Sep 10, 2010 Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century

Paleoconservatives don’t have a mass following or much in the way of institutional power these days, but they do have a fairly lively intellectual scene. The defenders of Western civilization offer a number of competently written, well-produced journals, websites, and blogs, and a whole cohort of younger writers along with older, more established figures. Some of what they have to say is the same old predictable poison, but there is also some genuine political ferment going on, with ideas from other sources (tribalism and national anarchism, the European New Right, black conservatism, even the Left) contributing to comradely debate.

To get a sense of this discussion, a good place to start is the new website Launched in March 2010, AltRight describes itself as "an online magazine of radical traditionalism, [which] marks an attempt to forge a new intellectual right-wing that is independent and outside the 'conservative' establishment." AltRight's founder and executive editor Richard Spencer comes to the project from editing gigs at The American Conservative and Taki's Magazine, both influential paleocon organs. Like Spencer, several of the contributing editors are in their early thirties or younger, but there are also two "senior contributing editors": Peter Brimelow (editor of the anti-immigrant and Paul Gottfried (one of paleoconservatism's founders and one of the movement's few Jews). In look and feel, AltRight's website is more professional than but less academic than The Occidental Quarterly, another important paleocon publication.

Background on Paleoconservatism
Paleoconservatism's ideological lineage goes back to the anti-New Deal rightists of the 1930s and the America First isolationists who tried to keep the U.S. from joining the Allies in World War II. Paleoconservatism began to take shape in the 1980s as a reaction to the rise of the neoconservatives, who included many Jewish and Catholic intellectuals rooted in Cold War liberalism. Neocons, who gained many influential posts in and around the Reagan administration, emphasized an aggressive foreign policy to defeat communism and spread American "democracy" worldwide, coupled with limited social welfare programs and nonrestrictive immigration policies. Paleocons, who regarded the neoconservatives as usurpers and closet leftists, saw no-safety-net capitalism and the continued dominance of native-born white Christian men as vital for the health of the nation.

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991, the anticommunist glue that had held together different rightist factions began to fail. Paleoconservatives increasingly voiced sharp criticisms of U.S. military interventionism, free trade agreements, and support for Israel. Many paleocons also gravitated with increasing openness toward white nationalism, which advocates some form of distinct nationhood for white people based on claims that they are biologically distinct from and superior to people of color. These positions isolated paleocons from most ruling-class backing and put them at odds with the dominant trends in U.S. conservatism.

Nevertheless, during the 1990s paleoconservatism found significant popular support. It spoke to fears and resentments among a broad sector of white Americans, who were angered both by the power of economic and political elites above and the erosion of their own privileges over traditionally oppressed groups below. The paleocons expressed a backlash against recent social liberation movements, growing state power, and economic dislocations connected to capitalist globalization. Paleocons helped generate a resurgence of mass-based racial nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant campaigns and the neo-Confederate movement. They also influenced the Patriot/citizens militia movement, which exploded briefly in the mid-nineties around fears that secret globalist elites were plotting to impose tyrannical world government on the United States. Paleocon Patrick Buchanan ran for president in 1992 and 1996 and made a strong showing in many Republican primaries.

After the late 1990s, paleoconservatism lost some of its support and visibility as a result of several factors, such as the decline of the Patriot movement, Buchanan's 2000 decision to run for president on the Reform Party ticket instead of as a Republican, and the George W. Bush administration's close relationship with the neoconservatives. But the underlying dynamics that had helped paleocons connect with a popular base have remained strong, and the movement has continued to attract young intellectuals, as indicates.

An intellectual crossroads
Like the paleoconservative movement in general, occupies a sort of gray zone between those conservatives who want to intensify traditional oppressive structures within the existing political/economic framework and revolutionary rightists who want to sweep away the established order by force. As a result, while contributors sometimes call for profound changes to the U.S. social order, they are generally vague as to concrete goals and means. At the same time, blurring political boundaries enables AltRight to function as an intellectual crossroads, where a variety of rightist currents converge and interact. AltRight has published articles by national anarchist Andrew Yeoman advocating "a new Tribal America," black conservative Elizabeth Wright castigating the Tea Party movement for remaining "captive to PC," and French New Right founder Alain de Benoist advocating a revival of paganism against the "totalitarian" universalism of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Paleocon scholar E. Christian Kopff has written glowingly about Italian far right philosopher Julius Evola. Keith Preston's role as an AltRight contributing editor is significant in itself. A former Love and Rage member who still calls himself an anarchist, Preston advocates a revolutionary alliance of rightist and leftist libertarians against the U.S. empire and writes prolifically through his blog, Attack the System, and other rightist outlets such as Taki's Magazine.

On race and ethnicity
Some of the pieces in AltRight are more interesting and politically innovative than others. Consider the following two articles. In "Mind the Gaps: Why the Government Should and Can Not Make Us Equal," John Derbyshire argues that "racial differences in education and unemployment have their origin in biological differences between the human races.... They can't be legislated out of existence; nor can they be 'eliminated' by social or political action." To Derbyshire, "intractable differences between the human races" are simple, natural facts, grounded in both elementary rules of evolutionary biology and straightforward empirical evidence, such as disparities in test scores or "the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans." Essentially this is a rehash of "scientific" claims that racist intellectuals have been making since the nineteenth century. The only thing new and different about Derbyshire's argument is that he presented it on a panel organized by the Black Law Students' Association at the University of Pennsylvania.

Compare this with Richard Hoste's "Eurabia in Perspective," which reconfigures ethnocentrism in genuinely new ways. Countering the Islamophobia that is standard among conservatives (including many paleoconservatives), Hoste declares that "there is no Muslim threat in America, from the position of either terrorism or a building up of institutional power... [T]he West's problem is non-whites and enforced diversity, not Islam qua Islam..." And rather than try to expel Muslims from Europe, he argues, "we have to understand that the hostile minority in the heart of Europe is there to stay." In fact:

"more Europeans may convert to Islam as times goes by and the religion gains power... But most of them would be converting from Secular Humanism, not anything that can be called Christianity. It would be a mistake to believe that whites would be Muslims in the same way Pakistanis or Saudis are; the faith would be molded to conform with the biological characteristics of its adopters, or 'Europeanized' as Christianity was in the first place. I don't know what a Swedish Islam would look like, but it probably wouldn't be half as ugly as the feminist-communist dystopia that the country is today. The culture of that Nordic state repulses me a lot more than that of, say, Turkey."

Hoste's argument here represents a classic paleocon approach: a seemingly progressive position (rejection of Islamophobia) that's based on reactionary principles (biological racism plus hatred of Western liberalism).

A number of AltRight contributors also take issue with white nationalism as an ideological framework, while endorsing its racist premises. In "The Myth of the Old Republic," Andrew Fraser calls for abandoning not only "constitutional patriotism" but also white identity as too broad a loyalty. In this post-modern era, Fraser urges American WASPs to instead revive an Anglo-Saxon ethno-nationalism and -- borrowing a concept promoted by John Robb's Global Guerrillas blog -- to "reconstitute themselves as local, resilient communities." "The fact is that all 'white Americans,' of whatever ethnicity, will be better off if their own kith and kin manage to reconstitute themselves into socially cohesive tribal networks."

Coming at the same issue from a different angle, Keith Preston argues in "White Nationalism Is Not Enough" that "a resistance movement that defines itself exclusively, or even primarily, under the banner of race will be unnecessarily self-limiting." As an alternative, he proposes Conservative Revolution, a term which originally referred to a far right (but non-Nazi) intellectual movement in Weimar Germany. "'Conservative Revolution' is conceptually broad enough to accommodate an array of anti-liberal forces within a framework of respect for natural hierarchies... [I]t can accommodate tendencies ranging from fervent white nationalists to religious conservatives who are indifferent to race issues per se but oppose Cultural Marxist attacks on their faith and traditions to Jews and African-Americans who oppose mass immigration from the Third World."

On women
AltRight authors (almost all of whom are male) also vary significantly in their attitudes toward women. Scott Locklin typifies a type of old school conservative anti-feminism, which pretty much only pays attention to women in terms of how attractive and obedient they are to men. For example, his article "The Case For Open Borders: Foreign Replacements for American Women" complains that, compared with foreign women, most American women are unfeminine, overweight, acquisitive, and have a "weird relationship with sex." Further, "foreign women... rarely try to cut your metaphorical testicles off with ridiculous shaming language. American women, by contrast, don't seem capable of communication without bagging on some poor man." Citing "beautiful, feminine" movie stars of an earlier era such as Hedy Lamarr and Lilian Gish, Locklin jokes (sort of) that "they used to make them right here in America, back when Americans actually made things. Now we must make do with imports."

What is interesting is that AltRight also publishes pieces that reflect feminist influence. Andrew Yeoman, for example, lists "kryptonite to women" among the alternative right movement's eight major weaknesses. "Many women won't associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. ...nothing says 'you're not important to us' [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don't tell me that's not an issue. I've seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it."

Keith Preston, in an interview about "Feminism, Women, & National-Anarchism" that received feature citation on one of the AltRight blogs, criticizes feminism on some counts but applauds it on others. "On the positive side historic feminist movements have gained greater legal, political, and economic rights for women, and greater opportunities in the professions and education, and have raised serious issues that were sometimes ignored or overlooked in the past. The problem has not been feminism per se..., but the particular form that Western feminism has taken since at least the 1960s,... where it has become aligned with Marxism, anti-Western and anti-European ethno-masochism, racism against whites, misandry, and its alliance with the state." In addition, "by seeking to eliminate sexual differentiation [feminism] has not only sought to defy basic biological science, but to devalue social and cultural roles traditionally occupied by women."

Preston advocates an "aristocracy of merit where everyone rises according to their efforts and abilities, including women, of course. I'd be very much in favor of a National-Anarchist movement where women were heavily represented among its leadership and public figures." While claiming that "women are naturally more drawn to helping professions and charitable activities than men," Preston argues that the movement should make such activities a major focus, as part of a move to replace the welfare state with a decentralized network of social institutions. In addition, "I think there's little doubt that women can often perform so-called ''man's work' like soldiering with a great deal of skill and talent."

On Jews
Recognizing that paleoconservatism's relationship with Jews has been a hot-button issue, AltRight invited three prominent paleocons to contribute to a "symposium" on the question, "Is the Alt Right Anti-Semitic?" Taki Theodoracopulos sums up the consensus with the first sentence of his response: "Yes, the traditional Right does have some anti-Semitic tinges, as it should." He and fellow respondent Srdja Trifkovic hold Jews as a group responsible for a number of "sins": Zionist attacks on anyone who criticizes Israeli policies, "Talmudic Judaism's insistence on Jews' racial uniqueness," and Jews' "disproportionate impact" on a number of political and intellectual movements harmful to Western civilization: "Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc."

It is left to Paul Gottfried, the only Jew among the respondents, to "add some shading to Srdja's and Taki's spirited and courageous assessment" of his ethnic group: Not all Jews everywhere have behaved badly, Jews' destructive actions are rooted in genuine if irrational fear of Christian society, and these actions succeeded only because many non-Jews cooperated. At the same time, Gottfried draws on historically antisemitic motifs in criticizing the neocons, describing them as a group of Jews who "poison the wells" for ideological rivals and who control the mainstream conservative movement through non-Jewish front-men. Even a major figure such as Bill Bennett (who is Catholic) is described not as a neocon but rather "a tool of neocon dominance."

Nevertheless, the type of antisemitism that AltRight promotes is more qualified and less manichean than the neonazi variety. It is ethnic bigotry, but not portrayal of Jews as the embodiment of absolute evil. Thus, in AltRight's antisemitism symposium, Srdja suggests that "the survival of the West, which is recognizably Christian in spirit and European in genes, is 'objectively' becoming the optimal survival strategy for the Jewish community as a whole, Israel included," and so Jews will in the long run increasingly support the traditionalist Right.

AltRight executive editor Spencer picks up on this in a follow-up piece entitled "An Alliance with the Jews." Spencer argues that Black and Latino politicians unsympathetic to Zionism will become increasingly powerful in the U.S., and that this may drive Israeli hardliners to seek a partnership with U.S. paleocons. Unlike "the ever-meddling Democrats and Republicans," a paleocon-led U.S. government would "extricate the U.S. military from the Middle East" and give Israel "a free hand" in the region. Spencer cites "Israel's fruitful relationship with the South African Apartheid government" as a model for such an alliance, and speculates that Israeli nationalists might even help finance the traditionalist Right in Europe and North America.

Since the collapse of Patrick Buchanan's presidential prospects a decade ago, paleoconservatism as a distinct political current has largely faded from public view. All too often, paleocons are either ignored, mislabeled as fascists, or subsumed under the nebulous category of "hate groups." But despite their small numbers, paleocons have important ties with the anti-immigrant movement -- one of the most dynamic sectors of the Right at present -- as well as Ron Paul libertarians, Patriot movement groups, and others. And as this brief sampling of writings from shows, some paleocons are also listening to other movements and rethinking old ideas. The fact that many AltRight contributors are involved in a range of other publications and political initiatives indicates that this is not an isolated development. To varying degrees, this same political ferment can be seen on other paleocon websites such as Taki's Magazine and The Occidental Quarterly. More broadly, a dynamic interplay between paleocon and revolutionary forms of white nationalism can be seen on sites such as Attack the System, Occidental Dissent and American Third Position.

Why is this happening now? Although I'm not really in a position to answer this question, I'd like to suggest two broad factors -- one internal, the other external -- for further exploration. First, rightist movements sometimes experience ideological breakthroughs during periods of relative isolation, as they struggle to learn from past defeats and develop new strategies. Examples include the rise of fusionism among U.S. conservatives in the mid 1950s (uniting libertarian, cultural traditionalist, and anticommunist threads into one cohesive ideology), and the development of French New Right doctrine in the 1970s among former members of the traditional racist Right (offering a sophisticated new intellectual basis for fascist politics). It may be useful to compare current intellectual developments among U.S. paleocons with these and other historical examples.

Another factor to consider, of course, is the dramatic transformation that the capitalist world has been experiencing over the past few decades, with the end of the Cold War and collapse of Soviet-type socialism coupled with the rise of corporate globalization (a buzz-word that encompasses many forms of upheaval, restructuring, increased fluidity and movement, etc.). Political movements on both the Left and the Right have struggled to adapt to these changing circumstances, and paleoconservatives are no exception. The question is how to translate this generality into meaningful specifics.

AltRight's mixture of old and new ideas is significant here. Claims that rightists are trying to turn back the clock and reject modernity are usually oversimplified. As I wrote two years ago in "Two Ways of Looking at Fascism":

"In Europe and elsewhere, far-right politics is indeed largely a response to capitalist globalization, but this response is more complex than a simple backlash. For example, the Patriot/militia movement in the United States denounced 'global elites,' the 'new world order,' the United Nations, international bankers, etc. But their attack on government regulation, as People Against Racist Terror has pointed out, dovetailed with 'the actual globalist strategy of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to end all environmental and labor codes that restrict untrammeled exploitation.' In India, Hindu nationalists have denounced multinational capital and globalized culture, but the movement's dominant approach has been to seek a stronger role for India within the context of global capitalism. The BJP-led coalition government of 1998-2004 promoted privatization, deregulation, foreign investment, consumer credit growth, and expansion of the information technology sector. These policies are tailored to India's rising upper and middle classes, eager to participate more effectively in the global economy -- not historical 'losers' trying to gain back their old status by attacking the forces of change."[See original article for citations.]

Whatever the reasons that drive them, the discussions on and related organs merit close attention. To assume that the traditionalist Right is isolated, intellectually stagnant, or stuck in the past would be a dangerous mistake.

Aug 3, 2010

Bringing the Elite to Jesus

Review of Jeff Sharlet, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (New York: HarperCollins, 2008)

By Matthew N. Lyons

This book review was published in New Politics 13, no. 1, Whole Number 49 (Summer 2010) and is reprinted with permission.

Since the "New Right" upsurge of the late 1970s, right-wing evangelical Christianity has established itself as one of the largest and most sustained political movements in U.S. history. From international media empires to living room prayer groups, from think tanks and lobbyists to rock bands and homeschoolers, the Christian Right encompasses a vast infrastructure and subculture with tens of millions of participants. Among opponents, stereotypes and myths about the Christian Right are common: that it represents a monolithic, fanatical fringe; that it's a backward-looking movement of people out of touch with the modern world; or that it's on the verge of collapse. In 1993, the Washington Post famously derided Christian rightists as "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command" (337). In reality, Sunbelt suburbanites are at the heart of the movement, and tens of thousands of its members have taken on grassroots leadership roles.

Starting with Sara Diamond's 1989 book, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right, a number of writers have challenged these stereotypes and presented thoughtful critiques of the Christian Right and, often, its interconnections with a larger oppressive social order. Jeff Sharlet's The Family is squarely in this tradition. Sharlet highlights "the almost sexual tension of [the movement's] contradictions: its reverence for both rebellion and authority, democracy and theocracy, blood and innocence" (345). He portrays not only the repulsive side of Christian Right politics--the authoritarianism, the misogyny, the callousness toward human suffering--but also the sense of excitement and vitality that have helped make it a mass movement. He shows rank-and-file Christian rightists not as mindless followers but thinking people who don't always agree with their leaders. And he emphasizes that "American fundamentalism," as he calls it, is not some recent aberration but something deeply rooted in U.S. cultural and political history. None of these are new ideas, but they are all worth repeating.

What's new and different about Sharlet's book is that he focuses on a major branch of the Christian Right that most previous writers have simply missed. "The Family" is a secretive evangelical network that has attracted a startling array of high-ranking political figures in the United States and around the world. Shortly after Sharlet's book came out, a series of sex scandals involving prominent Republicans brought the organization known as the Family to national attention and made the book a New York Times bestseller. But sex scandals are at most a side issue here. Sharlet lists ten current U.S. senators and several congressmen as members, along with deceased members such as Senator Strom Thurmond, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Overseas participants include Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of South Africa. The Family's Youth Corps project, which grooms recruits for leadership roles in government and business, operates in over a dozen countries on four continents. The National Prayer Breakfast, the Family's one public activity, draws thousands of U.S. and foreign political and business leaders to the Washington Hilton each February. Under various names (the Fellowship, National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, and others) the Family has been around since 1935.

Sharlet describes the Family as a vanguard of American fundamentalism, "a movement that recasts theology in the language of empire" (3). Strictly speaking, Christian fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and I prefer this usage for reasons of clarity. But in this review I will follow Sharlet, who uses the term fundamentalism more broadly to denote those who believe in "a Christ of absolute devotion, not questions," "a story that never changes," and who want to "conform every aspect of society to God" (4-5). He calls this movement American "not because it is nationalistic but because it is a melting pot movement," which brings together "traditional fundamentalists and evangelicals, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics, Democrats and Republicans…in the service of an imperial ambition. Not the conquest of territory; the conquest of hearts and minds" (3).

Sharlet argues that American fundamentalism encompasses two major strands: populist fundamentalism, which includes most of the major Christian rightist organizations, such as Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition, and Concerned Women for America; and elite fundamentalism, embodied in the Family. Both of these strands:

  • regard Jesus's divinity as absolute truth and all other belief systems as evil;
  • advocate expanded Christian influence on or control over public policy;
  • promote a hierarchical social order, including patriarchal gender roles, heterosexism, European ethnocentrism, and "free market" capitalism; and
  • regard the United States as the greatest country in the world and promote U.S. global dominance.

But within this shared framework, the contrasts between the two strands are striking. Populist fundamentalism has focused on a core set of domestic social issues, notably opposition to homosexuality and abortion rights, as tools for recruiting millions of supporters and thereby amassing political power. Most Christian Right groups have carved out a sharply defined political niche on the right wing of the Republican Party; many have embraced a loud, confrontational style.

The Family is different. Its strategy centers not on building a mass base, but forging ties with powerful political figures--regardless of their religious or political beliefs. Although closest to conservative Republicans such as Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, the Family is also happy to work with moderates or liberals of both major parties, such as Hillary Clinton, who in 2005 participated regularly in Family prayer events, or Al Gore, who has publicly referred to Family head Doug Coe as a "friend." The Family operates mostly behind the scenes and approaches conflict with a genteel subtlety geared toward cultivating elite unity. "The big Christian lobbying groups push and shout; the Family simply surrounds politicians with prayer cells. They don't try to convert anyone. They don't ask for anything. They're as patient as a glacier" (259).

Compared with most Christian rightists, the Family is also less focused on enforcing so-called traditional values and much more concerned with bolstering capitalist rule and U.S. global power. The Family began as a union-busting initiative, and it operates today largely as a religious adjunct to American empire--arranging prayer meetings, for example, between representatives of authoritarian regimes in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe, and top officials of the U.S. government.

The Family is all about power. It believes that the wealthy and powerful are chosen by God, and its mission as an organization centers on bringing them to Jesus, bringing them into a spiritual "covenant" of total unity with each other. "Hitler made a covenant," Doug Coe is apparently fond of saying. "The Mafia makes a covenant. It is a very powerful thing" --all the more so when it is based on submission to Jesus (54). The Family teaches that those who hold worldly power, as long as they pledge obedience to Jesus, can kill, torture, rape, steal, and lie on a mass scale with no moral constraints whatsoever. This, too, sets the Family apart. Christian rightists generally present themselves as defenders of civic morality. However twisted or hypocritical that claim may be in practice, it's a far cry from the Family's absolute repudiation of ethical principles.

The Family's orientation toward bolstering worldly power has helped it maintain a low profile. "It so neatly harmonizes with the political shape of worldly things," Sharlet notes, "that it's nearly indistinguishable from secular conceptions of social order" (57). Almost, but not quite, indistinguishable. As Sharlet writes of the elite religion promoted by Family founder Abraham Vereide, "In one sense, it was nothing more than a defense of the status quo. It neither challenged power nor asked for anything from the powerful but their good intentions. In another, it was the most ambitious theocratic project of the American century, 'every Christian a leader, every leader a Christian,' and this ruling class of Christ-committed men bound in a fellowship of the anointed, the chosen, key men in a voluntary dictatorship of the divine" (91).

Sharlet traces the roots of elite fundamentalism to the eighteenth-century New England revivalist Jonathan Edwards, who fostered intense religious zeal among his followers (to the point that some of them committed suicide in order to wipe out sin and be closer to God), but blended it, in Sharlet's reading, with "an adoration of power, divine and worldly" (61):

His religion was radical, available to all classes and even to slaves, an inspiration to the nascent sense of individual liberty that would become the American Revolution, but his politics were warlike and controlling. Empire struck him as an ideal vessel for the Gospel. He preached often against envy, but named as envy only that feeling which filled those of lesser wealth, or lesser land, or lesser status, who determined to band together to wrest power from above (69).

Jumping forward, Sharlet relates how Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant, founded the Fellowship (the organization now known as the Family) in Seattle in 1935, in direct response to a wave of militant strikes along the West Coast. First regionally and then nationally, business leaders rallied to Vereide's prayer circles as a way to inject a new spirit of purpose and unity into their fight against organized labor and the New Deal. With the Cold War, Vereide's "International Christian Leadership" spread to western Europe, notably West Germany, where it helped to rehabilitate a number of former Nazis into anticommunist respectability. (Sharlet describes Vereide's relationship with fascism as "weirdly ambivalent" [124]. He cultivated Nazi sympathizers Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh and recruited at least one genuine fascist, Merwin K. Hart, to the Fellowship board, but was ultimately more at home with conservative Republicans than far right rabble rousers such as Father Coughlin.) In the 1960s, Coe succeeded Vereide as organizational leader and made two important changes: Following the trajectory of U.S. Cold War policy, he shifted the Fellowship's international focus away from Europe toward Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and he took the organization "underground," moving it out of the public eye as much as possible, as a protective measure against sixties radicalism and upheaval.

Over the past seventy-five years, the Family has been remarkably successful at embedding itself in the U.S. and international power structure. Using prayer events and quiet meetings, it brings together politicians, businessmen, and military leaders in configurations of its own choosing. Sharlet sees the Family's influence in a wide range of diplomatic initiatives. In the 1960s, it brought members of Congress together with dictators from Brazil, Indonesia, and South Korea; in the 1980s, it organized face-to-face meetings between Salvadoran and Honduran generals and Reagan administration officials. In domestic politics, a Family-groomed bureaucrat oversaw President George W. Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, which drove "irreparable cracks into the wall of separation between church and state" (383).

From the standpoint of political and business elites, the Family appears to perform several useful functions. Its international network offers a convenient way to make contacts and cut deals away from public scrutiny. Like some weird throwback to the divine right of kings, its ideology enables members of the ruling class to justify their power--not to those they rule over, but to each other and to themselves. Offering a belief system specifically for elite consumption, it also fosters a sense of class unity--one that is rooted in a specifically American culture but accessible to any dictator, general, or CEO anywhere in the world who is willing to pray to Jesus.

Some members of the elite are drawn to this "covenant" more than others, for reasons of both culture and self-interest. Allowing for individual variations, it would be useful to explore this in structural terms: Which specific capitalist sectors has the Family cultivated most successfully? This is beyond the scope of Sharlet's work, but he does offer helpful bits and pieces, as when he notes traditionally strong ties between the Family and the oil and aerospace industries (19), or Family-organized seminars for executives in oil, defense, insurance, and banking (22). All of that is broadly consistent with previous accounts of capitalist support for the Christian Right. (See, for example, Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream, or Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, both published in 1986.) But do the differences between elite and populist fundamentalism translate into any differences in their elite connections?

Sharlet's approach to historical narrative, which makes up a good half of the book, presents certain problems. The account of the Family and its forerunners draws on extensive primary and secondary sources, including the Family's organizational records archived at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Sharlet has dramatized this material into an engaging story, but it's not always apparent which parts are documented and which are his interpretation or inference, especially when he gives us historical figures' dialog, thoughts, or feelings.

Sharlet's narrative approach also makes it difficult to answer a key question: Given that the Family has adopted a strategy of swimming with the ruling class current, to what extent has its involvement actually altered the course of events? The answer is not always clear, and by depicting history through the lens of the Family's role, Sharlet sometimes risks exaggerating its impact. In the deepening Cold War of the late 1940s, Vereide and his associates helped legitimize a number of former Hitler supporters in West Germany, but so did major sections of the U.S. government, military, and intelligence services. In the early 1980s, the Family opened doors at the Pentagon for Somali dictator Siad Barre, but the Reagan administration began funding him as a counterweight to Ethiopia, which had recently allied itself with the USSR. Sharlet's discussion of these and other policy moments doesn't include enough about other actors to let us clearly assess the Family's influence.

In focusing on elite fundamentalism, Sharlet also misses a number of important points about the larger Christian Right. He offers a thoughtfully nuanced portrait of the movement's "sexual purity" campaign, but never addresses the fact that this is the first mass movement in U.S. history to put male supremacy and heterosexism at the center of its program. (For more on the movement's gender politics, see Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement [2009], or Jean Hardisty, Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers [1999].) Sharlet also underplays populist fundamentalism's elite dimension. In the late 1970s, the movement's big national boost relied on the Moral Majority's top-down direct mailings more than the grassroots organizing Sharlet emphasizes (which came into its own only gradually over the following decade). In the 1980s, major Christian Right groups put a lot of energy into foreign policy (aiding counterrevolutionary forces in Asia, Africa, and Central America) not just domestic policy. And mass-based Christian Right groups have attracted significant capitalist support and spawned leaders who are major business figures in their own right.

At the same time, in describing the Christian Right as "a cultural front without a politics" (289), Sharlet also neglects tendencies within that movement that challenge the established order at a systemic level. Although most Christian Right groups work within the existing political framework, a hard-line minority aims to sweep away all pluralistic and secular institutions and impose its version of biblical law on all areas of society. The clearest expression of this tendency is Christian Reconstructionism, which Sharlet ambiguously labels "a defunct but subtly influential school of thought" (347). Reconstructionists helped build the paramilitary wing of the anti-abortion rights movement, which assassinated several abortion providers in the 1990s, as well as the Constitution Party and sections of the Patriot movement. More broadly, Reconstructionism has helped foster and intensify theocratic tendencies throughout the Christian Right.

Fundamentalism's relationship with its political opponents, while not a central focus of the book, helps to frame the story Sharlet is telling. "The lesson of elite fundamentalism" in its battle with secularism, he writes, "is that the sides are not just blurry, they're interwoven" (288). Sharlet astutely criticizes secular liberals for both complacency ("Our refusal to recognize the theocratic strand running throughout American history is as self-deceiving as fundamentalism's insistence that the United States was created as a Christian nation" [367]) and complicity ("The Cold War liberalism that led to American wars and proxy wars…ran parallel with elite fundamentalism's sense of its own divine universalism" [288]). These comments are a welcome contrast to those critics of the Christian Right who demonize "religious extremism" while mythologizing a supposed democratic center.

More problematic is Sharlet's effort to portray fundamentalism as the mirror image of the radical left, as when he labels mass-based Christian Right groups "the popular front" or titles a chapter "The Romance of American Fundamentalism," referring to Vivian Gornick's The Romance of American Communism. Yes, there are resonances and interconnections to be explored, such as the Family's stated admiration for Lenin and Mao or its adoption of a Communist-inspired cell structure. But Sharlet doesn't explore them far enough and at times sounds uncomfortably like a centrist of the "radical left equals radical right" school. He is simply wrong when he claims that in targeting secularism, the Christian Right is "rail[ing] against the same familiar enemy" as 1930s labor organizers did when they identified capitalism as their opponent (289). There is a basic difference between blaming your problems, even crudely, on class exploitation and blaming them on disrespect for God's law.

Despite its limitations, Jeff Sharlet's The Family is a valuable book that enriches our understanding of right-wing politics, elite networks, and the role of Christianity in U.S. society. Exposing politicians' sex scandals is easy; tracing the underlying dynamics of ideology and power takes work.

Jun 11, 2010

Call to Action Against Racism and Fascism July 31, 2010

“During the early morning hours of March 27th, a Portland, Oregon anti-racist activist was shot in what appears to be a well orchestrated attack. It is suspected that the attackers were members of the neo- Nazi movement…

The March 27th shooting occurred within a backdrop of growing Right wing, racist, and emerging fascist organizing and activity. There has been a dramatic escalation of rhetoric and action from the broad Right. While all sectors of the working classes and poor face economic and social uncertainty, the racists, the Right wing, and the smaller but significant sections of the neo-Nazi and fascist movements are looking to divide our class and peoples…

We propose Saturday July 31, 2010 as a Call to Action Against Racism and Fascism. We want to use the CA to both engage the broad, independent, and radical anti-racist/anti-fascist movements… we argue for a maximum of creative and independent initiative… to use the CA as a means to increase collaboration between our forces and work in a popular manner to highlight the need for a mass, radical response to racist and fascist organizing.”

Read the entire Call to Action:



Apr 23, 2010

ARA Presents: The White Power Movement on the West Coast...

In Portland, a long-time anti-racist is targeted for assassination in the downtown area. In Vancouver, BC, an anti-fascist activist's house is bombed. In Los Angeles, the National Socialist Movement rallies and is opposed by hundreds. In the Northwest, the Aryan Nations faces resistance as it searches for a community to base its new compound.

* How are white supremacists organizing in Portland? On the West Coast generally? Should neo-Nazis just be ignored?
* How have communities responded to white supremacist activity, and what can we learn? Are there lessons from Portland's own history?
* Is neo-Nazi organizing connected to anti-immigrant movements? The Tea Party phenomenon? How?

We are hosting a panel discussion and community speak-out to address these and other questions. Our goal is to bring people together who are interested in this topic, provide broader context & resources, as well as to kick-start conversations about building responses. Please bring your ideas and enthusiasm for the efforts ahead. We look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, April 24, 7PM-9PM
First Unitarian Church, Buchan Reception Hall
1226 SW Salmon Street, Portland
FREE educational event (donations accepted)
phone / vm: 971.533.7832

Local Anti-Racist Shot in Downtown Portland

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, March 27, a man was brutally attacked in the heart of downtown Portland. His attacker shot him and left him lying in the street. He is currently in the Intensive Care Unit in an area hospital, fighting to overcome extensive injuries.

It is no secret that this man, Luke Querner, is a long-time anti-fascist activist. He has devoted over a decade of his life to opposing the most vicious elements of our city's white supremacist movement. Rose City Antifascists, the Portland chapter of the Anti-Racist Action Network, believe that the local neo-Nazis whom Luke has opposed for years attempted to murder him on Saturday morning.

Luke is proud to be an anti-racist skinhead. The true skinhead movement has always been anti-racist, tracing its origins to the cultural intersection of Jamaican immigrants and working class whites in England during the 1960s. After racists and the far-Right attempted to hijack the skinhead movement in the late 1970s and '80s, a movement known as SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) emerged in 1987 to reaffirm the anti-racist roots of the subculture. As with many other anti-racist skins, Luke is deeply committed to racial equality and social justice. This commitment has caused Luke to be targeted in the past.

Rose City Antifa believes that the most recent attack was planned and committed by an element within Portland's neo-Nazi underground. This is the most logical explanation for such a vicious act, for several reasons:

1. Local neo-Nazi organizations and cliques have the capability to carry out such an act. Several organizations, including the Portland-centered Volksfront International, are tightly-organized, disciplined, and command significant loyalty from adherents and sympathizers. Their members have experience committing violent acts, including murder.

2. Luke was a prime enemy of organized racists. Luke and his community have been violently targeted by Volksfront in the past. The recent shooting echoes the sentiments expressed in the song "SHARP Shooter" by the old Volksfront-affiliated rock band, Jew Slaughter.

3. Local fascist groups have spent recent months uniting despite organizational differences. Volksfront as well as National Socialist Movement affiliates hosted a series of social events that have likely emboldened individual fascists. One recent point of unity between local neo-Nazi cliques and groups?whether they be Volksfront, the Northwest Front, the National Socialist Movement or Hammerskins?has been common targeting of anti-racists and the Left.

4. Given the overall resurgence of the radical Right in recent years (see Southern Poverty Law Center report), neo-Nazis have expressed more urgency in their propaganda, expecting a race war in the near future.

Luke is an entrenched and beloved figure in the anti-racist community and well known by local fascists. Saturday's shooting was an intentional message that those standing up for equality are in mortal danger.

Portland has a long, violent history of racist organizing that continues to this day. In the late 1980s, Portland became notorious as a hotbed of white supremacist activity. Many organizations, such as the Aryan Nations, declared the Pacific Northwest to be a future white homeland. The groups that would go on to comprise Volksfront and other formations, swelled in numbers. The 1988 murder of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw and trial of the three neo-Nazi culprits represented the high water mark of Nazi terror at that point. Concerted community efforts, as well as a high-profile civil suit, drove many local neo-Nazis underground. Unfortunately some of these white supremacists are still here, always struggling to re-emerge.

The attempted killing also reminds us of the 1998 executions of Lin "Spit" Newborn and Dan Shersty--who were also anti-racist skinheads--by neo-Nazis in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rose City Antifa believes that this shooting is of particular significance, representing a neo-Nazi attempt to reclaim the streets and apply their white supremacist agenda through force and terror. This seems to be tied to the larger context of a nationwide mobilization of the radical Right.

We criticize the Portland Police response to this tragic attack, which appears to be further victimizing the survivor and his community. This police approach reflects the Department's institutional biases regarding race and racial hate, apparent in the recent police bean-bag shotgun assault on a 12-year-old African American girl, and their killing of an unarmed African American man two months ago. Despite the fact that Luke's shooting was an unprovoked attack with a fairly obvious motive, the police appear to be treating the victim as the problem. The police released Luke's name to the media on the Sunday after the shooting, in total disregard for his safety and security.

We feel it is extremely important to clarify the nature of this situation, given that the information released so far has generally situated this event in the same category as an unrelated shooting about 50 minutes earlier in Portland, reportedly related to violence between rival gangs. Treating Luke's shooting as a gang related event obscures the political implications of the attack, and utterly misses the point. The racist overtones of much of the online commentary on the coverage is particularly appalling given that Luke was someone that spent his entire adult life fighting white supremacy. Portland Anti-Racist Action vigorously challenges any assumptions that the ambush was performed by people of color, which may have been suggested by prior media coverage. This was not a fight that got out of hand. There was no fight. It was an assassination attempt.

Luke is currently looking at a mountain of medical bills. The Anti-Racist Action Network is currently hosting benefits from coast to coast to raise funds. In addition, the ARA network has set up a PayPal account to send Luke donations.

As always, Rose City Antifa is looking for any and all information related to fascist organizing in our town. Contact us at or leave a voice mail message at 971.533.7832. We will not rest until we see some measure of justice for Luke.


Apr 1, 2010

Portland Anti Racist Action Media Release


For immediate release: April 1, 2010

Contact: Portland Anti-Racist Action 971.533.7832 (voicemail)

*Portland Anti-Racists: Downtown Shooting was Likely a Neo-Nazi Ambush*

*Anti-Racist Targeted in Saturday Morning Attempted Murder*

Portland, Oregon – In a city that still remembers the 1988 beating death of Mulugeta Seraw by three racists, a recent downtown shooting may thrust the issue of white supremacist violence into the forefront of public consciousness once again.

A local anti-racist organization claims that the early morning shooting in downtown Portland on March 27, whose survivor remains in Intensive Care, was most likely an attempted murder by one or more neo-Nazis. The victim of the shooting, Luke Querner, is an entrenched and beloved figure in the anti-racist community. He has devoted over a decade of his life to opposing Portland’s white power movement.

Luke Querner was shot at approximately 12:20AM on Saturday morning, in an unprovoked attack on SW 5th Avenue, between Stark and Washington Street.The shooting appears to have been well-orchestrated; the assailant concealed his identity, fleeing at least initially by foot in a closely-surveilled area.

The attempted murder of Querner occurs in the context of escalating activity from a racist underground that believes it can operate with impunity. The past half year has been one of increasing audacity from local white supremacists, with organizations such as Volksfront, the Northwest Front and the National Socialist Movement drawing closer together. Members of these and similar organizations--as well as cliques on their periphery--share information about anti-racists and the Left, and have been increasing their actions against such targets.

Portland Anti-Racist Action believes that the attempted murder of Querner was a political act, most likely by neo-Nazis. To treat this violence as gang-related obscures its political context and almost certainly misses its point. The shooting seems designed to send a message and to intimidate anti-racists. Portland ARA criticizes the police’s choice to release

Querner’s name on Sunday, placing him at further risk. The organization also questions the police portrayal of the shooting, which frames the incident as near-random, rather than as an act of political terror and attempted assassination. Querner was shot because of his convictions, the group believes.

“The Portland Police aren’t telling the whole story” states Alicia of Portland ARA, “They have not mentioned the most obvious motive for the shooting. We fear that they are more interested in smearing the victim than in uncovering the truth. Our thoughts go out to Luke right now.”

An expanded statement with further details surrounding the shooting is available on the website: Information on how to contribute to Querner’s medical bills and related expenses may also be found on this site. Portland Anti-Racist Action continues to be interested in any and all information related to white supremacist organizing in Portland and its vicinity.

For more information, please contact Portland Anti-Racist Action at or 971.533.7832 (voicemail.)

Mar 22, 2010

updates from Moscow Anarchist Black Cross

Andrei Mergenyov is imprisoned in Saratov after a fight with a Nazi in June 2007. Recently we received a following letter from him, and we translated it just to remind you about one of the less known Russian anti-fascist prisoners.

Address of Andrey (note that this is a new address!):

Andrey Mergenyov

Saratovskaya oblast G. Engels,


3 otryad 413116

You may also write address in cyrillic (if your e-mail interface does not
render cyrillic letters correctly, visit

Мергеневу А.К.
Саратовская обл, г Энгельс, ФБУ ИК-13, 3 отряд, 413116

Hi this is Taiwan writing. I have 11 more months to do, not too much. I have
already done 2 years and 7 months, and I feel like only yesterday I was
running after Nazis with a bottle of beer in my hand. I have received plenty
of letters - from Moscow, Ufa, Petrozhavodsk, Minsk and Vladivostok, I even
got two letters from London. I am working at prisoner's club, playing bass
guitar, from time to time we perform to other prisoners. I am doing sports
and qualified for a new profession of a painter, now I am studying to become
a crane operator of bridge cranes. Friends and family are visiting me. Thanks
for writing me, I would be happy to receive another letter from you, I will
answer for sure.


Taiwan 11th of January 2010

More on case of Andrey:

Also, Aleksey Bychin, who is doing five year sentence for a fight with a Nazi
who was a police officer off-duty, was recently moved to another subsection
in his colony. Please fix his address, as letters sent to right subsection
will make it to him faster - new address is

FBU OIK-2 IK-7 otryad No. 12

ul. Karnallitovaya d. 98

g. Solikamsk Permskiy Kray

618545 Russia

More info about case of Aleksey:

And at last, a bit of a good news - Yura Mishutkin, who killed a Nazi in self
defence in Vladivostok in November of 2008, was handed a new sentence 4th of
March, after relatives of Nazi made an appeal against his previous
probational sentence. New sentence is 1.5 years probational sentence and
around 1.5 million roubles (50 000 USD) of compensations for the relatives.
This is more harsh than the previous sentence, but still it is great news
that Yura does not have to go to jail.

ABC Moscow

abc-msk AT riseup D net

P.O. Box 13 109028 Moscow Russia


Mar 14, 2010

South Side Chicago Anti Racist Action organizing against planned nazi march

Callout to Confront INSF ‘White Pride World Wide’ March in Chicago

UPDATE: Download the flyer: (English JPG, Spanish JPG, or Quarter-page Printable PDF) and also call the hotline at 773-980-6013 for day-of updates about the action.

On March 21st, 2010 the Illinois National Socialist Front is planning to march in Chicago for what they call “White Pride World Wide”. South Side Anti-Racist Action is making plans to confront the march to let them know that they are not welcome in our city.

Student and worker struggles

two new posts from our friends at Gathering Forces:
March 4th Student Strike Wrap Up &
March Fourth Seattle by Mamos

"So what approach should we have to social democratic union and student government leaders in the meantime? I don’t think we should needlessly antagonize them or call them out just for the sake of calling them out even though we have obvious disagreements about whether change comes from above or from below. I think what we can do is push them as far as possible to implement their social democratic tendencies because doing this further exposes all of the contradictions I’ve laid out here. We can encourage them to keep mobilizing the rank and file to fight the cuts and can hold them to their word, trying to explain to them the limitations of trying to make the bureaucracy more progressive. Every action they call we can use as an opportunity to flyer, talk to workers and students, and to build up independent rank and file fighting organizations. At some point some of them will have to go back on their word and they’ll start opposing these actions and then we should call them out and continue to organize independently. If this happens, other social democrats will probably want to continue fighting and they will realize the need to rely on rank and file power as they start to clash with the bureaucratic higher ups… this could open up cracks in the bureaucracy and makes it easier for rank and file workers and students to seize the initiative. In any case, we need to maintain our organizational independence from progressive union officials while working in a friendly united front coalition with them against the cuts"

and later

"There are forms of spontaneity that fail to advance the struggle and forms we would oppose; in the case of March 4th Seattle though, the spontaneity we experienced helped bring new layers of students into the struggle. It is crucial to emphasize that spontaneous militancy and direct action here is coming from everyday students and workers, many of them women and people of color; it is NOT coming from the insurrectionist “occupy everything, demand nothing” tendency because that tendency is not very widespread in Seattle, at least not yet. I hope that as militancy increases we can start to cohere a different tendency, independent of the liberals and bureaucrats on the one hand and independent from the insurrectionists on the other hand. What happened on March 4th points in this direction.

The debate going on in California about whether or not the insurrectionists should have occupied the highway in Oakland is very different than the debate here about whether we should have blocked I-5. Here, the drive toward the highway was not the result of organized insurrectionists breaking off from a larger march. It was something that emerged from what was (at least at one point) a majority of the crowd. If anything, those who backed the idea of the freeway occupation are the student counterpart to the furstrated social democratic workers I mentioned earlier, folks who are tired of following labor laws that are stacked against them and are starting to consider wildcat (unauthorized) strikes as a viable option. So too are students open to taking risks to advance the struggle. Folks who would previously have been trying to push the Democrats to the left are getting fed up with how unresponsive the system has been do their efforts and now have only one place left to go: into the streets, where they are joining radicals and revolutionaries in mass, democratic direct action"

Mar 12, 2010

A New Fascism? A Dead Imperialism?

Below are reposts from an older exchange between Stan Goff and Don Hamerquist. The original discussion was posted on a version of the Bring The Ruckus!(BtR) website that is no longer in use. For reasons of extending the discussion, or at least some concepts within, we are now putting the exchange up on 3WF. We have attempted to date the posts as they became public. These discussions predate the launch of this blog by just a few months and helped shape the basis for what we were aiming for in terms of movement debate and anlysis.

Below is the introduction from BtR, Goff's original article with subsequent exchange. We then include some related comments.

A New Fascism? A Dead Imperialism? An Exchange between Stan Goff and Don Hammerquist

...debate between veteran revolutionaries Stan Goff and Don Hammerquist on fascism and global capitalism is now available on the Bring the Ruckus web site. In it, Hammerquist more fully develops his definition of fascism and his argument for why Al Qaeda and other movements should be understood as posing a revolutionary fascist challenge to global capital. He also argues that the present capitalist system should not be considered "imperialist."

"The fact is that [American] neoconservative policies may well jeopardize economic and political stability in the metropolis. They are willing to risk, not only popular living and working conditions in the imperial center, but also the relative power and influence of the specifically U.S. sections of capitalism. This is why it is so problematic to identify neocon strategy with a resurgence of U.S. imperialism. They would risk the very basis of American global power to protect and advance what they call freedom.?

"Contemporary neo-fascism involves two elements. First there is a rapidly expanding social base. This base is composed of the declassed and marginalized, a huge population that has been permanently defined as non-productive and redundant by capitalist development... The second element is the assortment of reactionary groups, with no necessary connection to each other, that more or less consciously try to organize this social base against the established structure of power, a structure which they see as corrupt, decadent and fundamentally wrong."

Nov 10, 2004
There's No There There: Debating a Neocon

Dec 15, 2004
Responding to Stan Goff's, Debating a NeoCon

Jan 13, 2005
Continued discourse on article, Debating a NeoCon. Goff responds to Hamerquist

Feb 15, 2005
Hamerquist on dilemmas for Capital and further outlines of the content of the resistance movements.

March 1, 2005
Matthew Lyons comments on Hamerquist Goff exchange

March 31, 2005
Hamerquist Responds to Matthew Lyons

Mar 5, 2010

Michael Novick responds to Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real World

Comments to Thinking and Acting in Real Time and A Real World

Thanks, Don and TWF for this, and for the link to Kali Akuno's piece. I do know Kali and value his work and am surprised that I wasn't aware of this; we have printed others of his pieces in "Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education," (available in pdf format on-line at, click on 'publication'). Kali has done some important work around Katrina, the election campaign of Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, and many other causes. Although I have had a lot of unity with him in the past, and had many disagreements with Don in the past, I find myself agreeing with Don's assessment that his general strategic line formulation towards a popular front with liberal and progressive forces "against fascism" is really inadequate (even though his general political orientation is strong enough that much of predictive material he penned in November 2008 has come to fruition, such as the inability of Obama and the Democrats to deal with the crisis, and the resurgence of the Republican right).

However, both Kali's piece, and Don's (which has some great strengths, including its insistence on the explosive potential in human consciousness of the current and enduring crisis of the empire) have a couple of critical weaknesses regarding both war and fascism. The insurmountable internal contradictions of capitalism and colonialism, as well as the irreconcilable contradiction between capitalism/colonialism and the people it exploits and oppresses mean that war -- international, intra-capitalist war -- is inevitable. The culmination of the current imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the military activity and threats against Iran, Venezuela and in Africa, are part of a strategic campaign of encirclement being carried out against China by US-led imperialism. The war on terror, which the other comment, citing Mike Davis, correctly relates to long term counter-insurgency warfare in global and internal slums, is also a prelude to a military conflict with China (notwithstanding, or perhaps more properly, exactly because of) US dependence on China. The US and China are already engaged in vigorous cyber-war.

The citation of the Trilateral Commission, particularly the 'excess of democracy' elements, in the other note is also welcome. The US is still extremely actively engaged in the process of "spatial deconcentration" (removal of the Black, indigenous/Mexicano and other poor people from the urban core) that is necessary for such urban slum warfare to be tactically possible in the US (where, unlike the Third World or global south, the poor to a certain degree still occupy the city center rather than the outskirts). The gentrification of New York, where Harlem has become a predominantly European-descent area, the depopulation of New orleans, and the eradication of Detroit are part of this ongoing process since the Empire was forced to battle in the cities of the US.

Regarding fascism, as I have struggled with Don and others on TWF in the past, the colonial and settler colonial nature of the US state and society means that elements of "fascism" have always been part of the social and political fabric. This doesn't mean it's a "tactic" of the bourgeoisie, it means that (settler) colonialism has always been a cross-class project, with independent (armed) action by various classes and strata, and that the very concept of a "working class" as envisioned by Marx and Marxists (or anarchists) needs to be modified by an understanding of the importance of land, particularly private property in land, to the nature of Capital and its social relations. One of the things that the current crisis of capitalism should have made manifest, but apparently still hasn't, is that the capital 'market' in 'real estate (land, housing, etc) far exceeds industrial, or even financial capital. The bursting of the housing bubble should have helped identify to all one of the irreconcilable and unresolvable contradictions of capitalism -- that whether or not a particular house is "under water," the totality of mortgage debt, principal and interest, far exceeds the value of the property which "secures" it. The ballooning of such debt into "securities" only served to magnify the overhang. At the same time, the value of energy, water, and agricultural productivity (and the costs of waste disposal and/or decontamination) absorbed into capital by the private expropriation of land, nature and the commons of water and air, have helped to precipitate an enormous and catastrophically expensive (in life and dollars) environmental crisis which, like the economic crisis, manifests the not merely moribund or parasitic but necrotic nature of the Empire. The intersecting economic and environmental crises will not be solved by cap and trade, 'green jobs,' or health care reform, let alone the stimulus; but they may serve to provoke the kind of insurrectionary transformation of consciousness that Don is musing about. In that regard, both Don and the commentator miss the point about the struggles developing in "Latin" America -- the indigenous movements are not the resurrection of "national liberation" but its supercession by people standing on its shoulders and capable of overcoming its Euro-centric limits and definitions.

--Michael Novick

Jan 24, 2010

Barack, Badiou, and Bilal al Hasan

I wrote a draft of this in early December that had some limited circulation. This version moves the focus away from criticisms of the left responses to the Obama Afghanistan policy towards the policy itself. In some ways it’s a restatement of arguments I made about Iraq five years ago that tries to incorporate the impact of a global economic crisis and of a different political face for the ruling class. I hope to open up two discussions: the first concerns the origins, objectives, and implications of the policy - particularly with respect to the ruling class flexibility to reconsider and change it. The other concerns the development of a more useful conceptual framework for the left. - D.H.

Barack, Badiou, and Bilal al Hasan

Obama has made his speech on Afghanistan and we should think about what it entails and implies.

The majority of the U.S. left looks at these issues in the context of classical conceptions of imperialism, emphasizing the interests of U.S. capital in maintaining and extending its dominant position: in the first place against popular anti-imperialist movements; but with increasing frequency also against purported imperialist rivals.

Two examples:

“... this war is not about “defending the American people” — but establishing a stable U.S. domination over a highly strategic arc reaching from Pakistan...It is a war for consolidating U.S. domination in large parts of the world.” Ely, Kasama (12/2)

“All this ... is about oil. But not just oil, but all other resources, and not just resources, but the control of those resources and the fear of a rising multi-polarity being led by the Chinese with accompaniment by a renewed belligerence of Russia and the rising economic power of Brazil and India among others (the BRIC nations).” Miles, Znet (12/4).

I realize these short excerpts don’t adequately express Ely and Miles’s complete positions. However, taking them as they stand, whatever their other merits, neither helps explain why Obama is implementing this particular policy and not another – potentially quite different - one.

“...Protecting the U.S.”; establishing an “...arc of domination” in SouthWest Asia; acting against a, “...rising multi-polarity” within the global capitalist system, may or may not point to some of the motivations that underlie U.S. policy in general, but they are hardly sufficient to explain this particular policy. The goal of “U.S. domination” could arguably be implemented through policies which were quite different. Non-military interventions could be pursued rather than costly and unpromising wars. A concentration on mounting problems closer to the “homeland” could be prioritized to ensure there there actually was a more “stable” base from which to expand “U.S. domination”.

The other day I ran across this in a column by Tom Friedman, perhaps the best known publicist for global capitalism. It illustrates my point:

“Frankly, if I had my wish we would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they want to conspire with and which one they want to fight, we would be letting Israelis and Palestinians figure out on their own how to make peace, we would be taking $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget to make us independent of imported oil...” Port Angeles Daily News. (In my local paper it appeared on Jan. 18. and Jan. 17 in the N.Y. Times.)

There is no question whether Friedman would prefer a stable U.S. domination over this section of the world - this “strategic arc - of course he would. There is no question that he is worried about the weakening of U.S. economic power relative to its capitalist competition and to the challenges it faces – he’s written a number of irritating books on the subject. But there is also no question that he doesn’t like the current Obama policy and supports a substantially different approach. This possibility for substantially different ruling class policies from sectors of the class that share a substantial agreements on assumptions and objectives, should motivate us to look beyond our own generic ‘explanations’ for what is happening. This is particularly true when, as is the case here, these explanations are firmly rooted in the political categories of a past where we didn’t do all that well.

So what “facts” support these postulated U.S. imperialist objectives in Afghanistan? Do the gas pipelines, the narcotics trade, the copper mining proposals and similar factors create a clear interest for U.S. capital that is appropriately pursued by this grotesquely asymetric use of military force? Which U.S. ruling class factions have organized to promote these interests? Where is the trail of influence from these alleged interests to the adopted policy?

Exactly how does a more consolidated domination emerge out of increasingly destabilized territories and regimes? If the goal in Afghanistan actually is that of “consolidating U.S. domination”, one obvious objective would be establishing a friendly and stable pro-capitalist regime. The institutionalized and protracted external domination suggested by the Obama policy will make Afghanistan and the region less friendly and a whole lot less stable, not more so. It is hard to see a, “stable consolidated U.S. domination” developing out of these policies under the best conditions. If it is assumed that U.S. policy will also confront a “rising multi-polarity”, based in rival centers of capitalist power looking to gain some relative advantage, it is impossible. This leaves us with a goal – stable consolidated domination – that would be completely at odds with the means – military conquest and occupation with limited forces. My firm belief is that the ruling class does not subject itself to stress tests that it has every reason to believe it cannot pass.

Let’s look a little closer at the “rising multi-polarity” interimperialist conflict, argument presented by Miles. There is no doubt that there are inter-imperialist conflicts and contradictions in the region, but what is their relationship to this Afghanistan policy? Does any potential inter-imperialist conflict over resources in Afghanistan (U.S/NATO. vs. BRIC is the one Miles proposes) outweigh the historic conflicts in the region - between Russia and China, between China and India, between India and Pakistan? Does it outweigh all three country’s counterparty status or the dependence of the BRIC states on inter-imperialist coordination to maintain stability in the international financial and commodities markets? Does it outweigh their common interests in managing internal populist unrest – perhaps with Chinese Uighers and Russian Chechens – or threats to Russia’s interests in the formerly soviet ‘stans’? Does it outweigh the common interests of these rivals in combatting “terrorism”, such as that flowing from Naxalite peasant insurgency, newly marginalized Chinese workers, or neo-fascist tendencies in the ruling Hindi elites and among the Russian National Bolsheviks. I’d say no, inter-imperialist contradictions don’t outweigh these factors, and if they did we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan in the way that we are – nor in Iraq, for that matter.

(Thomas Barnett’s essay of a few years ago, Recasting the Long War as a Joint Sino-American Venture”, provides a good picture of ruling class approaches to such issues and makes it pretty clear that they are well integrated into the discussions of alternative policies in ruling class circles.)

In short, most left explanations of the underpinnings and objectives of Obama’s Afghanistan policy can’t provide an adequate explanation of the concrete policy: of the specific changes it involves; of the adaptations it might undergo in the future; of the policy alternatives to it that may or may not be viable – such as Friedman’s. Actually they are worse than inadequate because, sometimes explicitly and sometimes by default, they contribute to the widespread left common sense that it is not really important to look for coherent explanations of specific ruling class policy. Perhaps because, as Kolko has said, there are no such explanations because policies are just an incoherent resultant of the interplay of the most immediate and crass motives of economic and political self and sectoral interest. Other analyses come to similar results without utilizing this chaos theory. They see U.S. capitalism being pushed towards desperation making it prone to fundamentally illogical, even irrational, positions – to ‘mistakes’.

Such positions were more popular and more explicit during the previous administration – particularly with respect to Iraq policy. The Bush regime was easy to picture as ignorant and venal, mistake-prone and even incompetent from a ruling class perspective. It was easy but, I think, essentially wrong. This mindset contributes to a dumb left optimism in which analyses of ruling class motives and perspectives are regarded as unproductive and unnecessary. And in the process it typically muddies the distinctions between a radical and a liberal opposition to ruling class policies. For a case in point, it also was easy, but wrong, to overestimate the potential differences in the policies that a supposedly more clear-headed incoming Obama administration might pursue. Many on the left went this route and are still scrambling to catch up.

In fact, except for some unimportant, largely cosmetic, trappings, Obama is much the same as Bush. In Afghanistan, Obama hopes to apply some lessons and experiences learned from Iraq and in doing so is incurring very real domestic costs and taking significant risks just as Bush did, most notably in Iraq. These common priorities in both administrations can be explained as a rational pursuit of capitalist class interests, but only if these interests are seen as global, not national. That is, only if they are understood as capitalist interests in which the political, economic and social stability in the U.S. is not the primary point of reference. Therefore, despite much public rhetoric to the contrary (particularly from the remnants of the Bush camp now that it is removed from policy-making), the policy directions chosen by both administrations can quite possibly place the hegemony and domestic stability of the U.S., the “sole superpower”, at risk, but still be a rational attempt to defend and extend the hegemony of global capital.

How might global capitalist interests be operative in Obama’s Afghanistan policies? A full answer, including the structural elements of the current economic crisis is beyond this argument. However, clear hints of a partial answer are in the language that Obama used to present his policy at West Point - especially when it is augmented by the language he used a few days later in Oslo when he accepted his bizarre award of a “Peace Prize”.

Obama said that the policy towards Afghanistan was part of a strategic response to a “real danger” from; “...disorderly regions, diffuse enemies; and ‘failed states’.” In the Nobel speech he stressed in Bush-like phrases; “I deal with the world as it is...(and)...There is evil in the world”. I wrote down the former phrase at the time I heard it, but I’ve seen no reference to it in the commentary on that speech. Hopefully, at least some of the Fourth Generation War websites will eventually pick it up. I’m sure that the invocation of evil in the Oslo presentation was not missed, but without the earlier passage as a context, it becomes a rhetorical flourish and loses much of its practical significance. These phrases point towards a rationale for Afghanistan policy that makes some sense for a global ruling class facing a secular crisis, but not for a national U.S. ruling class, focused on its internal stability and economic health and on maintaining its relative position in a classically imperialist structure. Consequently, unlike Tom Engelhardt, I do not find Obama’s pursuit of a very expensive Afghan policy instead of a, “...reasonable jobs program at home...”, to be a “...strange wonder of the world..” ZNet 12/6.

This Obama statement opens some important questions: What is the danger in Afghanistan? Who is responding to this danger? What is the nature of the response? Focusing on these questions, not the logical errors and factual irrelevancies, and the bloated patriotic rhetoric which filled both the West Point and Oslo speeches, will open some possibilities to place what is happening within the context of global capital and international class struggle.

I’d suggest three working hypotheses, recognizing that their validity is provisional:

1. At the end of the last century, the global capitalist system rapidly extended the penetration of what used to be called the ‘second’ and ‘third’ worlds. It now faces an growing difficulty profitably utilizing the labor that it has ‘freed’ and endowed with new needs and demands. This increasingly marginalized labor force is also increasingly mobile. This is one underpinning of a general populist threat to global capital that has both liberatory and reactionary elements.The problems and conflicts, the social turmoil that this process entails, cannot be quarantined even under the best of circumstances and it now affects the entire system, including the capitalist core areas.

A variety of political projects with a diverse array of antagonisms and accomodations to the global capitalist system are attempting to organize this growing base of fundamental discontent. Global capital sees the populist threat as the major current challenge to its continued dominance and is focused on developing a response to its jihadist components. This is a real priority, acknowledged by and acted on by virtually all national segments of capital. It is not a pretext or a facade to provide space and resources to pursue other goals although it will certainly be used in these ways if and when the opportunities arise.

2. The collapse of the global financialization system and the serious cyclical crisis that is related to it have exposed structural limitations on capitalist accumulation. The growing problems maintaining profitability and cultural hegemony within the core areas of the capitalist system are compounded by the emergence of the issues of the gap in the core. This has increased the awareness within capitalist elites of the need for major structural adjustments, but this awareness is confronted with an increasingly limited flexibility for material and incorporative concessions to the working classes in the core as well as growing limitations on the tools, particularly the non-military tools, available to deal with political challenges in gap regions - such as Afghanistan.

These factors are combining to undercut the ruling class confidence that capitalist development has sufficient flexibility and momentum to deal with the complex of emerging threats and instabilities. Certainly it has eroded any confidence that these challenges can be dealt with simultaneously. In place of a generalized confidence that capitalism can incorporate all potential futures, there is a recognition that history may not have ended, and that securing the future prospects for capitalism requires a major restructuring of its disciplinary apparatus and a risky reordering of political and economic priorities.

3. There are major issues with the organization and the content of capitalist power. To efficiently advance the interests of capital, global political and economic considerations should determine the rational use of power, but this power is politically organized within, and limited by an increasingly dysfunctional nation state framework. This is a problem at the top when military capabilities become inflexible and unwieldy - not properly oriented to asymmetric non-state threats where specific and rapidly changing political factors must outweigh technical military considerations. At least potentially it is also a problem from below when the structures of privilege and subordinated participation through formal parliamentarism that have provided some stable national bases for capitalist power in the core don’t work in the ways that they have historically.

I intend to say a few things about how I see these three points in play in Afghanistan policy. First, although it may already be apparent, I should make it explicit that these points assume the essential validity of one of Negri’s central arguments in ‘Empire’:

“The United States does not, and indeed, no nation-state can today, form the center of an imperialist project.” (Empire, p. xiv)

A fundamental point. It will be less obvious, but they diverge significantly from another Negri position:

“The guarantee that Empire offers to globalized capital does not involve a micropolitical and/or microadministrative management of populations. The apparatus of command has no access to the local spaces and the determinate temporal sequences of life...” (Empire, p. 344) This is a mistaken and dangerous assumption, I think. In my opinion this is exactly what is being developed and with some success.

In distinction to Negri, who places minimal weight on any elements of consciousness and organization – obviously including those that relate to ruling class policies, I think there is an emerging global capitalist project – in this case a project lurking beneath the Obama pronouncements – and it is important that we understand it. I want to speculate about this in two areas: – one with implications for the gap, and particularly the “non-integrating” seams in the gap; and another with implications for the core. (I’m assuming some familiarity with these gap/core categories from Thomas Barnett, but in any case their meaning should be obvious from the context).

Remember a few short decades ago when Carter and Breszhenski schemed to bring down the Soviet union by giving it “its own Vietnam” in Afghanistan. I believe that one distinctive feature of the current situation is that no rival national centers of capitalist power are oriented towards entangling the U.S. in Afghanistan this way. This certainly cannot be explained by a fear of U.S. military and economic power which has demonstrated increasingly clear limits. I find the best explanation to be that, in contrast to the talk of “a rising multi-polarity”, the global ruling elites increasingly subordinate inter-imperialist rivalries to an appreciation of common enemies and common risks. This emergent sense of an over-riding common interest is reflected in the virtually universal support of every state for what is called a called a “war on terror”. It is reflected in the generalized cooperation to regain some equilibrium in global financial systems and commodities markets.

Afghanistan is both a specific problem and a manifestation of more general ones in an important regional zone of disorder. For global capital, Afghanistan is an opportunity to experiment with new ways to discipline increasingly unruly populations while maintaining and even extending capitalist control over global flows of capital and labor. It is an opportunity, as well, to develop better techniques to disorient and demobilize emerging challenges to capital’s global disciplinary regime. At its core I believe that the Obama “surge” is such a test of new methods and new tools. It is a concrete project in which most sections of global capital share definite common interests. Of course, it is not a project that represents an overt ruling class consensus. There are remaining conflicts and contradictions on important issues that are sometimes quite evident in policy differences – particularly on questions of tactics. But, I think, the underlying perception of a common interest is pretty clear.

I’d like to argue for and explain this view with a few specific points in two distinct areas – the gap (warzone) and the core (homeland).

(First, however, a parenthetical note of caution: It is hard to raise issues of ruling class policy without implying that it is more consciously calculated and coordinated than the available evidence shows. What I say here will be subject to this interpretation. So from the outset I want to be clear that I don’t mean to deny that there is, and will always be, a range of contradictory factors; elements of controversy and indeterminacy, not to mention incompetence, that go into the formation of ruling class policy. I hope what I say doesn’t lead to the substitution of assumed conspiracies for a concrete investigation of actual processes. This can lead to a host of political problems that frequently end in passivity and defeatism.

However, in this case I’m more worried about the opposite problem – the underestimation of the extent and impact of the organization and planning that goes into maintaining capitalist power. The fact is that any approach to radical political organizing will have to choose some operating assumptions on these questions when the investigations that could establish their respective validity have barely begun and the most pertinent results are still not generally available. I think that it is prudent to adopt the protective principle of ecological science in this situation and work from the assumption of the worst case. Considering the massive resources the capitalist state devotes to its defense, presumably producing some usable product, this is probably not only the prudent course, but the wise one as well. As Mao might have learned before leaving the scene, its very important to avoid any tendency to underestimate the enemy – and that means strategically, not just tactically.)

To me it seems that the Afghanistan surge is not premised on a victory over the Taliban, the eradication of Al Qaeda, or any type of nation building. The force structure focused on Afghanistan is clearly unable to achieve a traditional military victory and that should indicate to us that it is probably not meant to do so. I think that “winning” in Afghanistan is not about establishing a relatively stable pro-capitalist nation state that is a more docile part of a U.S. sphere of influence (a completely utopian objective under any scenario). Instead, consider Afghanistan as Obama described it; a “failed state”, in a “disorderly region” containing “diffuse enemies”. Afghanistan is the archetypical disorderly region, and it is not insignificant that it has many features placing it on the dark side of the establishment’s manichaean discourses on Evil.

A more likely goal of this policy is that it is a test, oriented towards developing and controlling balkanized enclaves through direct relations with empowered reactionary elements of civil society and bypassing centralized governmental structures, including compradorial ones. This involves an attempt to relate directly to all sides of all existing social divisions, hoping to gain effective control over the resources of the underground and illegal economy and to fragment any potential nationalist or internationalist resistence, particularly anything with an anti-capitalist aspect to it. And in doing this it tacitly assumes that the “disorderly region” will remain disorderly and that these methods of domination that are being worked out are for the long haul and will have more than a provisional and local significance.

Notably the surge discounts the significance of the imperialist initiated “national” borders – with Pakistan, with the ex-Soviet stans, with Iran – while building up centrifugal pressures towards micro states and ethnic fiefdoms with their accompanying internal borders – both geographic and social. In implementing this segmenting project the surge will utilize organizational forms and policies that are as transnational as those of the Jihadis, but that provide an effective deniability of the blood trail back to the actual originators of the policy.

This approach can be detected in what was said and what was not said in the speeches. Note the careful reference to direct contact with local officials and leaders bypassing the Kabul central authority; note the careful reference to the surge of “civilian” experts on agricultural (sic) policy and other sensitive issues; note the careful lack of reference to the surge of “civilian” and military contractors – which is equal or greater numerically and certainly in the breadth of function to that of the formal military forces - and to the ethnic limitations of the current central government that make further military training of its forces beside the point. Note the lack of mention of any public accountability, benchmarks or timetables for contractors, either military or “civilian”, or for the operation of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, McChrystal’s last gig) which functions covertly throughout the region, well beyond the feeble political oversight that nominally constrains the CIA. Finally, note well the absense of any mention of who and what is involved in the expanding operations in Pakistan.

What is emerging out of this is a secret privatized intelligence gathering system and a privatized military capability – all of which is profit-making. This objective has been pursued actively by elements of the U.S; ruling elite (with clear international connections) since the mid-twentieth century, and the pursuit has intensified since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new forms of Muslim insurgency.

DYNCORP, L-3, FLUOR, XE Systems, etc., all of whom are acknowledged players in Afghanistan, are such assets for capital; able to circumvent the limitations on state militaries and provide deniability to actual policy makers; sufficiently flexible and robust to respond quickly to shifting needs while bypassing the bureaucratic parliamentary filters.

This looks something like a rerun on a global scale of the Pinkertonized class warfare of the nineteenth century in this country. But it is more than that. There is a particularly modern character to these formations: they are operating within the context of a global capitalism, not a national state; and they are confronted with structural limits on capitalism that were not a factor in the period of Molly Maguires or the Moyer, Pettibone, Haywood trial.

The functions of this privatized force structure goes beyond repression and suppression of external (to the U.S.) populisms and their supporters. The capacities being developed will ultimately be used to influence and distort the character and objectives of all oppositions, internally as well as externally, class-based as well as populist. These emerging oppositions have become less susceptible to a gradual evolutionary political incorporation within the framework of capitalist expansion and there is a growing ruling class recognition that they are essentially impossible to eliminate by traditional military or police methods because their social preconditions are constantly regenerated by essential dynamics of capital accumulation. To repeat, such oppositions will not necessarily always be outside of the core – or even the homeland.

I think that we must assume that the privatized – multinationally staffed - contractors that are doing the targeting for the drones and the hit squads in Pakistan and elsewhere are also developing the networks of covert operatives and agents of influence that will enlarge their potential uses in the future, if they haven’t already – think Haiti. If these groupings can develop sufficient information to accurately target jihadist leaders, they can also affect the tactics of the resistance more fundamentally through systematic penetration and an increasingly tight encapsulization. One likely result will be more anomalies in the mold of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia - more of those “terrorists” most likely to demoralize a revolutionary population and expedite an expanded counter-insurgency. If capital develops these capacities with respect to jihadists, there will be ramifications shortly down the road for anti-capitalist movements with radically different agendas and perspectives.

These new tools do not and will not operate autonomously. Their oversight may be strategic rather than operational, but there is not much doubt who will ultimately provide the money and determine the jobs. It will not be any state apparatus that is remotely accountable, you can bet on that...but it will be elements and appendages of the global ruling class, you can bet on that as well.

To recap, capital currently faces a real danger from populism in the gap, and the gap is increasingly less defined and limited by geography because of the mobility of populations and the increasing access to information and new forms of communication. Moreover, the gap is not shrinking in any real sense, as the current crisis confounds the capitalist triumphalism of the Barnetts and the Friedmans (T. not M.). The challenges to global capital from this populism will become more, not less pressing.

Afghanistan is one of the regions of the world where for the historical moment global capital has some flexibility to respond to these dangers experimentally without worrying that much about issues of moral standing or legitimacy in the exercise of power. However, such operations would hardly aim to achieve a social equilibrium in Afghanistan in any meaningful time frame and they are even less likely to rapidly achieve successful results on a broader scale. The likelihood is that the more effective these new methods prove to be, the more they will make themselves needed - and the more expensive, economically and politically, they will become. This points to a major linkage between the issues in the gap and emerging questions of capitalist hegemony in the core. The economic and cultural cushions that have supported hegemony in the core are wearing thin even while the actual and prospective actions in the gap are becoming more costly, and now with significant elements of the costs in blood - that is the problem for capital. As more resources have to be directed at fundamental instabilities in the gap and their actual and potential spill overs into the core, it becomes more difficult to preserve an adequate reservoir of hegemonic flexibility at home.

The global dominance of capital rests on its hegemony in stable nation states in the core. For a variety of historical reasons, these are regions where the ruling class must be concerned with maintaining legitimacy in the exercise of power and avoiding the collateral damages from an excessive reliance on repression. This approach to both maintaining and disguising capitalist rule has been built on a network of incorporative privileges which are increasingly hard to sustain, politically or economically, under the existing circumstances – and it is impossible to expand them significantly except in the most localized conditions.

The functional needs of capitalism change as a range of tensions emerge between the globalized pursuit of surplus value and its nation - based system of rule. In the current crisis, the benefits and losses of one nation tend to find their zero sum reflection elsewhere, and increasingly elsewhere means other nations in the core. Certainly in this country it is almost hopelessly hard for capital to politically explain the rescue of multi-national and foreign financial institutions while sacrificing Detroit; the borrowing of billions to finance wars that make no sense while a pathetic health care “reform” must be deficit neutral. If it happens as it well may, it will be hard to explain bailing out Spain, Greece, and Austria rather than California.

To avoid a general spiral down towards the pit, capitalist priorities cannot be limited within national borders and overly influenced by nationalist sentiment. Increasingly they will be set by larger issues of global power and profit but there is no accepted procedure for adjudicating the resulting conflicts. There is no clear framework of legitimacy for a global capitalist perspective.

Any general resort to reliance on repressive methods has its own risks. The maintenance of political equilibrium in the core nations depends on an essential passivity which contains grievances within an official structure of legitimacy that undercuts the capacities for mass collective resistance. Many aspects of capitalist discipline and control are obscured by this accepted subordination, more accurately a repressive self-discipline that limits natural resistances to oppression and authority. This culture is a major part of capitalist strength and resiliency, it is not an advantage that will easily be surrendered. Consequently, major increases in repression, and, particularly, overtly imposing elements of a repressive authoritarian “world government” in the U.S. or elsewhere presents unacceptable risks – at least for now.

This leaves capital struggling to develop more effective methods to discipline new populations and regions, while facing increasing problems maintaining social cohesion and a non-police centered discipline in its traditional centers where material conditions are deteriorating. One possible general response of capital to this dilemma, the one that I believe will eventually predominate, is what has been called global social democracy. (Following Walden Bello, although he appears to have recently backed away from his conception.)

Since the vision of shared prosperity has become a pretty threadbare joke and significant improvements in material conditions are not a general possibility, the Fordist wage/consumption path to class collaboration must be replaced. And it is not hard to see what will be central to any such alternative. It will be fear:

“Fear is the ultimate guarantee of the new segmentations.”(Negri, Empire, p. 339).

The primary fear is of an enemy that might emerge from the populist reaction to capital. An enemy consisting of “fanatics who hate us and our freedom” to paraphrase from the house of George. An enemy pictured as anti-modern, anti-liberatory and neo-fascist – a picture that has plausibility because it does accurately describe significant elements of the existing mass populist movements. An enemy that is mainly in the gap, but that be expected to materialize in the core as well.

This fear will be generated from capital’s recognition and popularization of actual dangers from the right o its continued hegemony. It will also be generated by a ruling class appreciation of the utility of a new set of fabricated enemies for the reconstruction of a popular narrative to replace the “communist danger”. (It’s beyond the scope of this argument, but I think that another fabricated element of this popular “fear” will emerge through the manipulation of the ecological crisis to confine alternative responses within an essentially Malthusian assumptions. The ecological problem seen as too many “other people”.)

We had a major historical experience in WWII with a repressive right wing structure of authoritarian rule in this country. This was not just a manifestation of imperialism at war. It was part of a global response from capital to a perceived threat from a transcapitalist fascism and a potential threat from communism. It was a framework that incorporated the willing participation of the overwhelming bulk of the left and progressive forces under the rubric of a popular front against fascism. Despite its repressive content, the process presented itself and is still viewed as a continuation of the social democratic momentum of the New Deal.

Currently, big sections of the near left – at least in this country and probably throughout most of the other “developed” areas – are more than open to a refurbished variant of the same structure. The other side of this possibility, and, in a sense, the proof of its reality, lies in the lack of a militant anti-war movement after a decade of exquisitely rotten wars; in the lack of class conscious anti-capitalist militance, solidarity and internationalism at a time of capitalist crisis that is increasing exploitation, marginalization, and oppression around the world.

What I have argued above is sketchy and tentative, but I am relatively confident of some points. To think seriously about revolutionary politics we must challenge some left presuppositions and develop new categories of strategic analysis that fit the qualitatively changed circumstances of the present period. We are living in the aftermath of an extended revolutionary process that had its debatable successes. But these were rapidly transformed into limits that now constitute obstacles to a more basic struggle against capital. While we cannot deal with new political questions, without a clearer understanding of the struggles of the past century, an understanding that avoids both nostalgia and meaningless recriminations, we are going to have to act, moving ahead with whatever intellectual, moral, and material resources are available to us even before we have an adequately grounded and workable political perspective.

I’d like to finish this piece with a more explicit treatment of attempts to refurbish one of the old categories – that of anti-imperialist national liberation. Given the emergence of important populist movements in the gap, it is logical that there would be a renewed interest in the revolutionary potentials of mass struggles of oppressed peoples against external political and economic domination.

A recent discussion on a more limited topic on the Gathering Forces website raised a point that I think is a good starting place:

“...we need to revisit the Third Worldist imagination – not the politics of the national bourgeoisie (radical or otherwise), but the masses who resisted and provided a potential alternative to capitalist Bandung modernization – the “third revolution”.”(mlove, comment on Economic Crisis in the Third World, 11/09)

I certainly agree that this “third revolution” should be revisited in light of the current conditions. But it should be clear from the outset that yesterday’s potentials are not easily resurrected. It is an illusion to think that the movement for national liberation can be rebuilt and produce different and better outcomes, if only some obvious mistakes are not made a second time. The weight of the past including its failures, combines with transformed present circumstances to qualitatively change what can and should be done in the future – closing some possibilities and opening others. I’m sure that mlove would agree that the revisiting of the “third revolution” should start from a critical reconsideration of whether it still might provide a “...potential alternative to capitalist Bandung modernization...” –or if it ever did.

Here again I want to begin with a passage from Negri; although with the usual ambivalence because he offers so much else with which to disagree.

“From India to Algeria and Cuba to Vietnam, the state is the poisoned gift of national liberation. (Empire, p. 136, Negri emphasis)

Cross class coalitions in oppressed nations, challenging imperialist power and demanding national independence and socialism were the most important element of the international struggle against capital for much of the last century. But I agree with Negri that they will not play that role going ahead. We aren’t confronting Lenin’s Imperialism, which for the benefit of the censors he called capitalism’s highest stage while actually thinking it was its end point – just a step short of international working class revolution. This conception of imperialism is no longer strategically relevant, and neither is its antithesis, anti-imperialist national liberation. That set of possibilities is historically exhausted. It will not be revived by the new populisms which appropriate some of its characteristics, not even when this goes beyond rhetorical posturing to a rejection of some elements of global capital - as it does at times.

The historic national liberation struggle was indelibly marked and is increasingly limited by the specific context in which it developed – a context which has been decisively modified. This changed context has two important and related elements: First; classically, imperial domination was a relationship between a developed capitalism and an exploitable “outside” as Luxembourg conceptualized it. Imperialism was an external force over the “Third World”, and the class alignments and attitudes in both metropolis and periphery reflected this. The most powerful imperialist states essentially pillaged and destroyed non-capitalist societies by appropriating their surpluses and dumping their economic and social problems on them.

The economic side of this process and its essentially transitional character are forecast in the well known passages in the Grundrisse (p. 408-410) about the tendency of capital towards the creation of a world market. Now this transition is essentially complete and these ex-colonial societies for the most part have been thoroughly incorporated into global capitalist production and thoroughly penetrated by capitalist institutions and ideologies. While they have developed into capitalist societies that are very different than those in the core, they are still part of capitalism and no longer constitute an outside to its global system. Here it should also be noted that this capitalist system has now quite clearly also subsumed the “Second World” and is scavenging the carcasses of “actually existing socialism”.

The social classes of these post colonial regions have interfaced with globalized ruling and ruled class structures. Little remains to anchor a progressive multi-class front against a clearly defined imperialist oppressor nation. Instead, a progressive momentum requires coalitions of working classes and marginalized strata in the gap with a more concrete anti-capitalist and internationalist orientation; an orientation that that aims for solidarity with all similar forms of resistance, and that opposes all the forms in which domestic and foreign capital is manifested particularly those in which they are combined into unified ruling structures and policies - states and quasi-states.

Second, during the classic period of anti-imperialist struggle in the mid-twentieth century, it was widely accepted that “socialism”, as embodied the so-called socialist bloc, was a real alternative path to modernization and economic development. Despite its problems, it was held that socialism potentially challenged both capitalist markets and capitalist culture. The more progressive and radical anti-imperialist movements all specified that their political objectives included national independence and socialism. When this “actually existing socialism” proved illusory for the global working class struggle, it likewise disappointed the movements for national liberation. Any possible progressive trajectory for a cross-class anti-imperialist movement looking towards gaining state power in an independent nation and joining a socialist camp was rapidly eroded. No socialist camp; meant no sustainable alternative to the capitalist world market which translated to little genuine sovereignty and power from formal “national independence” and even less “liberation” from the “victories” of national liberation movements.

Again I will use a (heavily excised) passage from Negri to illustrate the point:

“It is strange now to have to recall this amalgam of ideological perversions that grew out of the ... democratic hopes of socialist representation... And while we say our farewells we cannot but remember how many ideological by-products, more or less fascist, the great historical experiences of socialism were condemned to drag in their wake, some merely useless sparks and others devastating infernos..” (Negri, Multitude, P. 255)

This dual historical failure of both ‘socialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ left more than political vacuums. They left a disillusionment and cynicism that provide a social base for the anti-capitalism of the right as well as for secessionist orientations that seek special solutions and unique benefits for some in the context of a general worsening of conditions for most.

In his late 2008 presentation; “Is the Word ‘Communism’ Forever Doomed?” (see Kasama, 9/30), Alain Badiou has presented a framework that I think is helpful in settling accounts with our collective past. I’m a newcomer to Badiou and certainly don’t have an adequate understanding of his recent positions, much less his earlier ones. However, what I do think I understand I like a great deal and it will be the basis of the rest of what I write here.

“Our problems are much more the problems of Marx than the problems of Lenin...” (Badiou, “Is the Word ‘Communism’ Forever Doomed”, p. 18, Kasama, 9/30)

The “problems of Lenin”, according to Badiou, fit within an extended phase of the revolutionary process; “...from 1917, the Russian Revolution, to 1976, the end of the Cultural Revolution in China... ” This is a phase that has ended with a generally acknowledged string of failures to achieve the fundamental stated objective – a rapid transition from local seizures of state power to an inclusive stateless communist society. As I have said above, I think that the massive upsurge of the national liberation struggle, the reason why it contained much greater revolutionary potential than the earlier nationalisms of the 19th century, is inextricably linked with this phase of the communist project and similarly tied to its failures.

We are left with the problem placed by Bilal al Hasan in a more limited context:

“...the question here is what comes after the end of a revolution and its failure.” Bilal al Hasan (this was part of a commentary on the Palestinian movement on the Gathering Forces website. G.F. 11/09).

Badiou argues for a conceptual return to the standpoints of the 19th century, but not on the premise that a simple class polarization can be resurrected through some act of political will. He is concerned with an issue of philosophical stance – with posing the idea of communism in terms of the “conditions of its identity” – a 19th century problem – and not as a question of “...the victory of the communist hypothesis” – the problem of Lenin and the party/state and of the revolutionary movement for most of the past century.

This line of argument is relevant to the revisiting of third world revolution. Badiou indicates the elements of the communist hypothesis in the nineteenth century as combining, “...the idea of communism as a popular mass movement with the notion of savior of all.” (P. 15). The original conception of communism was that of a multiform struggle that would embody and culminate in universal emancipation through, the “...process of the Decline of the State.” (P.14)

In my opinion the core element in this conception is the inseparable linkage of the notion of, “savior of all”, stressing the universality of the project, with the destruction of the state – a state that is sometimes defined inclusively by Badiou as; “...all that limits the possibility of collective creation” (P. 14). The vanguard parties and revolutionary blocs characteristic of the 20th century had a different orientation. In Badiou’s terms they were party/state formations which might seize and hold power locally but could not transform social relations because their essential character incorporated features of a state. Thus they inevitably became the antagonist of the mass “Communist movement” (Badiou’s term). But only through such a movement, that is necessarily, “beyond the state” (Badiou), can communism be achieved.

It is quite clear that even the best of the national liberation fronts were essentially party/state formations. They functioned even more as shadow governments than did the vanguard parties. The discipline they enforced was more overtly military and not subject to even the more or less hypothetical democratic forms of vanguard parties or to the objective limits that are inherent in a defined class base.

These movements were nationalist, (including some more hopeful pan-nationalist and ‘continental’ formations that were of limited temporal and geographic duration) and, at their best, treated liberation as more a matter of autonomy and expanded rights of self determination, than of internationalism and solidarity. This is demonstrated indirectly by the uniqueness of the Guevara experience, and was supported in an ultimately damaging way by the Maoist version of Marxism when it elevated the conception of self-reliance over that of internationalism.

These issues emerge currently around questions of the character of the populist resistance to global capital, particularly, but not exclusively, in the gap. To what extent do these developments project a fascist, rather than a liberatory, alternative to global capital? To what extent are they contained or containable within neo-colonial limits. I’ve written on these issues elsewhere and regard myself as within the Threeway Fight tendency. However, no general recognition of contradictory potentials should substitute for concrete evaluations of specific cases. And our goal in such evaluations should always go beyond clarity on the problems and limitations and also attempt to discover and build on the best possibilities.

That said, we should also be categorically clear that universal liberation is not to be achieved through structured movements that limit creative participation as an element of their ‘self determination’ and cultural autonomy. This is particularly relevant concerning the role and status of women and the attitudes towards the use of force and violence. I will leave these points as they stand for now, but feel obligated to confess that I’ve been around long enough to have made major mistakes on all conceivable sides of these questions.

Don Hamerquist 1/20