewishness. “At the most, Israel has managed to mimic some of the appearances of a Western civilisation, but it has clearly failed to internalize the meaning of tolerance and freedom. This should not take us by surprise: Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, and Jewishness is, sadly enough, inherently intolerant; indeed, it may be argued that Jewish intolerance is as old as the Jews themselves,” says Atzmon.[11] Historically, antisemitism was directed at the religion of Judaism and Jewish cultural distinctiveness rather than a bigotry directed as Jews as a race or ethnic group. Jews were forced to de-Judaize themselves at the point of mass slaughter and torture, and so antisemitism has, for most of its history, been about compulsive Jewish conversion and assimilation.[12] This, of course, was itself a falsehood, even when Jews did convert they were generally unaccepted, such as the Spanish “conversos” who converted in Spain during the Inquisition yet continued to be the target of suspicion and violence. In this model of anti-Judaism, Jews can stay alive as long as they rid themselves of literally anything that differentiates them as Jews.

Atzmon claims that he does not hold someone’s Jewish ethnicity against them (something I will dispute in a moment), but instead it is their Jewish identity. As scholars like Bernard Harrison have pointed out, the Jewish ability to maintain a cultural distinctiveness has been a challenge to many who want to destroy social pluralism when they see it as destructive to their homogeneous vision: Atzmon thinks Jews should simply cease to be different, cease to be themselves.[13] As scholars like Ibram Kendi point out, “assimilationist ideas are racist ideas” because they force the minority group to conform only to the dominant system, which in this case is largely non-Jewish.[14] A truly tolerant, multicultural, cosmopolitan, and internationalist view allows people to remain themselves with other people, doing so without borders, walls, or national lines. Jewishness is an identity with a rich history, one that brings joy and perseverance to millions, and yet Atzmon and his defenders demand it simply disappear if its adherents are to “join the human family.”[15]

Atzmon argues that Jews hold a near monopoly of power in the world, that they control the West, and they do this through political movements that are secretly Jewish (neocons) or by controlling the media, banks, and governments. “Why are Jews so overwhelmingly over-represented in Parliament, in British and American political pressure groups, in political fundraising and in the media?” asks Atzmon.[16] This is functionally identical to white nationalist antisemitic theories rooted in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “The current mess in Iraq is the direct outcome of Jewish political domination of the West for the last two decades,” says Atzmon, which he obsessively connects to what he says is the Jewish character of the neoconservatives, such as figures like Paul Wolfowitz.[17] To discuss this he talks heavily about John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which is often too simplistic and can be prone to some problematic assumptions[18], but he goes much further: it is not just Israeli lobbying organizations, it is the entirety of Jewish civic life.

Jews have historically been forced outside the auspices of state protection and social services, and since they had many of their own social and legal systems, there is a long history of Jewish nonprofits and organizations that support the Jewish community (such as Jewish federations and various aid organizations). By misrepresenting the history of these groups, and having little understanding of how civic organizations work, these groups are presented as a kind of shadow government, advocating for a supposed homogeneous political position of Jews. More than this, they are all-powerful: Zionism, not simply being a political ideology related to the State of Israel, is a worldwide totalitarian force that has its hands on the trigger of the imperialist war machine. It doesn’t matter if a social problem has no connection to Israel or Jews, the Zionists (whatever the conspiracy theorist means by that) are likely still in the driver’s seat. This does not mean that there are not Israeli organizations and supporters in powerful places, but we cannot lend them outsized, conspiratorial level importance.

“Zionism was supposed to solve the Jewish Question, and it practically just moved it to a different place,” Atzmon told Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief of Counter-Currents.[19] Atzmon has been a longtime favorite with white nationalists and participates in their work. This includes Counter-Currents, one of the largest white nationalist publishers in the United States, which publishes neo-Nazis, alt-right writers, and Holocaust Deniers. Atzmon publishes a blog at the white nationalist Unz Review, known for publishing work on race and IQ.[20] In conversation with white nationalists, who believe the “Jewish question” is a racial one, Atzmon drops his tribal/ethnic distinction and engages in pseudo-scientific discussions about Jewish psychology. “The issue of biology is very interesting, and I think that Kevin MacDonald himself understands it,” Atzmon says, citing a white nationalist psychologist known for arguing that Judaism was a “group evolutionary strategy” for Jews to eugenically improve themselves and outcompete Gentiles for resources.[21] “How much of it is biology, race, culture? These questions should be discussed openly. I don’t see Jews as a race. There is no Jewish racial continuum, but there is definitely a cultural pattern that has some biological implications,” says Atzmon. “I use The Bell Curve models to show how Jews’ cognitive ability distribution was in the Jewish society. There is something that people don’t know a lot about. Kevin MacDonald definitely knows about it. He wrote about it. Jews, for as long as 1,500 years, European Jews married intelligence – the sage, the rabbi, the young boy that is destined to become the rabbi – with the merchant’s daughter. For 1,500 years, in the ghetto, rabbinical Jews married scholarship with money, and they have managed to create a very unique elite that specialized in scholarship and money.”[22] Atzmon accuses Jews of pushing Critical Race Theory, of manipulating non-whites for their own agenda, running the Atlantic slave trade, and other tropes found mostly in white nationalist literature.[23]

Atzmon’s best known book, and the one that Rovics has recommended multiple times and called “fantastic”[24], is The Wandering Who?, published by Zer0 Books in 2011. It caused controversy immediately since it was published by an ostensibly left-leaning publisher and contains neo-Nazi level canards about Jewishness.

Atzmon suggests in the book that the Holocaust may have been the fault of the Jews, who should ask themselves why they have so been disliked – something that perfectly echoes the questions that Holocaust Deniers like David Irving have asked.

“65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask – why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history? If they genuinely planned to do so, as the early Zionists claimed, why did they fail? Why did America tighten its immigration laws amid the growing danger to European Jews? We should also ask what purpose Holocaust denial laws serve? What is the Holocaust religion there to conceal? As long as we fail to ask questions, we are subjected to Zionist lobbies and their plots. We will continue killing in the name of Jewish suffering. We will maintain our complicity in Western imperialist crimes.”[25]
This traces into the kind of Holocaust Denial that Atzmon is accused of, including his support of Irving and other Denial materials. “It took me many years to understand that the Holocaust, the core belief of the contemporary Jewish faith, was not an historical narrative, for historical narratives do not need the protection of law and politicians,” says Atzmon. “[The Holocaust’s] ‘factuality’ was sealed with draconian laws, and its reasoning secured by social and political institutions.”[26]

Atzmon said, at an event for Richard Falk, that the “Jews were expelled from Germany for misbehaving” and that “Jews are always expelled for a reason.”[27] “At another meeting, Atzmon said, “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act.”[28]

The Wandering Who? uses the antisemitic racial slur “Zios,” which was created by David Duke, putting it in the title for Chapter 2. “Yes, I read controversial texts, and when I read David Duke I just couldn’t believe how much this goy knows about Jewishness,” said Atzmon in a conversation with white nationalist Greg Johnson. “I read David Duke, who can think about racial matters in an open manner, and he understands exactly what is happening in the Jewish society or the Jewish national project.”[29]

Later in the book, Atzmon takes on what is often called the “Khazar Hypothesis,” which generally says that modern day Ashkenazi Jews are not the descendants of the Ancient Israelites (a position Rovics takes[30]) and are the results of a “mass conversion” of members of the now dispersed Khazar people of Eastern Europe. This argument has been used by a lot of white nationalist, Christian Identity, and antisemitic authors (but by no means exclusively by them) as a way of presenting Jews as frauds: if they are not people from the Levant, what claim do they have to Israel?[31] Atzmon cites Shlomo Sand, a Israeli who has published widely about how he “stopped being a Jew.” Sand, while controversial to some, is certainly not an antisemite, but Atzmon takes further steps from Sand and prefers to use the fine edge of anti-Zionism to build up a more caustic version. “Though most contemporary Jews are utterly convinced that their ancestors are the Biblical Israelites...the Roman exile is just another Jewish myth,” writes Atzmon.[32] The historic roots of Ashkenazim is fair game for debate, but Jews should be seen as much a distinct people as any ethnic group, and the issue with the oppression of Palestinians is not because Jews are not really a nation therefore without claims to land. Even if Jews were all directly descended from Ancient Israelites, they would not have the right to expel and oppress indigenous Palestinians, and even if they had no relationship to the Middle East they still experienced life as a distinct people who lacked political autonomy and protection. “People are entitled to invent themselves, as so many national movements have done in their moment of inception,” writes Ilan Pappe, discussing the question of historic Jewish nationhood and the Sand argument. “But the problem becomes acute if the genesis narrative leads to political projects such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, and oppression.”[33]

Atzmon places the cause for all of this Jewish perfidy on “Jewish power,” echoing Kevin MacDonald, and suggests that Jewish documents, like the Book of Esther, are responsible for this. He brings back classical antisemitic accusations, saying that he wonders whether “these accusations of Jews making Matza out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless.”[34] The book goes on like this, citing other antisemitic authors, tracing a huge range of modern problems directly to Jewishness: Israel is just another result of Jewishness, and we have to take on this identity. Jews are even guilty of deicide, the killing of Jesus, according to Atzmon, reviving the same kind of accusation that was used as an excuse to target Jews for centuries.[35]

All of these comments and others have pushed the Palestinian solidarity movement to roundly reject Atzmon. A huge denunciation, signed by two-dozen Palestinian leaders and published at The Electronic Intifada says “We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities.”[36] Another letter denouncing Atzmon was signed by dozens of activists, including major critics of Zionism like Max Blumenthal, saying, “In our struggle against Zionism, racism, and all forms of colonialism and imperialism, there is no place for antisemitism or the vilification of Jews.”[37] Organizations that track the far-right have been open in their denunciation of Atzmon, as have many Jewish writers, and his work is generally understood as an extension of antisemitic discourses.

David Rovics playing guitar
David Rovics
When David Rovics was asked about this, and his relationships with people like Heimbach and Barrett, he flew into a rage at the idea that he should apologize for it and withdraw his support for Atzmon. He spent the next couple of months lashing out on social media, accusing various writers, particularly those of Jewish descent, of organizing some type of wild conspiracy and acting like the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad. These writers have spoken up about this issue, which owes to the fact that typically it is people of Jewish descent that have to speak up about antisemitism that appears on the left.

Rovics has himself had a soft spot for conspiracy theories, such as 9/11 Truth, which itself often takes on an antisemitic edge.[38] Rovics says that he disagrees with the antifascist idea that the far-right, racists, and antisemites should be “no platformed” and denied access to their ability to speak and organize.[39] Rovics has said that his critics’ “version of ‘antifascism’ involves viciously attacking anyone who is a critic of Israeli apartheid, and using lies and innuendo to do so.”[40] This is what is called the Livingstone Formulation: if someone criticizes you for antisemitism, just say it’s because you’re a critic of Israel even if the issue had nothing to do with Israel.[41]

Seeing as Rovics honed in on me and I have been public about my time with Students for Justice in Palestine and my support for BDS, there is no reason to believe that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Israel. (That is, unless, you think my Jewish family background and religious affiliation counts as a reason.) It is my opinion that nationalism of any kind is a poor way to solve oppression and instead reproduces the conditions of identity-based dispossession. I want to see the eradication of all borders, including in Israel, and want it to be a bi-national autonomous region where Jews, Palestinians, and other peoples share complete democratic, secular, and political self-determination. This includes the Palestinian “right of return” and protection for all residents, including shared access to holy sites and the preservation of cultures, religions, and community traditions. This is why Atzmon’s suspicion of Jewish anti-Zionists and supporters of Palestinians is so troubling: it disallows them to continue being Jews and still support Palestinians. If you attend any Palestinian solidarity rally, besides people of Palestinian descent, Jews are likely to be amongst the most represented demographics. There is a long and rich tradition of Jewish criticism of Israel, ranging from liberal Zionist to anti-Zionist and a whole range of positions in between. Atzmon’s positions essentially erase these Jews and suggests that they are simply denying the natural affinities of their identity, which is inherently exclusive, nationalistic, and supremacist.

Shaul Magid wrote recently in an article about the BDS movement and the settlements in the West Bank that “[what] BDS and the settlers both do is undermine the liberal Zionist narrative, which rests on the dual notion that the state is legitimate but the occupation is not.”[42] Atzmon essentially makes an argument that the Israeli National Religious community makes: that Jewish identity is correctly understood as nationalistic, and that anti-Zionist Jews are simply denying the reality of their identitarian ideology. This undermines both movements to confront Israel’s crimes and Jewish abilities to form an identity separate from the Occupation, which forces the only option to be Jewish disappearance. 

Many early Zionist narratives saw Jews as a necessarily pathetic people, hopping from one pogrom to the other, de-militarized, without the gumption to fight back. Zionism would create a “New Jew” who would engage in the contest of military strength just like any other nation. This had implicit antisemitic overtones to it, sometimes explicit, suggesting that the diaspora was like a disease that had to be cured. In Atzmon's vision, the Jewish anti-Zionist world is subsequently erased, from the Pittsburgh Platform to Jewish Voice for Peace, as themselves simply playing in the same problematic world that Zionists do, only with nominally different branding.

As mentioned, Atzmon has just as much of a problem with Jewish anti-Zionists as he does with Jewish Zionists because they maintain their “tribal identity” and refuse to disaffiliate with Jewishness. “Don’t they love themselves for being enlightened, progressive socialists, while at the same time sinking into neurosis upon realizing that being Jewish tribal petit bourgeois, they have never managed to join the human family, let alone the working class,” says Atzmon about Jewish anti-Zionists.[43]

“If we redefine Zionism as a modern form of Jewish activism that aims to halt assimilation, we can then reassess all Jewish tribal activity as an internal debate within the diverse Zionist political movement – colonizing of Palestine can then be considered as just another one of the faces of Zionism. Jewish socialism and Jewish progressive activism fits very nicely into the Zionist project. As integral parts of the Zionist network, they are there to collect the lost souls amongst the humanist Jews, to bring them home for Hanukkah. The Israel Lobby and Alan Dershowitzes of the world are the voices of Zionism; the third-category socialists are there to stop proud, self-hating Jews from blowing the whistle.”[44]
What Atzmon says here is that it is the maintenance of the Jewish identity that’s the heart of Zionism (which he alleges is to “confront assimilation and the disintegration of Jewish identity[45]), not simply its extensions of colonialism and nationalism. If you fight against the Occupation or apartheid in Israel and yet do so as a Jew, you are a part of the problem since the project of being Jewish is inherently monstrous. He provides what he says are three “escape routes” for Zionists, the third one is what he says is “Departing from Jewish-ness, Jerusalem and any other form of Judaic tribalism, and leaving ‘Chosen-ness’ behind. This is probably the only form of genuine secular Jewish resistance to Zionism one can take seriously.”[46]

These conversations, both about the Jewishness of Zionism and of the power of Jewish lobbies, miss another key factor: Christian Zionism. The evangelical focus on Israel as the locus of resolved prophecy has given Christian Zionism much longer history than Jewish Zionism. The dispensationalist ideology sees the creation of a Jewish Israeli state as the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies by returning the Biblical people to their homeland, ushering in the rapture, the anti-Christ, and the subsequent second coming. This, of course, turns out poorly for the Jews who are largely wiped out or pushed to Christian conversion in this story.[47] Christian Zionism has become a massive force in pro-Israel politics, with groups like Christians United for Israel and dozens of others making up a significant portion of the lobbying efforts, funding of the West Bank settlements, and political infrastructure required for generous military support of Israel. As I’ve written before, the Israel Lobby could just as easily, and more accurately, be named the Christian Zionist Lobby, one which does not represent Jews.[48] This complication does not play into the simplistic notion that Jews run global politics and that Israel is the embodiment of Jewish identity, and therefore it is largely ignored. “Israel is the Jewish state and Jewish-ness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination towards segregation,” says Atzmon, clarifying that Jews must rid themselves of this ideology to “become people like other people.”[49] With that, are they people at all?

Rovics suggests criticisms of those engaging in antisemitism are illegitimate, mentioning Alison Weir. Rovics signed a letter in support of Weir,[50] the founder of If Americans Knew and a person who pushes classic antisemitic conspiracy theories like the Blood Libel and wildly outsized accusations of the “Zionist lobby.” Weir has likewise been pushed out of the Palestine solidarity movement for her antisemitism, something there is consensus on amongst people who know this issue.[51] Weir, along with Atzmon and Israel Shamir (a Holocaust Denier and conspiracy theorist), make up their own identifiable wing of anti-Zionism, dubbed the ‘Weir-Shamir-Atzmon Axis.’ It locates the issues with Zionism with Jews themselves, not simply the issues involved in the oppression of Palestinians.[52]

That is also why the Heimbach interview cannot simply be reduced to a mistake. Heimbach has pushed himself as a “Strasserite,” the “left” wing of the Nazi party, and his use of left-leaning economic arguments and anti-imperialism has led some people without political knowledge to believe his grift.[53] Rovics went along with the interview, where he added that “the number of billionaires in the US of Jewish lineage is clearly disproportionate according to their population.”[54]

While antifascists have discussed how corrosive antisemitism is, and how it can seep into the left, it often goes unaddressed. Antisemitic ideas creep into left political spaces attached to conspiracy thinking, which often suggests that a secretive cabal is at the center of world affairs. “Modern conspiracy narratives are so steeped in antisemitic imagery that tropes about villainous Jews can thrive even in populations with literally no Jews,” says Kelly Weill, a reporter who tracks white nationalists.[55] As antifascist writer David Renton says, antisemitism on the left is a sign that someone lacks political sophistication.[56] Antisemitic ideas can creep in as a form of distorted anticapitalism, whereby certain types of professions or cultural associations are deemed parasitical and then stereotyped along with Jews.[57] Because Jews were, at times, historically pushed into money lending by widespread antisemitism, when capitalism developed there were many who believed that the entire culture had been “Judaized.” This secularized religious antisemitism and pushed the belief that Jews were responsible for the alienations of modernity and the growing financialization of the economy.[58] There is a kind of vulgar anticapitalism and anti-imperialism that does not understand what those issues are, and instead wants to target other marginalized people, such as Jews, as agents of capitalism – thereby taking very real class anger and diverting it onto an opportunistic target.[59]

Today, when it comes to Israel, any rejection of Zionism is often seen as preferable, even when it comes from a place of bigotry. Our resistance to Israeli apartheid must come from support of Palestinian freedom and a global desire to end empires and borders, and that does not mean having a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” mentality about racists in the movement against Israeli violence. Rovics’ own lack of political sophistication seems to have led to his inability to parse antisemitic discourses, and to assume that any accusation is necessarily disingenuous.[60] This negates the very real threats that Jews around the world are facing in the midst of rising antisemitism. It is not unnecessarily divisive to confront antisemitism, it is divisive to respond to any criticism of oppressive behavior with a conspiratorial stream of venom.

Antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine on the left, revealing where analysis is straying into places of bigotry and far-right influence. We should hold people to account for allowing antisemitism to enter into leftist and antiracist social movements, and we do not owe access to movement platforms to every single person who demands it. While Rovics has screamed “cancel culture” from the rooftops, and an “anti-antifa” perspective, you can just look at his associations and his support for open antisemites and decide whether or not you find that acceptable. Rovics published an “exposé” of antifascists on February 21 where he reproduced much of this questionable rhetoric, such as singling out authors of Jewish descent, accusing them of conspiracies, complaining about “cabals,” and suggesting that they are coordinating some kind of attack using crypsis.[61] On March 3rd, he released an “antifascism survey” where he included a plurality of questions related to Jews, such as suggesting, by context, that it would be wrong to root out antisemitism, that people suggesting antisemitism is an issue are just defenders of Israeli apartheid, as well as questions about “Jewish billionaires.”[62] At best, this shows that David cares so little about the reproduction of antisemitic motifs (“conspiratorial Jews”) that he thinks nothing of letting that be the center of his argument. These are just more examples of assuming Jewish concerns are disingenuous, that people disassociating with Rovics must be the result of some organized prodding from Jewish activists, and straw man accusations about their intentions. These show even less willingness to address his behavior or take antisemitism seriously, and even the willingness to reproduce it. While Rovics accuses all of his critics of being “puritans,” they are confronting very real antisemitic rhetoric that can have deadly consequences. Jews deserve to feel welcome in social movements, and deserve to have comrades who demand their safety as well.

If you are interested in reading more about antisemitism from a radical, antifascist, or left perspective, click here and check out the reading list!

*          *           *

Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and union organizer based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Why We Fight: Essays on Fascism, Resistance, and Surviving the Apocalypse (AK Press, 2021) and Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It (AK Press, 2017), and the editor of the forthcoming anthology ¡No pasarán!: Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis. His work is featured at places such as NBC News, The Daily Beast, The Independent, Jacobin, Al Jazeera, Haaretz, Tikkun, The Baffler, Bandcamp Daily, Truthout, and the Oregon Historical Quarterly. He is also the editor of a special issue of the Journal of Social Justice on “Antisemitism in the 21st Century.” He is currently working on two books, one on radical approaches to antisemitism and another on the history of antifascism and popular struggle.

Photo credits

1. Gilad Atzmon, by Bryan Ledgard, 20 October 2007 (CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.
2. David Rovics, by Christian Hufgard, 24 September 2013 (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.


1. Twitter, @drovics, February 19, 2022,
2. This was covered earlier in this article: “‘No, It Is The Children Who Are Wrong’: A Response To David Rovics,” It’s Going Down, August 11, 2021.
3. Mark Greenblatt, “Extremist Heimbach To Relaunch Hate Group, Says He Supports Violence,” Newsy, July 20th, 2021. 
4. Kevin Barrett, “David Rovics on Cancel Culture, Deplatforming, Social Media Dystopia...and Solutions,” Kevin Barrett YouTube Channel, February 3, 2021,
5. Cloee Cooper, “Kevin Barrett: Repackaging Antisemitism,” Political Research Associates, October 23, 2017; Kevin Barrett, “Kevin Barrett asks Spencer Sunshine why he wants to censor the Left Forum,” Kevin Barrett YouTube Channel, May 11, 2017.
6. David Rovics, “Disavowing Disavowal - In Defense of Gilad Atzmon,” Salem News, March 28, 2012.
7. “Greg Johnson Interviews Gilad Atzmon,” Counter-Currents, October 5, 2016.
8. Gilad Atzmon, The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (Winchester and Washington: Zer0, 2011), 121.
9. Gilad Atzmon, “An Interesting Exchange With A Jewish Anti Zionist,” Gilad Atzmon, August 17, 2011.
10. Keith Khan-Harris, “Cloaked In Pretensions, Gilad Atzmon’s Anti-Semitism Soldiers On,Forward, December 10, 2017.
11. Gilad Atzmon, “The Herem Law in the context of Jewish Past and Present,” Gilad Atzmon, July 16, 2011.
12. For more on this, read: Phyllis Goldstein, A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism (Brookline, MA: Facing History and Ourselves, 2012); Magda Teter, Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Antisemitic Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020); Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983).
13. Bernard Harrison, Blaming the Jews: Politics and Delusion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2021).
14. Ibrahim X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York: One World, 2019), 29.
15. Atzmon, The Wandering Who?, 86.
16. Ibid, 169.
17. Gilad Atzmon, “Iraq, America and The Lobby,” Veterans Today, June 15th, 2014.
18. The issue with the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis is that it often places blame for U.S. governmental behavior onto lobbying groups when it should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. and transnational institutions of capital. Christian Zionism is not presented as influential as it should be, it places an accusation of undo influence on the Jewish populations that make up the constituencies of the lobby, and it ropes in most of Jewish civic life into the lobby. That said, groups like AIPAC are powerful and allegations of the authors’ antisemitism are dramatically exaggerated and have been used disingenuously. Read more on this: Joseph Massad, “Blaming the Israel Lobby,” Counterpunch, March 25th, 2006; David Renton, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis: What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It (London: Routledge, 2021) 111-114; Natan Aridan, “Israel Lobby,” Israel Studies 24, no. 2 (2019): 128–43.
19. “Greg Johnson Interviews Gilad Atzmon.”
20. “Gilad Atzmon Archive,” Unz Review, no date.
21. Kevin MacDonald, A People That Shall Dwell Alone, Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy, with Diaspora Peoples (New York: Writer’s Club Press, 2002).
22. “Greg Johnson Interviews Gilad Atzmon.”
23. Gilad Atzmon, “Critical Race Theory and the Jewish Project,” Unz Review, August 20, 2021.
24. David Rovics, “Discussion With Gilad Atzmon,” David Rovics YouTube Channel, October 7, 2020,
25. Atzmon, The Wandering Who?, 175.
26. Ibid, 149.
27. Quoted in “Jewish students told ‘don’t study at LSE’ by Board president,” Jewish News, May 23, 2017,
28. Quoted in Polly Curtis, “Soas faces action of alleged antisemitism,” Guardian, May 12, 2005.
29. “Greg Johnson Interviews Gilad Atzmon.”
30. David Rovics, “Israel/Palestine FAQ,” Songwriter’s Notebook, August 2nd, 2014.
31. Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
32. Atzmon, The Wandering Who?, 142.
33. Ilan Pappe, Ten Myths About Israel (London and New York: Verso, 2017), 21.
34. Ibid, 185.
35. David Hirsh, “Openly embracing prejudice,” Guardian, November 30, 2016.
36. Ali Abunimah, “Palestinian writers, activists disavow racism, anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon,” Electronic Intifada, March 13, 2012.
37. “Not Quite ‘Ordinary Human Beings’—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon,” Three Way Fight, [February 2012].
38. David Rovics, “The Truth About the 9/11 ‘Truth Movement’,” Common Dreams, April 7, 2008.
39. David Rovics, “Platforming Fascists,” PM Press, January 24, 2021.
40. David Rovics, “Portland ‘Antifascist’ Troll Farm, February 18, 2022.
41. David Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), 11-12.
42. Shaul Magid, “The Grand Collaboration,” Tablet, January 5th, 2021.
43. Atzmon, The Wandering Who?, 86.
44. Ibid, 76.
45. Ibid, 75.
46. Ibid, 87. His other two solutions are to double down on Zionism or become Orthodox, because he says those are the more authentic expressions of Jewish identity.
47. Sean Durbin, Righteous Gentiles: Religion, Identity, and Myth in John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 28-36.
48. Shane Burley, “Liberation Itself is Sacred,” Protean Magazine, May 25th, 2021.
49. Atzmon, The Wandering Who?, 188.
50. “An open letter to the U.S. Campaign and other Activists for Justice in Palestine,” circa 2015.
51. Spencer Sunshine, “Campus Profile - Alison Weir: If Americans Knew,” Political Research Associates, May 15th, 2014.
52. Spencer Sunshine, “Looking Left at Antisemitism,” Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 9 (2019), 11-12.
53. Molly Shah, “Matthew Heimbach and the Left’s Vulnerability to Fascist Infiltration,” The Real News Network, August 24, 2021; Vegas Tenold, Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America (New York City: Bold Type Books, 2018).
54. David Rovics, “Platforming Fascists.”
55. Kelly Weill, Off the Edge: Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything (New York: Workman Publishing, 2022), 178.
56. Shane Burley, “Britains’s Labour Antisemitism Controversy, Revisited,” Jewish Currents, August 27, 2021.
57. Moishe Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust.’New German Critique, no. 19 (1980).
58. Explained in detail in Michele Battini, The Socialism of Fools: Capitalism & Modern Anti-Semitism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018).
59. Werner Bonefield, “Antisemitism and the Power of Abstraction: From Political Economy to Critical Theory,” in Antisemitism and the Constitution of Sociology, edited by Marcel Stoetzler (Lincoln and London: Nebraska University Press, 2014), 321-25.
60. Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism,” Public Culture 18:1 (2006), 93-110.
61. David Rovics, “Portland ‘Antifascist’ Troll Farm EXPOSED.”
62. David Rovics, “Antifascism Survey,”, March 3rd, 2022.

Mar 24, 2022

Anti-Racist Action vs. Madeleine Albright in '98

by Kdog

Members of Anti-Racist Action unfurl banner during Albrights  speech.
photo for educational use only. courtesy of GettyImages and CNN

“1-2-3-4 We Don’t Want Your Racist War!”

In February 1998 Anti-Racist Action and others disrupted a Columbus OH Town Hall meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who was trying to build up support for another war with Iraq.

I believe that the disastrous Town Hall and the media coverage it generated actually pushed back Clinton’s war plans - making the action one of ARA’s greatest accomplishments.

Members of Anti-Racist Action prepare to confront and disrupt
Albright's visit to Columbus, OH.  Photo for educational use only.
Courtesy of Getty Images and John Ruthroff.

Two years earlier Albright had called the half-million dead Iraqi kids worth the cost of sanctions against the regime.
“Lesley Stahl (asking about US sanctions on Iraq): We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it. —60 Minutes (5/12/96)”

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (to her right) 
at Ohio State, Columbus, OH. Photo is for educational use only. 
Courtesy of Getty Images and John Ruthroff.

Mar 2, 2022

Antifascist Resources on Ukraine

Moscow protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 24 February 2022
The sign at left reads No war! Putin go away!

In this post we offer an annotated list of resources on Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the background to the crisis. We don't agree with every point in all of the articles, but we believe that all of them provide important information and make important contributions to the discussion. We will update this post as we learn of new resources to include. [EXPANDED AND UPDATED: eleven resources added April 3, 2022.]

Voices from Ukraine

Taras Bilous, “A letter to the western left from Kyiv (February 2022) (Cached here.)
This open letter by a young Ukrainian leftist challenges those western leftists who have refused to criticize Russia out of a distorted concept of anti-imperialism. “Part of the responsibility for what is happening rests with you.”

War and anarchists: anti-authoritarian perspectives on Ukraine (CrimethInc., February 2022)
This text, written by several anti-authoritarian activists from Ukraine, offers an anarchist perspective on events from the Maidan protests of 2013-2014 to the eve of the 2022 Russian invasion. It provides helpful information about events and some of the political forces, but has also been criticized for minimizing the reality of Ukrainian far right nationalism. The Russian group Anarchist Fighter (or Militant Anarchist) offers a useful response here.

War and occupation: life and death across the front line: Interview with Olena Skomoroshchenko of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (Transnational Solidarity Network, November 2019)
This 2019 interview with the SDPU’s representative to the Socialist International discusses Ukraine’s economic and social situation, the war in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the impact of Volodymyr Zelensky's 2019 election as president.

Taras Bilous, “The War in Ukraine and the Global South (New Politics, 21 March 2022)
“I understand the reluctance to support your former colonialists in their struggle against another imperialism and the warnings that a stronger U.S. would impact you negatively…. At the same time…other imperialist predators can profit from this situation. Russia already bombed Syria, it has subjugated the governments of Central Africa and Mali, to say nothing of its imperial dominance over Kazakhstan and Central Asia. If it wins in Ukraine, it will be able to meddle in your countries’ affairs, too. Whereas its defeat can restrain not only Russia but also other global and regional powers.”

Volodymyr Ishchenko, “Why did Ukraine suspend 11 ‘pro-Russia’ parties? (Al Jazeera, 21 March 2022)
“[T]he suspension of these parties is completely meaningless for Ukraine’s security. It is true that some of the suspended parties…were strongly and genuinely pro-Russian for many years. However, practically every leader and sponsor of these parties with any real influence in Ukraine condemned Russia’s invasion, and are now contributing to Ukraine’s defence.”

Voices from Russia

Why no mass protests in Russia?” (interview with Grigory Yudin) (Meduza, February 2022)
Contrary to the misleading title, sociologist Yudin argues that relative to the repressive consequences of protesting, “people are coming out in force.” The interview discusses antiwar sentiment and likely impact of the Ukraine invasion on Russia. Meduza is an independent Russian news website based in Latvia.

Feminist Antiwar Resistance manifesto (Facebook, 1 March 2022)
“The current war, as Putin’s addresses show, is also fought under the banner of the ‘traditional values’ declared by government ideologues — values that Russia allegedly decided to promote throughout the world as a missionary, using violence against those who refuse to accept them or hold other views. Anyone who is capable of critical thinking understands well that these ‘traditional values’ include gender inequality, exploitation of women, and state repression against those whose way of life, self-identification, and actions do not conform with narrow patriarchal norms.”

Manifesto of the Coalition ‘Socialists Against War’ (LeftEast, 14 March 2022)
“The war must be stopped by ourselves – men and women of Russia. This country belongs to us, not a handful of mad old people with palaces and yachts. It’s time to get it back. Our enemies are not in Kiev and Odessa, but in Moscow. It’s time to kick them out of there. War is not Russia. War is Putin and his regime. Therefore, we, the Russian Socialists and Communists, are against this criminal war. We want to stop her to save Russia.”

The war at home: Russia is de facto under martial law, human rights experts warn (Meduza, 25 March 2022)
“Rights and freedoms in Russia have been restricted to the point that the country is de facto under martial law. This is the conclusion of a new report authored by prominent human rights experts Pavel Chikov, head of the [Russia-based] rights group Agora, and Damir Gainutdinov, head of the Net Freedoms Project. Indeed, against the backdrop of Moscow’s month-long invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have moved to impose serious restrictions on basic constitutional rights and freedoms at home.”

Solidarity and critique

LeftEast Condemns Putin’s Imperial War Against Ukraine (LeftEast, February 2022)
LeftEast is a collective of intellectuals and activists from many different countries and nationalities, predominantly eastern European. This statement holds the Russian state to account as the main aggressor, yet it also criticizes the U.S. and NATO for fueling the crisis and the Ukrainian government for repressive and discriminatory policies.

Sharing the Shame: A Letter from Internationalists in China (Chuǎng, March 2022)
This letter from an anonymous group of leftists in China provides a useful perspective on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been perceived within the Chinese left. “As internationalists, we are firmly against the invasion by Russia, to the same degree that we are against NATO’s reckless expansion. What we’re in support of is not the Ukrainian government, but the right of the Ukrainian people to be free from any imperialist interference.”

Tony Bramble, “No to war, no to imperialism (Red Flag, February 2022)
A useful statement from an Australian Trotskyist organization. “The left, the only consistent opponents of militarism and war, needs to raise its voice against a Russian invasion and against the imperial ambitions of Putin and his authoritarian state…. [But] everything the US accuses Moscow of it has done itself for many decades and continues to do all around the world, usually with the full backing of its ‘democratic’ allies.”

Fragments of a debate amongst AngryWorkers on the war in Ukraine (AngryWorkers, 10 March 2022)
Here members of the British-based leftist organization AngryWorkers attempt to grapple honestly with a complex situation. “[W]e generally assumed that, ‘workers’ should not fight their bosses’ war’ and that, although being a very blunt verbal uttering, ‘no war, but the class war’ could express our general political line…. But what exactly is a ‘bosses’ war?’ And what use is an internationalist principle if your village is being shelled by a Russian tank? To what extent do workers in Ukraine just have to defend themselves against a military aggression?”

Gilbert Achcar, “A memorandum on the radical anti-imperialist position regarding the war in Ukraine (New Politics, February 2022)
This statement addresses a number of important specific issues, such as demanding withdrawal of troops rather than just a cease fire, opposing direct military intervention by one imperial force against another, and advocating unconditional delivery of defensive weapons to the victims of aggression. These issues are important for us to consider, whether or not we agree with Achcar's specific positions.

Gilbert Achcar, “Six FAQs on Anti-Imperialism Today and the War in Ukraine (New Politics, 19 March 2022)
Achcar addresses six questions related to his “Memorandum” above, such as “Is the ‘Global South’ supporting Russia?”, “How can we radical anti-imperialists support a resistance that is led by a rightwing bourgeois government?”, and “Can we support Western arms deliveries to Ukraine?”

Anindya Bhattacharyya, “How the West made Putin (rs21, 17 March 2022)
Today, western politicians and media denounce Vladimir Putin as a war criminal and a new Hitler, yet in 2002 then British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped secure “Putin’s backing for the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in return for Western endorsement of his brutal campaign to crush Chechnya’s separatist movement.” “The difference between the bad Putin today and the good one two decades ago wasn’t a new found bloodlust or inclination to bomb civilians. The difference was simply his change in attitudes towards Western imperial interests.”

Simon Pirani, “Ukraine: the sources of danger of a wider war (People and Nature, 21 March 2022)
“[F]or all their disavowals of dividing the world into ‘spheres of influence’, the NATO powers treated Putin’s Russia as a gendarme to control parts of the former Soviet space. They had the ‘war on terror’ to fight after the twin towers attack of September 2001; and the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the Saudi terror in Yemen, that followed. This policy persisted not only up to 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea provoked a limited western response, but in its essentials up to last month.”

“Russia’s war on Ukraine from 2014 was both an imperial adventure aimed at the state and an exercise in social control. The Kremlin feared, with justification, that Yanukovich’s overthrow could presage unrest in Russia, where falling living standards and authoritarianism were provoking reactions. Here, too, Putin acted as a gendarme for international capital – as he did more recently by intervening in Belarus (2020) and Kazakhstan (this year).”

Analysis of far right forces

Atlanta Antifascists, “War in Ukraine… Where are the Fascists? (February 2022)
This 13-minute video presentation provides a helpful introduction. “While none of the states involved are ruled directly by open fascists, there are fascist adventurers present in Ukraine, Russia, and also within the US military.”

Vyacheslav Likhachev, “The Far Right in the Conflict between Russia and Ukraine (Institut français des relations internationales 7/2016)
A detailed study of both Ukrainian and Russian “radical nationalists” before, during, and after the events of 2014, including the Maidan revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the formation of the separatist “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine. This was published in 2016 but still provides useful background.

Diane Francis, “Vlad’s Wagner (Kyiv Post, December 2021) (Cached here.)
Report by a mainstream journalist on the Wagner Group, the private armed force of Russian mercenaries that works closely with the Russian state. Wagner soldiers helped Russia annex Crimea and invade eastern Ukraine in 2014, and they have also operated in Syria and over a dozen African countries.

Lev Golinkin, “Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are On the March in Ukraine (The Nation, February 2019) (Cached here.)
Putin’s claim that neo-Nazis run Ukraine is false and self-serving, but fascists do have a significant presence within the Ukrainian military and police, far rightists have violently attacked Roma and LGBT communities repeatedly, and World War 2-era Nazi collaborators have been widely (and officially) glorified.

Paul Bowman, “Is Putin a fascist? (Medium, 24 March 2022)
“The danger that Putin and his autocratic regime of silovik barons and oligarch courtiers pose to Ukraine and the world is not to be underestimated. When we say that this is not fascism, we are not downplaying the danger the regime poses, by any means. But grassroots anti-fascist resistance could not have prevented his rise to power, because he did not come from the streets at the head of a fascist paramilitary party, but from within the existing corridors of power of the collapsing Soviet state.”

Philippe Alcoy, “Beyond Putin’s Propaganda, the Far Right is a Major Problem in Ukraine (LeftVoice, 14 March 2022)
“‘Denazification’ is one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s justifications for his continued attacks on Ukraine. These declarations are pure Kremlin propagandas aimed at building a consensus, primarily within Russia itself, that legitimizes the aggression of the Putin regime. To be sure, the Ukrainian government is reactionary, bourgeois, and pro-imperialist, but it is not actually led by Nazis. However, denying the existence of far-right nationalist organizations and the ability they’ve had since 2014 to influence Ukrainian politics only strengthens their position, posing a grave threat to the working class and oppressed in Ukraine and beyond.”

Far rightists and the 2014 revolution

Three Way Fight published a series of articles in the immediate aftermath of Ukraine's 2014 revolution. Although many of the specifics have changed, the basic analysis remains relevant: 

Photo credit:

Акутагава, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Feb 19, 2022

Convoys, Rallies, and a Three-Way Fight Approach within a Union Context

Freedom Convoy advertisement.
Graphic and photo by unknown. Used here for educational purposes.

The author, DZ, has opted to use his initials because he is discussing active union business at his local. 

(This article details actions and analysis in Vancouver. Meanwhile, as we go to publish, the police in Ottawa have stepped up the banning of the Convoy from areas around Parliament and the city. Attempts to stop the Convoy protests by police have now seen the police using chemical sprays and flash grenades with a growing number of the Convoy supporters being arrested - 3WF)

The ongoing trucker convoy, which has occupied parts of downtown Ottawa and other neighborhoods for several weeks, has been met with a widespread sense of demoralization among the left (an equivocal term that I will disambiguate below). Participants in the convoy present themselves in opposition to vaccine mandates, but we must note that these actions are the latest iteration of a strategically and tactically fluid covid-denialist movement, which has manifest over the last two years as anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, anti-mandate, and anti-mask. It is a movement which has also, from its very beginnings, drawn membership and support from far-right movements.

I. The Convoys

In what I follows, I will look at three smaller events that took place in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first two events I will examine are convoys. They were organized by a group called Action4Canada. On February 5th, a convoy billed as the “Langley Freedom Convoy” was disrupted by counter-protestors and cyclists, who blocked the convoy at several different intersections. The counter-protest was one of several actions organized to meet the smaller, mostly mobile trucker convoys in various cities across Canada. The express intent of the counter-protestors was to block intersections in order to reroute the convoy away from the hospitals in the Vancouver core. (Some intersections might also have been chosen to subsequently reroute the convoy away from the Downtown Eastside). Perhaps the most effective chokepoint occurred when cyclists blocked the convoy as it headed westbound on Terminal Avenue. As a local journalist pointed out, there's a two-kilometer stretch of Terminal where drivers can’t exit down side streets, and at the end of that stretch they were blocked and deadlocked. The convoy had to reverse out with assistance of police. Some of the convoy made it downtown, and I have seen social media posts showing that they were blocked or rerouted (with different degrees of success) at no fewer than four different intersections.

Cyclists disrupt Convoy in Vancuver. Photo by unknown.
Used here for educational purposes.

Interestingly, the destination for the “3rd Lower Mainland Freedom Convoy” on February 12th was the 176 St. border crossing in Surrey, BC, far from the Vancouver city core. The change in destination may be an attempt to avoid the disruptions of counter-protests. The fact that these groups target border crossings and challenge the RCMP—at this particular event several vehicles successfully broke through police barricades—shows that while police sympathies for the covid-denialist movement are frequently documented in, for example, Ottawa, these convoys are willing to engage in system-oppositional actions.

Perhaps the safest observation—one made by many—about these events is that there is a stark contrast between the police response to convoy actions and those of leftist or Indigenous movements, which are typically suppressed long before they would reach a similar critical mass. On that note, the counter-protest action on February 5th might have been the strongest leftist action in the Vancouver region since the Wet'suwet'en solidarity blockades two years ago—though it did not match the scope or intensity of those actions.

A binary opposition drawn between convoys and counter-protestors does not capture all the elements of the present conjuncture. A three-way fight analysis situates both the convoys and the counter-protestors in relation to the state as well. A few tentative observations follow.

1. The convoys fit the pattern of when far-right movements turn to system-oppositional tactics. In the fifth thesis of his “Seven Theses on the Three-Way Fight,” D.Z. Shaw proposes that “far-right movements are system-loyal when they perceive that the entitlements of white supremacy can be advanced within bourgeois or democratic institutions and they become insurgent when they perceive that these entitlements cannot.” This is not the venue to examine the intricate entanglement of white supremacy and liberalism within the North American settler-colonial project. Throughout this history, as evidenced in W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of the wages of whiteness, Indigenous dispossession and the political suppression of former slaves enabled the formation and growth of a white worker elite and petty bourgeoisie, who embraced and propelled this colonial project because it advanced their interests.

As Angela Mitropolous argues, the “political-economic boundary between the demos (the ostensibly proper subject of political representation and lawmaking) and the practices of managing (properly) productive populations” plays a crucial role in capitalist extraction and accumulation even under neoliberal policy (Mitropolous, Pandemonium, Pluto Press, 13). In my view, public health orders appear contradictory unless we view them as tending toward what the ruling classes perceive to be the minimum necessary intervention to preserve or shore up hegemony during crisis. As Mitropolous observes, these interventions seek to preserve the viability of the demos; “however, the viability of locked-down households was physically contingent upon and linked by the unpaid and low-paid work in which women, migrants, and Black and Brown people predominate” (Mitropolous, 11). Yet these interventions must also manage these productive populations to preserve the viability of the demos—hence the public health measures that covid-denialist movements perceive as attacking their interests are in place to manage the populations that ensure the viability of the demos to which many in these movements belong. When far-right groups perceive these efforts to balance hegemony during crisis as undermining their place in socio-economic hierarchies and curtailing their entitlements relative to those hierarchies, they reorganize along system-oppositional lines. Hence the close proximities of the various waves of COVID-19 and of system-oppositional covid-denialist movements.

2. Far-right movements are relatively autonomous. The three-way fight approach dispenses with the conventional wisdom on the radical left that fascist movements are the working-class lackeys of the most reactionary sections of capitalism. The conventional position has struggled to explain the potential mass appeal of fascism. By contrast, the three-way fight position (at least as I defend it) contends that far-right movements are relatively autonomous, potentially mass movements that seek to re-entrench the social inequalities and hierarchies already present in society. In my view this also means that the mass character of fascism cannot be explained as a form of ignorance or false consciousness, shaped by legitimate but misdirected grievances. Instead, the far-right seeks to defend the inequalities that serve their interests.

3. Counter-protests are divided between progressive, politically mainstream participants and smaller radical/revolutionary groups. The strengths and weaknesses of counter-protest actions against the convoys can be traced back to the composition of the counter-protests themselves. On the one hand, the counter-protests are made up of mainstream, progressive participants who have called on the Canadian state and its repressive state apparatus ‘to do its job.’ On the other hand, there are radical or revolutionary participants advancing direct action as community self-defense, and who would view this specific work as aligned with antifascist organizing over the last six or seven years. These coalitions won’t likely last longer than the immediate threat of convoy activity. Therefore, political education around these struggles must demonstrate the ideological sympathies between police and the far-right when progressives call for more police powers, it must emphasize the relative autonomy of far-right movements when progressives cast them as appendages of right-wing political parties, and it must highlight how far-right movements are endogenous to Canadian settler-colonial hegemony when progressives portray them as puppets of so-called foreign influence. The convoys, like other far-right movements, may be enabled or strengthened by money or infrastructure provided their political allies, but they will not disappear if those supports dissipate.

II. A Union Response to the Rally for Informed Consent

It didn’t take long before progressive media jumped into the fray with a defense of building a left populism that draws on whatever grievances the convoys might have. Emma Jackson’s essay for The Breach touches on almost all the expected cliched themes: whereas the left, which engages in perennially cliquish behavior, has been in disarray, these right-wing movements tap into real, but misdirected, anger felt by the supposed common man. This type of analysis, generally speaking, goes awry for many reasons. First, it refuses to analyze class categories seriously—very commonly mistaking a white worker-elite or petty bourgeoisie for the supposed “working class”—and it never specifically analyzes how race and gender factor into the formation of these movements and their demands. Second, it almost never recognizes, despite the mountains of revolutionary literature from the last five decades, that right-wing and far-right movements are able to mobilize with this kind of strength because neoliberal policy, mainstream liberal politics, and the far-right all converge around and prop up settler-state hegemony. Jackson argues that we ought to ‘understand the right’s grievances’ when this has always been a regular and self-defeating feature of the compromises and half measures made in the name of reformism or earlier attempts at left populism, compromises and initiatives which end up propagating the conditions that make far-right movements possible. And, finally, this type of analysis does not disambiguate “the left;” instead this term conflates everything from autonomous anti-capitalist movements, to labor organizing, to institutional capture of various anti-oppression initiatives via reformism, as if they evince a common political horizon.

The remainder of this essay will focus an approach that attempts to bring the perspective of the three-way fight to union organizing and practice. I acknowledge that the three-way fight originates in street-level antifascist organizing and that translating it into union practice meets several obvious limits, especially given that I’m discussing the terrain of a worker-elite or petty bourgeois faculty association. I hope that this analysis, however, offers an example of how a three-way fight perspective can work within labor organizing.

Our union’s practical strength was tested by an Action4Canada event with a much smaller scope than a convoy. On Thursday, February 3rd, 2022 the group held a “Rally for Informed Consent” in support of a student arrested for not wearing a mask while at Douglas College. A faculty member was present to observe the rally, and they counted 16 attendees directly in front of the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, BC (one campus of the college). There were additional protestors around the corner on Columbia Street. A photograph taken around 12:30pm shows around 20 people on Columbia, though not all demonstrators might be in the photograph and it is unclear if all people in the photo are participants. The presence of demonstrators on Columbia Street, separate from those in front of the doors to the Douglas College campus in the Anvil Centre, raises the suspicion—expressed by an anonymous op-ed published by the New Westminster Record—“that this protest chose their position intentionally in order to harass the vaccine clinic” housed in the Anvil Centre as well.

Though the conditions differ from a typical three-way fight struggle, there is a similar arrangement of contending organizations: the college administration (management), the union, and a covid-denialist group (which was, within its own messaging, was circulating far-right rhetoric and ideas). The motivation behind the union response that I advocated was one which differentiated itself from management’s liberal position and the far-right group. Administration refused to notify any union members other than those who were working within the building, maintaining that broader notification would cause undue alarm—but they also wanted to dampen the possibility of counter-protests staged by members or other parts of the community.

What I proposed was a multipronged approach which put the onus on union leadership to organize a political response to the anti-mask rally. Such an approach, I would contend, is a more productive use of union capacity than the “left populist” approach which asserts, often in vague terms, that we must organize or appeal to the other side. A strategic response to far-right movements can also serve advance internal organizational goals. Unions are obligated to rectify their historical role in implementing formal or informal practices—sometimes colluding with management—that have produced and reproduced racist and sexist work environments. Political education is a necessary, but not in itself sufficient, component to challenging practices that reproduce or are at least permissive of workplace inequalities and inequities. Many unions in the post-secondary education sector in British Columbia are seeking to align the traditional union mandate with anti-oppression objectives, so this is an ongoing issue at many locals. Though right-wing critics portray post-secondary education as a bastion of radicalism, the political attitudes at our local seem to hew fairly close to the populace at large. We’ve struggled at different points to pass anti-racist initiatives or solidarity statements.

Thus I prepared the union response to the anti-mask rally to navigate Charybdis and Scylla of pro-management members and covid-denialism within membership itself. There are three prongs to the approach, each demanding a stronger political commitment from members: (1) an action plan should further rallies take place; (2) a public statement; and (3) literature for members who decide to push back against these rallies. Each in and of itself is an insufficient response. For example, a public statement in isolation from the others comes off as a ‘sternly worded letter’ and we know how effective those have been at dissuading far-right organizing.

We passed the public statement at our executive council. But we also passed the other two. And if it is true that our membership’s political attitudes align with the general population, and if it is true that our executive council (a representative body of the general membership) is similar to membership, it was surprising that each motion passed unanimously. It is a marked departure from the typical scope of operations to assert, as our action plan did, that union leadership will notify all members that a rally will happen when management declines to do so. This puts the union at odds with management’s liberal approach, which appeals to the right to free expression, handles demonstrations as security concerns, and also discourages counter-action on the part of employees. It is also a marked departure that a political statement with explicit anti-racist messaging passes unanimously. There are typically objections that anti-racist or other anti-oppression messaging is outside the traditional union mandate. I have reproduced the text of the leaflet below in Part III.

I will admit that the foregoing analysis focuses on a very small sliver of organizing in general. But if it is correct that our local’s membership is not nearly as radical as conservative fever-dreams would indicate and all three prongs of the union’s political response were unanimously approved at our executive council, then we need to propose some explanation for that unexpected outcome. They could, for example, still face opposition in a general meeting.

In my view, our response was successful (so far) because it focused on two narrow political issues. As the leaflet’s title indicates, we contend that covid-denialist movements are anti-worker and mistaken about the analogies they have drawn to historical forms of oppression—the leaflet focuses specifically on analogies to Segregation. Our members were directed to return to in-person teaching around the peak of the Omicron wave and one of the top member concerns involved access to proper personal protective equipment to reduce spread of COVID-19 and protect employees and students at the college (how that was handled within the college is a different discussion). I believe that there is legitimate anger toward anti-maskers and the trucker convoy being uncritically framed as representing workers’ grievances.

As for the leaflet, I think both our executive council and the subcommittee that approved it recognize that it offers an unequivocal statement rejecting the analogy between public health orders and Segregation, and that it serves as an education piece to distribute to members and students who, in circulating around campus, would encounter these rallies without the requisite historical knowledge—Canadian public education isn’t much better than American education when it comes to the history of racism and white supremacy in North America—to identify the obvious fallacies in covid-denialist propaganda. Yet further work needs to be done. It has been rightly pointed out that an education piece ought to be produced examining the covid-denialist appropriation of feminist slogans such as “my body, my choice.”

Though a faculty union would not likely emerge as an antifascist fighting force, we have taken the initiative to build an antifascist response into existing organizational structures when the labor sector we belong to has yet to formulate a coherent and autonomous political response to covid-denialism.

III. The Leaflet: “Anti-Maskers: Anti-Worker and Mistaken About Segregation”

The following text was approved by our local’s Anti-Racism Action Committee.

Groups protesting mask mandates and vaccines at Douglas College are actively spreading misinformation about the public health orders in effect at the college and drawing false analogies between their movement and the history of oppressed peoples. Individuals resist mandates for a number of reasons despite the harm it might cause to others. They may not see their attitudes and beliefs reflected in covid-denialism as a movement. Nonetheless, we must meet the politics of this movement head on: it propagates misinformation and false analogies that do not hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, covid-denialism is anti-worker and mistaken about Segregation.

Mask Mandates

First, Douglas College—with the exception of a few select programs—does not require vaccination for work or study within the institution. Anti-maskers present mask mandates as a violation of their freedom, but here they clearly run counter to workers’ demands. The faculty of Douglas College were directed to return to campus on January 10th, during what was possibly the peak of the Omicron wave. The current mask mandate mitigates the risk of transmission on campus—a protection that workers themselves have sought to maintain to protect themselves, staff, students, and their respective families. Therefore, the “freedom” to refuse a mask constitutes an anti-worker action.

Appropriating Symbols of Oppression

Second, participants in the covid-denialism movement—which as a whole is a far-right, white political movement—have likened their cause to the history of the struggles of oppressed peoples. Anti-vax and anti-mask protests are the latest manifestation of a covid-denialist movement, which formed in opposition to lockdowns. Their opposition was premised on the idea, shared with some right-wing politicians, that so-called herd immunity would engender survival of the fittest. More recently, and worryingly, anti-vaxxers have begun to describe themselves as “pure bloods.” And let us not forget that far-right movements, propagating white supremacist, ableist, sexist and transphobic propaganda were present at the birth of the movement against public health orders. Even if some particular anti-vax groups do not have an actual backwards connection to these original anti-lockdown movements, they remain permissive if not accepting toward the propagation of far-right and fascist propaganda within the movement.

Thus it is especially offensive when anti-vaxxers appropriate symbols from the struggles of the oppressed to legitimate their grievances. We are familiar with instances where anti-vaxxers have compared their treatment to the ghettoization of Jewish peoples under Nazi legislation, and the primary symbol associated with that treatment: the yellow Star of David. They have been rightly criticized for doing so. Anti-vaxxer groups readily mix with far-right groups; there have been numerous instances of antisemitic propaganda being propagated within these networks. It may appear to be a contradiction between appropriating the yellow Star and antisemitism. A pseudonymous antifascist scholar untangles the knot of this contradiction:

their attempt to draw a parallel between the conditions of present society and those of historical injustice and oppression is not as it appears—that is, an acknowledgement of these prior injustices. Recall that far-right groups regard human inequality as natural and desirable as long as their in-group is at the top of this hierarchy. In white supremacist ideology, Jewish peoples are the natural inferiors of “Aryans.” For the white supremacist and antisemitic elements of anti-vaxxer groups, when they evoke the yellow star, they mean that what they take to be natural hierarchies have been overturned, and there the injustice occurs (M.I. Asma, On Necrocapitalism, Kersplebedeb, 307).

In other words, the covid-denialist movement objects not to the oppression of marginalized peoples but rather their perception that their interests have been marginalized in society. Despite the fact that the pandemic has been prolonged by politicians glad-handing covid-denialism and “keeping the economy going” through public health orders driven by facilitating capital accumulation and politics rather than epidemiology.  Despite the fact, demonstrated by lax enforcement of denialist demonstrations including the so-called “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa, that they have the sympathy if not complicity of the police (who have shown themselves in their resistance to vaccine mandates covid-denialists themselves).

Thus when covid-denialists compare their situation to Segregation, one is left to wonder: what Segregation? They have captured parts of conservative political networks in both the United States and Canada. They have, in both countries, potential allies and sympathizers in the police.

In no uncertain terms, covid-deniers have no right to evoke the horrors of Segregation. Segregation in the United States was for ten decades the political suppression of, and the systemic degradation and humiliation of Black Americans. And not only the US; similar conditions prevailed in Canada: “public education, immigration, employment and housing were all subject to a veiled Jim Crow-style segregation that either formally or informally kept Black persons in social, economic and political subjugation” (Robyn Maynard, Policing Black Lives, Fernwood Press, 33).

Covid-denialist movements present aspects of Segregation out of context to draw false analogies. They point to vaccine mandates at certain public functions and present these mandates as the suppression of their rights. But public health orders are drawn up to balance various rights (or, more specifically, the balance of social forces represented by the assertion of rights), where it must be acknowledged that any supposed right won by covid-denialists is a burden shifted to workers, the immunocompromised, and persons with disabilities.

Covid-denialism never claims anything more than a shallow semblance to the system of Segregation in the United States—which amounts to denialism toward both the de facto and de jure violence and systemic oppression faced by Black communities. Covid-denialists not only can vote (and do), but they have well-placed allies in major conservative parties. There is no analogy to lynch-law justice, which perpetrated more than 4000 documented racial terror lynchings in twelve US southern states from 1877–1950 (Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America). There are no housing covenants which ghettoized Black Americans and other oppressed peoples. They have not faced chronic underfunding in segregated schools (a history with ongoing contemporary consequences). Nor have they been exploited as an under-class, “an unskilled reserve labor force to be super-exploited for the benefit of every other section of…society” (James Boggs, Racism and the Class Struggle, Monthly Review Press, 23).

The comparison of public health orders to Segregation amounts to the minimization and denial of the depth and magnitude of Segregation and its ongoing ramifications. Far from minimalizing the pandemic, they have embraced it as an opportunity for building their reactionary political program. They are—to draw finally an appropriate analogy to the history of racism in North America—descendants of the segregators, not the segregated.