Nov 15, 2018

Principal enemy: demystifying far right antisemitism

I can think of at least four reasons why leftists and antifascists need a good analysis of antisemitism:
  1. Antisemitism kills Jews. There should be no question about this after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. In the United States, Gentiles are not killing Jews on anywhere near the scale of cops killing Black people, or husbands and boyfriends killing women, or cisgender folks killing trans people, but anti-Jewish violence is real. And if the current political climate means anything, it is likely to get worse.
  2. Antisemitism drives far right politics. From the neonazis who call Jews the main enemy of the white race, to Patriot groups that stockpile weapons to confront “globalist elites,” to Christian theocrats who look forward to mass killings of Jews and mass conversion of the survivors, U.S. far rightists put antisemitic themes at the center of their belief systems. These forces have been closely bound up with Donald Trump’s political rise, and over the past two years they have helped blast away the taboo against antisemitism in U.S. political discourse.
  3. Antisemitism is a problem within the left. Conservatives have long portrayed the left—falsely—as the main source of Jew-hatred, but that doesn’t mean leftists have done a good job of combating it. Antisemites such as Gilad Atzmon and Kevin Barrett have been welcomed into respected radical venues such as CounterPunch and Left Forum, and efforts to correct this have had mixed success, often meeting fierce opposition and denial. Many radical Jews have encountered antisemitic attitudes in leftist circles, such as “Jews control the media” or “the Zionist lobby controls Congress.” Excusing antisemitism, let alone promoting it, hurts the left’s credibility and integrity and weakens all our efforts.
  4. The charge of antisemitism has been widely misused. Zionist groups often label criticisms of Israel or calls for Palestinian self-determination as inherently “antisemitic.” Such claims falsely equate Jews’ safety with Israel’s repressive and murderous policies, discredit principled efforts to combat antisemitism (whether by opponents or supporters of the Israeli state), and mask Zionism’s own long history of collusion with Jews’ oppression. Misuse of the antisemitism charge doesn’t cause or excuse anti-Jewish scapegoating, but it highlights the need for clear radical analysis. 
My aim here is to help strengthen radical antifascist analysis of antisemitism by pulling together some of the best insights I’ve found in other people’s writings. I’m primarily concerned with far right antisemitism, because far rightists are spearheading the resurgence of scapegoating and violence against Jews in the United States and elsewhere. At the same time, it’s important to look at how far right antisemitism is rooted in U.S. political culture as a whole, and in the structural dynamics of Jews’ roles in U.S. society. In addition, it’s important to recognize that far right antisemitism can take sharply different ideological forms, resulting in different policies and with different implications for antifascist strategy.

There are a lot of good writings about antisemitism. In this post I will highlight four works that explore the topic in different ways and, in combination, address many of the key issues involved. All four are freely available online. Three of them were published in 2017, against the backdrop of Trump’s election and the far right upsurge that contributed to it, while the fourth was published in 2009, abut a year after Barack Obama took office, a time when U.S. far rightists of various kinds were mustering their forces. Here are the four:
“The driving force of white dispossession”

I want to start with Eric K. Ward’s “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism,” because it lays out a case for why understanding and combating antisemitism should be a strategic priority. As Ward argues, the modern white nationalist movement sees Jews not just as one of its enemies, but as the main enemy—the group that’s chiefly responsible for most of what’s wrong with U.S. society today:
“The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for White supremacist ideology. White supremacism—inscribed de jure by the Jim Crow regime and upheld de facto outside the South—had been the law of the land, and a Black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone? For that matter, how could feminists and LGBTQ people have upended traditional gender relations, leftists mounted a challenge to global capitalism, Muslims won billions of converts to Islam? How do you explain the boundary-crossing allure of hip hop? The election of a Black president? Some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious.
*          *          *
“White supremacism through the collapse of Jim Crow was a conservative movement centered on a state-sanctioned anti-Blackness that sought to maintain a racist status quo. The White nationalist movement that evolved from it in the 1970s was a revolutionary movement that saw itself as the vanguard of a new, Whites-only state. This latter movement, then and now, positions Jews as the absolute other, the driving force of White dispossession—which means the other channels of its hatred cannot be intercepted without directly taking on antisemitism.”
The Dearborn Independent newspaper: "The International Jew: The World's Problem" (headline)
Henry Ford's antisemitic propaganda campaign, 1920s
The Pittsburgh synagogue massacre offers an example of how antisemitism is bound up with other white nationalist themes. Shortly before taking his guns to Tree of Life, neonazi Robert Bowers denounced the Jewish refugee aid organization HIAS for bringing “invaders in that kill our people.” Here and elsewhere, white nationalists see Jews as the wirepullers directing other groups that threaten the white race.

Ward notes that white nationalism is a “fractious” movement that “does not take a single unified position on the Jewish question.” To elaborate on Ward’s point, some white nationalists think all Jews should be killed, while others think we wouldn’t be a threat if we all moved to Israel. And a few, such as Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, have even reached out to a few right-wing Jews to join them. Nevertheless, scapegoating Jews and Jewish power has been a “throughline” from David Duke’s remake of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s to the alt-right of today.

Much of “Skin in the Game” traces Ward’s political development as a “Black male punk” who grew up in southern California and moved to Oregon, and who “began to fight White nationalism because my world, my scene, my friends, and my music were under neonazi attack.” It was in this context that he came to identify antisemitism as “a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.” Yet he also encountered resistance to addressing antisemitism from “the most established progressive antiracist leaders, organizations, coalitions, and foundations around the country.” These groups were committed to a simple model of racial oppression, in which Jews (or at least Ashkenazi Jews) were white and therefore talking about antisemitism would “deny the workings of White privilege.”

Ward’s solution to this dilemma is to call European American Jews’ white privilege into question. The argument here is ambiguous: at some points he refers to this privilege as a “myth” or a “fantasy,” which I think is at best oversimplified (because clearly we European American Jews do have access to white privilege at least most of the time), but elsewhere he refers to it as “provisional,” which hints at a more complex analysis.

The most accessible targets for popular anger

Some of that analysis can be found in my second recommended work: the pamphlet Understanding Antisemitism: An Offering to Our Movement, produced by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. JFREJ argues that Jews
“suffer from ‘definitional instability’ when it comes to race.... Like the Irish and Italians, light-skinned Jews of European descent once faced pervasive, racialized bigotry. Today they primarily identify as white and are read as white, benefit from white privilege, and participate in upholding the system of white supremacy. However, this whiteness is contextual and conditional. ...antisemitic beliefs predate modern white supremacy ideology. But white supremacy has since been incorporated into antisemitism, creating a shifting, slippery mixture of religious intolerance, mythology and racism. This means that Jews can sometimes be racialized as white, but antisemitism persists, and white Jews can still be considered ‘other’ because of religious difference and cultural stereotypes” (9).
I’ve argued elsewhere that American Jews’ racial “instability” falls into distinct historical periods: through most of U.S. history, Jews of European descent have been defined as white, but this was not the case from the 1880s to the 1940s, when millions of southern and eastern Europeans (including most Jews) “temporarily formed an intermediate group in the racial hierarchy, above people of color but below native-born whites. During this time, and none other, Jews in the U.S. faced a wave of systematic discrimination in jobs, schools, and housing, and anti-Jewish propaganda, organizing, and violence reached record levels.” During other periods, white privilege has mitigated the impact of antisemitism, but has never offered Jews full protection from scapegoating and violence.

JFREJ’s Understanding Antisemitism is notable in particular because it presents a structural model of antisemitism, in which Jews (a) become concentrated in highly visible positions of relative privilege, (b) are used as scapegoats to divert popular anger away from the real centers of power and oppression, and (c) experience alternating periods of relative acceptance and intense, violent persecution:
“Many oppressions, such as anti-Black racism in the United States, could be said to require a fixed hierarchy or binary values system.... By contrast, antisemitism is often described as ‘cyclical.’ The Jewish experience in Europe has been characterized as cycling between periods of Jewish stability and even success, only to be followed by periods of intense anti-Jewish sentiment and violence.... In order for [myths of Jewish power] to be plausible and gain purchase, Jews must accumulate at least some wealth and standing in society.... When the workers in these countries got angry about their exploitation, the most accessible targets were often Jews, rather than the elite political and economic actors who actually had power over the system and were almost exclusively Christian” (15).
This same dynamic, JFREJ argues, has been replicated in the modern United States, in a context of “racialized capitalist exploitation”:
“As they became classified as white, a large sector of assimilable Jews in the United States acquired real privileges such as a path into professional roles like teachers, social workers, doctors, or lawyers. They took on roles as intermediaries—middle agents—between large institutions and the people that they service. In big cities, these professionals are often the face of systemic racism and class oppression, delivered through schools, hospitals, government agencies, and financial institutions and service provision non-profits. Neither the professionals in middle-agent roles, or their poor, working class and POC clients are actually empowered to change the system. However, the professionals do have more positional power relative to their clients. For those clients, these doctors, lawyers, social workers and teachers—often Jewish—are the most immediately accessible face of those systems. They are the ‘middlemen’ between the oppressed and the systems oppressing them. This focuses anger about racism on Jews, and because of antisemitic stereotypes about Jews, that anger spreads and persists even in places where there are few, or no, Jews” (26, 28).
This structural model of antisemitism has been around for decades and is partly based on Belgian Trotskyist Abram Leon’s theory of Jews as a “people-class,” yet it is widely ignored by today’s U.S. left. Understanding Antisemitism presents it effectively while wisely cautioning against treating the cyclical dynamic as universal or permanent. As JFREJ notes, it doesn’t necessarily describe the history of Jewish-Gentile relations in North Africa or the Middle East, for example. I would extend the caveats further. In particular, I disagree with JFREJ’s claim that the Nazi genocide was a “clear example” of scapegoating Jews to redirect working-class rage away from the ruling class. If, as JFREJ quotes Aurora Levins Morales, “the goal [of antisemitism] is not to crush us, it’s to have us available for crushing” (17) then Nazism went completely off script, by making the systematic extermination of Jews an overriding goal that overrode all other political and military priorities. However, as a first approximation for understanding what generates and sustains antisemitism today, JFREJ’s approach is miles ahead of the conventional—and tautological—claim that antisemitism is simply an expression of “hate.”

Understanding Antisemitism has a lot more to offer, such as a good overview of Jews’ ethnic and economic diversity in the United States, a thoughtful discussion of how anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim oppressions are related, and a good argument for the strategic value of supporting the leadership of Jews of Color. The pamphlet also offers a useful starting discussion of Israel and Zionism, arguing on the one hand that it is legitimate to criticize Israel and Zionism as oppressive to Palestinians, and on the other hand that Israel’s oppressive policies are comparable to what many states practice around the world, and thus singling out Israel for special condemnation tends to play into antisemitism.

But the pamphlet has other shortcomings as well. Understanding Antisemitism includes no discussion of gender or the ways that antisemitism and male supremacy have interacted and reinforced each other. The pamphlet says nothing about Zionism’s long history of promoting antisemitic stereotypes and allying with antisemites in the name of building the Jewish state. And aside from a brief note in the Glossary, there is no discussion of the Christian right, although the United States has far more Christian rightists than white nationalists. This is consistent with the silence about Zionism’s support for antisemitism, since most Christian rightists are both pro-Zionist and antisemitic.

“Embedding themselves like a virus”

To begin to address these limitations, I turn to my third recommended work on the topic: Ben Lorber’s essay, “Understanding Alt-Right Antisemitism.” Lorber’s aim here is to examine “the ideology of antisemitism on the alt-right, and its intersection with alt-right Zionism, in comparison with anti-Jewish ideologies of the 20th century.” In the process, he elucidates some themes whose significance goes far beyond Richard Spencer and his comrades.

Person at antifascist rally wearing helmet with Star of David painted on it
Antifascist rally in Boston, 11/18/2017
Lorber’s analysis of alt-right antisemitism focuses largely on the work of Kevin MacDonald, a retired academic and one of white nationalism’s most influential theoreticians. MacDonald edits The Occidental Quarterly and its online counterpart, The Occidental Observer, and has published a series of books on Jews and Judaism. The basic premises found here and in the works of other alt-rightists are standard antisemitic fare going back to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and earlier. As summarized by Lorber, “a tight-knit Jewish ‘ingroup’ embeds itself, like a virus, within the pores of [western societies], siphoning off resources, rising to the elite and disarming all defenses against their invasion.” This ingroup has worked stealthily to gain control of all the major power centers from Hollywood to the IMF, and has promoted civil rights, multiculturalism, feminism, and open immigration policies within the United States—while using neoliberal austerity policies to subjugate nation-states in Europe and elsewhere. In all these spheres, Jews function as the master puppeteers. “While other hated ethnic and religious groups, such as blacks, Latinos, Arabs and Muslims, represent external threats, Jews, [alt-rightists] claim, destabilize White European-American society from within, through the gradual, imperceptible institutionalization of creeping white genocide.”

In drawing parallels between the antisemitism of today’s alt-right and 20th-century fascist movements, Lorber draws on Moishe Postone’s brilliant essay “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism,” which elucidated modern antisemitism’s concept of Jewish power:
“‘What characterizes the power imputed to the Jews in modern anti-Semitism,’ writes Postone, ‘is that it is mysteriously intangible, abstract, and universal. It is considered to be a form of power that does not manifest itself directly, but must find another mode of expression. It seeks a concrete carrier, whether political, social, or cultural, through which it can work… It is considered to stand behind phenomena, but not to be identical with them. Its source is therefore deemed hidden—conspiratorial. The Jews represent an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy.’”
Modern antisemitism, Postone explained further, set up a phony dichotomy between the “abstract” (rootless, cosmopolitan) power of “unproductive” finance capital and the “concrete” (rooted, patriotic) power of “productive” industrial capital (ignoring the reality that industrial and financial capital are integrally connected). Thus anger at capitalism could be channeled into hatred of Jews—the socialism of fools. At the same time, Jews’ abstract power was identified not only with the ruthless financier but also the dangerous leftist—two faces of the modern world, both of which threatened the traditional social order. Both Nazism in the 1930s and the alt-right today follow this same basic schema.

Along with these parallels, Lorber’s essay also points to certain distinctive features of alt-right antisemitism. One, which Lorber mentions only in passing, is the emphasis on evolutionary psychology. Although earlier generations of antisemites made use of social Darwinism and the image of a ruthless struggle between races, alt-rightists have updated this approach for the 21st century. MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist by profession, has labeled Judaism a “group evolutionary strategy,” providing scapegoating and demonization with a modern-sounding, pseudo-scientific veneer. Looking beyond the scope of Lorber’s essay, evolutionary psychology has also strongly influenced alt-right gender theory, via the writings of various manosphere figures and male tribalist Jack Donovan (who was active in the alt-right for years before repudiating its white nationalism in the wake of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally).

Lorber devotes more attention to another distinctive feature of the alt-right: its admiration for Zionism. As he notes, “old-school” white nationalists such as David Duke have tended to demonize Israel and treat “Zionism” as a code-word for the international Jewish conspiracy. In contrast, many alt-right figures have endorsed the Zionist project as a positive step toward racial separation. “I do not oppose the existence of Israel,” Lorber quotes Counter-Currents editor Greg Johnson: “I oppose the Jewish diaspora in the United States and other white societies. I would like to see the white peoples of the world break the power of the Jewish diaspora and send the Jews to Israel, where they will have to learn how to be a normal nation.” Other alt-rightists, such as Richard Spencer, have written admiringly about Zionism as an example of ethnonationalism that white Americans and Europeans should emulate.

Lorber points out that there is a long history of antisemites supporting Zionism—such as Henry Ford in the 1920s—and that political Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzl proposed that his movement work with “respectable anti-Semites” who would support the removal of Jews from western societies. In the process, Herzl believed, “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” (The state of Israel later implemented Herzl’s vision when it cultivated friendly relations, for example, with antisemitic governments in South Africa and Argentina.)

By highlighting the compatibility of antisemitism and Zionism, Lorber’s essay fills one of the important gaps in JFREJ’s Understanding Antisemitism pamphlet. It also helps us understand the politics of Donald Trump, who offers aggressive support for Israel’s apartheid and settler-colonialism while also echoing and amplifying antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Fish to be caught

My fourth recommended text follows a related thread. Rachel Tabachnick’s essay “The New Christian Zionism and the Jews: A Love/Hate Relationship,” first published in late 2009, examines a form of right-wing antisemitism that often gets left out of the discussion. The Christian right, a mass movement that aims to impose a repressive, reactionary version of Christianity on U.S. society, is anti-Jewish by definition, but it’s rarely viewed that way because most Christian rightists are staunchly pro-Zionist.

Billboard that reads, "Global warning: Jesus will return. Are you ready."
Christian right: In the End Times, all Jews will die or convert
Tabachnick’s essay identifies both similarities and differences between Christian right antisemitism and its white nationalist counterpart. Christian rightists, and specifically Christian Zionists, promote standard antisemitic tropes, such as portraying Jews as preoccupied with money and claiming that Jewish bankers engage in sinister plots to weaken the U.S. economy. Christian Zionists also look forward to future mass killings of Jews as a key part of a divine plan. On a more basic level, Christian Zionists, like white nationalists, see Jews as exercising an influence over human affairs that is vastly out of proportion to our numbers or actual roles in society.

But there are also important contrasts between the Christian right’s religious antisemitism and white nationalists’ racial antisemitism. White nationalists believe that Jews are a race apart, intrinsically threaten whites, and must be either physically separated from whites or exterminated. But most Christian rightists claim, insidiously, to love Jews. They believe that Jewishness is a redeemable flaw, which can be overcome by accepting Jesus as humanity’s divine savior. Most of them believe, further, that as God’s original chosen people Jews have an important role to play in the End Times, and that Israel’s founding and growth are important steps toward Jesus’s return. “Christian Zionists,” Tabachnick notes, “talk about themselves as ‘fishers’ who entice Jews to move to Israel, while ‘hunters’ are those who violently force the Jews who are unresponsive to the fishers.” John Hagee, a prominent Christian Zionist leader, notoriously referred to Hitler as a hunter who was sent by God.

Tabachnick also describes a trend within Christian Zionism that is intensifying its anti-Jewish momentum:
“The traditional fundamentalist leaders of the movement preach that Jews returning to the Holy Land are a necessary part of the end times in which born-again Christians will escape death as they are raptured into heaven. Jews and other nonbelievers will remain on earth to suffer under the seven-year reign of the anti-Christ. Then, as the story goes, Jesus will come back with his armies, be accepted by the surviving Jews, and reign for a thousand years. This belief motivates adherents to send funds for West Bank settlements, to lobby for preemptive wars seen as precursors to the end times, and support Jews in the diaspora to make ‘aliyah’ and move to Israel.

“Now Christian Zionism – along with much of evangelicalism – is being swept by a charismatic movement which has rewritten the role of Jews in their end times narrative.... In their increasingly popular narrative, it is not unconverted but only converted or so-called Messianic Jews who will serve as the trigger for the return of Jesus and the advent of the millennial (thousand year) kingdom on earth.  This growing belief is driving the movement to aggressively proselytize Jews and to support ‘Messianic’ ministries in both Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.  One splinter group has even taken this story to an extreme, saying they themselves are the ‘true Israelites’ who will play the prophetic role of establishing heaven on earth by moving to Israel.”
This Christian right focus on “Messianic” Jews (those who have converted to Christianity but still retain Jewish identity and elements of Jewish ritual) is part of the context in which Mike Pence invited a “Messianic rabbi” to offer a public prayer for those killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.

The charismatic movement that Tabachnick refers to is called New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Founded in 1996, NAR has over three million followers in the United States and many more worldwide, as well as an extensive network of ministries and media organs. It is one of the leading forces on the far right end of the Christian right spectrum, calling on Christians not just to ban abortion and same-sex marriage, but to “take dominion” over all spheres of society. As I wrote in Insurgent Supremacists,
“NAR combines a theocratic vision with an organizational structure that is far more centralized and authoritarian than most on the Christian right.... NAR leaders use ‘strategic-level’ spiritual warfare to cast out evil spirits that are supposedly ruling over whole cities, regions, or countries—or over whole groups of people, such as homosexuals or Muslims.... NAR leaders teach that their adherents will develop vast supernatural powers, such as defying gravity or healing every person inside a hospital just by laying hands on the building. Eventually, these people will become ‘manifest sons of God,’ who essentially have God-like powers over life and death. In the End Times, too, some one or two billion people will convert to Christianity, and God will transfer control of all wealth to the NAR apostles” (38-39).
NAR’s leaders have also enthusiastically supported Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and administration.

Because of their political support for Israel, Christian Zionists have been warmly received by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of his Likud Party, as well as leading American Jewish figures such as Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Yet as Tabachnick writes,
“Christian Zionists openly teach narratives that parallel the story lines of overt anti-Semitism in which Jews are portrayed not as ordinary people, but as superhuman or subhuman. With almost no challenge (and often endorsement) from Jewish leadership, Christian Zionists are stripping away the hard-won humanity of Jews with a broadcast capacity and international reach that overtly antisemitic organizations could never match.”

*          *          *

Each of the four essays I’ve profiled here offers important insights about far right antisemitism, and in combination they enable us to begin piecing together a fuller and more powerful analysis. Some of the themes I would emphasize in summary are:
  • Antisemitism centers on a myth of Jewish power – a power that is superhuman, hidden, and dangerous. This mythical power often stands in for actual systems of oppression and exploitation. 
  • Antisemitism demonizes Jews and often seeks to expel or annihilate us, but it can also involve twisted forms of respect or admiration. 
  • Antisemitism plays a strategically pivotal role in the politics of multiple far right movements. White nationalists regard Jews as their principal enemy, while Christian Zionists regard Jews as a special community whose elimination is essential to God’s plan for the world. 
  • Far right antisemitism takes dramatically different forms, as embodied in the contrast between racial and religious ideologies, and in varying positions with regard to Zionism. 
  • Antisemitic scapegoating is historically rooted in structural dynamics that tend to concentrate Jews in prominent positions of relative privilege. 
  • Antisemitism in the United States is interwoven in complex ways with the system of white supremacy, and Jews are targeted in ways that differ from but are interconnected with the targeting of people of color. 
The texts discussed here are just a few of many useful writings about antisemitism and its relationship with far right politics. Strengthening our understanding of these issues is a vital part of building a strong antifascist movement.

Photo credits:
1. Front page of The Dearborn Independent, Henry Ford's newspaper, 22 May 1920 (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.
2. Photo by Mark Nozell (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.
3. Photo by Julian Osley, Poster on the notice-board of Campsbourne Baptist Church and Centre, Hornsey High Street, London, N8, February 2010 (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Nov 12, 2018

New Stuff from an Old Guy - Part 3

By Don Hamerquist

Editor's note
This is the final installment of a three-part essay by longtime Three Way Fight contributor Don Hamerquist. In Part 1, Hamerquist discussed transnational capital's need to reestablish mass support in the face of populist challenges on both the left and the right. In Part 2, he criticized the widespread leftist conception that fascism, right-wing populist movements, and capital are all aligned together, arguing instead that fascism is a right-wing revolutionary tendency composed of "an array of emerging reactionary anti-capitalisms." In Part 3, below, Hamerquist argues that transnational capital’s representatives are replacing the old Global War on Terror with a new common threat/common fear scenario, which mis-identifies right-wing populist movements as part of a new “fascist threat” to “democracy," in a bid to renew popular support. Without a decisive anti-capitalist intervention from the left, we are likely to see either transnational capital restabilized, or reformist right-wing populisms transformed into actual fascist movements, posing a serious threat of anti-liberatory "barbarism."

Part Three 

I hope that these criticisms of different left analyses and approaches will help me clarify some adaptive scenarios for transnational capital that have potentials to partially reconstitute its popular legitimacy. I’d like to shift to a more specific discussion of those issues, beginning from a citation from a ruling class ideologue, Damon Linker, who, to my knowledge, is not associated with any sector of the left. (I have sliced the passage up a bit to highlight my points. Beware the ellipses.)
But the paradox is our reality now, so we have to face it…

Whether it takes the form of Trumpian attacks on immigration to the U.S., enthusiasm for Brexit in the U.K., or the surge in support for populist parties and politicians across Europe, anti-liberalism portrays itself as a defense of nationalism against the globalizing tendencies of liberal ideology and institutions. Yet this turn toward nationalism is happening globally. This doesn't just mean it's taking place in several places simultaneously, which it is. It also, and more revealingly, means that its proponents across the world increasingly see themselves as ideological allies fighting a common battle against common enemies…

And that makes it a cross-border movement in support of borders, an international battle for national sovereignty…We see it in Stephen Bannon gallivanting around Europe attempting to empower his brand of far-right nationalist politicians and parties…We see it in the very warm reactions of some on the American right to Vladimir Putin's efforts to present himself as a champion of Christian civilization — and in the similarly positive response of others to a recent speech by Hungarian President Viktor Orb├ín proposing an anti-liberal, nationalist manifesto for Central Europe…These examples all point to a growing sense of anti-liberal solidarity that transcends the very nations that the ideology aims to champion, creating a kind of nationalist international.

-- Damon Linker, The Week, 8/3/18
Linker sees the movements on the “nationalist” side of the nationalist/transnationalist pairing as paradoxically non- or even anti-nationalist. Instead they are an increasingly international movement of “…ideological allies fighting a common battle against common enemies…” Linker emphasizes features of current populism that contrast with alternative conceptions that highlight the narrowness of populist nationalism and its dominance by nativist and jingoist elements with minimal potential to generate mass movements across existing national borders.

Linker downplays the factors that might support different perspectives, although he doesn’t completely discount them. But even if his view of an emerging reality may not comfortably fit the reality we are living…yet, I think the factual problems with his estimates of current populisms are less important than what he says about the political trajectory that they are likely to follow. Linker sees common threads that are linking a broad assortment of relatively spontaneous reactionary nativist right-wing resistances across national boundaries and aligning them against transnational capital. This is a vision of a movement with quasi-Duginist “Fourth Political Theory” politics that could pose an existential threat to the current world order.

It takes very little imagination to see Linker’s internationalized insurgency of right wing populisms as a global fascist movement. Both avowed proponents of fascism and many of its committed opponents will understand it that way. Such an interpretation is further supported by Linker’s thinly disguised warnings against the “red/brown” variant of fascism that are implicit throughout the piece and are made explicit in a later passage:
But for more radical and more ruthless leftists, the potency of right-wing anti-liberalism today could pose a powerful temptation, inspiring thoughts of strategic international alliances and ideological pincer moves designed to weaken the liberal center throughout the West.
Some strategically aware elements of transnational capital, the Atlantic Councils and the AEIs and CAPs, are already spreading a ruling class narrative of an emergent global fascism based on an analysis similar to Linker’s. Here’s the lede from a recent CAP/AEI press release:
Today, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute released the results of a unique collaboration focused on defending liberal democracy and the transatlantic partnership in an era of rising authoritarian populism.

-- American Enterprise Institute and Center for American Progress press release, 5/8/18
So what do these folks have in mind with their not-so-“unique collaboration”? We might compare this collaboration with an earlier effort of the same forces to promote the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT). The GWOT, along with some other functions, attempted to construct a common threat/common fear basis for social solidarity in core capitalist states. This was intended to fill the vacuum left by the deflation of the “communist threat” following regime changes in the Soviet Union and Communist China and the final collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Initially the intended beneficiaries of the GWOT project were the “Trilateralist” states, the “West” plus Japan, but it expanded quickly. Virtually every organized state, except N. Korea and Iraq, made strenuous attempts to join the “civilized” states in the GWOT. Post-Maoist China and post-Soviet Russia, along with Iran, Syria, Libya, joined the state opposition to “terrorism” and “disorder” in support of the “international rule of law.”

Following 9/11, the GWOT provided some legitimacy for the neocon agenda of interventionist ventures in the Middle East. In this country it provided a favorable climate for the disruption and dispersal of the anti-globalization movement and some related movement initiatives (ARA?) that had peaked around the change of century. However, the threats posed by “terrorism” and “radical Islam” had a more limited shelf life than the threat of communism. Over time, they proved to be too small, too sporadic, and too localized to retain their capacity for social control. This diminished effectiveness was compounded by the tendency of some factions of the ruling class to claim they were “winning” (or had won) the GWOT.

Most important, the GWOT was largely peripheral to the fractures that appeared with the economic crisis of 2008, and to the dilemmas that confronted a capitalist recovery. This crisis, and the protracted and the shaky recovery from it, clarified capital’s need for a more plausible and substantive basis for social cohesion and stability than the GWOT could provide. The GWOT was virtually irrelevant to the measures that could limit the dangers of a repeat of the financial collapse without bringing the essential dominance of capital into question. At some crucial junctures, e.g., during transnational capital’s efforts to manage and redirect the energies released by the massive disruptions of the Arab Spring, the GWOT actually appeared to be counterproductive.

Established power needed an updated version of the common threat/common fear scenario – a more inclusive approach that replaced the GWOT, or more accurately, reformulated, repositioned, and incorporated it. That need, I think, underlies a good deal of what we are dealing with here. The issues and players in the GWOT have changed somewhat, although there are still some similarities in the narrative. Now, however, Russia and China are increasingly regarded as significant economic and military threats, as “near-peer competitors,” and completely undependable allies in the fight against terrorism. In fact, ideologues like Linker put elements of Russian state policy at the center of the threat posed by the not quite, but almost, fascist, “nationalist international.”

Russia, and an assortment of right wing populist ideologies, groups, parties – electoral and not; and some regional state formations…maybe including Trump, but certainly involving the Bannon ventures, are the new threat. It is an amalgam of mass nativist movements and right-wing electoral ventures with a significant salting of authoritarian state formations. It is Trump, Orbin and Putin in alliance with the AfD and LePen, Spencer and Milo, and a scattering of leftist opportunists with propensities towards the authoritarian; presented as an international movement and a resurgent fascist danger by a significant sector of the transnational capitalist ruling class, with the help of a wide array of liberal and leftist ideologues.

Since we are dealing with a newly posited global enemy – an enemy that is heavily, although not completely, external, I’d like to make a brief diversion to deal with the notion of a “fabricated external enemy.” A range of leftists have argued that capitalist ruling classes routinely fabricate hollow dangers and threats to divert and undermine “genuine,” foreign and domestic movements for social justice, national liberation, and ultimately anti-capitalist revolution. Perhaps unfairly, I associate this concept with Chomsky and actually wrote a criticism of it a while ago. At the time I was concerned that the emphasis on the “fabricated” aspect of the issue minimized both the reality of some threats to capitalism, first from “communism” and later from salafi jihadism - and the extent to which ruling class segments actually felt threatened. However, most of those issues are a matter of history, not current politics.

Salafi jihadism has always been susceptible to manipulation by various capitalist state formations, while it continues to be a significant harbinger of potentials for reactionary “barbaric” warlord forms of anti-capitalism. In contrast with Soviet Communism, the issues of “radical Islamic terrorism” are still relevant and, in my opinion, still present an existential danger to the global order of transnational capitalism – not to mention a danger to what there is of a global left. However, whether or not it continues to be a substantial danger for transnational capital, it’s clear that the ruling class perceptions of these dangers have been substantially reduced compared to the relatively recent past.

Salafi jihadism has experienced a prolonged period of retreat and defeat while other potential risks have become more pressing for transnational capital, particularly since its 2008 crisis. Further, the “terrorist” threat always lacked the universality and the ideological dimensions of the “communist threat” in its day; and, in my opinion, it is scheduled for the back burner to the extent it can’t be incorporated into the new “Russian” or “Eurasian” “global fascism” threat.

Behind this new emergent fascist narrative lurks the ruling class recognition that both the communist threat and the GWOT have lost much of their social control value. In these circumstances, the reshaped conception of a global fascist threat serves a number of different purposes for transnational capital. It promotes an oppositional quasi-nationalist populist dynamic that turns populism back inwards, towards the more manageable narrow nationalist terrain (immigration and protectionism) and away from the “nationalist international” that Linker worries about. At the same time, the narrative can confuse and disorient – possibly even pre-empt – the development of an internationalist anti-capitalist opposition through exaggerating the “red/brown” elements of the fascist threat. But most important, this largely constructed “fascist threat” stimulates the organization of a broad, reformist although essentially conservative, populist response that is against “fascism” and for “democracy.”

The resurrected popular front against fascism obscures the left’s responsibility for radical alternative responses to the grievances with transnational capital that underlie populist protests. These real grievances are presented as pretexts, as “false flag” diversions and distractions from the fascist “creep.”

Since right-wing nativist populist movements are so easily conflated with fascist movements, this resurrected popular front against fascism obscures the left’s responsibility for radical alternative responses to the grievances with transnational capital that underlie populist protests. Instead, these real grievances are presented as pretexts, as “false flag” diversions and distractions from the fascist “creep.” This is a framework for a “resistance” that is much more comfortable for transnational capital than a radical opposition to nativist populism. It is a “resistance” that legitimates the entrance of transnational capital into the political arena under fraudulent “democratic” and “progressive” popular front branding, while its pursuit of maximized returns continues relatively unimpeded, insuring that the grievances that evoke populist responses are reproduced at an escalating scale.

So where does this leave us? Despite its quite evident structural weaknesses and an increasing likelihood of new crises, the transnational capitalist structure continues to concentrate and centralize economic activity while increasingly impoverishing social life. It expands economically, but in distorted ways that accelerate inequality while wastefully consuming increasing amounts of scarce resources. Left alone this structure will either implode or explode – but it’s not left alone. Instead it is impacted by countervailing processes and opposing social forces, and these then also produce and reproduce their own antagonists. Some of this is organized and strategically planned by transnational capitalist elites and various oppositions to it – both radical and reformist – but most is not. Our concern should be with the net impact of the process – whether it contributes to the stabilization of capital or moves us more rapidly towards its terminal crisis – an end point which we know has dual possibilities, liberatory or barbaric. But we have to realize that as long as the contending forces continue to work themselves out relatively spontaneously, they won’t produce the polarizations needed for radical internationalist approaches to international issues like capital and labor mobility.

Giroux posits circumstances that don’t currently exist: a massive and growing reactionary right-wing – ultimately fascist – movement is faced off against a “democratic” “anti-fascist” resistance of everybody else. To the extent such scenarios actually materialize – a very open question – they pit populist movements that are only really “popular” to the extent they reflect grievances with transnational capital; against anti-fascisms with crippling compromising entanglements with the sources of the grievances. Whether or not Giroux’s prospective is a probable future, it is the last thing the liberatory left should work towards. It would dramatically improve prospects for the stabilization of transnational capitalism while greasing the way for the emergence of forces in the not distant future that could much more legitimately be called fascist.

All forms of populism lack the autonomous organizational capacity to break free of the conditions that set the terms and limits of their contestation with the power of transnational capitalism. Whether it is anyone’s intent, if the largely spontaneous struggles continue in the current paths, the outcome will be one of two bad alternatives for the liberatory left. The first possibility is a temporary stabilization of transnational capital – although perhaps not on a completely global level (leaving an expanded zone of “chaos”). Less likely, but definitely not out of the realm of the possible, is the transformation of reformist right-wing populisms into actual fascist movements and the emergence of a serious danger of a distinctly non-liberatory “barbarism.” It is distressingly likely these potential outcomes will be unintended product of popular movements and struggles that are aiming for something quite different.

Poster: "This man is your friend -- Russian -- He fights for freedom."
WWII popular front against fascism
Capitalist stabilization in the center of capitalist power is the most likely outcome of this interplay of more or less mass, more or less popular movements – some progressive, some reactionary, and some that are fundamentally ambiguous. Without a decisive anti-capitalist intervention from the left, this process has scant prospects to develop a fundamental class based polarization and could find working classes that are never really defeated but are managing to defeat themselves – at least in some areas and for some extended time.

In the capitalist center the likely form of this defeat would be a renewed cross-class compact, but with crucial differences from our historical experience with such compacts. Rather than a somewhat more equal income distribution, something of a social security safety net and some potential for upward mobility for those on the socio-economic bottom, this new cross-class compact will rest on a proffer of security against a posited resurgent fascism. Rather than actual “material gains,” there may be some resurrected hopes for such gains that will quickly dissipate in a politics dominated by real fears of the chaotic forces of external and internal barbarisms.

To the extent the pathetic minimalistic privilege of “security” in an insecure world becomes a reality for a substantial minority of the populations in the core areas of capital’s dominance, the best possible outcome will resemble the “benevolent” authoritarianism of WWII civil society in the U.S., not the progressive reformism of the 30’s New Deal. That might be enough to allow a few decades more of relative stability for sectors of the capitalist system, although any such stability in the core will have its destabilizing consequences on the system’s periphery that are likely to damage liberatory alternatives to capital in both center and periphery – particularly if the possibilities for internationalist solidarity are substantially reduced…as will likely be the case.

*          *          *

This is a hypothesis that is debatable on a number of levels. It rests on a conception of a crisis-prone transnational capitalist system facing serious problems, including challenges from a complex of popular grievances and populist movements that it constantly regenerates. This picture is open to modification or rejection. For example, I realize that it doesn’t give adequate attention to the complications presented by the role of militarized nation states. Assuming the initial premise is accepted, the nature of the movements and struggles that it has generated are also debatable. What is genuine and organic and what is astroturf; how much is radical and how much reformist? Beyond this, many debatable questions remain about the interactions between these movements, and between the movements and segments of the ruling class. Finally my conclusion – that the most likely outcome in the “West” is a temporary stabilization of capitalism, but there is a possibility for the collapse of the transnational capitalist structure into a chaotic disarray and the emergence of a variety of “barbarisms” – certainly merits debate.

This is a grim prognosis. Neither “probability” nor “possibility” is a good outcome. However, if radical politics aren’t confined to conflicts between nativist populisms on the “right” and reformist social democratic populisms on the “left,” this isn’t the extent of the possible, As I said early on, both of those outcomes – as well as all other possibilities – can be decisively influenced by the intervention of “…a clear liberatory and internationalist anti-capitalist alternative…” Whether they are likely to be is another question.

Those that get this far will realize that I’ve left a lot of open questions. Transnational capital is not simple. We can see it in a range of phenomena, but we can also see internal contradictions and countervailing factors that bring its primacy and the permanence of its impacts into question. Do the conflicts and the differences between Eurasian and Atlanticist; between “authoritarian” and “representative”; between “unipolar” and “multipolar”; outweigh the significance and impact of the global system? I don’t think so, but I realize that it’s not a settled issue.

More specifically, I should have been clearer that I regard the current conflict with “Russia” as a conflict and competition within capitalism, where one side is not necessarily more or less prone to fascism than the other. I also assume implicitly that in this conflict and competition, common capitalist interests will limit capital’s internal divisions and will ultimately prevail across the global system. Further, I’m assuming that competitions based on national and regional factors will be subordinated to competition between segments of capital and, hopefully, to international class struggle. Similarly, I think that capital’s tendency towards increasing reliance on authoritarian command will hollow out systems of popular representation and this process will be manifested in an increasing similarity of regimes between East and West – although perhaps not so much between North and South. Cryptic, but I hope not too much so.

Photo credit: U.S. government poster, 1942 (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

Nov 9, 2018

Their midterm is over.

Their midterm is over. 

But where’s our movement(s) at? What have the last two years looked like for us? What does going forward look like? What’s been done that’s worked and what have been the limits?

These are the questions for our side.

While it didn’t start on Election Day two years ago, there’s been a dramatic acceleration of radical anti-racist, anti-fascist organizing and action over this last period. From class struggle and community defense committees to anti-fascist initiatives. From mass actions to doxxing campaigns to articulating alternative politics and visions via social media and publishing. There’s been a full range of activity in an attempt to confront and push back against the emergence of a politics that ranged from street level fascism to what appears as a new rightwing capitalist reaction in power.

Our side, the radical and revolutionary antifascists, have on a whole been the minority. That said there have been moments where our influence outweighed our actual numbers and capacity. Our side has been able, notably early on, to respond to developments because masses of people were in motion looking to be part of the “resistance”. Lots of people felt immediately politicized by the election and we had something to show – both some politics and some actual organizational models.

That all said, it’s has been a terrible last two years. Politics and projects on our side, while winning some key battles, have struggled to keep up with the constant shifting terrain. Stress, fatigue, strategic and organizational frameworks that as quickly as they’ve been developed and put into practice become inadequate, burnout on a personal and collective level, peoples and movements feeling overwhelmed all in the context of stabbings, shootings, murders and people facing lengthy prison time. 

On the macro level there seems no cessation of the threat of attack. In the three weeks leading up to the midterm there’s been an unprecedented wave of white supremacist, far right and fascist agitation and violence. The MAGA mail bomb scare was just the start. From there we had horrific shooting sprees targeting Black and Jewish peoples. Meanwhile daily demonization of immigrants and refugees by 45 culminating in a troop buildup on the southern border and threats to have refugees either indeterminately detained or shot dead. No matter the results of the systems midterm we can only expect continued social tension and polarization.

So where are we at and where do we go? No easy answers.

Maybe answers can come by looking at what we’ve done so far, where we’ve been, starting with a collection of articles, interviews and news that have been part of our movements organizing and development. There is no aim here to be a complete outline, there are some glaring omissions (including so much of what has happened in the last several months). Nor is this intending to be a coherent analysis or narrative. Much, if not most, of what’s here has to be further debated out. If anything it is more cursory and open-ended and will be added to. It is a small sampling of what our side has experienced.

“On Saturday, November 5th, the National Socialist Movement (NSM), one of the largest Neo-Nazi and white nationalist organizations in the US, along with… the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), will attempt to hold a rally at the State Capitol of Pennsylvania, in the city of Harrisburg.”

“Across the US, from cities to rural areas, it is imperative that anarchists and anti-authoritarians strive to build organizations to battle the emboldened far right, to advocate through militant action the needs of working-class communities, and to combat state repression… We are encouraged that so many have taken to the streets across the country. We hope more will do the same. Trump’s attacks in the form of policy and his supporters physical attacks and intimidation, must be opposed from day one.”

“If we want to understand the alt-right’s strengths and weaknesses, we need to understand what it shares with older white nationalist currents — but also what sets it apart.”

“This list is intended to provide selected, entry-level, knowledge, terms, and analysis, as well as a bit of history, for those new to antifascist thinking or organizing. Note that these articles often contain conflicting perspectives on the topics of fascism they consider. We do not endorse any particular perspective associated with any of the pieces referenced, but do consider them all useful to consider, in various ways.”

Interview on militant tactics with GDC member
"I think some folks, many folks… try to divide the concept of a mass response with a militant response. That it’s only possible to do one or the other. I think we really want to challenge that. We think that what’s needed is both. And that’s not easy…but that’s our goal. To build a mass, militant movement that includes lots of people and that uses lots of tactics in order to confront this threat.”
“It's important that we not let our history of struggle be claimed by the liberal narrative that the civil rights era was built on a dogmatic commitment to ‘nonviolence’. Black and African people have had to physically, mentally, and emotionally defend their communities from State and white supremacist terror, and it was organized. Groups like the Deacons for Defense, Black Liberation Army, and Black Panther Party understood why a self-defense approach in the face of police and reactionaries was necessary.”

“They not only ran the nazis off campus, they caught up to some of them in the town and pushed, beat, or taunted at least a few of them to chants of ‘Tigertown Beats Nazis Down’. This sudden militancy of the crowd was a victory salvaged from the jaws of defeat; the militant posture of the black bloc was not only completely ineffective, but at several points it led to the edge of disaster. We have to wonder at this point whether the presence of the black bloc had any positive impact.”

“With this march in Charlottesville, the far right has crossed a threshold. Until now, they appeared to be a motley array of online groups, most of which lacked the courage to identify unironically with fascism. Today, they have arrived as a social movement that can pull together hundreds of people to carry out organized acts of violence while the police look on."

“Identity is fundamentally about distinguishing oneself from others. Anti-fascism, however, is for everybody. We should be careful not to insulate it within a particular demographic with a specific dress code and lingo. This is paramount because the far right are scrambling to depict antifa as a monolithic, hostile, alien organization. Our task is not just to build a network of groups, but to create an anti-fascist momentum that will spread contagiously throughout society at large, along with the critiques and tactics necessary for this fight. Specific antifa groups and the cultural cache of “antifa” itself can be useful in that project, as can black bloc tactics, provided we evaluate them as tools for achieving particular objectives rather than expressions of identity or belonging.”

“What does it mean?  Spencer says he just wanted to have fun and safe events, where he could have intellectual discussions on college campuses.  Anti-fascists say nothing fun or safe about nazis or genocide or racist attacks or attacks on women or attacks on immigrants.  Nothing fun or safe about the murder of Heather Heyer. Spencer also says, after MSU, that his college campus tour or strategy is not working, and anti-fascists are preventing him from public organizing. He says he has to ‘rethink’ his strategy, and his supporters should be patient and he will get back to them.
After the election of Trump and after a surge in support for white nationalists and fascists, the anti-fascist movement has gained strength and is moving forward.  We have won important battles at Charlottesville and Gainesville and Lansing. In a certain sense, we have turned the tide. But let’s not overstate this. This fight continues.  And we need to figure how we can move forward.”

“So we should celebrate this victory. But of course the struggle against white supremacy is far from over. While this was a major win, as long as the Alt-Right and other white supremacist movements and institutions exist they will continue attempting to organize and attack us. The racist attacks of the state continue: I.C.E. raids kidnap our friends and neighbors, killer cops murder black youth with impunity, and the archipelago of the prison system cages and tortures millions of the working class, especially black and brown people. As far as the Alt-Right, Spencer himself told the Washington Post recently that he will still attempt to visit college campuses - but this time, without publicizing his events in advance. Also, with their movements forced underground, frustrated fascists might switch to violent and dangerous ‘lone wolf’ tactics. We need to be on the lookout for changes in their strategy to be able to adapt our own methods and counter them effectively.”