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 hand...to 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.

Mar 18, 2019

The Alt-Creeps: A review of Against the Fascist Creep and Ctrl-Alt-Delete

Review by rowan

This review was written in October 2017 and originally published in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, no. 30 (2018/2019). It is republished here with permission of the author.

Books reviewed:
Alexander Reid Ross, Against the Fascist Creep. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2017. 400 pp. $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-849352-44-4.
Matthew N. Lyons, It’s Going Down, K. Kersplebedeb, and Bromma, Ctrl-Alt-Delete: An Anti-Fascist Report on the Alternative Right. Montreal: Kersplebedeb Publishing, 2017. 108 pp. $10.00, ISBN: 978-1-894946-85-8.

A few years ago a dear friend expressed his concern about what he perceived as a dangerous political and cultural turn to the right. “The Alternative Right, the men’s rights activists, the Dark Enlightenment. All of these fascists are organizing and trying to build power. It scares me.” In some arrogant attempt to posture as very serious, I scoffed at these reactionaries as “wingnuts confined to the internet,” with no significance in “the real world.” I was wrong.

We are experiencing a frightening and drastic rightward shift in the overall political climate, not only in the United States, but also throughout Europe and Asia as well. The 2016 presidential election and the events surrounding it have empowered and emboldened all of these tendencies and more. Formerly marginal sectors of the Far Right have stepped into the light of mainstream US politics. They have helped to build neo-fascist movements and elect a bullying right-wing populist to one of the most powerful positions in the world. From Trump, to Brexit, to LePen, to the Islamic State, to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Far Right is on the move. They are attempting to organize for and to brutally impose their hierarchical and inegalitarian visions on society. I have since apologized to my friend.

I don’t, however, think that my opinion was especially unique. Rather, I expressed a common view among folks on the radical Left. I argued for years that while fascists and the Far Right should certainly be opposed, they represented a far smaller threat to the lives and well-being of people of color than did the police, the prison system, and other institutions of official society. I am by no means the only one who held this position. Nor was I completely wrong. However, my complacency was sorely misplaced. It was, consciously or not, rooted in a view that saw social relations as stable and which failed to comprehend the total social, political, economic, and ecological crisis that we inhabit.

In this moment, those of us who seek to build a free and just world would do well to study our enemies and understand their politics, strategies, and history. Two recent books attempt to examine the history and politics of the insurgent Far Right: Alexander Reid Ross’s Against the Fascist Creep and the anthology Ctrl-Alt Delete published by Kersplebedeb.

Book covers of Against the Fascist Creep and Ctrl-Alt-Delete
Clocking in at almost 400 pages Reid Ross’s tome is by far the more ambitious project. Against the Fascist Creep is an attempt to tell the history of insurgent fascist politics and their complicated relationship with the Far Left.

Throughout his book Reid Ross focuses more on the ideology of fascism as a revolutionary movement than on the operations and policies of fascism in power. Reid Ross starts by looking at populist tendencies of North American “Manifest Destiny" and the emergence of anti-elitist ideologies that remain deeply racist and authoritarian. From these roots, he looks at the explosion of radical and militant right-wing politics following the First World War. In the wake of that catastrophe, Europeans developed ideologies and built movements to make sense of a chaotic and unjust world and to change it. Anarchists and Marxists led revolutions and rebellions across the continent. In opposition to, but also sometimes influenced and inspired by these left-wing ideologies, more authoritarian and nationalist politics emerged; from “national syndicalism” to Italian Fascism, to German National Socialism. Amidst the chaos of power structures crumbling, radical movements splitting, and struggles over power and principles, fascism emerged in opposition to both the exploitation of capitalist modernity and the universalism of Marxist communism.

Following a lengthy engagement with the life and thought of fascist occultist Julius Evola, Reid Ross discusses the emergence of the European New Right (ENR) in the 1960s. Fueled by resentment in the face of decolonization, the ENR attempted to rebuild insurgent right-wing politics to fit the postwar reality. Drawing on the work of Italian communist (and anti-fascist) Antonio Gramsci, these activists and intellectuals prioritized cultural transformation in the place of an immediate struggle for political power. They also tended to minimize explicit biological racism, in favor of a less alienating stress on cultural integrity and self-determination. Finally, while initially reacting against decolonization, they appropriated the revolutionary politics of their time, positioning themselves as radicals fighting for the liberation and self-determination of European people against the imperialism of US capitalism and Soviet state socialism. Reid Ross goes on to discuss various other Far-Right and fascist movements: Nazi skinheads from London, England to Portland, Oregon; National Bolshevism and radical nationalisms in Russia and the Ukraine; and now, the Alt-Right which helped sweep Donald Trump into power.

Reid Ross’s book is important in that it touches on some significant yet often under-examined aspects of fascism. Instead of seeing Right and Left as simplistic opposites, he is willing to think about them inhabiting a more complex relationship. While Marxist and anarchist leftists have generally understood fascism to be the most authoritarian and violent form of capitalist rule, Reid Ross takes seriously fascism’s radical, even revolutionary, opposition to capitalist modernity. From “national syndicalists” active following the First World War to “Nazi Maoists” in the 1960s, the author conveys how complicated and confusing this political terrain is.

The line between Left and Right, between communist and fascist, is often far from clear, leaving us with the difficult work of clarifying our own values and politics. The distinction between Right and Left is not always obvious. Throughout history the record has been complicated. From Bakunin to Mussolini and from Stalin to Metzger, insurgent anti-imperialism has intermingled with vitriolic anti-Semitism and racism on both the “Right” and “Left.” The Far Right is both our competitor in this period of social crisis and a danger that can destroy the liberatory potential of our own movements from within if we fail to clearly draw political lines that distinguish our radicalism from theirs.

Unfortunately, Against the Fascist Creep, while hinting at important insights and essential questions, often fails to live up to its promise.

Reid Ross’s attempt to understand fascism as a process is useful in helping us avoid dogmatic attachment to fixed definitions. However, he does tend to define every social, political, cultural, or spiritual trend he doesn’t like as being fascist, or at least tainted by it. In a denunciatory tour of the impurities of the political spectrum, Reid Ross attacks everyone from Deep Ecologists to class struggle anarchists, accusing them of enabling the right, sometimes citing evidence and sometimes not. In identifying a “fascist creep,” he is too quick to resort to a casual guilt-by-association in a constant search for enemies, mistaking a moralist purity for the kind of political clarity we need to fight and win.

The danger of a “fascist creep” influencing and poisoning both society as a whole and our left-wing movements is very real. From casual anti-Semitism to macho fetishization of violence, the Left too often shares values and politics with the radical Right. This must be resisted and opposed, but doing so requires real humility, self-criticism, and a commitment to political clarity that cheap self-righteousness cannot provide. A real examination of the “fascist creep” would involve something more than a hunt for enemy infiltrators in our otherwise good movements; it would require confrontation and struggle with our own limitations and weaknesses.

Too often throughout the text, Reid Ross fails to engage fascist politics as deeply as he could, opting rather to denounce and ridicule them. If we could defeat fascism by proclaiming our own superiority, this practice would serve us well. But real politics is not just about being right; it’s about winning. We need to develop the resources and forces to defeat fascists in the streets. Books should help us understand our enemies, what they think, and how, and why. Moralistic posturing, while it may feel good for both author and reader, doesn’t really help. The purpose of political analysis is not to distinguish between “good guys” and “bad guys” like a ten-year-old watching Star Wars. Instead, we need the nuance and sophistication to actually understand the complexities of our world, our movements and our enemies in order to be able to successfully fight and win.

Finally, the writing itself is poor and confusing. Sometimes this is a result of needlessly academic big words. At other points it’s just sloppily crafted paragraphs, which change the subject without transitions. At its worst Against the Fascist Creep feels like 400 pages of name-dropping, the author simply referencing all of the obscure thinkers and projects he knows of, strung together with convoluted prose.

In contrast to Reid Ross’s meandering volume, the collection Ctrl-Alt-Delete, published by Kersplebedeb, is quick, clear, and to the point. At fewer than 125 pages, this book pulls together some useful and timely documents, which reflect on the political moment of Trumpism and the insurgent movements he rode to power.

The collection begins with the title essay by longtime anti-fascist researcher and writer Matthew Lyons. “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” is a fifty-page report in which he seeks to familiarize the reader with the history and ideology of the “Alt-Right.” Beginning with its roots in both old school “paleoconservatism” and the European New Right, Lyons explains how intellectuals like Richard Spencer built a political milieu by synthesizing different strains of right-wing nationalism and internet culture. He then goes on to examine some of the different tendencies within the Alt-Right.

White nationalism and racism have been core to this political project with its hip rebranding of neo-Nazism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism. Lyons, however also discusses the gender politics of the Alt-Right, pointing to its roots in and connections with the online culture of anti-feminist backlash, from “Gamergate” to “pick-up artists.” Also, significant in this regard is the “male tribalism” of Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland, who seek to establish male supremacist resilient communities autonomous from multicultural capitalist modernity. Other forces include right-wing anarchists who seek to resist state authority in favor of decentralized “tribalism,” and “neoreaction,” an ideology spawned from tech CEOs seeking philosophical justifications for their fantasies of corporate feudalism.

Finally, Lyons examines the relationship between the Alt-Right and Donald Trump. Many sought to use the Trump campaign as an opportunity to push their politics within a broader arena, and their interventions injected new levels of violence and cruelty into American electoral politics. Lyons’ report is concise, clear, and extremely useful in giving a rundown of who the Alt-Right are, where they come from, what they believe, and what their role is in this historical moment. I suspect that this report will stand as the go-to on the subject for some time, and Lyons' forthcoming book Insurgent Supremacists will likewise be necessary reading.

“The Rich Kids of Fascism” by It’s Going Down is another attempt to analyze the Alt-Right. The focus here is on the class character of the movement. They argue that unlike other forms of fascist and right-wing politics, the Alt-Right is a class-elitist movement. They also point to the weaknesses of the Alt-Right as being an internet phenomenon without any demonstrated ability to fight for its politics in the streets. While this may well have been true at the time the piece was written, that certainly seems to be changing, and the fact that anti-fascist forces have been losing street fights over the last couple years should humble us. Overall, while the piece has some useful and interesting points, there is a definite tendency toward triumphalism, and self-righteous posturing. The macho chest-thumping of “we ain’t afraid of no memes” may feel good and may psych us up as we get ready to hit the streets, but it doesn’t actually help us make sense of the world or the enemies by whom we have too often been defeated.

K. Kersplebedeb’s “Black Genocide and the Alt-Right” looks at the racial politics of the Alt-Right and argues that, though it has been less addressed than its sexism or anti-Semitism, anti-Blackness is at the core of the movement’s politics. That's a good point, but the article is too short. In a historical moment when we are witnessing the emergence both of militant fascist and Black Liberation movements, the relationship of these phenomena is of the utmost importance for radicals. Kersplebedeb is right to point out the antagonism, but unfortunately does little more.

Finally, Bromma’s “Notes on Trump” is an attempt to understand the 2016 election in the broader historical context, viewing Trump's victory as a response to capitalist crisis and a rejection of neoliberal globalization and neocolonial multiculturalism in favor of right-wing nationalism. Following real victories by anti-racist and anti-colonial liberation moments, capitalism shifted and made space for figures and forces from the African National Congress in South Africa to Barack Obama in the United States to step forward and administer global exploitation. Bromma suggests that we are currently seeing the repudiation of such “progressive” rainbow imperialism. Instead we are now faced with more open white supremacy and a chaotic and violent world situation.

We are in a period of crisis and upsurge where political categories are being rapidly undone and remade. The labels and genealogies that folks claim may matter much less than the content of their politics and what their practice looks like. Distinctions between anarchism and Marxism may matter far less than one’s concrete commitment to building antiauthoritarian political culture or rooting one’s politics in working class life. At this juncture of fear, confusion, crisis, and opportunity, it is unclear where new political forces will emerge. But if the history Reid Ross presents teaches us anything, it is that we must be on our guard and take great care in seeking political clarity. In this chaotic “marketplace of ideas” (particularly in the internet age), where every tendency from Democratic Confederalism to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to Pan-Secessionism to National Bolshevism is on offer, the next fascist threat, the next praxis of terror and extermination, can appear from anywhere, from our enemies’ midst or from our own.

The Trump administration and the Alt-Right are shifting and shattering official politics with its lies of progress, multiculturalism, and civility. Stability and peace are not on the table, but transformation is certainly on the horizon. Both Reid Ross’s and Lyons’ interventions are important reminders that the Left are not the only ones who can benefit from instability, and that the transformations ahead are as likely to be full of horror as they are to lead us to freedom.

rowan lives in Portland, Oregon. They are the parent of a three-year-old who thinks that “singing protests” are “a little bit fun” but “fire protests” are “too scary.”

Mar 10, 2019

Meditations on a dead fascist

LaRouchePAC magazine cover shows images of Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and LaRouche with headline, "The Last Chance for Civilization?"
Laying claim to the mantle of Lincoln and FDR.
Lyndon LaRouche’s recent death at age 96 brought him more attention than he had gotten in decades. Many of the obituaries and retrospectives I’ve seen treat him as little more than a political curiosity, a deranged cult leader whose main achievement was to help inure us to bizarre conspiracy theories, and who lost most of the little influence he had over thirty years ago. But there’s a lot more to him than that.

LaRouche carved out a place on the U.S. far right unlike any other. Few U.S.-based fascist groups maintain strength for more than a few years, but LaRouche kept hundreds of followers in multiple countries tightly organized for over four decades. In the 1980s, his network’s achievements in grassroots electioneering, fundraising, propaganda, and dirty tricks were completely unparalleled on the far right, as Dennis King chronicled in his invaluable 1989 book Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism (available online here). In the late 1980s, the LaRouchites’ practice of systematically defrauding elderly Republicans of millions of dollars destroyed the network’s extensive Reagan administration connections and sent LaRouche to prison for five years. But what’s remarkable is that they were able to rebound from this defeat, remake themselves politically, recruit a new cohort of younger activists, and forge new ties with political elites—this time elites outside the United States. And throughout all of this, LaRouche was able to fly largely below the radar of both the mainstream media and the left, because most people thought he was just a crackpot who claimed the Queen of England pushes drugs.

I was first confronted with the LaRouchites in 1990, during the lead-up to the first U.S.-Iraq war, when one of the founders of my local anti-war group admitted to being a LaRouche supporter. The group voted to expel her (the LaRouchites’ history of spying on and physically attacking leftists overrode people’s desire to be open and inclusive), but then we discovered this wasn’t an isolated incident, but part of a coordinated effort by LaRouche activists around the country to infiltrate the antiwar movement. Trying to make sense of this, of why a fascist organization would be opposing U.S. military expansionism, turning out for leftist-led demonstrations, and accusing George Bush of genocide, was one of the conundrums that led me to start researching far right politics systematically. Since then I have kept tabs regularly on LaRouchite propaganda, partly for its sheer baroque extravagance and partly to mark one of the outer parameters of far right thought in the United States and beyond.

Several commentators have described Lyndon LaRouche as a pioneering conspiracy theorist who helped pave the way for Alex Jones and even Donald Trump. Not so many have delved into the sophisticated utility of LaRouche’s bizarre ideology. His periodic warnings of plots to kill him weren’t just paranoid fantasies but part of the cult psychology he used to control his followers—and extract millions of hours of free labor from them. His seemingly random mix of conspiracist targets—from the Communist Party to the International Monetary Fund, from environmentalists to the Christian right—enabled the LaRouche network to present itself as “conservative” in one situation and “progressive” in another, and to attack or defend people anywhere on the political spectrum with equal facility.

Whether tilting right or left, LaRouche promoted the same basic ideology from the mid 1970s onward. He saw all human history as a massive Manichean struggle between good “humanists” and evil “oligarchs,” a struggle carried out largely behind the scenes. He warned over and over that the world was on the brink of imminent economic collapse, full-scale dictatorship, or nuclear war, and proclaimed himself one of the few people with the insight and will needed to lead humanity out of the crisis. He argued that people could be divided into three levels of “moral development,” and that those at the lowest level were dangerous to society and should not have the same rights as their superiors. Under his 1981 “draft constitution” for Canada, which detailed his vision for how to organize a state, people who espoused “irrationalist hedonism”—basically, any beliefs or practices he considered dangerous, such as homosexuality, laissez faire economics, or rock music—would have no political voice. Yet LaRouche’s drive to reshape society went far beyond political exclusion. Evil oligarchic influence, he declared, must be rooted out of every sphere of society and culture, from economics to mathematical formulas, from technological development to the pitch used to set musical scales.

Two magazine covers: “Defeat Britain’s Terror War Against the U.S.A!” and “How the Conservative Revolution Crowd Plans To Destroy America”
1990s: LaRouche publications criticize conservatives and
blame House of Windsor for Oklahoma City bombing
Unlike most U.S far rightists, LaRouche was familiar with leftist theory and political culture, having spent over twenty years in the Trotskyist movement and the student left, and he was more effective than most far rightists at delivering his message to people across the political spectrum. He appeared several times on The Alex Jones Show, a right-wing conspiracist radio program with millions of listeners, but his propaganda also repeatedly reached left-leaning audiences, largely with the help of intermediaries such as the Christic Institute, Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research, and former LaRouche network members William Engdahl and Webster Tarpley, all of whom have given a leftish gloss to LaRouche-originated anti-elite conspiracy theories. As recently as 2016, Helga Zepp-LaRouche (wife of Lyndon and founder of the network's Schiller Institute) was listed on the program of the Left Forum in New York City. Dennis Speed of LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review spoke at the 2015 Left Forum.

LaRouche was also better than most U.S. far rightists at forging ties with people in power. In the late 1970s and early 80s, as Dennis King noted, LaRouche recognized that the post-Watergate crackdown on government abuses made his outfit useful to intelligence agencies interested in outsourcing some of their spying and dirty tricks operations, and that positioning himself as a hawkish Democrat made him interesting to Reagan officials. (In this respect, he may not have looked that different at first glance from the early neoconservatives—some of whom also had a Trotskyist past.)

In the 1990s, LaRouche saw a new opportunity in Russia, where his hatred of international bankers, praise for Vladimir Putin, and advocacy of protectionist, strong-state economic development won him a hearing with many political leaders, including close Putin aide Sergey Glazyev. By the time he died, LaRouche had also made significant inroads in China, where state-run media now quotes LaRouchite journalists extensively and invites them regularly to news conferences. (The LaRouche network’s praise for President Xi Jinping may be opportunistic but it’s also sincere, as Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative represents the kind of large-scale infrastructure project that LaRouche has been advocating for decades.) It’s hard to think of another U.S.-based fascist who has achieved this kind of government access.

Along with shifting the focus of his overtures from U.S. political elites to Russian and Chinese ones, LaRouche shifted his movement’s public stance leftward. In the 1980s the LaRouchites championed Reagan’s Star Wars program and spearheaded ballot initiatives to forcibly quarantine people with AIDS, but in the 1990s and 2000s they were active in campaigns against the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia and in the Occupy Wall Street movement, glorified Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and denounced Christian right leaders such as Pat Robertson. The LaRouchites continued to present themselves as New Deal progressives even after embracing Donald Trump’s America First populism.

New Federalist (newspaper) headline: "LaRouche, Farrakhan, Chavis Mobilize Against Nazi Economics"
Presenting LaRouche as ally of African American leaders
LaRouche’s trajectory set him apart from white nationalists, who put race firmly at the center of their politics. In the 1970s, the LaRouchites vilified black and indigenous people in overtly racist terms, and allied themselves with white supremacists such as Ku Klux Klan leaders Roy Frankhauser and Robert Miles. By the 1990s, however, LaRouche organizations welcomed people of color as members and celebrated civil rights movement veterans—and LaRouche supporters—James Bevel and Amelia Boynton Robinson as heroes. LaRouchites declared African American spiritual music to be “the basis for an American Classical culture”—a worthy counterpart to the European classical culture they constantly celebrated. Sometimes LaRouche reverted to open racism—for example referring to Barack Obama repeatedly as a “monkey”—but the overall effect anticipated the Proud Boys’ racially inclusive “Western chauvinism” much more than the white exclusivism of Richard Spencer or The Daily Stormer.

LaRouche’s antisemitism followed a similar pattern. He began scapegoating Jews in the 1970s at the suggestion of the Liberty Lobby’s Willis Carto, and his conspiracism was deeply rooted in anti-Jewish themes—such as the false dichotomy between “evil” finance capital and “good” industrial capital, and the emphasis on Anglophobia (derived from 19th-century claims that that the Rothschild banking family controlled Britain). But in stark contrast to neonazis, LaRouche included Jews among his supporters and top lieutenants. And over time he became increasingly careful and sophisticated in deflecting the charge of antisemitism, for example by denouncing opponents as “Nazis” and by portraying Jews as tools or dupes rather than as the top wire-pullers.

“From the time of his emergence as a public figure over fifty years ago,” declares his obituary on the LaRouchePAC website, “the only tragedy that characterized Lyndon LaRouche’s life, is that he was never permitted to carry out, either as President or as an adviser to the serving President, the economic reforms that would have improved the lives of tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions around the world.” LaRouche never got the power he craved. Despite all his efforts to piggy-back on popular movements, only a limited number of people were willing to submit themselves to his self-proclaimed greatness. Despite his efforts to make himself useful to political elites, his mix of conspiracy thinking, strong-state nationalism, and cultural totalitarianism was ultimately a deal-breaker, at least in his home country. He was profoundly at odds with the neoliberal precepts of privatization, deregulation, free trade, and individualism that have dominated U.S. capitalism for decades.

Still, LaRouche’s impact was real. He not only helped make conspiracism a major part of our political culture, he field-tested a variety of tactics that other rightists could learn from. He was a pioneer of red-brown alliance-building and Russophile “anti-imperialism,” and showed that fascism could be reworked in ways that went far beyond exchanging a brown shirt for a suit and tie. The expectation that his organization will now collapse may or may not prove true. Cults don’t always die with their founders, and his widow Helga Zepp-LaRouche, comparatively young at 70, is a seasoned organizer and speaker who has played an increasingly prominent role in recent years. LaRouche is dead, but unfortunately his politics are not.

Photos by author. Portions of this essay are adapted from Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (PM Press and Kersplebedeb Publishing, 2018). See Chapter 5 of that book for additional citations.

Feb 17, 2019

Trump’s shaky capitalist support: Business conflict and the 2016 election

A detailed study of 2016 campaign contributions confirms that a majority of the ruling class opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy and that he was backed by an unstable coalition of competing capitalist interests.

What kind of support does Donald Trump have within the U.S. ruling class? He is the first billionaire president of the United States, and his administration (despite the rhetoric about being an advocate for working-class Americans) has massively favored big business and the rich. Yet on a number of domestic and foreign policy issues he has gone against dominant neoliberal thought and has made many people in established elites deeply uncomfortable. And among big capitalists, it’s not just centrist or liberal figures such as Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg who have opposed Trump, but also the Koch brothers, who just a few years ago were the most notorious funders of hardline conservative politics, but are now organizing against the president on immigration and trade policy.

As a starting point to help make sense of Trump’s relationship with U.S. capitalists, I recommend the report “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election,” by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. Drawing on an intensively researched database of political contributions, the report (which I’ll refer to as “Hunger Games” for short) analyzes the relative support the various 2016 candidates received from small and large contributors and, equally important, from specific industrial sectors within the business community.

The investment theory of party competition
“Hunger Games” is based on Ferguson’s investment theory of party competition, which argues that business interests hold most political power in capitalist societies, that electoral contests within and between political parties generally reflect conflicts between distinct blocs within the business community, and that these blocs tend to follow distinctions between specific industries (such as finance, mining, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and related economic characteristics (for example, labor-intensive versus non-labor-intensive industries, export-oriented firms versus firms oriented toward domestic markets, etc.). Ferguson, both alone and with various collaborators, has been using this approach for over thirty-five years to analyze political developments across much of modern U.S. political history. For example, his book Golden Rule detailed the formation of a historical bloc of capitalists behind FDR’s New Deal in the mid-1930s, while Right Turn, which Ferguson co-authored with Joel Rogers, traced the large-scale rightward shift of business interests in the 1970s, a development that pushed Jimmy Carter to the right, helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and contributed to the rise of what we now think of as neoliberalism.

Photo shows President Trump, surrounded by aides and holding a pair of scissors, about to cut red ribbon in front of two piles of papers: a small pile labeled "1960" and a large pile labeled "today."
President Donald J. Trump prepares to cut "red tape"
representing regulations today compared with 1960.
Before collaborating on the “Hunger Games” report, Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen previously analyzed the 2012 presidential race, in which Barack Obama won re-election over Mitt Romney. In many ways, 2012 was fairly typical of modern presidential elections: overall spending was similar for both big party nominees, but the Republican candidate enjoyed broader capitalist support overall, while the Democrat captured the greater share of small contributions (from non-rich voters). Broken down by sector, Romney received greater support than Obama from most industries, both in dollars and number of firms, with particularly strong support for Romney coming from “industries that have been heavily engaged in battles over climate change, alternative energy, and regulatory policy, including oil..., mining..., chemicals, paper, and utilities.” But Obama received substantial backing from many of the other industries. Defense and aircraft manufacturers were evenly split between the two candidates, and Obama received the bulk of support from health insurance, telecommunications, computers, and software and Web companies.

Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen saw a key connection between the pattern of Obama’s business support and the fact that his administration largely continued and in some respects expanded the national security policies initiated by Bush and Cheney. “Our study shows that national Democratic leaders are politically allied with many of the industries closely linked with the new national surveillance state”—i. e., “a system dominated by firms that want to sell all your data working with a government that seems to want to collect nearly all of it.”

2016: small contributors versus the establishment
We don’t need political scientists to tell us that the 2016 contest was different from 2012, and arguably from every other presidential race in U.S. history. But “Hunger Games” helps us pinpoint and quantify some of what made it different. Two broad issues stand out. First, the report documents, in dollar terms, the revolt of ordinary voters against the established leadership in both major parties. In the Democratic primaries, the Bernie Sanders campaign represented “something we are confident is without precedent... across virtually the whole of American history”: “a major presidential candidate waging a strong, highly competitive campaign whose support from big business is essentially zero” (25). Aside from a few largish donations from labor unions, basically all of Sanders’ funding came from small donors. But Donald Trump attracted a lot of small donations as well—a higher percentage of them, in fact, than Barack Obama did in 2012. Hillary Clinton, conversely, drew a smaller share of small donations than Mitt Romney did four years earlier. To Ferguson and his co-authors, for a Republican to attract more small money than the Democratic nominee is “the equivalent of forcing water suddenly to flow up hill” (25). Based on the groundswells for both Trump and Sanders, they suggest that “the major parties appear to be breaking down as mass organizing vehicles” (3).

The “Hunger Games” authors trace popular support for both Sanders and Trump to the rise of what they call a “dual economy” in the U.S.: the “extreme polarization of income and wealth over the last generation in the U.S. and many other developed countries, even while real earnings for most workers stagnated” (25-26). They devote several pages to detailing the dynamics, scope, and depth of this development. By 2016, they argue, the pressures of the dual economy had reached a tipping point—“a point where, quite literally, daily existence for many had become close to unlivable.” “When two politicians broke through the big money cartels that dominate both major parties, popular enthusiasm surged almost overnight to seismic levels, shocking elites in both parties and flummoxing the entire American establishment” (28). I agree that the dual economy fueled the populist upsurge in both major parties, although on its own it doesn’t tell us why some anti-establishment voters saw the main problem as concentrated wealth while others saw the main problem as Mexican and Muslim immigrants.

Capitalists rally to Clinton
The other broad issue that set 2016 apart from most modern presidential elections is that capitalists sided heavily with the Democrats. Unlike 2012, the Democratic nominee received much more campaign spending overall than the Republican: $1.4 billion for Clinton compared with $861 million for Trump. The chronology of Trump’s fundraising is significant. During the primaries, his campaign relied mainly on small contributions and his own money. As Ferguson et al. comment, “His money gave him both the means and the confidence to break the donors’ cartel that until then had eliminated all GOP candidates who didn’t begin by saluting the Bush family for starting the Iraq War, incessantly demanding cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and managing the economy into total collapse via financial deregulation.... He could say whatever he wanted” (38). Only in the summer, as the convention approached, did the Trump campaign begin to bring in significant money from major donors, ranging from coal mining companies to big banks to Silicon Valley firms such as Facebook. And capitalist donations to Trump didn’t kick into high gear until after billionaire Rebekah Mercer persuaded Trump to put Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in charge of the campaign, with a strategy to target white working-class voters in key swing states.

The industrial pattern of political contributions was also dramatically different than it had been in 2012, when the Republican nominee received a majority of business contributions in most industries. In 2016, Clinton retained majority support from those industries that had sided with Obama (high tech and health insurance), but she also gained the bulk of contributions from defense and aerospace firms, which had split evenly between the two major parties in 2012, and she gained majority support from many industries that had backed Romney, including chemicals, electronics, pharmaceuticals, health care, utilities, general insurance, and both commercial and investment banking. Clinton enjoyed the broadest and deepest capitalist backing of any Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson defeated the “extremist” Barry Goldwater in a landslide. Clinton won this support, the “Hunger Games” authors argue, by reaching out to moderate Republicans and neoconservatives. She defended Wall Street in the face of Trump’s populist rhetoric, moved to Obama’s right on major foreign policy issues such as Syria, and (distancing herself firmly from Sanders) emphasized personal qualifications over policies. Clinton’s strategy to reassure elites rather than speak to popular anger was, as the authors conclude, “a miscalculation of historic proportions” (47).

Man in suit standing at podium in crowded auditorium, speaking.
Peter Thiel, who contributed over $1 million to Trump's
election bid, speaking at 2016 Republican National Convention
Despite Clinton’s stronger business support overall, Trump did get majority backing from several industries, including mining (especially coal mining), casinos, agribusiness, rubber, steel, and gun and ammunition manufacturers. He also received a large proportion of support from food, chemicals, oil (especially big oil companies), transportation, and certain financial services sectors, especially private equity firms (“the part of Wall Street which had long championed hostile takeovers as a way of disciplining what they mocked as bloated and inefficient ‘big business’” [45]). As the “Hunger Games” authors argue, Trump’s call for deregulation and climate change denial appealed to firms in many of these industries, while a few industries, notably steel and rubber, liked his economic protectionism. The gun industry was predictably hostile to Democrats.

Trump’s unstable coalition
In their conclusion, Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen emphasize the deep ongoing tensions between President Trump and his party’s establishment. They argue, moreover, that Trump’s capitalist support base was not only much smaller than the Republican norm, but also “extremely unstable”:
It is made up of several layers of investor blocs with little in common other than their intense dislike of existing forms of American government. The world of private equity, intent on gaining access to the gigantic, rapidly growing securities markets of China and the rest of Asia or casinos dependent on licenses for their lucrative businesses in Macau are likely to coexist only fitfully with American industries struggling to cope with world overcapacity in steel and other products or facing twenty-first century mercantilist state targeting (48).
Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen’s analysis—particularly including this point about Trump’s “extremely unstable” business support—bolsters and sheds light on points I made about the Trump administration in Insurgent Supremacists. I noted that Trump’s candidacy alienated not only many Republican officials but also many business leaders. “Yet because he lacked an organizational base of his own, Trump was immediately forced not only to work with establishment figures in the Republican Party but also to bring them into his own administration. As a result, from the beginning Trump’s presidency rested on an unstable coalition of right-wing factions both opposed to and aligned with conventional conservatism” (200).

This shaky coalition, I argued, brought together both supporters and opponents of neoliberalism, the ideology of deregulation, privatization, relatively open borders, and free trade that has dominated both major parties for about four decades. During the campaign, Trump advocated a form of nationalist populism embodied in the slogan “America First,” which challenged neoliberal orthodoxy on trade and immigration and also called into question the establishment’s related consensus around military interventionism and traditional alliances overseas. Trump brought some America Firsters into his administration, such as Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Peter Navarro, and Stephen Miller, but they were never the dominant force there.
From the beginning, the majority of Trump’s high-level appointees were not nationalist-populists, but conventional conservatives of various stripes. Some were Christian rightists or Tea Partiers, some were veterans of the Republican political establishment, and some were known mainly for their experience in the military or in business. From early on, America Firsters clashed with neoliberals and establishment figures in the administration and in Congress on issues such as trade policy, which contributed to an unusual degree of chaos and lack of clear direction. The issues on which the different factions agreed, and on which the Trump administration moved forward most effectively, basically represented a hard-line version of neoliberalism’s domestic agenda: dismantle environmental regulations and consumer protection rules, open up public lands to corporate exploitation, “reform” the tax system to further redistribute wealth from low- and middle-income people to the rich, make the judicial system more punitive, and speed up militarization of the police. To a large extent, the result seemed to be policies that benefited narrow capitalist interests, such as military contractors, private prison operators, and energy companies, as well as the Trump family’s own businesses, more than a coherent unified program (204).
I think this image of an unstable coalition remains a useful framework. Since I wrote the passage above (in September 2017), the Trump administration’s America First faction has lost ground, several of its leading members are gone, and some critics have concluded that the president is just continuing neoliberal policies while overlaying them with xenophobic rhetoric to appease his popular base. But this doesn’t adequately get at the administration’s inconsistent, conflicted character, as when Trump announced a troop withdrawal from Syria that most of his own advisors opposed, or forced a government shutdown only after his right-wing base demanded no compromise on the border wall. It doesn’t explain why neoliberal measures have been interspersed with echoes of paleoconservative Pat Buchanan (who declared “we will put America First” over 25 years ago), as when Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe and Canada, launched a trade war with China, or railed against NATO allies. Buchanan’s 1992 campaign in the GOP presidential primaries was one of the first major right-wing challenges to neoliberalism, and it drew support from some of the same business sectors that later backed Trump’s candidacy.

I don’t have detailed information on how capitalists’ views of Trump may have shifted since the 2016 election, but in broad terms, the dominant business voices have supported his administration on taxes and deregulation of industry, while opposing it on immigration and trade. For example, the Business Roundtable (BR), which includes the CEOs of most big U.S. corporations, praised the 2017 tax “reform” law and testified that the Trump administration was “taking major steps” to achieve “smart regulation." But in September 2018, BR reported that two-thirds of CEOs feared recent tariffs and expected trade tensions would negatively affect their capital investment decisions, and in August 2018, sixty BR members, including some of the country’s most prominent CEOs, signed a letter expressing “serious concern” over the administration’s immigration policy changes.

To sum up: 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, but its ability to rally popular support is in crisis (as it also is, for example, in many European countries). Rightwing nationalist populism has a large popular constituency, but it lacks a coherent, independent organizational infrastructure and its capitalist support is relatively weak. These factors enabled Donald Trump in 2016 to defeat establishment candidates in both the Republican primaries and the general election, but he attracted a relatively small and internally divided array of business supporters. As president, despite his strong personal inclinations toward nationalist populism, 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.

This is a volatile situation, which Trump’s authoritarian impulses won’t fix, and it’s hard to know how it will be resolved in the long run. Maybe transnationally oriented capitalists will find a way to reconnect with popular support, as Don Hamerquist has suggested. Maybe (if the United States’ global economic position weakens further) nationalist populists will gain greater and more organized ruling class backing, thus expanding their ability to govern without neoliberal partners. In the meantime, the situation seems likely to feed, not a calculated march toward dictatorship, but a sharpening mix of repression and instability. As the political collective Research & Destroy forecast shortly after Trump’s inauguration, “In many of the futures we can see from here, the state will be both turbocharged and weak; its oppressive mechanisms will churn in higher gears without being highly functional, as jurisdictional and factional disputes proliferate.” There are openings here for the left—but also for the far right.

1. December 14, 2017 in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Official White House photo (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.
2. July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Voice of America (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.